Akira glances at the time again, at the far too bright 11:34PM taunting him from the display on the phone.
Midnight is the shift change at the convenience store, it’s when he gets to wish whatever poor person got stuck with the graveyard shift good luck and get out himself. Probably Hana, it’s always Hana, poor girl.
It’s so close, yet still so far. When he checks the clock again, it hasn’t even changed. Not even a single minute has passed since his last look.
He considers putting his head down on the counter and sleeping until it’s finally time for him to go home.
He begged for this job, though. As easy as it was for him to run several part time jobs last year, this position took dazzling recommendations from all the bosses he left back in Tokyo. He’s still convinced Iwai resorted to blackmail.
He really doesn’t want to get fired after all the trouble, even if the money isn’t necessarily as needed as before. Without the Phantom Thieves operating, and without his friends around, he finds himself spending a lot less money.
Aside from his trips to Tokyo every once in a while, just because Futaba wants a hug or Ryuji needs help with something or Sojiro wants him in the cafe for a day.
Either way, he’d like to keep this job. It keeps his parents off his back and gives him something to do in this boring town. Even if it’s just an equally as boring job, at least he’s making money.
Even his thoughts can’t quite keep him occupied, his eyes still sliding shut just a little too long on each blink. He’s sluggish, and his head is starting to hurt from the fluorescent lights flickering. The one directly above him needs to be replaced, it keeps shorting out. His manager has promised to fix it three times over at this point, but he is not the handiest person Akira knows by a long shot. Akira thinks he could take a better shot at it himself.
The bell above the door rings, and Akira considers walking out. Hiding behind the counter, just curling up in the back and refusing to come out. He really doesn’t want to deal with this right now, after how busy it was the first few hours of his shift. He just wants to do nothing until Hana gets here.
He straightens up anyway, trying to blink the tiredness out of his eyes even as he yawns and feels his eyes burning with the effort of keeping them open. He doesn’t see the customer among the aisles, but he hears the footsteps and general rustling.
He’s so exhausted he feels sick, but he still plasters the smile on his face in advance.
He can only hope this isn’t a difficult customer, he barely has the energy for an easy one. He just hopes this is over quickly so he can go back to moping and complaining to himself.
He makes direct eye contact with the customer when they round the corner, with instant coffee in one hand and cup noodles in the other.
Not to mention that said customer is, of course, Goro Akechi. Who else would it be?
Goro looks at him in silence for a good two seconds, then glances at the door, then the items in his hands. Akira watches the indecision in the way he shifts on his feet, the way he keeps looking all around for any possible escape route that doesn’t bring him right past where Akira is standing behind the register.
He glances at the time again, at the 11:40PM blinking back at him, waiting for something that’s yet to come. His second coworker for the next shift, who’s notoriously late anyway. He doesn’t blame her, if he was on the graveyard shift every Saturday night into Sunday morning he’d never show up to work.
“You can wait half an hour if you want,” Akira calls out. “Hide behind the shelves until Hana shows up.”
Goro looks at him, sheepish.
Akira drums his fingers on the counter and tries not to look as tired as he feels. This would only ever happen to him, this would only ever be on a night like this where he’s already dead on his feet.
He doesn’t have the energy to make Goro stay, when all he wants to do is go home. He can’t do this, can’t have this argument with him no matter what he feels. Even though all he really wants is to pull Goro in and keep him there, he...can barely keep his eyes open.
Goro comes up to the counter anyway, halfway to a miracle.
“Just this,” Goro mutters.
“Yeah, just take it. I’ll pay for it,” Akira dismisses.
Goro looks at him, just a twinge of annoyance present in his eyes.
Actually, Goro is doing an awful amount of looking at him considering the circumstances. Akira thinks, if he were presumed dead, he would run away at the sight of anyone he knew. Especially his weird rival friend who he had an overly complicated relationship with.
“Don’t do that.” Goro puts his card down between them. “I don’t need your handouts.”
Akira scans the items and bags them none too carefully. He’s already swiping his own card and pushing the items back across the counter to Goro before he can complain. It makes the transaction much faster, and now he doesn’t need to be bothering Goro for any longer than he has to. Maybe he can take a power nap and convince himself the entire run in was a dream. Nightmare?
“You’re really that mad at me?” Goro sighs.
That gives Akira a genuine pause. It makes him take a deep breath in and try to gather up the scrambled pieces of his mind. They’re scattered around different spots in his head, around the place, left behind in Tokyo.
He hasn’t been fully right since he left. Since Goro left him.
Goro thinks he’s mad, after everything. Maybe it’s because Akira can’t gather enough energy to display how relieved he really is, maybe Goro expected him to jump for joy or yell or cry or do anything but just stare and try and speed everything up so they can leave each other’s lives again.
Akira used to think they were goddamn comets speeding past one another, blazing and bright and destructive to a fault. They only ever brushed in micro ways, never any longer than a second. Goro liked to keep their distance like that.
He assumed this would be much the same, but maybe Goro has changed more in the past year than he thought.
“I’m not mad,” he says.
Akira tilts his head, rolling the question over in his mind. Despite the fact that he has always found it far too difficult to get truly angry at Goro for any amount of time, why doesn’t this infuriate him? Why is he just...accepting this as it is?
Goro did drop off the face of the Earth without a word, he did make everyone think he was dead, he did…
“Two reasons,” Akira starts, slowly. “First one is that I’m not exactly your keeper. I don’t want to keep tabs on you all the time, your life is your own and I’m not entitled to anything from it. If you don’t want me in that life, I’m not going to be. That’s your choice to make, not mine. I don’t want to interfere with your personal happenings.”
Goro nods, then frowns when Akira doesn’t continue.
“What’s the second?” he presses.
Akira is less than enthusiastic about sharing this one, but he sucks it up anyway. It’s Goro, and his shift is almost over anyway. They can both run away after this.
He grabs his coat and digs in the pocket, pulling out the glove to set on the counter in between Goro’s instant coffee and cup noodles.
“Well I was waiting on your move anyway. Everyone thought you were dead, sure, but I’ve never really been like everyone have I?”
The way Goro looks at him finally serves to wake Akira up, to reignite something that’s been ashes for a year. Goro picks up the glove and slides it over his left hand, which had previously been bare.
“No, I suppose you haven’t,” Goro breathes.
“Do you want real coffee?” Akira blurts.
“I already bought the instant stuff” Goro is taking a set of keys out of his pocket anyway. “Although, I guess if you’re going to make it for free, there’s no sense in turning it down.”
Hana walks through the door, and Akira doesn’t say a word to her as he gathers his things and follows Goro out to his car.
Akira reasons he’ll come back for his own car in the morning before school, and leaves it in favor of getting into Goro’s passenger seat and giving him directions to his house. He only lives a few minutes away, and it gives them all the more reason to put off any conversation that isn’t Akira telling Goro to turn left and which house is his.
His parents aren’t home, so he has no qualms about letting Goro lean against the countertops while he brews them fresh coffee.
They don’t exchange any words here either, but it’s a comfortable silence that follows. The steady drip of the coffee and Goro’s foot tapping on the ground fill all the stillness that needs to be filled, and their companionship makes up the difference.
Akira pours the coffee into travel mugs when it’s done(he’s still memorized Goro’s taste and is confident it doesn’t need to be tasted) and is already back in Goro’s car by the time he hears Goro swear at him before following.
“Where are we going?” Goro asks, popping out the cupholder to set his mug in.
“Does it matter?”
Goro looks at him, looks at the steering wheel, and he shakes his head.
He puts his music on, just barely turning the volume dial up, just until soft jazz gently presses into the space of the car. Enough for Akira to be comfortable reclining slightly in his seat and sipping his coffee contently.
The supplement to conversation grows with drinks to sip and music to listen to.
“If you take a right, there’s this little lookout point. It was a big thing a few years ago, but everyone is bored of it now,” Akira comments. “It’s usually abandoned.”
Goro turns right, bringing them up the hill to park at the top where the path ends. There’s a wooden railing that Goro is quick to get out and lean against, leaving Akira to scramble after him this time.
They forget their coffees in the car, and neither seem keen on going back for them. The music is too muffled to hear, and now there’s really nothing between them to put off what they need to say to one another for a second longer.
Akira thinks of what he needs to say, the things to put behind them before they move forward. He wants to ask why Goro is here, if he’s going to stay, what he can do to keep them tangled in one another’s lives for once.
“Alright, then.” Goro flicks his eyes back to Akira. “I’m sorry.”
Akira stares at the endless expanse of sky above him rather than Goro’s face. He can’t look at Goro right now, he can’t try to study his face to try and read anything in it. Even if Goro is looking at him, being so vulnerable. Akira is feeling too much to face that head on.
Against something like an onslaught of emotion and thought, it’s all he can do to open his vision up to the stars and let that bring him calm. Well, what little calm can serve to soothe him at this point.
“I...I’m sorry too,” he chokes out.
He doesn’t know if Goro is looking at him anymore, from where he’s leaning forward over the railing of the little point Akira thought he was bored of two years ago sitting in this same spot with friends he lost along with everything else. He feels as if it’s new, being here with Goro.
It’s not the same. Goro’s touch on everything makes it all just a little better.
Akira leans further back on the hood of his car and blinks at the twinkling lights that sit far out of his reach but still seem so close.
“You don’t need to be sorry for anything,” Goro dismisses. “I’m the one who made mistakes, you just did your best. We were kids.”
Akira feels the way his whole body lights up when the car bounces slightly as Goro comes to lean with him. After all this time, Akira still responds with every inch of his body to every microtwitch Goro gives him. The shockwave, the after effects of a collision.
He looks between his own hands and Goro’s face now, unguarded as it seems. It’s sending Akira into an absolute frenzy, bare and real and undeniably Goro.
Goro has freckles, he has scars, he has frown lines, he’s unhealthily pale. In the moonlight, he looks ethereal and contemplative, maybe a little sad. He’s Goro, and Akira missed Goro. He doesn’t know what that means yet.
Akira does know he is in love with him, and that he should be past faulting himself for looking at someone he loves so much like this.
He’s tired, a little delirious, and a lot happy.
“We still are. I know I still am. And I still think we’re fucking up,” he says.
He watches the way Goro’s lips part, huffing out warm air that turns into a breath Akira can see in the chilly air. He seems slightly annoyed by Akira’s comment, but he just sort of shrugs like he also isn’t quite sure how else to respond to it.
“People change, they make mistakes and whatever. That’s a part of life, and I don’t actually mind it. There’s a learning experience in everything. I just hope I never become like...him. That’s the one thing I could never handle.” Goro rubs up and down his arms. “I never want to become the one person I’ve always hated.”
Akira takes off his hoodie, handing it over so Goro can take it for his own warmth.
“I swear,” Akira breathes, shaking his head. “I’ll burn you alive if that happens.”
“I would only ever trust you to do so,” Goro says.
He pulls the hoodie over his own head and looks warmer with it.
Akira looks up at the moon and wonders exactly how likely it might be for him to drop dead where he stands at this point. His chest feels full, and he feels so alive he doesn’t know what to do with it.
Here with Goro, he’s achingly aware of his own blood rushing through his veins, his heart pumping, the breaths climbing from his lungs out of his mouth.
It feels sort of like being in the Metaverse, that same rush and feeling of being complete and powerful. Goro has always made him feel stronger, not in comparison but in tandem.
“We can keep each other in check,” Akira promises.
He doesn’t think he needs to worry about anything he normally would, about letting Goro slip through his fingers again. He thinks that as long as there’s something they owe one another, be it a rematch or a glove or something like a cup of coffee...as long as they have something, they’ll never part for too long.
Goro laughs, and that’s something that embarrassingly enough makes Akira’s eyes burn. He has to blink rapidly a few times to prevent himself from immediately crying, although he has to sniff as is to clear it all out. It earns him a look from Goro, one that he just waves off.
He’s never heard Goro laugh like that, after all. It’s so clear, and bright, and a little clumsier than he expected it to be. It was a bit of a wheeze, sort of a snort. It wasn’t really pretty, it wasn’t nice.
Akira liked it a lot, and the smile it leaves on Goro’s face is equally as unexpected and stunning.
Akira wonders if his heart is going to stop.
“What do you need to be kept in check for?” Goro prods, physically nudging him.
“Please just don’t let me get boring,” Akira sighs. “Or bored, for that matter. If I have to work at a stupid fucking convenience store for the rest of my life I think I’m better off dead.”
“Dramatic as always.”
Akira looks over at Goro, trying to read what’s in his face only to be met with eyes fixed back on him.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hello. I’m thinking.”
“Take your time.”
Goro rolls his eyes, seemingly unbothered about staring so intently at him. Akira keeps breaking their direct eye contact because it feels like too much for him, but Goro doesn’t laugh or point it out, he just...he just looks lost in thought. He still thinks just as deeply, with his whole body.
When they played chess against one another, Akira sat for minutes at a time faced with that look. It’s just another thing he missed.
“I was just thinking about what you said earlier,” Goro says, finally looking away.
He looks up, up at the stars that Akira got himself lost in earlier too, trying to avoid the feelings building in his chest.
After all this time, it still feels like no time at all has passed between them. It hasn’t felt like they’re playing catch up, or like they’ve even really missed one another. Things have slotted back into place without much fuss at all.
“What thing that I said? I recall saying a few things,” Akira hums.
“Ass,” Goro accuses.
His eyes slide closed at this point, a gentle flutter of eyelashes and beauty that Akira can’t help but watch every moment of. The insult glances directly off of him, feeble in the shadow of what Akira is already feeling.
What he’s been feeling, since the moment he met Goro or maybe even before.
Akira doesn’t believe in fate, he calls bullshit on the whole thing. Chihaya hardly changed his mind on that front, with this whole nonsense he just hated the whole thing more. There’s chance and choices, there are things that happen and don’t happen, and he loathes to chalk it all up to things like destiny or fate. He doesn’t really care about those things, he feels like they’re cheap in the grand scheme of things.
Whatever happens is just whatever happens, and that’s life as far as he’s concerned.
But then there’s Goro. Goro is an exception to so many things in Akira’s life, and maybe he can call them...something. He feels like in a million different timelines, if things had gone so horribly different, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.
He just feels this unbelievable connection between them, something he doesn’t know how else to explain other than the thing he’s always been told that is. Fate.
Whatever it is, he treasures it. He loves the thing that brought them together, he would thank it over and over if he could, beg it to make more iterations where they can find one another.
Akira doesn’t know how he’s going to get back home alive after all this, how he’s going to settle back into his normal life even though Goro is back. Goro is back, why should he have to go to school? Why should he be going to work, why should he have to deal with his parents and every one note event that happens?
Goro is back, what is he living his regular life for when he’s sure whatever Goro has going on is infinitely more interesting?
“What you said about...my life,” Goro offers, maybe a little quietly. “How it’s up to me. You never told me if you want to be in my life.”
That’s right, Akira did leave that part out because it’s something he didn’t want to taint Goro’s answer to anything with. He didn’t want to weigh in himself, he wanted Goro to make that decision on his own.
Partly, at least.
Of course there’s the second truth to that, which is that Akira can’t come out and be entirely truthful with Goro right here and now. If he really said everything he felt, if he just told Goro his whole truth it would be a disaster, more than likely.
There is so much to what Akira wants, and he should just leave it at wanting to be in Goro’s life and whatever that form may take.
“Do you?” Goro asks.
“Of course I do,” he says.
He bites his lip after that, plugging up the flow of emotions that are building like a devastating tsunami inside of him. He’s sure he will absolutely destroy everything if he lets it out.
He’s had a year to think about exactly what he wanted and wants from Goro, and he can’t tell him half of it. He can’t tell him more than a word of it without being too much and he knows it.
Comets, he has to remind himself. This is an unusually long pass, but it’s still only a pass.
Their brush won’t last, because it never does. Goro never lets it.
“Is that all you’re going to say?”
Akira closes his eyes, but they snap back open when Goro’s fingers close around his chin and yank it to the side.
They’re close again, and now Akira doesn’t have much choice in their eye contact unless he wants to pull away or close his eyes again. He’s not exactly going to back away from such a clear challenge, but oh how he aches to.
“I want to be your life. I want it to be our life.” Akira reaches up to hold Goro’s hand, tugging it away from him. “That’s what I’ve always wanted. For our paths to be so overlapped we can walk side by side.”
Goro fights his grip, bringing his hand back up to rest on Akira’s cheek this time.
It’s the only slight warning Akira gets before Goro slots their lips together.
It’s an interlocking, a connection, a lifeline that Akira grasps for every so desperately. He thinks for the first time ever they’ve actually collided, debris so mixed together that it would be impossible to separate them again.
Then, he closes his eyes and lets Goro lead their kiss. It’s not hot, it’s just...warm. When Goro gently bites his lower lip it feels playful rather than suggestive, it just feels like them. Goro is smiling into it, every time they dip back together for another crash.
It’s softer, like the way waves crash onto the shore, endless with this ebb and flow that shifts with the tide.
They don’t need to pull back for air, because Akira is fairly certain he stopped needing to breathe a while ago. But they pull away anyway, this thing that feels like an agreement in which suddenly they just both disconnect and put an inch of space back between them.
After all, Akira would hate to be so close they meld into one person, so intertwined they’re indistinguishable. They are better apart and still together.
Akira feels entirely whole and then some, this extra space for Goro filled to overflowing in his chest.
“I want you to be in my life,” Goro says firmly.
“No shit,” he breathes.
“Did that bore you?”
Akira can’t help but laugh at that, still feeling out of breath and in love and everything in between that. Everything outside of that. It’s just everything. He swings his head back up to look at the stars and imagines more than a moment of this and feels so overwhelmed, yet excited that he doesn’t know what to do with it all.
He feels awake, he feels alive, he feels like himself again.