Behind the counter of Leblanc, it was easy to see and hear everything that went on in the cafe. The long, narrow set-up left little room for anything to be done covertly, and the advantage his viewpoint offered made it easy for Akira to understand just why Sojiro hadn’t bothered to renovate anything in favour of more room or a more modern setting. No one could cause a problem if they were constantly being watched, but trouble wasn’t the problem on Akira’s mind.
Sitting in the booth nearest the door was Yusuke, his pale hands sweeping deftly through the air in grandiose movements that accented the heartfelt speech he was giving over what appeared to be some form of artbook to a very indifferent Ryuji. His lack of interest, however, continued to go unnoticed, and his noncommittal grunts seemed close enough to any real answer he might have given, and satisfied Yusuke enough to spur him on.
It had all, apparently, started with an argument on the train that had ultimately resulted in the two of them -- followed by an exasperated, but faintly amused -- Ann storming into LeBlanc and effectively scaring away the few customers that had been lingering for most of the late morning. The only explanation Akira had truly been able to obtain was a quick whisper of ‘save me!’ from Ryuji and Ann’s slightly more informative explanation that Yusuke had sworn to ‘give Ryuji some culture.’ Any other time, Akira would have stepped in and tried to save his friend from his apparent suffering out of what Ryuji called ‘best friend obligations,’ but his focus hadn’t left Yusuke since they’d started.
The way Yusuke came to life when he spoke about his passions was captivating. The smooth curve of his arms that seemed to pull his body his body along, the way his torso would bend with to accommodate the movement, the glimmer of starlight in his eyes whenever--
“Whoa! Hey, I think that’s enough coffee!”
Akira jumped as Ann’s voice cut through his thoughts, his hand jerking upward on reflex, sending a splash of coffee across the counter. The cup he’d been filling had poured over, the saucer below it precariously filled to its edges and threatened to spill over. “Ah…”
“Must be some good stuff.” Ann smiled, a knowing look dancing in her eyes that suggested wasn’t talking about coffee at all.
With a cough, Akira busied himself with cleaning up the counter as he considered what route might work as an effective escape. It was easy enough to keep quiet and hide behind denial, but he knew well enough it would only be a temporary farse. Ann, he’d learned, was much more of a romantic than she let on. Without her own love life to focus all her ideas on, she’d happily dug her claws into Akira’s -- or lack thereof -- and he’d hadn’t escaped since.
“Something like that,” he agreed in a quiet tone. Maybe if he played along she’d let him go free.
“So I guess you like your coffee tall then, huh?” Ann continued with a grin and Akira winced. Maybe he wouldn’t get off easy after all. “With lots of pretty designs in the foam and plenty of sug--”
“Yes,” Akira hissed, a hand coming up to cover Ann’s mouth before she could go any further. “I really like artistic… coffee.”
Ann beamed, a look of triumph settling on her face as she brushed Akira’s hand aside and braced herself against the counter. “Sooo? What are you going to do about it?”
Eyebrows raised, Akira’s gaze drifted to the booth where Ryuji’s head was now precariously balanced in his palm, his eyelids threatening to be pulled closed with bored fatigue. Yusuke, however, still shone with passion, his fingers dancing across the pages of his book as he pointed to different points of an image Akira couldn’t quite see to elaborate on what he was saying.
It was as beautiful as it was amusing.
“Do…?” Akira fingers curled around the handle of the pitcher of coffee he’d just finished as he stepped around the counter. A slow, familiar grin spread across his face as he moved toward the back booth and glanced over his shoulder. “I’m going to steal his heart.”
Ann might have feigned a swoon if a dull thunk hadn’t sounded across the cafe and cut off Yusuke’s speech. Ryuji yelped, reeling back from the table and rubbing his head with a surprised yelp. Across from him, Yusuke bristled, shoulders tense and eyes narrowed as he regarded Ryuji with a look of contempt.
“Have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying?”
“Uh,” Ryuji froze, his eyes comically wide as he tried to find a way out of the hole he’d slowly been digging for himself. “Y-yeah, of course I was. Like… the colours and the, uh, lines make great… aesthetics n’ shit.”
Yusuke’s scowled, his eyebrows drawing together. “You--!”
“Refill?” Akira cut in, leaning across the length of the table to reach Yusuke’s cup. Ryuji’s sigh of relief was audible as he scrambled out of his seat and hurried to take the furthest barstool from the booth.
“I, ah…” Yusuke faltered, his anger melting into confusion with a mute nod, watching as Akira set the pitcher aside and slide smoothly into the space Ryuji had just been occupying. “Thank you?”
“Coffee helps you and practice helps me.” Akira hummed and glanced down at the book Yusuke had been so eager to speak about moments ago. He couldn’t claim to recognize the piece printed on the page, but he didn’t need to know a name to distract. “That’s very pretty,” he nodded toward the book. “Who painted it?”
The corners of Yusuke’s mouth slowly curved upward into a gentle smile that softened his once irritated features. It took only seconds for the sparkle to return to his eyes, and the growing delight left warmth swirling in Akira’s chest. “Like myself, this is another artist who drew heavy inspiration from ‘Sayuri’ and--”
Soon his hands were fluttering through the air, miming brush strokes and smooth, grand gestures.
Prying eyes from his fellow students had become something of a norm after Madarame had been arrested and Yusuke had moved into -- out, and officially back into -- the dorms. Learning to ignore them had been fairly easy; paying no mind to stare or whisper alike as he tuned them out and narrowed his focus to transferring the colours and ideas swirling around his mind to canvas. Art was, after all, a very solid and helpful distraction.
Today, however, from the moment he walked into the art room he could tell something was particularly strange; and for one who spent many of his days after school delving into a world built from human cognition, strange had become something of a rarity in his life.
For one, the art room was unnaturally busy for after school hours, with small groups of students littered about the room, pressed closely together and whispering amongst themselves as if each gathering had some sort of secret the others were not privy to.
Second, as soon as the small group of three nearest the door had noticed him and hissed out ‘it’s him!’ a sudden hush fell over the entire room.
Startled, Yusuke paused, his gaze sweeping over each group as his eyebrows slowly drew together in uncertain confusion. Maybe there was some sort of meeting going on he’d not seen the notices for. Or perhaps some sort of performance art and he’d just caused a disturbance by walking in.“Have I… interrupted something?”
“Ooooh, gosh,” a girl to his right gasped, a hand flying to her mouth in a failed attempt to muffle her next words as she nudged her friend in the ribs. “He doesn’t know.”
“Know?” Yusuke turned, latching on to the only voice who seemed to be addressing him -- albeit indirectly -- in hopes of being able to grasp some sort of answer. “Know what?”
With a small squeak, the girl he’d addressed flushed heavily in embarrassment and shoved her giggling friend forward, only furthering his confused state. Yusuke knew he’d been told countless times he failed horrendously at reading the atmosphere, but surely even the most intuitive of persons wouldn’t have been able to make sense of this. Whatever this was. He wasn’t even sure where he should start reading.
Still, there was no way he’d be able to paint like this, and it was best to at least try and solve the problem. He had a piece to finish, after all.
“Forgive me,” he began, uncertainty still melting into his tone, “but I’m afraid I don’t know what’s going on. Have I stepped into a performance piece and caused a disturbance?”
“O-oh,” the Giggly Girl shook her head rapidly, her tight ponytail swinging wildly behind her. “N-no, not at all, it’s just… you…”
“Me…?” Yusuke frowned and glanced around the classroom once more. Aside from the bizarre amount of faces and hushed conversation, nothing seemed out of place. No unusual messes, no teachers, no broken glass or spilled paints… Surely if he’d gotten in trouble, at least one professor would be there. “I don’t follow.”
“You got one!”
“...what?” It was the only response he could muster, his eyebrows drawn close enough together they almost looked as if they were merging. Artists were, as they always had been, a strange breed, but this was another level entirely. Mementos made more sense than this. Ryuji made more sense than this, and once his mind could better understand the uncultured mess that was Ryuji better than his own classmates, he knew he’d threaded into dangerous ground.
Grinning broadly, Giggly Girl -- someone he’d never actually seen in the classroom before, now that he’d taken a second glance at her face -- motioned behind her, practically bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Your easel! Go look! Go look!”
Panic quickly replaced confusion and Yusuke practically sprinted across the room. The canvas he’d left in the room to dry was something he’d been working on for over a week -- a carefully constructed piece he’d painstakingly formed with careful stroke after careful stroke -- was supposed to be a gift! If it had been damaged, if it had been destroyed or ruined or touched or breathed on wrong he’d--
He stopped, blinking. The painting, he discovered, was fine. Perfectly fine. Just as he’d left it.
Except for the small red card boasting an eerily familiar logo sitting innocently in the middle of the horizontal tray.
The classroom exploded in a multitude of whispers once more, each voice overlapping with another and melding into a cacophony that rang painfully in his ears. Surely, surely this was a joke. A prank. His teammates, his friends couldn’t have possibly sent this without having even spoken to him. It had to be a mistake. He was a Phantom Thief, he could still feel his Persona resting in the back of his mind -- he couldn’t have had a Palace. It was impossible. Morgana had said so.
As it someone had flipped a switch, the whispers all seemed to die out at once the moment he came in contact with what could only be one of the infamous calling cards with trembling fingers.
The glossy face reflected the lights above and Yusuke frowned, scrutinizing the surface of the card. The design was crisp and clean, but missing several vital smaller details that should have been there. A fact, he realised, as he brushed his fingers over the rougher underside of the card, he should have realized immediately.
This card had been printed out. It was a fake. Well made, but very much a fake.
Feeling his panic begin to ebb into yet another wave of confusion, Yusuke turned the card over, expecting a blank surface, only to be met with a startlingly well done stylized message addressing him.
Sir Yusuke Kitagawa, not a committer of sin, but a pure soul of great talent.
The art you create extends beyond brush and canvas to colour the lives of those around you. Your trembling, unbroken will burdened with the weight of solitude glimmers with the light of hope.
You have stolen the heart of one close to you, and so shall yours be stolen in return, without fail.
Before anyone could so much as move or speak again, Yusuke had already turned, his plans to paint until he was forced to return to the dorms completely forgotten, and ran from the room.
The bell to LeBlanc chimed loudly as the door was pushed open with more force than truly necessary. A scowl worked its way across Sojiro’s face as he poked his head out of the kitchen where he’d been retrieving a fresh plate of curry for an eagerly waiting customer sitting at the bar. “Hey! Be careful with--what the…?!”
“Please excuse my intrusion!” Yusuke announced, pausing briefly in his brisk beeline toward the back to offer Sojiro a polite bow. “I have important business to address upstairs.”
With no chance to give a proper response, Yusuke turned on his heel and marched toward the stairs, an unusually stern look on the face Sojiro had grown so accustomed to seeing calm.
“What…” The customer at the counter began, their voice slow and tentative. “...what was that?”
The plate of curry was set on the counter with a heavy sigh as Sojiro rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and reached for a siphon with the other. “Hell if I know,” he grumbled, shaking his head. “Kids these days just--nevermind. Don’t worry about it. Same blend as always?”
Whatever bravado had somehow lead Yusuke not only to the train station, but all the way to LeBlanc, through the front door, and up to the attic without so much as a question to his actions vanished almost immediately as he came face to face with an empty room.
Yusuke felt his bag off his shoulder and catch in the crook of his arm. It did, after all, make perfect sense. Between friends and at least two part-time jobs, it was hardly a surprise that Akira wouldn’t be found in his room after school. The practical thing to do would have involved actually sending a message to ascertain Akira’s whereabouts -- as he often did when seeking him out -- but his muddled and messy thoughts had left him rushing around impulsively.
Really, he could have laughed at just how ridiculous he was being.
With a muted sigh, Yusuke made his way across the room and over to the sofa and dropped his bag on the faded surface. Going back downstairs after such an unsightly display would have been an awkward mess to try and address. It would be easy to claim he’d had plans with Akira, but without actually knowing where he was, his lie could end up more transparent than tracing paper and he’d have nothing to follow it with. It left him with only the options of waiting patiently for Akira to return or simply leaving, and after having spent the money to get here, it would have been a waste to leave again.
So he’d have to wait. Wait for Akira to arrive back home and then… and then…
No longer inhibited by an irrational rush of fear or the gazes of his fellow artists, the meaning behind the words caused a stir in Yusuke’s chest. The rhythmic beat of his pulse fluttered against his ribs, sending an off warmth racing through his veins, expanding out to the tips of his fingers and even down to his toes. It was an odd, comforting heat, despite the fact that it felt as if his heart now sat dangerously close to his throat.
Looking back to where he’d been in May, it would have seemed impossible to imagine his life changing so much, let alone anywhere close to where he stood now. Everyone had undoubtedly become an important source of support and strength in his life; thick as thieves -- and analogy so comically cliche and accurate it almost made Yusuke laugh. As their leader, it was only natural that Akira stood out in their group, but even without the coat tails and mask, the drawing allure of his character never faded away.
Akira, in some way, was a guiding light for all of them, but Yusuke hadn’t realised just how far that went until Akira had become the sun; bright and powerful, casting his warmth across the bursting multitude of colours that made up a world that Yusuke was quickly discovering was so much more beautiful than he ever imagined. Not merely just the sun either, but the moon and stars as well; gentle and calm, expanding endlessly into a glimmering universe he carried in his eyes and smile.
In the few short months since they’d met, Akira had effortlessly opened more doors creating a barrier around Yusuke’s heart that even he himself had known existed. Yet for each one he passed through, he’d slowly begun to let Yusuke do the same. Trying to imagine himself without his friends was absolutely absurd, but trying to picture a life without Akira in it had become an impossible task. They were both in too deep; too tightly coiled around each other’s secrets and feelings that to tear each other apart would cause more damage than Yusuke could bare to fathom.
Blinking, Yusuke stared at the card he didn’t remember consciously pulling out of his bag and turned it over delicately in his fingers. The familiar top hat and flaming mask stared back at him, offering nothing by means of explanation and he flipped the card again to stare at the message on the back once again.
And then… he didn’t know.
“Ugh, finally, you’re done.” Morgana groaned, poking his head out of Akira’s bag before he’d even fully made it out of the flower shop. “Your phone has been vibrating this whole time.”
Frowning, Akira ducked into one of the emptier hallways of the underground mall and fumbled to catch the phone that had been unceremoniously shoved out of his bag. “Did something happen?”
“I don’t know!” Morgana huffed and planted his paws against Akira’s back. “It just kept going off and I can’t unlock the screen with my paws!”
3 Missed Calls
12 New Messages
Akira winced. It wasn’t unusual for his inbox to have a message or two arrive when he was busy, but a rush like this could have only meant trouble. He started with the missed calls.
Sakamoto Ryuji - 16:07
He’d known about that call, Ryuji had spotted him walking down the street before he’d had the chance to pick up.
Sakura Sojiro - 19:41
Sakura Sojiro - 19:43
Voicemail - Sakura Sojiro - 19:44
“...maybe something did happen.” Morgana frowned.
“I can hope not…” Akira murmured with a sigh. He had, admittedly, served everything himself, but his plate was full enough as it was. He really didn’t want another accident adding to the mountain he’d somehow found a way to manage.
With a soft tap, Akira raised the phone to his ear and waited. Several seconds of silence passed, broken only by some sort of muffled shuffling before Sojiro’s sharp voice rang out.
“What the--Futaba! How did you get my phone?”
“What? I’m just calling him to say--”
“He’s still at work. Just send him a message--”
“I already did and he’s not responding.”
“He’s working, of course he didn’t--and give that back!”
“Uuuugh, Sojiroooo. Inari’s been up there for like three hours just staring at the ceiling.”
“Who--nevermind. Hang up before you get him in trouble--”
More louder shuffling, then--
“Ack! Come on! Someone needs to come scrape him off the couch before he turns into a real zombie and eats us all!”
“A zomb--what are you talking about? Just leave him be. Futaba--hey! Futaba! Get back down here--!” Click.
“What was that?”
“Yusuke is at the cafe,” Akira shrugged, his tone suggesting that his answer wasn’t meant to have been helpful. “Apparently he was bitten.”
“Bitten?” Morgana’s nose twitched, his body lurching further over Akira’s shoulder to peer at his face as they made their way back toward the station. “By what? A mosquito?”
Akira paused, his train pass hovering over the scanner as he silently debated whether or not to feed into Futaba’s unique sense of humor. He never knew when she was listening in on his phone. “No idea. Maybe it’s new slang.”
“What?” Morgana’s eyes narrowed, tail coming up to flick the back of Akira’s head with a small huff. “Come on, let’s just go. People are starting to stare and I’m hungry.”
“Right away, my liege. Your loyal chariot is eager to please.”
“Hm… liege, huh? I like that. You should--”
“--stick to dry cat food? You’re right. It is cheaper.”
“What?!” Morgana yowled, ducking back into the bag as several other passengers turned a curious gaze in their direction. “Y-you’d do that to me after all I’ve done for you? Dry food? I’ll never forgive you! Denying me sushi was bad enough and--”
“Calm down,” Akira sighed, slipping into an open seat with a relieved sigh. “There’s plenty of canned food back home.”
“Good!” A loud huff followed, two blue eyes glowing fiercely from the dark depths of Akira’s bag. “...anyway, why do you think Yusuke came all the way to the cafe? Can he really afford to waste the train fair? We could have just met him here.”
“Why?” Akira shrugged, his eyes glimmering with a confidence that only seemed to surface in the Metaverse. “...maybe because his treasure is in danger.”
“His treasure? What?”
Morgana, thanks to an exasperated, but supportive Ryuji, hadn’t been there when he’d delivered the calling card. As much as he trusted his feline comrade, subtlety wasn’t Morgana’s strong suit, and this? This was a mission much better performed solo. It had been difficult enough getting in and out of Kosei wearing a starkly different uniform -- even if he’d had the foresight to take off his blazer -- without gaining a fair amount of attention. Toting around a mewling cat in a surprisingly quiet building would have just invited unwanted eyes. He had enough of those at school.
“You mean that painting?”
“Hm.” Akira shrugged and tugged a book out from under Morgana’s back legs and settled into his seat. “Who knows.”
“What? That doesn’t even make sense! Hey! Heeeeey! Don’t ignore me--gah! No! I want to--a-aaahh… Mmm, just a little lower--mmmrrreeeoooooow!”
“Oh, you’re finally home.” Sojiro peered over his newspaper, regarding Akira with raised eyebrows. “Running late?”
“A little.” Akira smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Train problems.”
“Uh-huh…” Sojiro stood, folding his newspaper shut with the flick of his wrist and stretched. “Well, we’re headed home.”
“That’s right,” Sojiro grunted and gave the nearest barstool a light slap with his newspaper. “We.”
“Aww, come on!” Futaba whined, her head popping up from behind the counter. “Seriously? But the good stuff is about to start.”
“Come on, Futaba. Home. You can torment them tomorrow.”
“...what’s the fun in that?” Futaba mumbled, slinking her way around the counter, dragging her feet the whole while. “Fine then -- but I want my favourite for dinner!”
“Right, right,” Sojiro nodded, giving Futaba’s back a gentle tap to ensure she didn’t try to turn back around and dart further. “We’ll lock up, but don’t forget to lock up again when he leaves.”
“Oh, uh, thanks?” Akira shifted and pressed his back against the counter to allow them space to leave. “I--”
“Gyaaah! Hey! Heyheyhey! Why are you grabbing me? ”
“What…?” Akira began, only to be cut off as Sojiro gave him a firm push toward the back.
“That boy waited almost four hours for you. There’s fresh coffee in the kitchen, grab it, and get your ass upstairs--”
“You owe me big.” Futaba cut Sojiro off and hugged a flailing Morgana to her chest. “Like really big. A trip to Akihabara with a super-crazy top-notch grand prize reward big!”
“...Oh.” Akira sighed, running a hand through his disheveled hair. So much for subtlety. Either Ryuji had given them a head’s up, or Sojiro was much sharper than Akira had been giving him credit for. He could only hope it was the latter and he’d have some semblance of privacy for the next hour or two. Just because he didn’t have a deadline for this one didn’t mean it couldn’t go catastrophically wrong. “Right, of course. An amazing prize.”
Seemingly satisfied, Futaba nodded and nuzzled her chin against the top of Morgana’s head, earning a squeak of protest. “Now, Sojiro! I hunger!”
Chuckling, Sojiro nodded and started to follow her out the door, pausing a moment as he held it open and switched the sign. “What are you still standing there for? Get going!”
The door snapped shut with a loud chime and a soft click of the lock. Once the pair had disappeared from view, Akira abandoned his bag on the counter -- without Morgana to worry about, he could always grab it later -- and hurried toward the two cups of coffee left sitting on the stove. Both still steaming slightly and fresh, he made a silent note to thank Sojiro in the morning and made his way up the stairs two at a time.
When he reached the top of the stairs, Akira peered over the railing and scanned the room. Yusuke, as he expected, sat on the couch, his torso bent over a sketchbook that sat in his lap. From his lower angle, Akira could just make out the look on Yusuke’s face, and his heart thrummed to the beat of a hummingbird in delight. Dark, slender eyebrows were knit close together, his complete focus deep in whatever had most recently inspired him and drove his hand. His lips were parted, the soft tip of a pink tongue just barely visible, and Akira’s mind took a brief, dangerous turn as he wondered what it might be like to learn forward and--no.
Interrupting Yusuke in the middle of a project was practically a crime. and if he hadn’t been carrying coffee, Akira would have happily remained perfectly still until Yusuke finished. Tempting as it might have been, cold coffee would be a poor gesture after he’d waited upstairs for so long. The least he could do was offer a warm beverage before they spoke -- especially if Yusuke was there for the little stunt he’d pulled.
The next step whined under Akira’s weight, filling the room with a loud creek that was met with an irritated sigh. “Futaba, I’ve kindly requested three times now that you--” Yusuke stopped, his voice catching in his throat as he finally looked up, his eyes growing wide. “I--Akira. I apologise, I thought you were--”
“It’s alright,” Akira assured, setting their coffee on the long table where he normally kept his bag. “She caught me downstairs, Sojiro just took her home.”
“That’s… very fortunate.” Yusuke offered, brushing the bangs from his eyes. “I--where are my manners? You must be tired.” With every bit of grace he displayed in the Metaverse, Yusuke leapt from the couch and moved aside, motioning to it silently. “Please, sit down.”
“I feel like a guest in my own room,” Akira joked, amusement swelling in his chest as Yusuke faltered and seemed to be seriously reconsidering his actions. As cute as it was, he almost felt cruel. “I’m just kidding, Yusuke.”
“Sit down?” Akira’s palm bounced off the cushion beside him, his eyes soft. “Please?”
Yusuke hummed in response and complied, leaning forward to anchor his forearms against his thighs, a contemplative look on his face. The silence that followed was long, but far from uncomfortable. More than once the two of them had gathered in Akira’s room, each busy with their own tasks, simply taking comfort in the presence of each other and the welcoming aroma that wafted up from downstairs. Different though the situation was now, it was familiar enough that Akira didn’t feel the need to push.
Like a work of art, rushing Yusuke’s emotions would just end up a mess; a sloppy image that could be made beautiful as long as they were both willing to take their time. Akira had already taken the first step; left his calling card and a warning of his intentions. All that remained was the wait to see if the treasure he dearly sought would appear. Stealing was easy, but patience was a virtue that had brought him to Yusuke in the first place, and one he’d been offered endlessly in return. Thief or not, in the end, he couldn’t -- wouldn’t -- force the locks unless the doors were left open.
“If I may confirm something,” Yusuke spoke, his sudden speech snapping Akira from his thoughts, “just as a point of comfort for myself.”
“One who has a Persona -- who has removed their mask, in a sense quite literal, as it happened -- cannot have a palace… can they?”
Akira smiled, barely able to contain the warm laughter that bubbled in his chest. “That’s right,” his voice wavered with amusement, but he quickly pushed it down. “I’m sorry; I didn’t think it would cause any panic.”
“Panic?” Yusuke repeated, surprise melting into his tone. “Ah, no, that’s not quite -- perhaps something closer to habitual concern. I imagine it must come with the trade.”
“I’ll let you know if it ever happens to me.”
Yusuke chuckled, the sound smooth and warm, pouring into the room like honey. “I imagine, if given the chance, many would find delight in the chance to ‘take your heart.’”
“They can try,” Akira hummed, an easy smile sliding over his face as he leaned forward to meet Yusuke’s gaze. “But they wouldn’t find anything.”
“No…” Yusuke bent forward, his hand disappearing somewhere beside the couch and out of sight, coming back a moment later with a red card gripped gently between two fingers. “I suppose that would be impossible when it has already been taken.”
Akira shrugged, an easy roll of his shoulder accented by a lopsided smile. “I guess… I kept forgetting to lock my doors.”
“That’s dangerous,” Yusuke frowned, straightening. “The cafe may easily replace its supplies, but you--”
“It’s just a metaphor, Yusuke.” Akira almost laughed. Sometimes he could forget just how literal Yusuke could be; all part of the charm that had swept him away so easily. “Everyone has them.”
“Ah…” Yusuke nodded, his gaze falling back to the card in his hand. “Yes, I’d imagine so.”
Silence fell over them once more and again, Akira found himself waiting. He watched as Yusuke turned the card over countless times, alternating hands and fingers before he finally turned to face Akira fully and held it up.
“To steal one’s heart is to take their treasure, is it not?” Yusuke asked, his voice low and soft, just barely above a whisper. “But how could you possibly steal yourself?”
“Yes…” Akira began, his tone just as low. “That’s--”
Lips parted, Akira froze, a half-formed response dying in his throat as he felt heat rushing up his neck to settle in his cheeks. The genuine question in Yusuke’s voice implied he hadn’t meant it in any way but exactly as it sounded, but it didn’t stop the eruption of butterfly wings dancing in his chest. “That’s…” Again, words failed to form and he brought a hand to his mouth, turning away as he tried to muffle the undignified squeak that followed.
Honesty had always been a trait Akira treasured dearly when it was lies that tore his life apart, but Yusuke had somehow mastered the ability to turn the truth into something romantic without even trying.
“I don’t know,” he admitted, and felt his cheeks darken. “I guess I’d just have to steal you instead.”
To Akira’s delight, Yusuke actually flushed in response and raised his gaze to the ceiling. “...You kept them.”
“The stars?” Akira glanced up and smiled. “Of course. I treasure them.”
“...I thought they suited you,” Yusuke murmured, “but in the end they truly couldn’t compare.”
“Compare? To what…?”
Yusuke shifted, bringing his attention back down as he reached out with a careful hand, his the tips of his fingers disappearing into dark curls as he slipped a thumb past the frame of Akira’s glasses to brush it under his eye. “Everything I see here.”
“O-oh.” Akira almost choked, his heart effectively thrust upward and into his throat. He could almost hear the faded laughter in the back of his mind as every mask he wore was surely looking on, tickled pink with delight. “That’s… wow, Yusuke.”
“Aren’t I supposed to be stealing your heart?”
“I believe we already established you cannot steal what you already have.”
A slow, toothy grin spread across Akira’s face as he brought a hand up to cover the one cradling his cheek. Even with his own pulse pounding rhythmically against his chest, he could feel the confidence swelling within him; he didn’t need a mask for this.
“Looks like another successful heist.”
“It would seem so; and what truly delightful work of art I’ve acquired.”
“Yeah…” Akira breathed, leaning forward until their foreheads met, his free hand coming up to frame Yusuke’s cheek. “Beautiful…”
On the table, the forgotten cups of coffee grew cold, but on the couch, spaces were closed and the air was warm.