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The roof of Shujin’s pretty familiar to Ryuji by now. Its brief stint as the first hideout for the Phantom Thieves makes it a pretty important location, historically speaking. Aside from that, it’s where Haru does her gardening nowadays, so of course he’s gonna stop by and help out when he can. He’s got nothing but time, after all; might as well do something with the after school hours he’s got freed up.

Besides, Haru’s nice to spend time around. She’s got this vibe, it’s like... nice. Refreshing! She’s got a good head on her shoulders, and she uses it to measure people up without actually being all judgmental about it.

Which is exactly why Haru’s the only one he can go to for help.

But it’s something to work up to because he can’t barge in and demand help; that’d just be rude. So he picks some tomatoes, and they chat a little, and he picks more tomatoes, and they chat some more, and it kind of feels like she’s got stuff she’s thinking about so maybe he should forget about it and ask some other time—

“Ryuji,” Haru starts, and he almost throws the tomato he’s holding right off the roof; luckily, he manages to drop it onto the tomato pile. “Is there something on your mind?”

Well, so much for that.

“I— well, I got a favor to ask, if you don’t mind hearing me out,” he admits.

“Of course,” Haru says, because she’s just that nice. “I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

Ryuji bows stiffly, clapping his hands together in desperation. “Please teach me how to be romantic!”

“Romantic?” Haru repeats, sounding out the word in a carefully neutral tone. “Um, when you say ‘teach,’ what exactly do you mean?”

“Hold up!” Ryuji jolts back upright, staring at her with wide-eyed panic. “This isn’t me— I’m not asking you out! I’m asking you to help me ask someone else out! Not that you’re not worth asking out, you’re, like—“ Ryuji gestures vaguely at her, not wanting to dig his own grave any deeper than he already has. “But like, you’re good at love! I think! I mean, I don’t actually know, but you’re the only one I can ask!”

Well, looks like he’s gotten out the shovel and he won’t stop digging. Great.

“So you want my help confessing to someone you love,” Haru says.

“Uh!?” Sure, he brought this on himself, but shit, love? “I, uh, maybe? I don’t know!?” he sputters out, proving definitively why he needs advice. “It’s— love is kinda...”

It’s a heavy label, maybe one he’s not ready for yet.

“I really like him,” Ryuji says, “and I want him to know.”

Haru stares at him with a careful consideration. It kinda makes him feel transparent, like she can figure out everything going on in his mind while he’s still struggling to figure out anything about himself. Or her.

“I think anything can be romantic if it comes from a place of love,” she says. From anyone else it’d come off as wishy-washy bullshit, but from her, it actually sounds like solid advice.

“See! That’s it!” Ryuji exclaims. “That’s exactly the kinda stuff I need to hear! But also, uh, got anything else?”

“Well, I’m not sure how much help I can be if I don’t have more context.”

That makes sense. And honestly, Haru’s definitely the type that could keep a secret. She’s also not the type to relentlessly taunt him once she knows crush junk, which is why Ryuji went to her (and not, for example, Ann). Still, this isn’t the easiest stuff to talk about...

“So like, we’ve known each other for a while now,” Ryuji starts, hesitant. “Or, I guess, not that long? But it feels like a while, y’know? We’ve been through a lot.”

It’s tough to put into words. The thing is, a lot of this stuff’s been on Ryuji’s mind, but when it comes to what he feels, why he feels this way, when he started feeling this way, it’s all stuff that just kinda happened.

“He’s pretty dense, and he sucks at taking care of himself,” Ryuji continues. “He’s so damn stubborn about everything, too. But he’s also super intense about trying to understand stuff. Like, he’s stubborn, but he’s always ready to have his mind changed. Which is really cool of him. He’s good at listening when he knows it’s what he needs to do. Plus, he’s so passionate about what he loves that I just gotta cheer him on.”

Ryuji’s still not a big fan of pretentious art galleries, but it’s where Yusuke gets to show off all his hard work. It’s also kind of fun when they go together; even though Ryuji doesn’t know fancy art words, Yusuke always seems interested in his thoughts regardless of whether they agree or disagree.

“I dunno,” Ryuji finishes; it’s a weak note to end on, but feelings are hard. “I want to be with him. And I hope he wants to be with me too.”

“It sounds so simple when you put it like that...”

“Huh?”

“Oh, I don’t mean it as an insult!” Haru quickly reassures, not that he took it as one. “It’s just... I usually think of love as something that can’t be contained, an uncontrollable force that takes hold of people. But maybe it can be as simple as wanting to be with someone.”

Alright, there’s definitely probably stuff she’s thinking about.

For a second Ryuji considers keeping his mouth shut. He’s no good at being delicate, and that feels like what Haru probably needs; someone who can talk around stuff instead of charging ahead like a wrecking ball. But she’s got this look in her eye, and he can’t help but ask, “Do you feel that way about someone?”

“I think so.” It’s not exactly happy, the way she says it. “In all honesty, when it comes to love, I’m not the best person to ask— I don’t have many positive experiences with it.”

What the hell? That’s so sad?

“That came out much more dramatic than I intended,” she says, apologetically. Which makes it worse, she shouldn’t apologize for… saying something casually sad? Not being sad about stuff that’s sad? It’s bullshit, is what it is. “I just meant to say there are others who could offer more relevant advice.”

“You’ve given me a lot to work with already,” Ryuji reassures.

“But I haven’t actually said much...“

“You’ve said the kind of stuff that gets me thinking!” He doesn’t even realize it’s true until he says it; it’s like an epiphany, and once he gets started he just steamrolls ahead. “Like, what you said earlier— if the feeling’s simple, why can’t the rest of it be as easy? Or, maybe not easy, but it’s romance, not rocket science. And maybe romance isn’t all about saying how you feel romantically, maybe it’s more about saying how you feel.”

Ryuji hesitates; he could be way off base here, but if he’s not, this is something he’s gotta say. “It’s not off limits to you. Y’know? Even if you don’t have it completely figured out, you’re still allowed to feel stuff. Or whatever.”

Haru makes a sound that’s almost like agreement

“It helped me to talk it out,” Ryuji hedges. “It could help you. I get if you wanna talk to someone else about it, but I can listen, if that’s what you want.”

“I’m happier now than I used to be,” Haru deflects. “I don’t have as much to talk about.”

“But you can! If you want, I mean.”

Haru’s quiet for a while, long enough that Ryuji thinks she’s gonna go for a polite ‘nah, I’m good, actually’. Then she takes a deep breath.

“I really like her,” she says, “but I don’t think I want her to know.”

Ryuji gives her a moment to elaborate. When she doesn’t, he asks: “Why?”

“I don’t want to take advantage of anyone.”

“What do you mean?” Ryuji asks; he’s not following any of this at all.

“She’s done so much for me already,” Haru says. “I think I know how she feels, but I don’t know why.” She looks off to the side, towards what little horizon can be seen through the buildings. “If she doesn’t want to feel the way she does, isn’t this selfish of me?”

“It’s not!” Ryuji insists. He still doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but he knows selfish, and this ain’t it. “Whatever your feeling about whoever, it’s not always selfish to like... want something. Besides, it’s not always a bad thing!”

“Being selfish?” Haru asks, and crap, Ryuji didn’t think this through and he’s got no idea where he was going with this.

“Like… wanting to be with someone.” Ryuji still doesn’t know where he’s going with this. “Sure, it’s bad if you go overboard, but being wanted by someone you like feels kinda nice, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” Haru says. Her voice is soft, as if she’s telling some kind of secret.

“Yeah! And that means making someone feel wanted can be a good thing, right?”

“I suppose,” Haru says. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for ‘Let Haru Feel Not Terrible About Herself’, but it’s a start. “I still think I need to wait a little longer before I decide anything.” She gives Ryuji a smile, one with a rueful edge. “It’s a little cowardly—“

“No way!” Ryuji interrupts. “This shit— uh, sorry— this stuff’s nerve-wracking, yeah?”

Haru nods. “That’s why it’s admirable for you to take the initiative.”

“I mean, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s not that big a deal, right? Or, it is, but—“

Ryuji flounders, but before he can regain his balance, Haru laughs. “Sometimes you remind me of Mako-chan.”

“Huh? No way,” Ryuji says, caught off guard. “She’s with the student council. Can you imagine me in that crowd?”

“Maybe it’d be better if you were,” Haru says. Which is completely wrong. Better for who? Not Ryuji, that’s for sure.

They fall into silence for a bit. They’ve both got a lot to think about, after all. Then, when Ryuji thinks it’s been long enough, he asks the question that’s been on his mind the whole time. “...So who is it?”

Haru blinks. “You don’t know?”

“No?” Ryuji says, except it comes out as a question. Should he know? Sure, they’ve got a mutual group they hang with, but it’s not like the Phantom Thieves are the end-all-be-all of Tokyo (even if it feels that way sometimes). She could be crushing on anyone. She could be crushing on someone Ryuji doesn’t even know!

“Well…” Haru trails off, tilting her head to the side as she considers her next words. “It’s a secret.”

“C’mon, I’ll tell you my crush if you tell me yours.” Maybe it’s a little juvenile, but hey, whatever works.

“Is it Yusuke?”

“Wh—! What gave you that idea!”

“It is, isn’t it.” Haru giggles, probably because Ryuji’s as red as the tomatoes he’s surrounded by.

Ryuji can’t really respond to that, so he just. Crosses his arms. “That’s not fair.”

“All’s fair in love and war.”

“How does that make sense here!?”

Thankfully she takes pity on him, and doesn’t tease him any further. And despite his grumbling, Ryuji doesn’t actually push for details on her love life; he’s already gotten way more than he thought he’d get, and he doesn’t want to drive her off after she’s been so open with stuff.

“Well, whatever,” he says. “I hope it works out for you. And if it doesn’t, let me know, alright? If this mystery girl breaks your heart, I’ll do… something! I don’t know what, but I will!” Probably buy lots of tissues and ice cream and try to make Haru feel better— he can’t go fight a random girl, even if she does something as unforgivable as hurting Haru. Maybe Makoto could, though.

“Thank you,” Haru says. “Make sure to sweep Yusuke off his feet.”

“Ugh, shut up.” Despite his words, Ryuji can’t help but grin. “I’ll do my best.”