It’s said that the longer you spend with someone, the better you get to know them. It only makes sense.
It didn’t work quite like that with Akira. He changed so often it was like getting to know someone new every few days.
The core was the same of course, always. He was kind, and determined, a bit theatrical, and liked to throw French into his sentences for seemingly no reason.
But some days he’d be quiet and philosophical, or instead quick to anger and aggressive, or perhaps high-spirited and full of energy.
Some days he’d just be… empty, almost.
Yusuke wasn’t the best at picking up social or emotional cues, and he would freely admit to this, but he was always watching the details. It didn’t take long to notice, these changes always took place right after days in Mementos or a Palace where Akira would just… stop. Stare blankly ahead of himself for several moments like he was somewhere else completely before blinking several times and shaking his head, sometimes rubbing his wrists and wincing as if they were tender.
He’d never speak of it, just continue on like nothing happened, but to Yusuke the difference in how he held himself each time was obvious.
A beast of many faces and broken limbs would burst from his soul and Joker was snapping, eyes narrowed and lips curled into a snarl that didn’t fit his face; a cloaked rider on a horse of pure white trot behind him and Joker watched Shadows beg for their lives with a cold distance that sent shivers down his spine.
But Akira hadn’t changed in a while. He seemed… happier. More at ease with the stability. Whomever he had with him left him quiet, and perhaps a little distant, but his eyes were kind and his words steady.
The others noticed as well. They would have been fools not to. They were over more often, later into the night, more comfortable with the consistency of their friend.
Tonight was one such night. Yusuke sat curled onto the old couch in Leblanc’s attic, sketching the profiles of Haru and Akechi, who were sat together on the floor close to the small space heater, speaking in low voices. The former had brought a small plastic bag with her when she had arrived earlier, but had only responded with a smile and a small laugh when asked after its contents. Even now, it sat by her feet in a crumpled pile, unopened.
Their leader sat on the bed, his gaze turned toward the sunset and expression distant, absentmindedly spinning a pencil between his fingers as though they were missing the weight of the dagger he carried with him in the Metaverse. It wasn’t a new habit. Honestly it was rather distracting in the corner of his vision, and Yusuke was just gearing up to ask him to stop when Haru cleared her throat and the quiet conversation beneath him ceased.
The sound seemed to startle Akira, and Yusuke watched in equal parts amusement and fascination as he jerked to a stop, abrupt movement disrupting the flow of movement and leaving him to scramble not to drop the pencil that not a moment had been maneuvered so deftly. Glancing around, he looked sheepish and offered a small shrug and held the pencil close like he was afraid of dropping it again. A subtle reminder of the humanity of Joker.
Haru chuckled, obviously having witnessed the spectacle herself, and when he turned his gaze toward her she was holding the bag in her lap, Akechi watching her knowingly, his own amusement contained only in a slight quirk of his lips.
“Okay!” Haru began lightly, digging in the bag as she spoke, “I’ve been meaning to bring this up for a while, but I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested. But well… if anyone in the Phantom Thieves would be interested it would be you guys!” With a small noise of triumph she pulled out a smaller felt case and a short, loosely coiled scarf, “When I ordered my last supplies for knitting, the company made a mistake and sent me almost triple what I needed. I know it’s kind of… an odd request, but I was wondering if anyone would be interested in learning to knit with me?” She seemed to grow less certain as she continued, wringing the fabric between her hands, “I thought… well, since Yusuke, you’re always looking for new mediums to try,” He nodded in agreement, “and Akechi is just… looking for hobbies,” Her voice was almost dry and Akechi rolled his eyes, “and well… really it was harder to pin a reason to ask you, Akira, but I’ve noticed, even just now, you never really seem to keep your hands still. I thought perhaps this would be a good outlet for some of that energy. Although honestly I just wanted some company,” She had gotten quieter as she spoke.
Yusuke was the first to respond, really, it was quite the obvious choice, “I’d be delighted to try, Haru. You were correct in thinking I would appreciate a new art medium. Thank you for the generous offer,” He smiled at the way she perked up at the agreement.
Akechi was next, “I don’t see why not, although I can’t promise I’ll be very good at it,” He laughed a little.
All eyes turned to Akira, who tugged on his bangs and seemed unsure before offering them all a small smile, “I… yeah, I think it would be nice, Haru. Thank you.”
Haru clapped her hands together at the final agreement, a wide grin splitting her features, “Oh! Thank you! I promise you won’t regret it,” With an eagerness normally reserved in the girl for her garden, she unrolled the felt case she had pulled out earlier, revealing several knitting needles of very sizes, and dug into the bag, pulling out multiple balls of yarn in different colors as she continued, “Don’t worry if you don’t know how to do it, either! It’s not terribly complicated, and I can help teach you all,”
With quiet steps Akira moved so he was sat on the ground across from Akechi and Haru, while Yusuke simply shifted to be on the edge of the couch. As Haru began to distribute supplies, continuing on about the different techniques she could teach them until they found which they were comfortable with, Yusuke could almost see the moment Akira’s gaze slipped away again, focused on something none of them could see, and he frowned slightly, concern prickling at the edges of his thoughts.
He’d been doing so well lately.
He watched as Akira blinked several times, expression furrowing, looking… confused. It was an odd emotion for the situation. Akira looked at the supplies in his hands and then back at the group around him, surprising everyone when he interrupted Haru with an unsure, “H-Hold on a second,” He was quiet for a moment again after that, expression shifting, listening to a conversation they couldn’t hear. They’d all learned to let him have his space when this happened. Holding twelve Personas in his mind at a time, he had explained, meant that sometimes his attention was called away when one of them had something to say to him, or too loudly to each other.
When his gaze focused back on them he explained, “Clotho, uh, my current main Persona -” Yusuke didn’t miss the way his gaze flickered to the small collection of sketches pinned over his desk when he said that, “well, she’s one of the… Weavers of Fate. I promise this is relevant. She’s really excited about this idea. Apparently she loves knitting. Which isn’t really surprising? Anyway she uh, she asked a favor of me, and it's kind of weird, but she thinks she can guide my hands and teach me almost if I try, so just… yeah, I-I think I’d like to try that for her, if that’s alright,”
Haru seemed caught off-guard, left staring at him for a long moment.
When it seemed Akira was about to retract his statement in the silence, Akechi huffed, “It certainly won’t be the oddest thing we’ve encountered. I, for one, am curious as to what it may entail,”
Yusuke was quick to add his opinion, “Whatever may help your muse, Akira. It is different for all of us,”
He didn’t exactly look comforted by the words, but nodded anyway, as Haru finally composed herself, “Akira, whatever makes you most comfortable. I think it’s very kind of you to offer something like that to your Persona, and I would never try and get in the way of that bond,” She gently tugged his hand away from where it had gone back to tugging at his bangs and sent him a reassuring smile, only sitting back when one was returned.
With that, the issue was resolved as if it had never been a problem in the first place - and a new tradition among their small group was formed.
Akira normally called the meetings, although they were easy to time at about twice a week. During this time, Akira’s gaze wouldn’t just go distant, but would glaze over, and his movements seemed mechanical and stilted as he worked. But the resulting work was beautiful, Yusuke could admit that, even as his own hands struggled with anything beyond a solid color line of yarn. It was frustrating as it was exciting to have something new to work on whenever he was in a slump.
Haru chatted happily with anyone willing to listen, and he hardly ever saw Akechi more relaxed than when he had nothing more to focus on than her words and the needles in front of him.
However, Yusuke was the first to learn that any conversation with Akira during these times was… different.
“Hm, Akira, do you think you could move the space heater closer to us? It is rather cold up here,”
“Only the truest of intentions can keep the heart warm under the cold winds of betrayal,”
Akechi’s quiet needlework stuttered at the words and Yusuke hummed, “Insightful, I suppose,”
“Akira-kun, what do you think of this pattern? Too much?”
“Only the knots in the works of Fate can show true ugliness,”
“Oh! Thank you!”
“Kurusu, how do you keep your hands so steady? It’s almost… unsettling,”
“Centuries teach anyone to stand unmoving against the relentless march of time,”
“Why did I even bother asking,”
They’d meet twice a week, and when they began to leave and Akira blinked out of his trance, he’d look at the growing piece of fabric in his hands with confusion, as though he had no memory of creating it. But soon he would smile, and he always made sure to set it aside with the utmost care and tenderness before moving to see them out the door, waving with loose shoulders and relaxed features. A rare sight indeed.
Yusuke even saw small changes in the Metaverse. When Joker summoned Clotho, the Persona hovered over him with an almost maternal protectiveness, and seemed to watch Yusuke and the others with a warmth that hadn’t been there before, as though she were grateful.
Yusuke thought it was an unintended consequence he could appreciate. It left with a warmth deep in his chest that could only be compared to how he felt on late nights at Leblanc, watching the Sayuri and listening to the sounds of Akira and Sojiro busy behind the counter. Peaceful.
It continued in this odd way of peace for nearly a month.
Abruptly, Akira stopped calling meetings. The easy contmentment to his movements that they had grown used to vanished along with them. Yusuke was surprised by how deeply he missed it, missed the version of Akira that had seemed happy. Now he seemed to border far closer to the empty he’d only see on occasion. Lost, was the best way to put it. It was a feeling Yusuke had been intimately familiar with for a time, and it pulled at something to see that same slump across someone else’s shoulders, even more as he watched Akira actively push away any questions about it.
It wasn’t until one night at Leblanc, when Haru cautiously asked after if they were to have another knitting meeting soon, that he was able to watch something in Akira’s carefully crafted mask crack, as he buried his face in his hands with a long sigh and shook his head.
Haru seemed to understand something then, that he wouldn’t until later. Her expression softened, sorrow darkening it’s edges, and she pulled his hands away from his face, much like she had the night she had first proposed their meetings, and quietly offered, “I could teach you, if you’d like. For her,”
The parallel would follow him for weeks. Like the reprise of a song that had once been sung with a loved one, now echoed alone in grief.
None of them knew what happened to Akira’s Persona. All they knew was that sometimes, in the wake of a quiet moment in the Metaverse, new ones would appear, and old ones would never be seen nor spoken of again.
It wasn’t until days later, when they were crowded together in Leblanc’s room, talking about nothing at all in the wake of a meeting, that he would understand that this is what had happened to Clotho. Lightly tracing fluid shapes onto his sketchbook, his gaze travelled around the room searching for inspiration. There, he found the scattered sketches, pinned to a corkboard behind Akira’s desk that he had seen Akira glance at all those weeks ago.
At the time he thought nothing of it. Now, he noticed that they were crude, but detailed sketches of a select few of Akira’s Persona - ones that he could recall being called upon frequently before they abruptly disappeared.
He also noticed a new face among the sketches. Clotho.
He glanced at Akira, who had his head bent close to Makoto, listening intently to whatever she was murmuring about and nodding occasionally.
So it was a memoriam wall of sorts. That was… rather depressing.
An idea struck him as he looked back at the sketches, and he cautiously approached to get a better look. Yes, it would do nicely as a way to show his appreciation.
That night, he moved his last piece off his table - this had priority - and went to work. It was a long night, of painstaking details and barely recalled memories, but when he was able to return to Leblanc the next day with his prize clutched in hand, it was worth it.
Akira smiled at him questioningly, but lead him up the stairs regardless. The blanket that he had been working on with Clotho, he could recognize it for what it was now, sat loosely draped over his shoulders. A sudden wave of nerves crashed over him the longer sat under Akira’s inquiring gaze, watching the boy sit curled under a reminder of why this moment was so important.
“I… have a piece I’d like your opinion on,” He settled on, before turning the small canvas around.
He was greeted with a strangled gasp, and watched without stopping as Akira delicately traced the lines of the paint, something… fragile in his gaze.
The longer the silence sat, the more uncertain Yusuke became, and he began to explain, “I couldn;t help but notice the sketches behind your desk, and I came to realize how the loss of Clotho, in whatever way that is, may have been affecting you, so I thought-”
“It’s… beautiful, Yusuke” Akira’s eyes were suspiciously wet as he looked back up at him, voice hoarse, “Thank you,”
“It was nothing, really -”
He was cut off when Akira gently brushed the painting aside to gather him into a hug, shaking slightly against his frame. Almost uncertainly, Yusuke reciprocated, holding his leader close.
It was easy to forget that he was just a teenager like them. Well… if he could ease whatever invisible burdens curved his back and shook his shoulders, how could he turn away. With a small smile, he shifted to bundle Akira closer and whispered, “Any time. She was a lovely muse,”
“Yeah… she was,”