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A Dozen Dates Before the First

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Being recognized on the streets wasn’t unusual for Goro Akechi. He was famous at a young age, and—with all modesty—quite intelligent and good-looking too. The perfect recipe to attract a whole congregation of fans.

To be fair, not all of his fans were the complicated type. Some would simply ask for a photo and offer him some words of appreciation and encouragement, and Goro had no problem with them. However, sometimes a single high-pitched scream of “Akechi!” was enough to make a legion of thirsty fangirls come out from he didn’t even know where, pursuing him in an attempt to touch him, and sometimes even get a piece of his clothes or hair as a souvenir of the encounter.

He wasn’t quite fond of those ones.

Unfortunately, that afternoon he managed to attract a whole group of them. He wanted nothing but to visit a small tea shop, and eat a nice slice of cake to forget about his worries; but, as soon as he stepped out of the train, a middle-schooler recognized him, drawing the attention of the other ones in her group. Goro had been in that situation enough times to know it wouldn’t take long for their reaction to attract at least a dozen other fans, so he did the only reasonable thing he could at that moment: run.

Goro didn’t dare to look over his shoulder, but the sound of voices made clear that things turned out just as he expected, with more fans joining the original group. Thankfully, he was quicker than he looked, as a result of his frequent visits to the gym—that he, ironically, made to keep his attractive image—and soon managed to lose them. He took shelter behind a dumpster on a dark, narrow alley, hoping that they wouldn’t look for him in such a place.

He tried to catch his breath, then risked a glance at the main street, not seeing them there anymore. However, he knew it would be better to wait a little longer, since a few of them could decide to come back that same way. Goro waited, so focused on the street that the sound of a voice behind him made him jump.

“Hey… You’re that detective guy. The hell are you doin’ there?”

Goro looked at the person, recognizing him as the punkish blond guy that was with that boy with glasses, who opposed Goro’s arguments against the Phantom Thieves a few weeks before. He would be surprised by the coincidence, but at that moment he could think of nothing but that crazed group of fans still searching for him. Goro quickly placed a finger over his own lips, and the boy seemed to get the message, crouching beside him.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, concerned. “Are you hidin’ from someone?”

“Yes.”

“Who? Do you need help?”

Goro sighed, slightly embarrassed by the actual reason.

“My fans…” he said.

The blond boy furrowed his brow.

“Are you…” He interrupted his phrase, shaking his head in disbelief. “‘Course you’re serious. That’s what you get for being such a dazzling guy.”

“Should I take that as a compliment?”

The boy sighed as an answer. Then, to Goro’s surprise, he started to take off his own jacket.

“Really…” He placed that purple jacket over Goro’s shoulders without a second thought. “Would it kill ya to keep a low profile? You can’t even be surprised that—”

“Wait…” Goro interrupted, staring at his face. “What are you doing?”

“Hidin’ you.”

As he said it, the boy pulled the zipper as much as he could, then did the same with the hood, almost covering Goro’s eyes with it.

“Okay…” he said. “Now we’re just a duo of punks walkin’ around. It should be fine as long as you keep your head low.”

“I can’t see anything,” complained Goro.

“Don’t worry, I’ll guide you.”

“I…” Goro was about to refuse that offer, but changed his mind after thinking for a second. “Alright.”

“Anyway, where are you goin’?”

“Home.”

“Where is it?”

Goro hesitated briefly, then named the closest station to his apartment. The blond boy thought for a moment.

“It ain’t that far, right?” he said. “Okay, I’ll go there with you.”

“You don’t need to.”

“It won’t be good if your fans start followin’ you again.” He let out a small sigh. “C’mon, stop bein’ stubborn.”

His insistence made Goro give in. He followed that boy back to the train station, unsure if he should make some small talk or not.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said, “but I can’t remember your name…”

“Why ain’t I surprised?” he sighed. “It’s Ryuji Sakamoto.”

“I see… Thank you, Sakamoto.”

“Just call me Ryuji.” He dismissed the formality with a gesture of his hand. “It’s weird when people call me Sakamoto.”

Calling a stranger by the first name seemed a little weird, but Goro wasn’t willing to argue over something like that.

“If you prefer it this way,” he said with a small shrug.

They didn’t talk much after boarding the train, which resulted in a few awkward minutes. It was a relief when they finally arrived at their destination, getting out of the train together, finding an empty corner before looking at each other again. Part of Goro was still a little hesitant, and hoped that Ryuji wouldn’t decide to accompany him to his apartment. The last thing he needed was someone leaking his address on the internet for attention.

“Thank you for accompanying me,” he said, keeping a friendly smile on his face, “but I’ll be fine on my own now.”

Ryuji looked at him for a moment, considering the situation.

“You sure?” he asked.

“Yes,” nodded Goro. “They don’t usually follow me this far.”

“Okay, then.”

Despite his answer, Ryuji didn’t walk away, and it took Goro a moment to realize the reason.

“Ah…” He quickly took off that purple jacket, giving it back to him. “Here it is. Thank you.”

To his surprise, Ryuji offered him a slight smile.

“You should try wearin’ somethin’ different when you go out like that,” he said. “It’s easy to recognize you in those clothes.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Before Goro could say anything else, the sound of another train approaching called their attention.

“I better go now,” said Ryuji, giving him a light tap on the shoulder. “Well, see ya around.”

Without another word, Ryuji walked back to the platform. Goro watched him as he boarded the train, and when their eyes met, Ryuji waved at him. Well, that surely was a weird guy…

Still, as strange as it had been, Goro couldn’t help but smile to himself. It wasn’t every day that someone did something nice for him without demanding something in return, after all.

 


 

Goro asked himself for the umpteenth time what the hell he was doing outside of Shujin’s gate after school time, wearing fake glasses and a black hoodie.

It had been almost two weeks since his last meeting with Ryuji, but, for some reason, he just couldn’t take it out of his head. Goro told himself that it was only his pride, demanding that he did something to repay him, so… there he was, about to do just that.

Many students came out of Shujin’s gates, but there was no sign of the one he was looking for. The school already seemed to be empty, and Goro started to wonder if they had just missed each other when Ryuji finally appeared, casually chatting with a small, dark-haired boy. Goro waited for a while, until the two of them said their goodbyes to each other, then approached Ryuji, who didn’t even look in his direction, distracted by his phone.

“Ryuji Sakamoto,” he called.

Ryuji turned to face him, seeming lost for a moment.

“Ah, Akechi…” he widened his eyes in surprise. “Almost didn’t recognize you like that.”

“That’s a good sign.” Goro showed a discreet smile. “Your advice turned out to be surprisingly useful.”

He only realized he had sounded like a jerk when Ryuji frowned at him.

“Whaddya mean by that?” he asked.

Goro froze: it wasn’t like him to commit silly social mistakes like that. Ryuji stared at him for a while, then let out a tired sigh.

“Well, whatever…” he said, then indicated the way to the station. “Anyway, what are you doin’ here? Detective work?”

“Actually, I came to see you.”

“Me?”

This time, Ryuji seemed nothing but confused. If he was a fan, he would probably be delighted by the situation, but… in his case, receiving an unexpected visit from someone who was barely an acquaintance probably wasn’t as pleasant. Goro kept the friendly smile on his face, quietly hoping that someone would stab him on the back to free him from that awkward situation.

“I thought I should invite you for lunch,” he said in his most pleasant tone, “as a ‘thank you’ for helping me the other day.”

That explanation made Ryuji blink at him, before a brief chuckle escaped his lips.

“For real, man?” he asked, shaking his head. “C’mon, you don’t need to thank me for that.”

His reaction made Goro relax a little: he didn’t seem creeped out, at least.

“I insist,” said Goro. “Do you have somewhere you want to go?”

He expected Ryuji to deny it again, but instead, he considered it for a moment.

“Well, if that’s the case…” said Ryuji. “Do you like ramen?”

“Ramen?” Goro’s smile dried a little. “Yes… sure.”

“Don’t make that face. It’s really good, I’m tellin’ you!”

Goro averted his gaze, the flashbacks from a sad era of instant noddles as all his main meals coming back to his mind. From all the things he could choose, it had to be ramen? Ryuji looked at his face, and his smile became wider.

“Okay, ramen it is, then!” he said, giving Goro a tap on the back. “I’ll show you the way.”

Defeated, Goro followed Ryuji all the way to a small ramen restaurant. They took their seats, keeping an empty one between them, and Ryuji ordered the food for both. Goro wasn’t too excited about that meal, but chose to stay quiet and endure it. He was there to thank Ryuji, after all.

“Here ya go,” said Ryuji as soon as their food arrived. “Try it.”

Goro bit his lip, then did as Ryuji said. It was just one unpleasant meal… He could eat just enough to be polite, then treat himself to some nice cake after it. He changed his plans as soon as he tried his food, though: maybe because he never had ramen in a good restaurant before, but that one tasted nothing like the many instant ones he ate as a child. In fact…

“So…?” asked Ryuji with an excited smile. “ How is it?”

“It’s actually pretty good,” admitted Goro.

Ryuji laughed, satisfied.

“See?” he said. “Everyone likes it!”

Goro nodded, then lowered his eyes to his bowl.

“It seems like I was wrong in my judgment,” he said. “I’m sorry for it.”

“Nah, don’t mind it,” answered Ryuji, then gestured in the direction of their food. “Just eat as much as you want, it’s my treat.”

“Thank you.”

Goro did as he said, feeling satisfied when they said their goodbyes at the train station. He probably wouldn’t visit a place like that on his own, so he was thankful for the surprising and pleasant experience.

He only realized Ryuji had paid for the two of them when he was already in the elevator of his apartment.

 


 

On the following week, Goro approached Ryuji after school a second time.

“You’re here again,” observed Ryuji, only slightly surprised.

“And you know exactly why,” retorted Goro.

Ryuji showed an awkward smile, placing a hand on the side of his neck.

“My bad…” He averted his gaze. “Guess I’m kinda used to payin’ for a friend, so I did it without thinkin’ twice.”

Goro sighed in response.

“That’s fine…” he said. “But now I owe you two favors instead of one.”

“I already said you don’t need to worry about it,” insisted Ryuji.

“And I’m telling you I won’t be at peace until I repay the favors.”

Ryuji stared at him, then sighed, probably aware that it would be useless to argue.

“Okay, got it…” he said. “But you choose the place this time.”

Goro widened his eyes.

“Me?” he said. “But what’s the point if I choose?”

“Dunno…” Ryuji shrugged, a playful grin taking his face. “Sounds fun to know more about the tastes of the famous Detective Prince.”

Goro wasn’t so sure about the fun part, but nodded.

“If you insist.”

This time, he took Ryuji to a small tea shop that he had discovered by accident a few months before. It was a nice place with delicious sweets, but not well-known enough to be full of people. He asked for two cups of tea and two slices of strawberry shortcake, finding a seat for them at the back.

“You really like sweet stuff, don’t you?” said Ryuji.

That comment made Goro furrow his brow.

“Do you have a problem with it?” he asked.

“Nah…” answered Ryuji. “It’s just kinda cute to see a guy so passionate about stuff like this.”

“I really can’t tell if you’re mocking me or not…”

“I’m not!” Ryuji took a bite of his cake, then widened his eyes. “Hey… this stuff is really good!”

Goro offered him a victorious smile.

“I told you.”

“Yeah…” agreed Ryuji. “Good thing I let you choose this time.”

Ryuji turned his attention back to the cake, and Goro observed him for a moment. He looked like a happy child… And he still had the nerve to say Goro was the cute one.

“Ah, that’s right…” A thought suddenly crossed Goro’s mind, and he took his phone out of his pocket. “Before I forget, give me your number. It’ll be easier to contact you like that.”

“Still worried about that second favor?” asked Ryuji.

“I’m telling you it’ll stay in my mind until I repay you.”

Ryuji shook his head, then took his own phone.

“Fine…” he said. “Here ya go.”

Goro felt accomplished when they left the tea shop. Now that he had Ryuji’s number, all that was left was find a good way to repay—

Suddenly, Ryuji held his arm, pulling him in his direction. When Goro looked at him, Ryuji reached for Goro’s hood, quickly covering his head with it.

“What are you doing?” asked Goro.

“Shh…” Whispered Ryuji, looking at something behind Goro’s back. “There’s two girls wearing t-shirts with your face on them on the other side of the street.”

It was as if the cake had turned into lead inside his stomach.

“Are you kidding…?” he muttered.

“Wish I was…” answered Ryuji. “Just keep your head low for a while.”

Goro did as he said, not wanting to risk being recognized, especially while coming out from one of the few peaceful places he had.

“Okay…” said Ryuji after what seemed to be an eternity. “They’re already gone, but you better keep your hood like that for a while.”

He looked up at Goro’s face, then, as if realizing their proximity, took a step back.

“My bad…” he said. “That was kinda sudden, wasn’t it?”

“No, it’s fine,” answered Goro. “It would be a problem if they saw me.”

Ryuji nodded. For some reason, an uncomfortable silence grew between them, making Goro feel restless.

“We should probably go back now,” he said.

Ryuji agreed, and after going back to the train station they went their separate ways. It was only when Goro got out of the shower that evening that something crossed his mind. He took his phone, sending a message to Ryuji.

Goro: I just realized I’m owing you another favor after today.

Goro: I suppose we’re back to two now…

The answer came moments later.

Ryuji: OMFG

Ryuji: There’ll be no end to it like this!

Ryuji’s message made him smile. Maybe that wasn’t exactly a bad thing.

 


 

After a few months of failed attempts to repay Ryuji, going out together became like a habit to them. The invitations also stopped being only from Goro’s part, and started to come from both, anytime they had the chance to meet. In total, they went out together over a dozen times, but Goro had already lost track of the number after the first few.

He met Ryuji close to Shujin that afternoon, and together they made their way to the train station. There was only one vacant seat, and Ryuji gestured in its direction.

“Hey, take the seat,” he said.

“Ah, thank you.”

Goro didn’t think much about that gesture until he noticed the grin on Ryuji’s face.

“Tricked ya,” said Ryuji, barely containing a laugh. “Now you owe me another favor.”

He stared at Ryuji in tired disbelief.

“You… planned this?”

Ryuji nodded, then raised his hand, showing him four fingers.

“It’s back to four now.”

He seemed very proud of himself, like he usually did whenever Goro accidentally increased the number of favors he owed. Goro frowned at him.

“Are you having fun with it?” he asked.

“Sure am,” admitted Ryuji without any shame.

Goro’s angry face didn’t seem to affect Ryuji at all. Realizing it was just a waste of his effort, he sighed, defeated.

“If it stays like this, it will take me a few years to properly repay you,” he said.

“A few years?” Ryuji chuckled. “That’s optimistic.”

“It wouldn’t be so difficult if you didn’t complicate things on purpose.”

“Maybe…”

They disembarked a few stations later, then made their way to the planetarium, that, according to Ryuji, had been Akira’s suggestion. As Goro imagined, the place was filled with couples, but since Ryuji didn’t seem to mind it, Goro didn’t point it out; in fact, he was surprised to realize it didn’t bother him either.

At some point, Goro caught himself observing Ryuji through the corner of his eyes. Despite his popularity, Goro never had an actual friend; someone he could be himself with, and who would spend time with him without expecting something in return. And, truth be told, he enjoyed the time he spent with Ryuji. Maybe, in the beginning, he really just wanted to repay the favor, but now…

Goro bit his lip. Part of him knew that he shouldn’t get used to having Ryuji by his side, but something inside his chest kept asking for more and more, each time they went out together. More than once he wondered how it would be if he moved just a little closer… If he let his hand touch Ryuji’s, then softly brushed his lips against his knuckles… If he embraced his waist and held him close, feeling the warmth of his body and his fingers caressing his skin… If he leaned in his direction, letting his fingers sink into his hair as he kissed his lips… How would his lips feel against his? What expression would he have in his face? In Goro’s imagination, Ryuji always had that slight playful grin from whenever he tricked Goro into owing him another favor…

From there, his thoughts could go anywhere. Things he knew he could only do inside his head, but still longed for, in what he knew was a foolish hope—and still, no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t get rid of it.

And having Ryuji so close to him didn’t make it any easier.

Goro only realized he was still staring when Ryuji glanced in his direction, and their eyes met. Caught by surprise, Goro averted his gaze, annoyed at his own lack of discretion. He could feel Ryuji’s eyes on him for a while longer, before he, too, looked away. Ryuji should have realized there was something wrong by that point… No one could be that slow, right? Goro felt his stomach turn, keeping his gaze on the stars around them and away from Ryuji until they left the planetarium.

“This place is nice, ain’t it?” asked Ryuji, probably to break the awkward silence.

“Yes,” agreed Goro. “Thank Kurusu for the suggestion for me.”

Ryuji raised his brow at that answer.

“Why don’t you thank me for bringin’ you here, instead?” he asked.

“So you can tell me I owe you another favor?”

“Yeah.”

Goro sighed, shaking his head.

“I’m not falling for it again,” he said.

“We’ll see about that…”

Ryuji hummed to himself, and Goro couldn’t hold back a slight smile.

“It almost seems like you want to spend more time with me,” he said.

His words made Ryuji stare at him in fake surprise.

“Guess you really are a detective, after all!”

Goro had to make an effort not to cling to the meaning behind those words, instead letting out a brief laugh before looking at Ryuji.

“So, with this, we’re down to three again,” he said. “Do you have anything else in mind?”

Instead of answering, Ryuji lowered his eyes. It wasn’t the reaction that Goro expected, and a feeling of uneasiness soon started to take his chest, before Ryuji finally replied.

“Hey…” His voice was low, and he avoided looking at Goro’s face. “Y’know… Can’t we just forget about this favor thing?”

His words hurt like a punch to his guts, but Goro managed to keep a calm smile on his lips.

“Maybe it’s for the best,” he said. “I suppose you’re tired of my company by now.”

Ryuji stared at him, wide-eyed.

“That’s not what I…”

He stopped talking, averting his gaze again, then placed a hand on the side of his neck, taking a moment to think before proceeding.

“I just…” He gestured vaguely. “I just thought we don’t need it as an excuse to see each other anymore.”

Goro didn’t answer, surprised by his words. His silence, however, seemed to leave Ryuji more nervous.

“Unless you—”

“I see,” answered Goro. “You mean you simply want to hang out with me, right?”

Ryuji risked a glance at him, hesitant.

“Is it weird?” he asked.

“No.”

Goro’s answer made Ryuji sigh in relief, and despite not showing it as openly, Goro felt the same way. It was tiring to constantly question if there was any meaning in their relationship, so knowing that Ryuji also valued their time together was comforting.

“Alright, then,” said Goro. “From now on, I owe you nothing.”

He offered Ryuji a wide smile.

“So, next time, I’d appreciate if you treated me for another bowl of ramen,” he added.

Ryuji groaned in disbelief.

“Now you’re just exploitin’ me…”

“It was your idea, to begin with,” reminded Goro.

“Guess it was…”

But Ryuji didn’t keep the annoyed expression for too long, soon showing Goro that bright smile that he came to cherish so much.

“So… You free this Sunday?” he asked.

Goro chuckled at that sudden change.

“I think so,” he said. “Do you have something in mind?”

“Yeah, maybe,” answered Ryuji. “I’ll message you later, then.”

Goro agreed. They made their way to Shibuya together, then said their goodbyes as usual. On his way home, Goro had to make an effort to keep a straight face and hide the excited grin that insisted on taking his lips.

 


 

Sunday seemed to take an eternity to come, despite not being more than a few days away. Goro met Ryuji at the station earlier than usual, being greeted by a radiant and contagious smile.

“You look excited…” he observed.

“‘Course I am!” answered Ryuji. “It’s our first date, after all.”

Those words hit Goro like lightning, and he could do nothing but stare at Ryuji in shock.

“Excuse me…?”

Ryuji looked at him with a calm, slightly amused expression.

“Before we were kinda usin’ this ‘repay me thing’ as an excuse to see each other, right?” he said. “But now that it’s over, the only reason we got to be here is ‘cause we wanna be together.” He made a pause, leaning in Goro’s direction and lowering his voice. “Dunno about you, but it sure sounds like a date to me.”

Goro blinked, his mouth half-open. Was Ryuji supposed to be… smooth? As Goro tried to find a response, however, Ryuji’s confident expression started to crumble.

“I didn’t get it wrong, did I?” he muttered after a few seconds. “I mean… you kinda like me, right?”

Oh, of course… It was an act. Before he could stop it, a giggle escaped from Goro’s mouth, only making Ryuji’s clear embarrassment even worse.

“For a moment, I thought you knew what you were doing,” said Goro.

“Shaddup, man…” protested Ryuji. “I don’t know what to think when you stay quiet like that.”

“Then you should stop trying to look cool.”

“I…” Ryuji twisted his lips, staring at his own feet. “It went way better in my head.”

“Obviously.”

Ryuji grumbled to himself, and Goro’s chest was filled with a comfortable warmth. He reached for Ryuji’s hand, making Ryuji look at him again.

“Very well…” said Goro. “It’s a date, then.”

The answer seemed to take away all the embarrassment from Ryuji’s face, leaving only that excited expression. They made their way to the restaurant, sitting side by side. As they waited for their food, Goro was once again taken by the urge to touch Ryuji; this time, however, he didn’t hold back, discreetly placing an arm around his waist, receiving a smile as a response. As good as it could be, it would probably take a while until Goro got used to that new proximity—but he knew he would, just like he got used to Ryuji’s presence in his life.

After leaving the restaurant, they spent some time together. Goro hoped to stay with Ryuji until evening, but, in the middle of the afternoon, dark clouds covered the sky, emitting some low, menacing thunder noises.

“The sky’s gettin’ pretty dark, ain’t it?” said Ryuji. “We should probably go back before it starts rainin’.”

Goro had to agree. Before they made their way to the station, however, he pulled Ryuji aside, far from the sight of other people.

“Wait a minute.”

“What?” asked Ryuji.

“Is this how you want to end our date?” Goro raised his eyebrow. “I thought you were taking this seriously.”

“I… don’t know?” Ryuji frowned. “Is there a right way to end a date?”

He seemed genuinely confused, and Goro had to hold back an amused grin.

“Of course there is.” He sighed in fake frustration. “I can’t believe you asked me out without even knowing about it…”

Ryuji seemed to deflate, and Goro would feel guilty if it wasn’t so amusing to watch.

“My bad…” said Ryuji. “I ain’t really used to this kinda stuff.”

“I’ll forgive you this time.”

Ryuji nodded, then watched him, slightly curious.

“So… what is it?” he asked.

“I’ll tell you, since I have no choice…” Goro gestured for him to approach. “Come closer.”

Ryuji did as he said, and Goro took the chance to place a hand on the back of his head, leaning forward and kissing his lips. It lasted no more than a few seconds, but when he moved away, Ryuji stared wide-eyed at him.

“You tricked me!” he said.

His reaction made Goro laugh. Sweet revenge...

“And who are you to complain?” he answered. “I’m surprised you didn’t see it coming.”

Ryuji pouted at him. Goro placed a hand on his cheek, caressing it with his thumb.

“Don’t look so upset,” he said, then offered him a smile. “Do you want another one?”

“Hell yeah!”

In a second, the fake annoyance was gone. They embraced each other, sharing a slightly clumsy kiss—that was far from being bad.

“You better not forget it next time,” he said.

“I won’t,” guaranteed Ryuji.

As if to show proof of his words, he reached for Goro’s hand, holding it and bringing it to his lips, placing a brief kiss on it.

“We should go,” he said. “Really don’t want us to get sick ‘cause of the rain.”

Goro agreed, and they walked to the station, neither really wanting to go back yet. They arrived just in time to see Ryuji’s train stopping at the platform.

“Shit, that’s my train…” said Ryuji.

“You can make it if you run,” answered Goro.

“Okay,” “I’ll see you later, then!”

Ryuji placed a brief kiss on Goro’s cheek, and Goro lightly squeezed his hand before letting go. He watched as Ryuji ran to his platform and boarded the train, then offered him a smile and a wave from inside. Goro returned them, wishing that he could be there, beside him, just so they could be together a little longer.

He laughed to himself. It wasn’t like him to be all clingy and romantic like that, but being around Ryuji seemed to have that effect on him. So, he simply felt that slight pain, alongside that newfound warmth that almost seemed out of place in his chest. Someday, he would gather the courage to board that train alongside Ryuji, if only to accompany him to his station and have a few more minutes by his side. Maybe, by then, kissing would feel less awkward and more natural to them… Maybe he could even come to see that playful grin that was always in his mind. And maybe, someday, he would also have a name for that feeling Ryuji caused him just by being there, by his side. Someday, for sure…

But, for now, it would suffice to plan their next date.