It was one of his greatest shortcomings as a food blogger, a secret he could never admit. Goro Akechi could not cook.
He'd reviewed dozens of pastry shops in the city over the past year, skyrocketed to small-time stardom with his aesthetic photos and luscious descriptions. Interviews were starting to become a part of his life as more and more people saw him as some sort of big-city lifestyle guru. Questions from his skincare routine to his diet were routine.
"Akechi-kun, how do you ever manage to stay so healthy when you eat all that?"
"Oh, you know," he would adlib. "I eat a lot of fruit." True: apples are impossible to fuck up. "Make sure I get a lot of lean proteins in." True: He drinks nutritional shakes daily. "Then I carb load and sweat it off!" They always laugh, while Goro wonders when he last ate something at home that didn't come out of the microwave.
Akira and Sumire had acted stunned when he revealed the truth to them. Even now, he could see the disappointment on their faces. Who wants a grown man for a boyfriend who can't even make his own dinner? He hadn't shared his sob story with them - he didn't want their pity in the form of Sumire's delicate frown, Akira's clenched jaw. He didn't want their platitudes and attempts to gloss over everything he had been through as a teen. Goro just wanted to keep on doing what he liked.
Which, regrettably, meant doing something he didn't like: admitting his own shortcomings and growing from them.
They tried, and Goro recognized that; under a petty layer he knew that they recognized him trying too. But it all felt so stupid, cooking lessons in their cramped apartment, asking him to hand them tools he had never heard of, to perform menial tasks that meant nothing. He was out of his depth, pale hands sweaty and shaking and -
"Shit!" Blood welled on his perfectly manicured fingers as Akira grabbed his arm.
"That was a stupid way to hold a knife," he chided while bandaging the cut. Goro only scowled in response. The cuts across his knuckles were shallow but annoying, reopening as he moved his fingers. It was the last attempt the couple made to teach Goro how to cook.
The memory was sharp on his mind as he scrolled through his feed, absentmindedly liking and sharing some of the things that most matched his charming persona. His eyes lingered on a gif from the new PTSkull video, watching broad hands delicately pipe acid green frosting onto an orange cupcake. The image was just horrifying enough that Goro couldn't resist the siren call, and clicked into the video.
The video began as Skull's videos always did: a horrifyingly bad Italian accent, excited hands dancing in front of some neon-colored shirt. Never a face - it would disrupt his brand, his mysterious claims week after week that he was a phantom thief.
Goro was pleasantly surprised as Skull began zesting a lemon, the footage sped up while his voice narrated the process. Maybe it wasn't as horrifying as he had suspected from the title. So far, it was just a regular lemon cake.
"Now I know most of my fans are MLG gamers," his voice cracks as if he is holding back laughter, and Goro can imagine him smiling, "but for those of you who live under a rock, this shit is one hundred percent American gamer fuel." Ah, there it was, a bottle of Mountain Dew in the vlogger's hands. He cracked it open for the ASMR effect, but also so that he could playfully bounce and roll the bottle around without causing explosions. Good call on the producer's part.
Skull's voice miraculously managed to stay serious as he waxed poetic about the "flavor adventure" of the soda in his hand, about how it would raise your FPS and your heart rate, and shared the original catchphrase of the drink. "It'll tickle your insides... if you know what I mean."
Goro snorted at that.
He poured a little into the cake batter, along with bright orange food gel, and set to mixing the batter together. An upbeat ska tune played in the background as Skull sped through the process of baking the electric bright cupcakes, and Goro let himself relax to the sound of trumpets and guitars. He could have picked apart the English lyrics, but it seemed simpler to just let them flow through his ears.
Before long, Skull was piping the buttercream frosting that had grabbed Goro's eye, sprinkling crushed up Doritos over the top.
"Now a-thatsa gamer fuel!" Skull declared, horrific accent back. He took it up for a bite, moaning delightedly. "It's way too sweet," he mumbled. "I can't stop eating it though." A pair of hands reached from behind the camera, but he swatted them away with a spatula.
He smiled down at the cupcakes wistfully. When was the last time he’d tried baking cupcakes? He must have been very small if his memories of his mother were real. With her lingering like an awkward taste in the back of his mind, Goro left a comment: I wish I could cook like this. Well, maybe not like *this,* but like you.
Goro stretched, setting down the phone and glancing at the clock. 3 am. He really should get some sleep before tomorrow began properly. It was a busy day.
When he woke up, Goro Akechi had a strict routine to follow. Skincare products applied and left to rest while he brushed his teeth and preened his hair. His friends had always mocked him for brushing his teeth before eating coffee or breakfast, but the idea of morning breath ruining his taste buds left him reeling. Breakfast this morning was umeboshi onigiri. It had to be quick, something he could eat cold while wrangling the last of his notes into shape. Goro ran his eyes across the studio, jotting quick notes into his journal of what needed to happen today, this week, soon. He was running out of frozen dinners; the plants needed watering; the spot in the room that had half-way decent lighting from precisely three to five in the afternoon needed to be cleaned so he could take some scheduled shots.
It was only once he was out the door, nestled between several other passengers on the packed train, that he could allow himself the luxury of reading his notifications. Each and every one groomed that fragile place in his heart that had once thought he was unloveable. They made it clear it wasn't true: everyone was loveable if they conformed to a desirable shape. And he had.
And today, his notifications were exploding. There were a few of the regular crowd laughing at his jokes - or reposting them word for word in their own attempt to farm likes; a large wave of new followers that he raised a manicured brow at (did that Vague piece get published early?); and a whole lot of unfamiliar faces screaming delightedly in the comments of... the PTSkull video he watched before bed?
who is this guy
seems hot actually
bro you gonna kiss
he wants to be like YOU skull
Haha nice video skull you should check our my minecraft channel and collab me
he's a cop don't let him narc you out skully
phanboy army find out everything about that pancake detective stat!
kldsfjlksfjklds did skull actually respond to this rando
i wanna cook like you too baby!!!
has a PT ever replied to someone before
admin of phansite is gonna have to make a statement this unheard of
hot russian singles available in YOUR area
this boy is too pretty to be real he's a COP
the phantom theives aren't real shut the fuck up
MaYbE nOt LiKe ThAt lmfao yeah who wanna make fucking dorito cakes
Goro scrolled back up to his original comment, covered in likes, and the first response left on it, approximately six hours ago.
PTSkull: you and me, pancake boy. how's Friday look?
His heart stopped, and for a moment he thought he was about to fall into the little old lady clinging to the pole next to him.
An (alleged) member of the Phantom Thieves, a group of people responsible for a handful of high profile leaks, hackings, assorted crimes, and political art pieces over the past five years, wanted to speak... to him?
Goro left a quick reply inviting Skull into his DMs before backing out of the app, turning his gaze up at the morning headlines, and focusing on those. Political speculation about the upcoming Diet races; actors promoting a pirate film; nothing consequential, nothing distracting enough to keep his mind from floating back to a rough voice that couldn’t manage to contain laughter for more than a few minutes. It stayed in his brain as he filed affidavits for later clerical use; as his boss lectured him simultaneously for the circles under his eyes and the amount of work that still needed to be done; as he scheduled his next few promoted events for the blog. His lunch break was all but over when his phone chirped, letting him know a message had arrived.
Goro chewed on his pencil all the way through the rest of the pre-trial meetings waiting to read the response from Skull.
First impression? The guy abused exclamation points. That shouldn’t be surprising to him, given the way the vlogger talked in his cooking show, but it still made Goro feel like he was reading a message from an aggressively excited high schooler, or maybe a literate puppy with thumbs and an iPhone. Something about it made him seem earnest, even if he was coming off strong. Goro could have said no, but the fact that Skull had a whole plan laid out already was endearing. It wasn’t like it was a date or anything. In fact, if they ended up collaborating, he could put the coffee on his business expenses.
The cafe Skull had invited him to seemed passingly familiar. It was all done up in dark woods, a cramped space, but homey. The sweet smell of clove and spiced apple lingered under a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. He resisted the urge to cough passive-aggressively as the barista looked up at him with wide eyes.
“Sorry, uh, we’re closed,” he mumbled as if embarrassed, putting out the cigarette in a nearby ashtray. Goro frowned, looking down at his wristwatch. The old man was coming around the counter now, broom in hand. “I know you’re about to say something about how it’s only 4:05, but we have a private event in a bit.”
Just as Goro opened his mouth to interject, there was a thumping of feet as someone ran down the back stairs seeming to skip several despite not falling. “I got it, Boss, he’s with me!” a cheery voice called. The stranger beamed at him from across the room, as if he was unable to read “Boss’s” irate face. Goro smiled back weakly, barely raising his lips to match the man’s face. He was quick to snap judgment; bleached undercut, multiple piercings; and… was that a hint of a tattoo under that man’s unbuttoned collar?
The barista looked back at Goro with a frown on his face, clearly far less adept at holding back contempt than the young blogger was. His eyebrow arched as he returned his gaze to the man in the stairwell.
“You better clean up well, or I’m not renting the shop to you again, Sakamoto-kun,” he growled. The barista reached into his apron pocket to retrieve his keys. He tossed them across the room to the blonde and stalked out the door, only pausing to flip the sign and hang his apron on the coat rack.
Sakamoto leaned over the edge of the banister, still beaming at Goro. He turned away to fiddle with his attache case, disarmed at how easily the other man grinned. It finally sunk in that his first date with Akira had been here all those years ago, and the brunette could feel the heat rising to his cheeks.
“It’s Goro, right?” Sakamoto asked, walking over with an outstretched hand. Goro took it with a professional smile.
“Goro Akechi, yes,” he answered, with a delicate emphasis on his surname. “Sakamoto-san, is it?”
“Ah naw,” the blonde answered, brushing at the air dismissively. “I’m just Ryuji. Studio’s upstairs, c’mon Goro!” Sakamoto pulled him along, having not let go from the handshake nor having picked up on Goro’s preference for professionalism. The brunette had no choice but to be swept away, following like a lost child in the supermarket, brown wide eyes and all. The blonde led him into a small attic, photoflood lights bringing the space into sharp contrast as Goro’s gaze danced around the room.
He recognized Skull’s set - a long kitchen island that he now recognized as being on wheels; a few wire shelving units filled with supplies and knick-knacks with a clean space in the sloping walls set as a perfect backdrop. There was even a tiny green screen corner, a separate, softer light trained on it. It wasn’t a bad setup given the size of the attic, which also seemed to be a storage room for the cafe with a small futon and desk jammed into the corner. A massive bird of paradise grew in the corner near the futon, its leaves reaching hungrily for the window light.
“Your studio is lovely,” Goro admittedly, feeling a wave of jealousy. Curiously, it was devoid of cameras at the moment, despite a neat array of ingredients center stage. “I’ll admit though, when you suggested meeting at a cafe, I thought we were going to have coffee.”
Sakamoto wrinkled his nose, puglike, before laughing. “For real? You asked me for cooking lessons, didn’t you?” The laugh was gentler than his on-screen laughter, less a cacophony of sound, and more a rolling chuckle. Skull ran a hand through his short blonde locks, embarrassment tinting his ears. “I uh, make horrible coffee, but I can clear this up if you’d rather and we can get some from downstairs and uh, just. Promise not to judge Sojiro’s coffee based on me.”
Goro sighed, setting down his attache case and shedding his coat in the heat. “Show me what’s over there before we give up.” Skull lit up again, pulling on Goro’s hand so hard that he thought his glove might fall off. Wait - was he still holding Ryuji’s hand? Goro squirmed away, peering down at the counter.
“Gyudon?” It took all of Goro’s social grace not to sneer at the groceries in front of him. What was this guy, twelve?
“It’s perfect for beginners! And also, it’s my favorite. But it’s impossible to mess up man, while teaching technique, so it’s the one for this situation, y’know?” What was it about the earnestness that made him feel inclined to just go with the situation? Why did he make puppy dog eyes at every chance? Goro reached for the onion tentatively.
“The last time I tried to cut an onion I scraped the skin off my knuckles,” he admitted, bitterly. “My friends don’t even let me in the kitchen anymore.”
“Show me.” Skull’s gaze was suddenly serious, laser-focused on his hands. Goro set the onion down on the cutting board, slipped his gloves into his pocket, reached for a small knife, and--
“Wrong.” Sakamoto tapped at a larger knife. “The little paring knife isn’t going to get you far. You want the weight from a larger blade to help slice through thick veggies.” Goro scowled, his fragile pride wounded at being wrong from the start, but Ryuji’s voice was gentle. He took the offered knife, slicing the top off the onion. “Try this,” the cook urged, hovering his hands over Goro’s. “May I?”
He grunted, and Ryuji set his hands down on Goro’s, guiding the knife. “You could keep cutting it like this, but if you slice it in half first, it won’t roll away from you.” He did so. “Instead of cutting straight down? Angle the blade.” The other man was shorter, his breath tickling Goro’s neck as he spoke behind him. “See, now we’re still cutting down, but also across a little. It’s like a guillotine. Way more effective.” He pressed down on the blade again. “Keep your fingers like this,” Ryuji insisted, curling his knuckles inward like a claw. “That’s right. Now you won’t be able to chip those fingertips off.”
Goro made another slice, his personal cheerleader egging him on, falling into a rhythm of easy chatter with Ryuji. The other man had a seemingly endless supply of things to say, happy to fill any void in their conversation without expecting Goro to fill in. His jokes were a little juvenile, but he had a sharper wit than Goro had expected, a comeback for everything he said. By the time the scallions and beef were chopped, Goro gave in.
Ryuji looked up from the skillet questioningly. “What?”
“You claim to be a phantom thief, what are you doing inviting someone who works for the justice department over?” Ryuji snorted, before laughing. The loud laugh, the one that sent alarm bells ringing through Goro’s skin. His eyes were watering up, and it wasn’t from the onion fumes. Goro crossed his arms, pouting against the edge of the island. “What’s so funny?”
Ryuji tried to stifle his laughter. “Oh man, trust me, I am the least of your Phantom Thiefly worries.” He reached into the fridge, pulling out drinks for them both. “I used to hate you so much,” he confessed, “but it turns out we have mutual friends. They spoke so well of you that I had to rethink my position. Turns out you’re cute. Next thing I know, I’m a fucking Goroboy. Pass the beef.”
Goro frowned. Mutual friends? Cute? He handed over the plate, raising an eyebrow as Ryuji also added spoonfuls of sugar to the skillet.
“It’s part of the recipe! I’m a professional, trust me.”
“I don’t know about that,” he mumbled, pouting. Ryuji bopped him in the nose with the spoon.
“Just because you’re not a phanboy doesn’t mean we can’t get along!” the blonde chided. Goro flushed, wishing that he had left when he still had the chance. “I mean, someone like you is the only one who can really get what it's like being a Phantom Thief. We’re the same.”
Goro stared back blankly. “You think a food blogger who works for the top public prosecutor in Japan - who openly has called the Phantom Thieves on their shit - is the same? As you?”
“Yep. We’re both just tryin’ to make the world a better place, hiding behind a mask, aren’t we? And trust me. You agree with the Phantom Thieves way more than you think.”
A silent moment passed between them, Ryuji focusing on their dinner. “Anyway, we’re making a simple sauce here. Sake. Mirin. Soy. Shit you should probably always have around. We’re just gonna pour ‘em in and let it reduce.”
And like that, he was uncomfortably close again. Staring up at Goro with those big eyes, stubbornness written on his brow. Something told him that no matter how hard he argued, he wouldn’t concede his point; unfortunately for Ryuji, neither would Goro.
“That just leaves the egg! Ready to get cracked, Goro?” He ribbed him, effectively ending the tension of the moment.
He was loath to admit it, but he was having fun with Ryuji. The food had turned out excellent, something he’d never been able to say about his cooking attempts, and Ryuji was funny, regaling him with tales of teenage adventures that Goro somehow doubted had really happened.
“My best friend is a stubborn bastard,” Ryuji mentioned out of nowhere. “Told me he and his boyfriend got into a fight over cooking issues, and that he pouted in the corner after.”
Goro just stared back while he continued. “Anyway, I say to him, hey! I’m a professional! Let me teach him! And then he told me to fuck off and that his boyfriend was too proud to admit he can’t cook.”
“Eh, bet your friend is a shitty teacher.” Goro picked listlessly at his last few bites.
“Oh, definitely,” Ryuji agreed, leaning in. “I mean, here we are, having a nice night together, just two dudes eating a home-cooked meal on a bed. And you’ve done an amazing job!”
Goro blushed at the praise. “Helps to be taught by someone who knows what he’s doing,” he admitted modestly, taking another bite.
“Thanks, Goro. Now that I know how you feel,” he reached onto Goro’s bowl, stealing the last slice of pickled ginger. “Will you tell Akira that I’m a better teacher and a better date than him?”
“Shut up,” Goro hissed eloquently. Ryuji laughed into his mouth as Goro shoved him down onto the bed. He tasted unexpectedly sweet - like citrus, like electricity - leaving Goro laughing too.
“What?” whined Ryuji as Goro surfaced for air, fingers caught in his hair.
“It’s just,” and he laughed again, pressing his forehead against the blonde’s, “I didn’t expect you to taste like Mountain Dew.”