“Are you listening to me?”
There’s not a shadow of accusation in Yusuke’s tone. Akira takes a long time to register his words maybe for that specific reason. He’s become used to paying attention to aggression and not much else.
A bit too slow, he lifts his head up from the book spread open between them and that he’s stopped paying attention to a while ago. His glasses are fogged up a bit so he takes them off, and Yusuke’s tranquil stare meets his with a crease between his brows that speaks of confusion more than worry.
Akira smiles, a little lopsidedly. “Sorry.” His voice is rough with fatigue despite Takemi’s medicine, his limbs still aching from the trip they took to Niijima’s Palace earlier; and if his head feels light with all of it there’s still the whisper of Akechi’s voice in it, lilting and menacing at once. Distracting.
“Are you all right?” Yusuke asks.
“I am. Go on.”
Yusuke doesn’t look suspicious, really. His face is always a sort of neutral-leaning-on-sad when he’s not in the midst of some intense emotion—and right now he isn’t, because he isn’t physically exhausted the way Akira is, because Akira hasn’t called for him in combat since he figured that Akechi’s strength is a tad more useful right now.
He doesn’t know whether to feel bad or clever about it.
Yusuke’s fingers brush over the paper of the book as his voice carries on, and Akira looks, blinking fiercely to make sure he doesn’t doze off this time. His hand crawls to the space beside him where Morgana has been sleeping since they came home, his fingers digging into fur and feeling the soft vibrating of his friend’s purrs against them like tickles.
It’s not that the book isn’t good, or that Akira dislikes listening to Yusuke. He’s a good listener. The fact that he is out of calculation most of the time rather than genuine interest doesn’t change that, and Yusuke has a way to him, a sort of unawareness that makes him sound confident by default. His voice is as pleasant as the rest of him. Leblanc is long past closing time now, and fall has come dark and brisk, which means that the only light they have is the glow behind the bar. Still, the picture Yusuke is showing him looks beautiful. Akira hasn’t touched the paper it’s printed on but he can tell by the warm glossiness of it that it’s expensive. It’s a wonder Yusuke could afford the book at all.
Yusuke’s fingers are a little jittery. Hunger might explain that.
Akira doesn’t realize that he’s stopped hearing Yusuke’s voice until Yusuke straightens up once more and repeats, “You’re not listening.”
“Fuck,” he lets out, and then clenches his teeth. “I’m sorry. I’m just—tired.”
“You said you weren’t when I asked if we could meet.” Once again, the tone is flat, non-accusatory. Yusuke is simply stating the truth as it is.
It doesn’t stop Akira from feeling a bit irritated; this turns to guilt as soon as he meets Yusuke’s eyes, though. “I might have lied about that,” he admits.
Yusuke sighs deeply. “What for?” he asks, dragging the book back to his side of the table they’re sharing. His thigh pushes against Akira’s when he shuffles in his seat, and Akira’s last glimpse of the painting he was talking about is the soft yellow of the woman’s dress, almost lost under the orange shine of the kitchen lights overlaid on it, before the book shuts.
Akira’s smile is a little wonky as he answers, he knows. “No reason. I guess I just didn’t want to let you down.”
“We’re in the middle of a delicate mission,” Yusuke says. “You, especially, are in the middle of trying to escape prison, the death penalty, or outright murder at the hands of Akechi-kun. I wouldn’t hold it against you to want to be alone.”
Akira tenses. His fingers leave Morgana’s fur, and Morgana lets out a chirp in his sleep without waking up. “I can handle it,” he replies evenly.
This forces a dry laugh out of him, once he realizes that Yusuke isn’t implying anything about him being weak. He can’t do anything about the tension in him, though; he’s sore from running and fighting, he’s tired from using so much energy in the distorted time and space of the metaverse; Takemi’s medicine helps but has the tendency to leave him light-headed, to make his head buzz uncomfortably, not hurting but not far from it. It’s a miracle he never suffers migraines.
He doesn’t have time for migraines.
“I haven’t been spending enough time with you,” Akira says. There’s a pen on the table, one of Yusuke’s, and he takes it between his fingers without thinking, twirls it around so at least some of the restlessness can escape from his body. “I don’t want you to think I’m avoiding you, especially since I spent hours with Makoto yesterday.”
“I’m not keeping track,” Yusuke replies with a soft smile. “Though I enjoy spending time with you, I wouldn’t be upset if you refused.”
“Some people do get upset.”
“I don’t see why. I’m grateful enough for your presence in my life as it is.” Then, a little flustered, he adds: “All of you.”
There’s a lick of selfish satisfaction in Akira at his words that he doesn’t bother quieting. His hand grips tight over the pen, and he brings it to his lap instead, thumb pressing into the end of it until it clicks satisfactorily. Yusuke watches him do it with no comment, his own hand still resting atop the heavy art book. The title is mostly hidden because of it, but Akira can still see the silver and gleaming V of it—and at its end, a lowercase R.
“Why Vermeer?” he asks.
Yusuke’s eyes brighten immediately. His voice is non-committal when he answers, however. “I’ll tell you… again. If you promise that you’re not going to fall asleep on me.”
“I won’t,” Akira says.
He doesn’t think he will this time. Yusuke is close enough that their legs are still touching, and Akira has turned sideways to face him, putting the sort of strain on his own spine that will not let him trail off.
“I was thinking about colors,” Yusuke answers. “At first I was just trying to find out if I know any painter who uses the kind that we see in Mementos…”
“Because you want to paint in those?”
Yusuke smiles. It’s a tiny twist of his lips, but it makes all of the attractive sharpness of his face and body melt into something softer. “Yes. But I ended up thinking about color theory as a whole instead, and then my mind drifted to—”
Akira does listen. He looks when Yusuke opens the book, points to the light and yellows and blues. If his eyes drift to Yusuke’s hands rather than the pictures he’s showing him then Yusuke doesn’t have to know.
They are nice hands, thin-boned and callused. Akira’s only calluses are from handling guns and knives and from the gym that Ryuji takes him to. But Yusuke’s middle finger on his right hand has a little bump of yellowed skin right at the last joint that twists the smallest knuckle sideways. It crooks the line, almost as if he’s broken it before and badly set it back, though Yusuke has said that he’s never broken his fingers in his life, thankfully.
It takes a surprising amount of will not to extend his own hand and touch it with his thumb, just to see how it feels.
“You dislike him,” Akira says when Yusuke is done talking. “Vermeer.”
Yusuke throws him a curious glance. “How can you tell?”
“You’re very academic about him. No gushing.”
Yusuke doesn’t blush. If he did then Akira would see, even sitting as they are in the darkest booth of the dining room. His eyes flicker between the book and Akira’s face guiltily, though.
“I hold no feelings toward him one way or the other,” he admits. “But he is not one of my favorite painters.”
“Who is?” Akira asks, resting his elbow on the table and his cheek in his palm above. His eyes don’t leave Yusuke’s.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out.”
“So you’re going through everything you dislike until you find something you like?”
Yusuke’s mouth shivers. “Sort of.”
Akira laughs, louder and less controlled than he wishes to. His shoulders sag in exhaustion, his face shifts on the support of his hand until half of his mouth is pressed into his own skin and the sounds coming out of his are muffled, hot and damp against his lips.
“I should go,” Yusuke says, but he’s smiling too. “I hear you’re going shopping tomorrow. You should rest.”
“The fact that Futaba tells you everything we do together is kind of terrifying,” Akira replies.
He nudges Yusuke’s legs out of his way so he can escape the booth, the back of his thighs bumping against the table’s corner as he goes. He winces, but doesn’t say anything.
“I think she considers it retaliation, somehow.”
This doesn’t surprise Akira in the least. He turns around to tell Yusuke as much and finds Yusuke standing as well, too close because Akira hasn’t walked away from the table yet.
Yusuke isn’t as unbothered by the fact as he looks. He doesn’t move, probably expects that Akira will—and Akira would, in other circumstances, but he’s tired to the bone and maybe a little giddy with laughter still, so what he does instead is lean up into Yusuke’s space and press his mouth to Yusuke’s cheek before he can convince himself not to.
“Good night,” he says. Yusuke’s skin is cool under his lips.
The breath that Yusuke lets out dances across his ear and makes goosebumps rise over his neck.
He turns around with a flourish and walks away. Each step of the stairs creaks under his feet but Akira doesn’t mind the noise for once; when he reaches the dark attic where he lives, his mouth is still set to satisfaction.