Hello all, and Merry Chirstmas.
First thing first, I would once again like to apologize for the long wait between chapters. This last past month have been one event after another, which includes family weddings, moving to a new place which then led to an adjustment period and a anniversary trip to Japan. This left me which not much time to sit down and write which lead to a period of writers block. But I promised myself that I would finish this chapter before the years end, and just so happens to arrive on Christmas, so consider this my present to all of you, as well as my gratitude for your patient. The many messages that I got asking for the next chapter motivated me a lot, knowing that people were still looking forward to the next one despite the long gap.
more than ever I want to thank SomebodyLost, who went into overdrive in editing the chapter to make up for how long it took me. And with that I"ll leave you with what you've been waiting for. Enjoy...
These characters don't belong to me, but to Atlus.
Today should have been like any other day. The sun should have shown no brighter than usual, the smell of curry and coffee no sweeter nor appetizing as any other day. For all intents and purposes, it was just another regular summer day in Yongen-jaya. And yet it was the happiest morning of Akira Kurusu's life.
It was still early in the morning. Sojiro could be heard bustling downstairs, or at least, he would've been if Akira wasn't lying down in bed with his headphones on, happily tapping along. Bobbing to the swell and pizzaz of his jazz tunes, Akira let out the excited jitters he couldn't show to the world later. Even his smile, he knew, would say too much, especially to someone like the Chief. And he has plans later today to meet up with Makoto at Big Bang Burger concerning her friend Eiko; considering how perceptive she could be, he needed to stamp down any remnants of bubbling joy that followed him since last night.
Last night had been… incredible. Sure it had a few bumps in the road and he wasn't the happiest about how much Mishima kept gawking at Sadayo, but it was all worth it for what happened afterwards. Akira's eyes closed as he lost himself in the memory of that precious moment.
The scent of lavender. Her coffee colored eyes and dainty nose, nearer than ever. Her hand, gentle yet calloused from hard work, holding onto his shoulders...
He had wondered at times how one's first kiss would be, but much to his surprise, it had been both very subtle, but also overwhelming. There hadn't been much of a taste to it; no jolts of electricity, no fireworks in the background. But what he did feel was the softness of her lips, the warmth steadily crescending through his entire body like a soft flame.
It was very different to the flames of rebellion that enveloped him when he had first awakened or when he confronted the Takases, so full of rage and anger. Those flames would give him one hell of an adrenaline boost, making him feel like he could do anything.
Instead, this flame was a whirl of contradiction. It felt smaller, but no less gratifying. He heart raced, but all he could feel was peace of mind. It might have been only for a few seconds, but in those seconds time stood still and simultaneously sped.
He wanted more of her.
"Okay, settle down," Akira smacked his head with his probation diary, still unable to stop himself from smiling. "The last thing you need is coming downstairs with a spring in your step as if you're going to do a whole dance sequence to Shibuya." Akira chuckled a bit, "I wonder if Sadayo would get the reference."
Akira was tempted to write these feelings in his diary. He figured that the best way to calm down was to jot down how he felt that moment and let it all out... but he couldn't. Whether it was Sojiro, his parole officers, or even his parents — no one could know. Not even a stray description of Sadayo nor her name.
Muffling a happy sigh at the thought of his girlfriend, Akira burrowed into his pillow. He didn't exactly remember how, but somehow his kisses had traveled to her neck and shoulders, hindered only by her shirt and a vague sense of propriety. Her hands had clung to him, tightening as he peppered her clavicle. She had called out his name, husky and full of need, spurring him to the edge.
Groaning, Akira curled deeper in his sheets in a fetal position. While he was relieved that Sadayo had been content with his inexperienced but enthusiastic kisses, the other half of him was fighting to urge to go beyond the border of her shirt, wanting to map the rest of the way downwards.
After he had reluctantly stopped his kisses, he just held her close while she remained on his lap, blushing beautifully and unknowingly tempting him again. There had been no fireworks that night, but her smile shone brighter than any treasure he'd come upon as a thief.
He turned to his work bench, towards the new addition to his room. Reminded of how the rest of the night went…
Their car was halfway down when they parted from their embrace. Unwilling to completely separate, they sat side by side — her head on his shoulder and his arm around her back, enjoying the view of the city's skyline.
Akira could tell that Sadayo was doing her best to regain her composure for when they leave. She was breathing heavily, looking quite flushed and shy, her hand against her neck. Though she had a moment of invigoration when she noticed the heart-shaped light pattern by the Tokyo bay. Whether it was her way to pass the embarrassment after their kiss or genuine excitement, Akira couldn't help but find it contagious as he grinned back.
Unfortunately, the ride still had to come to an end. While there was no hiding that he had been alone with her in an enclosed space, Akira still didn't want to give definite hints like climbing out, hand in hand. So with great reluctance, he let go of her waist, shuffling a respectable distance away. Sadayo smiled ruefully in understanding, doing her best to fix her appearance as they settled on watching each other.
Akira was the first to exit; immediately he was accosted by an upset staffer who proceeded to scold him for recklessly rocking their car. Sadayo was able to sheepishly slip away, but Akira's good mood made his apology insincere to the worker as he couldn't stop himself from smiling.
After the verbal thrashing — Totally worth it! — Akira joined Sadayo by the benches, the area where they had met earlier after the cafe. It was a sight to behold, and the Tokyo lights definitely brought splendor to her silhouette. He was tempted to sneak behind her and cover her eyes, but decided against it for fear of ruining things. Instead he slowly walked to the side and greeted her, and he was rewarded with a smile.
"That's what you get from scaring me like that," Sadayo playfully stuck out her tongue, pleased at the justice served by the staffer.
"Not the worst I've done," Akira simply shrugged before taking a seat on the bench. Not next to her but at the other end, leaving a gap in between them. He reached out with his right hand, and felt his heart warm when Sadayo picked up on this and met him halfway.
Perspective and sight were always amusing things to Akira, and no one made that clearer than Mr. Hiruta in one of his classes. From the back of their seat, Akira can imagine that they look like just two individuals sitting separately on the same bench, but turn a different angle and the hidden bond is revealed.
Before he came to Tokyo, he had no idea of the concept of cognition and how it affected perspective. But ever since he became a Phantom Thief, he'd been able to find more and more applications of its logic, and this was especially true ever since he started dating Sadayo. Keeping the perception of their relationship a secret to the public became vital to avoid judgment, yet at the same time, he knew that locking themselves off from the world would only get them so far. So if either option was detrimental, then he is left with the middle — to hide in plain sight.
Akira could only laugh to himself, grateful for how his chance encounter with the Metaverse allowed him the tools to make sure their love could work.
"What's so funny? Do I still look messy?" Sadayo ran her free hand over herself self-consciously.
"It's not that. It's just that, sitting here with you, watching the sights tonight... it really makes me realize how surreal this all is," Akira smiled, marvelling at how hints of the city lights made her eyes shine brighter than normal.
"Yeah… It really is," Sadayo warmly smiled back before turning to gaze at the Rainbow Bridge. "It really is a beautiful sight." A cool night breeze hit them, Sadayo moved her hair to the side with her free hand. "I've lived here for years now, but it's been so long since I'd been able to appreciate how lively Tokyo is during the night." At that moment, Sadayo's eyes widened like something just hit her. "Oh, I almost forgot!"
Akira reluctantly sighed as she pulled her grasp so she can use both hands to handle her bag. He cocked a curious brow when her hands emerged with a folded piece of cloth.
Nervously looking away with the cloth close to her chest, Sadayo was the cute picture of embarrassment. "Well… I remembered that you like to collect souvenirs. And on the way here I saw this and figured that maybe you could add it to your collection." Sadayo extended her arms, presenting the gift towards him as she continued to avoid eye contact.
Bemused, Akira took and unfolded it, revealing it to be a pennant with the words "I heart Tokyo".
"I-I know it's not exactly unique or personal," Sadayo continued, "and that it's a very touristy thing to give. I just wanted to let you know t-that… that I'm really glad you ended up coming to Tokyo, that of all the schools out there, you landed in Shujin. And..." Sadayo bit her lip nervously, as if contemplating to say something.
Akira always found it endearing how shy she could be at times. It always warmed his heart when he thought back to the annoyed and tired teacher he had met on his first day in Shujin and see how different she was now, especially with him. Admittedly, it was the main reason why he always enjoyed teasing her.
He gently placed his finger on her lips, letting her know that he understood what she was getting at. "I'll always treasure this. Thank you, Sadayo."
"I'm glad," Sadayo sighed in relief.
There was no one around them, and he still wanted to feel the softness of her lips. It was no kiss, but his finger still lingered on her skin a touch more than necessary. With his focus entirely on her, Akira saw the moment when a spark lit in Sadayo's eyes.
Before he could blink, she kissed the tip of his finger, then grabbed the rest of his hand. She then proceeded to kiss each of his other digits softly before releasing it, standing slowly.
"I'll see you around…"
Her voice was welcoming, yet also... sultry. Akira gulped, never realizing that fingers could be this sensitive until now.
Sadayo bit her lip once more, driving an urge in Akira to replace the pressure with his own mouth. Like before, it felt like she wanted to say something else, but instead Sadayo just gave a mystifying smile and walked off.
Left sitting alone on the bench, Akira can only watch her leave. Legs crossed, he tried his damndest to calm the fires that was beginning to flare up.
"I guess it's true what they say," he chuckled with burning cheeks. "Play with fire too much, and you're likely to get burned."
"I can't believe I did that! What in the world came over me!?" Sadayo squealed excitedly with a huge, blushing grin. "But the way he looked, and the atmosphere, and when I felt his finger against my lips… I just wanted to kiss him again! But we were in the open so it was too risky, b-but — I just couldn't help myself!"
Giddy, Sadayo wriggled and danced around her kitchen, her maid apron fluttering. If her neighbors suddenly started singing along a happy soundtrack, she wouldn't have been surprised.
Sadayo could only describe last night as... magical. While it had been a bit rocky at the start, by the end of it, it became the kind of date she had only dreamed of. So much so that she was still giggling and flailing excitedly on her bed when she got home, a mood that persisted when she woke up when she remembered that it wasn't a dream.
Suddenly, her eyes widened in realization. "Wait, what if he takes that the wrong way?!" Her elated smile quickly turned to fidgety embarrassment as the high finally dwindled down. She thought of her last gesture. "M-maybe I was too forward? Did I give him the wrong impression?! Though technically it's not wrong but…" Blood started rushing to her head as thoughts raced through her mind. "Nopenopenoope, too soon! It's way too fast to be thinking about stuff like that!"
Fanning her hot cheeks, Sadayo leaned back on the kitchen island. Her heart beat fast as she exhaled happily at the memory of their mutual confession of love. She was glad that she was finally able to tell him.
"Akira..." Sadayo breathed, before placing her hands on her cheeks. "What is wrong with me?! I'm acting like a lovesick teenager! Come on Sadayo, you have to pull yourself together, you're a grown up!" Her stern self-reprimand didn't last as she started blushing and giggling again. "I'm so glad it's a Sunday; I'm sure I'd get so many weird looks if I went to school today." Sadayo took a deep to calm herself, but, "Why does it smell a bit like... BURNT—? Oh no!"
She rushed back to the stove and rolled the egg on the skillet. The burnt marks made it very obvious about what had occurred. "It's… not completely burnt at least. I'm sure it will add to the flavor," Sadayo awkwardly laughed and tried to reassure herself, before deflating with a sigh as she lightly bopped her head. "And I was so sure that I could do it this time too. I really shouldn't be spacing out like that. Not that any of the other times have been better… Maybe I'm just not good for this kind of thing."
Like a switch, Sadayo straightened and smacked her cheeks. "NO, I need to stop thinking like that! I'm not the old me. I can't just go moping around. I need to be better, for me, for Akira, and for the other students at the school." Sadayo pumped her fist. "It's just like when I tried brewing coffee! I just have to keep trying at it, even if I fail a hundred times. I can't just keep giving up when things look hard. It's the same with cooking, it's the same with teaching, and it's the same with those damn girls!"
Sadayo raised her fist in the air, getting caught up in the moment. "You hear me?! I'm not giving up on you yet! I'll make sure that you acknowledge me! I'm not giving up!"
Breathing heavily, Sadayo soaked in her declaration… which was unfortunately interrupted once more.
"Oh god, it's burning again!"
"Can I really do this…?"
Sadayo bemoaned as she lightly leaned her head against the wall of the gym. "I mean, I'm just a substitute, I don't know the first thing about coaching. Maybe I should just tell Ms. Chouno that I'm not able to do it."
Listening to the practicing girls on the other side of the door, Sadayo wallowed for a few moments before groaning in frustration. "Aurgh! What did I just tell myself?! No more mopping!" Sadayo thought back to her date with Akira last night and his advice about confidence making all the difference. "Come on Sadayo, remember what he told you! Confidence, confidence, confidence! No more hesitation!"
Full of vigor, Sadayo opened the door, which seemed to have caught the girls in surprise. For a moment, a reflexive apology was on the tip of her tongue. But Sadayo quickly shook those feelings as she strode to the volleyball court while whistling for attention. There was clamoring among the girls; many wonder what the deal was while others continued the same reserved expression of annoyance.
As all of them gathered in front, Sadayo took a deep breath and exhaled before beginning. "First of all, I would like to apologize to you all. While I came here to be your substitute coach, I have done a terrible job as the replacement." Sadayo bowed apologetically to the girls. Raising her head slightly to see their reaction, she could see one of the third years mumble something from the back. With an attention-calling whistle she pointed at the group. "Aonuma-chan, if you have any complaints, then please let me know. I would like to help, but I can't do so if you're not honest with me."
Displeased at getting singled out, the student grumbled while glaring at Sadayo. "In all honesty, we could care less—"
"Couldn't care less," Sadayo interrupted out of instinct, her habit as a Japanese teacher getting the better of her. Noticing the disgruntled expression only getting worse, she waved her hands. "Sorry, sorry! Please continue!"
Aonuma-chan groaned. "All that matters is that we don't get dismantled. Other than that, you can do whatever you want to make yourself feel better. It's not like you're really invested in this."
Sadayo sighed, saddened, but not surprised. "We are doing our best to look for a coach to take care of you, but until then, you are all my responsibility." She confronted her students' judging gazes, unfazed. "I know that it's hard to understand, but I really do want to do good by you all."
"And how are you going to do that?" Araraki-chan finally joined in from the other side of the court. "What we need right now is a coach. How can you do that if you don't know what we are doing? Do you even know how to play? I mean you didn't even show up for the Girl's Student vs Teacher volleyball game during the rally."
Sadayo flinched slightly, remembering how she had avoided the rally all together and left school early just to get a few extra hours of work. Still, she ironed her resolve and stood her ground. "You're not wrong. Despite what I said at the start, the truth of the matter is that I really don't know much about volleyball. So I propose an idea." Sadayo did her best to smile, "Starting today, I'll be joining you during practice."
The response was strangely unanimous. Not an uproar or shock, but a dead-eyed expression, which made it difficult to keep her smile.
"Ummmm, Ms. Kawakami? If I may be so bold to ask, but is something the matter?" a familiar voice floated over to Sadayo.
At the moment, Sadayo was lying down on a makeshift mattress of assorted tables on the school rooftop, groaning in pain.
"Sorry, Okumura-chan, I don't mean to bother you. I just need a bit of a retreat," Sadayo weakly waved her hand at her student. "Just let me rest for a bit and I'll be out of your way."
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that. I was just surprised when you came up here all of a sudden," Okumura-chan meekly apologized, keeping herself formal as always. "You just seem exhausted."
'Exhausted' wouldn't be the term Sadayo would use — more like 'beaten'. She had figured herself capable of doing the extra work to get the girls to accept her. After all, she may not have any sort of practice, but if there was one thing she was good at, it was her endurance. No matter how long or arduous the practice would be, it probably wouldn't compare to the days spent working job after job. Sadayo was sure that at the very least, she wouldn't lag too far behind.
What she didn't expect was the amount of force those girls would strike at the ball and how badly her clumsy and inexperienced attempts to return it would be. Her first attempts were filled with nothing but trips, falls, and multiple strikes from a spiked ball. And that's not even counting the few times she did manage to get it, leaving her arms red and sore. Eventually she had to call for a break. She did her best to seem fine in front of the girls, but by the time she had retreated onto what she had hoped was an empty roof, she couldn't feel her limbs anymore.
Sadayo struggled a bit, but managed to pull herself up, realizing that it probably wasn't the most dignified for a teacher to collapse in front of a student. She looked around for a change of subject, before turning towards the garden that Okumura-chan was working on. Already, she could see the sprouts and buds just waiting to bloom. "If you don't mind, now it's my turn to ask. I'm quite curious to hear what exactly you're growing. I remember that last time you had a bunch of flowers I hadn't seen before."
The moment Sadayo asked the question, a smile formed on Okumura-chan. Even if she was from the upper crust, she seemed to always smile her brightest when she was covered in dirt and… manure. "It's nothing really. Just trying to see if I can grow some lilies, dahlias." The mention of the dahlias got a giggle out of them both. Soon after, Okumura-chan began to blush. "And… some white roses."
"White roses?" Sadayo pondered.
"Y-yes. I recently saw a sparkling blue rose on a show I watch, and I wanted to try my hands on it. Sadly, blue roses are not something that grow naturally."
"Blue rose… wait? Do you mean, as in, from the latest episode of 'Kingdom Under the Starry Sky'?!"
Okumura-chan's eyes went wide as a big grin grew on her face. "Could it be that you are also a fan?"
"Ah, yeah…." Sadayo confirmed as she rubbed the back of her neck with a bit of embarrassment. Despite this, she was unable to hide her smile from discovering another fan . "I don't always have time to catch it on air, but I always make sure to record it. I don't usually go for those smooth bad boy characters, but they've done a really good job with the couple that I can't help but cheer them on." Sadayo giggled at the irony of her words, knowing full well that her boyfriend was the epitome of a bad boy, at least as far as everyone at school saw it.
"I think it makes it really exciting!" Okumura-chan joyfully remarked, almost spinning in place. "They care not for one's position nor their past, and will stand up to anyone that gets in the way of their love even when their odds are against them. It's just really romantic."
As she heard Okumura-chan's words, Sadayo couldn't help but think about Akira once more. It honestly described him to a T. Her lips curved into a gentle, warm smile. She was lucky that Okumura-chan wasn't paying attention to her as Sadayo let out a slight nod and a hushed, "Yeah..."
"And..." her student mumbled, so low that Sadayo almost didn't hear her, "I hope that a thief would come and steal me."
Sadayo quickly snapped from her bubbly thoughts. Okumura-chan's statement was quiet, but full of melancholy. Similar to how Sadayo used to feel until recently. She was about to reach for her student and ask what was on her mind, but—
"Oh no! I completely forgot about the event tonight!" Okumura-chan gasped, looked at her. "I need to head home soon and get ready or father will be upset. Goodbye Ms. Kawakami." Okumura-chan hastily bowed and flew down the stairs, leaving Sadayo with her thoughts and concerns.
"They say that people of her status have struggles of their own..." Sadayo sighed, figuring that she should head back to the gym to continue practice.
As she walked the mostly empty halls, Sadayo wondered on how to breach the subject, or if she should even try. She was worried, but was it really her right to barge in when she hasn't been asked?
'I wonder what Akira would say,' Sadayo mused as she stepped into the courtyard. 'He's nosey…'
The thought drifted off at the sight of her boyfriend's back, waving goodbye to Niijima-san. It was exasperating how her thoughts almost always seemed to summon him, but it wasn't unpleasant. Sadayo made sure that she looked teacher-ly as much as she can in her tired state before heading over. She walked past and greeted the student president. Nijima-san's greeting was just as cordial, though once again it felt like she was watching her with more thought than normal. Sadayo gave it no mind though, as her stern expression was already forming the cracks of a smile as she approached her endearing troublemaker from behind.
"Didn't expect to see you here," Sadayo leaned towards her boyfriend, trying but failing to speak sternly to him.
Akira suddenly leaped back, genuinely shocked by her sudden appearance. "Sada—luations, Ms. Kawakami. What brings you here?"
'That's was strange,' Sadayo thought. She actually managed to sneak up on him? 'He's usually not this jumpy. The last time he was like this was during the fireworks… festival.'
Despite her amusement in finally surprising her boyfriend, a worrisome thought came to mind. Sadayo looked around before coming closer to Akira. "Are we alone?" she whispered.
Realizing what she was asking, Akira focused to make sure there weren't any students in the corner or by the bushes. Eventually he nodded.
"Is everything okay? Something seems to be bothering you." Sadayo quickly dropped the facade of a stern teacher and replaced it with the role of a caring girlfriend.
Akira couldn't help but weakly chuckle at Sadayo's concern. "Yeah… well sort of." Akira sighed. "There's something I need to tell you, but it's probably best we don't talk about it here."
"Is it serious?" Sadayo asked, her worry growing by the minute as she pursed her lips.
"I… don't know," Akira eventually said, his tone was worried and uncertain. "But it's something I feel you have the right to know."
Sadayo's mind was already fighting against her, thinking of all sorts of terrible news. Maybe something happened with the Medjed stuff? Maybe it was some Phantom Thief stuff? Or maybe Niijima-san was confronting him about his relationship with her, or maybe she was the only one that felt something last night and he's starting to—
"Yes?!" Sadayo snapped from her dark thoughts. "Don't mind me. I should probably get back to work." Doing her best to sound cheerful, she pumped her fist enthusiastically, but the soreness of her muscles caused her to wince.
"Are you okay?" Akira quickly noticed, now the one to show concern.
"I'm just a little sore."
"Will you be okay?"
"I should be fine, I've been worse than this after all." Sadayo tried making light of things, but it only seemed to make Akira worry more. "Look, if you're that concerned about it, I can check with the nurse's office for some quick relief and then go see Takemi before I come over and talk. How does that sound?"
"Or…" Akira slowly said with a familiar glint he'd get in his eyes whenever he was thinking of something. "You can just go home and get some rest. I think you deserve it after all the hard work you do."
"Huh? But I thought you wanted us to meetup and... discuss things."
"Of course. I'm just saying that I should come to your place this time."
Sadayo's eyes went wide as dinner plates at her boyfriend's suggestion. "Oh no. Nononono." Sadayo wildly shook her head in protest.
"Why not? I can see you sooner, and you won't have to worry about changing into the maid outfit. Besides, if you're not feeling too well I don't want you heading out alone at night."
"B-but it's just, y-you know," Sadayo stuttered as her cheeks became crimson. "W-what if the neighbors see you?"
"I'll be sure to only come to the front door when no one is watching," Akira replied without hesitation.
"A-and what if they hear anything?"
"And what exactly would they hear, Sensei?" Akira smirked, the wicked expression spreading across his face.
"Th—that's not—that's not what I'm— !" Sadayo hushed before she dug her grave any deeper. Sadayo wasn't even sure about what she was arguing about. It wasn't like any of the neighbors were from Shujin; they wouldn't know that he was from the school. But then again, she hadn't had other guys visit, even students, after the debacle with Takase-kun.
Sadayo turned away, trying to think of a good excuse to not have him over. Fidgeting, she was aware when Akira leaned down, but she didn't anticipate the devilishly tempting whisper to her ear...
"If I come over, I can cook us anything you want..."
There was a moment of pause. Sadayo's rational mind struggled at the losing battle with her stomach. She turned her head slightly towards her boyfriend. "Even omurice?"
"If that is your wish, then I will obey," Akira smirked, knowing she was taking the bait. "And if you'd like, I can offer a massage afterwards."
And with that, all of Sadayo's hesitation went out the window.
"Uuurgh… What a day."
Sadayo groaned in pain as she dragged her feet into her apartment. Even after stopping at the nurse's office, her body was still sore from practice. She didn't even bother to raise her hand so she could place her bag on the table, opting to just let it slough off her shoulder as she made a beeline straight to her couch. She collapsed with little fanfare and more of a sigh of relief than victory. "Those girls aren't making it any easier on me. But that's to be expected."
She curled up on her couch, grabbing her blanket and pulling it over her. There was still plenty of time before evening rolled over, so she figured she has time to take a nap. Her eyes were heavy with sleep as they closed, slowly lulling herself to dream, when her phone began to ping. Sadayo groaned as she picked her phone, checking to see what it was about.
[A]: Just exited the station and heading over. Can you send me the number of your apartment?
Sadayo quickly sent him the number and placed the phone down before settling for sleep again. It wasn't until two minutes had passed that it finally hit her.
"OH NO!" Sadayo scrambled for the phone to read the message once again. "Shoot! I completely forgot he was coming over!"
She turned to the apartment around her in panic. Despite her recent lifestyle improvements, she still ended up falling on some of her old bad habits leading to different types of messes accumulating during the weekend. Like the few dishes from her previous cooking attempts or the occasional discarded articles of clothing that littered the floor from exhaustion, rushing, or the summer heat.
Worst of all, she still hadn't changed from her tracksuit! Sadayo quickly took a whiff of herself. "Gotta change! Gotta clean up!"
Hit by a second wind, Sadayo dashed to her room. Adding more to the mess, she quickly discarded her sweaty tracksuit and changed to a clean set of shirt and pajama pants. Not the most dignified, but still more modest than what she'd usually wear when alone.
Afterwards she began to pick up the clothing that littered the living room. Some jeans and shirt from her dog walk. A tank top and shorts. The maid apron. Most importantly were some mature and cute delicates that she lazily discarded when she would change in and out of her maid outfit. Sadayo could just imagine Akira's reaction if he saw either the lace or the pair of cat undies lying on the floor — he'd probably never let her hear the end of it.
Suddenly, she heard knocking.
The voice at the other end was usually something she had come to enjoy hearing, but right now had her panic and internally curse at the short distance between her place and the station. "In a minute, I'll be there soon!" Without care, Sadayo grabbed everything and threw it into her room. She already had a mess in there and she could clean it up later. As long as Akira couldn't see it.
Once the evidence was hidden she went to the front door and quickly opened it. She didn't let Akira get a word out before she grabbed him by the wrist, pulled him inside, and closed the door in one swift motion.
"Well hello to you too," Akira smiled in amusement. "If I knew you wanted me to come over so badly I would had asked sooner."
"No one saw you right?" Sadayo blurted, too panicked to really process his tease.
Akira huffed as he placed down his burden of grocery bags and held his anxious girlfriend, petting her head gently. "It's okay, I was sure to be careful. I'm certain no one saw me arrive," Akira reassured.
"Don't patronize me," Sadayo huffed back as she returned his embrace.
"So should I stop then?"
"I never said that..." Sadayo mumbled, burying her face deeper into Akira's shirt
Akira chuckled, giving her a kiss on the head. He looked around, admiring the homely apartment. "So this is where you live… How do I put this..." he remarked teasingly, intentionally parroting what she'd initially said about his attic.
"You got a problem with my home," Sadayo raised her head, revealing a playful frown.
"Not at all. Honestly, this is a nice set up you have here. I would like a tour, but..." he nodded towards the bags he had placed down. "You're probably hungry."
"Famished," a smile finally cracked on Sadayo's face.
"I wasn't sure what ingredients you have so I just bought what we need." Akira said as he removed his shoes and socks, stepping beyond the entryway in bare feet. Then his school bag ruffled..
With a meow at her direction with what Sadayo could only guess was a greeting, a furry head popped out.
"Well hello to you too Mona. I'm surprised you came along as well," Sadayo giggled as the cat jumped down to the floor, obviously intent on looking around. "Don't you dare go anywhere other than the living room!" Sadayo yelled before returning to Akira. "Come on, I'll show you the kitchen."
Sadayo waved him to follow her, a bit disappointed at not being able to hide the dirty dishes. But Akira made no comment and simply asked where her skillets were and began to set stuff up.
"Do you need my help with anything?" Sadayo looked around the kitchen for something to do and reached out to one of her cabinets. "If you want, I can help mix things—"
A hand gently halted her. Akira turned her to face him, his silver eyes glittering with confidence and mischief.
"There is nothing for you to worry about," Akira said in a low tone. It was equally commanding yet affectionate, which caused Sadayo to linger on his words as they melted in her ears. "For tonight, I want you to relax. So just leave everything to me… my mistress."
"M-mi-mistress!?" Sadayo stuttered.
Eyes locked, Akira lowered his head. Landing a soft kiss on the back of her hand, he winked.
Red as a tomato, Sadayo tried to find the words to respond, but she eventually lowered her head to hide her face and settled for, "O-o-okay..."
Akira chuckled when Sadayo fled to her kotatsu, a surprised Morgana in her arms. He grabbed the groceries from the floor and moved to the adjacent kitchen.
Once seated, Sadayo realized that Morgana was meowing his confusion. She eased her grasp as she apologized and reached for the notepad on the kotatsu. Filled with all sorts of reminders and ideas, Sadayo flipped through, looking for an empty page. Skimming through her reminders for next week, she saw a circled date in red ink — Saturday next week, to meet with the Sakamotos.
Sadayo shifted on the floor, trying to make herself comfortable. She honestly wanted to help and make amends for all of her mistakes, but as the date grew closer, Sadayo couldn't help but worry that there might've been a bit of... bias.
'Not the time for that,' Sadayo thought to herself as she placed the pen and note for Morgana, who seemed concerned. He picked up the pen and quickly wrote down.
[Is everything okay, Ms. Kawakami?]
"Yeah… just work stuff I'm dealing with."
[You know, if you need to, he's always happy to hear you out. He's a big softy after all, especially for you.]
"I know," Sadayo giggled before turning towards the clatter of plates in the background. She saw Akira cleaning the dishes in the sink and while she felt embarrassed, she was also grateful. "Maybe later. Besides, he seemed worried about something earlier."
[I wouldn't worry about that too much. He's just being paranoid.]
'I hope so.' Sadayo scratched Mona behind the ear, smiling as her feline companion purred happily. She appreciated that he was trying to ease her worries but she wanted to wait until she hears it from Akira himself.
"So, why did you decide to come with him?" Sadayo playfully tapped Mona's nose. "Were you worried about me as well?"
[I'm just here for the sushi Akira owes me.] Mona hastily scribbled. [And someone needs to keep an eye on you lovebirds on occasion.]
"Chaperoning again, huh?" Sadayo raised her brow with a coy smile. While normally she'd feel like it was an unnecessary annoyance, having him around made her feel slightly less conscious about Akira visiting her place. "And what's this about sushi?"
"Don't mind him. I just had him help me out with something before we came here!" Akira padded into the living room, plate in one hand with the napkin and utensils in the other. He placed them in front of Sadayo like a server in a restaurant, ignoring the meowing cat in front of him. "For the lady, I have an omurice dish. I hope that it is to your liking."
Entertained, Sadayo looked down at the dish. In front of her was a fragrant, almost-perfectly oval, yellow omelet. Ketchup was on top of it, used as a medium to draw something she couldn't help but find familiar. "Wait, isn't this that weird face that was in the cards you made for Kamoshida?"
"A Phantom Thief original. Figure I'd give it a personal touch. It was either that or a heart with our initials?" Akira asked with a sly wink and a smirk.
"I-I'm good with this," Sadayo blushed at the mental image. "But why this one? Don't you have a flashier design?"
"A bit too complicated for my skills. I can do it on a hard surface like the chalkboard, but I'm not quite as good with a soft surface like this," Akira shrugged.
"So you're the one that was putting the logo on the chalkboard by the end of the semester," Sadayo turned to Akira with a slight frown. "Why am I not surprised?"
"Have to put our name out there somehow," Akira unapologetically grinned.
Sadayo sighed at how carefree her boyfriend could be at times. While he seemed unaware of how much trouble it caused the teachers, knowing him, he would have continued even with that knowledge. Figuring that it was a lost cause, she gave in to her hunger.
The egg was soft and cut easily, even with a spoon. The savory content revealed itself as she picked up a spoonful and took a bite. "Mmmmh. This is quite good," Sadayo hummed happily and began to dig in.
"It pleases me to hear that," Akira placed a hand on his chest, smiling. "Now, is there anything that my mistress would like to drink?"
"Beer!" Sadayo cheered excitedly. "There should be some in the fridge."
"Very well, I'll be right back," Akira bowed before leaving the kotatsu.
While Sadayo was focused on her food, Akira took the time to finally look around the place as he went to the kitchen. While by no means as spacious than his attic, it definitely felt much more like a lived-in home. He took special note of the bookshelf; as expected, there were quite a number of romance novels and movies that he recognized, and even a few she probably hoped that he didn't. But much to his amusement, there was a particular collection of stories that he knew very well. And Sadayo has acquired them all, except for one.
Once he grabbed a can of beer, he went back and placed it by Sadayo. "For the lady."
"Thank you," Sadayo smiled as she took a swig of her beverage. "I'm surprised. I thought you told me that other than curry, you didn't know how to cook."
"I've been working on expanding my menu."
"You mean spending the last three hours making the thing and having me taste-test it 'til you were satisfied," Morgana interjected.
"So if there is anything else you're interested, please don't hesitate to ask," Akira ignored the cat.
"Sure..." Sadayo blushed while nibbling at the tip of her spoon.
The smile she has was more than worth the effort he put to make sure he got it right. Leaning on the sofa behind him, Akira took a moment to just relax. He would have to come clean with her about what he and Makoto had talked about, but for now, he wanted to enjoy this moment.
"So why omurice?" Akira finally broke out of character, curious about the decision of food over something more expensive.
Sadayo turned to Akira, surprised before becoming pensive. "Hmmmm. Honestly? It was the first thing that came to mind," she finally answered with a smile that hinted of embarrassment.
"Really now?" Akira was amusingly taken aback.
"You wouldn't believe how many customers would ask me to make it for them," Sadayo huffed.
"I'm not surprised, considering you were a maid. I'm going to take a guess that it didn't go very well."
"Well, I honestly had no idea how to make it myself so I just tried making some egg on rice and hoped for the best," Sadayo sighed, laying her head on her arm as she looked down at her knees. "As you can imagine, many weren't too happy about it. There were some that were way too excited by it, but some of those were the worse." Sadayo shuddered as she remembered some particularly creepy customers. She began to fiddle with the remnants of the dish using her spoon. "I guess I got requested to do it so often that I became curious."
"I'm sorry that you had to go through that."
"You got used to it," Sadayo waved her hand nonchalantly. "It was always like that. You get customers that demanded everything as if requesting you meant they owned you. And you had those that acted nice, but in reality were just trying to win you over so they can get you to do something that was out of the rules. Many of the girls were good at playing along, I even heard that some were willing to… you know." She looked away to hide her crimson cheeks, remembering the time Akira had asked her about that. "Anyway, even though it was against the law, some girls didn't care if it meant some extra cash."
Sadayo took a deep breath, sinking in her seat in melancholy. "As for me, I just couldn't go through with it myself. And since I never took those kinds of offers, fewer and fewer customers would request me. The ones I did managed to keep lasted for a while because I lied and made all sorts of sob stories to explain why I was working as a maid," Sadayo sniffled. "It would work for a while, but eventually they would realize it and—"
Before she could finish her sentence, Sadayo felt herself being pulled back. Slowly, gently, but surely, she soon found herself in her boyfriend's embrace who was now sitting behind her.
Sadayo felt her cheeks color; she still wasn't used on calling out his name on purpose yet. Still, she was glad, but she was a bit confused because his hold felt a lot more lighter and distant than the previous times. She wanted to feel him closer, so she clung to his arm and pulled him towards her. Waiting for him to fully embrace her, Sadayo rested her head on his chest.
"It's okay, you don't have to worry about that anymore," Akira murmured, settling his arms around her. "And it's their loss for not seeing how amazing and capable you are."
"I-I don't think I'm that good," Sadayo buried her face into Akira's shirt, forming small wet dots on his clothing.
"Really now?" Akira smiled as began to stroke her hair lovingly. "Who was it that pushed herself to work hard even though I told her she didn't have to? Who was willing to learn how to make tools even though the potential employer was a scary ex-yakuza? Who put the effort to learn how to make curry and coffee just to help me? You even made it as a surprise when I wasn't able to walk you through it." He tightened his embrace for a brief second. "I know that when you're motivated to do something, you will go the extra mile to do it right. Even if you fail to make a number of cups."
"So many brews wasted." Laughter escaped from Sadayo's muffled lips, still hiding her face from him. "I can't imagine Sakura-san being happy with you."
"He tends to be okay with it, as long as I don't touch the expensive stuff for experimenting," Akira shrugged, laughing along. Though his expression slowly turned solemn. He held up Sadayo's right hand and examined her arm. "I know firsthand how willing you are to try and make things right, and I love that part of you. But… just be careful okay? I know you want to do right by those girls, but that doesn't mean getting yourself injured in the process. You're just starting to get better, after all."
'So that's why he's holding back,' Sadayo huffed with a flushed smile at her worried boyfriend. She slowly pulled herself up and gently placed both hands on his cheeks, looking into his silver-grey eyes that never hesitate to gaze at her. "I'm fine. We both know it's going to take a lot to win back the student's trust. And that goes especially for them." She looked away bashfully. "Has Sakamoto-kun told you? About the meeting I'm having with him and his mother."
"He has," Akira looked at Sadayo quizzically. "But I'm not sure what that has to do with this."
"Part of me worries that the only reason why I'm doing this is because he's your friend — that I'm letting my bias affect my work and that I'm just doing this so he has a better impression of me."
"Sadayo, you know that's not true."
"How can you be so sure?" Sadayo shook her head. "That's why I need to give it my all. Not just for Sakamoto-kun, not just for you, but for all the students that I can help. If I'm going to put the extra effort to help him, then I need to do so for all of my students. And if it means I have to come home exhausted, then that's what I have to do."
"That's what I'm worried about," Akira looked away, grimacing even as he placed the palm of his hand against hers, their fingers entwining together. "I've seen how much you push yourself, and I worry that things will repeat themselves."
"Akira, I have no intention of letting myself collapse again, and it's not like last time." Sadayo raised her free hand and held it against Akira's cheek, gently guiding him back to face her. "After so many years of questioning what I was doing, I finally know what my path is. I have Takemi to keep me in check, and Ms. Chouno has even been very helpful at times." She drew Akira closer, placing his forehead on hers.
"And most of all, I have you. I'm not alone anymore, and I promise to ask for help if it gets too difficult."
Akira wanted to argue. Careful or not, he didn't like seeing her in pain, and he knew all too well how vindictive those who have a grudge can be. He trusted Sadayo, but he wasn't so sure on those girls. But after hearing her speak with so much drive after all that she went through, there was no way he could dissuade her.
"Okay..." Akira sighed with a smile. "I'll leave it to you. Just please tell me if you ever need help."
"That goes to you too, you know," Sadayo gently headbutted him.
"Huh?" Akira rubbed his forehead, perplexed.
"Don't 'huh' me. If you're in trouble, you have to talk to me as well, okay?" Sadayo pouted as she poked his nose. "Don't think I forgot about how you acted at school today. Something was bothering you, mister, so it's your turn to spill."
Normally, Akira would have responded with a chuckle or a smirk, but his expression made Sadayo worried. While making sure to remember what Mona had told her earlier, she still prepared herself. She prompted, "I know you were talking to Niijima-san. Did something happen?"
"Sorry, I'm trying to think how to bring this up, but I guess I'll be straight with you."
Sadayo swallowed the lump in her throat as Akira took a deep breath.
"Makoto was asking me if... I could pretend to be her boyfriend."
Sadayo could only blink.
"Just hear me out," Akira quickly said, unsure of her reaction. "Makoto has this friend Eiko Takao."
"Eiko Takao? I think she's in... class 3-C?" Sadayo's teacher-side did her best to recall.
"Yeah, well recently she started dating this guy and Makoto is worried about Eiko being taken advantage of. She figured that seeing how the two interact during a date would be a good way to assess the guy's intention," Akira groaned, running his hand over his face. "I admit, this might have been partially my fault. At first Makoto suggested we follow them before I immediately rejected that idea, so her other option was pretending to go on a double date so we can see them up close. I know it's not fair to you and I should refu—"
"Akira it's fine," Sadayo quickly interrupted, doing her best not to laugh at how cute he was. It's rare she got to see him flustered and blushing. "I mean, yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of someone else acting like your girlfriend. But I trust you, and I'm sure Niijima-san will be nothing but proper. As frustrating as it is, we can't just tell her that you're already taken, so it's not too surprising that she'd ask you."
"Are you sure? I can try thinking up a reason to refuse. Though she seems to be awkward about doing it with Ryuji, but maybe I can convince her to go with Yusuke and—" Akira stopped for a moment. "On second thought, going with Yusuke might be a disaster."
Sadayo finally broke out laughing at his horrified expression. Shoulders shaking, she leaned on him again. "It's not like you're trying to act in front of her family or something. You just have to pretend for one date and it should be good. No more fake dates." She hugged Akira as she nuzzled into his chest.
To anyone else it would look like she was just getting comfortable with her boyfriend, but in reality she was trying to put on a brave face. Of course she was worried. It's a cliché scenario, but she's read and seen many times how what starts as fake could actually develop something if enough time passes. She truly does trust them both, but what if Niijima-san started to have feelings for him? Akira would appear available.
Not to mention that it was Niijima-san, a very capable and smart girl who is around Akira's age — and one of the Phantom Thieves. They probably already have lots of stories where they helped one another and made it through some dangerous situations. They were a part of a world that Sadayo could never be.
But Sadayo didn't want to be controlled by those feelings. The last thing she wanted was to seem clingy and untrusting; she hated how she had snapped at Akira simply because of her jealousy towards Takemi. So she held those thoughts back and smiled so that her boyfriend wouldn't feel guilty. After all, she knew how much of a meddler he was. It would be difficult for him to refuse a friend in need, and he obviously didn't want to make a choice between her and his friends. So she just took comfort that it would only be a brief thing.
"Actually... that's not the only one."
"Oh, do you have to do a second date?"
"No… as in, she's not the only one."
At that moment, Akira felt a shiver of dread crawl up his spine. His girlfriend pulled away from him with a glare similar to what she had given Mishima a few nights before. "Explain."
"Her name is Ichiko Ohya. She's a journalist that I meet on occasion in a bar called Crossroads in Shinjuku for information. I pretend to be a Phantom Thief fanboy and provide her information of the group so she will write some positive press on us while I get information from her about potential targets. I was dragged into it because she's trying to gather information on an incident a long time ago and her boss isn't happy with it. So when her boss spotted her doing something she shouldn't, she started acting like we were dating, using our age difference for an excuse for why we are being so secretive. Because her boss is still keeping an eye on her we have to keep pretending so we use our 'dates' to help her find information on her case."
"Huh," Sadayo's ire was immediately smothered by the rapid amount of information. "Okay, when I said explain I… wow. Ichiko Ohya? I feel like I've heard that name before."
"She's written a few articles talking about the Phantom Thieves. She also did the interview about Boy M which talked about the Kamoshida scandal."
"Oh, that one…" Sadayo was a bit annoyed as she remembered the plethora of Phantom Thief news she had to go through during her short-lived paper job.
"I promise you there is nothing going on between us, and this began before we started going out."
"I guess..." Sadayo pouted as she rested her head on his chest again, though she was still showing concern. "First Takemi, now this journalist. Any other women I should know about?"
She could feel Akira flinch, which caused her to raise her head once more. "There are, aren't there."
"Well, there is this fortune-teller named Chihaya Mifune I talk to on occasion," Akira nervously began to count down with his fingers. "Then there's Hifumi Togo who teaches me about shogi?"
"Wait, as in the shogi idol Hifumi Togo? She's the person you play shogi with?!" Sadayo gaped. It was already a big shock that Akira knew a politician, but a shogi idol as well? Sadayo clung to Akira in desperation.
"Are you okay?"
"I don't know, I just… I really don't know what it is that you see in me that is worth going after when you have all these amazing people around you."
"I mean you know a doctor, a journalist, a celebrity, a model... Heck, one of them is part of the Phantom Thieves. Meanwhile I'm just so… dull."
"I wouldn't exactly call a teacher who used to moonlight as a maid as dull."
"I'm not so sure how to feel that that's what makes me stand out." Despite her objection, Sadayo let out a small chuckle. She then felt her boyfriend's hands gently lift her head to face him. Caught into his serious gaze from behind his glass mask, Sadayo felt her heart racing. Her hands gripped his shirt, their breaths mingling in the small space between them.
"I'm not interested in things like wealth, fame or status. All I'm interested is sharing my life with you."
The moment Sadayo heard him say that, she couldn't help but laugh. "Isn't that a quote from 'Love Possibly'?"
"Is it now?" Akira laughed along with her, but his expression signaled that he actually knew about that movie as well. Petering into chuckles, he caressed her hair as his look softened.
Sadayo slowly raised her hands, grabbing his glasses and putting them to the side. She wanted to stare into his captivating gray eyes, to see his true self.
"Ever since I got arrested, my life has been anything but normal. It's been one crazy thing after another. It's not easy to constantly change between the rumored delinquent student and the leader of the infamous Phantom Thieves."
"Don't get me wrong," Akira managed a smile, gently running a finger down her cheek and moving it behind her ear. "I don't hate my life, and I'm thankful that I found myself surrounded by so many interesting people. At the very least, my life is never boring." He let out a small chuckle, once again reminded of how much he has to lose if he made a mistake.
Sadayo was taken aback. A part of her wished to experience whatever it was that he would see when he went off to do whatever it was that he did. She placed her hand on his cheek and did her best to comfort him.
And it seemed to help as his smile warmed. "I enjoy being with you. When I'm with you I feel like everything that has happened in my life is worth it, both the good and the bad. When I'm with you, I feel like I'm just a normal person. A normal student just going through a normal school life, happily spending time with his girlfriend." Akira gently pulled Sadayo's hand away from his cheek, placing it on her lap as he gave it a squeeze. "I mean, is it so bad to want some normalcy in my life?"
"So you consider dating your own homeroom teacher as normal?" Sadayo pouted, half joking.
"I'm willing to compromise some normalcy," Akira gave a carefree shrug, causing both to chuckle.
"Thank you," Sadayo whispered, relaxing as she leaned on Akira. 'You always know how to pull me back up.'
They continued to hold each other close, soaking in each other's warmth as time slowed down. Not even Mona's meowing in the back could distract them as Sadayo closed her eyes, half-tempted to fall asleep in his arms.
"Hey… Sadayo," Akira eventually spoke up.
Sadayo raised her head, drowsy, but content. "Yeah…?"
"Holding you this close… It makes me want to kiss you."
Normally, Sadayo would become flustered by Akira's forwardness, but in that moment, it didn't bother her at all. Maybe it was how comfortable she felt in his arms, or how lethargic she was. But she replied by stretching out her arms and wrapping them over his shoulders. With a longing gaze, Sadayo leaned in, whispering in an inviting and seductive tone:
"Well, no one is stopping you."
That was all Akira needed to set his heart ablaze. He gently placed a hand on Sadayo's chin, caressing her lips before he descended on them. Their kiss was short, but Akira wasn't satisfied with just that. Wanting to show how much he loved her, he continued to shower her with affection, kissing her nose, forehead, cheeks and back to her lips.
Enjoying the sensation, Sadayo giggled, and tried to return some of her own. Eventually, she had to back away, which caused a small, cute pout on her boyfriend's tempting mouth. She didn't want it to end, though she opted for the safe route of a sly smile.
"This is really nice and all, but I do believe you owe me something else. Don't you, Sebastian?"
Akira grinned, amused that she remembered that little comment of his. "That I did. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive this mere butler's transgression." He rolled his eyes at the grumbling in the background. "Hey, it's your fault for deciding to come along. You knew the risk."
Eyeing the obviously irate Mona who had teleported at the kitchen island, Sadayo couldn't help but let out an embarrassed giggle. The whole thing felt like when a pet kept staring at the couple as they have some alone time, only a hundred times more awkward since Mona was also a human.
Akira then crawled up and took a seat on the couch. He patted the cushion for her to sit down in front of him. "I hope that it will be to your liking, my mistress."
"That will depend on how good you are," Sadayo blushed, unable to stop her smile as she shifted her back towards him. "So is this one of those things that you were always good at and just kept secret from me, or am I going to have to teach you?"
"I think I can handle a shoulder rub." With that, Akira went to work.
Rubbing on her shoulder, his hand felt nice, but Sadayo could tell that he was still quite new to this.
"Don't be afraid of going harder at it. If you're too soft it won't do much." Sadayo then grabbed his hand, guiding it under her shirt and onto a sore spot on her shoulder. "Here, feel how tense it is? Just follow my lead."
"Guess I wasn't as good as I thought I was," Akira blushed, doing his best to keep his composure — and his hands from misbehaving. "I had read a few books so I figured I had a grasp on things."
"It's fine. It's going to take more than a few books to really get good at it. There is no shame in asking for help," Sadayo chuckled.
Though she could feel that he was starting to work things out and rely less on her guiding hands. 'He really is a quick learner.' She closed her eyes, releasing his hands and letting him work on his own. Already, she could feel an improvement and felt herself relaxing under his ministrations. She bit her lower lip. 'A really good quick learner.'
"S-see, you're already doing much better. So don't worry, I'll be sure to teach you everything I know."
"I'll be sure to do my best. It's what you're best at."
"Teaching or giving massages?"
"Both," Akira replied, kissing the top of her head.
"Smooth…" Sadayo placed her hand over his once more. Not to guide him, but to simply hold his hand. She looked over her shoulder, meeting her boyfriend's loving smile. In that moment, she was reminded of the time when she had imagined this exact scenario and she couldn't help but chuckle that it had actually come true.
"What's so funny? Did I hit a sensitive spot?"
"A little." Sadayo let out a pleased sigh and smiled, resting her head on his lap. "Mostly, I'm just feeling like the luckiest woman in the world right now."
"Well I'm not done yet. It's still daytime, and I'm more than happy to learn more. That is, if you're still up to teaching, sensei..."
"Now that's a lesson I'm more than happy to teach you."
They both laughed happily, and with a kiss, their plans for the night were set. Just as soon as they get their annoyed furry chaperon his sushi.
"Aaaand there. All done!" Sadayo announced with satisfaction as she finished styling her hair. Her reflection tilted its head left and right, making sure everything was good.
For the last week, Akira had been insistent of being the one to come over. He wanted to make sure that she wasn't pushing herself again and help make things easier while she adjusted to practicing with the girls. While Sadayo had been hesitant to the idea at first, it was honestly nice to be the one being taken care of for a while. Still, Sadayo had made him promise that this was only temporary, and that they would eventually stop. Well tonight was that night.
Sadayo continued to look at herself in the mirror. It started with just examining her hair, then her dress, then herself. Before she knew it, she was twirling and doing all sorts of poses. It was strange; for the longest time, she hated this dress and everything about it. But when Akira had called her that he needed her help tonight, she practically jumped at the chance to dress in it again. Much to her surprise, when she saw herself in the mirror, she actually missed dressing up for him.
Curling her fingers inwards to shape paws, Sadayo beamed, "Welcome home, Master! Nyaaah nyaaah!"
Then she promptly deflated. "What am I doing? This is so embarrassing..."
She raised her head, once more looking at her reflection. She grabbed the frills, dipping slightly to curtsy. Silly poses or no, she really did think that she looked good in it.
Sadayo honestly didn't know what she had been thinking back then when she applied for the job. But when she had first seen herself in the mirror, she found that it was unexpectedly cuter than she thought it would look on her. It had even prompted her to act out a scene from one of her favorite stories in front of the mirror — telling her master that what they want could never be for she is a lowly maid — before laughing at her silliness. It's not like she was even considering that kind of situation to happen, but a girl could have some fun, couldn't she?
Unfortunately, from the very first customer and onward, all she got was complaints, insults, degrading questions, skeevy individuals, and uncomfortable situations. Like always, it didn't take long before it became another chore in the line of jobs that she hated doing, but sadly paid too well and too flexible for her to quit.
Swaying slightly, Sadayo ran her hand through the ruffles of her skirt. It was a strange feeling for sure. While those memories were still there in her mind, she no longer felt the wave of dread that had always come whenever she saw herself wearing the attire, always fearing if the next customer would be the one to take things too far or if they would be someone that recognized her. Instead, she found herself genuinely excited, cheerful, nothing like the fake act she had used to force herself to do. And that was all due to a particular troublemaker.
Even before they started dating, Sadayo had slowly begun to look forward to his requests, but it wasn't until they started that she began to really associate her maid outfit with Akira. At first, she only intended to wear it as a means to hide her identity, a temporary solution, but as time passed, she began to look forward to it. Her little Becky moments became less of an act and more of a playful tease. Not to mention that she'd already lost count of how many times she almost called him master long past her having quit her job.
Despite this, Sadayo sadly sighed. 'But maybe that's just me though. Akira seems to not really like me wearing this. And now that I think about it, for all the flirting he's done, he really hasn't complimented me in this, or done anything since that night…'
Immediately, her cheeks heated, reminded of when Akira had taken initiative and they almost kissed after her accidental propsition. Sadayo shook her head, still in disbelief that she offered that. "You'd think someone would jump at the chance if someone offered to be their personal maid, but he never even really commented on it since. Then again, he still calls me Becky on occasion."
Sadayo pouted, grabbing the frills again. Though this time with more uncertainty as she sadly sighed. 'Maybe he thinks it's weird for someone my age to be doing this…'
She bopped her head. "There you go again. No point in trying to read his mind. It's probably best to ask him." She raised her wrist, checking her watch. "I should head out. He's probably waiting for me."
Minutes later, Sadayo arrived at the entrance of Leblanc. Through the frosted glass of the door, she could see what looked to be an exhausted Akira with his head on the counter. Sadayo giggled at his cuteness and knocked at the door, making Akira notice her. With his languid smile and wave, Sadayo entered.
Signaled by the bell on top of the door, all sorts of happy memories rushed in as the smell of coffee and curry wafted through her nose. "It's only been two weeks, but I really missed this place."
"You know, you're more than welcome to visit during business hours," Akira commented, visibly struggling to sit up. "It's still decently quiet and we wouldn't mind the extra customers. I'd be more than happy to serve you the house special."
"You mean the coffee and curry combo that you've served me multiple times," Sadayo raised her brow playfully with a bit of a smirk even as she touched his arm in concern.
"Trust me, Boss' stuff is way better than mine. Once you've had it, you'll see why I'm still learning."
"I'll think about it," Sadayo giggled at Akira's constant praise to Sakura-san, which admittedly had piqued her interest. "For now, though, you look like you could use some help."
"It would be appreciated," Akira smiled.
Sadayo stepped towards Akira and ducked under his arm. Letting him lean on her, she looked toward the cat sprawled on the counter. "Sorry Mona, but can you help carry the first-aid upstairs?"
Meow weaker than normal, Morgana went off and got the box as Sadayo helped Akira up the stairs. After placing him on the bed, Sadayo went back down for Mona and met him halfway. "Thank you Mona," Sadayo murmured, carrying the box and the cat the rest of the way before placing them on the end of the bed. She turned to Akira, who had taken off his shoes. "Okay, I… I'm going to need you to take your shirt off."
Akira opened his mouth—
Sadayo immediately held a hand up. "I-I just need to see if you're hurt, okay?!" Flustered, she looked away, her blush deepening when her boyfriend chuckled. Thankfully he didn't comment, but Sadayo's heart raced when she heard the rustle of clothes. Taking a moment to breathe — gaining a whiff of his perspiration in the process — she turned to finally face him. As she gazed into her boyfriend's naked upper body, two things came to mind.
He was… very well-built. He wasn't overly muscular, but his slender frame hid how toned his body was. And it wasn't like she didn't know. As embarrassing it was to think about, she'd held him, hugged him, and massaged him well enough to know he worked out. Not to mention she'd seen him doing laps with Sakamoto-kun multiple times. But seeing the results this close?
A familiar warmth permeated throughout her body, steadily rising as she kept her eyes glued to his muscles. But fortunately, she noticed something that took her mind off dangerous things.
His body was full of what she could only describe as fading scars. From small scratches to mostly-healed burns, his body was covered with all sorts of marks. Her mind went back to the day that he had saved her and afterwards confessed to her, particularly when he fell to the floor and held his side in pain. Immediately, her gaze was drawn to a big wound, the side she had been consciously trying not to put too much pressure when she would massage him. She was no wound-expert, but it looked like something had gone right through him. Her hand reached out, touching the skin that suffered to win her freedom.
Her boyfriend sucked in a bit of air at the contact. Through her watery gaze, she can see his comforting smile as he placed his hand on her head, gently stroking her hair. "It's okay, it doesn't hurt much, just a bit of a sensitive spot. Other than a few scrapes here and there we were mostly unscathed. Like I mentioned last time, most of it are just phantom pains."
"Still…" Sadayo sighed, before shaking her head. She wished that he didn't have to go through this, but in truth, if it wasn't for this, she would still be slowly killing herself, not to mention all the people that were saved by them, like Takemi. And in the end, it was his choice to do this. So she shook off those selfish thoughts and smiled for him. "No, it's fine. I know how capable you can be, just don't get too cocky okay?"
"I know, I promised you, didn't I?" Akira rested his forehead against her. He playfully rubbed his nose against her and Sadayo reciprocated. He really did know how to calm her down, eventually parting away with a kiss on her forehead.
"Anyway," Sadayo smiled, "we should treat those wounds, and I owe you a massage."
She started with the small scrapes, thankful that it was only as bad as the scrapes one would get from falling off a bike. She disinfected and covered just like Takemi had taught her, and once done she had him put his shirt back. She tried to play it off like it was no big deal, but in reality she was worried about rubbing her hands all over his bare body.
With his clothes as a barrier, Sadayo began massaging his worn out body like he had with her the past few days, amused at how relaxed she could get him. She also enjoyed the occasional noises that he would produce... maybe a bit more than she should.
'What is wrong with you?! You're just giving him a massage!' Sadayo reprimanded herself.
"S-so you're heading out after this?" she quickly asked working on a particular stiff kink on his lower back, leading to a loud pop.
"Yeah," Akira said in a moan that didn't help Sadayo at all. "Me and my friends handled the situation with Ohya's boss. Apparently it led her to find a very important lead in her case. It should also mean that I don't have to pretend to be dating her anymore."
Sadayo felt like that last statement was to help her feel at ease, and as petty as it was, it did a little. But she felt that there was something else. She patted his back, letting him know that she was done. She then proceeded to pick up Mona and put the tired cat on her lap. The fact that he didn't resist showed how tired he was as she gave him a lighter massage. She wasn't trained with animals as she was with humans, but she had looked up some tips and instructions to make sure she was doing it right. And it seems to be working when Mona began to happily purr and melt into her lap. Amused, she turned back to Akira, who was doing stretches, looking much better than he was just a while ago. "It sounds like it's all good news, but you sound worried. Is there something else on your mind?"
"I don't know. I expected to get a call from her soon, but the way she sounded was off. She sounded so… serious."
"Is that not normal? I mean, she is a journalist," Sadayo tilted her head inquisitively.
"Trust me, if you knew her you'd know how strange that is," Akira let out an awkward chuckle. "Still, we shouldn't be doing anything but talking, so it should be fine. I'll be back soon okay?" He put on his shoes, grabbed his bag, and approached Sadayo, leaning for a kiss. Smiling, Sadayo watched him as he headed down the stairs.
Struck by a sudden impulse, Sadayo poked Morgana's side. "All done." Not waiting for the cat to finish meowing his satisfaction, Sadayo placed him on the bed and rushed after her boyfriend. "Akira, wait!"
He turned around and Sadayo caught him in her arms, winding them over his shoulders. She knew he was stunned when he stiffened as she raised herself and pulled him towards her lips. But he was quick as always, and Akira was soon participating, twining his own arms around her waist.
The moment was gone too fast. Slowly, they pulled away, but they didn't drop their arms from each other. Biting her lip, Sadayo pulled herself close once more and whispered in his ear, "Simple talk or not, just be careful, okay? I'll be waiting for you, Master."
When she pulled back, it was a bright red Akira who was nodding, "Y-yeah, I'll be back soon."
He fixed his vanity glasses before heading off with what seem to be more energy than before. Erratic energy, it seemed, since he actually fumbled with the door knob before managing it open. Sadayo snickered and waved her goodbye when he looked back at her. Hearing the light thumps behind her, Sadayo turned just to see Morgana bounding the stairs to catch up with Akira.
"Watch over him, okay?"
Morgana gave her what looked like a salute and a bit of a snicker before catching up to her boyfriend. Then he went into his usual hiding spot as Akira moved.
When he looked back again, Sadayo waved once more with a smile. She giggled at his flushed but pleased demeanor, and eventually he disappeared down the street of Yongen-jaya. Once he was no longer in sight and the door was firmly closed, Sadayo slumped against it, covering her red face.
"Why did I do that?! What is wrong with me?!" Sadayo chastised herself as she slid downward and sat on the floor. "But he seemed so worried and I wanted to cheer him up, and he was meeting with that woman a-and, and — I don't know!"
Sadayo groaned behind her facepalm before thinking back to Akira's expression. "But that was a good reaction, right? It was actually kind of cute when he blushed after I kissed him, or when he kept looking back. I wonder if he'll be thinking of what I said when he's away."
Her eyes widened. "Was I too forward again? Am I giving him the wrong impression again?" Sadayo lowered her head in shame. "I didn't even ask him about what he really thinks about my maid outfit and I ended up calling him 'Master' again."
Suddenly, a thought occurred. "Crap, what if I'm corrupting him?"
She wasn't sure if she liked the idea or not. Sadayo sighed defeatedly. Then she got up from her position and dusted herself off. "Maybe some cleaning will get my mind out of things." She looked around; everything seemed fine on the lower floor, probably because Sakura-san and Akira always cleaned up before they closed. But there was a place that she knew could use some cleaning.
"I knew it," Sadayo commented with amusement, hands on her hips. Now back upstairs, she hadn't paid any attention to the room when she had helped Akira up earlier.
The room looked mostly unchanged, other than the pennant placed by the workbench which put a smile on Sadayo's face. Unfortunately, she could also tell that like her, he had been slacking a bit on his house chores but unlike her, he wasn't afraid of it being known. Though considering how many times she's seen his mess and the limited amount of hiding space, there would probably be no point in covering it.
"I had a feeling he would slack off if I didn't come here. I'm grateful that he worked so hard to help with my stuff at my place, but he should really focus on his own just as well." Sadayo then flinched when she remembered the state of her place when Akira first came to visit.
She scratched her cheek with an embarrassed blush. "Though I guess I'm just as bad. At the very least his laundry isn't all over the place." Not wanting to fall back to her old routine, Sadayo breathed in, mimed rolling sleeves and gloves, and pumped her fist. "Well, no point in stalling! The sooner I get this done, the sooner I get to work on surprising Akira with some coffee, or maybe try my hand on that curry recipe on my own this time. Either way, we can decide later." With an energized smile, she grabbed the laundry basket and got to work.
After a quick stop to the laundromat, she began to work on the shelves, taking the time to admire her boyfriend's growing collection — though she had to question the chocolate fountain by the corner. Who gives a chocolate fountain? Maybe one of those famous friends of his? Sadayo shook her head, dusting off those thoughts and the replica ramen bowl, one that he'd said was given to him by Sakamoto-kun and was his first-ever souvenir.
Then, from underneath the bowl, a piece of paper drifted away.
Sadayo quickly reached out and snagged it before it touched the floor, doing a victory cheer afterwards. But when she went to look at it, her eyes widened.
"Why does he have this?"
The train ride back to Yongen-jaya had been a sobering and mellow one for Akira and Morgana. Both stayed quiet as Akira walked out of the station, processing what they had heard from Ohya.
Everything looked fine at the start. The boss had his change of heart and was now working to aid Ohya, which was an unexpected benefit — he even told her where Kana was. All in all, another successful mission by the Phantom Thieves. Sadly, celebrations where cut short when Ohya revealed Kana's whereabouts — a mental hospital. Both he and Lala-chan looked at each other when Ohya mentioned this. They tried to be optimistic about the fact that Kana was still alive, but considering how long it had been, both knew that the possibility of her current state wouldn't be any better.
What made it all the more concerning was how depressed Ohya was. Usually she'd be all gung-ho about it while shrugging some level of risk. But she was actually afraid to find out the truth. Akira had tried to give some support by offering to join her, but the moment she mentioned it was out of country he knew he wouldn't be able to. Still, it did some good, since she went back to her old self and teased him about trying to ask her out on a date out of the country. If there was one thing that Akira admired about Ohya, it was how quick she was to bounce from trouble. Still, Ohya's behavior wasn't the only thing that had him worried.
"Hey, Morgana. Do you remember what Futaba mumbled to herself before she awakened to her Persona?"
"Something about men in black suits forging a suicide note. Do you think there's a correlation between that and Kana in a mental hospital?"
"It's just speculation, but why would one forge something unless they had something to hide? The fact that her research disappeared as well is worrisome. Maybe Kana went through something similar?"
"Sadly we won't be getting any information until Ohya gets back. Not to mention that we're still waiting for Futaba to fully wake up."
Akira let out a tired chuckle. "No kidding, we still haven't really taken care of Medjed yet. How long does someone need to sleep?"
"We still have some time before the deadline so we should still be in the clear. I hope."
Akira sighed at Morgana's hesitation, but there really wasn't much they could do. His mind raced with concern for his friends; what would he do if one of them went missing? The group had been so panicked when Makoto let herself be captured so they could find Kaneshiro. What would have happened to her if Ryuji hadn't stopped that cab recklessly? Or if he hadn't followed Ann after Kamoshida had called her over?
What would have happened if Sadayo went to the sister company…?
Tightening his fists, Akira swore to himself that he would do anything possible to make sure that Kana's scenario would never happen to any of his friends.
By the time he and Morgana arrived at the cafe, the feeling of dread has mostly been pushed aside. As much as they worry, they'd done their best. Akira could only hope that Ohya would have good news once she got back. Right now, he was just looking forward to an enjoyable evening with Sadayo.
He entered Leblanc, but Sadayo strangely didn't come down to greet him like she usually did. The door wasn't locked though, and the sounds from upstairs clearly signalled that she was still awake.
'Maybe I arrived sooner than she expected,' Akira thought as he went upstairs. He found Sadayo sitting on his bed, folding his clothes.
Something felt odd. Usually by the time he got back he'd find her resting, watching TV, or reading a book since he avoided giving her too much work. On occasion she'd even be in the middle of making coffee. When he looked around the room, he noticed that it was almost spotless. Even the usually-ignored shelf by the stairs was organized. This was probably the cleanest he had ever seen the place.
"Wow, you really tidied up the place," Akira remarked.
"I just needed to keep myself busy," Sadayo replied without turning to look at him.
Akira was taken aback by her sudden, cold attitude. He then noticed that the noise he has been hearing was the tapping of her foot on the floor, similar to the kind she had done when he had arrived late to Shujin. Alarms blared off as his mind raced on what could be the cause.
"Sadayo, is everything okay?"
"Why wouldn't they be?" Sadayo finished folding the clothes, placing them to the side before grabbing something from behind the pile. "Maybe it's because I found this."
Blinking, Akira took a moment to register the item thrusted at his face. It was familiar…
Dread rose when he finally recognized it — a photo. The photo.
"Care to explain?" Sadayo questioned, arms crossed and full-on teacher-mode.
It was the picture of him, Ryuji, and Mishima, beaming at the camera. Ryuji cheerfully has his arm around Akira's neck, Mishima to the side with a peace sign. A normal picture between friends, if not for the three, young, cheerful maids accompanying them.
Joker had fought down a Take-Minakata earlier, but only now did he get the urge to flee as his teacher stared him down like she had found him bringing inappropriate materials at school.
From his back, a snicker broke the silence. "Looks like you have some explaining to do Joker." Morgana proceeded to jump out of the bag. But as soon as he landed Sadayo's gaze turned to him.
"And you? You knew about this, didn't you?" Sadayo glared at the potential accomplice.
"I'm not a part of that. I left as soon as they were at the entrance!"
"You know she can't understand you. And that still puts you there," Akira sighed.
"You didn't have to say that!" Mona yelled before a steely glare raised his fur.
"So you did know," Sadayo accused.
"Y-yes ma'am…" Morgana nodded his head vigorously to put the point across.
'He sure does buckle the moment a woman orders him around,' Akira sighed with veiled amusement at how quickly Sadayo already had the cat around her finger.
"Eyes on me Kurusu," Sadayo ordered.
His spine straightened. "Yes ma'am — I mean sensei — I mean Sadayo!"
"Now then. Is there anything either of you would like to tell me?"
Both man and cat looked between the stern maid sitting on the bed and their fellow suspect, trying to figure out what to do.
"Well, I'm waiting…"
"I-I'll leave this one to you Joker. I'll go and do some information gathering." Morgana suddenly leaped to the bed, the window sill and out into the night.
The remaining two stared out the window.
"Wow, he ran away," Sadayo finally blinked.
"He really ran away," Akira confirmed, reminding himself to go for cheap sushi the next time the cat asked for some. He took a deep breath, preparing himself to make his case when he suddenly heard another snicker.
"He just... snnnnrk — sprinted off like that..."
Bemused, Akira watched Sadayo turning away, shaking as she covered her mouth.
"Seriously, snnnnnrk, what is with you and people running out the window? First Sakamoto-kun and Mishima-kun, and now Morgana. Snnnnrk, you have the worst luck!" Sadayo burst out laughing, even as she tried waving her hands. "Sorry, sorry! I wasn't expecting that at all. It's too funny!"
"So you're not upset?"
"I wouldn't say that," Sadayo finally spoke, regaining her composure. She took a deep breath and turned to Akira, her initially annoyed expression was now more understanding, if not sad, smile. "It's not like I own you or control your life. You're obviously going to spend time with your friends. And like I told you, it's not like we can tell others that we are dating. And boys will be boys."
His girlfriend looked at the picture; somehow, Akira can tell that she was focused on his picture. "Still, I won't deny that I was a bit hurt when I saw the picture, so I decided to play a prank on you. So much for being a mature adult," she chuckled, but she sounded so defeated. "You three looked like you were having so much fun. I guess when it comes to maids you prefer them young after all."
"What are you talking about?" Akira asked, taking a sit next to Sadayo on the bed.
"You always looked uncomfortable when I'm wearing this dress. At first I thought that you just weren't into maids, but here you are perfectly fine with it." His girlfriend pointed at his smiling picture. "So I figure that the problem was me."
"Is that what you think my problem is?" Akira was genuinely confused.
"I mean, isn't that why you tell me that I don't have to wear it?" Sadayo began to blush and look away with characteristic embarrassment. "Because you think it's weird for an older woman like me to wear it? That I don't look good in it? You don't have to worry about hurting my feelings — you can be honest."
"Of course not," Akira shook his head, presenting his palm to silently ask her for the picture, which she gave back. "This was honestly the only time I've ever gone to one of these. It was soon after I had confessed to you, but before we started dating. I think it was actually midway through our exams. Honestly, I was dragged into it."
"When I got mobbed by students asking for help with their resumes for summer jobs," Sadayo thoughtfully said.
"During that time, I thought for sure that you were going to reject me. Even worse, I thought I had made you hate me for pushing myself on to you. Ryuji and Mishima seemed to have noticed so they wanted to cheer me up," Akira smiled at his girlfriend. "I also think Ryuji was looking for an excuse to avoid studying."
"Of course he would," Sadayo massaged her brow exasperatedly.
"I wasn't sure where we were going. I had never gone to Akihabara before so I thought we were going to look for some big arcade or something, but then we ended up stopping in front of a special cafe. Apparently, their solution to cheer me up is to give our failed mission another shot. An 'Operation Maidwatch 2.0', if you will."
"S-seriously?" Sadayo almost busted out laughing. "Why '2.0'? What ever happened to '1.0'?"
Akira stared meaningfully.
With a perplexed look, his girlfriend pointed at herself.
Akira couldn't help but laugh at his girlfriend's shock. "They decided that calling a maid service again was a bit too risky for us, so they went for the safer route of a maid cafe. And Mishima had already gone to it a couple of times and said that it was quite good." He laid down on the bed, closing his eyes as he recounted the event...
"So tell me again why your plan to cheer me up is to take me here?" Akira asked as he scanned the menu. He was flabbergasted by the prices, even if he was rolling in cash.
"Come on man. We get to be attended and served by cute maids. What's not to like?" Ryuji grinned while looking around the place.
"Exams are stressful times, so places like these have been very helpful at alleviating pressure," Mishima commented, glancing between the maids and the menu.
"Exactly! Nothing wrong with enjoying yourself between studies."
"You've been studying?" Akira raised his brow in amusement.
Ryuji's cheerful disposition took a nosedive at the question. "I-I've studied shit. A bit."
"You know Makoto is going to kill you once our scores are out," Akira joked.
"Don't remind me..." Ryuji's moan was filled with dread. "But there's nothing we can do at this point, so we might as well enjoy our freedom."
Makoto had been constantly dragging Ryuji into study sessions, Akira knew, even without the rest of the group. Unrepentant, Akira confidently tousled his bangs, smirking, "Speak for yourself, I'm doing perfectly fine."
"Same here. I may not be in the top ten, but my score's higher than average," Mishima chimed in.
"How could you?!" Ryuji's head whipped between the two, horribly betrayed. "Well… screw you two!" He huffed and buried himself in the menu.
Akira laughed as he patted his friend's shoulder, feeling more like they were cheering Ryuji more than him.
They ordered their food with little fanfare. Omurice and iced cocoa for Mishima and multiple orders for Ryuji. Meanwhile, Akira simply went for a cup of coffee, which Ryuji didn't recommend. During their wait, the maids all played their roles to a tee, calling them master and being generally inviting and friendly even with Ryuji's nervous stuttering and blushing. Mishima, while a bit awkward, seemed used to it; not surprising since he mentioned that he had visited a couple of times.
But when Akira looked around, all he could think of was one particular maid. Then their orders arrived; Ryuji and Mishima joined with the girls to cast a spell on their food while Akira just thanked his maid. He took a sip and immediately bemoaned how tasteless it was under his breath.
"Dude, told ya not to. You've been living in a coffee shop for months now. You're kinda spoiled," Ryuji smiled as he chomped his burger.
"You live in a coffee shop?" Mishima asked in surprise.
"It's my living arrangement for the year," Akira awkwardly replied, having forgotten that they'd never mentioned it to Mishima. "I help out by working on the shop on occasion."
"The boss has turned him into a coffee and curry addict. Me, I'll stick with cola and ramen. Though his curry ain't half-bad," Ryuji commented.
Akira continued to drink his bland coffee, not wanting to be rude. For some reason, it was preferable compared to acknowledging Ryuji and Mishima's darting expressions of concern. Then, halfway through their meal, Mishima stood up and went to the comfort room.
"Hey," Ryuji finally spoke up when Mishima was out of sight. "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, why do you ask?" Akira tried his best to act obliviously.
"I don't know. You've just been sort of bummed out for the last couple of days," Ryuji leaned in, lowering his voice. "Is it because you're feeling shitty about almost killing those two scumbags the other day? 'Cause I don't blame yah after their shit-talking. I'm just glad you didn't go through with it. Though the girls miiiiiight still be a bit upset."
Akira let out a chuckle as he rubbed his head, remembering the epic smack and verbal lashing the two girls had dished out, especially Makoto. Maybe they could apply that as their Showtime…?
"I don't blame them," Akira finally replied. "I should have been smarter and came clean about how upset I was. But no, that's not it."
"Well, it must be something big. I mean, look at where we are," Ryuji threw out his hands, encompassing the whole room. "Here we are surrounded by cute girls, and all you're doing is being a major bummed-out dude."
Despite Ryuji's gruff delivery, he could tell that his friend was truly worried. And Akira wanted to tell him about the rollercoaster of emotions he had been going through for the last few weeks.
Sadayo… no one had ever made him feel the way he does when he was with her. She was like a cool shade in the scorching heat, comforting in a way that was different from his friends. An imperfect gem, yet that made her shine all the more, constantly drawing his gaze with a magnetic pull that rivaled the tides and the moon..
The more he spent time with her, the more he realized how much he had become used to having her around. He wanted her, wanted to be together with her, to hold her close and feel her warmth, to hear her voice as she called out his name. And most of all, he wanted to make her smile — the smile that made everything feel worth it.
'Heh, I sound so sappy. I try to be careful, but the moment I feel like I'm losing someone, I end up doing something stupid and making things worse. No wonder she reacted the way she did.'
"Uhh, dude, you're zoning out on me. You sure you're alright?"
Akira blinked at the waving hand inches from his nose. "Maybe there is something wrong with me, " he smirked and moved Ryuji's hand away. "It would explain why I messed up so badly again."
Eyeing Ryuji's confusion, Akira carefully chose his words; he may not be able to tell the entire story, but he could at least throw a bone. "I went and confessed to someone and I'm pretty sure I got turned down."
"Wait, for real?!" Ryuji gaped.
"You're kidding?!" Mishima popped in.
Akira twitched. Before he can express displeasure, Ryuji quickly pulled him close. "Wait, are we talking about—"
"No, it's not with either of them," Akira quickly corrected while pushing Ryuji back, knowing that he was asking about Ann or Makoto. On the bright side, it reassured him that Ryuji probably wouldn't catch on to who it was.
"R-right, sorry," Ryuji apologized — though for a second Akira thought that he heard a sigh of relief. Whatever it was, it didn't last long; Ryuji turned back to him with a serious expression. "So is it someone I know? What exactly happened? I mean, you don't sound like you're fully sure if she turned you down or not?"
"Honestly, I'm just as surprised," Mishima jumped in. "From what I've heard girls tend to go for those dangerously mysterious guys."
Eyeing Mishima, Akira swallowed the annoyed sigh in his throat. He didn't want anyone else to have the slightest clue about his relationship — or lack thereof — with Sadayo. But what can he do? He simply let out a self-deprecating chuckle. "Well if that's the case, I'm sadly the outlier. And I'm certain. Having her run away from you scared half to death isn't exactly the most comforting response."
"Sheesh, and I thought I had it bad," Ruyuji leaned back in his chair, probably imagining how that scenario played out. "Though I guess with your reputation, that's bound to happen."
"I'm really sorr—"
"It's fine," Akira quickly interrupted Mishima's apology. "I told you, it's not your fault."
"Yeah, it's that Kamoshithead's fault," Ryuji grumbled as he scratched his head in frustration. "It pisses me off that he can still eff things up even in jail." Ryuji then heaved himself to sit upright, turning to Akira with a grin. "Still, we all know those rumours are all bullshit, and Kawakami has apparently been working hard recently to stomp them out. So you might still have a chance, eh?" playfully jabbed Akira's side with his elbow.
Akira winced at the inadvertent insinuation. He leaned his head against his entwined fingers for support, covering the lower part of his face.
"Trust me when I say that the possibility of her feeling the same way I do is almost zero. I was just an idiot that pushed my feelings on her without thinking. Honestly, I'm lucky she didn't slap and yell at me for what I did." Akira tiredly exhaled as he looked down. "But that's fine. All I wanted was for her to be happy. Honestly, she's an amazing person, but she was miserable with her life for so long."
Back at school earlier today, Sadayo had looked worried. He couldn't help the urge to ease her; just as he was about to say something or do something stupid, Ryuji had pulled him away. When he looked back, Sadayo was surrounded, smiling in the midst of eager students who were all listening to her with respect. In that moment, Akira knew his wish was already granted.
The memory stung, but it still made him weakly smile. "But she is happy now. And it's probably for the best that we part ways. It's sad to say goodbye to our friendship, but I know she'll be fine now."
Akira let out a heavy sigh, feeling really embarrassed at how melodramatic he was back then. It was only made worse by the fact that he was telling it to the very person he thought he had lost. He took a glance at Sadayo, who has her head down, gripping her skirt.
He was about to continue when Sadayo reached for him, darting across his chest to latch on his side. Akira blinked as she suddenly turned and kneeled on the bed before she pulled him to her chest. Akira's face immediately reddened as his hands flailed, unsure of what to do or where to place them.
"You can be a real idiot sometimes, you know that?" Sadayo sniffled as she chastised her boyfriend, silencing his protests.
Sadayo knew that he felt bad about the way he had confessed, but considering how quickly he bounced back, she figured it wasn't that bad. But here he was, blaming himself for something he had no reason to, yet wishing her happiness.
"I could never hate you. How could I?" Sadayo held him tighter, trying to show him that she meant it. "I owe everything to you, you've done so much for me. I'm so grateful to have met you and have you be a part of my life."
Akira let out a sigh, his body relaxing in Sadayo's embrace. He placed his hand over hers, giving it a gentle squeeze as he smiled. "Yeah, I know that now, but at the time it brought back a lot of bad memories." Akira pulled from his girlfriend's embrace and simply admired the blushing beauty in front of him. She was so cute, and his hand absently moved a loose bang from her forehead.
"I'm sorry that I took so long," Sadayo looked down from her boyfriend's smile.
"Don't be, you're here now. So it was worth the wait." Akira raised her to face him. "I get how scary it must have been. Having a student confess to you after all that you went through. But the fact that you chose this despite all of that means the world to me."
Sadayo smiled at her boyfriend's understanding. Though she was still left with a number of questions. "So how exactly did that lead to this picture?" She pointed to the picture again; picture-Akira was more cheerful compared to what she had been hearing.
"Well…" Akira looked away with a bit of awkwardness. "After I said all of that, Ryuji and Mishima were really choked up. I honestly didn't know if I should have been grateful that they cared or annoyed that they pitied me that badly. But nonetheless, it reminded me that I have people that worry about me; unlike last time, I'm not alone. I was really thankful, so I decided to set my worries aside for the moment and just have fun with them." Akira chuckled with dread, before lowering his head in resignation. "Unfortunately, that led to them entering me into the cafe's karaoke contest."
"Please don't ask?" Akira covered his face with shame. The last thing he wanted was to recount to Sadayo about how he ended up getting way too invested with the song. Or how even though he didn't win first place, the maids were really moved by his performance and gave him a consolation prize — the photo. "In the end, the maids offered to take a picture with us and the two agreed to everything before I could say anything."
Unfortunately for him, Sadayo's mind was already wandering, imagining Akira singing a big dance number, complete with a suit and tie. She burst out laughing. "Oh god! That's a weird image in my head!"
"It's not that weird?" Akira pouted. "Why don't we go to one sometime? I'd be happy to show you, but only if I get to hear you sing as well."
"Actually, nevermind," Sadayo suddenly backed off, even as she felt his mood shift. "You're right, it's not that funny. We should probably talk about something else."
"I don't know. I think it could be a lot of fun," Akira leaned in with a blooming smirk.
"It really won't, trust me," Sadayo nervously continued to avoid eye contact. "I've never been really good at karaoke, I can't sing very well."
"I disagree, I think you have a lovely voice," Akira teased, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her close against him. "In fact, I think I'd like to hear you sing."
Sadayo turned to face Akira, and the mischievous gleam that showed in his sharp silver eyes ran a shiver down her spine. "Akira, don't you dar—ahahahaha!"
Akira grinned, squeezing and poking her sides.
"Akira, staahahahap!" Sadayo cried out in laughter as she desperately tried, but failed, to pull his hands away.
"I'll stop if you let me hear you do karaoke," Akira whispered in her ear.
"Shame. Guess I'll just have to enjoy hearing you sing right now," Akira shrugged, not stopping his attack. He gave his laughing girlfriend a peck on the cheek.
"You wound me. I think Becky needs some discipline."
"Nuuuuuuuh!" Sadayo moaned, still struggling as she continued to laugh. "Please forgive me Master!"
The ticking abruptly stopped.
A tuckered out Sadayo fell on Akira, her head resting on his shoulder with heavy breaths. She swatted his arm halfheartedly. A smile was on her face despite reprimanding, "You're... the worst..."
"Yeah, sorry," Akira replied.
That had more awkwardness than she expected. Sadayo looked up to see her boyfriend blushing, looking away with a hesitant smile. Maybe it was because of how close they were right now, maybe it was because they both had slipped to their old roles of master and maid in a more intimate way than they used to. But if there was a time to ask him, now would be it.
She pulled herself up, her hands on his chest. His heartbeat was quick under her palms as she sat properly on his lap in an effort to avoid straddling him. "Hey, Akira," Sadayo called out so that he would face her. It was always a rare sight when he was the bashful one, but one she didn't mind. She actually found it cute, but now wasn't the time. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure…" Akira nodded, not sure where she was going.
"Do you… like it when I call you 'Master'?"
Akira looked like a deer in front of headlights as he sat there, frozen, before looking away again. "I-I don't really see why you have to—"
"That isn't what I asked," Sadayo gently pulled him to look at her once more. "You always change the topic to how I feel when I ask you about me wearing this. Now, I'm asking how you feel about it."
Akira exhaled. It was a simple question, especially compared to his confession, yet he struggled. "I don't want you to be put in a position where you feel like you're forced to do something you hate just because I told you so. I know that you went through a lot, and how you had to deal with a lot of creeps because of it. The last thing I want is to act like one of them and make you feel uncomfortable."
"Akira…" 'I'm so glad I have you,' Sadayo thought, swelling with endearment. She was happy that he cared so much for her concerns and feelings. 'But…'
She flicked his forehead. "Bzzzzzzt! Wrong answer." Sadayo pouted. "If that was a test question you would had scored zero points." She laid her head on his shoulder once more, still grateful, but desiring his honesty more. "It's true that I hated that job, but the more I spent it with you, the less I felt like it was just part of the job. Besides, didn't I tell you that I could never hate you?"
"...Sorry," Akira apologized, hugging her with one hand.
"Soooo…?" Sadayo poked his chest once more. "Be honest with me. Do you think I'm weird that I like wearing it?"
"Wait, you like it? I just thought you felt awkward wearing it because of Victoria."
"What I do with you and what I did while working with Victoria are two completely different things." Sadayo sighed, "So when I saw you looking so happy with those maids, I figured you actually like maids, but you just found it creepy that an older woman would dress like this."
"No, not at all," Akira shook his head. "I think you look really cute in it."
"Just cute…?" Sadayo teased with a coy smile.
"Maybe more than just cute." Akira cleared his throat. And tried his best to make sure his eyes didn't wander down a very interesting angle.
"So you're into maids then," Sadayo giggled.
"Honestly? I wasn't really into them." Akira scratched his cheek, still feeling a bit awkward. "I only came along with Ryuji and Mishima because I was worried they might get into trouble." He grabbed the back of his neck as he struggled to say the next part. "I… only started getting really interested after I had you come over a couple of times."
"Oh God, I really have corrupted you!" Sadayo covered her face in shame. The small laugh that escaped her hinted that she only half-meant it.
"So yeah, I-I do admit that I like it when you call me 'Master'," Akira blushed as he finally admitted his dark secret. "Sorry if it bothers you?"
"Hey, as long as we're alone, Becky doesn't mind..." Sadayo playfully poked his cheek, pulling herself up and whispering in his ear, "...if that is what Master wants."
There was no forcefulness or stiffness that used to accompany her Becky act. Instead, just a genuinely pleased maid and master.
They didn't know who started it, but both Sadayo and the beet-red Akira began laughing together. Mostly because of their silliness, but also out of relief.
"I guess that makes us both weird," Akira gently pressed his forehead when his chuckles faded.
Sadayo returned the gesture by rubbing her nose against his. "Maybe. But, I don't mind being a little weird. As long as it's with you."
Akira smiled. "Well, I'm done for the night. So what do you say to a snack and movie combo?"
"That would be lovely," Sadayo sighed happily, leaning forward and giving Akira a small peck before getting off. She made her way to the stack of rented DVDs beside the TV.
Meanwhile, Akira went down to the kitchen. He grabbed the small basket that they used whenever the group would hang out and filled it with a couple of sweet and salty treats.
He had to admit that when he saw Sadayo holding the picture, he was worried about how she would take it. Honestly, if not for the fact that it was a good reminder of the new friends he had made when he arrived here, he would have probably tossed the photo. Exactly because he was worried about Sadayo finding out.
'It pays to be with a mature woman!' Akira victoriously pumped a fist, grateful for Sadayo's understanding when he told her about his fake relationships. Even when she wasn't the happiest.
She was the first real relationship he has ever been with, and he didn't want to mess it up. Many times he worried about Sadayo realizing that she doesn't want to deal with his inexperience, or that he'd misstep, or god forbid, end up hurting her. It's why he wanted to be upfront about the plan with Makoto, or the situation with Ohya, and why he hesitated showing any attraction to her in her maid outfit.
But now, all that stuff had been discussed and the picture revelation had the unexpected benefit of scaring Mona away, so they had the rest of the night alone.
Unfortunately, as if to prove him wrong, Akira heard knocking on the door of Leblanc.
'That's strange,' Akira thought as he put the basket down. 'Sojiro has his own key so he would unlock the door or simply call me if anything was up. And the rest of the group is probably dead tired from Mementos.'
Akira sneakily went against the edge of the counter like he would in a Palace. He closed his eyes, activating his Eye, and saw an unfamiliar silhouette... or was it? The image of someone he used to know came to mind, and it suddenly became definite when she called out.
"Akira-kun? Are you in there?"
'That voice…' Akira couldn't believe his ears. There's no way she'd be here. But as he numbly walked out and saw the person wave at him through the door window, his eyes widened. She looked different, but he definitely recognized her. There were many people he left behind in Nishinomiya, but out of all of them, she was the last person he thought he'd see again. Not after the way they parted, and especially after she'd left for college.
I always found it amusing how the game had you pretend to date someone not only once, but twice. I can imagine it been a awkward discussion to have, especially when you are having to hide you're relationship. It also allowed a nice segway for them to talk about all the woman that surround Akira, and how I'd imagine Sadayo would feel when she finds. In the end though, there is no doubt that Akira chose her, and that's makes her the most special woman in his life.
The maid aspect of Sadayo was one that I always found interesting. It was one of the first things that really caught me by surprise and my feelings for it change many times as I played though many playthroughs. In the end I find it a endearing aspect of her and their relationship. A reminder of how their relationship began and and how that connection between master and maid is partially what allowed hem to lower their walls and allow their feelings to form. They enjoy teasing each other about it and while I overall prefer Sadayo in her casual appearance, Becky grew on me a lot during the time and I've come to enjoy the pigtail maid just as much.
The Maid Cafe was something I actually never went to in game, so I had to look up what happens there, as the only maid I needed was Sadayo. Still, a part of me always wondered why there wasn't any sort of event involving the cafe and teh fact that Sadayo worked as a maid (as well as another one instance). This as a few other came to my mind from a Persona 5 chapter where Akira and the guys go to a maid cafe only for him to be caught by Sadayo on the way out, only for him to smooth talk his way out of it. As some of you might remember, this was hinted a bit in earlier chapter, so I'm happy to finally reveal what occurred that day. Thus Operation Maidwatch 2.0 was born.
Thank you once more for your patients in waiting for this chapter, and I hope you enjoy it. Till next time.