this is the result of a marathon run-through of the (currently) available manga chapters, very little sleep, and a bum jug of Sangria.

that's right. a 'bum' jug. as in, more likely containing Hobo Sweat than Wine.

one's as inebriating as the other, though, i suppose...

[if i owned the Liar Game, or any of its (doubtlessly nefarious) subsidiary ventures, i doubt seriously i'd be having such issues funding my college education.]

"I'll see you in the morning, Akiyama-san," she says, rifling absently in her purse for her keys. Then her eyes catch his and he watches with clinical interest as something in her gaze…breaks. "Bright and early." Her voice wavers, the cadence unsteady, the words belied by the weight of sudden melancholy.

Then she closes her eyes and drags in a trembling breath, and the heaviness of her burden sloughs from her shoulders as she exhales, just like that. He wonders idly if the dizzy mystification he feels in the wake of this spectacle is awe.

"S-sorry." Disconsolate Kanzaki Nao is abruptly nowhere to be found; she is once again the beaming, implacably sunny-sanguine girl he's come (unwittingly) to know. She slides him a gentle, reassuring smile and returns to the task of locating her keys.

He takes the opportunity to dial himself down from baffled wonderment to quiet relief. Akiyama's no stranger to Nao's tenacious optimism, and he's long past the initial hum of admiration at her resilience; over time, the strength of her convictions and the stubborn defiance of her unconditional faith in others are today no less fascinating than the first time he'd watched her painstakingly build trust under impossible conditions, though he supposes he must've become so habituated to her remarkable personality that he's begun to take it for granted.

But Nao cannot always be unflappable; for that matter, neither can he. They are, after all, only human.

Still, it...affects him, her momentary lapse. They are far beyond first impressions now, and she is not the silly girl he once thought, and he knows her levity does not falter lightly. The Game is getting to her, slowly, slowly breaking her.

He chooses to truncate that unpleasant reflection there, before it has the opportunity to lead him down paths he'd rather not travel. Now, or ever.

Her keys slap together musically when she lifts them out of her handbag, and she aims a triumphant grin up at him as she holds them aloft. Then, as naturally as she ever does anything, she lays a hand at his elbow (her cool fingers wind –one, two, three-four—loosely around the circumference of his arm, and he hadn't realized it was possible to be so profoundly aware of something so unbelievably insignificant) and leans forward, stretches up, closes in, one seamless movement that bridges the distance between them, and then the soft warmth of her lips falls against his cheek, feather-light, and it feels somewhat like his stomach meeting a sledgehammer at the end of its arc.

All thought spills out of his skull like an overturned glass for one perfect second, an indescribable instant wherein he's only tethered to the earth by virtue of her lips and fingers, before she's pulling away with a start.

She nearly trips over herself as she scrambles back, away from him, hand flying to cover her mouth. She stares at him in dumb shock for a long moment, time he uses to furiously attempt to reestablish contact with his brain, which has apparently gone on break without so much as a by your leave.

"I-I-um…I wasn't…it was just…" Her cheeks are pinking violently at this point, and she's turning away from him, fumbling with her keys as she tries to push them (all of them, at once) through the lock, and in lieu of putting his incredible brain to the urgent task of ESCAPE, he takes a silent step toward her, and, blatantly disregarding the Very Sound Edict he and his superior mind (which has yet to make its auspicious reappearance) had implemented at the very, very beginning of his fantastically exasperating affiliation with Kanzaki Nao, he touches her.

She stiffens immediately, eye-balling the hand at her wrist with what he identifies as shocked incredulity. He wants to pull away from her and run for the hills, even though he's fairly certain he would look ridiculous fleeing in terror, and he's also pretty sure there aren't any hills within running distance.

Instead, Akiyama prompts her to face him with the barest pressure against her pulse point, throbbing wildly against his palm, and then, wordlessly, he steps closer to her, not quite crowding but definitely invading her personal space.

For the longest time, he just stares at her, default impassivity saving him from having to worry about keeping his face under control. Wisely, she remains silent.

And here he is again, at this familiar impasse with himself, torn between the manifold dangerous implications of deepening his…relationship…with Nao and his need to remain focused and impartial and unattached for the sake of the Game, for the sake of his revenge. She presents the threat of very real distraction at a time in his life when he can afford one the least.

The (exceedingly) few times he's dared reflect on the matter at all, he's invariably resolved that he could put off making a decision one way or the other until after this business with the LGT's over and done with, that risking a relationship at this stage of the game only put them both at (unnecessary) risk.

But there are times…

He tries not to think about it. The past is the past and he's too busy dealing with the immediate future to spare any thought for what comes after.

But sometimes, every once in a very-long-while, when it's three in the morning and he's just cast a text message into the cyber-ether (that intangible distance which enables him to always be merely seconds away from her) to the effect of, 'don't panic; I'm definitely going to get us out of this,' and he's staring at the blank, lifeless walls of his tiny, lifeless apartment, he wonders if this insidious Game is ever going to end, if it's ever going to stop, if he and Nao are going to be playing forever (or at least as much of 'forever' as the two of them have been allotted), if it's eventually (rather more literally than figuratively) going to be the death of them.

The trials are getting progressively more difficult, increasingly malicious, infinitely more frustrating.

And he's already so, so tired, so very weary of the deliberately spiteful nature of the games, of needing to repeatedly plumb his own deepest, darkest depths for new ways to dupe and deceive his fellowes, of having to watch those very same fellowes actively degenerate into selfish, desperate conspirators before his eyes.

Eventually, he thinks, inevitably, They're going to break him. He's going to slip up, or miscalculate, or They're going to force him to rely on someone else, someone feckless and quick-tempered and stupid, and failure will surely follow. And when the time comes, he's going to be helpless to stop it.

And then what? There's no foreseeable Happy Ending for Akiyama Shin'ichi, and Kanzaki Nao's future looks more and more bleak every day she stubbornly insists on her continued participation, and a hollow sort of horror at her chosen fate (moreso than for his own) has been nicking out a steadily larger space within him.

It's at this decidedly grim point in the course of his ruminations that he begins to question the harm in a little innocuous self-indulgence. If all their diligent efforts are ultimately destined to be an exercise in futility, if they're really and truly and inescapably hurtling toward Certain Doom, then why should he fight this?

The inherently male part of him rallies to the Infallible Wisdom of this logic, points out (somewhat unhelpfully) that Nao is an attractive, willing female, and then demands to know what in the hell is taking him so goddamn long.

When his name shakes uncertainly from between her lips, echoing the diffident question in her eyes, he finds, much to his chagrin, that he can't think of a good reason for putting this off any longer.

"Nao," he says, by way of declaring his intention, dipping toward her, his whole body tautening as his eyes fall shut and his lips encounter hers. For one terrifying, uncomfortable moment, nothing happens; instinct appears to be failing him, and insecurities he hadn't been aware existed begin to surface, encouraged by the long-dormant anxieties of doubt and inexperience.

And then her mouth begins to move beneath his, her cool hands land tremulously at his cheeks, framing his face, urging him closer, and gradually the world begins to fall away all around them, until it's just him and her and the warmth growing between them.


By the time they're fully making out, he decides that he's going to have to factor this into his future game plans, because he's absolutely positive he's not going to be able to keep his hands off of her now.

Love and coffee, chums.

[refurbished 04.03.13]