Absolutely no one wants to hear what Akira says.
Not the drunk.
Not the police.
Not even his parents.
That long awful night that bleeds into morning, leaving Akira a pale, sweaty wreck, ends when his parents take him from the station and hell begins when they close the blinds and lock the doors to scream at him.
"What were you thinking, is this some kind of game where you thought you could be a hero?!"
"Don't you know better than to get between two adults?!"
"How do you think we feel, what it must look like?!"
"Everyone saw us leaving with you!"
"The shame you've brought on us..."
"It was an accident! I'm sorry, I-"
The bubble of anger pops when they talk about his reputation at school, sending him away, how they have no choice and Akira is screaming, everyone is screaming.
"YOU'RE MY PARENTS, YOU'RE SUPPOSE TO PROTECT ME."
When his mother and father look at him, all they see is a two-bit thug, not unlike their neighbor's son Takeshi, who dropped out of school and ran off with a motorcycle gang. Don't they know him, do they think he could turn on a dime so easily?
Akira misses school that day but it doesn't matter.
Apparently they don't want him there anyway.
Akira isn't an idiot.
He knows Sojiro was given money to host him. Everyone has been rudely and abhorrently clear about how they feel about him. Punk. Thug. Criminal. He greets people politely because fuck them.
He doesn't say much otherwise.
Everything can and will be used in a court of law.
Akira has never done drugs but looking for the Ginza line leaves him sweaty, shaken, and exhausted, like a lukewarm detox.
The subway and walkways are packed, worse than fish in a tin can. No one makes eye contact and Akira doesn't ask for help. Everyone is talking, he picks up conversations whether he wants to or not. By the time he's on the surface, he's strung out. He's been around more people in two hours than he has his whole life.
Overstimulated, he welcomes the rain as a blessing, not bad luck.
Cool down, Akira.
He forgets all about his exhaustion when his schoolmate walks into the projected image of a castle.
What the fuck, Akira quietly mouths.
And follows him in for lack of anything better to do.
I don't regret it.
With Arsene comes a feeling of validation, not for the sake of others did Akira do the right thing. For Akira himself, he had done right. He remembers the commotion, the yelling, and then the fear. It had been too easy to put himself in her position, to be afraid, gET IN THE CAR, and he couldn't turn away from someone he understood.
Would truly no one else had helped her?
Did no one care enough?
He thought about it, all the time, what if I went a different way home, but he could never forget her pain.
Arsene granted him power, in himself, in his decision, and his unwillingness to turn back on it.
Somehow, it feels like freedom.
'Please don't stab me.'
Seriously? Weird. Gross. Nerd. It's not like I've never been picked on. But I still can't believe somebody said that to my face. Kurusu-kun, don't stab me with the knife you carry to school. That's all he thinks he knows about me, my name, my face, my supposed crime.
I hate this. I hate people who fall for online posts with no sources and classmates who refuse to protect their friends. Looking for proof... Of course, Kamoshida's a creep. He's definitely violent. His Palace already proved it.
Ryuji's trying but he's being too direct. No one will admit it. Not with such honest face value.
Not a lot of people are good like Ryuji.
Sojiro has moments where he acts like a guardian and it's more upsetting than him being hostile. Breakfast. Umbrellas. Asking more than about school. His words aren't always kind but there's being ready to check in with a probation officer... and talking to Akira.
Stop making him feel almost normal again.
I went to the library today.
It was a mistake.
What if I cause a scene? Me? You're all whispering about me, you can't keep your mouths shut or your eyes on your book.
Sometimes I wonder if he had just hit me, fucked me instead.
Would life time therapy be better than this?
Akira itches to go to the Palace after Ann joins, much like he itches for a night time bath. A rejuvenation of his body and spirit. He loves it. For all it's danger, he feels most like himself. He's not particularly kind but Ann is influencing that. He never had the guts to do more than get angry, but Ryuji is changing that too. Morgana inspires his self confidence, he leads.
The satisfaction of ripping off the masks of shadows, exposing them for who are really are.
Akira just wants to be himself, to grow and morph, like the masks he takes.
He lives through them, brings what feelings he can back through clenched fists.
"Hey man, I know part of it's the mind cog or whatever..."
Morgana sighs, his head peeking out of Akira's bag. "I'm letting this pass only because it's hopeless. It being you."
"Shut up, cat! I'm talkin' to Akira!"
Akira scratches behind Morgana's ears and the hisses quietly to a rumble in an instant.
"What were you going to say?"
"Like, how flexible are you?"
Ann chimes in, "Oh, yeah! Did you do any gymnastics as a kid oooooor, is that just the kinda style you want to have in the Palace?"
"You have some sweet moves, Joker!"
Well. Akira silently takes off his glasses and sets them down next to his bag. Only to promptly do a headstand, a forward flip, back flip, and suddenly requests are being shouted at him. He manages a one handed headstand, intimates the duck and side roll from the palace. When sliding on his knees, he winces - uniform pants don't pad his knees well.
"One more," Akira prompts, before this gets out of hand. And he rips a hole in the fabric.
"Do a split!"
"Uh, Ann, he's a guy. That's a lot harder for us, y'knoooOOOOH MY GOD."
Akira grins from his position on the ground and gathers himself back to his feet.
"I did amateur stuff as a kid, then I got some real balance."
"So balance beams and rings are no problem?"
"Nope. I did some good ribbon twirling too."
Ryuji crams another bite of candy bar in his mouth, "Ain't that for girls?"
"Be more modern, Ryuji!" Ann snorts, tucking an overexcited Morgana back into Akira's bag.
Friends were a luxury Akira thought he couldn't afford.
It feels good to be proven wrong.
The walk down Central street is ruined the moment he spots his classmates. Being invisible in a crowd of people was starting to feel like a gift, after knowing no peace at school. With the Palace gone and his friends waiting on their own terms, Akira is doing his best to kill time. A trip the bookstore was suppose to keep his spirits up but he hears their whispers behind him and burden builds a cage around him.
Go away. Stop walking close to me if you don't like me.
They go into the bookstore but thankfully to the opposite side. The damage is already done. He buys his book on autopilot, barely looking or speaking to the store employee. He manages a seat on the train, out of habit opens his book to read.
He turns page after page but doesn't remember anything.
Outside the Cafe there's a trashcan and he throws it inside. Morgana scolds him but he doesn't respond. He watches Sojiro depart and locks up. There's beans to grind and he does it out of necessity, not desire. Prompted by Morgana to head upstairs, he cleans up and throws off his clothes in his room, changes into pajamas.
Morgana settles into bed expecting to sleep right away but Akira's room is lit up by his phone, internet running while his fingers open up new tabs. The name of the idol he saw advertised at Shibuya station...
He types in Haruka and waits for pages to load.
Morgana shifts, "Hey. We have to get up early tomorrow."
Five minutes later, Morgana whines. "C'mon, Akira."
Each reminder slowly builds into a huge annoyance, Morgana's tail flicking and brushing Akira's arm. The day's toll snaps his restraint into pieces.
"It's for your own good, you know."
"Stop telling me what to do," Akira snaps, slamming his phone down next to his hip. "I want to stay up and look at pictures on my phone, can't I have any time for myself without someone influencing me?!"
Morgana shrinks back in shock. His tail tucks itself closer to his body and Akira feels like an asshole but can't shake the hard look off his face.
"...are you mad?"
"No. I'm tired."
Morgana tucks into a ball and doesn't say anything else.
Akira goes back to his phone, three pages of image searches in before he pats the empty space of his pillow.
It takes a moment before Morgana joins him, fuzz of his side brushing his forehead. He looks at his phone screen and chirps.
"That's Haruka, you like him?"
"His music is pretty terrible."
"Ohhhh, you just like his face."
"He's my type."
Morgana laughs, then sighs wistfully. "What do you think Lady Ann's type is?"
Akira doesn't hold in his smile.
"Hey! I was, I am human!"
"Oh yeah, Mister Whiskers, I'm sure you were hot stuff."
"I-I'm sure I was! You'd totally fall in love with me, cheesy love at first sight."