Bitter & Sweet

Bitter & Sweet

Happy birthday, Goro!

 

 

Just as with every morning, the alarm started it symphony of high-pitched beeping at exactly 5:25.  Unlike every morning, a hand reached out from under the thin blanket and slammed down on the snooze button.  

It then slid back under the blanket cocoon, pulling it ever tighter around the occupant.

Fuck today.  And fuck his agent for booking him on a morning news program today.  If Goro Akechi thought the detective prince’s reputation could survive the break in character, he would gladly bail on the whole thing.  

The best thing to do with today was ignore the whole damned world.

Goro curled up all the tighter.  He liked playing the detective prince.  He liked solving puzzles, and he adored being the center of attention.  Unfortunately, center of attention also meant putting up with idiots and their repetitive asinine questions every fucking day.  

Worse, a magazine profile including his birthday, which he had never divulged, but had instead been “leaked” by his cretinous agent, had just hit the stands last week.  Nowhere near enough time for people to forget about it.

The alarm’s irksome beeps sounded once more.

One swipe of his arm sent the clock halfway across his apartment.  The resulting crash as it hit his clothes rack sounded louder than the original beeps.

Guess that meant it was time to crawl out of bed.  He’d feel better if he had time for a run anyway.

Goro growled, wiggling his way free of the thin blanket.

Even nestled back in a quiet neighborhood, he had to get in character before heading out.  Presentable and cleaned up, but with a little bit of bedhead remaining so it didn’t look like he worked on it too hard.  If someone recognized him, he had to be exactly who they expected.

Goro had long since mastered adapting his voice to sound like a sweetie, but it had taken him a long time to get his phone set up perfectly too, allowing him to switch between things he actually enjoyed and things he was supposed to enjoy.

For instance, whenever asked what he listened to during workouts, he always answered with something energetic and popular with the girls.  Given his own preferences though, he preferred to listen to audiobooks, both fictional and nonfiction. Most of the nonfiction was in Japanese, but he listened to quite a few novels in English.  He liked being able to read and listen to them in their own language when he could, and held top ranks in his English assessments, well above a typical high schooler.

He set his phone to play a reading of “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood”.  It felt appropriate today, one of a small handful of gifts from throughout his life.

For a moment, Goro stood still.  The kid who had given it to him, who had silently listened to it beside him and accepted him into his space, had died before graduating high school.

He’d snuck on a train to attend the funeral.  There he’d seen the loner’s grave, surrounded by newfound friends.  

Goro’s hands tensed.  That was when he had decided that living in an institution simply wasn’t worth it, no matter the alternative.  

He jabbed his phone to set it so he could quickly switch to boring pop music if need be.  He then rushed out the door, wanting to run until it made sense why his chest hurt.

 

 

 

Ren Amamiya rolled the spoon around his mouth, making sure to savor every bit of curry.  Sojiro hadn’t come into Leblanc yet, so Ren had just grabbed some leftovers from the fridge.  

On the plus side, it meant Morgana could sit on a stool next to him.  

“We should watch the news for any info on Madarame,” the not-cat suggested.  

Ren silently switched on the television, grabbing another spoonful of curry in the process.  Good thing he liked curry or he would have starved already.

“Oh, it’s that detective.”

Ren looked up from his delicious curry to see the detective who had come into Leblanc shortly after the Kamoshida incident sitting across from a morning news host.  

Maybe it was just make-up and lights, but Goro Akechi looked really different to him.  The smile which had seemed so easy in Leblanc now felt forced.

Did interviews make him nervous?

“Now, Akechi-kun, talking about your work as a detective and how you balance that with school is always fascinating, but I think we both know what the audience really wants today.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t had the time to properly interview them all yet,” Akechi answered, beaming a bright smile out at the crowd.

More than one audience member screamed out his name.

“He’s not so great,” Morgana grumbled.  

Ren clamped his mouth around his spoon.  He recognized that they had spoken all of once, but he felt a definite draw to the young detective.  He certainly wanted to speak to him again at least.

“Come now, Akechi-kun.  Are so busy you forgot your own birthday?”

It happened so fast, Ren wasn’t entirely sure he had seen it, but he felt he saw Akechi twitch, right side of his mouth attempting something beside a smile before the young man reeled it into the expected elation.  

“Is it?  I’m afraid these things do sometimes pass me by.”  He moved his hand behind his head and chuckled in apparent bashfulness, but not before Ren noticed how tense it had gotten.  

“You saw it too, right?  Our star detective has a crack.”

“Imagine that?  A genius detective forgetting his own birthday.”

“I suppose it’s a good thing I have all of you helping me keep track then.”

More squealing girls.

“Well, I thought we could take this questions to ask some birthday themed questions.”

“Go right ahead.”

“Yeah,” Ren muttered.  The response felt off, and in an unpleasant way.  He clearly didn’t want to talk about this.

“Alright, we’ll start with a classic then.  What’s the best birthday gift you’ve ever gotten?”

“I have to say it’s the opportunity to talk to all of you.”

“Now, now, you’re the gift to us.”

“Thank you, very much, but truly, the opportunities I have right now…they’re a truly amazing gift.”

“Wow, how do we follow that one up?”

“You don’t,” Ren muttered, “that’s the point.”  He knew deflection when he heard it.

“How about as a kid?  Any toy or book you remember fondly?  Maybe a family trip?”

Akechi opened his mouth slightly, but then simply shook his head.  “Not particularly.”

Ren stared at the television.  This time, he definitely saw irritation overlaid with sadness.  

It seemed the interviewer caught it too.

“My apologies.  I didn’t realize this was a sensitive topic.”

“Oh no, it’s quite fine.  I simply don’t think back that far very often.  High school and detective work are both rather all consuming.”

“Once more too busy, huh?”

“Indeed.”

“Hmm, it’s not much to go on, but it’s still solid intel if we have to deal with him.”

“Morgana,” Ren chided.  

“Phantom thieves must always prepare to face off against the detective.”

Ren nodded slightly, returning his attention to the TV just in time to catch Akechi bow out.

The sound of a key rattling in a lock turned his attention to the door.  Morgana dove into his school bag just in time for Sojiro to walk in.

 

 

Goro stood outside of the small cafe, wondering if he should really go in.  It looked rather empty, and the owner had rushed out just a moment ago, supposedly to go grab something.  

Or check in on his shut-in adopted daughter.  He didn’t know the full details on that, but her name, “Futaba” constantly nagged at the back of his head.

Now wasn’t the time to dwell on that.  

The cafe did say it was open.  And nearly empty suited him. He had come here for a quiet place to sit after all.  

Goro walked in, bell above the door jingling softly.  Not surprisingly no one greeted him at first, but he heard the sound of someone washing dishes.  

“Sorry for the intrusion,” he called out.  

The black haired kid he’d met before walked out from the small kitchen in the back.  “Sorry about that.” He then stopped, still hands paused in the act of wiping water off his hands.

“Is something the matter?”

He shook his head.  “Have a seat.”

“Thank you.”  Goro took his seat at the bar, the black haired kid moving behind it.

“I’m not as good as Sojiro, but would you like some coffee?”

“That would be lovely.”  Whatever. He did legitimately like the coffee here, but just the two of them felt nice.  Maybe it was because this kid was about his own age.

“My name’s Ren Amamiya.”

Heh?  Why had he suddenly introduced himself like that?

The other boy, Ren, carefully watched the water boil.  Not much for exposition, was he? Unsure what else to do, Goro pulled out his book.  

“New book.”

Goro looked up.  Ren eyed the mugs on the wall.  

“You were reading something with Arsne Lupin last time.”

Ah.  “Ah, yes.  I finished that and have moved on to The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie.”

“Is it good?”

“So far, quite a lot.  It’s very intriguing the way she plays with perspective.”

When was the last time someone had actually asked about what he was reading?  Goro took great pride in his ability to absorb information from books, not to mention reading complicated novels in English.  

Ren pulled down a rather large mug, certainly larger than the servings usually came in.  

“Have you ever read a Christie novel?”

“No, but I thought the Lupin one you were reading last time seemed interesting.”  

Ren moved back to the small kitchen area.  What was he doing? Goro could hear a fridge door open and close.  A little bit later, Ren brought out the mug again.

He checked on the coffee.  “I was hoping you’d come in today.”

“And why is that?”

Ren placed the coffee filter over the mug.  “I saw your interview this morning.”

Shit.  The last thing Goro wanted to talk about was his abhorrent interview.

Ren poured out the hot water.  Then, without saying a word, he pulled out a small candle from his apron.

What the hell?

He then lit it and set it…in the coffee?  The top of it stood out of the cup, flickering gently.

Ren carefully laid it on the counter.  Peering in, Goro could see why the candle stuck up.  Ren had embedded it in a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.  

“Happy birthday.”

What the hell?  Goro stared at the flickering candle, worried that if he moved something would show on his face.

This didn’t make any sense.

Goro slowly turned his head up to look at Ren.  Seeing the other teen quietly watching him, no judgment and no expectation on his face and just waiting for whatever came next, forced his curiosity.

“Why?”  He tried to keep his voice neutral, just a bit of curiosity, but he felt it crack a little.  He couldn’t quite tell if it was only the confusion or a bit of something else.

Ren shrugged.  “Just seemed right.”

Right?  But…

“You seemed upset on the interview.  Thought, ice cream and coffee might help.  Should probably blow out the candle before too much wax melts though.”

Yeah.  Goro leaned over it slightly.

“Make a wish.”

He only really had one wish.  Right now though, a different wish felt appropriate.  Silently, he wished to get to know Ren Amamiya better, simply for the sake of it.  

A quick puff extinguished the small flame.  Goro gingerly pulled the candle out. He held it across the counter.  

Ren took it back with a smile.  “Make a good wish?”

Goro placed a finger over his lips.  “It’s a secret.”

“You’re smiling.”

“Well, next time they ask about my favorite gift,” he raised the coffee mug in a toast, “I’ll have an answer.”

He took a sip.  Ren was right, his coffee wasn’t as good as the owner’s, but it was still above average and he had clearly bought fairly high quality ice cream too.  

“How’d it come out?”

Maybe it wasn’t the best coffee or the best ice cream but, “It’s perfect.  Thank you.”

“Good.  Boss would kick me out if I served bad coffee.”

“Heh.  How much do I owe?”

Ren shook his head.  “A gift, remember?”

A good opportunity to pry more into why he was doing this.  “Didn’t take you for a fan.”

“I’m not.”

Goro stared at him.

“That interview is the first time I saw you on television,” Ren explained.

Not helpful.  Perhaps this individual required a more direct approach.  “Then why?”

“I told you.”

Because he seemed upset?  That didn’t make sense. You didn’t do something just because someone…

Goro buried his face in his hand.  He needed time to think. This didn’t make any bloody sense.  You didn’t just… No one had ever… And this guy didn’t even know him, either the real him or the celebrity.  He saw movement out the corner of his eyes; Ren cleaning up the coffee grains.

His left hand clenched the mug.  Who was this guy to get him so riled up over something so trivial?  

More movement.

Ren sat down on the stool beside him.  “Mind if I taste my own handiwork?”

His voice jolted Goro out of it.  “No. Of course.”

Ren reached out for the mug.  His hand touched Goro’s arm, the dangers of a of a lefty and a righty sitting next to each other.  The sudden contact caused Goro to recoil.

Ren took a sip.  “Good. I worried you were just being polite.”  He handed the mug back. Goro took it with both hands this time.  

He then took a nice long drink, letting them both sit in silence.  

The door jingled.

“What are you doing?”

Ah, the owner.  

“Helping a customer,” Ren replied.  

Goro put down his mug.  “He might even get better than you one day.”

That seemed to take the man aback.  Good. At least someone here responded like a normal person.  

“That will take a while,” Ren joked, moving back behind the counter.

Goro let them work while he finished his drink.  He didn’t feel like talking too much with Sojiro around.  Besides, he had come for quite, not conversation.

A few more pages of his book and he had the drink done.  He slid it forward, making sure Ren saw it first. “Thank you for the drink.”

He stood up to go.  He wanted to talk to Ren more.  To figure out what was going on inside the other teen’s head, but he wasn’t quite sure how to continue.

Hadn’t he said the Arsene book looked interesting?  Perhaps that would make a good in.

“Amamiya-san?”

Ren looked up.

“Would you like to borrow my Arsene Lupin books?”

“You have multiple?”

“I have all of the ones published in Japanese,” Goro confirmed.  

Ren smiled.  

“What is it?”

“Just surprised you’d read about phantom thieves.”

“I like mysteries, in all their forms.  From the genre itself to detective stories and the criminals they face.”

“You must read a lot.”

“There is no shortage.”  And yes, he did read a lot.  It was cheap, yet seen as dignified, and something you could do on your own.  The perfect entertainment, really.

“I’d like that.”

“I’ll bring a book by next time then.”

“I look forward to it.”  

Goro smiled, waved goodbye, and headed out of the cafe.  His smile even stayed on after he was out of sight. For once, he actually felt content.  

Something about Ren reminded him of the teen who had given him the audiobook for The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood all those years ago.  He felt like someone he could just sit in a room with and do his own thing. Someone he could spend time with in quiet companionship.

It didn’t hurt that he was cute either.

Goro brought his book close to his chest.  It seemed too much to hope for and yet his own delusional nature kept such a wish on his mind the whole way home.    

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