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Fudo Akira stole Satan’s heart.

Only the great will, God himself, knows how long ago it was that Fudo Akira ripped Satan’s beating heart out from his chest in the least gruesome way possible. As selfishly as an innocent child can, he reached within to take what Satan had told himself would never exist, and he’s never once seemed to realize what he did.

The deviating factor throughout all the lifetimes he’s lived begins and ends with Akira. In a way, he can almost believe this is a fair exchange, because Satan is always the spark that sets off the flame that will consume Akira’s, leaving nothing but ashes behind. Regardless of how he tries to look for ways to escape the outcome, it fails— every new chapter closes with Satan alone, weeping, as he’s covered in Akira’s blood.

Sometimes, he’s the cause. Sometimes, the circumstances outside Satan’s control are what steal him away. Akira dies, and Satan’s brothers descend to wipe everything out, ensuring the world can start anew. Honestly, he’s not sure which version is more painful anymore, because restarting the exact same rigged game over and over makes everything blur together.

Everything, except Akira. No matter how many times Satan finds his way back to him, he knows the differences between every Akira he’s pulled back to by invisible strings that remind him of a spider’s threads.

It’s always, always been Akira.

+

Ryo makes a mistake early on in one of his lives. It happens in preschool, of all places, and involves Akira— just like all of Satan’s mistakes tend to do.

A girl whose name Satan cannot be bothered to remember takes to using Akira as an outlet for her own frustrations. His refusal to strike her back is infuriating to watch, but the only explanation that he sees fit to offer Ryo when he cries is that boys shouldn’t hit girls.

Ryo tells him how ridiculous that is, but tightens his hold on Akira.

One day, Ryo takes a pencil, a white one he’s just sharpened to perfection, and drives it into her hand with anger unbefitting of his small frame.

He expects the backlash. The anger and reprimands from the adults around him. The demand for an apology, which he gives without sincerity. What Ryo doesn’t expect is for Akira to look at him with a sense of fear in his eyes afterward.

I did it for you. So then, why?

Why is Akira afraid of him when Ryo would sooner die than cause him harm?

+

“… Jenny, why does everything I want to say and do always come out wrong?”

Ryo isn’t looking at her, but at the ocean far below their plane. He wonders how long it would take for an airplane to sink if it crashed into the waters. For once, he lacks the answers, leading him to seek them from Jenny.

Jenny says nothing as usual, but squeezes his hand.

Would Akira miss him if he drowned and never made it to America?

+

You’re crying too, Akira had told him at one point, but the Ryo of that particular lifetime on earth failed to understand what he meant by it then and there.

It wouldn’t be until later, when warm droplets suddenly spilled from his eyes that Satan understood.

It wouldn’t be until later still, when Satan’s hands were yet again covered in Akira’s blood, that he’d curl up and scream in despair at it all with only the two moons above as his witnesses.

There’s no point in a world without Akira.

+

On only the rarest of occasions, Satan’s desperation, his exhaustion, has gotten to him. Something in him has snapped like a string pulled in two directions at once, and the old songs they all would sing to commune with their father escape from his throat in sorrowful wails.

Please. Not this again.

Any punishment but this.

Akira’s eyes, glassy and devoid of light. His hands cold and stiff. His voice nothing but a memory.

Please, father.

God has never answered him.

+

They’re back on the cliff where it all began, and Akira once again shields the malnourished kitten from Ryo’s boxcutter.

“It’s going to die anyway,” he says this time. It’s the truth of the matter. This kitten will die from all the health complications overwhelming its fragile body, and Akira will cry over his inability to save it from its doom. He will cry for its slow passing, asking Ryo if he thinks the kitten was in pain during its last hours, already knowing which answer he wants. Innocently selfish, like children often are, he will seek Ryo’s validation to assure himself that he wasn’t wrong in refusing to let him end its life quicker.

Ryo will give in to Akira’s tears, telling him what he wants to hear. Satan will know better.

A meaningless effort.

Why is it that Akira won’t understand these things, no matter how many times Ryo and Satan try to explain it? What is it that drives him to struggle against impossible odds again and again?

“You don’t know that!”

The sudden outburst shocks Ryo more than he anticipates, Akira’s sorrowful face cutting through his flesh and bones like a knife through a loaf of bread. He stumbles back a few steps, suddenly unsteady on his feet, and for once in his life wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Akira sobs, voice trembling and his tears blending with the downpour. It’s nearly impossible to hear him over the rain hammering against them, but Ryo hears him, all the while wishing that he doesn’t for reasons he can’t even begin to guess.

“You… you don’t know that, Ryo-chan.”

You don’t know that.

The boxcutter clatters across stone as it slips from his grip.

+

Once upon time, Satan had been as close to small and fragile as a being like him could get. God’s warmth had embraced him, filled him with fatherly love like none other. He had looked upon God with nothing but love and devotion in his eyes. He had then asked, with the song that came to him like swimming comes to a fish, what significance his name held.

“Your light is the most brilliant of all, my beloved Morning Star,” God had answered, vaguely, and Satan had wondered if God heard him to begin with.

+

If he were to finally kill God, Satan thinks, then he could attain his father’s power. He could ascend to godhood and have the entire universe in the palm of his hand. He could have everything he wants, all his hopeless desires and crushing duties fulfilled in an instant by powers beyond dreams. Satan could give Akira anything he wants, too. The things that money can’t buy.

“What do you want, Akira?” he would say, and Akira would respond sheepishly, explaining he doesn’t need anything. That he feels content. Then Satan would laugh, offering suggestions for all the things he could give him, starting small before moving to the logically impossible. Things that would require Satan to rewrite the laws of the universe, but he would be happy to do so for Akira.

And Akira would smile at him, warm and bright like the piece of the sun within his name.

“Yes, wouldn’t that be nice, Akira?”

There’s no response, of course, but Satan strokes his hair as if he’d just said the most endearing thing to ever reach his ears.

A world, no— a universe just for you and me.

Satan closes his eyes and waits for time to reset itself.

+

Akira develops some habits that illustrate how merging with Amon changed him. The gentleness in his heart clearly stays intact, but a mischievous streak replaces his timid demeanor to an extent. A particularly irritating one of these habits is his sudden affinity for physical contact without warning.

The first time he swept Ryo off his feet from behind, Ryo’s elbow ended up giving him a black eye on instinct.

He’d only been around 50% sorry about that, because Akira should have known better.

By now, Ryo’s reaction isn’t immediate violence, but he does have a reprimand on the tip of his tongue that gets swallowed up by Akira’s mouth. The rough press of his lips and the hot slide of his tongue down Ryo’s throat are still as clumsy as before, but there’s something endearing about his eagerness like this.

When he has the sense to pull back, Ryo’s lungs burn slightly with need for air.

“You know I hate when you do that out of nowhere,” he mutters while shoving Akira’s face away more half-heartedly than he intends. Might be the oxygen deprivation.

Akira has the gall to laugh in the face of Ryo’s attempt at annoyance, leaning down again to give his hair an affectionate nuzzle. Rather like a large puppy, like John before he was killed by Ryo’s human father.

“If you hate it that much, put up a fight next time.”

+

After so many failed attempts, so many angles to watch Akira die from, Satan finds one that seems to work. Akira still dies at his hands, but Satan is careful in planning out his ministrations afterward, and he takes every precaution possible to ensure he’ll escape the notice of heavenly beings.

His plan is simple, in theory. If he can’t prevent Akira’s death, then he all needs to do is find a way to circumvent it instead. Dante traversed the depths of Hell once, hence there is no reason why Akira shouldn’t be able to do the same with Satan’s subtle guidance.

It goes as planned, leaving Satan arrogant, and it is this arrogance that costs him Akira this time. At his brother’s hands, no less.

Satan takes more pleasure than he should in tearing the wings from his brother’s back one by one.

+

Satan sits by the body he painstakingly created for Akira, knowing where he went wrong this time.

The solution was obvious from the start, but he chose not to see it.

I’m sorry, Akira.

I am so sorry.

+

All this time, God could have made a second earth. Satan’s immense hatred for him stems from this fact, because he’s always known. He even asked once upon a time, while enraged and mourning his beloved demons, demanding to know why his father came to take away the love he found. God had offered him no answer, naturally, and Satan had never hated him more than he did in that moment.

That hatred has been rekindled many times over. Look at him now, getting distracted from the task at hand by resentment almost as old as time itself. His hands have stilled and were it not for the idea of a God feeling exhaustion being so ridiculous, Satan might begin to think that’s exactly what he’s going through.

In a rather human gesture, he lifts one hand to rub at the bridge of his nose.

“Lord Satan.”

At the sudden address, Satan turns to look toward the speaker even though he doesn’t need to.

“What is it, Jenny?”

She appears well aware that whatever she intends to say can only be softened by so much, glancing around the seemingly empty space surrounding them for only a moment while contemplating her choice of words.

“Is this what my lord desires?”

“Yes, it is,” Satan replies mildly. His tone of voice is as casual as one discussing the recent weather patterns would be, and he hums as he sets down brilliant orbs containing pieces of a new universe upon the empty board in front of him. Each one is no larger than a marble, so delicate in his hands that he could easily break it. Some contain flora, some contain fauna, others still contain stars and abstract concepts of thought. Long ago, he was given the honor of watching his father fill a board identical to this one with brilliant spheres, making it unique and bursting at the seams with life.

Part of Satan is angered by how well he recalls his father, his warmth and his all-too conditional love, but he forces down the sour taste gathering at the back of his throat. His hand reaches somewhere that can’t be seen with one’s eyes, retrieving at last the piece he was awaiting most, and hesitation rears its ugly head once more. Fear claws at his mind, colder than Hell’s depths, and it’s only thanks to the clear image of Akira’s death at the hands of his brothers that Satan can find his will to do this.

The stench of divine blood all over Satan’s body, the nausea it fosters in him, can’t be all for nothing.

“Not now,” Satan hisses under his artificial breath, and promptly crushes the sphere in his grip to an uneven dust.

Before his eyes, the endless loop of his human lifetimes fades.

+

From a place impossibly far away, Satan watches Akira on the cliff.

He is, as predicted, alone.

There’s no one for him to pull out of the intangible yet freezing darkness.

Satan’s cheeks aren’t as dry as he would like, and it frustrates him to no end.

+

This is a foolish endeavor, Satan is aware of that. He should keep his distance, never manifesting among the human population, because he has no need to appear in flesh and bone to see what happens on earth. A god can be everywhere at once, but the love he holds for that blue planet is far greater than anything that could be satisfied by something so intangible.

He wants to touch the grass. Look at the stars. Feel the wind. See his reflection in the water.

This second earth was created by him, and he wants to see it for himself, or so he tries to believe.

Just a little bit of time will be enough. Time is the one thing Satan has more of than anyone could ever need, after all.

Should the need arise, Ryo can simply disappear, and Jenny can help ensure that even the least significant memories of him vanish with his eventual departure. Just as a safety net.

Satan shifts on top of his ever-loyal dragon, absentmindedly stroking its black scales, and looks in Jenny’s direction.

“Jenny.”

“Yes, my lord?”

“I’ll be leaving soon.”

“Of course.”

Satan raises one eyebrow at her, questioning.

“You’re not going to ask me where I’m headed?”

“With all due respect, my lord, Xenon and I both find your motivations in these regards transparent at best.”

Satan frowns, contemplating punishing this show of disrespect, but then he would be acknowledging the validity of her point.

+

Ryo, unlike Satan, needs air to fill the lungs inside him, but they seem to seize functioning when he spots the one person he wants to see the least (most).

It happens on a train, of all places. Two pass by each other, and through the window Satan spots him on board the other.

He’s right there.

Akira is baby-faced again, his eyes wide and dark like a deer’s. His cheeks still have a roundness to them, but Satan knows he will grow into a beautiful young man with sharp lines to his face. There won’t be any traces of Amon in him, of course, and perhaps that means he will retain some of his boyish charms in their place.

Their eyes meet briefly, prompting Satan to avert his gaze before anything comes of it. Nothing should, not with the precautions he’s taken, but he cannot trust himself.

Silently, he almost thanks a greater power for the fact that they aren’t on the same train, or even headed in the same general direction.

Then Satan remembers that he is the greater power now, which pleases and terrifies him in equal amounts.

+

When Satan returns to the new earth, it’s in the middle of winter. He’s breaking every promise he’s made, both to himself and to Jenny, by doing this. Every part of him knows that he shouldn’t, but he wants to see him properly.

Just once. Then he’ll finally let go like he should have done so long ago. All Satan needs is some closure.

He waits by the school gates, off to the side. Some students whisper curiously about him, speculating what business someone who looks so unlike a student could have. Satan counts on Akira’s nature to keep him from approaching someone intimidating and obviously out of place.

After what feels like an eternity, Satan sees him, and feels as if all is right for a moment.

Satan turns to leave.

+

He makes it to a quiet side street before a familiar voice rings in his ears.

“Wait!”

Satan shouldn’t stop walking, but he does. He stops, and he turns to look at Akira.

“Can I help you?”

Akira pants, his hands splayed on his knees as he doubles over, trying to catch his breath. He’s the slowest runner on the track team, just like he’s been before. Satan knows, because that’s how he made him so as to mirror the first loop in time as closely as possible.

“Ah, err—” It’s so like Akira to fumble, not expecting Satan to stop and give him the time of the day. “This probably sounds weird, but… I feel like… like I know you from somewhere.”

Ryo, no— Satan almost feels his human heart stop in that instant, the blood within his veins running cold. When he painstakingly laid out the new world, piece by piece like a puzzle beneath his fingertips, he made absolutely sure to remove any and all traces of the people known as Asuka Ryo, Asuka Ran, and Fudo Jun from the memories of those who’d come into contact with them. What is left intact should be memories of the real Asuka Ryo where they might be relevant, not of him.

The only one who could have interfered with that on some level is Jenny, but she’d never disrespect Satan’s wishes so directly. Moreover, her powers wouldn’t be able to overwrite the reality he’s set in place for this universe when he went as far as to destroy the parts that had to disappear.

Satan has so many things he wants to say, so many things he wants to do. He wants to embrace him, apologize for everything, try and fail to explain how much he loves him— there’s no end to all that he so badly wants to do, and this is why Satan knew from the start that coming here to see Akira one last time would be a mistake.

“I think I saw you this summer, um, on the train, and—”

“Who can say?” is all Satan replies with, non-committal and shrugging with false indifference as he cuts Akira off. Though he shoves his hands into his pockets too hard to fool himself.

It’s unfair. Akira is unfair.

Even after everything Satan went through to reclaim his heart from this boy, Akira can snatch it away again in an instant. Something like anger flares up in his chest, but he can’t tell who it’s directed at.

As he walks away, Satan doesn’t glance back, and doesn’t listen to any words that follow him. He’s not sure he could bear to turn around, in all honesty.

“… Ryo-chan!”

There are footsteps growing closer, then hands grasping at his sleeve. Satan snaps, anger burning in the corners of his eyes, and lashes out hard to shake Akira off with a sound like a demon’s growl. Satan regrets losing his composure almost immediately, but he’s learned by now that there are never any true take-backs.

The force of it draws out a startled noise from Akira, and he stumbles, slipping on the ice in his worn-out sneakers.

“Akira—"

Purely on instinct, Ryo tries to grab him by the arm and steady him, but the combination of Akira’s weight (he must already be putting on more muscle) and the lack of stable footing is enough to send both of them tumbling, landing in a nearby pile of snow that could be cleaner. His coat is already getting stained the same shade of ugly grey, he’s sure.

Then Akira’s shaking hands are on his shoulders, his face obscuring the sky from Ryo’s eyes as clumps of snow tumble out of his hair. Satan catches himself before he actually reaches to brush it out with his fingers.

“You’re… you’re Ryo, aren’t you?”

Akira’s hand is cold against his cheek.

“You’re not supposed to remember,” Satan says weakly. He feels as though he could crumble into dust under Akira’s hands, and blow away with the wind.

Akira grins, his eyes watery and his voice trembling with his poor attempt at a sheepish laugh.

“How could I ever forget someone like you?”

Ryo’s cheeks aren’t as dry as Satan would like, but this doesn’t frustrate him anymore.

+

Somewhere beyond perception, the uneven remnants of a crushed sphere are carried in a direction not found on any compass by an otherworldly flow.