After those minutes of pure despair after they left Shido’s palace, when Akira had been sure that his best friend had died, he didn’t even like the idea of being away from Ryuji for more than a few seconds, as if he was going to disappear the moment Akira took his eyes out of him. A silly thought, he knew, but it was hard to convince himself that everything was going to be fine after being so certain that he would never see Ryuji again.
The following two days had been especially difficult for him, since Ryuji skipped classes because of his injured leg, and not seeing him during the breaks only made Akira worry that something bad had happened again. His concern was so much that even Mishima—the king of all concerns—told him to calm down a little.
It didn’t stop him from visiting Ryuji in his house again after class, receiving an exasperated look and a barely-concealed smile from him.
“Told ya’ I’m fine,” said Ryuji, when they sat side by side on his bed. “You can go home if you want.”
“And I told you I don’t want to,” retorted Akira, impatient. “Can’t you just let me be worried about you in peace?”
Ryuji chuckled, reaching for Akira’s head, playfully messing his hair.
“Fine, fine,” he said. “Geez, what a needy guy you are.”
“Did you mean what a sweet and caring friend I am?”
“Yeah, I did.”
Ryuji smiled at Akira, who felt his heart jump. He didn’t let it show in his expression, though, quickly changing the subject.
“How’s your leg?” he asked.
“Gettin’ better,” said Ryuji. “Still stings a little when I stand for too long, though.”
“You better stay a few more days at home.”
“Yeah, Makoto said the same,” Ryuji furrowed his brow. “Can you believe it? Makoto tellin’ me to skip classes?”
Akira laughed at that thought.
“And you only had to almost get blown up for that,” he said.
A groan left Ryuji’s lips, and he shook his head.
“Don’t even remind me…” he said. “Shit was scary as hell.”
Despite his usual carefree attitude, it was easy to tell that Ryuji was still shaken by what had happened that day. And who could blame him? Everyone in the group was surprised to see that he had survived that blast, and not even Ryuji himself could tell how he managed to do it. Not that any of them was going to complain: Ryuji was alive, and that was the only thing that mattered to them.
Akira absentmindedly reached for Ryuji’s face, touching his cheek with the back of his fingers, making Ryuji look at him with a tiny smile.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said Akira. “I’m just glad you’re safe.”
Ryuji looked at him for a while, then averted his gaze, forcing a small laugh.
“You worry too much, Aki,” he said.
Akira didn’t answer. He moved his hand away with a small sigh, looking at the opposite wall for a minute, sorting out his thoughts.
“I wanted to talk to you about something,” he said after a while.
“What?” Ryuji looked at him, concerned. “Somethin’ wrong?”
“Not exactly,” Akira made a pause, trying to find the best way to say it. “Before we stole Shido’s treasure, you called me. You tried to say something, but changed your mind.”
His words made Ryuji widen his eyes for a second, and he looked away with an embarrassed expression.
“Ah… You remembered that?” he placed a hand on the side of his neck.
“Yes,” said Akira. “So, what was it about?”
Ryuji kept his eyes low, and Akira waited for his answer.
“Nothin’, really…” he said.
Ryuji crossed his arms, still looking away from Akira.
“I told it ain’t important,” he moved slightly away from Akira on the bed. “Can’t you just forget about it?”
“No.” Akira reached for his shoulder, holding it, making Ryuji look at him again. “I almost lost you after we left that place. If you never came back, this would haunt me for the rest of my life. So, no. I’m not going to forget about it this time.”
He had the impression Ryuji shrank beside him, a low sound of protest leaving his throat.
“You’ll wish you did,” muttered Ryuji.
Ryuji sighed. He didn’t answer immediately, thinking for quite a while before speaking.
“I was about to…” He interrupted himself, briefly biting his lower lip as he searched for the right words. “With Shido outta the way, everythin’ should get in place again, so… Without this stuff to worry and all, I thought that… maybe we could…”
His voice got lower and lower, until he stopped talking. Akira wasn’t about to give up, though, and kept his eyes on him.
“Could what?” he asked.
Ryuji let out a defeated groan.
“I wanted to ask you out, okay?” he said, staring at the floor. “I know it’s dumb, but I said without thinkin’ at the time. That’s why I told you to forget about it.”
Akira stared at him in silence for a while.
“Ask me out?” he repeated. “You mean, like…?”
“Like on a date.”
He didn’t answer for a long time, watching as a pink flush spread throughout Ryuji’s neck and face. His silence seemed to make Ryuji nervous, and he broke it with a forced laugh.
“Pretty stupid, right?”
Akira couldn’t agree with that.
“Did you change your mind?”
His question made Ryuji furrow his brow.
“What difference does it make?” he asked.
“I need to know before I give my answer.”
Ryuji raised his head and looked at him again, wide-eyed. He needed a full minute to comprehend what Akira meant, then finally answered:
Akira sighed in relief. He would be lying if he said he hadn’t been hoping for that outcome since that call, but he had been too scared to question Ryuji at the time, and decided to let things happen naturally. However, after almost losing Ryuji, he didn’t want to take that risk again.
“Then, does that mean we’re going out now?” he asked.
Ryuji widened his eyes.
“I mean…” Akira lowered his voice. “I’m interested too.”
“In going out with me?”
It was Ryuji’s turn to stare at him, with his mouth half-open. Akira could now understand how frightening that silence could be.
“You didn’t change your mind, did you?” he asked.
Ryuji looked into Akira’s eyes, still seeming a little hesitant.
“You serious?” he asked.
Ryuji nodded, but his face was still taken by confusion. Akira could almost hear the effort his brain was making to comprehend the situation, and couldn’t help but find it endearing. After thinking for a while, Ryuji looked at Akira again.
“But, like…” he said. “Are you seein’ this as a best friend thing, or a boyfriend thing?”
Akira smiled at that question.
“Can’t it be both?”
His question made Ryuji stare at him, then a soft smile slowly took his lips.
“If you want to,” he said.
They simply looked at each other for a while, until the tension became too much for both to bear, and they looked away.
“Shit, sorry…” muttered Ryuji. “I really dunno what to say now.”
“Me neither,” admitted Akira. “But, you know… I was hoping this was what you wanted to tell me back then.”
Akira giggled. His crush on Ryuji seemed so obvious to him—and Ann, and Morgana, and Futaba...—that he found it surprising that Ryuji hadn’t noticed it before. Well, not that it mattered now: they had already crossed that line, and Akira wasn’t willing to go back.
“I love you,” he said. “I mean... I love you even more than you probably think.”
Ryuji nodded, then, without a word, moved closer to Akira, placing an arm around his waist, hesitating a little before resting his chin on Akira’s shoulder.
“Is this a weird time to say that I’ve been in love with you for fuckin’ months?” he asked.
The question made Akira laugh.
“As weird as me saying it’s the same for me,” he said.
“Fuck…” muttered Ryuji.
“How much time we wasted?”
“Too much, in my opinion.”
They looked at each other.
“Aki?” said Ryuji.
His low voice in that short distance made Akira’s heart jump again.
“Hm?” he said.
Instead of saying something, Ryuji placed a hand on his face, slowly caressing it. Akira closed his eyes as Ryuji caressed his hair, cheeks, and neck, placing light kisses on his face. As much as he loved those small gestures, he felt as if they were driving him to the limit of his composed act, to the point he felt that his heart was going to burst out of his chest if it kept going.
“Just kiss me already,” he asked in a slightly frustrated tone.
“Lemme enjoy the moment, you impatient brat,” answered Ryuji.
Akira groaned but didn’t protest. Instead, he hugged Ryuji’s neck, placing a kiss on his cheek, then buried his face on the side of his neck. Ryuji did the same, tightening his embrace.
“I can’t believe this is real,” he muttered.
“It is,” answered Akira. “And I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Akira moved away so he could look at Ryuji.
“Can you kiss me now?” he asked in a playful tone.
Ryuji giggled at his impatience, passing his fingers through Akira’s hair, moving it away from his forehead.
“Anythin’ you want,” he said.
Akira cupped Ryuji’s face, looking at his eyes, then his lips, before leaning in his direction. He closed his eyes, then kissed him. If he still had doubts that it was real, the feeling of Ryuji’s lips against his, the warmth of his body, and his arms hugging Akira’s waist were enough to assure him that, yes, that was real. Ryuji was there with him, and he felt the same way. The realization was almost too much for him to take, so, instead of thinking, he focused on the sensation of Ryuji’s lips and hands.
They moved away, looking at each other for a second.
“Not enough,” muttered Akira, pulling Ryuji in for another kiss.
Ryuji giggled against his mouth, and Akira’s heart seemed about to float away with that sound. He embraced his best friend—boyfriend—tightly, appreciating every single second and every single gesture, glad that both of them were still there, beside each other. Together, as it should always be.
After everything the two of them had been through, it was the only thing that mattered.