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“I’m just gonna focus on bein’ myself now. On bein’ free.” Those words left his lips without much thought from him, tumbling out without any restraint as he watches Nakaoka twist his face into a look of utter disgust and disdain. Ryuji doesn’t need a second look to know that Nakaoka thinks he’s full of shit. Nothing’s changed from that fateful day, and he’s not enough of an idiot to know that nothing’s ever going to change.

“What are you talking about?” Nakaoka purses his lips, and Ryuji wonders if he wasn’t clear enough or he was simply being patronised again. Just like the track team, he had blamed the blonde for everything that they had lost in the last year or so. Not a single one of them had decided that Kamoshida was the sole cause of it all–-the downfall of the team that had brought glory to Shujin, like shooting stars cutting through the sky on the red track.

No, they had blamed Ryuji for it all. It didn’t matter the bonds they had, the months of cheering each other on as the digits on the stopwatch got smaller and smaller, the feeling of flying that tied them all together as they tore down that track on their own. To everyone, the moment Ryuji swung at Kamoshida was the moment it all shattered to dust, and that was the truth that they had all chosen to focus on.

But Ryuji couldn’t blame them. He could never blame them.

Star sprinter Sakamoto Ryuji. The coach’s next pick for captain upon his ascension to his third year in high school. The man who couldn’t be stopped—like a lightning bolt illuminating the dark night sky. It all disappeared when he swung at Kamoshida, who simply grabbed his fist like nothing and threw him onto the ground like a ragdoll.

He doesn’t like remembering what happened next. All he allows himself to remember is how blue the sky was that day, not a cloud in sight as he lay on his back.

“You know, Sakamoto, I seriously don’t understand why you care so much,” Nakaoka rolls his eyes and crosses his arms, that bored expression obviously telling Ryuji that he’d be anywhere but here, doing anything but wasting his time talking to the one who had stolen the team’s dreams like a thief in the night, “If I were you, I would’ve given up already.”

You think I haven’t tried already? He catches himself thinking, but he forces that thought into the back of his head before it takes over rational thought.

“Doesn’t matter,” Ryuji retorts, shoving his hands into the pockets of his red cotton track pants, balling his hands gently into fists as he forces himself to relax, “You guys lost everything ‘cause of me, and I wanna make things right again.”

“For what? Eyeing a position on the new track team?”

“Nope. Got no intention of joining.”

It’s taken him a while to get here. It’s taken him months of living through regrets, months of wallowing in the sea of self-hatred for him to finally be able to stand before Nakaoka today. Seeing the anger on his former team mate’s face ignites a small flicker of negativity in his heart again, but he stifles it before it grows into a roaring fire. He knows he’ll not be able to recover quickly should he let that happen again.

“You really think it’s all fine now, huh?” Nakaoka spits, voice icy with venom as his body language begins to get aggressive—hands curled into fists as he looks like he could start swinging at Ryuji himself, a return gesture of sorts. “Well, what if I told you they were right about me?”

“What do you mean?” Ryuji’s voice is controlled. He’s careful to hold himself back from showing anything on his face, because he’s not the same Sakamoto Ryuji he was a year ago. He swallows down the ugly feeling in his throat that threatens to bubble through, and he listens. He observes.

“Would you still think it’s ‘fine’ if I was the one who told Kamoshida about your parents?”

Ryuji isn’t as dumb as he looks. No matter what that stupid fucking cat says, Ryuji is able to put two and two together most times, and thus Nakoka’s confession isn’t as much of a surprise as he’d thought it’d be.

Of course he’d be angry. Here was the guy who assisted Kamoshida in ruining his life, who had betrayed his trust for a reason everyone else seemed to know but him. Ryuji feels his hands tremble slightly, the angry tremors beginning to work its way down his arms and he clenches his fists. Clenching on for dear life and seizing up his torso to stop himself from doing anything he’d regret, anything that could potentially disappoint him.

He chooses to cross his arms instead, keeping his voice measured and low.

“If you told him, you told him,” He says, surprising himself with how mature he sounded, “I’m all over that stuff with my parents anyways.”

“I might’ve messed up with Kamoshida back then, but hangin’ on to the past ain’t gonna help shit.”

Silence permeates the air, and Ryuji wonders if Nakaoka’s going to laugh at him and talk him down again. It didn’t matter much to him though, Ryuji’s seen worse—heard worse. Nothing could ever compare to the nights where he had curled himself up in his sheets, wrung dry and out of tears to cry as the voice in his head whispered horrible things. How he deserved to disappear. How he couldn’t do anything right. How everyone was better off without him.

Of course he knows that none of it is the truth. He knows it by heart, but sometimes he thinks that if he doesn’t try hard enough, he’d give it reason to become the truth. Not today though, he thinks. He wouldn’t allow it today, not with him watching behind his back—soft, beautiful grey eyes behind huge, thick lenses keeping an eye on him.

“Free, huh?” Nakaoka bitterly chuckles as he turns away, face curled in disgust like he’s seen a fly in his food. He doesn’t say anything else, only choosing to walk away, leaving Ryuji alone with Akira standing behind him.

Ryuji turns around, his feet scruffing against the grass as he faces Akira for the first time in a few minutes, and he watches his expression carefully. After being best friends with him for months, Ryuji’s learned the most important thing about Kurusu Akira. He’s an enigma. He’s someone who’s long mastered his face like it was an intricate dance—perfectly stilling his lip and keeping his eyes neutral and forward in what Ryuji considers to be Akira’s ‘Neutral Face’.

And he likes to think that, despite being friends with him for only a short few months, he’s learned how to play spot the difference with Akira—he’s learned to actively read him for signs, even the most miniscule, to peer into the bespectacled man’s heart.

He notices a slight furrow in Akira’s brow, his grey irises adverted slightly to the side as he lazily blinks, like he was mulling over something thoughtful. Ryuji’s seen this look before, he’s seen it in their chats about their parents, he’s seen it in their chats about the future and what comes next. He’s seen this variation of Akira’s ‘Neutral Face’ enough to know that he’s thinking.

“… You get what I’m tryna’ say right, ‘Kira?” He carefully opens his mouth, hoping he didn’t sound too aggressive from his previous encounter with Nakaoka, at least not enough to spook him out of his thoughts.

“… More or less.” Akira replies, and Ryuji’s heart jumps in his chest like a kid in a candy store with a hundred bucks. He always feels satisfied when he hears Akira speak, like he had succeeded in coaxing a cat out of its hiding spot. His friend talks too little, and every chance he got to listen to that soft, subdued and smooth voice is a small victory he quietly celebrates by himself.

“Right?” Ryuji feels his lips stretching across his face in excitement, until he realises what Akira’s just said, “Wait. Whaddya’ mean ‘more or less’? You’re s’posed to know!” He ends up pouting at the other boy, the disappointment clearly amusing his friend very much if the slight smirk forming on his lips was anything to go by.

“I mean, I sort of get it. I just don’t have the full picture.”

He doesn’t know how to explain it, other than just telling the other guy how he feels. It’s frustrating, not being able to find the words to tell Akira just how he makes him feel, how his heart feels like a bird escaping from its cage whenever he’s around him—but the words don’t get to him. How Akira could so easily talk his way out of thousands of situations, he’d never know.

Doesn’t mean Ryuji will stop trying, though.

“Honestly, I don’t know how to explain it myself… But like, bein’ free? It’s kinda like how I feel when I’m talkin’ to you, y’know?” For some reason unknown to even him, he feels embarrassed—as if he was revealing his innermost secrets to the world. Of course it wasn’t the case. Right here, standing in the middle of the courtyard where fall whispered in the air, only the two of them existed. No one else.

Even so, he felt like he was naked, bared fully to the boy who kept his heart locked—rightfully, might he add, behind walls. But seeing Akira, the real Akira peeking through the mask he always puts on to protect himself just means so much more when you understand why he does it, and that’s a privilege Ryuji hopes to keep forever.

“I don’t get it.” Akira smirks a little harder this time, his neutral façade finally beginning to crack – little by little. Ryuji feels his heart start to pound, but he steels himself to be brave. To be honest with himself and Akira. He deserves to know this.

“I, uh,” He begins again, racking through his brain for words, anything to describe to Akira what he makes him feel. Sometimes, Ryuji curses himself for being so stupid, for not having the skill to properly move his body and use his brain in the way he wants to. He envies Akira and Ann for embodying such grace with such little effort, and he’s terrified at how sharp Makoto is, even when she doesn’t intend to be.

It’s no use, he grumbles to himself, how the fuck do the people in romance novels do it?

“Uhh. I really dunno how to explain it. I just feel… free.” The gentle Autumn chill fills the space between the both of them, and Ryuji feels like he’s missed an opportunity for some reason. He wonders if he’s botched up on what was supposed to be a serious moment between them, as he watches Akira’s expression revert to its original thoughtful state.

And the other boy looks at him again, those grey eyes fully focused on him now, and he gently tilts his head to the side, no longer in thought.

“… Huh?”

Ryuji feels the laugh bubble inside of him, and he’s a step too late before he bursts into all-out chortling, his body doubling over as it quivers from the force of his laughter. It’s a wonderful feeling, and he feels nothing but utter happiness.

“Dude! We stuck on repeat?” He heaves, and that familiar, jovial warmth he gets with only Akira spreads through his body like the heat of the sun on a sunny day on his skin.

When he looks up, he sees Akira’s hand clamped over his mouth as the raven-haired boy’s face scrunches into the brightest smile, chuckling in amusement as his cheeks glow a light pink. He looks gorgeous, Ryuji thinks.

And in that split second, he catches himself hoping—praying that Akira feels that same prickling warmth too.

 

can you imagine

what would happen

if we could have anything?

end – i. in that moment, i swore i fell in love

---

Akira isn’t as good of an actor as he thinks he is.

He could hide his eyes under thick, unkempt fringes and adjust those huge frames perch on his nose as much as he wants, but that doesn’t stop Ryuji from spotting him dip his head down for a moment, trying to hide the excited grin on his face while he brings a lithe hand up to block his expression from anyone nearby.

Cute, he thinks, y’ain’t gonna hide that from anybody, ‘Kira.

“Amazing,” Yusuke breathes out as he shoves his hand in his pocket, digging out the tiny mini-sketchbook that Ryuji had given to him after winning it during the school festival, “Breathtaking. The magnificence of it all is quite inspiring.”

“Stop it,” Ann’s already grabbing his wrist and halting him before he can even start on another sketch, “We’re here to have fun, there’s no time for you to stop and draw!” She points a perfectly manicured finger up at him in warning, brows furrowing and glossed lips pursing in warning. Nothing could stop Ann when she had her eyes set on something, and today, she would not let anything eat up the time she had to play to her heart’s content.

“But my drawings,” He begins, quickly swallowing whatever he wanted to say when he took one look at her expression.

“No.” And that was the end of that.

Destinyland’s exactly what the name makes it sound like—the land of dreams and wonder. It’s even more majestic when it’s actually empty, too. From all the pictures he’s seen online and on TV, he knows that a sight like this is rare, and there was no way in hell he was going to miss out on having a whole theme park to himself and his friends. In which lifetime would you be buddy-buddy with an actual heiress, for cryin’ out loud?

He thinks he’s in an actual dream. Like one of those weird Destiny movies he remembers watching as a kid on their huge box TV that looked like a crate, where the main character squeezes herself through a tiny door and finds herself in Wonderland on the other end. This is a place of magic: golden lamp posts reaching high above their heads with bright yellow banners hanging off them, cottages lining up the artificial street and the whimsical music blasting through the air from speakers tucked away carefully from the average eye.

“Oh, oh my God,” Futaba breathes out, already pulling her phone out and lifting it above her head, snapping photos of the gorgeous royal purple and gold castle that stood in the middle of it all. “Akira, look! It’s Destinyland! It’s Destinyland!”

Amused from his – little sister? Best friend? Babysittee?—Futaba’s antics, Akira shoots her an endeared smile, ruffling up her straight, orange locks while she goes nuts over the characters she can recognise, only turning her enchanted gaze away when she asks the others about the ones she can’t.

It feels like they’re an actual family, no matter what anybody else thinks about their little pack of strays that came together with ease.

-

Sometimes, simply being next to Akira feels alarmingly like fighting Shadows.

It kind of feels like fighting in Mementos or a Palace, Zionaga crackling at his fingertips and electrifying the air around him. His heart pounds fast as he aims, and he feels weightless when he unleashes angry bolts of lightning with ease at the Shadow they’re fighting—the furious zaps of electricity lighting up secrets hidden in the darkness around them in dancing rays and beams.

It’s a sensation he craves for, the experience that leaves him wanting more when it’s over.

It feels exactly like that, being with Akira.

Spending a whole day at Destinyland is something that never crossed Ryuji’s mind. His mother isn’t in need of cash, and she makes just enough for Ryuji and herself to live decently, but he would never dare to ask more than what he needed. The fact that Haru had—and so willingly—offered them a whole day at a theme park alone is still unbelievable, and throughout the day Ryuji finds himself pinching his thigh every now and then to check if he’s still asleep in bed, tangled in his comforters as the sunlight peeks in through the tiny crack in the dark curtains.

Spoiler: it’s not a dream. Ryuji’s still shocked to see that he’s actually standing on the famous Main Street bridge, leaning over the railing while the pretty golden streetlamps glimmer down on the surface of the wide lake stretching out under them—the castle towering above them all in its majestic authority.

He reaches up to scratch under the stupid bear-ear headband Futaba’s forced over his blonde locks a while ago, because god these things are so fucking itchy but he doesn’t have the heart to pull them off so he wouldn’t have to see The Face of Disappointment that manages to move even the largest mountains with huge doe eyes and a pitiful, quivering lip—

“Yeah, it’s pretty wild, huh,” The familiarly quiet and contained voice comes from nowhere, and Ryuji has to hold himself back from jolting too violently in astonishment lest he falls into the water (and of course, Morgana would love that), “I still can’t believe we’re here.”

Akira takes his place next to him, nimble fingers wrapping around the coloured railing in front of them as he tilts his fluffy head up to the sky, multi-coloured lights reflecting off his glasses as those grey irises beneath them stare upwards, ever so thoughtful and deep.

There’s a strange, unfamiliar feeling sitting in the pit of Ryuji’s stomach, but he doesn’t think much about it. The sun has set quite a while ago, disappearing behind the castle and leaving the sky velvety-dark. He’s probably hungry.

“Y’know,” He begins to drawl, grabbing hold of that strange feeling and pushing it far back – out of sight and out of mind, right? “I never thought I’d ever come to a place as grand as this.”

“Why’s that?” Akira asks. And he always asks. Ryuji’s long stopped being surprised at the concern his friend shows for him, for his life and his family. Time doesn’t water down that tingling feeling of happiness whenever he knows Akira’s thinking about him, that the care that he’s showing was genuine with no strings attached. “I thought you loved theme park rides.”

“I do, but well. Destinyland’s a little too much of a pinch on my ma’s wallet, y’feel me?” Ryuji chuckles, attempting to clear the heaviness in his word with something, anything. He refuses to ruin the rest of this day for everyone, especially Akira, who’s worked themselves to the very bone. “And for a real good reason too. Man, this place is HUGE!”

Akira doesn’t respond to what he just says, and a few seconds go by with only the whimsical music filling up the air between them. He wonders if he’s said something wrong. He wonders if he’s ruined Akira’s night somehow, he wonders—He wonders if—He wonders that—

“Let’s come back together again sometime, after we save up some extra cash,” Akira says with a tone so simple, as if they’re simply making plans for tomorrow. The gorgeous lights on his glasses block out his eyes from where Ryuji’s standing, and more than anything, he wants to know what’s on this curly-haired boy’s mind. “We can bring your mom along too. I’m sure she’d love the rides as much as you do.”

“Y’know what, that sounds perfect. Ma will really like that,” Ryuji’s mind is already working hard at picturing a family day out to Destinyland with Akira joining in. He knows that Akira has a slight fear of roller coasters, as ironic as an underworld demon-killing leader being afraid of roller coasters is. “She’ll be there with her tissues for you when you eventually start crying though!”

“Not if I make you cry first by breaking your face,” Akira gently elbows Ryuji in the side, and he’s so bony that it actually sends a little stab of dull pain through his body. “I know how to juggle knives, don’t test me.”

Oh, it’s on. It’s so on.

Ryuji doesn’t hesitate to shove his fingers into Akira’s sides, knowing exactly which spots to poke to get his best friend hollering with laughter. He feels Akira tremor under him, the rumble of a belly laugh tickling his fingertips as Akira throws his back against the railing, writhing and desperately trying to break away from Ryuji’s relentless attack.

“O—Wait! Ryuj—St—o! Stop!”

Akira grabs his wrists, yanking them down and away from his sides. Ryuji’s hands meet the cold metal railing, chilled by the gentle fall breeze—dragging him back down to Earth and popping the warm bubble that had made its home around them both.

He notices how close they are, his arms are literally around Akira—has he always been this lanky?—and their chests were so close. So close.

His surprised eyes slowly move from their chests, and he finds his gaze tracing over Akira’s features. Smooth skin for a guy who consumes nothing but coffee and curry rice. A soft, lidded gaze under those thick, black frames.

And his lips. Oh, his lips.

They’re a perfect shape, the kind that Ryuji’s always imagined himself claiming kisses from. He remembers dreaming about kissing lips like these under fireworks blooming and lighting up the sky, as a young boy running away from reality and dashing headfirst into his cartoons and movies. He’s always dreamt of the day he would lock lips with the one who’s stolen his heart, who loves him—flaws and all.

He cuts the staring, knowing that Akira would probably find him weird for gazing at his lips so long. When his eyes make contact with Akira’s once more, he realises that the fluffy-headed man’s been staring himself, those huge grey eyes never once leaving Ryuji.

It’s this weird tension between them that does it. He’s no stranger to moments like these, where the air’s so uncomfortably thick with the things left unsaid between them. He wonders what he wants to say to Akira, and he finds himself spending more and more time these days searching within himself to find the words.

He wonders if Akira’s got things he wants to tell him too, judging from how Morgana keeps staring at him like he’s stupid whenever the feline catches them staying too close for too long—curled up on a couch together catching up on the latest ICU episode on a rainy summer evening, or pressed against each other as they squeeze in the booth seat together, table littered with opened textbooks and stray pencils as Ann updates them on how Shiho’s doing.

“Is this makin’ ya uncomfortable?” Ryuji suddenly finds himself muttering, because sure Ryuji, not like you’re literally trapping your best friend like some low-grade romance drama. Akira seems to snap out of his mild trance, and he shakes his head, a tiny little smile curling his lips up.

“Nah. I’m good.”

“Good, I don’t want to make you feel weird.”

“Yeah, I’m good.”

“Good.”

They’re always like this, they banter back and forth like they’re playing a game of push-and-pull, whoever drops first loses. It’s so easy to fall into step with Akira here, and it’s always been that way since they first left Kamoshida’s castle together—blood saturated with exhilarating adrenaline and minds heavy with thoughts of holy fucking shit. I nearly died today.

It’s Ryuji who drops his smile first. Something about this moment makes him want to push forward, to leap without any hesitation and not think of the consequences. It’s so easy to edge closer to Akira like he always has, and he hears it. The roar of his heart in his ears like the crashing waves against sandy shores. The metal railing his hands are curled around is suddenly unbearably warm, damp with the sweat from his palms—slippery and unbearable to the touch.

But it feels right. It feels oh so right.

He closes his eyes, tilting his head when he feels their noses brush. He feels Akira turn his head a little to the opposite side, and they’re almost there. His lips graze something soft, something tender, and he moves to press them closer together—

“HEY,” A shrill yell cuts through the air, and Ryuji’s heart leaps straight into a chasm as he breaks from his spot in astonishment. “You guys, the fireworks are starting soon! Let’s go!”

He sends a glare in the direction the shouting’s coming from, and there she stands: Sakura Futaba. Pillager of Dreams. Thief of Potato Chips. Laziest of Gremlins. Cockiest of Blockers.

It’s a little hard to see from where he’s standing, but Ryuji can make out the faintest of smirks on Futaba’s face, looking like she knows what she just did, and that’s she’s soaking up every drop of satisfaction into her blood.

“Ah, I guess we stayed too long out here,” Akira stands up and pushes himself away from the railing, straightening himself out and brushing off invisible lint off his school blazer. Ryuji can see it, there’s a very faint bit of colour on Akira’s cheeks. It sends his heart wild, it threatens to slip through the gaps it his ribcage and run free through his body. “We should meet up with the rest.”

“Ah. Um. Yeah,” Ryuji stammers, and for a moment, the thoughts run wild through his head. “We should come together again soon. It’s… uh. Nice at night.”

When Futaba turns back to make a beeline for the table filled with snacks and tea Haru’s set out for them, Akira reaches his hand down, gently hooking his pinky finger around Ryuji’s, tugging his hand closer as they begin to walk together. There’s one of Akira’s signature smiles on his lips again, filled with cheekiness and endearment and everything in between. Ryuji’s heart doesn’t calm down. It seems to be doing that a lot more lately, and he wonders if he’s falling sick.

Maybe he is, since every time he looks at Akira, he feels like he’s freefalling through the sky. It’s thrilling, it’s terrifying, but he keeps his eyes open as he shoots straight down to his destination—wherever it is that waits for him.

“Yeah. Sounds great.”

 

i wish this moment

was ours to own it

and that it would never leave

end. ii – with a heart that has gone astray, we will melt so easily

---

Ryuji doesn’t think he deserves anything.

Maybe what he’s thinking is awful. He knows that if he says anything about his feelings to the Phantom Thieves, they’ll tell him off. They’ll scold him. Tell him he’s worth so much. Tell him he isn’t as bad as he thinks he is.

But he feels like it.

Some days he feels his hands pulling back from people a little quicker, like he’s toxic, like his skin is made of cyanide and arsenic. He walks around with a smile tight on his lips and a growing emptiness in his heart, the constant echoes in his head reminding him that he’s here for a reason. There’s no time to check on himself when there are so many people suffering, so many people who need someone to check on them.  

And that’s exactly what he does.

I’m a horrible person, says Ann when she dips into one of her moods. She always cries no matter how hard she tries not to. Ryuji’s memorised it all, the way she presses the base of her palms against her eyes to try to quell the hot tears. He knows he doesn’t need to say anything. Ann prefers it when there’s someone by her side to keep her anchored, and so he does. Ryuji always reaches out and places his warm hand on her head, silently telling her she isn’t. She’s trying her best. She isn’t alone.

I’m not good enough, says Yusuke when he walks straight into a mental block. He always watches Yusuke’s fists turn white at the knuckles as the tall, lanky man laments at his lack of skill – at the sheer audacity of him to ever think that he was an artist in the first place. Ryuji’s reply is always the same: you’re not as bad as you think you are, dude! Your art is amazing, a creative block is normal! He tells him that he’s too hard on himself. He’ll do well. He just needs time.

I’m useless, says Makoto when she accidentally finds herself stuck in an endless loop of what-ifs, and what-could-have-beens. Ryuji knows that even the strongest giants fall sometimes, and the sturdy student president he admires is not immune to this. “You’re not,” he always says as he presses a biting cold can of soda into her smooth, delicate hand – the one that he thinks can break down as many walls its owner so chooses, “You’re Makoto, y’can do anything y’wanna do!” He tells her that she’ll succeed. She won’t fail. She is better than she thinks she is.

Everyone’s better than they think they are. Everyone but me.

Sometimes, Ryuji feels like he’s anchored to the bottom of the ocean. He’s meant to stay down here so that everyone else can float. He’s meant to stay here so he can lift people off the ocean floor when he needs to. He’s not allowed to move anywhere else. He must stay. But the sheer weight of duty on his shoulders gets too much. It gets suffocating. It gets painful. It burns him inside out with nothing to put out the fire.

The moment he felt that sharp pain shoot up his leg was the very moment he realised he had failed. He had failed to protect his mother, failed to bring her pride, failed to give her an ease of mind. Growing up, she had always called him her little warrior. He had always pushed her out of the way from bits of shattered glass on the floor. He had always been there when his mother needed a shoulder to cry on when it got too much. Always tried his hardest to make her smile as she glided through the house slowly like a ghost – her shadowy gaze directed out the window as she waited for something. Anything.

And he had always failed. Kamoshida ending his days as a track runner was yet another failure on his track record.

… He wonders if he’s failed Akira too. Failed to keep his promise to be free.

It’s barely been a couple hours since the sun’s set, but Ryuji’s already tucked in his thick blankets, gazing out of the window without a single thought clouding his head.

He’s had enough time to think. Enough time to wear a trail into the muddy-dirt-path of his own head with how many times he’s reviewed today’s memories—thinking and analysing about everything that could have gone right, everything that wouldn’t have fucked up had it not been for him.

Can anyone blame him, really? From the way he had missed his mark several times—swinging his rod only to meet air, to how even Makoto and Ann had to cover for his ass when he was hit with a strong case of dread, the bulk of his failures had just made home in his mind the moment Akira had swapped him out for Yusuke.

He can’t stop thinking about the look on Akira’s face, the way his brows pinched and his lips downturned. He thinks it was inevitable—and today was finally the day he had proven himself to be useless to the only person that matters. It feels futile, it feels useless, like staring down into the abyss with no bottom in sight, only despair.

And he has no idea how to ensure he doesn’t fall in.

The screen of his phone lights up his view, just a little bit. He eyes the sad, crumpled pile clothes he’s shed on the floor like a second skin once he’s gotten himself home—way too deep in his own thoughts to even think about keeping them hung up and away from the dust. Who cares, you know? He had his heart set on his bed, thoughts of warmth and comfort wrapped around him like a mother’s embrace, protecting him anything, really.

The hum of his phone against the mattress is usually easy to ignore, but the constant ringing keeps him uncomfortable and frustrated. He wants to be quiet. Silent for once. There’s no need to pretend when his mouth is closed, when his face is blank, when there’s no one else but him to witness this sad state that is his true self. Hollow and clear, ready to mimic any colour as soon as it is required of him.  

Ryuji closes his tired eyes and counts to ten, ignoring the small burning under his aching lids, before he swipes a finger on his screen. The thin and cold device vibrates under the pads of his fingers as he finally picks up the call. Whoever’s calling probably wanted to ask something of him. Something about a favour, or needing him to pick up new supplies for missions. Either that, or he’s picked up a beat too late, and he’ll hear the call cut in time for him to drop his phone and turn around to wallow over nothing even more—

“Ryuji.”

That voice was not any of the outcomes he had been expecting.

“… ‘Kira?”

Ryuji opens his eyes.

“Hey, you feeling alright?” Akira asks, and Ryuji wonders if he’s already tucked away into the darkness of Le Blanc’s attic, warm and clean under the sheets as his phone and pressed up against his ear. He probably has Morgana curled up on his stomach, fast asleep from the way Akira’s voice is hushed and low—that soft lilt like a lullaby Ryuji wants to fall asleep to. The worry in his voice is obvious, but damn if it doesn’t make Ryuji hate himself more.

To know that it was he who made Akira sound like that, sound so concerned when he had problems of his own, when Ryuji had the capabilities to just deal with his problems because he’s strong. He knows he’s strong, he’s been told time and time again that he’s so emotionally strong and he believes it. He believes it all, and his ability to power through anything life throws at him.

“No need to worry about me, Akira. Relax, I’ll be fine—”

“Remember what you said to me a couple of months ago?”

Ryuji stops to think. He’s said many things in the months that followed the mysterious new transfer student’s arrival. Let’s stick together. Don’t ignore me, okay? I will stick by you no matter what. There are many, many things he’s said to Akira in passing, meaning every single word he’s uttered to the bespectacled young man in times of difficulty, in times of joy and grace, and everything in between.

So no, of course he doesn’t remember.

It seems that Akira can read his mind, after all, because before Ryuji can disappoint him even further by admission of his own poor memory, his friend’s already beaten him to it.

’It’s okay to stop pretending around me.’

Ryuji feels his breath hitch in his throat, like a balloon getting caught in a net. There’s that feeling again—the feeling of something coming to the surface, about to break the tension of the water, but Ryuji forces it down before it can rear its head and make itself known to the blonde man, whatever it was.

He’s suddenly frantic. Panicky even. There’s something foreign that’s beginning to take shape somewhere inside of him, and he has to stop it before he feels hope—before it’s too late for him to pretend like there’s nothing there like he’s always done. Ryuji takes the feeling and tucks it deep into his heart, hidden away from sight and mind.

“Akira—”

“I know that things get tough sometimes, Ryuji. I understand that, you understand that yourself, don’t you?”

“But I don’t—”

Ryuji,” Akira sounds like he’s just a sentence shy away from barking orders at him, in that Leader voice he’s so used to on the battlefield. He wonders—has he finally disappointed him? Is he finally going to yell at him? Is he— “You matter the world to us. To me.”

His heart clenches around his throat, and Ryuji stops trying to prove Akira wrong. Whatever he was trying to prove him wrong about.

Whoever’s been teaching Akira to navigate his way with words alone has truly made a master of the man. Ryuji’s seen how Akira promises the Shadows, the way even the most hostile of the bunch come to impartiality when it’s their leader who’s dealing with them. He has a way of routing even the hardest heads, the toughest hearts—and

There’s no denying that Ryuji’s been captured himself.

“Akira?” He finds himself breathing out, his shoulders relaxing and his tense frame finally uncoiling from whatever tightness has latched itself in his chest. He doesn’t feel better, not just yet—it’ll take a very long time for him to learn how to accept himself for who he is, but it doesn’t seem so unsurmountable now.

It’s like climbing up a steepest slope, counting every step that crunches against the gravel under his shoes, and looking back to realise he’s gone further than the starting line, even further than any distance he’s imagined himself to climb before.

“Yes?” Akira replies, and he’s a little breathier now, perhaps because he’s calmed down.

“I’m not okay.” Ryuji squeezes his eyes shut from the embarrassment of his admission, but he feels lighter somehow. Like he’s let go of a rope he’s been holding onto all this while, freefalling through the clouds with no knowledge of what’s to come next. But this is different.

“And that’s alright,” Akira sounds like he’s smiling, but Ryuji can’t confirm it for himself. His voice is softer now, crackling in the static from trying to keep it down enough for Morgana to sleep, and it feels like home. “Talk to me Ryuji. We have all the time in the world.”

This time, it’s different, because he can almost say for sure—Akira’s there at the bottom, waiting to catch him when he falls, just like how Ryuji always has his arms wide open to the sky in case Akira’s gone too far to even notice himself leaping off the fine edge.

Ryuji tells him everything. He tells him his hopes, his dreams, his weaknesses, his fears—whispering his soul out into the dark, scared and terrified that he’s tossing bits and pieces of himself into the void. He feels naked, vulnerable, and there’s nothing more he wants than to pluck all the words he’s said from the air and swallow them whole again. Pretend none of this ever existed.

But Akira listens. He listens and clings on to every word relentlessly, and the void uses his voice to whisper its oaths of protection into Ryuji’s ear, even long after the blonde’s allowed sleep to swallow him whole.

 

then i would thank that star

that made our wish come true

cause he knows that where you are

is where i should be too

end. iii – so we end up chasing ghosts.

---

Across all of Ryuji’s life, there have been many, many instances where he’s brushed against Death, too close for comfort but not enough for eternity to swallow him whole.

He doesn’t fear Death. He taunts it over and over again, daring for Death himself to come and claim his life. But it doesn’t. He performs miraculous feats of luck by surviving beatdown after beatdown, endures the gusts of Garudyne slicing open his skin, Agidyne all but burn his skin off—and other near-death experiences he’s faced in his short career as a Phantom Thief alone.

He doesn’t fear Death, neither does he ask to see him. He only ever looks forward, and should the day come that he has to cross paths with the Grim Reaper himself, so be it. He doesn’t live with regrets, he only ever keeps his eyes planted on the sky and not on the ground.

Across all of Ryuji’s life, there have been many, many times where he’s come face to face with death—but never once has he ever had to watch a person that matters dance precariously with the Devil himself, as if his own life a bargaining chip for a successful outcome, clearly an unfair trade.

And obviously, Akira knows that too.

They’ve known Akechi’s plot for quite a while now—none of the Phantom Thieves are stupid, as much as they like to make themselves seem. They’ve not come this far into their mission to fail now, the oath they swore to rid the world of its corrupted desires, to peel off the dirty bits of grime and muck that found itself in the cracks of society, like nasty mildew in bathroom tiles. It’s a perfect heist they’ve managed to pull off, over and over again. They forcefully shine a light on the darkest, most shadowed parts of humanity, making whatever lies in there bare its ugly fangs to the world before they beat the living shit out of it.

But, as Morgana puts it when he’s not busy yowling about Ryuji’s unfortunately extensive list of goof-ups for the day, a Phantom Thief’s job is never easy. They’ve known the true extent of their work the very day they donned on the masks, wielding their weapons like they were born to fight. Ryuji knows that, he’s relishes in the thrill, the adrenaline high of it all, the feeling of actually having the power to change something without kowtowing to another person—

And yet. Why does he feel so helpless tonight?

He’s been antsy all day. Like there’s an itch that’s impossible to scratch, a burning on his skin like there’s a fire that’s impossible to put out—no matter how many times he dunks himself into the ice cold bath he’s unfortunately left to cool for too long in the late-Autumn-early-Winter morning. He can’t focus even more in class today, his thoughts are wound up tightly into a huge chaotic ball of cord and yarn and he doesn’t know where to begin untangling. There is so much on the line for this mission, and Ryuji doesn’t know how much time he can allow himself to dissect the mess, overthinking and catastrophise while he’s at it.

It’s never been a good omen, for him to feel nervous before a mission. It’s always been the same pre-mission routine: go out with Akira after school to have their regular bowl of ramen for luck, walk home with Akira and wave him off after the bespectacled boy disappears behind the polished wooden door to LeBlanc, text Akira about anything but the mission to keep their mind off things—

Talk to Akira. Think of Akira. Make plans to hang out with Akira.

Akira, Akira, Akira, Akir—

But there might not be an Akira tomorrow.

The calling card’s been sent. Makoto’s confirmed it twice-over, once in their group chat with Akechi, and another time directly face-to-face during lunchtime, hidden in the darkened corners of Shujin Academy and away from any prying eyes and ears. It’s no different from any mission they’ve set out for so far. They reform society through “crime”. Steal hearts, stir shit, be accused of war crimes by everything that moves and breathes, rinse and repeat. He’s never had this much of an issue dealing with the aftermath of their heists. He knows they’re righteous, and for as long as fate allowed him to he’ll continue to beat down every Shadow sent his way. He’s not scared, not with the Phantom Thieves and Akira by his side—

But there might not be an Akira tomorrow. There might not be the Phantom Thieves tomorrow.

The plan is simple. Hand Akira over as their decoy, grab the traitor by his ankles and weed him out of their ranks, and then. And then what?

God, he can’t even bring himself to focus right now.

Tonight, he’s sleeping on a soft futon, spread out on the floor of LeBlanc’s attic. It’s a little too late for them to be staying up, really. School always starts obscenely early, and he’s never been one to wake up early for anything he didn’t like, or didn’t want to spend the effort on. But there’s been this itch festering under his skin all day and he hates it, he hates that he can’t ignore it or pretend it’s not there.

It’s dark in Akira’s room, but the lamp on his workbench is on as Akira himself sits in his simple sweater-and-pyjama-pants combo, sorting through their inventory of consumables and medicines. It’s nice to watch him like this. Ryuji’s always appreciated the comfortable silence that settles between them like a blanket of fresh snow. He’s never had to pretend around him, never had to freshen up the mask he wears in fear of revealing too much unnecessarily.

But that’s the thing about the both of them. Akira doesn’t have to pretend with him either. He’s never had to, and never will need to.

“… ‘Kira?” Ryuji looks up from his phone, after staring blankly at the screen for a good five minutes. He’s been running his thumb up and down as he reviews messages on their group chat, re-reading past conversations.

The man at the workbench doesn’t look up, but he nods his head and hums in response, letting Ryuji know that yes, he was listening.

“Are you scared?”

Rummaging hands in the bag pauses for a split second—but the hesitation is enough for Ryuji to realise hat he’s indeed, hit right on the nose. He watches the way Akira’s back is tensed up, his muscles scrunched up in all the wrong places, like he’s trying to make himself smaller, more docile, going against the strength of heart that Ryuji adores and respects him for.

He wants to take him and smooth him out, rub his thumbs over the creases until Akira’s no longer crumpled. No longer balled up into a small form of fear and anxiety. His eyes never left the ground in the early months he’s known him, and his lips were permanently curled downwards, quiet sadness burned into his face like there wasn’t anything that could make him smile again.

I won’t let any harm come to you.

“A little.” It’s a start.

Ryuji isn’t angry at the state of their plan. Well, just a little. To have their leader push through everything with a tough look and a wider gait when all he clearly wanted to do was back out, that made him angry. Angry that he can’t make Akira come clean to the Thieves that he’s scared. Angry that he can’t be the one to go in his stead.

Useless, Kamoshida whispers in his head.

Disappointing, his father slams the door behind him.

“Hey,” Ryuji gets up and tosses his phone onto the pillow behind him, and he drags his feet along until his hand finds the cold wood of the workbench. He lowers himself onto the sofa before he leans his chin in his arms, folding them over as he stares at Akira from his spot, “Wanna talk about it?”

He lets him come up with the words he wants to say. He watches the way his eyes stare at nothing for a couple of moments, like he’s having an internal conversation first before his mouth works out the words he so painstakingly pieced together to get his thoughts across in the best way possible. Ryuji is patient, he waits, and waits, and waits, until his friend’s ready to speak.

“I guess,” Akira begins, a shuddering breath that reveals more than he’d like to admit, “I’m just scared. I don’t want to lose any of you, and I sure don’t want to lose you.”

It’s completely unexpected. Not that he thinks of Akira as some reckless, unfeeling fool, mind you! The reckless part is his job. No, he doesn’t know what he was expecting, really. But this sudden vulnerability made him want to bundle his friend up in a blanket and call off the whole operation. Fuck Sae. Fuck Akechi. Fuck the world and everyone in it, those things didn’t matter as much, as compared to Akira himself.

“I don’t want to go without regrets, Ryuji. I know it’s silly, but—”

“Tell me about them.”

“Huh?”

“Tell me about your regrets, Akira, every one of them,” Ryuji pushes on, refusing to let Akira’s needs go unheard again. “I won’t laugh, I won’t say anything unless you ask me to. Just…”

The hands that found themselves against the edge of the workbench grip harder, and Ryuji’s sure that his knuckles are turning white with how tense his hands are. He doesn’t need to look down to know that he’s worked up, but he’ll endure it long enough for Akira.

“Ryuji…”

“You’re so important to me. I hope you get that.”

Akira’s face softens in the dim light, and it’s so easy for Ryuji to miss that light dust of pink over pale cheeks, but he catches it. Barely. Ryuji’s heart does a cartwheel in his chest, the pounding reverbing against his ribcage. He’s sure he feels his heartbeat in his neck, in his palms, even down to his ankles. But he wonders—since when did Akira come to have this much power over him?

When had he been able to wreck Ryuji like this with just his expressions alone?

“There’s a lot of things I still want to do, Ryuji,” Akira murmurs softly, “We still have so much time left. I’m not supposed to go home until Spring comes about, we still have about four months left, but…”

“There are still many things I want to say, that I want to do. I don’t want tomorrow to be the end.”

To be honest, Ryuji’s never realised that his time in Tokyo is more precious to Akira than he previously thought. He knows that Akira’s happy to be away from the countryside, to be around people who actually cares and shows that they care. He knows that Akira doesn’t want to return to that life of silence, of monotony, of colourless flair.

“What do you want to say, ‘Kira?” Ryuji doesn’t catch himself in time to stop running his mouth. It’s too late to take back what he’s said, but for some reason, he doesn’t feel embarrassed or worried. Not this time. He can’t shake the feeling that Akira is trying to tell him something important, a piece of the puzzle that’s remained incomplete in the few months they’ve known each other. Ryuji wants to clear the air between them, dispel the fog hanging over them once and for all.

A pregnant pause, and Akira finally opens his mouth to speak.

“That I love you.”

It’s not like in the movies, the shocking cold of rain torrenting against skin as they sing heartfelt hymns of love to each other. This confession is tinged with warmth around the edges, desperation in between the cracks, and Ryuji comes to the horrible realisation that there’s a possibility he would have never heard this—had he not caught Akira silently tormenting himself.

It’s a thought he doesn’t want to indulge in at the moment.

So he does what any good old bro would do. Ryuji reaches out and takes Akira’s hands into his own, noticing them to be freezing cold. How long have they been shivering? Have they been shivering from the chill or from fear? He didn’t want to ask, in fear of making them tremble even worse.

“Akira,” Ryuji is very surprised at how calm he sounds, “Promise me something.”

“What is it?”

“After all this, let’s go on a date.”

In another time, the look of shock on Akira’s face would be hilarious, but now? He knows what he’s proposing is weird, left-field. After all, who in their right mind would even think about a date right before a mission where one of them might lose their life?

But he has to. It’s their chance at survival, an anchor to keep themselves going until the bitter end, until neither of them have anything precious to lose to fate and destiny and all that bullcrap. He wants to make sure they come out of this alive, all of them.

“What?”

“We’ll go an’ get some ramen, then we’ll watch a movie—no. We’ll watch two movies in a row, then we’ll go and sit on that stupid ferris wheel you love so much, and we’ll kiss on top of the Skytree after all this. Y’gotta promise me this, ‘Kira.”

His eyes are desperate, he knows that. He knows the face he’s probably making very well, and he knows that he looks like an absolute goof right now.

But even still, Akira seems to get it. He seems to understand the underlying promise Ryuji’s making, their last-ditch effort at some form of normalcy before their world is rocked to hell and back by their mission, their purpose.

And so, he nods.

“Okay.”

That night, Ryuji will look back and remember fondly, the night where they both lie together in silence and mutter about everything and nothing at the same time. He remembers that he doesn’t dream that night, drifting in between the realms of sleep and consciousness as he held a warm body against his chest—protecting him before what was to come.

He’s never been religious at all, but he remembers asking for hope, for strength to carry on from whoever had cared to listen to him then.

And boy, did they need it.

 

right here, right now

i’m looking at you and my heart loves the view

cause you mean everything

end. iv – and i will still be here, stargazing

---

The crowd in Tokyo wears lesser and lesser as the days go by. Thick down jackets change into simple hoodies, and talk of the Sakura season’s already beginning to find its way in the chatter of the city. Winter melts away like frost on leaves under a warm, sunny ray of light. It’s the end of the cold period now, and Ryuji’s looking forward to when he can start wearing short-sleeves out in public again.

But more than anything, he’s looking forward to seeing a certain idiot in his life again.

The end of Yaldabaoth is something he celebrates even to this day, two months or so onwards. Sure, he doesn’t feel the weight of his weapon in his hands anymore, neither does he hear Seiten Taisei whisper in his ears like he used to. Once in a while, he thinks he catches a glimpse of glowing blue as he passes by the alley in Central Street, but he chalks it up to Shibuya’s eternal neon-glow rounding every corner of the area.

The end of Yaldabaoth had also taken away his best friend, his… Whatever Akira is to him at this point. Imagine finishing the fight of your life and for humanity, only to realise at the end of the night that the man who had fought so desperately next to you disappeared in an attempt to become Japan’s Next Top Martyr or something. Because of course he’d go off to sacrifice himself when he could have talked to the rest of them. Because of course Akira places the world on his shoulders above all.

And, honestly? It’s what the Phantom Thieves would do too, if any of them were to be the ones who had to turn themselves in to the police.

Ryuji wishes it had been him instead. He wouldn’t mind standing in for Akira and the rest of the gang if they could live their lives normally. He knows that his reputation’s already got to shit with no chance of revival, and what’s a couple of months of juvie, right?

But there’s no point of regret. He did what he could to fix this situation, to finally clear Kurusu Akira’s name and restore his clean slate once and for all. They’ve met and talked with the people Akira’s gotten to know in his year in Tokyo, and how he’s met some of these people—a politician, Akira? What the fuck?—is beyond him. It baffles him, it confuses him to know end, but to see every single one of them talk about the Leader of the Phantom Thieves in such a wonderful, positive light gives him the burning hope in his chest that his friend will return safely to them.

After months and months of campaigning, of talks, of bringing together people across the far corners of Tokyo, they’ve done it.

Akira is finally coming home.

The plan is simple, or as simple as the thieves could do without destroying the tiny, rickety interior of LeBlanc. They are going to throw a surprise party, make sure they don’t get into too much trouble by making too much noise, and beat the crap out of Akira for pulling a stunt on them.

(Well. The last part is Ryuji’s plan. The rest don’t quite know of it, but details, details.)

The whiff of coffee that seeps into the wooden interior has never quite gone away. It hurts a little, to know that things have more-or-less stayed the same even in Akira’s absence. The streets still fill with people, Shujin Academy still whispers in the corners and presumably away from prying ears and eyes, Big Bang Burger’s fountain still dispenses cola that tastes miles ahead of store-bought cola. He has to remember that the world will still turn even when he leaves one day, that someday he’d be forgotten too.

But in Akira’s case, he doesn’t want to think about it. He doesn’t want a day where Akira doesn’t exist in his life, where Fishing Sundays and bi-weekly sleepovers no longer happen. The last few months were rough enough as they were, and Ryuji doesn’t think he can take another hour without Akira by his side—where he’s supposed to be.

Thankfully, he doesn’t have to wait that long.

The Boss had left their rowdy gang of thieves alone in full confidence that they wouldn’t set the place on fire as they prepared for Akira’s imminent return. The girls sent Yusuke and Ryuji out to Central Street to get some of Akira’s favourite food—the ones he’s obviously missed out on in his months of detention. It takes only an hour for the both of them to return to a decently decorated LeBlanc, bags of burgers and steak hanging off their arms as they rush into the interior—escaping from the chill.

And so, they wait.

The first thirty minutes go by quick. The gang passes the time by talking about anything and everything that comes to mind: college admissions, new art exhibits, Big Bang Burger’s upcoming Sakura Season promotion, photoshoots and golden week plans. It’s easy conversation with his friends, his partners, but constant glances at his phone makes him feel a little more tense as every minute passes him by.

The next thirty minutes slowly become agony to him.

He’s no longer listening to Makoto talk about her choice of major, losing himself when she drones on about entry scores and potential pathways. It isn’t personal of course, he’s very interested and supportive of his friends’ decisions and choices in life, but the constant itch of anticipation drags his stomach down to the Earth’s core.

He doesn’t even know if Akira wants to see him. Maybe somehow he’s had time to think about how Ryuji’s potentially goofed up, or maybe he’d come back and be disappointed at the state of things. He knows Akira doesn’t get mad easily, or at least, doesn’t show it as much as he’d like to. But still, the last thing he’d want to do for his best friend is to piss him off after months of unfair detention.

Stop it, he utters to himself with annoyance, enough. This jig is getting fucking old.

So he waits. He forces himself to listen, to respond to Makoto’s inquiry on how he’s done for his last exam of the year, to laugh with Ann as she talks about the weird dude who made a fool of himself at her last photoshoot, to agree with Futaba that the last Crest of Flames game is actually really good—albeit with its flaws.

Then he sees it.

Ten minutes after the hour’s gone by, he spots the shadow form in the frosted glass of LeBlanc’s door. He shushes everyone immediately, and all conversation is cut off—like a plug being pulled. The form doesn’t move for a couple of seconds, and it feels like his heart’s going to explode at how fast it’s beating.

It’s quiet. It feels like you could totally hear a pin drop against the hardwood floor. The tenseness in the room feels thick and overbearing, almost like the steam in a sauna, waiting to be let out.

The sound of the door cracking open is followed by the familiar tinkle of the bell hanging over the doorframe. Ryuji knows he’s not ready for this yet, he’s not ready to show himself to Akira just yet—there are so many loose ends he’s yet to tie up, so many things left unsaid before Akira left them, but—

When he steps through and their eyes meet for the first time in months, it feels like a breath of fresh air, like stepping out into a cold winter night after sitting in a humid room for hours.

“Akira,” He speaks without meaning to, and it feels like his mouth’s moving on its own. His entire body moves on autopilot, his legs picking him up and gliding across the expanse of LeBlanc before his arms wrap around Akira, tugging him in. “Akira. Akira. Oh, fucking hell.”

He breathes out, and every worry disappears like smoke into air. Akira’s a little smaller than he used to be, just a little bonier in the places where he’s not supposed to be. He frowns when he finds this out—and he resolves to make Akira eat before he has to go home.

Before he has to go home…

“Ryuji,” Akira mutters, and those lithe arms return the tight embrace like Ryuji’s a pillar he needs. Ryuji can’t see the expression on Akira’s face, of course, but way he feels the man dig his head into where his neck and shoulder meets makes him feel like he’s finally come home. “Ryuji!”

So many regrets shared. So many triumphs and falls in the last year, so much happening between them.

Now that Akira’s home, it feels like it’s over. A battle well-fought, the war of a lifetime coming to an end.

“Hey, share him with us too! We waited just as long as you did!” The voices are behind him, already getting closer and closer, but before Ryuji can pull away from Akira and respond, the feel of something soft pressing against his lips cuts him off.

Oh.

It all clicks into place, finally. The last puzzle piece, the last minute of an hour, the last couple of steps before you arrive home. With the taste of promise—of forevers and homecomings—on his lips, Ryuji closes his eyes and returns it all. His love. His happiness.

He squeezes Akira’s waist with as much strength he can put into an embrace without hurting him, and he thinks he can hear someone gagging behind him.

Akir—WHA!

It’s been a long time coming, actually.

Hm, young love, huh? I wonder if this makes for a good composition—

Shut it, Inari! Can’t two people kiss without you making it into an art piece?

Ah~ Adorable!

As they finally pull back for air, the shy look in Akira’s eyes is everything to Ryuji. So much so that he wants to take Akira away for himself, so that the both of them could have the couple minutes of peace he longed for, and to talk about the things he’s run through his mind over and over to finally calm the questions he has.

But of course, he can’t.

“Akira! Akira! You’re home!” Futaba runs up to the fluffy-haired man the first chance she gets, quickly squeezing herself between Ryuji and Akira and tugging him close into a hug. Akira looks elated, returning the hug as if he’s being greeted by his little sister after coming home from work.

“Hey, Futaba. How’ve you been?” Akira plants a kiss on her head, closing his eyes and pecking her bright hair as he ruffles it up, endearing.

Bad! I didn’t have my key item with me this entire time! I had to rely on the stupid Inari for my trips into the city!”

Yusuke snorts from his spot at the bar.

“Well, pardon me, I could have spent all that time working on my critical art pieces! The amount of times you knocked over my supplies demanding I take you out is horrendous!”

“What am I supposed to do then? Study? I’m not a nerd like you!”

“If I do recall, Boss has told us about your entrance exams coming up—”

Nothing’s changed in the last few months. That very much is clear. Everything is as per normal—Haru and Makoto sit at the side with wide smiles stretched across their faces, Ann laughs and giggles at the jabs the youngest thieves throw at each other, and Akira, Akira—

Akira looks at Ryuji like he’s everything, like he’s the world.

So maybe they don’t have much time left before Akira becomes a countryman again. So maybe they’ve got about a month or two left before they’re forced to part, doomed to merely being star-crossed lovers over bad signal and uncomfortable train seats. Sure. But with what little time they have left, Ryuji vows to fulfil every single last whim, tie every single last knot, starting with something he’s always wanted to do.

He reaches out and tucks his fingers into the spaces between Akira’s, interlocking their hands together like they’re meant to be. It’s a beginning, he can give himself that.

With the grin he shoots Akira, the pink dust on the bespectacled man’s cheeks settle, and Ryuji swears forever for the both of them.

Screw deadlines. This is theirs to keep, and Ryuji’s going to make sure nothing comes between them ever again.

 

right here

i promise you somehow

that tomorrow can wait

for some other day to be

end. v – if you love me for me

---

Summer comes as a relief for Ryuji and Ann.

Looking back now, Ryuji often wonders how the fuck did Makoto and Haru study through the hell that was last year. Between fighting to exhaustion in Mementos and Palaces and fighting for their place in colleges, the fact that Makoto and Haru even had the stamina to socialise with them baffled him to no end.

Summer is Ryuji’s favourite season. It means no school, it means no responsibilities, it means no obligation to fulfilling very human responsibilities that have no meaning within the next ten to twenty years of his very human life.

But ever since last year, Ryuji’s found that he adores summer for new reasons, reasons he’s never thought he’d ever have.

The thieves are back in LeBlanc again for another celebration. They’ve planned this for weeks—ignore all messages from Akira on the day of his arrival, hide out in the café, and then throw a surprise party when he walks in.

It proves even harder for Ryuji to follow, since he’s so used to talking to Akira all day, every day, every moment he can sit on his phone and ignore everything else.

His heart pounds when he hears LeBlanc’s bell ring from the door, and it takes half a second for Ryuji to pop out from under the bartop, screaming at the top of his lungs as he yanks on the tail end of the tiny green popper sitting snug in his hands.

Welcome home!

Confetti flutters through the air like a shower of petals, and the surprised look on Akira’s face is more than enough for Ryuji to want to jump over the bar and kiss the shit out of him. He looks a little different now, swapping a black t-shirt and pullover for a black polo tee. He looks a bit more well-fed, and the eyebags that came with being a student with a double-life were history.

But he doesn’t throw himself over, of course. Self-preservation, as Ann calls it! He’s learned a lot in the few months of not having Akira physically around, but the flame inside of Ryuji’s heart burns brighter than ever. He’s only learned how to manage it better, but that’s better than nothing.

“You guys!” Morgana yowls from his perched spot on Akira’s shoulder, earning a round of rambunctious laughter from their band of thieves.

The questions come like gunfire, one after another. How was the train ride? How’ve you been? Did you bring anything for me? You look good! As it should be. Ryuji feels a surge of happiness in his heart, already so glad that things are falling back into place as easily as they did when Akira lived here, in a rickety attic above a coffeeshop, silently moving through the streets in an eternal hurry.

Ryuji has to push through the little crowd already forming itself in front of Akira, and once he makes it to the front, he slings a very toned arm around his shoulders, grinning from ear to ear. The confetti on Akira’s fluffy head gets knocked off, and he’s shocked from the force of Ryuji’s affections, but it only makes Ryuji grin even wider.

“Welcome back,” Ryuji begins, glancing straight into a curious expression from Akira. Adorable. Cute. I want to kiss the shit out of you, he thinks. “And so begins a month long of summer vacation with us!”

Akira’s lips curl into a gorgeous smile, and it takes everything in Ryuji to not lunge in for a kiss in front of everyone. They’ve made that mistake once, and the teasing that ensued for the rest of Akira’s stay was embarrassing, to say the least.

“I can’t wait,” An arm finds itself around Ryuji’s waist and squeezes. “But we only got a month to get myself reacquainted with Tokyo. Maybe—gasp—Maybe you could help me?”

Wink. Giggle.

Ryuji laughs as the crowd begins to yell at them to get a room, but above the ruckus, he pastes himself against Akira’s side—where he’s always meant to be, and where he’ll stay for as long as Akira will have him. In his endeared smile, Ryuji sees forever in Akira, and he can only hope that Akira sees the same when he eyes blonde hair, shimmering like sunlight.

“No rush, ‘Kira. We got all the time in the world.”

The smile he loves so much reassures him, and the sun blooms in Ryuji’s heart.

 

but right now there’s you and me

end. we have the world on our side