He wasn't sure when his insecurities started but he knew something was wrong. Ryuji Sakamoto wasn't that dumb (at least not as dumb as he acted). He kept noticing small details about his lover, Akira Kurusu, that weren't adding up to his excuses. It had been a few years after they graduated from Shujin, and a few years after Ryuji confessed his feelings to Akira, who seemingly held similar feelings back.
Fast forward a few years, their relationship was on thin ice. Every Thursday night, around midnight or so, Akira would leave their apartment and wouldn't tell Ryuji (or he perhaps thought the other was already sleeping). He would come back two hours later and sleep on the couch. Ryuji knew the signs that Akira was cheating, but refused to acknowledge it. After all, they had been together for five years, what was he missing? It didn't help that Ryuji's mental state didn't improve after the Kamoshida incident either, his anxiety only getting worse while his leg continued to stay in a state which still caused issues.
"–ji," a sickeningly sweet voice called out, "Ryuji, are you okay? You spaced out again."
"Huh? Oh yeah, dude. Sorry, I kinda got lost in my thoughts there." He let out a small chuckle and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Okay, we're almost there so wake up." Akira smiled at him before turning his focus back on the road. "Our hotel is right after this next exit, what do you say if we stop by to check in and change?"
"What do ya think the others are going to think if we show up late?" Ryuji countered, a slight frown pulling his brows together. "I dun want to be late just because you wanted a quickie."
The car (and Ryuji) jerked forward as Akira pushed the brakes down, hard. It was definitely on purpose too, the exit turn wasn't that sharp.
"What the 'eff man?!" He shouted. His head turned to look at Akira's slightly irked face.
"That wasn't exactly what I was implying but.." His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly before relaxing. "We can go straight to the others instead then."
Ryuji tensed up and shifted to a more closed sitting position before mumbling something incoherent. Noting the tense air between them, Akira swallowed whatever he was going to say, knowing whatever he started was going to end in another argument.
"Akira! Ryuji!" A light brunette greeted them happily. "I'm so glad you could make it on time! I was so worried when I got your messages about being late but you made it!It was quite an alarm for Ann when she read your messages."
"Haru!" The blonde smacked her arm lightly. "No, but seriously, I was kinda worried. Especially about you Ryuji! I thought it was something to do with your health again."
"Don't worry Ann!" Ryuji gave her a thumbs up. "My doctor prescribed me some new medicine and it's good!"
"If you say so.. I can always recommend you to Shiho's therapist. She's always talking about how much he's helped her."
"Thanks but no thanks." Akira curtly interrupted and pulled a flustered Ryuji to sit in his lap on a nearby couch. "He should be fine on these pills, yes?"
They bickered under their breaths for a moment before Ryuji growled "stop". Ann and Haru exchanged a quick glance before smiling nervously and changing the subject.
"So! Yusuke and Futaba haven't shown yet, and Makoto is going to be a bit late. Her exams went longer than she expected. What do you guys want to do in the meantime?" Ann chirped.
"I don't think they'd mind if we started eating, no?" Haru asked, tilting her head to the side slightly.
"I don't know guys... Last time we did, Futaba yelled at us pretty loud. She almost got us kicked out." Ryuji rubbed his hands together. Ann took notice of the new stim and opened her mouth to speak.
"Oh, I didn't realise that you dyed your hair back to black, Ryuji," A smooth voice cut in, drowning out Ann's concern. Looking up, Ryuji noticed it was Yusuke.
"Hey! Yeah. This guy over here said my natural hair was growing in and it's a big pain to bleach it so I just dyed it back."
"I see. It gives you a more mature look. Nice to see you've finally grown up." Yusuke chuckled and took a seat. Ryuji bit the inside of his cheek as he laced his fingers together. "What's the holdup with the others? Do you know?"
"Not really, no." Akira frowned, pushing Ryuji off his lap. "I'll call and see." With that, he stood up and left the group, leaving behind a pissed off Ryuji.
"Hey.. Ryuji.. Are you okay? I noticed some things seemed tense." Ann's concern for her friend was visible on her face and in her voice. "I.. I don't think this relationship is good for you anymore. I was lying when I said Makoto was out for exams. She's hotel hunting.. for you. I think she found a shelter somewhere, but it's in the city."
"Ann.. I–I appreciate it but it's not necessary. I've got all I need!" Ryuji grinned and stood up to hug her.
"Ryuji." Akira jutted in. "Futaba is coming with Morgana. They're arriving shortly. We should probably go back to the hotel so you don't have to talk to Morgana."
"Oh." Ryuji placed a hand on Ann's shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. "Good to see you guys again. Should hang out more often—" He leaned down to whisper something in her ear. "—Tell Makoto to contact me separately later."
"Ryu-chan!" A small, orange haired girl collided against Ryuji's side, knocking both to the ground. Annoyed, Akira pried the young girl off his boyfriend.
"Bro!! I haven't seen my favorite brother-in-law in forever and this is how you treat me?!" She screeched pounding her fists against his chest.
"Futaba," Akira laughed gently, "That tickles."
The small girl pouted. "Hey!! Inari!! Stop this evil brother!!"
Yusuke merely glanced up and shook his head. "Oh, right. Who is it that's with you Futaba?"
"Stupid Inari! That's Morgana!" She walked over to Yusuke and sat next to him.
"Lady Ann!" The former cat grinned, an imaginary tail twitching with delight. "How have you been?"
"Oh.. Yeah.. I've been good. How's.. er.. being a human?"
Even Ryuji couldn't get used to the cat's new form. As the conversation continued, he zoned out. Everybody was back together again. The entire gang of the famous Phantom Thieves. The last time they had all been together was for the Momentos destruction, the reason why they were even together again. That day, December 24th, marked the five day anniversary of their last adventure.
"–ji!" Akira brought him back to the real world with a shake of his shoulder. "We should head back. Check-in only lasts so long—" He turned his focus to the group "—It was great seeing you guys but we have to go. I'll see you all later for dinner. Just message the details to me and we'll meet you there."
Ryuji gave a meek smile before saying his farewells and following Akira out.
Ryuji whimpered, curling into a ball as Akira stomped around the hotel room, cursing under his breath.
"What the fuck were you thinking? We should've left the first time I brought it up! Are you that dense? Did you think I wouldn't hear what Ann was telling you? Did you think I didn't find out about Makoto's searches?"
"..Stop..! Please!" The former blonde watched his raven-haired lover storm towards him. A rough hand grabbed him by his hair and pulled up harshly, so brown eyes met grey.
The very eyes he thought were once beautiful. Eyes he could once sink in forever. Ones now tainted with a disgusting gaze. A gaze of possession, of obsession. How could he not recognise the signs? The red flags were all around yet he chose to ignore them, he chose to trust his boyfriend, he chose to stay in this abusive relationship. There was no way out.
"That's your phone, isn't it?" Akira snarled, yanking his head up more. Ryuji let out a gasp of pain and nodded. "Let me guess, Makoto or Ann? I bet they're the only ones who you think would be concerned with you. "
Ryuji knew this wasn't true. The former Phantom Thieves did care for him.. or did they? The years of teasing and playful bullying haunted his dreams and terrified him on the daily. Sure, Ann and Makoto were out looking for a safe place for him, but who was to know if it wasn't just a ploy to get rid of him. Without Akira, he was nothing. He was just a scared boy, hiding in the closet from an unsober father with silent tears staining his cheeks. He was just a lonely high schooler eating lunch alone on the roof of Shujin Academy.
"Makoto wants to let you know that there's a shelter here in Shibuya. You weren't thinking of leaving me, were you, dear?" Akira mocked him. His words were sweet but his tone vicious. "Don't think about it. You're mine." His movements were slow, his gaze menacing as he walked towards the shivering noiret.
A sharp pain shot up from his knee and his spine. Akira had pulled his bad leg away from his body.
"No.. No! Stop!" Ryuji sobbed, tears falling onto the tan carpet of the hotel. He tried pulling his leg away, only to be met with more pain. He doubled over, waiting for his nerves to settle down. His hands were frantic, first gripping then to ripping at the carpet to no avail to then squeezing his right thigh.
"Didn't I already teach you that there's no escape?" Ryuji felt a pain he had before but more intensely, nerves sent shock waves of pain to his brain. Akira has slammed his foot on his thigh, grinding his leg against the ground. "Don't worry, I won't break it like Kamoshida. But I'm sure you won't think twice about running away now."
Ryuji's gasps and shivers slowed as the pain numbed his leg. His throat closed up and he couldn't breath. Tears continued to run down his face as he lay on the ground, silent. Akira let off his leg and looked at the clock in the room. "Get up. We're going to be late."
Ryuji stumbled to his feet, his right leg weak and wobbly. "Aki..Akira, please.. Help.."
"Do you swear that you're not going to go anywhere? As long as we're in Shibuya, you aren't to leave my side." Akira glanced at the other man from the mirror.
"Yes. I promise." Ryuji, supporting his leg with his hand, leaned against the wall, his chest heaving from the effort exerted.
"Good boy—" Ryuji shivered. He hated being called that by him. "—Come 'ere. I'll help you get dressed. Take off your jacket and I'll dress you up."
"Ryuji! Long time no see." Makoto greeted him, her braids bouncing at her sudden movements. Ryuji noted her hair growth and took it as a positive sign. "O-Oh! Is your leg all right?" She stared at Akira, who was supporting Ryuji's right side.
"Ah, yeah.. I tried going for a run while this guy was napping and it locked up on me. I left my phone at the hotel too so I had to walk back and it just agitated the injury." Ryuji laughed and winced. "Nothing too major, I'll be alright by the end of the week."
"I see. Let me know if you need any help, I know a great doctor." The brunette smiled and gestured to the empty seat next to her. "Wanna sit next to me?"
Ryuji glanced at Akira, who was displeased at the idea but helped him wobble to Makoto's side before moving to sit between Morgana and Ann.
"What shall we order first?" Haru chimed in, trying to lighten the mood. "I know this place has excellent sushi. Morgana?"
"I'll have whatever Lady Ann wants." He winked in her direction, causing her face to flush red before suggesting something sweet to start.
"I believe we should start with a nice lobster dish," Yusuke suggested. "Red seafood is an excellent way to start a meal. We can even finish with some udon."
"Stupid Inari! Everybody knows you start off a meal with.. with.." Futaba trailed off before returning to bombarding the blue-hair with more insults.
"Guys! Let's just forget about appetizers and just find a main dish. This isn't a restaurant where we can argue about this," Ann cut in, her voice sharp and commending. The rest of the group quieted and looked towards her before resuming their menu search. Conversation bubbled at the table again shortly after their orders were taken.
Feeling overwhelmed, Ryuji looked across the table to his lover and trailed off when he noticed Ann whispering into Morgana's ear. The latter shooting a glance at the noiret before standing up. He wished he could stand up and walk out right then and there.
"Hey, Ryuji. I have to talk to you about something." Ryuji could see invisible ears twitching with nervousness. "Could we talk somewhere private?"
"Yeah, okay." Ryuji pushed his chair out and, using the table for support, stood up. "You mind?" He directed his question towards Akira whose smile sent shivers down his spine. Something bad was probably going to happen later that night.
"No, not particularly. I'm sure Morgana has something he needs your help with." His voice was sharp with an undertone of something dark.
"Oh! Do you need any help walking, Ryuji?" Ann chimed in, heavily implying her assistance over Akira's.
"Ann, I'm sure you'll do a better job of keeping the table in check so why don't you let me assist Ryuji?" Makoto suggested, giving her a side look.
"Oh, right right! I haven't worked out in a while so Makoto's probably stronger than me anyways!" She gave the brunette a thumbs up before resting a hand on Akira's shoulder. "You don't mind, do ya?"
"Oh.. Thanks guys!" Ryuji grinned and allowed Makoto to support his right side before the pair followed Morgana towards the lobby of the restaurant.
"Thank God I was able to get a private booth. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to do this." Makoto sighed as they approached the entrance.
"Huh?" Ryuji almost tripped over his feet after hearing her words. "What do you mean?"
"I.. I contacted the shelter I texted you about. I know it wasn't you who replied to my message, I suspected it was Akira."
"He replied?! I.. I didn't notice. I never got my phone back."
"I figured. Morgana, is he almost here? I don't know if you've heard of him but.. his name is Hiroshi Sato. Almost sounds like an alias but I guess owning a shelter for abuse victims is a reason for hiding your real name."
"Yeah, I just got a message saying he's about to pull up in a grey car. We should probably wait outside." Morgana handed Ryuji a new phone. "Futaba bought a new phone for you, she programmed it too. I don't know what she put on but it should have all our contacts. Akira shouldn't be able to find it too."
"Yes, and Morgana? Can you take Ryuji? I fear if I stay here too long, Akira will get suspicious." She turned her focus to Ryuji. "I will text you later. My plan is to tell Akira that you had a fight with Morgana and stormed out. So, go quick because I guarantee he'll be rushing to the front once I tell the news."
"Got it! Leave it to me!" Morgana led Ryuji outside as a small grey car pulled up. The window rolled down and a strangely familiar face was in the driver's seat. Time was running out so he didn't bother. "Sato-san?"
"Yes, you can just call me Hiroshi, no need for formalities. I heard it was an urgent matter? If so, hurry and get in." Hiroshi unlocked the rest of the car as Morgana helped Ryuji to the passenger seat.
As the car left, Morgana stood outside the doors, thoughts swarming his mind as Akira and the rest rushed outside.
"What?!" Akira stood up when Makoto returned. "He left? Just up and ran?"
"Yes. I'm afraid so. He.. Something Morgana said about his injury set him off and he didn't take it well." Makoto's lies flowed smoothly off her tongue.
"Shit! Well, he can't have gotten far. I'm going to look." Akira pushed past her and ran to the front of the restaurant where he spotted Morgana standing outside looking in the distance. Behind him, all the others (besides Haru who was busy apologising to the staff for the inconvenience and offering to compensate them) ran after him.
"Wait, Akira!" Ann shouted, latching onto his arm. She was out of breath from the brief sprint but still managed to get a few words in before he stopped her. "He's always been good at running away, even when his leg was injured. He kept pushing–"
"You don't know anything!" He hissed, pushing her off his arm. "Morgana! Which way did he go?"
"I don't know.. He shoved me to the ground before he left. I didn't see." Morgana's eyes shifted from left to right as he spoke. Akira was beyond pissed.
"Akira, don't worry. I bet he's already somewhere safe." Makoto tried to calm the male down.
"You know what? I'm done dealing with this. Akira, we need to speak as a group," Haru spoke up. "I'll send a message later telling you all the details and you better be there Akira. Or else there will be major consequences."
He knew he was trapped. Akira ran a hand through his hair and nodded, trying to still his nerves. "Fine. Tell me tonight. I'm leaving." With his last words said, he started walking towards the nearest station. His thoughts roamed between whether or not to return to the hotel. The room was only for one night and he would have to leave tomorrow morning. Against his better judgement, he pulled out his phone can dialed an old number.
"Hey, Sakura-san? Do you still have that attic in LeBlanc open? I'm around town."
The car ride was silent, and Ryuji wondered if he should speak up.
"I never expected to see you again, especially in this situation. How are the rest of the Phantom Theives?" Hiroshi broke the silence, with a piercing gaze.
"Wait.." Ryuji racked his brain, searching for any familiar features on the other's face.
"I'll give you a hint. In my early days, I was once referred to as the 'The Second Coming of the Detective Prince'. Is that sufficient?"
"Goro Akechi?! Are you for real?" Ryuji was shocked, didn't he die?
"No, I didn't die." Akechi seemed to read his thoughts. "I go by Hiroshi now. No need for formalities. But do tell, what's going on? Despite our... past circumstances, you are now under my care."
"O-oh. Right.." Ryuji scratched the back of his neck. "Well, I guess I'm in an abusive relationship to start. But wait, why are you doing this? The shelter I mean."
"Figured that much and it's not really your business but I wanted to help others. Like you helped me." His reply quieted towards the end and he let out a soft sigh."Forget it, I can just take you to another shelter. I won't be able to provide much."
"I don't care." Ryuji blurted his reply without thinking. "I'd like to stay at yours. If you don't mind that is. What should I call you?"
"Oh, right. I thought you died. I.. truth be told, I mourned. It wasn't long but you genuinely were a good teammate. You helped me out a lot."
"That's Goro Akechi. He is a dead man. I am Hiroshi Sato now but I guess I should thank you for finishing Shido."
"I can't do it. I have to call you Akechi. Hiroshi is too weird." Ryuji rubbed his hands together. "Akira, he.. he used my leg against me. He never let it heal. It's all wonky now and I can't even walk long times before it gives out."
"He changed. But I guess so have I."
"Please. Let me call you Akechi. Or.. Even Chi-san."
"Fine. You don't have to be so formal, Ryuji." Akechi gave in, allowing the noiret to do as he pleased. "By the way, did you dye your hair?"
"Yeah.. Akira said I should. So I did. I wanted to keep it blonde and let the roots grow in but.. he decided otherwise." Ryuji ran a hand through his hair, his repressed emotions slowly returning. "I love.. loved him. I can't live without him but.. He's been cheating. I think. I don't know why but I miss him. He used to be so kind, gentle. He used to fight for what he believed in. Tried to fight for what's right. Dunno what changed."
"We shouldn't hold onto the past. It just holds us down. Oh, I should let you know something before we're almost there. I recognised Makoto's voice when she called. She even told me your name and I could never forgot about what you said to me. I took this as a favor for what you Thieves did for me." Akechi looked at Ryuji for the first time since he got in the car. "I don't have any extra room at the shelter right now. We're going to my apartment, if that's okay. I'll take the couch so you can take the bed. I noticed your leg isn't too well right now also, the couch will only agitate it."
Ryuji wondered what he meant by how his words touched him but instead of asking, he just laughed and grinned at Akechi. "Thanks, I could've handled the couch but you're really considerate, Chi-kun."
Akechi felt his chest tighten. The former blond really didn't know how much he helped the brunet. He turned his attention back on the road. How could he be so trusting now? "Not really but, I figured I should repay the Phantom Thieves back."
"I don't know if you know but we've disbanded. With Makoto gone off to university, Momentos gone .. we didn't really have that much of a connection. Yeah we're still friends but we rarely ever get together as a group! It kinda sucks cus whatever relationship I had with Ann was gone! Akira's gone and become a shitty adult, the very thing he fought against! Like, what the 'eff man!" Ryuji ranted, not noticing the worried looks Akechi kept giving. "I.. Fuck! He doesn't even have the decency to just break up with me! Like I'm someone he has to take care of. An 'effing child! Pisses me off!"
"I see. It must have been hard for you to go through all this alone. When did it start?" Akechi's nature took ahold of him, his curiosity bubbled with each word Ryuji dispelled.
"Like, a year after we started datin'. When I first went and told him my feelings on Valentines' he treated it as a joke but.. He got the hint soon enough. He formally asked me out first a week later and it was good. But six months in, I started noticing these weird habits he did and they weren't really good. We got into our first fight that day and he.. got a little violent. He was sorry and shit right after, tellin' lies like he was stressin' about college prep and stuff."
As Ryuji kept talking, his old speech patterns came back. Akechi took it as a good thing.
"A couple months after, I went and fucked up my leg my tryin' to run after we fought. That was the first time he went directly after it and it hurt like a bitch. But the next day he was really nice 'nd made it up to me. I tried to confront 'im and he just brushed me off like I went 'n had an attack then imagined what happened. I.. I didn't know what was real."
Ryuji paused, looking up from his hands to Akechi's face. Why was he spilling his entire life story? The weight of a heavy event was always better when Ryuji told someone else about his problems, almost as if the burden was shared rather than kept to one. That was probably why. But why Goro Akechi?
"Then things escalated and 'ere we are." He rushed to finish and went back to twiddling his fingers. He began acutely aware of the fact he was sharing his relationship to someone who hated Akira. But maybe, deep down, Ryuji did too. Akira saved him but then treated him like trash. Like a puppy taken in but then not taken care of.
"I guess you realised how awkward it is to share a story with your former rival." Akechi was spot on. Again. How did he do it? Well, he was a former detective prodigy. Ryuji didn't have anything good to say back so he just nodded. "I don't blame you but you were more open than I thought you would be. However, you don't have to treat me as the same person, I am helping you now. Feel free to share anything you want, I don't judge."
The car slowed to a stop as Akechi announced they had arrived. "You don't have any clothes do you? Makoto told me it was urgent but I never expect people to arrive without some form of extra clothing. I guess this was done without your knowledge?"
"Yeah.. Pretty much. I never planned on leaving... like this at least. I would've just run away to Ann's or sumthin'." Ryuji sat for a second, lost in his thoughts. So lost in fact, that he failed to notice Akechi getting out of the car and walking around to the passenger side. The door opened and broke his train of thoughts.
"Do you need help? I figured after seeing.. Morgana?–" Ryuji nodded at the mention of his name. "–help you in. I also noticed the way you're sitting is meant to relieve pressure on one leg."
"Yeah man, that'd be awesome. Thanks." Ryuji smiled and took Akechi's hand for support.