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Moments In Time

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It was embarrassing to admit, but despite Ryuji being Akira’s boyfriend, it was Futaba who first thought to question when exactly Akira’s birthday was--and it was Futaba who went digging around to find the date when Akira brushed off both her’s and Ryuji’s attempts to wheedle it out of him.

His uncomfortable expression as he dodged the subject was most likely because he was so used to no one celebrating his birthday that he didn’t want to bother anyone this timeline as well--but Ryuji wasn’t having none of that, and thankfully Futaba and the rest of the Phantom Thieves were all on board with his plan to throw a surprise party for their hardworking, selfless leader who was always doing so much for them.

Sojiro was kind enough to let them use LeBlanc for the party--a familiar setting upon Ryuji’s insistence, since he knew that Akira didn’t tend to take unexpected happenings very well, and hopefully a familiar place would at least soften the blow of the surprise--and even offered to provide curry for everyone, which took care of the food. Ann offered to bring the cake, Makoto would bring some snacks and soda, and Haru and Yusuke were in charge of decorations, which left Futaba and Ryuji to plan out how to keep Akira distracted while everyone prepared the cafe for the party.

(Morgana wanted to participate as well, but was unfortunately limited in what he could do, and it was only Ann suggesting that he could oversee the preparations and make sure everything looked good that stopped Morgana from going off and sulking.)

By the time the day rolled around, Ryuji was jittery with excitement, and didn’t bother to hide it as he swung by LeBlanc to meet up with Akira, who came out without any glasses on and dressed in a hoodie that obscured his face just enough that anyone working for Shido wouldn’t be able to get a good look at him.

Ryuji wasted no time in greeting him with a bright grin and a kiss that was happily received.

“Happy birthday,” Ryuji said after pulling out of the kiss. “Ready to head out?”

It was hard to tell whether or not Akira suspected anything, but at the very least his smile was genuine as he took Ryuji’s hand in his own. “I told you that you don’t have to do anything special for my birthday,” he protested weakly--the same protest that he’d given for the past few days, ever since Ryuji confirmed that Akira had no plans for the day and insisted on taking him out.

Ryuji rolled his eyes in fond amusement. “Dude, you can say that ‘til you’re blue in the face, but it ain’t gonna change the fact that I wanna do something nice for you today--and c’mon, it ain’t like I’ve got a bajillion yen to throw around like you do,” he added with a teasing nudge. “So at least you know that it’s not gonna be anything too fancy.”

That at least pulled a small laugh from Akira, who relaxed as he leaned against Ryuji’s side lightly. “Honestly, just getting to spend my birthday with you is already making it the best birthday I’ve ever had, regardless of where we’re going or what we’re doing.”

Ryuji’s expression softened as he gave Akira’s hand a light squeeze. “C’mon, let’s go--and remember, I’m paying for everything today, so none ‘a that paying people behind my back shit that you always pull, got it?”

Akira blushed lightly and gave Ryuji a sheepish smile. “I wasn’t going to do that this time, I promise.”

“Good.” Ryuji grinned as he began to tug Akira along. “Now c’mon, we’ve got a full day ahead of us!”

Ryuji and Futaba’s plan was both simple in theory and complicated in execution: in order to keep Akira out of LeBlanc for a long period of time on Ryuji’s limited budget, they decided to get in contact with some of the other people that Akira had befriended during his stay in Tokyo, and arrange for them to “coincidentally” bump into Ryuji and Akira while the two of them wandered around, killing time while also allowing Akira to be lavished with more attention and birthday wishes.

It didn’t take long to catch sight of Mishima, followed shortly after by Kawakami, and by the time they bumped into Iwai, Ryuji had a feeling that Akira was starting to catch on--though honestly, Ryuji would’ve been more surprised if Akira didn’t suspect anything eventually. After all, Akira was the smartest guy he knew, even without adding in his knowledge from the repeating timelines, and it was rare for anyone to be able to pull the wool over his eyes.

Still, at the very least he only seemed to be suspicious that Ryuji was taking him around so everyone could wish him a happy birthday. He didn’t seem to have any idea about the surprise party that was waiting for him back at LeBlanc, and as long as Ryuji could keep it that way, then he could consider today a success.

Futaba kept sending him locations, and Ryuji continued to think on his feet and come up with excuses to drag Akira around as the day passed by, inwardly feeling grateful (and endeared) that Akira was more than happy to follow him anywhere and everywhere without question, so long as he could hold Ryuji’s hand and remain glued to his side the entire time.

Not that Ryuji would have denied him that, of course, and certainly not on his birthday. If Akira wanted to walk around the busiest area of Tokyo while holding his hand or hugging his arm or with Ryuji’s arm around his shoulders, then Ryuji would gladly indulge him as much as he wanted.

They took a break in a small diner, eating a light lunch and some dessert that Ryuji--to Akira’s flustered yet pleased surprise--shamelessly fed him one forkful at a time while watching him with an affectionate grin the whole way through, before heading out once Akira was full and Ryuji had paid for their meal (with some money to spare, thankfully).

“You’re spoiling me,” Akira remarked as Ryuji led him back out onto the streets with his arm around Akira’s shoulders, allowing him to nestle up against Ryuji as they walked.

“Course I am, it’s your birthday,” Ryuji replied with a laugh. He moved a hand to lightly tilt Akira’s head up to look at him, giving him a toothy smirk as he added, “What’s it you always tell me? ‘Only the best for you, my darling’?”

The small bit of embarrassment from repeating Akira’s words was well worth it as he saw Akira’s eyes widen as his face flooded with color, a small squeak slipping out as Akira hastily hid his face back against Ryuji’s chest and kept it there even as Ryuji began to laugh.

“So you can dish it out but you can’t handle getting served, huh,” Ryuji teased, leaning over a bit so his lips were by Akira’s ear before adding, “ darling?

Akira looked like he was seconds away from passing out from all of the blood in his body pooling in his face, yet his wobbly grin clearly said that he was on cloud nine.

Ryuji would have to keep Akira’s weakness to pet names in mind--but for another time, not now. For now, he focused on guiding Akira along at a slow pace until Akira regained enough of his motor functions to be able to walk without his legs turning to jelly.

He led Akira around Tokyo for a few hours longer before getting the okay from Futaba to come back to LeBlanc, which came at the perfect time: his leg was starting to act up a bit from all the walking around they were doing, and Akira looked a bit tired himself, so he had no complaints when Ryuji said he wanted to head back to LeBlanc and relax together for the rest for the night.

It was only when they were just a few minutes away from LeBlanc that Akira lightly tugged on Ryuji’s arm to pull him to a stop, giving him a quick kiss to ease the concerned expression off of Ryuji’s face as he looked over at him.

“Sorry, I just… I just wanted to thank you for today, and to apologize for trying to hide my birthday from you to begin with.”

Akira took Ryuji’s hand in his own, lacing their fingers together as he spoke and drawing comfort from the way Ryuji immediately gave his hand a light squeeze, as if knowing that Akira needed support to continue even without knowing what Akira was going to say.

“Every year--or every timeline, rather--my birthday… it always falls on a day where… bad things happen, to say the least. I’ve stopped looking forward to it as a day to celebrate, provided I even made it far enough into the year to reach it at all.” Before Ryuji could say anything, Akira hastily pushed onward. “And even before the time loop--before I came to Tokyo--my parents never cared enough to celebrate my birthday; they were always too busy with work to do anything more than leave a card out for me whenever they remembered. So honestly, I never had any intentions of making a big deal of my birthday to begin with, and the fact that you not only took me out and spoiled me all day, but guided me around to see all the rest of the friends that I’ve made so they could wish me a happy birthday as well….”

Ryuji blushed and rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Was it that obvious?”

Akira laughed softly, leaning over to kiss Ryuji’s cheek. “You’re not exactly the definition of subtle, but it’s part of your charm. I’m guessing everyone else is going to stop by once we’re in LeBlanc?”

Ryuji stuck his tongue out. “You’re no fun. Can’t you just let things be a surprise?”

“Trust me, this whole timeline has been nothing but surprises,” Akira replied wryly. “Though I can’t say that’s a bad thing.”

“Course not. Surprises ain’t always bad.” Ryuji smiled and gave Akira’s hand another light squeeze, as if to say case in point , before gently nudging him into walking the rest of the way back to LeBlanc.

Akira returned Ryuji’s smile with a soft one of his own, leaning against Ryuji’s side as they walked. “No, I suppose they’re not.”

Ryuji continued to hold Akira’s hand even as they approached the front door to LeBlanc, trying not to laugh as he saw the confused expression on Akira’s face as he found the door locked and the lights off.

“Think Boss went out for a smoke or something?” Ryuji asked, the suggestion seeming to ease some of the lines of tension from Akira’s face.

“Maybe,” Akira agreed, reaching into his pocket with his free hand so he could take out his keys and unlock the door before stepping inside just enough to turn on the lights.


Ryuji keeping hold of Akira’s hand was the only thing that prevented Akira from hitting the ceiling in startled panic as everyone jumped out of hiding, though he was quick to calm down once he realized it was just his friends.

“Well," Akira began as soon as his heart rate slowed back down to something close to normal, "I honestly can’t say I was expecting this… I did think it was weird that we didn’t run into any of you guys today, but I thought you were just going to come over later tonight.”

He couldn't help but laugh as he was nearly tackled with hugs in response and tugged away from Ryuji so he could go and sit down at one of the booths.

“‘Operation: Surprise Akira’ was a complete success!” Futaba declared, grinning and high-fiving Ryuji.

“I hope we didn’t startle you too badly,” Haru said with an apologetic smile, approaching the table with a cup of coffee from Sojiro and setting it down in front of Akira.

Akira waved her concern off with a smile that widened as Ryuji slipped into the seat right next to him, despite Ann and Futaba’s complaints that he was hogging the birthday boy. “It’s fine, I’m alright. It was a good surprise, so I’m not complaining.”

"We were considering using party poppers for the surprise, but then we realized that would probably be a bit too much," Ann said with a sheepish laugh.

Akira laughed nervously at the thought of being greeted with a loud, gunshot-like noise on today of all days. "Yeah, that... definitely would've been too much. Thanks for not doing that."

The rest of the group settled in around the booth (or in Futaba's case, climbed over the back of the booth so she could squeeze herself in on Akira's other side, sandwiching him between her and Ryuji), grabbing a few chairs so they could share a single table as Sojiro served up some curry and coffee for everyone--save for Ryuji, who (endearingly enough) still refused to drink any coffee other than what Akira would make for him, and instead helped himself to some soda.

There was a relaxed, joyful air that filled the cafe as everyone chatted while eating Sojiro’s delicious cooking, and Akira soaked up every last second of it gratefully, his heart already swelled to the point of being ready to burst even before they moved on to cutting the cake that Ann had brought and breaking out the presents as soon as the table was cleaned up.

“You guys really didn’t have to get me anything…,” Akira protested weakly, even as he eyed the gifts in a mixture of excitement and curiosity.

“Nonsense,” Yusuke replied with a smile, passing his gift to Akira first. “You do so much for us all; isn’t it only natural to want to do the same for you?”

Akira was about to open his mouth to respond, but was stopped by Futaba shoving a finger in his face. “Nuh-uh, none of that selfless stuff today, mister! Today’s the one day we get to spoil you for a change, and you don’t get a say in it, got it?”

With a soft laugh, Akira gently pushed Futaba’s finger away from his face. “Alright, alright, I give,” he relented, before turning his attention down to the present in his hands.

Even without feeling it or observing the shape, just knowing that it was from Yusuke made it fairly obvious that it was an original piece of artwork--not that Akira minded, of course. He loved Yusuke’s art, and the thought that his friend took time out of his day to create something while thinking of him was already enough to make him love whatever piece of artwork he’d been gifted, even without seeing it.

Of course, when Akira pulled off the wrapping paper to reveal a portrait of Ryuji, his love for the gift immediately skyrocketed as an awed grin spread across his face.

“And we’ve got a winner on the first try!” Futaba declared, leaning over to give Yusuke a high-five. “Nice one, Inari!”

Yusuke chuckled, humoring Futaba as he lifted his hand and let her high-five him. “Really, it was an obvious choice, and I’d been planning on giving it to Akira as soon as I finished regardless.” At Akira’s inquisitive gaze, he added, “Oh, did Ryuji not tell you? He’s been an excellent model and a wonderful inspiration these past few months. That portrait was merely the one I felt captured his essence best out of all the ones I’ve drawn.”

“Ryuji, you’ve been modeling for Yusuke??” Ann asked, at the same time that Morgana exclaimed, “You’re actually capable of staying still long enough to be a model?!”

Ryuji blushed and huffed. “Why’s it that big of a deal? Yusuke asked, and I had no reason to say no is all--and for your information, I’m totally able to stay still long enough to be a model. Sometimes.”

Akira kissed Ryuji’s cheek, easing him down from his flustered, defensive state. “I’m glad you two have been spending time with each other, and I’m sure you’re a wonderful model.”

“He’s certainly a unique model, and an engaging challenge to work with,” Yusuke said, continuing to speak even as Ryuji shot him a look, “but his range of emotions and expressions is incredible. It’s been an overall enriching and stimulating experience, and I’m grateful for each and every opportunity we’ve had to work together.”

Ryuji’s blush darkened heavily as he dropped his gaze and rubbed the back of his neck modestly. “Dude, you’re making it out to be a way bigger deal than it was… all I did was let you draw me a couple of times.”

Akira gave Yusuke a smile. “Any chance I could see all the other drawings you’ve done of Ryuji too?”

“Of course. Sadly, they aren’t up to the same standards as the portrait I’ve given you, but I would be more than happy to share them with you if you’d like.”

Anyway ,” Ryuji interrupted, before Yusuke could provide Akira with enough pictures of Ryuji to decorate his entire bedroom wall with (which Akira would shamelessly do, no doubt), “why don’t we move on to everyone else’s gifts?”

Futaba grinned mischievously. “Great idea! I’m gonna go next!” She reached over to the booth behind her to grab her laptop off of the seat, typing a few things and starting up a program before setting the laptop down in front of Akira with a dramatic flourish. “For my dearest friend, I bequeath to you this gift of the highest caliber: a Ryuji dating sim, in which all the dating options are Ryuji.”

Ryuji choked on air and scrambled to lean over and look at the screen, which was indeed showing a title screen with “Ryuji Dating Sim” in big letters above a picture of him that had him fearing Futaba’s hacking abilities.

“For real?! Why-- how did you--”

“Shhhh, it’s Akira’s birthday, that means you’re not allowed to ask questions.”

Akira couldn’t help it: even knowing that Ryuji was embarrassed, he couldn’t stop the bright grin that tugged at the corners of his lips as everyone moved to crowd around him and watch in a mixture of curiosity and amusement as he started the game--nor could he stop the laughter that slipped out as soon as he heard the first edited voice clip that played from the game, most likely taken from either the bugs in LeBlanc or from Futaba tapping his phone.

“Oh come on, I’ve never said anything even close to that before!” Ryuji protested, though even he couldn’t help but find amusement in the game despite his embarrassment as a smile worked its way onto his face.

(That, and it was hard to stay annoyed when he saw Akira so genuinely happy, laughing to the point of being close to tears as he went through the cheesy--yet admittedly pretty well-made for what was obviously supposed to be a gag gift--dating simulator.)

Futaba snickered. “Now you all know my true power! I could whip up fake audio of you all in my sleep if I wanted to~”

“I’m pretty sure that’s illegal,” Makoto replied wryly.

“Only if you get caught!” Futaba and Akira replied in unison, sharing a grin and laughing as Makoto sighed and shook her head.

Akira wiped the tears of mirth from the corners of his eyes as he closed Futaba’s laptop upon reaching one of the game’s endings (he successfully dated Ryuji #1, but also sadly had to turn down Ryuji #4’s offer, and he was pretty sure Ryuji #2 was also showing some interest in him), and he passed it back over to her before pulling her into a hug.

“Thank you, Futaba. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time.”

“Ehehe~ I knew you’d like it--but don’t thank me just yet!”

Futaba grinned as she took advantage of being pulled close to Akira, slipping her hand into his pocket and pulling out his phone with a mischievous “ yoink! ” before pulling out of the hug and beginning to fiddle with the device.

“The dating sim was just something I threw together for laughs--but this one’s the real gift.”

She passed the phone back to Akira, who watched curiously as she leaned over to point to an app that she’d installed.

“I made that app for myself, back when I was… well, back before you guys helped me. Y’know, when I was having, um… bad thoughts, and stuff.” She tapped on the app button to open it and hastily continued, not wanting to dwell on anything negative on Akira’s birthday of all days. “When you start feeling anxious and need a distraction to help calm you down, you can load up the app and it’ll pull up cute pictures of baby animals and stuff--though you can change the settings if you want it to go through the photos on your phone instead, if that would help better. Also I set it so you can double tap any button on your phone and the app will auto-open, in case you’re doing really bad and need the app to open quickly without having to pull it up yourself.”

“Oh….” Akira looked down at the app in startled awe, watching as she changed the settings for him and smiling softly as a picture of him and Ryuji popped up. “Futaba, this is incredible; I had no idea you made an app like this. Thank you so much.”

Futaba smiled and ducked her head as she shrugged modestly. “‘s nothing much, really. I’m glad you like it, though, and I hope it’ll help you out.”

“It definitely will, thank you.”

Akira gave Futaba another hug, which Futaba gladly returned before pulling back with a grin and turning to face the rest of the group.

“Alright, who’s giving Akira their present next?”

“It’s going to be a bit hard to follow that,” Makoto said with a touch of amusement as she picked up a box off of the floor and set it down in front of Akira. “My gift isn’t quite as interesting or entertaining, but I hope you’ll find it useful nonetheless.”

Akira unwrapped the box curiously and opened it to find a few neatly-stacked notebooks, all labeled with different subjects and organized by month.

“I’m not entirely sure what sort of curriculum your old school will have for third-year students compared to Shujin’s, but I figured having some notes to go by would at least help put your mind at ease, even if the material covered isn’t exactly the same,” Makoto explained. “Of course, don’t take this to mean that I’m encouraging you to rely entirely on my notes to get you through next year. You still have to pay attention in class and take your own notes, and--”

Makoto cut off with a startled noise as Akira stood up from his seat and leaned across the table to pull her into a hug, her face flushing lightly as she gave his back a hesitant pat.

“I’m… going to take that to mean you like the gift?”

Akira nodded, his throat tight with restrained emotion even as he let out a quiet laugh. “Just liking it doesn’t even begin to cover it--I think this is one of the best gifts anyone ever could’ve given me. I honestly had no idea how I was going to get through this next year, and I know this doesn’t solve everything, but… even just having an idea of what to expect is going to help me more than I could ever say. Thank you.”

“And you said Futaba’s gift would be hard to follow,” Ann teased as she lightly nudged Makoto, who grew more flustered even as a smile worked its way onto her face.

“I honestly didn’t think my gift would be this well-received, but… I’m glad.”

“So who’s next? Ann? Haru?” Futaba questioned after Akira sat back down and Ryuji helped move the box off the table, looking even more excited to see what the next gift would be than Akira himself. “I know Ryuji’s gonna wanna give his last so he and Akira can be gross and make out and stuff afterwards.”

Ryuji blushed heavily, but couldn’t exactly deny it--not that he was planning on kissing Akira, but he had a feeling things would end up going in that direction as they usually did whenever they started getting sappy and emotional around each other.

“Actually, mine and Haru’s gifts are kinda related, so I’ll let Haru go first,” Ann said, sharing a look and a smile with Haru.

Haru took out an envelope and passed it to Akira, who opened it to find two passes for an all-expenses paid spa resort.

“For you and Ryuji,” she explained with a smile. “My father knows the owner of the resort, so I arranged everything with him personally. You two can pick a weekend at your leisure to go and enjoy some time to yourselves, and neither of you will have to pay for anything.”

She directed a pointed look at Akira as she said this, and Akira smiled sheepishly in response.

“Since it’s a birthday gift, I guess I can’t argue with that,” Akira conceded. “Thank you, Haru.”

“Wait, but ain’t this one of those really fancy, expensive resorts that you’ve gotta book, like, months in advance?” Ryuji asked with a bewildered expression. “And we can just pick a day whenever and go?”

“That’s right! I’ve instructed the owner to have his staff accommodate you two as soon as you give the word that you’ll be coming, so you won’t have to worry about a thing.”

Ryuji blinked dazedly as he leaned back in his seat. “Man, the power of being rich… it’s crazy.”

Akira chuckled and gave Ryuji a kiss on the cheek. “If you’re not used to it by now, then that means I haven’t been spoiling you enough.”

Ryuji rolled his eyes in amusement. “Like you could spoil me any more than you already do--and don’t take that as a challenge,” he hastily added, immediately catching the glint in Akira’s eye.

Akira pouted but relented (for the moment, anyway) and instead turned his attention over to Ann, who rose to her feet with an excited grin.

“Guess it’s my turn, now! Ryuji, get up and come with me, you’re part of the gift.”

“Wait, I’m what now--”

Ryuji barely had a chance to wrap his mind around Ann’s statement before she was dragging him out of the booth and up to the attic, grabbing a few bags off of the floor along the way.

There was some muffled noises and a distant “ For real?! ” that could only be a sign of good things to come, before Ann came back downstairs with a mischievous smile.

“Okay, so I know you’re capable of dressing yourself, but since Ryuji has absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever, I figured what better gift to give than buying Ryuji some new clothes for your weekend getaway?”

“That doesn’t even make any sense!

Ryuji’s distant protest went completely ignored as Ann focused her attention on Akira, her grin widening triumphantly as she saw the excitement on his face.

“Fashion show?” he asked.

“Fashion show,” Ann confirmed with a nod. “Alright Ryuji, you can come down now!”

“Ann, this is ridiculous, I--” Ryuji’s blush darkened heavily as he came downstairs to find Akira with his phone out and ready, and he let out a long sigh, knowing that there was no way he could continue to protest if Akira was this excited to see him in some new outfits.

“Seriously, what’s with all you guys?” he instead asked with an embarrassed huff. “Practically everyone gave him gifts that had to do with me.”

“No offense to Akira, but he’s kinda…,” Ann trailed off.

“Predictable?” Futaba supplied.

“Basically,” Ann agreed with a laugh. “I mean, giving him any kind of gift that has anything to do with you is automatically guaranteed to make him happy. The only other safe bet is giving him something to help with his anxiety.”

Akira shrugged, an amused smile tugging at the corners of his lips even as he snapped a few pictures of Ryuji in one of his new outfits. “I mean, you’re not wrong. I’m a simple person: I’m an anxious mess, and I love Ryuji.”

Yusuke paused in the middle of sketching Ryuji descending the stairs in order to look up at Akira with a frown. “I believe that’s a vast understatement of your qualities and characteristics--”

“Inari, he was joking,” Futaba said, cutting Yusuke off as she rolled her eyes.

“Can I put my regular clothes back on yet?” Ryuji interrupted.

“Nope~” Ann cheerfully shot him down as she pushed him back upstairs. “C’mon, you’ve still got a few more outfits to try on!”

Despite his embarrassment, Ryuji dutifully tried on and showed off each outfit that Ann picked out for him (which honestly were pretty comfortable and looked more than halfway decent on him, at least judging by Akira’s reaction to each outfit), before finally plopping himself back down next to Akira in the booth with an exhausted sigh.

“Now I remember why I never go shopping with you,” Ryuji commented as he shot Ann a look, only to be met with a completely unapologetic grin in response.

“Oh c’mon, it wasn’t that bad--and look, Akira’s happy with all the outfits, which means the gift was a success!”

Ryuji sighed and shook his head slightly, though he couldn’t deny that Ann was right, not when Akira was scrolling through all the pictures he’d taken on his phone with a bright, lovestruck grin still on his face.

As long as Akira was happy, then that’s all that mattered in the end.

The group lingered in LeBlanc for a bit longer as they fell back into lighthearted conversation over some more of Sojiro’s coffee and some snacks, and after Sojiro gave them all refills (along with another can of soda for Ryuji), he presented Akira with the birthday gift that he’d gotten for him: a portable heater for the attic, and some money to buy some heavier blankets for the upcoming winter, the latter of which Akira didn’t really need (he had plenty of money to buy however many blankets he wanted, after all) but appreciated the gesture for regardless.

As it got later, the group slowly began to file out of LeBlanc, giving Akira plenty of hugs and wishing him a happy birthday once more as they began heading home, until only Akira and Ryuji were left.

A brief wave of melancholy washed over Akira as he took in the silence of the cafe that had been filled with so much friendly chatter and warm laughter until hardly a few minutes ago, but the feeling was gone as quickly as it came as soon as his gaze came to rest on Ryuji, who gave him a smile as soon as he noticed Akira looking at him.

“Wanna bring everything upstairs and get ready for bed? I already told my ma that I’m sleeping over.”

Akira smiled and nodded, the two of them gathering all of the gifts and bringing them upstairs a few at a time--the box of notebooks and the portable heater in particular needed a separate trip upstairs, but between the two of them they brought everything up to the attic quickly.

Ryuji used the minute or two that Akira needed to set up the portable heater to grab his gift--that he’d thankfully thought to give Futaba in advance, so she could bring it to LeBlanc for him while he was busy keeping Akira distracted--and he took a seat on the bed, waiting for Akira to join him before handing him the smaller of the two packages in his hands first.

“It’s nothing fancy, and it might not be your style, but… I hope you like it,” Ryuji said nervously, watching as Akira pulled the wrapping paper off to reveal a necklace. “It’s, um… well, I know you like matching stuff, so I got you a necklace to match mine.”

He pulled the chain out from under his shirt to show Akira, matching them up against one another as he continued to nervously ramble. “I mean, you don’t have to wear it if you don’t wanna, or if you don’t like it, but--”

Akira cut Ryuji off with a kiss, before pulling back to give him a bright grin. “Ryuji, do you really think I wouldn’t love anything that makes me think of you?”

Ryuji smiled sheepishly. “That’s kinda what I was hoping you’d say, to be honest, but I’m glad to hear it.” He handed the second gift over to Akira as he added, “But I also made you this, just in case you didn’t like the necklace--though I guess since you ended up liking it, this is just a second gift instead of a backup.”

Akira’s interest was immediately piqued as soon as Ryuji mentioned having made this second gift himself, and he eagerly unwrapped it only for his breath to hitch as he slowly lifted the hand-knit scarf inside.

“It was my ma’s idea,” Ryuji explained, blushing lightly and ducking his head in embarrassment. “I know it ain’t as good as any of the ones you could get for yourself, and I had to have my ma help me fix some parts, but… I figured you’d prolly like something like this better than something store-bought--and I know it’s a bit early for scarves, but I was kinda planning on giving this to you for Christmas until I found out your birthday was coming up, so I put a rush on finishing it up to give to you now instead. I hope it doesn’t look too sloppy or nothing.”

Akira ran his fingers along the scarf reverently, his heart swelling with love and gratitude as he looked at every single stitch and imagined how much patience and dedication Ryuji must have put in to make something like this for him from scratch.

Before Ryuji could so much as open his mouth to apologize if Akira didn’t like it, he found himself being pulled into another kiss that he was more than happy to return, relief quickly taking the place of his nervousness as he realized that Akira had been quiet because he was overwhelmed with emotion and not because he didn’t like the gift.

“I love you so much,” Akira breathed out as soon as they broke the kiss, wrapping his arms around Ryuji and hugging him tightly as he buried his flushed face in the crook of Ryuji’s neck. “Thank you so much.”

Ryuji smiled and hugged Akira back, turning his head just enough to press a kiss to Akira’s temple. “I love you too, and I’m glad you like it.”

“Of course I do, you made it for me,” Akira replied, nuzzling against him with a smile. “Seriously, I can’t thank you enough. This has been the best birthday I’ve ever had in my entire life.”

“For now, at least. Just wait until next year; I’m sure we’ll all find a way to top this year’s birthday,” Ryuji replied with a grin, prompting a soft laugh from Akira as he gently pushed Ryuji down on the bed so they could lie down together.

Despite all the uncertainties that the future held, and despite all the fears and worries he had about what would happen, Akira’s smile was genuine as he allowed himself to imagine even more birthdays like this one, filled with joy and laughter and the love and support of his friends.

“I’m looking forward to it already.”