Akira loved Ryuji.
That was as simple of a fact as the sky being blue and the grass being green: no matter how many timelines Akira lived through, no matter how many times Akira watched Ryuji fall for other people, no matter how many other people Akira tried to date to distract himself from the futility of everything, no matter how many times Akira watched the life drain from Ryuji’s eyes in the wake of cruel, traumatic events--he still found himself drawn to Ryuji, his heart thudding painfully in his chest from even the smallest of smiles directed his way, his chest constricting in agony each time he had to pull away from the casual, affectionate touches that Ryuji gave so freely.
Ryuji was warmth and light given physical form, and though Akira knew he needed to keep his distance to avoid the inevitable heartbreak--Ryuji rejecting him, Ryuji dying, or even worse, the impossible probability of Ryuji accepting and returning his feelings only for the timeline to reset on him once more--it was as if he was a moth drawn to a flame, knowing fully well that he would get burned if he went too close yet unable to stop himself regardless.
How could anyone possibly cut the person they love completely out of their life? Akira found it hard enough just keeping him at arm’s length.
Each reset he told himself that he would stay away from Ryuji for Ryuji’s own sake--and sometimes he managed to show enough restraint to not interact with Ryuji at all, no matter how badly it hurt. Other times he managed to keep their interactions to a bare minimum, and somehow that hurt even more.
It was so cold without the warmth of Ryuji’s friendly affections.
It was so dark without Ryuji’s smile lighting up the room.
It was so hard to be selfless, when all Akira wanted was to be by Ryuji’s side.
Yet he knew that in exchange for being selfish, Ryuji’s life would most likely become forfeit: either in Shido’s Palace, or--the few times they managed to avoid Shido’s Palace collapsing--in the Velvet Room, trapped in a prison cell completely unresponsive to Akira’s desperate attempts to bring the light back to his eyes.
Either way, it seemed that fate was determined to keep Akira’s light, his heart, his hope, his everything just out of his reach.
What, then, was he even still fighting for?
What was the point of continuing to try and see these timelines through to the end? What was he getting out of it?
His perfect timeline--or at least, as perfect as the universe would apparently allow--had already come and gone the very first time he’d lived through this year, and no matter how hard he tried, he was never getting it back.
At this point, all he could ask for was a timeline where Ryuji remained alive and thought of him as a friend, and even those were slowly but surely dwindling away as Akira found it harder and harder to so much as be in his presence without the image of his broken, bloodied body and his blank, lifeless gaze haunting him.
Still, something inside him told him to keep trying--and so, with nothing else to do and nothing more to lose, he continued onward through the year.
And finally, something changed.
Akira would have loved to say that he knew from the very beginning that this would be the one , but he started it off like any other: merely acting on a whim, making a split-second decision to allow himself some time in Ryuji’s company as he followed the script that he’d gone through dozens upon dozens of times already.
It had been a few timelines since he’d followed the script to the letter. Might as well just let things run their course this time.
The awed look on Ryuji’s face as he summoned Arsene for the hundredth time (or to be more exact, the ninety-sixth time, given the few times he died before entering the Metaverse or chose to not enter at all--but really, who was counting) filled his heart with a warmth that he was quick to stifle, just as he was quick to turn his gaze away from Ryuji’s bright, grateful grin as they fled the cell together with Akira protecting him along the way.
Akira had grown so used to distancing himself that Ryuji’s presence alone was almost too bright for him to handle.
(A part of him loved it anyway, no matter how much it hurt, no matter how much the light of Ryuji’s smile blinded him, no matter how much the warmth of his trust burned him.)
He kept following the script, day after day, week after week, making small changes here and there on a whim--no one would care if he took care of a few targets in Mementos early out of boredom, no one would know that it was him that convinced Shiho to transfer schools early--until that one fateful day that Ryuji took everything he knew and turned it completely on its head.
Ryuji was a blaze of emotion--he always had been, but now more than ever Akira could feel it searing into him, burning down his walls faster than Akira could build them back up, until he was wrapped up in that warmth and light that he missed so badly, that he’d convinced himself for so long could never be his again.
Ryuji had taken him back home, listened with an open mind to everything Akira had to say about the timelines, helped him get the rest that he so desperately needed, provided him with the affection he’d been so starved for… and Akira found himself falling even harder for him than ever before.
Just as the sky was blue and the grass was green, it was a fact of life that Akira loved Ryuji with all his body, mind, heart, and soul--and now that he knew that Ryuji accepted his feelings with open arms, Akira was going to do everything in his power to make sure nothing and no one ever took his light away again.