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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.”

Chapter Text

Akira was no stranger to getting sick: unfortunately, it was impossible to not get sick at least once throughout the course of the year each time around, if not more.

Fortunately, however, he’d gotten good at hiding it whenever he started feeling himself get a bit under the weather--especially since he couldn’t risk letting anyone get too close, not while he was too worn down to keep his guard up and his memories straight.

Though he knew in the back of his mind that this timeline wasn’t like all the others, he still couldn’t help the reflexive need to hide his fever and exhaustion, brought about by overexertion and the beginnings of a summer cold. Waiting it out and letting it work itself out of his system was just a more practical option, if only because he didn't want to risk a visit with Takemi and have both her and Sojiro (and Morgana) breathing down his neck and confining him to his room for bedrest.

He didn’t have time to be confined to a bed. There was still way too much he needed to do in order to set this timeline on the right path: too many people to befriend and help, too many requests to fulfill in Mementos, too many preparations to make to get through the rest of the Palace--

Akira reflexively jerked backwards, his gaze unfocused, as he became aware of someone reaching out to touch his forehead, before wincing guiltily as he saw the worried expression on Ryuji’s face as he lowered his hand.

“I-- sorry, I was spacing out, I didn’t mean to…,” Akira trailed off, before forcing a weak smile. “I’m fine. Sorry, what were you saying?”

Ryuji frowned, and Akira immediately knew that he wasn’t buying it--and while Akira would normally feel happy that Ryuji could see through him like no one else could, right now he couldn’t afford to distract Ryuji and make him worry, not when there was so much that needed to be done.

“I was saying that you’re looking kinda flushed,” Ryuji said with a frown. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

Akira shrugged lightly. “It’s warm out, and I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m just a bit tired is all.”

Ryuji looked like he was going to argue, before reluctantly deciding to give in with a sigh.

“Alright, just… don’t push yourself, okay? I’m here to help you.”

Akira’s expression softened into a genuine, grateful smile. “I know.”

Ryuji knew that, for all Akira promised that he would be honest with him, there were certain things that he stubbornly continued to hide.

Like the fact that he was obviously coming down with a cold, and even more obviously denying that he was anything less than in perfect health.

Ryuji had backed off the first time he noticed Akira zoning out, but when he saw him stumbling towards their meetup spot with Morgana yelping and shouting at him to be careful, Ryuji knew he had to step forward and do something before Akira got any worse.

It didn’t take much to convince Morgana to hop out of Akira’s bag and wander off--one look shared between the two of them was enough to convince Morgana that Ryuji would be able to handle this on his own--which left Akira glancing between them with a confused expression, his face flushed even worse than last time and his eyes glassy as he obviously struggled to focus on what was going on.

“Akira,” Ryuji began with a frown, “dude, it doesn’t take a genius to see that you’re not feeling well. Why didn’t you just stay home?”

Akira faltered, caught off-guard, before glancing away guiltily. “I’m fine, really. It’s not that bad, and there’s more important things to focus on.”

Ryuji’s frown deepened as he took a step closer to Akira, this time reaching out more slowly to make sure Akira was aware of his action as he pressed a hand to his forehead, before immediately retracting his hand with a grimace.

“You’re burning up!” Ryuji forced himself to dial down his volume as he saw Akira wince, though his disapproving expression remained. “Dude, we are not going to Mementos today, not while you’re like this--and there’s no way I’m letting you stay in that dusty old attic while you’re sick either. C’mon, you’re gonna spend the night at my place; I’m pretty sure ma’s got some medicine you can take, and I can make you some soup or something to eat.”

Akira’s eyes widened slightly in a mixture of alarm and guilt. “Ryuji, I can’t-- I’m not going to impose like that; I’m fine.

Ryuji frowned, eyeing Akira for a moment--and just when Akira thought he was going to back down, Ryuji suddenly reached out and pulled him into a kiss that left him dazed and weak-kneed, his face even more flushed than before.

“You’re staying the night with me,” Ryuji repeated firmly, and Akira could do nothing but nod in response, his heart pounding in his chest.

Ryuji’s expression softened into a satisfied smile, and he took Akira’s hand in his own, hardly even caring about anyone watching as he half-led, half-dragged Akira along towards the train back to his apartment.

“R… Ryuji, wait, what about Sojiro, I can’t--”

“I’ll text Futaba and have her tell Boss for you.”

“... And Morgana, I have to find him and let him know--”

“Mona’s smart, he knows how to get back to LeBlanc on his own.”

Akira let out a weak sigh, leaning slightly against Ryuji’s side once they came to a stop at the train platform. “You’re not letting me get out of this, are you?”

“Nope.” Ryuji smiled, lightly squeezing Akira’s hand and enjoying the way Akira’s blush darkened in response. “What kind’a boyfriend would I be if I didn’t look after you when you’re not feeling well?”

Akira swore he physically felt his heart skip a beat at the reminder that Ryuji was his boyfriend , that he wanted to look after him and help him even if Akira was perfectly capable of nursing himself back to health.

He ducked his head in embarrassment, a small smile on his face as he allowed some of the tension to gradually ease out of his body.

Akira knew he shouldn’t let his guard down, he shouldn’t let anyone get too close while he was in such a vulnerable state--but if it was Ryuji… well, Ryuji was always an exception.

By the time they made it off the train, Akira appeared to be in even worse shape than he was before--though Ryuji quickly realized it wasn’t that Akira had gotten worse, but that he just wasn’t bothering to hide how bad he really was anymore: stiff posture slackened in exhaustion, small gasps and hitches in his breath had turned to full-blown coughs, and he’d apparently given up on navigating entirely in favor of blindly letting Ryuji lead the way, his eyes only open enough to keep Ryuji in view as he held his hand and trailed a step or two behind him.

“Almost there,” Ryuji reassured him, giving his hand a squeeze when Akira fell into another small coughing fit followed by a miserable groan.

“ ‘m fine,” he mumbled, before bumping into Ryuji when he suddenly came to a stop and blinking in confusion. “ ‘yuji?”

Ryuji frowned as he turned to face him. “Akira… y’ know it’s alright for you to not be fine… right?”

Akira blinked slowly, his expression confused. “... ‘s not, though. I’m the leader, I--” He cut off with a cough, grimacing and swaying slightly as he gripped his head, trying to force his mind to clear up enough to focus. “I’ve gotta be fine. Don’t got time to be not fine. Too much to do, gotta… prepare for the Palace, and stuff.”

Ryuji’s frown deepened. “And which Palace are we going through now?”

“We, uh… Kaneshiro? No, Futaba-- wait….”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Ryuji sighed quietly before pulling Akira into a hug and kissing the top of his head. “Dude, you need rest--and more important, you need to let yourself not be fine. That’s what I’m here for, to help you out when things get to be too much. Okay?”

Akira took a soft, shuddering breath as he buried his flushed face against Ryuji’s blessedly cooler skin, nodding and closing his eyes as he felt them begin to burn with unshed tears.

“Good.” Ryuji smiled softly, pressing a kiss to Akira’s temple before pulling away. “C’mon, just a bit more and we’ll be at my place.”

“You shouldn’t be getting so close,” Akira protested weakly, as if he hadn’t been glued to Ryuji’s side and on the receiving end of Ryuji’s kisses the entire way to Ryuji’s apartment. “You’ll get sick.”

Ryuji rolled his eyes. “You really think I care? As long as I’m helping you, it’s worth it.”

The flushed color already filling Akira’s cheeks darkened in embarrassment, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips even as he moved a hand to dry the corners of his eyes, and he murmured a quiet “thank you” before taking Ryuji’s hand once more, letting him lead the rest of the way to the apartment.

Once inside, Ryuji wasted no time in guiding Akira to his bedroom and sitting him down on the bed before going and digging through his drawers.

“Here,” he said, taking out a pair of pajamas and setting them down on Akira’s lap. “Get changed and make yourself comfortable. I let Futaba know you’ll be sleeping here already, so you’re all set.”

Akira blushed as he glanced between Ryuji and the pajamas as he picked them up off his lap. “You… want me to wear your clothes?”

“Dude, I’ve borrowed your clothes like a million times, what’s the big deal?” One look at the smile on Akira’s face had Ryuji rolling his eyes again in fond amusement. “You get so happy over the weirdest things, I swear,” he teased lightly, leaning forward to kiss Akira’s forehead and feeling his heart swell as Akira’s smile widened in response. “I’m gonna go grab you some medicine real quick; I’ll be right back.”

Akira couldn’t help but make a face at the mention of medicine, prompting laughter from Ryuji as he straightened up.

“Don’t give me that look, man. I know it sucks, but if you wanna get better quick then just deal with it and take the medicine.”

Akira let out a dramatic groan that turned into a cough halfway through, and he plopped himself backwards on the bed, Ryuji’s pajamas still in his arms. “ Fine , but you’re lucky I love you.”

Shaking his head in amusement, Ryuji left the room, and Akira took that opportunity to pull off his clothes and put on Ryuji’s pajamas, a giddy smile on his face as he pulled up the shirt a bit and pressed his face into it before letting out a soft, content sigh.

The pajamas smelled like Ryuji, the bed smelled like Ryuji… Akira couldn’t bring himself to care how weird it was to be getting so giddy over being surrounded by a smell of all things--it was warm, and comforting, and the fuzzy, feverish parts of his mind that were having trouble keeping his memories straight were soothed by the concrete reminder of when and where he was.

Everything about Ryuji was his anchor, and god Akira adored him for it.

By the time Ryuji returned to the bedroom, pills in one hand and a glass of water in the other, Akira had shifted to lie down under the covers with his flushed face buried in Ryuji’s pillow.

“You still awake?” Ryuji checked, receiving a grunt in response followed by a cough. “Gonna take that as a yes. C’mon, sit up a bit so you can take the medicine, and then you can sleep.”

Akira groaned as he reluctantly pushed himself up, his gaze hazy, and he blindly took the pills from Ryuji, popping them both into his mouth before downing them with the water that Ryuji pushed into his hand.

“Good.” Ryuji took the glass from Akira, his expression sympathetic as he watched Akira plop himself back down, and he reached out to run his free hand through Akira’s hair. “I’m gonna make you some soup, okay? Just get some sleep in the meanwhile.”

Akira leaned into the touch with a soft noise, his eyes drifting closed, and Ryuji was about to move away when Akira’s hand blindly reached out for him with a displeased whine.

Smiling softly, Ryuji took Akira’s hand in his own, giving it a gentle squeeze and feeling his smile widen as he watched Akira’s expression relax slightly in response.

Sleep , you dork,” Ryuji murmured affectionately, kissing Akira’s flushed forehead. “I’m not leaving you, I promise.”

That seemed to be the right thing to say, as the last bit of tension immediately drained from Akira’s body, a smile returning to Akira’s face as he drifted off to sleep.

Akira was forcefully jerked out of his dreamless sleep by a sudden coughing fit, and immediately he was hit with a wave of disorientation strong enough to nearly make him throw up.

Different (familiar?) clothes. Different (familiar?) bed. Different (familiar?) room.

Alone . (Wasn’t someone supposed to be here? Wasn’t he always alone?)

He was flushed, sweating, his thoughts muddled and his head pounding, his chest feeling tight--

Was his head pounding because of the cough? Was he having trouble breathing because of the panic that was beginning to rush through him? Maybe it was a combination of the two: a cycle of one thing feeding into the other and making everything unbearably worse, his mind unable to focus with the fever and medicine both filling his head with cotton and the inability to take a proper breath making him feel even more lightheaded.

He was hardly even aware of someone else rushing into the room, so when he felt hands coming to rest on his shoulders, he reflexively jerked away before his mind managed to distantly process that the person in front of him was familiar.

Ryuji--right, it was Ryuji; Ryuji had seen that he hadn’t been feeling well, so he’d….

Forced him to go home? No, this wasn’t LeBlanc, this was somewhere else; but where…?

And why was Ryuji here with him, anyway? He shouldn’t be burdening Ryuji like this; he should be taking care of himself; it was his own fault that he got sick in the first place; he--

Akira blinked slowly, confused when Ryuji suddenly pulled him into a hug, though he couldn’t help but shiver and relax slightly as Ryuji rubbed his back, his breathing gradually steadying as he listened to Ryuji’s voice murmuring reassurances.

Ryuji had such a nice voice, especially when he kept his volume down--it was soothing, almost hypnotic to listen to. He was pretty sure Ryuji could read him the phone book and he’d be completely entranced the entire way through.

Or maybe that was just Akira’s feverish, lovestruck brain talking.

Regardless, both Ryuji’s voice and his touch were something to latch onto, melting away his panic until only the slightest hints of confusion remained--confusion that was quickly ebbed when Ryuji pulled back enough to press his lips against Akira’s.

Oh, right. Good timeline. Boyfriends. That cleared that up, at least.

“You good?” Ryuji questioned softly, his expression concerned as he watched Akira carefully for any more signs of panicking or disorientation. “I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t’ve left the room; I just wasn’t expecting you to wake up so soon.”

“... ‘m okay, head just hurts,” Akira mumbled, his gaze unfocused. “Sorry.”

Ryuji gently eased Akira back down on the bed. “You don’t have to apologize. Just close your eyes ‘n’ relax, okay?”

Akira did as told, his eyes drifting closed, and he let out a quiet, shuddering sigh as he suddenly felt cool fingers against his flushed skin, massaging the tension from his temples and gradually easing the pounding in his head.

“There you go, just like that…,” Ryuji murmured, pressing a light kiss to Akira’s forehead before pulling back slightly with a worried expression as he saw tears beginning to trail down Akira’s face. “Shit, I’m sorry, I-- was I hurting you? Should I stop?”

Akira shook his head with a soft whimper, hardly even caring how the motion made his headache worse. “Please… please don’t stop….”

Ryuji’s heart clenched in realization: Akira had probably gotten so used to keeping everyone at arm’s length that he hadn’t even had anyone to do something as simple as take care of him whenever he’d gotten sick in any of the other timelines.

And knowing just how hard of a time Akira had keeping his memories from overwhelming him on a normal day, let alone while his body was run down and his mind was feverish….

Ryuji leaned forward, knowing fully well that he’d probably end up catching whatever cold Akira had as he pressed a kiss to his lips for the umpteenth time today--but he couldn’t bring himself to care, not when Akira needed this.

Not when Akira needed him .

Akira let out a soft, muffled noise as he weakly leaned into the kiss, his tears falling in earnest as he felt Ryuji’s fingers continuing to massage his pounding head until all his mind could focus on was his touches and kisses.

When Ryuji pulled back to take a breath, he was relieved to see that Akira looked much more relaxed than before, and he wiped away Akira’s tears before pressing another kiss to his forehead. “Better now?”

Akira kept his eyes closed as he nodded, leaning into the hand that continued resting against the side of his face.

“Thank you,” Akira murmured, his voice rough from his fitful sleep and his earlier coughing fits. “Sorry. ‘m fine now, promise. Just forgot where I was for a bit; couldn’t think straight.”

“D’you remember where you are now, though?” Ryuji asked.

Akira hesitated before shaking his head. “Doesn’t matter. I’m with you, that’s all I need to know.”

“I brought you to my place after we met up,” Ryuji explained, moving his hand to run through Akira’s hair and smiling as he leaned into the touch. “Gave you some clothes to change into and some medicine to take, and I was making you some soup when I heard-- shit the soup!

Akira opened his eyes, blinking blearily as Ryuji suddenly jumped up and rushed out of the room, and it took him a bit longer than normal to process what just happened--but once he did, he grimaced in guilt.

“I’ll buy you another pot if yours got ruined,” Akira offered weakly once Ryuji returned to the room with a bowl and spoon in hand, his face flushed in shame. “I didn’t mean to distract you, I’m sorry.”

Ryuji couldn’t help but laugh as he made his way back over to the bed and pressed a kiss to Akira’s cheek, carefully setting the bowl down on his lap as he sat on the edge of the bed. “Dude, relax, it’s fine. I had the flame on low anyway, thankfully.”

Akira eyed Ryuji warily, making sure that he wasn’t actually upset or angry with him before allowing himself to relax a bit. “If you’re sure.”

“I am.” Ryuji carefully balanced the bowl on his lap as he took a spoonful of the soup and lifted it to Akira’s mouth. “Now open.”

Akira considered protesting that he could feed himself, but… honestly, if Ryuji was offering to take care of him like this, as guilty as he felt for taking advantage of his kindness, he couldn’t stop himself from wanting to indulge at least a little bit.

Just one night couldn’t hurt, right? After all, if Ryuji was really opposed, he wouldn’t be going out of his way like this in the first place (or at least Akira hoped so).

Akira blew on the soup to cool it before letting Ryuji feed him, humming in contentment as the warm liquid soothed his aching throat.

“Is it alright? I mean, I just made the boxed stuff since I don’t really know how to make it from scratch like my ma, but if it’s no good I can try ‘n’ manage something else or maybe order something--”

“Ryuji.” Akira gently cut him off and gave him a smile. “It’s perfect, thank you.”

Ryuji’s expression relaxed into a sheepish smile. “Alright, if you’re sure.”

He lifted another spoonful of the soup to Akira’s lips, pleased that Akira was letting him take care of him without a fuss, and before they both knew it half the bowl was emptied and Akira’s eyelids were drooping once more.

“You full?” Ryuji checked, his expression softening as Akira nodded, his yawn fading into a light cough. “Alright, I’m gonna bring this inside ‘n’ clean up a bit, and then I’ll be back. You should get some sleep.”

Akira shook his head. “ ‘m not tired.”

Ryuji rolled his eyes in fond amusement. “Course you’re not.” He kissed Akira’s forehead before standing up with the bowl in his hands. “Be right back.”


Akira watched Ryuji leave the room, his eyelids feeling heavy--but he couldn’t sleep, not yet, even if Ryuji said he would be right back.

(He didn’t want to sleep without Ryuji here; he was scared that he’d lose himself again and forget where he was, forget when he was, forget that he was safe--)

Ryuji returned to the room a few minutes later to find Akira’s head bobbing as he obviously struggled to stay awake, and his expression immediately fell in concern as he moved over to the bedside.

“Akira, dude, I told ya you should go to sleep,” he reprimanded gently, sitting at the edge of the bed and running his hand through Akira’s hair. “You didn’t have to wait for me to get back.”

Akira shook his head and leaned into the touch with a soft noise. “Need you here.”

Ryuji’s concerned expression softened as he shifted to lie down next to Akira, pulling him against his chest and pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “Well I’m here now, and I’m not going nowhere.”

“Good,” Akira mumbled, burying his face against Ryuji’s chest with a content sigh, and he felt himself beginning to drift off as soon as Ryuji’s fingers resumed their motions against his head. “Mmh… ‘yuji…?”

Ryuji pressed another light kiss to the top of Akira’s head as he looked down at him. “Yeah?”

“Love you.” Akira nuzzled against Ryuji’s chest with a smile. “Thank you.”

Ryuji blushed lightly, his own smile widening in response. “You don’t gotta thank me. Just get some rest, and hopefully you’ll feel good as new in the morning.”

Akira nodded and relaxed against Ryuji with a soft sigh, the last of his restraint slipping away as he allowed himself to drift off into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.

Good news: Just as Ryuji had hoped, Akira was almost completely recovered, the medicine combined with a proper full night’s rest doing wonders for his worn-down body and helping to break his fever, leaving him with only a small cough.

As for the bad news, well….

Akira smiled weakly, his expression a mixture of sympathy and amusement as he rubbed Ryuji’s back, listening as his boyfriend let out a miserable groan.

“I told you you’d get sick if you kept kissing me like that,” Akira pointed out.

Ryuji huffed, ignoring the way the room seemed to swim around him as he shot Akira a grin. “Still worth it.”

With the way Akira blushed in response, his expression completely lovestruck and filled with so much gratitude as he looked at Ryuji, he could safely say that it really was worth it.

Chapter Text

Ryuji and thinking were never a good combination on a good day, let alone after the past day and a half. 

After splitting up immediately after getting crepes with Ann--since Ryuji hadn’t let his mother know he wouldn’t be going home the previous night, and had to go straight home today to make it up to her (which Akira apologized profusely for, though Ryuji assured him that it wasn’t his fault)--Ryuji had nothing else to do for the night without Akira around except to lay in bed and let everything sink in.

How was he supposed to act around Akira now? Would Akira expect him to be more physically affectionate with him all the time? Granted, he’d acted pretty normal around Ann and Morgana, but… honestly, this was all so new to Ryuji that he wasn’t even sure what normal was anymore.

Yet to his surprise the next day at school, Akira had continued acting like his usual self, as if none of the hugging and kissing and confessions had happened, and it made it that much easier to just fall back into old routines of laughing and joking around like all the talk about time loops had been just one long dream.

(In the back of his mind, Ryuji couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit disappointed--though about what, he wasn’t entirely sure, so it was much easier to just ignore the feeling and carry on as usual instead of trying to bring it up.)

It was only when the two of them made their way up to the roof together for lunch after grabbing some food from the school's convenience store, Ann staying behind in the classroom to work on a group project with some classmates and Morgana wandering off on his own to stretch his legs, that Ryuji began to see hints of cracks in the mask that Akira carefully kept on while in public: the exhaustion in his posture as they sat down and leaned back against the wall, the way he sat just a bit closer to Ryuji than normal….

It took Ryuji a moment to push past his own embarrassment, but once he did, he scooted closer to Akira with a light blush on his face and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, grinning as Akira’s eyes widened behind his glasses and his face immediately flooded with color.

“No one comes up to the roof, it’s fine,” Ryuji said, both to reassure Akira and to reassure himself, and he used his free hand to take out his yakisoba bread as he ate it while keeping Akira held close to him.

Akira tentatively leaned against Ryuji’s side, the tension gradually draining from his frame as he let out a soft, content sigh, and he took out his own bread with a small smile on his face as he began to eat.

Ryuji felt a burst of pride as he saw the clear happiness in Akira’s face, a far cry from his usual polite, impassive expression-- he was making Akira happy, he was making Akira relax, he was the one Akira trusted to let his guard down around….

It was still so hard to wrap his mind around, but damn did it make him feel like he was on top of the world.

He pulled Akira a bit closer, and Akira made a soft noise of contentment as he leaned against Ryuji further in return, nuzzling against him and nearly forgetting entirely about his lunch.

God, he was so cute --he’d never thought guys could be cute, he’d never thought Akira could be cute, but there was no other word that could properly express Akira’s flushed face, his happy smile, the way he curled himself up against Ryuji’s side… it was all so adorable that Ryuji couldn’t help but set his lunch aside in favor of pressing a kiss to Akira’s lips, thoroughly enjoying the muffled, surprised noise that Akira let out in response before melting into it.

By the time Ryuji pulled back, Akira’s gaze was completely unfocused, a small, dazed smile on his lips as he murmured Ryuji’s name reverently.

Ryuji blushed heavily and grinned, already feeling near-addicted to the knowledge that he was the only who had the privilege of seeing Akira like this, of making Akira like this.

He took Akira’s bread from his slackened grip and held it up to Akira’s lips, just barely stopping himself from laughing as Akira took a bite of the bread without a fuss.

(At least now he could say he got payback for Akira embarrassing him with the curry--though really, with how blissful Akira looked as Ryuji fed him, he wasn’t exactly sure how much of this was really payback and how much of it was just continuing to spoil Akira like he deserved.)

Ryuji had no idea what he’d been so worried about--they could easily continue acting like their usual selves in front of everyone, and when it was just the two of them, it felt almost as natural as breathing to switch to being affectionate, which Akira seemed to appreciate immensely if his cuddling up against Ryuji while letting Ryuji feed him was anything to go by.

Everything was going to be fine. Ryuji could more than handle it.

Helping Akira was worth dealing with all the awkwardness and all the embarrassment in the world and more.

Akira had grown so used to Ryuji being out of his reach that it was simple to fall back into the same old dynamics that he had with him in the presence of the rest of their friends, to the point where the past day and previous night felt like one long, pleasant dream.

It was only when Ryuji suddenly swung an arm around him and pulled him close, the two of them sitting on the school roof during lunch, that Akira suddenly remembered--his eyes wide with startled shock and a heavy blush heating up his face as his heart pounded in his chest--that Ryuji wasn't so out of his reach anymore.

Not only was he within Akira's reach, but he was willingly taking the first step despite his own clear embarrassment--holding him close, assuring him that this was okay, acting like all of this was perfectly normal....

Akira couldn't help but let out a soft, content sigh as he smiled to himself, gradually allowing himself to relax against Ryuji's side. He picked up his bread and unwrapped it before beginning to take small, absentminded bites, his mind more focused on soaking up every last second of his closeness to Ryuji than on filling his stomach--despite Ryuji's assurance that he would find a way to break Akira free from the time loop, he couldn't help the doubts that continued to float around in the back of his mind, making him all the more desperate to commit every last second of this perfect timeline to memory in case he never got to experience it again.

He was pulled from his thoughts by the feeling of Ryuji pulling him even closer, his heart speeding up as he nuzzled against Ryuji in return with a soft, content noise. He could feel his mind going hazy and quiet for the first time in decades, just from the sheer bliss of finally being held in Ryuji's arms--

And suddenly Ryuji's lips were pressing against his own in a kiss that left him breathless and dazed.

" Ryuji ...."

Akira was hardly even aware of Ryuji's name slipping out, his tone as reverent as his gaze as he looked up at his savior, the love of his life--

Ryuji suddenly took the bread that Akira had honestly forgotten he'd been holding in the first place, and Akira was more than happy to open his mouth and take a bite as Ryuji held it up to him, feeling as if he'd finally died and been granted passage into heaven after being trapped in a living hell for so long.

Akira remained curled up against Ryuji's chest, obediently opening his mouth to continue eating the bread until there was none left and letting out a soft, content noise as Ryuji's lips moved to press against his own once more. The fingers that moved to run through his hair sapped any remaining tension from his body, leaving him to rest limply against Ryuji's chest in dazed bliss as his heart continued its attempts to fly out of his chest.

"You good?"

The sudden breath near his ear caused a shiver to run down his spine, his face flushing even more as he hid against Ryuji's chest and nodded, feeling almost overwhelmed with love and a happiness that he hadn't felt for decades.

He felt like he was on cloud nine, his mind (peaceful, calm, quiet ) drifting in and out of consciousness as he soaked up the gentle affection and the feeling of safety that came with being held in Ryuji's arms, where all the horrible memories and all the dangers ahead of them couldn't reach him.

Akira didn't even realize that he'd dozed off until he distantly felt Ryuji's lips on his own, gently pulling him from his sleep in a way that--for a brief, heart-clenching moment--made him feel as if he were back in the very first timeline, and everything had just been one long, painful nightmare.

Yet when Akira opened his eyes, he found himself not in his bedroom, but on the roof of his school--and Ryuji's gaze, while caring, didn't quite match the gaze that he'd carried with him in his heart, memories of Ryuji looking at him with unmistakable love and affection.

The small sting to his heart was easily overpowered by the gentle feeling of Ryuji's fingers running through his hair and the soft, sheepish smile on Ryuji's face as he pulled back to speak to him.

"Sorry--I would've let you keep sleeping, but the bell's gonna ring soon, and I figured I'd try 'n' wake you up now so you'd have a few minutes to straighten yourself out first."

Akira's expression softened in gratitude as he gave Ryuji a quick kiss on the cheek. "Thank you," he murmured, enjoying the sight of Ryuji's face heating up in response to the small gesture as he reluctantly pulled back and forced himself to focus on snapping out of his relaxed daze.

He might not have what he had with Ryuji in the first timeline anymore, and maybe he never would--but as long as Ryuji was willing to indulge him like this, chasing away all the stress and anxiety and bad thoughts with each affectionate gesture, that's all Akira could ever ask for.

Chapter Text

Akira thought that the worst pain had already passed: waking up a year in the past, Ryuji looking at him like a stranger, getting killed, waking up in the past again , trying to tell Ryuji everything to jog his memory, Ryuji backing away from him before running off--

Ryuji’s disappearance. Knowing what happened, knowing where Ryuji had ended up all by himself, knowing he hadn’t been there to protect him….

His dagger hadn’t been quick nor painless, but honestly, he deserved to suffer just as much as Ryuji had no doubt suffered all by himself by Shadow Kamoshida’s hand.

And now, here he was, watching as Ryuji approached yet again--as Ryuji looked at him like a stranger yet again--and all Akira could do was force himself to play along even as he felt his heart constricting in his chest.

He was careful, this time, to try and follow the first year as best as he could remember, out of fear of doing something or saying something that would accidentally get Ryuji (or any of his friends) killed. Yet even still, there were differences here and there that Akira supposed were unavoidable.

The biggest of which was Ryuji.

He was still Akira’s best friend, thankfully, but it felt like there was a wall between them that had never been there--and it was with a mixture of guilt and dread that Akira realized that he himself had been the one to put it there from the very beginning.

How could he possibly let his guard down with Ryuji like he used to when the memory of Ryuji looking at him like he was crazy and running away was still so fresh in his mind? What if he drove Ryuji away again by saying too much, or even just being too familiar with him?

So even if it hurt, he knew it was for the best to keep Ryuji--and all of his friends--at arm’s length. Maybe once this horrible year was finally over for good, then he would tell them everything, and maybe he would even work up the nerve to confess his feelings to Ryuji once more.

He just had to survive the next few months. Sure, they would be the hardest, most dangerous, most physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing months of his entire life, but… hey, if he did it once, then he could do it again--and this time, he could even fix some of the mistakes he’d made the first time around! Everything would be even better than it was before, and all of Akira’s struggling and inner turmoil would be worth it in the end when he could finally--

“Hey, so, uh… I think-- I think I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna ask Ann out.”

In an instant, Akira felt his entire world shatter.

By some miracle, he managed to keep his expression neutral as he watched Ryuji nervously fidgeting, clearly looking to his best friend for support as he continued rambling in the wake of Akira’s silence.

“I know, I know, she’s way out of my league, and I’d be lucky if she even takes me seriously, but like-- I don’t think I’ve ever clicked with anyone faster, y’know?”

Like a knife, Ryuji’s words pierced straight through his heart--

“And I know we argue a lot, but sometimes… I dunno, I catch her looking at me, and… ugh, I’m gonna feel like such an ass if I’m wrong about this.”

--cutting deeper--

“But I just-- I just feel like she’s the one , y’know?”

--and deeper--

“I can’t picture myself with anyone but her.”

--until there was nothing left inside his chest but broken shards of what had once been, and what Akira was beginning to realize would never be.

He’d deluded himself into thinking that everything would work out just fine if he could make it through this year, that all he would need to do was tell Ryuji he loved him and they would somehow magically regain what they’d lost--but that was never true, nor would it ever be.

His Ryuji was gone, and this Ryuji would never be his.

No matter how close they got, no matter how badly Akira wanted to reach out--to close the small distance between them, mere inches that may as well have been miles--he knew that he could never be with Ryuji the way he wanted to be. Honestly, part of him had known that from the beginning, from the very moment Ryuji looked at him without a single trace of warmth or recognition.

Akira forced a smile, just barely passable enough to not raise any concerns. “I’m sure you two will be great together.”

He wished he could say that knowing Ryuji wasn’t interested in him beyond friendship would make it easier for him to let go of his feelings and move on--yet as he saw Ryuji’s bright, hopeful grin and flushed face, he knew it was a lost cause.

It was impossible for him to not be hopelessly in love with his best friend. Even now--when he wanted nothing more than to find somewhere to hide so he could scream and cry and curse the world for taking away what was once his--his fractured heart still swelled simply from the sight of Ryuji’s sweet smile being directed at him.

So he continued to stay by Ryuji’s side, continued to support Ryuji and encourage him as his relationship with Ann grew serious, all while pathetically clinging to whatever scraps of affection Ryuji threw his way as his time with Akira was gradually traded with spending time with his girlfriend.

Which was normal, Akira tried to remind himself. They had limited free time as it was, and it was completely normal for Ryuji to turn down his requests to hang out because he already had plans to go out with Ann.

He’d done the same thing with his friends back when he was dating Ryuji, after all. He couldn’t fault Ryuji for wanting private time with someone that he had feelings for.

Even if that someone wasn’t him anymore.

(Even if that someone had never been him to begin with--not in this timeline, at least.)

By the time the next timeline began, Akira had perfected his fake smile, and he justified stepping away from Ryuji’s friendly pat on the shoulder by explaining that he wasn’t comfortable with people touching him, which Ryuji--being the kindhearted person he was--completely respected as he kept his hands to himself.

Things would be easier this way. The further he pushed Ryuji away, the less it would hurt when he had to watch Ryuji fall in love with someone else over and over again.

After all, Ryuji was no longer his, and would never be.

All he could do was watch over him by his side, so close yet so far away.

Chapter Text

Akira watched as everyone quietly left the attic of LeBlanc, one and two at a time, until there was no one left but himself and Ryuji, who was still fast asleep in his arms.

Saying that last night had been exhausting was the understatement of the century: seeing Ryuji nearly die, thinking that he did die, his own breakdown as he mentally relived every last time he’d been in that very same position as he watched the love of his life sacrifice himself for them--

Akira shook his head slightly as he felt the memories beginning to creep up on him once more, pulling Ryuji closer and focusing on the sound of his breathing and the sight of his rising and falling chest to help calm himself down.

Ryuji was fine. Ryuji was alive. Everything was okay.

Akira let out a shuddering sigh and buried his face in Ryuji’s hair. He had to try and compose himself before Ryuji woke up--it was bad enough that he’d broken down so badly on Ryuji last night, when Ryuji was the one that had put his life on the line and nearly died; he couldn’t let Ryuji feel like he needed to be the one to comfort Akira again.

Ryuji had been doing nothing but supporting Akira for so many months now, without asking for anything in return. The least Akira could do was get his emotions under control and be the one to support Ryuji for a change.

As if sensing his struggle--which he probably did, knowing Ryuji and his sixth sense when it came to Akira--Ryuji’s eyes cracked open, a yawn slipping out as he blinked up at Akira blearily.

“Hey,” Akira greeted with a soft smile, kissing the top of his head. “Everyone already left. Why don’t we move to the bed?”


Despite the noise of agreement, Ryuji made no move to get up and instead nuzzled against Akira and closed his eyes once more, much to Akira’s amusement.

Not that he minded, of course.

Akira moved to slip one arm under Ryuji’s knees as he kept the other one behind Ryuji’s back, hefting him up and letting out a breathy laugh as Ryuji’s eyes shot open with a startled yelp.

“You weren’t moving, so I took matters into my own hands,” Akira teased as he carried Ryuji over to the bed, setting him down before smirking and adding, “Consider it payback for the times you’ve carried me.”

Ryuji rolled his eyes, his face flushing lightly in embarrassment. “You say that like you didn’t love every second of it.”

“True,” Akira admitted, his expression softening as he laid down next to Ryuji on the bed. “How could I not?”

Ryuji’s blush darkened, obviously not having expected the honest response, though he couldn’t help but return Akira’s soft smile with one of his own. “Good.”

He shifted closer to Akira, who wrapped his arms around him in turn and pulled him closer--and it was almost embarrassing how much of a relief it was to rest his head back against Akira, where he could hear Akira’s heartbeat and feel the steady rise and fall of his chest.

Still, Ryuji couldn’t let himself fall back asleep, not yet. Not when he could feel in his gut that something was wrong.

“Akira…,” Ryuji began hesitantly, keeping his face buried against Akira’s chest and his arms wrapped around Akira as he spoke, “I think… I think we should really talk about what happened. I know it’s still bothering you, and it’s still bothering me too.”

Akira tensed--a small, subtle motion that Ryuji might not have noticed had he not been pressed up against him--but before he could say anything, Ryuji continued to speak.

“I know you prolly don’t wanna talk about it, and honestly? I kinda don’t wanna talk about it either, but we can’t just pretend none of that happened.”

“There’s….” Akira swallowed thickly and pulled Ryuji closer to him. “There’s nothing to talk about. I’m sorry I reacted the way I did; it won’t happen again--”

“Akira, no, that’s not what I’m trying to do.” Ryuji squirmed in Akira’s tight hold, pushing himself up until he was properly face to face with Akira. “I ain’t blaming you or accusing you of nothing. I don’t even need an apology, really--I just wanna talk , so I can try ‘n’ get what was going on in your head. Why….” He paused, trailing off for a moment before forcing himself to continue. “Why’d you think to try and… hurt yourself, instead of looking for me?”

Akira squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, his voice hoarse with restrained emotion. “Ryuji… please, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to think about it--”


Akira whimpered and buried his face in the crook of Ryuji’s neck, all semblance of composure that he’d worked so hard to scrape together immediately crumbling away. “I can’t live without you,” he breathed out shakily. “I just-- I can’t, not anymore, not now ….”

Ryuji kissed the top of Akira’s head, moving a hand down to rub Akira’s back soothingly. “Shouldn’t that have been more of a reason for you to look for me?”

Akira shook his head. “I was scared,” he replied quietly. “If… if we found you, and you were… I just--” His breath hitched in a sob from the thought alone, a shudder running through his body as he pressed himself closer to Ryuji. “I didn’t want to see it. I couldn’t see you like that again, not you .”

Ryuji took a shaky breath, tears stinging his eyes even as he continued to reassuringly run his hand along Akira’s spine. He understood what Akira meant: out of any Ryuji in any timeline that Akira had to see die, having to see him dead… Ryuji knew without Akira having to say that it would have completely broken him beyond repair.

Suddenly, regardless of whether or not it was wrong of him to do so, Ryuji could at least understand why it had been so easy for Akira to give up.

“You trust me, right?” Ryuji asked, holding Akira’s gaze when Akira moved to look at him in alarm.

“Of course I do! Why--”

“If you trust me,” Ryuji cut him off, resting his forehead against Akira’s as he spoke, “then never do something like that again. No matter how scared you are, I need you to trust that I’m not gonna die on you no matter what--I’ll fight tooth ‘n’ nail to stay alive for you, so don’t you dare give up like that ever again. Got it?”

Akira’s eyes clouded over with fresh tears as he shakily gripped Ryuji. “You promise?”

“Course I do, without a doubt,” Ryuji replied firmly. “Do you?”

Akira nodded, his breath hitching and his eyes drifting shut as Ryuji pressed a kiss to his lips. The tension began to drain from his body as Ryuji continued peppering him with light kisses, the feeling of Ryuji’s hands moving up to dry his tears before gently cupping the sides of his face relaxing him even further until he could hardly even remember what he’d been so upset about in the first place.

He opened his eyes to find Ryuji smiling down at him and looking significantly more relaxed himself, as if just seeing Akira calm and content was enough to calm him as well. The thought made his heart swell, and he reached up without thinking to pull Ryuji down into another kiss, laughing lightly against his lips as Ryuji made a surprised noise before melting into the kiss just as easily as Akira had into his.

Even if he wasn’t as obvious about his need for comfort, Akira knew Ryuji arguably even better than Ryuji knew himself--and it was clear, as Akira shifted to gently push Ryuji down under him on the bed and kiss him again, that Ryuji was still shaken over his near-death experience despite his best efforts to hide it and focus on helping Akira.

“Akira--” Ryuji breathed out as soon as they broke the kiss, moving his hands to rest against Akira’s shoulders, “Akira, I’m fine, you don’t have to--”

Akira cut Ryuji off with another kiss, before pulling back to look down at him with a soft, understanding expression.

“It’s okay to not be fine, Ryuji--aren’t you the one that always tells me that?” He kissed Ryuji’s forehead before adding, “You’ve supported me for so long… let me support you for a change.”

Ryuji took a shaky breath, blinking away tears as he moved his arms up to wrap around Akira. “I… honestly, it freaked me the hell out, hearing all the ways I could’ve died--all the ways I did die, in other timelines,” he admitted, before adding, “I know it was prolly a hell of a lot worse for you though, having to see all that yourself, so… I’m just grateful. Even if it was just luck, I’m still alive and I’m not hurt or nothing, so there really ain’t no point in dwelling on what could’ve happened.”

Akira moved a hand to gently brush away the tears from the corners of Ryuji’s eyes. “I’m sorry for scaring you, and I can’t blame you for wanting to just put it all out of your head. None of you should ever have had to know the things I’ve seen.”

“I don’t regret it.” When Akira’s expression shifted to surprised confusion, Ryuji added, “The only thing more terrifying than hearing all of that was the thought of losing you to your memories. If having to listen to all of the horrible things you’ve experienced was what I needed to do to bring you back to me, then I’d do it a hundred times over.”

“Ryuji….” Akira pulled Ryuji close, hugging him tightly as his vision clouded over with tears once more. “Have I ever told you how much I love you?”

Ryuji chuckled as he hugged Akira back. “Once or twice, yeah,” he teased, before pressing a kiss to the top of Akira’s head. “I love you too.”

Akira nuzzled his face into the crook of Ryuji’s neck, smiling as Ryuji laughed in response. “I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve had enough serious discussions for one night. Can we just cuddle and kiss until we fall asleep?”

Ryuji grinned. “No arguments here,” he replied, pulling back enough to press a kiss to Akira’s lips.

Though they both knew that brushing the subject under the rug wasn’t the healthiest way of dealing with what had happened, they also knew that nothing more would come from talking about events that had only happened in another time, traumatizing as they may have been for Akira to see and for Ryuji to imagine.

For now, the best thing they could do was help each other move forward, lending their strength to one another and providing the comfort that they needed from each other with every last gentle touch and every last display of affection until they began to doze off in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

Ryuji let out a long groan as he plopped himself backwards onto the floor, his textbook covering his face.

“I give up. I’m never gonna pass. I’m doomed to fail.”

Akira rolled his eyes in fond amusement as he watched his boyfriend bemoaning his fate. “I think my dramatics are rubbing off on you,” he commented wryly.

“Prolly, but that’s not the point.” Ryuji forced himself back up and set his textbook aside with a frown. “I seriously can’t get none of this stuff to stick.”

“Ryuji, as much as I love you, it is at least partially your fault for waiting until the last minute to start studying for finals,” Akira replied with a touch of mirth in his tone. “Maybe you’d be having an easier time if you’d spent more time these past few months studying and less time playing video games with Futaba.”

Ryuji pouted. “Dude, who actually spends time studying when there’s no tests to take?”

Akira raised an eyebrow. “Makoto, Haru… even Yusuke takes time out to study, for the sake of his art if nothing else.” He hummed in thought for a moment before adding, “Actually, I think you and Ann are the only ones that I know that attend school and don’t regularly study. Or at least semi-regularly.”

“Ugh… okay, fine , maybe I brought this on myself.” Ryuji leaned towards Akira, fixing him with his best puppy-eyed stare as he asked, “Can’t you take pity on a guy and help me out?”

Akira pretended to think for a moment, before laughing as Ryuji leaned even closer until he was practically in Akira’s face. “Alright, alright. What parts do you need help with?”

Ryuji sat back with a victorious grin, before grabbing his textbook. “Lessee… I need help with… uhhh… everything from here”--he gestured to the cover of the textbook, before flipping it over and gesturing to the back cover--”to here.”

Akira let out a quiet snort of laughter as he shook his head. “This is going to be a long night, then.”

“Y’know,” Ryuji began, his grin turning slightly mischievous as he leaned against Akira’s side, “since there’s so much to cover, we could just… oh, I dunno, skip to the parts that are actually gonna be on the test?”

Akira shot Ryuji a flat look that was belied by the twitching in the corners of his lips. “Ryuji, I am not helping you cheat on the finals.”

“C’mooon, it’s not cheating , it’s just… studying all the important parts. That’ll just happen to be on the tests. Totally coincidentally.” When Akira continued to give him a flat stare, Ryuji let out a whine and leaned against Akira’s side even more, until Akira was nearly tipping over from the added weight. “It’s not fair! You know all the answers; you could totally just tell me like, even just half of them so I don’t gotta study, and we could have fun playing games and stuff instead of staring at boring textbooks all night.”

Akira rolled his eyes in amusement and reached up to run his fingers through Ryuji’s hair. “Trust me, I would love nothing more than to spend the night having fun, but I’m not willing to take any more risks this late in the year.”

“Dude, I really doubt you giving me a few answers is gonna ruin anything.” When Akira refused to budge, Ryuji finally relented with a disappointed sigh. “Fiiiine, fine, I’ll study.”

“I’m sorry.” Akira’s expression fell in genuine guilt. “If I knew for sure that it really wouldn’t change anything, I would give you all the answers in a heartbeat--but I just… I can’t know for sure, and it terrifies me to think of changing anything more than I already have, even something as little as this.”

Ryuji pressed a quick kiss to Akira’s lips before giving him a reassuring smile. “It’s fine, Akira, don’t worry. Sorry for acting like a brat, I just….” He trailed off, his lips turning downward into a light pout. “I just wanna have fun spending time with you before all that crazy shit goes down. Studying just feels like a total waste of time when we’re gonna be fighting a god in a few weeks, y’know?”

Akira’s expression relaxed as he laughed softly. “I understand what you mean, yeah. Exams do feel insignificant compared to something huge like that--but try telling that to any of our teachers.”

“Have you?” Ryuji asked curiously. “Tried telling that to our teachers, I mean.”

“Not exactly, but I have gotten bored and walked out of exams before,” Akira replied with a touch of wry amusement. “Though that was mainly when I started feeling like there was no point in putting any effort into anything, not when everything would reset regardless of what I did.”

Ryuji’s expression fell. “Akira….”

Akira kissed Ryuji’s cheek. “It’s fine, it’s all in the past. I know now that I was wrong for giving up, and I’ll never give up again--not when I know I have you and everyone else by my side.”

“Good.” Ryuji grinned and took Akira’s hand in his own, giving it a light squeeze before lacing their fingers together. “‘Cause I won’t let you even think about giving up.”

“And I won’t let you think about giving up on passing our final exams,” Akira replied, chuckling as Ryuji groaned. “Okay, how about this: let’s study for a little bit, and then we can take a break and play a round or two of whatever game you want--within reason,” he quickly added upon seeing the look on Ryuji’s face. “Not a game that’s going to take hours to play.”


Akira shook his head in fond amusement and pressed a quick kiss to Ryuji's lips before reluctantly pulling away from him so he could pick up Ryuji’s abandoned textbook.

He was firm in his stance about not giving Ryuji any answers or helping him cheat on their final exams despite having every last question memorized, and he appreciated that Ryuji understood and respected his decision enough to not push the issue beyond his playful griping--enough so that Akira figured it wouldn’t hurt to at least guide Ryuji onto the right path, focusing more on the subjects he knew were more prominent in their exams and less on the ones that weren’t.

It wasn’t necessarily cheating that way, right? It was just… acting as a very specific study guide for Ryuji. If Ryuji didn’t know exactly what was going to be on the test, and if he had to memorize all of the information and recall it himself, then everything would be fine.

Akira let out a rueful sigh, kissing Ryuji’s cheek when he glanced over at him inquisitively.

So much for being careful--not that he was surprised, really. At the end of the day, there was no way he could ever deny Ryuji anything.

Chapter Text

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 again.

And again.

And again--

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.

Chapter Text

The morning started off with one firm rule:

“You’re. Not. Paying. For. Nothing.”

Akira crossed his eyes to look at the finger emphatically poking his nose with each word, before trailing his gaze up to Ryuji’s determined expression.

“So that means I can pay for something?” Akira responded cheekily, laughing at the unamused stare he received in response. “Alright, alright, I won’t pay for anything, I promise.”

“Good.” Ryuji grinned, pleased that Akira had given in so easily. “Today’s about me spoiling you for a change, and I’m gonna go all-out--so you just sit back ‘n’ enjoy, and let me handle everything.”

Akira’s expression softened. “You really don’t have to, but… thank you. I’m looking forward to it already.”

“Course I do,” Ryuji replied, taking Akira’s hand and giving it a light squeeze. “You’re my boyfriend, and it’s Valentine’s Day. If there was any day for me to spoil you, it’s today, ‘specially after the… y’know. Rough month you had, ‘n’ stuff.”

Akira laughed weakly--”rough month” was an understatement, though he understood why Ryuji avoided saying anything more than that. No need to bring down the mood on what was supposed to be a happy, lighthearted day, after all.

“So, what’s the plan?” he asked, steering the conversation back on track.

Ryuji grinned. “You’re just gonna have to wait ‘n’ see,” he replied smugly, prompting a more genuine laugh from Akira.

“Fiiiine,” Akira replied with an overdramatic, drawn-out sigh as he moved to lean against Ryuji. “I guess I have no choice but to live in suspense.”

Ryuji rolled his eyes and gently tugged Akira along. “If you wanna know so bad, then let’s just head out already so you can see for yourself, you drama queen.”

With a smile, Akira let himself be led along to wherever Ryuji was planning on taking him--and despite his theatrics (and despite his stomach reflexively beginning to turn at the thought of not knowing what was going to happen, especially so soon after he’d managed to get his memories in order), he trusted Ryuji enough to follow him with no questions asked.

After all, Ryuji only ever had his best interest at heart, so if he was going through all of this effort to plan a day for them and to keep it a surprise from Akira, then Akira knew without a doubt that today would be a fun, memorable day for them both.

Akira let out an awed, almost giddy breath as he looked around in surprise.

“You managed to get tickets to come to Dome Town on Valentine’s Day? ” Akira asked incredulously, looking at the brightly-decorated park packed with other couples walking around.

Of course, it wasn’t like he’d never come to Dome Town before--he’d been there plenty of times in other timelines, with other people and sometimes even with Ryuji (as friends, always as friends, as Ryuji would pointedly complain about how he’d rather come to a place like this with a girl instead of with a guy that he just saw as a friend and nothing more, and let’s not think about that right now )--but coming here on Valentine’s Day was a first, if only because the park was always so crowded that he never thought it would be worth the effort when every other relationship he was in over the past hundred years was faked in a poor attempt to keep himself from falling to pieces.

Ryuji was the only one he would ever want to go to a place like this with on Valentine’s Day, and now here they were, and Ryuji had put this all together probably without even having the slightest idea.

God, Akira loved him so much.

“Heh. Surprised?” Ryuji grinned, clearly pleased as he puffed out his chest in smug pride. “I have my ways.”

Akira tried his best to stifle his laughter, clearly able to tell that Ryuji had been looking forward to using Akira’s own line against him--and even though Akira could make an educated guess that he’d gotten Haru’s help with securing two tickets for them, he decided to let Ryuji have his moment and not ruin his boyfriend’s fun.

“I’m impressed,” Akira replied, his smile softening as he gave Ryuji’s hand a light squeeze and added, “I’m glad I get to make another brand new first memory with you: my first Valentine’s Day at Dome Town.”

“For real?” Ryuji’s grin somehow managed to light up his face even more, and Akira found that he could stare at the sight all day long--it was like staring at sunlight in physical form, pure and bright and filled with so much warmth. “Man, then I’m really glad I decided on this!”

“I’m glad you did too.” Akira leaned over and pressed a kiss to Ryuji’s cheek, before continuing wryly, “We should really get moving before we spend all day in line, though.”

“Ah, crap, you’re right--c’mon, let’s hurry!”

Akira didn’t bother to stifle his laughter this time as Ryuji pulled him along, excitement clear in each step--and Akira in turn felt giddiness swelling up in him as he thought back to Ryuji’s slight self-consciousness on their very first date compared to now, where Ryuji felt comfortable enough to walk through crowds of couples hand-in-hand with him without even batting an eye.

The day had only just begun, yet it was already hands-down the best Valentine’s Day Akira had ever lived through.

Though they spent a bit more of the morning standing in line for rides than actually riding them, it was still a thrilling, enjoyable experience for them both--in fact, Akira would go so far as to say that he enjoyed standing in line even more than he enjoyed the rides, if only because he got to spend the entire time shamelessly cuddled up against Ryuji’s side as the two of them talked about everything and nothing.

Honestly, Akira would have been more than happy if that trip had been the entirety of their day, but apparently Ryuji still had more planned as he led him back on the train to their next stop: Inokashira Park.

“Figured it’d be nice to unwind for a bit ‘n’ go somewhere more quiet after all those crowds, even if it’s a bit cold out,” Ryuji explained, leading the way with obvious purpose towards a particular location in the park. “Glad it ain’t snowing, at least.”

Akira nodded in agreement, content to follow Ryuji, though he was admittedly curious where in the park his boyfriend was taking him.

He had a few guesses, but the last thing Akira expected was to follow Ryuji a bit deeper into the park only to find Ann sitting on a large blanket on the grass, with a picnic basket by her side.

Ann pulled her attention away from the phone in her hands, her lovestruck smile making it clear who she had been talking to--and said expression quickly fell into fond exasperation as she rose to her feet.

“It’s about time you two got here!”

“Sorry, sorry, we ended up heading out a bit later than I thought we would,” Ryuji apologized sheepishly. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“You’d better,” Ann threatened, though her statement was softened by the amused look on her face and the light tap to Ryuji’s chest with her knuckles. “Seriously though, I hope you two had a great time.”

“We did, thank you,” Akira replied, though he couldn’t quite hide his confusion as he glanced between the two of them.

Ryuji and Ann shared a glance before starting to laugh, causing Akira to flush lightly in embarrassment--he wasn’t used to being left so far out of the loop, and though he knew that he would have to get used to the feeling of not knowing everything now that the time loop was (hopefully) almost at an end for good, that didn’t mean he had to enjoy not knowing what was going on.

“Don’t worry, I’m not staying,” Ann assured Akira, giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Ryuji just asked me to save you guys a spot and bring the food over so he wouldn’t have to bring it with him to Dome Town.”

“... Oh.”

Akira ducked his head, trying in vain to hide both his embarrassment and his relief--not that he didn’t enjoy spending time with Ann, but he’d been looking forward to spending the entire day alone with Ryuji.

Ryuji snickered, swinging an arm around Akira’s shoulders and kissing his head. “You’re too cute, I swear.”

“Shut up,” Akira muttered, though he couldn’t stop his lips from twitching upward as he leaned into Ryuji’s one-armed embrace.

Ann rolled her eyes, a fondly amused smile on her face as she observed her two friends. “Alright, now that my job here is done, I’ll leave you two be--I have a video call to make and a beautiful girlfriend of my own to spend the day with~”

With that, Ann took her phone back out as she began to walk away, giving Akira and Ryuji a wave over her shoulder when they called out their goodbyes to her.

“I have to say, I genuinely wasn’t expecting any of that,” Akira said sheepishly once Ann was gone.

“I could tell,” Ryuji replied wryly, laughing as Akira shot him a look. “Hey, at least you’re getting better at handling unexpected stuff, right?”

Akira sighed ruefully as he followed Ryuji over to the picnic blanket, sitting down and immediately leaning against Ryuji’s side once he was seated as well. “I guess, but it’s still going to take some getting used to.” At Ryuji’s confused glance, he added, “Being out of the loop and not knowing everything, I mean.”

Ryuji’s smile died down slightly in concern. “Sorry, maybe I should’ve--”

Akira put a finger over Ryuji’s lips to silence him and gave him a reassuring look. “No, this was good. If I can get used to surprises and unexpected happenings through positive things like today, then hopefully I’ll be at least a bit better equipped to handle whatever less-than-pleasant surprises life throws at me in the future… if that makes any sense.”

“Yeah, I get’cha,” Ryuji replied after Akira moved his finger. “Like easing yourself into it, or building a tolerance for it, right?” As Akira nodded, Ryuji couldn’t help but add worriedly, “So… all this was fine, right?”

Akira took Ryuji’s hand in his own, lifting it to press a kiss to the back before replying with a smile, “I promise, everything is fine. I’m honestly looking forward to whatever other surprises you have in store for today.”

Ryuji relaxed, returning Akira’s smile with a sheepish smile of his own and giving his hand a light squeeze before letting go. “Glad to hear it, but… well, I honestly don’t got that much planned after this, so don’t get your hopes up too much.”

“Still, I can’t wait.”

Ryuji’s smile widened into a grin, pleased by the genuine excitement that he could see in Akira’s gaze, and he leaned over to press a kiss to Akira’s lips before pulling back and reaching out to grab the picnic basket so he could begin to unpack it.

Akira was both flattered and overjoyed to see the home-cooked food that Ryuji was taking out, the light blush coloring Ryuji’s cheeks making it clear who had prepared the food that was being set before him.

“My ma helped,” Ryuji began, avoiding Akira’s gaze out of embarrassment, “but… well, knowing you, I’m sure you already figured out that I, uh. Well, I tried making the food; not sure how good it actually came out, but my ma said it was good and I don’t think she was lying so--”

Akira cut Ryuji off with a kiss, before pulling back with a bright smile as he replied, “I’m sure it tastes delicious. I love it already.”

Ryuji huffed, though he couldn’t quite stop the corners of his lips from twitching upward. “You didn’t even taste the food yet, you sap. It could taste like shit for all you know.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’d love it and eat it all anyway, because you made it for me.”

Ryuji’s blush darkened as he paused in his motions, setting the container in his hands down so he could reach out to pull Akira into a kiss that Akira was more than happy to reciprocate.

“Thank you,” Ryuji murmured, before grinning and poking Akira’s sides as he added, “you dork.”

Akira laughed, squirming and batting Ryuji’s hands away before they both accidentally ended up knocking over the food. “I’m not just a dork, I’m your incredibly handsome, kind, loving, talented dork.”

Ryuji rolled his eyes and went back to emptying out the rest of the picnic basket. “Don’t forget modest,” he added wryly, grabbing two cans of soda out of the basket.

“Oh of course, how could I forget that?” Akira replied with a smirk, before yelping and jumping away as Ryuji suddenly shoved one of the cold cans under his jacket collar and against the back of his neck.

Ryuji grinned impishly. “That cool your ego down a bit?”

Akira huffed and rubbed the back of his neck to try and warm it back up. “I can’t believe this--betrayed, by my own beloved, on Valentine’s Day of all days.”

Ryuji let out an amused snort. “I’m sure you’ll live,” he replied dryly.

“No, I’m dying, I’ll never recover from this heartbreak,” Akira declared, dramatically flopping over onto Ryuji and grinning as Ryuji yelped and nearly lost his balance in response. “Only true love’s kiss will make the pain of betrayal fade away.”

“Drama queen,” Ryuji groused, though there was clear fondness in his expression as he shifted and wrapped his arms around Akira, pulling him closer and pressing a kiss to the back of Akira’s neck. “There, better?”

Akira blushed heavily and shivered, startled by the feeling of warm lips on his cold neck. “I-I, uh… I meant on the lips, but-- I mean, that’s-- that works too.”

Ryuji let out a quiet snort that grew into full-fledged laughter, his head leaning forward to rest against Akira’s shoulder as he hugged him closer--and Akira, despite his embarrassment, couldn’t help but join in on Ryuji’s laughter as he melted into Ryuji’s embrace.

After everything they’d been through, it felt so good to just relax and laugh freely, to play around and tease one another like they were just two normal teenagers in love.

(Akira knew that he, at least, would never be normal--but in moments like these, he could almost pretend that he was, and it was such a liberating feeling to be able to shed his fears and his trauma for just a few small moments in time.)

“Alright, c’mon, let’s start eating,” Ryuji said after their laughter died down. “I dunno about you, but I’m starved.”

Akira made a quiet hum of agreement, basking in the warmth of Ryuji’s embrace for a moment longer before reluctantly pulling away so he and Ryuji could begin opening the containers of food.

There was no need for plates as they merely shared the food straight out of the containers, picking a bit of this and that as they sat huddled side by side with Akira complimenting each and every dish that Ryuji had prepared for him.

As payback for embarrassing him with his extensive praise--or perhaps merely because he wanted to spoil Akira, or maybe it was just a combination of the two--Ryuji held some of his food up to Akira’s lips, thoroughly enjoying the blush that colored Akira’s cheeks even as he opened his mouth to let himself be fed without a fuss.

Akira let out a pleased sigh once they finished off the last of the food, leaning against Ryuji more heavily as his eyes drifted shut.

“You full?” Ryuji asked, slipping an arm around Akira so he could better rest against him.

“Mmhm.” Unwilling to move from his warm, comfortable position, Akira lifted his head just enough to press a light kiss to Ryuji’s throat as he murmured, “Everything was delicious, thank you.”

Ryuji blushed, the kiss briefly distracting him before he remembered what he wanted to say. “Think you’ve got room for dessert?”

“Hm?” Akira blinked, looking momentarily confused before realization set in. “You made me chocolate, too?”

“W-well, I mean, it is Valentine’s Day, so….” Ryuji smiled sheepishly. “I wasn’t gonna set all this up and not give you chocolates--I wanted to get you flowers too, but turns out roses are, uh… way more expensive than I realized.”

Akira laughed softly. “It’s alright, I appreciate the thought.” He shifted a bit so he was sitting back up, smiling excitedly. “So, chocolates?”

“Well, someone’s suddenly excited,” Ryuji teased lightly, reaching out to grab the picnic basket and rummaging around under the empty containers before pulling out a carefully-wrapped package.

Akira took the package as it was handed to him, looking like a kid on Christmas as he unwrapped it to reveal a large chocolate heart, decorated with a gorgeous replica of both Joker and Skull’s masks drawn in colored chocolate garnish.

“Oh….” Akira swore he felt his heart physically swelling as he stared at the homemade chocolate, before turning his gaze over to Ryuji.

Ryuji glanced away in embarrassment, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly as he said, “I, um… might’ve gotten Yusuke to help with the decorating, in exchange for all the botched chocolates I was gonna toss out. I was gonna just make plain chocolate, but… I know you really like all that sappy stuff, so… I figured you’d enjoy something a bit more personal--a-and I, uh… I know you’re not really a fan of super-sweet stuff so I used dark chocolate instead, not sure about the taste but I hope it came out alr--!!”

His rambling was cut off by a hand grabbing the front of his jacket and lips pressing against his own, and despite his blush darkening, Ryuji returned the kiss before pulling back to find--as he’d partially expected--tears welling up in Akira’s eyes and a wobbly smile on Akira’s face.

“God I love you so much,” Akira breathed out, moving to rest his head against Ryuji’s shoulder.

Ryuji chuckled softly, lifting a hand to run through Akira’s hair and smiling as he felt Akira immediately melt under the touch with a soft sigh. “I love you too, you sap,” he teased, pressing a light kiss to the top of Akira’s head before adding, “but seriously, I’m really glad you like it.”

“Of course I like it, you made it for me.”

Ryuji huffed and lightly tapped the top of Akira’s head with his knuckles. “Yeah, with Yusuke’s help.”

Akira laughed softly. “And you think that’s going to make me love it any less? The fact that you wanted it to be so perfect for me that you were willing to ask someone for help just makes me love it even more.”

“Oh… I didn’t even think about it like that.” Ryuji gave Akira a small, sheepish smile. “Guess that makes sense. I’m glad, then.”

“I almost feel bad to eat it, though,” Akira said, looking back down at the chocolate and shifting just enough to pull out his phone so he could take a picture of it. “You and Yusuke both did an incredible job.”

Ryuji shrugged modestly. “Yusuke did most of the work, really. I just made the chocolate in some kinda vague heart-like shape; Yusuke even helped me with carving it so it actually looked like a heart in the end.”

Akira kissed Ryuji again before replying, “You can say all of that until you’re blue in the face, but my opinion isn’t going to change: you and Yusuke both did an incredible job, and I appreciate it more than I could ever say.”

“Let’s see if you can still say that after you taste it,” Ryuji said wryly. “I don’t like dark chocolate, so I’ve honestly got no clue whether or not it came out good.”

Akira took one last picture of the chocolate before carefully breaking off a piece and popping it into his mouth, humming in pleased satisfaction from the taste. “Not too bitter, but not too sweet--it’s perfect.”

Ryuji let out a relieved sigh, smiling as he watched Akira break off another piece and eat it. “Glad to hear it.”

Akira ate the chocolate heart one piece at a time, leaning against Ryuji contentedly and smiling as he felt Ryuji continuing to toy with his hair.

“You sure you don’t want a taste?” Akira asked once he was down to the last bit of the chocolate heart, holding up a piece towards him. “I know it’s not as sweet as you’re used to, but it really is good.”

Ryuji hummed in thought, eyeing the chocolate for a moment before smirking mischievously. “Yeah, I think I’ll take a small taste.”

Akira’s brows furrowed in confusion as Ryuji gently pushed his hand down--but before he could question him, Ryuji’s lips were suddenly pressing against his own in a deep kiss that left Akira lightheaded and dazed by the time he pulled back.

Ryuji licked his lips, grinning as he saw Akira’s eyes following the motion as if in a trance. “Whaddya know, you were right--it did taste good.”

Akira blinked, the sound of Ryuji’s voice pulling him out of his stupor, and Ryuji couldn’t help but laugh as Akira immediately moved to hide his bright-red face against his chest.

“That wasn’t fair,” Akira muttered petulantly, his voice muffled and barely reaching Ryuji’s ears. “You caught me off-guard.”

“Just admit that you can dish it out but you can’t handle getting served,” Ryuji teased, poking Akira’s sides and chuckling as Akira squirmed and swatted his hands away.

“Only thing I’m admitting is you’re a cheater,” Akira huffed, though he couldn’t quite keep a smile from tugging at the corners of his lips, nor could he prevent a pleased sigh from slipping out as Ryuji hugged him close and went back to playing with his hair.

Ryuji rolled his eyes in fond amusement. “Yeah, yeah, whatever you say.” Grinning impishly, he leaned over so his lips could brush against Akira’s ear as he added, “ Darling .”

He straightened up with another laugh as Akira squeaked and blushed heavily in response, continuing to laugh even as Akira shot a weak glare up at him.

“If I have to go to the hospital for heart failure, I’m making you pay the bill.”

“Nah, you wouldn’t make me pay a single yen,” Ryuji replied with a cheeky grin.

Akira groaned, though he couldn’t quite hide his smile as he relaxed against his boyfriend.

“You know me too well.”

Ryuji kissed the top of Akira’s head, his grin softening into an affectionate smile. “Yep, and you love it.”

Finally, Akira gave in with a soft laugh as he nuzzled against Ryuji.

“I do, more than I could ever say.”

After relaxing for a little while longer, Ryuji gently eased Akira off of him with the reminder that he still had a little more planned for today, and the promise that Akira would have plenty of time to keep cuddling with him later.

Ryuji took a minute to text Ann and let her know they were done--apparently she’d been kind enough to not only bring the basket and blanket for them, but to offer to come and pick everything up when they finished; Akira was determined to do at least a little something for her to thank her for her kindness, even if he’d had no idea about Ryuji’s plans until today--before rising to his feet and helping Akira up so he could lead him to their next stop.

Which apparently wasn’t very far--in fact, it only took about five minutes or so of walking before Ryuji stopped him and directed him inside a small shack.

“Boat rentals?” Akira questioned, moments before his expression lit up.

Ryuji was taking him on a romantic boat ride on the Inokashira Pond, on Valentine’s Day.

Even better yet was getting to watch as Ryuji, despite his clear embarrassment, strode towards the counter with purpose and rented a boat while clearly declaring it was for him and his boyfriend.

Akira knew it was silly of him to get so giddy over such little things, but Ryuji seemed to be going out of his way to push each and every one of his buttons to reduce him to a lovestruck, swooning mess.

He’d even gotten them a swan boat. It was so ridiculously cliche as far as romantic scenarios went, and Akira loved it.

Ryuji’s blush darkened as he saw Akira’s expression, but he couldn’t help but grin as Akira immediately latched onto him as soon as they went outside.

“Have I mentioned how much I love you?” Akira said, prompting a laugh from Ryuji as he leaned over to kiss the side of Akira’s head.

“Once or twice, yeah,” Ryuji replied wryly, leading the way over to where their boat was waiting for them at the edge of the dock.

Akira chuckled, a soft smile tugging at the corners of his lips as Ryuji got on first before taking his hand and helping him into the boat. “So chivalrous,” he teased lightly.

“For you? Course I am.”

Ryuji lifted their joined hands and pressed a kiss to Akira’s knuckles, thoroughly enjoying the startled squeak that Akira let out and the heavy blush that colored his face.

He knew he was probably going overboard with the cheesiness, but he also knew that Akira loved it--no, more than just that, Akira needed it. He’d gone for so many years-- decades --without the love and affection he was so obviously craving, and especially after the month of solitary confinement he’d suffered through, Ryuji was determined to make Akira feel as loved as humanly possible.

Ryuji sat down next to Akira in the boat, wasting no time in slipping an arm around Akira’s waist and pulling him close as he kissed the top of Akira’s head. “You ready?”

Akira buried his face against Ryuji’s chest as he clung to him and nodded, and for a moment Ryuji was worried that the small confines combined with the fact that they were on a boat were getting to him--but one glance at Akira’s face showed a peaceful smile that immediately put Ryuji’s concerns to rest. He’d been banking on the fact that the small space would force them closer together to help Akira relax and ease his fears, and he was glad to see that he’d been right in his assumption.

Ryuji pedaled the boat out into the middle of the pond, going at a leisurely pace as he kept one hand on the steering handle and the other on Akira’s head, absentmindedly running his fingers through Akira’s hair and listening with a smile to the content sigh that Akira let out in response.

“You don’t wanna look at the view?” Ryuji asked, keeping his voice just above a whisper so as not to disturb the tranquility of the moment.

Akira looked up at him with an adoring smile. “I’ve got the best view right here in front of me.”

Ryuji blushed lightly and grinned, his heart swelling as he leaned over just enough to press his lips to Akira’s in a soft kiss.

“You’re such a sap, I swear,” he teased, pressing another kiss to Akira’s forehead and relishing the noise of contentment Akira made in response as he snuggled closer to Ryuji.

“Can’t help it,” Akira murmured. “I love you so much.”

Ryuji’s expression softened as he pressed one more kiss to the top of Akira’s head. “I love you too.”

Akira let out a quiet, pleased sigh in response, a feeling of peace and calm settling over him as he continued to rest his head against Ryuji’s chest, keeping his eyes open half-lidded to observe the scenery around them.

This was everything he could have ever asked for and more, wrapped up in a single moment: the two of them, all alone and surrounded by a serene, romantic view of the park at sunset; Ryuji’s warmth seeping into him, chasing away the slight chill of winter; the feeling of Ryuji’s fingers in his hair and the occasional press of his lips against his head pulling quiet, relaxed sighs from him with each touch; the feeling of Ryuji’s arm holding him close, providing a feeling of security and safety; the steady beating of his heart and the sound of his soft breaths, providing just enough noise to break the silence without disturbing the peace….

It was perfect, and Akira found himself fighting back tears just from the sheer bliss and overwhelming love that swelled inside him.

And to think, he would be able to spend the rest of his life (provided he really did break free of the time loop--which he would, he couldn’t bear to think otherwise at the moment) indulging in this sweet euphoria whenever he wanted…. Even after spending the past few months practically glued to Ryuji’s side, it was still so hard to wrap his mind around the thought of the universe actually allowing him this happiness, after spending so many years keeping his distance and watching Ryuji find happiness in other people or--in most cases--losing his life before he could find happiness in anyone at all.

As if hearing his thoughts, Ryuji shifted just enough to move his hands down to Akira’s face, cupping his cheeks as he leaned in to press a gentle, languid kiss to his lips.

Akira could only stare at his perfect godsend of a boyfriend once he pulled back from the kiss, feeling dazed, breathless, and so, so in love.

Ryuji grinned as he saw Akira’s expression. “Falling for me all over again?” he teased lightly.

“Always,” Akira replied without hesitation, a soft smile of his own working its way onto his face as he saw Ryuji blush.

“Well, then I guess I’m doing today right then, huh?” Ryuji chuckled before adding, “And to think, there’s still one more stop left on the list.”

“You still have more planned?” Akira asked, looking up at Ryuji in both surprise and excitement.

“Course I do! We’ve still got all night, don’t we?”

Akira laughed softly. “You’ve got a point.” He shot Ryuji an innocent smile as he added, “Any chance you’ll tell me what’s next?”

“Nope, you’ll just have to wait ‘n’ see,” Ryuji replied, rolling his eyes in amusement as Akira deflated with a pout. “Don’t give me that look, man. I told you everything was gonna be a surprise today and I meant it.”

“Fine, fine,” Akira said with a sigh, though he couldn’t quite hide his smile despite his petulant act.

Honestly, he didn’t care where they were going next so long as he could be by Ryuji’s side the whole time--and he had a feeling Ryuji knew this as well, since he shot Akira one more amused glance before pulling him back against his chest and kissing the top of his head, as if to say give up the act and just go back to relaxing, you dork .

Far be it from Akira to say no to that.

With a content sigh, Akira nuzzled closer to Ryuji as the two of them went back to watching the sunset in peaceful silence.

It was with great reluctance--both on Akira’s part and his own--that Ryuji pedaled the boat back to the dock once the sun disappeared beyond the horizon, disentangling himself from Akira so the two of them could get off of the boat and make their way towards their next destination.

“Honestly, I’ve only ever been to the next spot once before,” Ryuji confessed sheepishly as they made their way towards the train, “so I kinda had to ask Futaba to help out with looking up directions and stuff. Hopefully she found the right spot, or this night’s gonna be a bust.”

Akira chuckled. “Don’t worry--even if it’s not the right place, there’s no way that any part of today could possibly be a ‘bust’.” He leaned against Ryuji and added, “This is already, by far, the best and most romantic Valentine’s Day I’ve ever lived through. We could be going home right now and I’d still be completely content with how today went.”

“Glad to hear it,” Ryuji replied, wrapping an arm around Akira as they waited for their train and smiling as Akira immediately melted against him in response.

At one point in his life, Ryuji might have been embarrassed to be seen on a train with a guy cuddled up to him, but now he couldn’t care less as long as Akira was happy--and the few people that gave them looks were met with a challenging glare that had them quickly averting their gazes.

(Much to Akira’s pleasure, not that Ryuji realized Akira was watching him as he wordlessly told anyone who had a problem with them to fuck off.)

Having Akira cuddled up to him also worked well to keep his last surprise from being ruined, since if Akira had been paying attention to the stops that were being announced, he probably would have realized right away where Ryuji was planning on bringing him.

Even when they got off the train, Akira barely spared a glance at their surroundings as he let Ryuji lead the way--and the reminder that Akira trusted Ryuji enough that he would follow him without question wherever he went brought a smile to Ryuji’s face, his heart swelling with a wave of affection and appreciation for his boyfriend who had been through so much, yet was still capable of trusting and loving so wholly and unconditionally.

It was only when they finally approached their destination that Akira’s eyes widened in recognition, his breath hitching for a moment before a soft laugh slipped out.

“And you call me a sap…,” Akira teased weakly, looking out at the starry sky from atop the hill he’d taken Ryuji to back on their very first date.

“Heh. Figured it’d be a good way to end the night, y’know?” Ryuji ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly as he said, “The view’s great, and… well, it’s a special spot, at least for me.”

“Because of our date?” Akira asked, looking over at Ryuji with a curious yet soft smile.

“Yeah, but also… it was the place where it finally hit me that I was in love with you,” Ryuji confessed. “I missed my chance to say it that night, but even just being able to admit it to myself made me feel like-- I dunno, like my heart was lighter or something. I’m still sorry that I never actually said it out loud for so long, though.”

“Don’t be,” Akira replied, leaning over to press a kiss to Ryuji’s cheek. “Honestly, I was prepared to wait the rest of my life to hear how you felt, so the fact that you managed to figure everything out in just a few months and confess that you loved me was nothing short of a miracle in my eyes.”

“‘Just a few months’, huh…,” Ryuji murmured, chuckling weakly when Akira looked at him in concern. “A few months is a long time, at least to me--but you say it like it was nothing.”

“Ah… well, to me it was nothing--the amount of time, I mean; not everything that happened in the duration of that time, of course,” Akira hastily amended, before continuing. “You’re right, though. I guess after living through so many years, my perception of time became a bit skewed--even this one year felt like it passed in the blink of an eye.”

“Well, let’s try not to rush through the rest of our lives, alright?” Ryuji teased lightly, relieved when he saw a smile return to Akira’s face.

“Of course,” Akira replied, taking Ryuji’s hand in his own and entwining their fingers together. “I’ve had more than enough of getting swept away in the flow of time--I want to take my time and live each day, to experience each hour and minute and second to the fullest, no matter what the future throws at us.”

Ryuji’s heart swelled with love and pride as he pulled Akira into a kiss, before pulling back to give him a grin.

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Akira matched Ryuji’s grin with a bright smile of his own, pressing closer and wrapping his arms around the love of his life with a pleased sigh.

Ryuji gently guided Akira to sit down, uncaring of the cold seeping into him from the ground--it wouldn’t last for long, not with how Akira was practically sitting on his lap as he cuddled up against him.

“It’s a beautiful night,” Akira murmured, his head lifted just enough to be able to observe the nighttime sky without moving away from the comfort of Ryuji’s chest. “This was the perfect way to end the day.”

“Glad you think so,” Ryuji replied, pressing a kiss to the top of Akira’s head. “I wasn’t really sure if I’d be able to match all the over-the-top stuff you always put together for me, but I did my best.”

Akira chuckled. “You know you don’t have to try that hard to make me happy. Even just being with you is more than enough to make my day.”

“I know, but… I wanted today to be special,” Ryuji murmured, moving just enough to bury his face in Akira’s hair in embarrassment. “It was our first Valentine’s Day, and I wanted to spoil you like you’re always spoiling me.”

“And you did,” Akira replied reassuringly, pressing back against Ryuji and nuzzling against him. “I can’t thank you enough for today. This was the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

Ryuji moved his head just enough to tentatively glance down at Akira. “For real?”

“Ryuji, I promise you,” Akira began, glancing up at Ryuji with a slightly teasing smile, “I am being one-hundred percent for real.”

Ryuji huffed and poked Akira’s sides, a smile of his own tugging at the corners of his lips as Akira squirmed and laughed in response. “Jerk. I’m being serious.”

“So am I,” Akira replied as his laughter died down, his expression completely enamored as he held Ryuji’s gaze. “It was everything I’d ever dreamed of and more.”

Though his face flushed in embarrassment, Ryuji couldn’t help the bright, pleased grin that worked its way onto his face in response.

“If you’re sure, then… I’m glad.” There was only the slightest hint of wry amusement in his tone as he added, “No clue how I’m gonna top this next year, though--but I guess I’ve got a whole year to figure that out, huh?”

“And who says you’re going to be the one taking the next Valentine’s Day?” Akira challenged. “Maybe I’m going to be the one to surprise you next year.”

“Oh no you don’t,” Ryuji immediately replied, just barely restraining his laughter as he frowned down at Akira. “I’m not budging on this one--I need at least one other holiday to spoil you on ‘sides your birthday, or you’re just gonna take ‘em all.”

Akira huffed and pouted. “That’s not fair, I want to spoil you on all the holidays.”

Ryuji gave the oh-so mature response of sticking his tongue out. “Too bad, I called dibs first!”

“Fine, then I call dibs on spoiling you for the other 364 days of the year.”

“Wh-- that’s not how it works!!”

“Too bad, it is now.”

Ryuji and Akira stubbornly locked gazes for a moment, the corners of their lips twitching--and Ryuji was the first to cave once Akira stuck his tongue out, prompting a snort of laughter that devolved into a laughing fit that Akira quickly joined in on.

“Man, you’re really something else,” Ryuji teased lightly once they caught their breath, leaning back on the grassy hill and pulling Akira down with him.

Akira took a moment to get the last few chuckles out of his system before letting out a content sigh and leaning against Ryuji as he replied, “I could say the same about you. Who turns down an offer of being spoiled for 364 days out of the year?”

“Who offers to spoil someone for 364 days out of the year?” Ryuji retorted.

“I do, obviously--but only for you,” Akira replied, prompting another quiet snort of laughter from Ryuji as he shook his head in amusement.


“Yes, but I’m your incredibly handsome, charming, amazinmmph --”

Ryuji cut Akira’s reply off with a kiss that he was more than happy to melt into as his eyes drifted shut, and by the time they broke the kiss, Akira had already forgotten what he was in the middle of saying.

“What’s wrong, nothing else to add to the list?” Ryuji teased lightly.

Akira blinked dazedly, before saying the only thing that was on his mind. “I love you.”

Ryuji eyed Akira in a mixture of tenderness and amusement, moving a hand to cup Akira’s cheek and leaning forward to capture Akira’s lips once more as he murmured, “I love you too.”

As Akira leaned into the kiss, he allowed himself to get swept away in the feeling of love emanating off of the most important person in his life, with only one coherent thought flitting through his mind:

As terrifying as the thought of the future was at times, if it was anything like the surprises he’d gotten today, then he couldn’t wait to see what was in store for them in the years to come.