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You're The Closest To Heaven That I'll Ever Be

Chapter Text

A particular emptiness filled the professor’s cabin, an oppressive vacuum left by a sudden departure. A solitary light still flickered on the desk, illuminating a cache of notebooks haphazardly strewn about. On closer inspection, some had pages ripped out, and the chair that seemed to have fallen harmlessly on the floor as its occupant rushed to leave it had splintered where the wood of the back rest hit the floor. Odd, but the professor had been experiencing some irritable spells of late. Maybe some snag in his findings had him frustrated.

After a quick check of the outhouse, Ryou decided to investigate their latest site. He took the jeep as far as it could go in the dense brush, but was loathe to go any farther on foot in the debilitating night with his pathetic diurnal eyes, so he waited for any sign.

The occasional rustle of leaves kept him in his place, wary, in case it was and in case it wasn’t him. The noises seemed too deliberate to be a wild animal, yet too scattered to be human, and in the absence of anything but faint moonlight the uncertainty kept Ryou’s hand near his pistol.

He covered one of his eyes before he checked the light-up face of his watch, to keep it at least somewhat used to the darkness. It was offensively late, and if the professor didn’t show up anytime soon, Ryou would simply return without him.

It’s that brief moment he was distracted that the creature in the bushes leaped at him. The moon reflected off the blade in its hand, aimed at Ryou’s throat.

Ryou threw his body aside on instinct and with a practiced movement, drew his pistol and fired - one, two shots. One hit his assailant in the chest, the other in the arm with which it wielded its weapon, but neither took it down. It merely stumbled a few paces, then drew back in again. It gurgled a low growl, and Ryou thought he saw rows of sharp teeth that split its head from one end to the other in the dim light, but the vision disappeared in a blink.

And when the creature stepped in front of the jeep’s headlights, revealed was the curiously naked, emaciated form of professor Fikira himself. With sunken, empty eyes, he shambled past Ryou, seeming not to even notice the holes in his chest and arm. He hadn’t even dropped his weapon, which turned out to be a pickaxe, now covered in blood.

With shuddering movements, as if he were a marionette held up by strings, he lifted the pick and dropped it into the jerrycan in the car, dragging it back and on top of himself, getting soaked in its fuel.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

The man lifted his head and craned his neck with a crack to face Ryou, his eyes devoid of life. Gasoline dripped down his face, slicked his hair to his skin and ran down his body like he was taking a shower, but the chemical smell was unmistakable.

“I can’t... keep it down,” he whispered through ragged breaths, seeming unable to control his mouth or voice the way he had before. “I must die while I’m still human...”

Fikira shuddered, and stabbed into the gas tank with his own limb - no longer a hand or an arm, it was a claw, or a talon; something no longer human, and swore in Russian.

Suddenly his body froze up, twitching intermittently. The only movement came from the arm Ryou hadn’t shot, which rose slowly with a notable stutter, and had a lighter in the hand. It opened with a flick of the professor’s thumb.

Ryou’s heart beat in his ears as he took a step in place, unable to move closer or farther away. “Stop that, you’ll explode!”

An unearthly growling made its way past Fikira’s gritted teeth, a rumble that could have been like a laugh if it had any mirth to it, and when he next spoke, it was in Japanese - a language Ryou was certain Fikira never learned: “A shame, since I came all this way to know more about you...”

And then he lit ablaze.

Despite the chilling scene, Ryou felt oddly nostalgic. As if suddenly, every random action in the world had converged to course a predetermined path. He watched the professor’s skin blacken and shrivel, keeping his ice blue eyes on the dancing flames with a cold yet intense fascination. He had to stop himself from reaching out, desperate to get his hands on the corpse.

In its death throes, the body had undergone a miraculous metamorphosis: an increase of mass bubbling from under popping boils that did not align with the laws of entropy; a row of teeth larger and sharper than recorded in humans, ripping their way through spreading lacerations across his torso in ways conventional physics couldn’t explain. The more the professor burned, the less his body resembled that of a human. It stretched uncomfortably, bones creaking as they extended and burned, split apart and grew spikes that burst through the skin with sickening slick noises, becoming a mangled easel upon which a grotesque canvas of human skin inlaid with teeth was displayed.

As usual, the gears in Ryou’s brain turned at breakneck speed, looking to understand what had happened and formulating a hypothesis on what it could mean. It had to do with the professor’s research subject; that much was clear. He must have found them. He must have become one with them. It could be done. They’d found rituals describing how as well. The real question was when. Ryou would have to pore over his notes in detail once he was done here, but for now every cell in his body was eager to investigate. No, eager wasn’t the right word. The right word was hungry.

-

Ryou chuckled over the desk on which he’d spread out the professor’s notes in as close to chronological order as he could manage based on logic and induction.

The notes Fikira had ripped out of his notebook had been found in hiding spots all over the cabin: stuck in gaps in the wall; in other books; under his mattress; in the lamp; even stuffed in the carcasses of some of the birds he’d killed. Mostly they contained the same information as the notes he left if in a somewhat less steady hand, but they all had similar marks somewhere on the page. Reddish-brown smudges: pre-Mayan runes written in blood. They offered no insight on the texts; rather proving Ryou’s theory on the cohabitor of Fikira’s body, and that it’s been with him since before they even arrived, as they appeared in even the oldest files.

It was the contents that gave him pause. Over and over again, the same commands were scrawled, in increasing intensity as time went on: Just “Kill” at first, soon expanded to “Kill him”. The amount of different orders went up as well: “Eat him”, “Sacrifice him”, “Fuck him”, then “Kill for him”. From then, over time the words broke down, commands being phased out gradually until the most recent page, coated thickly in freshly dried blood, read just ”Him him him him him him” ad nauseam.

It was absurd.

He needed to know more.

-

Ryou woke from a fitful sleep to his every nerve blaring the alarms, as if fire ants had crawled into his veins. His long tank top was made of thicker material than the professor’s airy explorer shirt and it normally made no difference to him, even with the stifling heat of the Amazonian rainforest, but now it felt like his skin was being baked in an oven powered by the sun itself; his sweat already having formed a puddle around the contours of his body. The images evoked by the professor’s notes and transformation still swam before his closed eyes, along with a face he hadn’t seen anywhere but in his dreams for a long time. A face so inconceivably unconnected, Ryou could swear God was showing it specifically to torment him. Because as always when that face haunted his nights, he found himself fully, painfully hard.

He let the name roll off his lips in a moan as he took care of himself.

“Akira...”

-

That bastard Akira still hadn’t gotten himself a phone, so Ryou had to make do with hacking the Makimura girl’s GPS and betting he was somewhere nearby, something he’d wager his entire fortune on without a second thought. And even if it turned out he was wrong, he’d invite himself for dinner and get to Akira that way. The party wouldn’t be until late anyway.

He sighed as he glanced at his phone to make sure he was still going the right way before focusing on the road again. Damn Akira, always making things more difficult for him. Still, he wouldn’t have it any other way. His face split in a fond grin all on its own as he relished finally having an excuse to see his old friend again. He was already going past the speed limit, but he pushed his food down on the pedal just that little more anyway. God did he want to just be there already.

Next time he saw him, he’d make sure Akira had a damn phone.

-

The stink of the trash both on the pierside and in the river itself hit his nose at the same time as a gust of wind whipped up underneath his coat. After so long around the equator, Japan even in the summer felt cold on his skin. Ah well, he couldn’t complain too much. The bulky coat that kept him warm proved a good way to keep the cops from easily spotting his self defense measure too. When dealing with demons, one could never be too sure, after all.

But Akira. Sweet, gentle Akira still hadn’t learned to keep out of trouble. That much was obvious, watching him being pelted with boards by a gang of punks. Ryou certainly wasn’t going to go through the trouble of teaching him.

“Akira!” he called, extending his arm over the wooden pier stair supports.

The boy in question poked his head out from under the roof of the boat he was in, one of the boards thrown at him still in his hands. His eyes were wide with surprise and only a mild recognition, little enough that it would have had Ryou snarling with fury if he wasn’t still overcome with a feeling like pure sunlight filling him up at the sight of his childhood friend in a grown body finally in front of him in the flesh. His cheeks hurt from the maniacal grin his mouth contorted itself in. It probably only took him so long to piece things together because Ryou hadn’t told him he was coming - hadn’t been able to tell him he was coming because that technologically illiterate idiot refused to get himself a damn phone.

“Ryou...chan...?”

The molten gold rushing through his veins reached boiling point. “Come with me, Akira!” he yelled, leaning over the beam separating them as far as he could without falling over and reached out as far as he could, as if Akira could jump the ten feet straight separating them up into his arms.

“Uh... we’re in the middle of something,” one of the punks said, ignorant of his own unimportance.

Even the unwelcome interruption couldn’t dampen Ryou’s spirits however. The excitement that bubbled up at the beautiful sound of Akira’s baffled voice calling his name drowned out any other emotion. His jittering nerves couldn’t abide another second of these extras keeping him from the main event, so with an itching trigger finger, he drew the machine gun from under his coat and aimed it at the huddle of degenerates.

“You guys stay quiet.”

The rapid patter of Akira’s feet on the wooden steps, mimicked by the drumbeat of his own heart, drowned out whatever foolish objections the punks might have had. Oh, he couldn’t possibly care less about this faceless rabble when the only person who mattered was finally in front of him again. Or, behind, as the case turned out to be.

“Akira,” he said again fondly, savoring the taste of that name on his lips, as he turned around into the other boy’s open arms.

Puberty had done nothing to fill him out. Especially with the aid of centrifugal force from how he ran at Ryou, it was so easy to lift his scrawny frame in their embrace, even with only one arm, since the other still held his gun. His fingers tingled with a nervous energy that traveled up his arm and all throughout his body everywhere they touched him.

“Ryou-chan!”

And that voice, like a chorus of angels singing just for him; that childhood affection unchanged by the time they spent apart. Akira didn’t let go, either. His arm rested on Ryou’s waist so naturally; it belonged there. And under that pressure, Ryou’s skin felt hot; hotter than his days in the jungle; he’d dare say hotter even than Fikira’s body as it burned. He wondered if Akira ever touched himself to his vlog. God, he hoped so.

A slight movement in his periphery, the thud of a rubber sole on wood, jangling chains and a low whine meant Ryou had to return to the unfortunate reality that there were a bunch of unnecessary extras in the scene. With a lazy motion, he lifted the modified Walther MPL and with a squeeze of the trigger released a spray of bullets into the boards between him and the pests. The idea of staying here any longer became more intolerable every second that passed, his only consolation being Akira’s body pressed up close against his. Maybe if they were the only ones there Ryou wouldn’t mind a more leisurely catching-up session, but as it was...

Ryou turned in Akira’s hold, facing away from the pier and all its distractions, the friction of movement sending jolts of electricity through his skin where Akira’s body brushed his.

“Akira, come with me right away.”

But of course, there had to be another interruption. “Akira-kun, who is that guy?” Oh yeah, Ryou had almost forgotten the Makimura girl was also present.

Ryou really couldn’t care less about introducing himself, but Akira, ever the sweetheart, craned his neck and did the honors with a sheepish grin. “Asuka Ryou. We’re the same age, but he’s a professor in the States!”

Really. Akira’s enthusiasm was a blessing but at that moment he really didn’t have the patience for this. Before Akira had even properly finished speaking, Ryou pulled him along to his car. “Let’s go.”

Ryou wouldn’t call it running away. Asuka Ryou did not run. He made a tactical retreat - beating the rush, so to speak, that would surely happen should the girl corner them before they got into his car. He deposited Akira in the passenger seat and slammed the door when he got in himself, only gently pacing how hard he pushed the pedal for as long as it’d take the engine not to stall, then he floored it.

Chapter Text

Akira had so many questions, he didn’t know where to start. All he could do was look at the kind of person Ryou had managed to become and smile. Who could have ever hoped to think the quiet, standoffish boy who would much rather sit in a corner with a book adults found hard to read would ever end up becoming a minor celebrity with his own (albeit scientific) online talk show? Akira had always known he did care, in his own way, and he had hoped that Ryou would find it easier to connect with people, but he couldn’t have even dreamed that Ryou would be running for him with such a wide, open, happy expression. (In his dreams, it was Ryou staring dumbfounded while Akira leaped for him.) The gun was a surprise, but then he’d probably always be a little strange, he did just come back from America, and he didn’t actually hurt anyone. He wouldn’t do that.

Even if he did hurt someone, he’d have a good reason.

After parking his car behind a warehouse, Ryou weaved effortlessly through narrow backstreets, Akira’s wrist loose in his hand. The sun hung low in the sky, casting an orange glow over the chipped gray of the buildings they passed. Despite the time, they encountered no housewives on their way back from grocery shopping, or children returning from school. They passed a supermarket that displayed a neglected assortment of fruit just outside, a single blank-faced employee milling about inside as if no one would even think to take one, or as if it wouldn’t matter. The aging owner of a second hand store rolled down its metal roller blinds early, leading Akira to believe it simply wasn’t any use to stay open any longer; the shelves inside were bulging with dusty merchandise nobody seemed to want to pick up.

Just past a decrepit laundromat as silent and empty as the rest of the streets they’d wandered, Ryou came to a sudden stop, causing Akira to bump into him due to his distraction. The tiny building in front of them seemed as run-down and lonely as everything else. The dark windows in the red lattice door gave the scene inside full privacy, and their surroundings were desolate, no sound but the wind whistling through weathered chimes. It sent a chill down Akira’s spine, but Ryou simply gave him a bright smile and reached for the door handle, and his objections were forgotten. He’d made his decision to trust Ryou long ago.

Entering with hesitant steps, Akira peered inside, letting his eyes slide across the scene he had entered. His eyebrows quirked up and he looked back at Ryou. This was the last place Akira expected him to take him to.

“...A café?”

Ryou gave Akira a nod and a small smile as he moved past him and past the only other customer in the establishment - another boy from a different high school, sitting at the counter in quiet conversation with the similarly-aged barista - to take a seat in one of the booths.

It was a moderately comfortable bench, better than a lecture hall seat but worse than his car, and the café interior itself was similar, comfortable but of unremarkable quality. Both were clad in warm colors, reds and browns in soothing dark shades, lending the place a cozy, intimate feel. Three booths and four seats at the counter were all the tiny café had room for - Ryou must have had bathrooms bigger than that - and it was tucked in the ass end of an alley in the middle of nowhere. In other words, it was tiny and unremarkable, a description that seemed completely at odds with everything Akira knew about Ryou.

Then again, Ryou was friends with him, so who really knew?

“I thought we could catch up,” Ryou said, shocking Akira out of his train of thought. “It’s been a long time, and this place gets great reviews for its coffee.”

Akira stole a glance at the barista, his eyes filled with both disbelief and awe at the same time. If this guy was good enough for Ryou to compliment him, why was this place empty? Maybe it had to do with Ryou’s uncanny ability to find those undiscovered gems. Maybe Ryou had adjusted his demands to suit Akira’s likes. It could be any number of things, but one thing was certain: if Ryou thought Akira would like it, he would.

So he smiled. “It has. It’s really good to see you again.”

Across from him, Ryou’s expression changed, like a melting mochi ice cream, something soft already becoming practically mush.

The barista briefly interrupted his conversation to take their orders. He called over the counter, since the two meters across that separated them were hardly worth going all the way around for. Ryou ordered a strong black coffee, leaving the exact specifics to the barista’s discretion. He had the same dark glint in his eye as when he saw someone new, the same one Akira felt on him, piercing through him, that first time they met: a look that could strip skin off bones and left one vulnerable and bare. It was a testament to either the barista’s confidence or his obliviousness that he responded with no change in expression other than a subtle, almost catlike smile and turned his attention to Akira instead.

It was tempting to order the same thing. It would be a simple order, and Akira was sure Ryou would appreciate it if he showed some sign of having matured even a little after all the time they’d been apart, but it seemed pointless for looking cool if he was just going to dump it full of cream and sugar like he would. After all, when it came to pulling all-nighters after forgetting his homework until the last day, Akira would rather go for the sickly, chemical sweet of an energy drink, anyway. So a soda it was.

Before long the sounds of boiling water and the smell of freshly ground beans filled the air, and the barista was back to discussing school life with his other customer. He seemed to do some kind of chemistry with the beakers on the counter as he spoke, manipulating his tools with an effortless skill more similar to Ryou or Miki than anything Akira could hope to be capable of.

Ryou cocked his head to get Akira’s attention as soon as that of the other people was off of them, and the look he gave pulled on Akira like a black hole. “Get a phone.” His jaw was set, the corners of his mouth angled slightly downwards. Ryou had always been intense, but rarely with this much intent behind it, to the point a light sweat broke out on the back of Akira’s neck. “I couldn’t track your GPS, so I had to track the girl’s.” The girl?

“You know Miki-chan?” Ryou’s face was still save for a minute twitch in his eyebrow, a tell-tale sign that he found the question not worth answering. “How did you-?”

“Get a phone,” Ryou simply repeated.

“Alright, alright...” Akira sighed and rested his chin on his arms, folded over one another on the table in front of him. It was pathetic to admit, but the idea of such a concentrated bundle of technology scared him. When he watched Miki use hers, barely looking as she keyed in an impossible button combination, the menus upon menus she effortlessly navigated; if he tried, he’d probably just drop it and make a fool of himself. And an even more insidious fear lurked under the surface: Akira didn’t have many friends. What if-

“I’ll call you.”

Akira’s eyes widened and a light blush hit his cheeks. He averted his eyes, unsure how to react to how Ryou managed to say just the right thing to soothe his insecurities, or the thought that he would go to such lengths just for him, as well. Ryou wasn’t the type of person to lie or say he’d do things he wasn’t fully prepared to, after all. Maybe he would have called earlier if Akira hadn’t stubbornly refused to get a personal phone - they’d had practically no contact since Ryou’s adoption. But then again, maybe not, because Ryou must have been incredibly busy all those years, and he wasn’t the kind of person to waste time and energy on frivolities, either.

It was hard to resist the temptation of being able to talk to Ryou any time he wanted, but who’d bother with a phone only to have fewer numbers to call than fingers on a hand? A compromise would have to do.

Akira waved off the suggestion with a sheepish smile. “You could just call the Makimura house for that...” Especially if he knew Miki anyway.

“In this day and age?” Ryou sighed.

Akira was about to retort, but the barista came to deliver their drinks, and whatever objection he had got lost in the excitement. The coffee smelled good, if nothing else.

Ryou observed it with the same intense look as before, even as he thanked the boy and his mouth twisted into his usual polite smile. Akira’s own smile was wider and more genuine, not in the least because of how this interaction showed him this charming, successful Ryou was no different from the Ryou of his childhood that had trailed behind him to scrutinize any newcomer before he’d approach. When the barista returned behind the counter and disappeared to wash some dishes, judging from the sound, and it was just the two of them again, Akira’s smile softened into something nostalgic and fond.

For a moment there was just silence; the soft sound of suds in the sink and the clink of clattering ceramic the only thing that echoed in the otherwise completely quiet café. The other customer was completely forgotten in the atmosphere of two old friends reconnecting after a much-too-long time. Akira stirred his soda with a straw with a dopey smile still on his face, but that was fine because Ryou smiled too, when he picked up his cup and inhaled deeply of its aroma.

“I missed you,” he said as he peered over his cup, giving Akira a look so impossibly warm, Akira thought he might combust. His chest filled to bursting with the pride of knowing his blank-faced, emotionally distant friend could manage expressions like these now.

And he looked good, happy. The way the corners of his eyes and tiny mouth crinkled up, creating just the slightest hint of dimples in his cheeks; how the light hit his pale eyes and made them seem like the ocean sparkling on a clear, calm day; his relaxed pose, straight and proper but without any tension making him seem stiff. He looked like the subject of a Renaissance painting, maybe an angel sent by God to aid mankind. That would suit him.

“I missed you, too.”

Ryou gave him a smile that outshone the sun as a matter of response.

His reaction to the coffee was a unique one as well: a satisfied sigh. Ryou had never seemed anything other than annoyed by food before, so this must be an incredible cup of coffee.

“Is it that good?”

“That boy has some skill, I suppose.” It must have been the best cup of coffee Ryou had ever had.

Akira didn’t exactly like coffee, but if it was really that good... “Can I try some?”

Without a word, Ryou set the cup down in front of him. “I’m curious what you think,” he said when Akira raised it to his mouth.

He took a sip and immediately shoved the cup back towards Ryou, his face contorted in disgust. “It tastes like it hates me!” That was an understatement. Somehow he felt like he’d been punched in the face. The liquid attacked his tongue until the only taste that existed was pure bitter, and drew moisture from his mouth in a way Akira hadn’t even realized was possible. Akira didn’t understand how such an evil concoction could exist. “How can you drink something like that?”

“It stimulates the nervous system, making one more alert and open to new ideas.”

Akira let his head roll back and exhaled noisily, a noise somewhere between a chuckle and a sniff. “So you don’t even like it?”

“I didn’t say that.” Ryou wrapped his long fingers delicately around the cup. “It’s something of an acquired taste, but once you get used to it, you start picking out the details like the specific flavors of different beans, roasting technique, water temperature...” He put the cup to his mouth again, letting the brew sit on his tongue for a few seconds with his eyes closed. “And this cup seems to be a house blend, brewed specifically to bring out the more subtle flavors while ensuring the caffeine has maximum effect... I do believe our barista was trying to show off.”

Ryou’s face had returned to the blank blandness Akira remembered from his childhood, though with a hint of a smile dancing around his eyes. Typical, Ryou being able to dissect a situation from little more than a glance, or in this case a sip.

“You’re way too cool...” Akira sighed and he shook his head with the fond resignation of someone used to being far surpassed by a loved one. And it was true, wasn’t it? Ryou had become someone who could do anything, even interact with other people. In fact, judging by his podcast, “Professor Ryo’s Science Lab”, Akira would be surprised if anyone could possibly measure up anymore. “Oh, but that reminds me, I was wondering.” The next look he gave Ryou was of someone trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube using nothing but their eyes. “Why anthropology? I always thought you didn’t like people.”

“Why do you run?” Ryou shot back instead of answering, his gaze fixed on Akira with that flesh-rending look that could pierce anything.

“Ah... Well, I do track, so...” Nothing visibly changed in Ryou’s stare, but something in it compelled Akira into silence.

“Yes, I’ve seen your times. They’re unimpressive.”

That caught Akira by surprise. Did Miki show him? But why? She always said running was about having fun and challenging yourself, so did that really make any sense?

Ryou spoke again before Akira could fully finish his line of thought. “So I ask again: why do you run? The human ability of movement can never reach that of dogs, cats or birds, and even compared to other humans, you fall short. So why do you run?”

Akira frowned. Did Ryou really not understand? “It’s not about being the best,” he explained, slowly since he didn’t have his exact reasons clear even to himself. “I just like doing things with friends, and when I run, I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, as long as I keep going forward... So I run because... it’s fun.”

The cold, calculating look in Ryou’s eyes faded, replaced by another glint of humor as he gave a few slow, deliberate nods. “As I expected. It’s not unlike the reason I study humans,” he said with a smile. “Humans make no sense. They are selfish, unpredictable and cruel, taking pleasure in destroying that which they don’t understand, even one another. And yet, they are kind, altruistic and generous, even when it is in direct opposition to their own best interest.” He spoke slowly, his soft voice warm and smooth. Akira didn’t think either of them had blinked at all since Ryou’s eyes locked onto his with that magnetic stare of his. “Any other species would have left that cat to die, or eaten it. It would have been the most logical action to take. Only a human would try to save it, regardless of the likelihood of success. Logically, you would have faced greater emotional distress the longer it suffered, so I thought...” Ryou shook his head. Maybe he understood that even now, the memory of that time still wrenched at Akira’s heart.

“Over time, I’ve come to understand that many times the actions that seem logical in my mind, are unthinkable in that of other people and I started looking for ways to make sense of it all. The reasons humans have empathy; the reasons they choose not to use it; all the things that don’t make sense. As long as I keep studying, even if it’s something that does not come naturally to me, I will make progress.” His eyes widened as if he realized something, and at long last he tore them from Akira’s. They landed on his cup, their stare incredulous but not a fraction less intense. “In a way, much like the coffee, I think I’ve come to enjoy it.”

The café’s quiet atmosphere shattered like glass from an outburst of laughter that escaped from Akira’s mouth. The other customer turned his head at the sudden noise but Akira barely even registered it, fully focused on trying to calm himself, to stop the pangs of pain in his chest and stomach from his interrupted breathing.

Ryou gave Akira that half-lidded look of impatient expectation he’d always had when Akira thought he knew something Ryou didn’t and wouldn’t tell him right away.

“You’re still the same Ryou,” Akira said, breathless with a fond smile. Knowing that for all the waves Ryou had made in his field, due to his age, his personality, his talk show; that underneath that charming façade he was still the same people-shy boy that had always trailed behind Akira lit a fire in his chest he couldn’t fully explain.

Ryou merely gave him a flat look. “I would think so.”

“I just mean that you’re still not good with people. I’m glad.” An awkward chuckle escaped from behind Akira’s lips as he became aware of how rude that sounded. “No, I mean, not that I’m glad you’re kind of awkward!” He reached over the table to pat Ryou’s hand in a soothing gesture, leaving it there with just the tips of their fingers touching. “It’s just a relief that you’re not perfect...”

Chapter Text

Ryou told Akira about Fikira while he drove. Not everything, just the relevant bits. Why they were there, how he changed, how he died. Akira seemed shocked, his pale face lost the happy flush it’d gotten during their time in the café and blanched even further as Ryou flatly recounted the professor’s self-immolation. He decided not to mention the flames of hungry interest the corpse had ignited, either, since Akira had a sensitive soul and he would surely be upset.

“Fikira’s burnt corpse weighed twice as much as he did while he was alive. Twice as much, even though he was charred.” He let those words sink in. “Something was inside him.”

“...Something?” Akira gave an awkward giggle, a sure sign he was nervous. Maybe this was a bit too heavy for him to bear, but Ryou had no choice. Akira had to know.

“A demon.”

Akira giggled again. “Really?”

Ryou couldn't blame him for being skeptical. If their situations had been reversed, he'd have as much doubt, even knowing how honest Akira was.

“The ‘natives’ he was researching were the demons.” Ryou stared straight ahead, both to keep his eyes on the road - even more important now that the sun had gone down and he was going over the speed limit again - and to keep himself from looking into Akira’s eyes and finding something that would test his resolve. “If you need further proof, I have an excerpt of his thesis in the glove compartment.”

Akira extended a shaking hand to take it, and it felt like all sound drained from the car while he flipped the pages. Even the car’s engine sounded muted, drawing Ryou’s attention to every one of Akira’s small noises: the stutter of his breath every so often when he read a particularly gruesome description, his little gasps when he understood something that changed his worldview; the low hum whenever he was having trouble parsing a sentence, even though Ryou spent time translating the thesis into Japanese. Finally, Akira put the file down.

“You mean the extra weight was a demon?” Akira was unable to keep his voice steady.

“And I finally know how to prove it. Due to the demons’ nature, when they merge with a human and overpower its will they can exist while in possession of its body. However, this is but one possibility. On the other hand, if we don’t lose to the demon’s will, it should be possible to gain its power while remaining human.

“Fikira must have tried to test this with his own body. He failed. However, he’s unlikely to be the only one. Lately, the world has observed many cases of brutal unsolved mysteries, mass disappearances, reports of unprecedented violence, athletes who suddenly show astounding physical abilities, and other unusual occurrences. These phenomena dovetail perfectly and can be explained easily, so long as one accepts the existence of demons.

“They’re spreading. This must be known by the heads of many divisions in the public and private security sectors worldwide.”

“So... they don’t accept demons...? Otherwise, why haven’t they made it public?”

“They’re afraid of inciting a panic.” Ryou exhaled through his nose. He wasn’t a big fan of authoritarian oversight to begin with, but to effectively silence information about a possible pandemic was completely inadequate. “But if it’s the truth, everyone should know. It’ll be a disaster if people can’t take appropriate precautionary measures. If Fikira’s hypothesis is true, we’re going to confirm it, get evidence, and tell the world. That is my aim.” To emphasize his point, Ryou brought out the video camera he kept in the pocket of his coat.

He’d offered Akira the forbidden fruit of knowledge and there was no longer a chance to take it all back; it was up to Akira now.

“If anyone could overcome a demon, it’d be you.”

He held the camera up to his eye and, grateful that he was at least on a straight stretch of road and aimed it at Akira. He managed to catch only about two seconds of Akira staring back at him in slack-jawed confusion before he caught sight of a curve in his periphery, but it was more than enough.

They reached the end of the road before long. Graffiti arrows pointed the way to the den of debauchery that was to be the stage of that night’s revelations, leading them down a hill, down a flight of stairs, down to an unassuming door, similar in size and stature to the one Ryou had lead Akira earlier that day and similarly coated in a flaking layer of red paint. This one, however, could do little to block the heavy thud of bass and other noise bursting out from inside.

Ryou found himself hesitating. It wasn’t fear so much as an unshakable feeling that this was the point of no return. “Sorry to drag you into this.” He turned to Akira and opened his mouth, his first instinct to say something pacifying, to appeal to his helpful nature and thirst for affection, to pretend to admit weakness to tempt Akira into reaffirming his decision to take him here. “If possible, I wanted to find out the truth with you.” But was that the best course of action? Akira was an honest person, he would react poorly if he found out Ryou lied. “But, there’s a big risk that comes with it. You might get eaten by a devil, or become like Fikira and...” His mouth continued on as if he wasn’t waging a war with himself inside his mind, analyzing every word he could say for its effect on Akira.

Akira leaned in close, his usual unguarded face openly questing for a truth Ryou wasn’t sure he could provide.

“Ryou-chan, why me?”

The platitudes in his head evaporated. The subtle probes for reassurance went with them. But the truth was intangible. How was Ryou possibly to say that Akira was ever the only option; that every other person he’d ever met was like an NPC in a videogame, existing only to bring him closer to his goal; that he and Akira were like opposite poles on a magnet and no matter how far from one another they were, they would always be fated to return together.

For once his enormous vocabulary failed him. “Because it had to be you.”

Akira just stared back for a few seconds, confusion mixed with a light flush on his face, only visible in the low light due to how it stood out on his pale skin. Then he nodded and reached for the door handle, but before he could open the door and thrust them both into the Sodom beyond, Ryou put his hand on top of Akira’s.

There was an onion skin of images unfolding itself in his mind, searing the neurons in his brains with its urgency. “Do you know about the Greek figure Prometheus?” Before Akira even managed to shake his head because of course he wouldn’t know, Ryou continued, “According to myth, he defied God by bringing fire to mankind. And in return, he was sentenced to have his liver pecked by birds and be unable to die, forever.” Ryou looked Akira in the eye, their noses barely an inch apart. “You know what I mean, right?” The light of realization remained unlit. “To go against the will of authority is a danger in and of itself, even if it’s right. Lightbringers are often punished.” Prometheus was but one example. Throughout myth and history, there were so many more. The man who realized one should wash their hands after a surgery was declared insane; the man who realized the earth circled the sun was forced to recant his claims; and the man who created the notion of morality was executed for using it.”

There was one more name that threatened to spill from his lips, but he swallowed it. His personal beliefs in the Makimuras' doctrine of choice were unconventional, and if he let them slip too soon, Akira might not accept it, no matter how much faith he had.

“This suppression of progression, of the truth, has existed since the dawn of time. I will end it, and you are the only one I trust to stand with me.”

Akira looked at him as if he were the sun, illuminating his surroundings and allowing him to see its shadows clearly for the first time – honored, excited and terrified. Ryou squeezed Akira's hand, his fingers slotting in the valleys between Akira's as if they were made to do so, and gave him a small, encouraging smile.