Akira swore, as loud as he could in the empty coffee shop. They had messed up the palace, the card, everything. This was his one last chance to save his best friend and he fucked it up. He prayed to the heavens that Ryuji wouldn’t do what Akira had feared. Morgana was watching him from the bed, wide blue fearfully following his every move.
“Y-you need to-”
“If you’re about to tell me to go to bed after we fucked up everything about Ryuji’s palace, then you can fuck right off, Morgana.”
The cat gave a startled yelp and scrambled to the open window. Akira sank on the bed as he heard the cat’s drag across the roof tile.
‘Please, please, Ryuji.’
The next day at school, he was called into the office where a detective sat with a forlorn look. A heavy sense of dread filled his stomach and he immediately shot up out of the chair.
“I regret to inform you-”
“No, no, no.”
“-that Ryuji Sakamoto-”
“No, no, please god no.”
“No, no, no.”
Akira sank to the ground and let loose the biggest wail his voice could muster.
Ryuji, his best friend and someone he vowed to help, had died.
Akira couldn’t feel anything, not the floor, not the hands on his back, nor his harsh and salty tears.
Akira was deadly silent as they lowered Ryuji’s casket into the ground. Lightning flashed above the as the heavy rain pelted the cover of the tent. Akira could hear cries and tears from the others, but oddly enough, he remained silent. He felt numb and cold, like his emotions had left him, leaving nothing but an empty husk behind. The funeral ended, but Akira stayed where he was before being pulled away by Ann.
“We failed him...”
“I failed him.”
Ann didn’t respond after that, making Akira feel even emptier.
Akira slowly walked upstairs and dragged his feet towards his bed. Morgana opted to stay with Futaba, clearly still feeling uneasy after the teen had snapped at him. Akira face planted into the bed and curled into the sheets, silently sobbing into the pillow before falling asleep. Hours later, he shot up in bed, shivering from the feeling of someone staring at him. He looked around the dark attic, trying to find the cause of what had woken him. Akira’s voice caught in his throat as he spotted... Ryuji on the couch.
He was ghostly white, nearly see through, as he stared at the teen. His usual dark purple jacket was a faint purple as were his torn blue jeans. Ryuji’s eyes were a faded brown and the bags Akira had seen under them were gone.
“Hey man...” His voice carried a small echo with it.
Akira moved from the bed, shivering from the cold air Ryuji was unintentionally giving off. “You’re... a ghost.”
“Are you here to haunt me?”
Ryuji sighed, sinking into the couch and almost going through it. “I guess? I dunno know how this shit works.”
“Why didn’t you stop me?”
Akira paused, dread quickly filling his stomach. “I-I...”
“Changin my heart,” Ryuji looked at him. “Was that a lie?”
“No, of course not!” Akira was quick to respond. “We just... fucked up and-”
“And look what happened.” Ryuji huffs. “So... this is what happens when a palace ain’t completed in time?”
The teen swallows thickly, he doesn’t want to even think about that right now, but how could he avoid it when his failure was staring him right in the face?
“Are... are you stuck with me? Forever?”
“You can’t move on?”
Akira sank onto the couch, sitting next to Ryuji. Together they fell into silence, staring out into the darkness of the attic and waiting for the sun to rise.
Akira sat in class, mindlessly listening to Inui drone on and on and about something. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he stopped Ryuji sitting on the ground in a bored haze. This morning, the apparition had unintentionally proved that only Akira could see Ryuji when he tried showing him to Futaba and the others. The teen sighed and leaned down into his chair, using his arms as a makeshift pillow while he tried to fall asleep. Something scratching across the papers on his desk caused him to open his eyes. Ryuji was writing something, tongue poking out from his lips as he focused.
For a second, Akira feared what this must look like to anyone else, seeing a pencil floating and writing. Ryuji finished and turned the paper towards him.
‘I’m bored, can we skip?’
Akira wrote back. ‘I’d get my ass kicked if that happened.’
‘Dude, you’re still recoverin’ from my... death. I’m sure the teachers wouldn’t give two shits.’
‘I’m not going to use your death as an excuse to leave.’
‘Fine, I’ll just haunt the class then.’
Ryuji stood up and walked towards the front of the class, Akira swallowed down the urge to call him back. The ghost picked up the chalk and wrote something on the board, causing everyone in the class to freeze and stare at it. In the best creepy writing he could, Ryuji put down:
Screams filled the class as the students, and Inui, bolted out of the room in terror. Akira blinked as Ryuji dusted off his hands and placed them on his hips.
Even dead, Ryuji was still Ryuji.
“I can’t believe you did that.”
“So, you’re tied to me. Like following me around?”
“Dude, how the hell would I know? There’s no ghost rule book.”
“But there’s enough movies that should make it-”
“Akira? Who are you talking to?”
Akira and Ryuji paused, turning their heads to see Ann and Morgana standing in the doorway of the roof. Ann looked concerned while Morgana looked confused.
“Um... I’m talking to...” His eyes flicked around as he tried his best to come up with an answer. “Uh, I’m talking to Arsene.”
“Oh hello, Wild Card.” Ryuji mimicked Arsene with a terrible french accent. “I am thou, thou art I.”
Akira swallowed down his laughter and cleared his throat.
Ann raised her eyebrow at him. “Arsene?”
“Yeah, he’s trying to, I guess, take my mind of Ryuji’s....” He let the end of the sentence float in the air.
“Akira.” Ann’s voice grew soft. “You don’t have to suffer alone with this. We all miss him-”
“I know, but I’m the one who fucked up the palace run and the calling card. Don’t take my faults and put it on your shoulders.” Akira looked crestfallen and turned his eyes to the ground, not wanting to see the three of them give him pitying looks.
“Akira-” The bell rang out, cutting off what the blonde was going to say. “...We should get back to class.”
“Go on ahead.”
“I’ll be fine, Ann, please.”
She hesitated before leaving the roof, calling out for Morgana to follow her. Ryuji waited until he couldn’t see them before floating in front of Akira.
“You think my death is your fault? Akira, you-”
“Failed to help you when you needed it? Cause I did. And now look at you, you’re a goddamn ghost!” Akira looked like he was on the verge of tears. “Everytime I look at you, I’m reminded of the one person I failed to save!”
“I said cry.”
Akira stared at Ryuji with a flabbergasted look. “I can’t.”
“Why?” The apparition narrowed his eyes.
“Because I’m the leader-”
“Leader schmeader! You deserve to cry! Emotions can’t be locked away, Akira!”
“You think I don't know that!? A part of me wants to cry, but-”
“But what!? Your best friend is goddamn dead and a fuckin’ ghost! I want you to shed a tear!”
Akira stared hard at Ryuji as their yelling match finally settled down. The teen could feel tears gathering in the corner of his eyes, and blinking through them, he noticed Ryuji was crying as well.
“Akira... you ain’t the only one in pain.” The ghost hiccuped, tears streaming down his face. “Every time I touch you, my hand goes through you. I can’t touch you...”
“Ryuji...” Akira sobbed, sinking to the floor.
Akira’s wails echoed loudly around the area, the sound of ghostly wailing followed shortly after.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking,” Akira’s voice was rough and he attempted to clear his throat, but to no avail. “Why did you pull us out of class?”
Haru, Makoto, and Ann sat with him in the principal’s office with Maruki. Ryuji sat on the ground, wiping remaining tears from his eyes.
“It was,” Maruki glanced at the principal. “A terrible idea to bring you kids back into school after the death of your friend. So, take the rest of the week off to recover.” He turned to look at the administrator. “Right?”
“...Right. For now, take a half day and return home. We’ll see you in a week.”
The teens slowly shuffled out of the room, Akira hesitated before following after them.
“Kurusu, hold on one second.”
Akira turned as Maruki left the office and close the door behind him. “I know Sakamoto’s death greatly affected you and your friends, and I want you to know that my office is open whenever you wish to talk.”
“Thank you, Mr. Maruki. I’ll tell the others as well.” Akira paused for a few moments. “Does that extend to my friend who goes to Kosei?”
“It extends to all of your friends, Kurusu.”
“Thank you, it... it means a lot that you care about our well-being...”
Akira looks up from Ryuji’s tombstone. “Yeah?”
Ryuji draped himself over his own headstone. “Remember how you said you had somethin’ to tell me back when I was alive?”
“Well, I was meanin’ to tell you somethin’ too.” The ghost rubbed the back of his head. “I... I love you.”
Akira felt his heart stop.
“I should’ve told you that night, but... y’know.”
“Ryuji, I love you too.”
“Eh? You do?”
“Of course. I also should’ve told you sooner.” Akira turned to leave the graveyard. “I don’t know what held me back.”
Ryuji floated behind him. “Rejection?”
“Hmm, could be.” The street was crowded as the teen pushes his way past some people. “In the end, I guess we were both cowards.”
“C’mon man, I ain’t a coward.”
Akira shrugged as the crosswalk light turned green, he began to walk across, but paused as he heard the sound of squealing tires. A car was hurling towards them, clearly with no desire to stop. People screamed and ran towards the edges of the street. Akira was about to do the same until he saw a little girl fall to the ground, right in front of the car. The teen acted fast, rushing forward to pick the girl up and throw her to safety.
He didn’t feel the impact of the car as it slammed into him, sending him sprawling across the street. The world was spiralling above him, his vision going in and out as people swarmed him in a circle, each crying out for someone to call the ambulance. Ryuji entered his line of sight, eyes wide and fearful.
“Akira, Akira, you’ll be alright, man.” His voice was wavering. “J-just hold on, there’s gonna be help soon.”
“Save your breath! Just stay with me and keep your eyes open!”
The world was growing colder.
“No, no, Akira, please! You gotta live for the both of us!”
Akira breathed his last just as the ambulance arrived.
“Red string of fate, huh...” Ryuji sat on his tombstone, feet phasing in and out of the ground as he kicked his legs. “Talk about a shitty endin’.”
Ryuji looked to the side as Akira strolled up to him, ghostly white and nearly see through. His clothes were faded like Ryuji’s own. The glasses were gone from his face as Akira softly smiled at him.
“I guess? I mean, you died.”
“But we’re together.” Akira held out his hand. “Come on, let’s go.”
“What? We goin’ to haunt Ann?” Ryuji took it and got off the tombstone.
“Nope, let’s just see where the afterlife takes us.”