when he saw akira again the next next day after getting captured, all hell went loose.
"what the fuck did those shits do to you?!" he practically screams, slamming his hand on top of the bar. everyone seems to shrink in unison, seemingly startled from hearing him drop the f-word. there's a flash of fear that lingers in the depths of their leader's eyes, something small and fragile and all too familiar. he swallows a lump in his throat, heart breaking.
he brings up a hand to reach out, a frown on his mouth. rage dissipating into a cold quiet dread. he's about to say sorry when-
"ryuji, calm down."
he shuts up for the rest of the time, cautiously lending akira his shoulder to lean on while he rubs his back in circles as a silent apology while the others bring boss and makoto's sister up to speed.
akira clings to him and never lets go.
« x »
and then after, after.
well, there wasn't much of an after to begin with. because within a week of rest and of them keeping a low head they're back as the thieves, searching and searching until the place and keywords make a hit and they're at a new palace. same old, same old.
but nothing's the same, not really. not when his boyfriend is beaten and drugged with an inch of his life with the bruises to match, standing tall and proud as joker as if nothing had happened.
he needs to rest, everyone knows it. everyone except the idiot himself.
they try to stall it, keep the pace slow and steady as they run through shido's ship, but akira notices because akira always notices.
he clears the air and says there's no time to waste, he's fine. he's good enough to run (not) so he's good enough to lead and fight.
they can't do anything when he gets this stubborn. always so self-sacrificial and kind so fucking dumb. not until he passes out by the second floor and they're more than glad to call it a day.
« x »
akechi dies and ryuji almost dies and everyone cries and it's a mess. atleast the worse of it is over. ha. not.
akira isn't- he's not- he's not okay.
and the thing is, he doesn't have to pretend to be.
those bastards weren't- couldn't be human. some shadows could pass as one way way better than them. because when akira isn't joker he doesn't want to be anyone, especially not plain old akira that ryuji and everybody so deeply loves. barely a shell of a person refusing to acknowledge that he’s still hurt.
he flinches from loud and sudden sounds and raised voices, his hand does this little twitch when he's bothered which is basically all the time. he spins his phone, his pen, faster and faster until it drops from his hand completely. his eyes go dead and downcast when he doesn't talk, which is, all the time basically.
the bruises fade away, he doesn't have to watch for every part of his skin as much anymore when he moves. the bandages come off one by one. some scars stay.
the most sensitive is by the left side of his neck, akira admits. because that was where they first and last injected him. and sometimes it feels so numb it's like he forgets how to breathe. one time morgana had brushed past it by accident in his sleep, and there's a phantom sort of pain that stings that makes him sit right up in a bolt. heh. phantom. akira, it's not funny.
and ryuji does his damndest to stay put. tries not to scream into a pillow or run out the door to yell and run and what. find those bastards? tough luck, he's not that dumb.
right now, akira is here in front of him. a little battered still but alive and safe. facing across each other on the bed when they decide to talk instead of watching tv.
he does what he can for akira instead. trails his fingers softly and slowly from the underside of his jaw, and around that spot. “this okay?” he asks carefully, praying to a god that it is before akira closes his eyes and hums, “keep going.”
so he does, and when he caresses the faint small of scar akira jumps slightly. but then he grits his teeth, closes his eyes, and repeats himself, “keep going.”
“i'm gonna give you a kiss now, that alright?”
akira, eyes still closed, makes that dorky, excited small kind of grin, whispering a “yes” that ryuji barely hears. his hands take hold of both of akira's. lips catch on lips first, a quick chaste one, deciding to bite onto the lower lip after because he couldn't help himself, moving from his mouth towards the same spot on the neck just as he did with his hand earlier.
akira shivers, letting out a quiet whimper that ryuji's been accustomed to hearing lately when he finally reaches that spot. he continues to leave kisses all over his neck and collarbones, soft and sweet. little by little, the strain in his stance fades, almost like he can legitimately feel the walls around his boyfriend actually tearing down.
by the time he's done he brings akira's wrist up to place, sucking and giving soft gentle kisses around it, the hand holding it rubbing small circles at the back of it with his thumb, where the handcuffs were once on. akira gives a soft sigh, melting entirely. good, because there's one other hand left and a whole lot of bruises left to kiss the pain away.
it's a little stupid, ryuji knows. shit like these work on kids who trip and have their moms make it go away with a blow and a kiss, not on escaped teenage criminals. but the way the other boy crumples under his hands as he leans on to his chest only encourages it.
everything is quiet and peaceful. safe. ryuji wants akira to feel that way as much as he can. by the time he's done he's leaning on the wall by the head of the bed, his best friend completely encased around him, resting his head on his stomach. his eyes starting to droop while ryuji's hands roam all over his skin and hair.
this is one of the better days.
« x »
the bad days are filled with ugly crying and locked doors in boss' place. (the only time akira ever indulges on sojiro's open door to his actual home is when he needs to go hide away and shut everyone out. it's definitely not healthy, but boss atleast wants to offer a safe space to the broken boy. goddamn it akira). the bad days are full of pained faces and hushed tones as ryuji and some of the thieves wait him out by outside the room.
he never comes out for a day or two then. and when he does, his stupid pretty face is etched with a bright smile that doesn't fully reach his eyes. it never fails to give him whiplash. if he didn't know akira any better he might've fallen for it. it's enough of a tell to realize that akira's probably done this a hundred times already even before all of this.
'he needs to have his own time, ryuji.'
'maybe this is his own way of coping.'
'perhaps this is his way of telling us that he doesn't want to be bothered?' the other thieves said.
he knows. he knows, okay?
he knows what it's like to want to hide away from the world and let himself crumble apart piece by piece until he can stand back up. that maybe if he does it in secret no one has to know, no one has to pity him. he knows.
but he can't stand the thought of leaving him alone. of spending the day knowing his best friend is busy hating himself without atleast letting him know that by the time he's done, ryuji is just outside the door, or a phone call away, ready to be by his side.
so when akira comes up to him with that smile that crushes his heart each time he sees it, ryuji makes sure it doesn't show, and gives back the biggest grin he can manage.
« x »
and then they defeated a god and mementos was no more. after a brief course of relief he finds himself staring at akira when it all happens, a nagging sense of paranoia hitting him all at once.
what about him, he thinks.
weird as it sounds, but mementos has become a sort of safe haven for them all in their own twisted way, a world where they can beat their frustration out on the shadows as they stride across the pavements with their heads held high. no more can akira go to a place where he can be fully joker and let go all of his masks at once, no more place to hide when it all becomes too much.
it is then when ryuji decides that he'll be the rock that grounds him, the one to chase the thoughts away as he holds him through the inevitable breakdowns to come. so he spends christmas eve with his best friend, making sure to head home first and leave a present for his mom by the time she gets back home in the morning, a mission made for himself to make akira laugh and smile as much as he can to take away the strange, sad look on his face despite everything they've achieved.
and then the next morning comes and akira is arrested.
it could've been him, was his first thought. it would've been better if it was him. even if no one else gave it much thought he was still the right hand man, always by his side as they march on, the first one to react, the co-founder of the damn phantom thieves itself. he could've taken his place. he knows enough, from where they get their weapons and medicines and information, their stories from start to finish. he could've fared much better compared to their already traumatized leader who struggled to be fine as each day passed by even without being in the cold cells of confinement. although incomparable, he did have a year of isolation when shit went down with the track team. whatever. point is, ryuji doesn't want him back at the hands of those rotten adults.
he’d go to jail for him. he would have. maybe that was why akira didn’t bother to tell him or wake him up when it happened.
ah, but sae needed him specifically, for a case against shido and all that other shit. they needed the leader that was once already captured, whose name was already public within the department or some shit like that. it should've been him. akira suffered enough, wouldn't it be fair that someone else pry off that baggage off him just this once?
the lingering guilt laces together with the rage and anxiety in those two months. desperate to do everything he can to get him back, days and nights filled with phone calls and paperwork. bad enough that he'd finally caved and started drinking coffee along with the others in le blanc as they tire themselves relentlessly.
and the bitter taste against his tongue on nights upon nights is finally being worth it. they make a breakthrough good enough to get him back legally and officially. hell, even enough to clear that criminal record off of him. and ryuji didn't think his smile could be any bigger until his ears heard that bell chime, that same fluffy head of hair with those stupid goddamn fake glasses he missed so much being there and present after that crushing christmas morning.
the shadows beneath his eyes got darker, his already thin frame even without the hell he went through has somehow gotten thinner as all those efforts to make him gain some weight diminished. but that's okay, because his best friend is back and he's smiling and he'll make sure everything will be just as he left it as much as he can. the blond rushes up to him, carries him off his feet by lifting him up to the air with his arms around his waist and he doesn't ever want to let go.
akira holds him by the head with his arms, bumping his forehead against his, laughing as he mutters an “i missed you too.”
the manic grin on his face probably seems creepy, but his glee at seeing his best friend, his boyfriend, his teammate, his leader is almost too much to contain.
yeah, everything's gonna be alright.
« x »
prison, as he expected, was the dumbest thing to ever inflict on akira.
(he tries not to think about the reason he got to tokyo in the first place, or the fact that their team unanimously agreed to send him off to a suicide interrogation. nope. not thinking about it.)
dude was already in poor health before he left for prison, forced to speed up and fight with fresh bruises and bleeding skin all over for the sake of the mission, barely enough time for recovery both mentally and emotionally speaking at that. but akira was kind and selfless, always thinking ahead and of others than himself, agreeing immediately to sae's propostion despite no assurance of ever being free again so soon.
ryuji had always admired that about their leader, as much as he hated it.
in those few weeks after the interrogation, akira slowly started to unravel once more, slowly getting past that mask he hides behind like he did at the start of april again. all of that goes down the drain the moment he stepped foot in that goddamn prison. now, their dorky leader is unsure, tired and always always so afraid.
with no more hearts to steal and a gang (shut up, it's totally a gang) to keep up, there's enough time for them to make up for lost time. they all try to help, through one-on-one hangouts or group outings, taking this as a payback to help him back just as he did with them. it helps little by little, evident by the way the light in his eyes starts to shine more and more. and it's good, it's great, but sometimes the damn idiot still hides himself away on the bad days, refusing to reach out.
the blond can't pretend it doesn't happen, but he can't push it either. so he checks up on him when he can, finds the nervous ticks in his gestures when he thinks it's coming, or if it's already passed, holds his hand and kisses the knuckles one by one until his best friend whines that it tickles and tackles him into a kiss.
oh, and the pda thing too.
it's a feat that they've been trying to warm up to, back before november and it's a slow, slow progress. ryuji knows it's a dumb thing to worry about, among all things even up until now as they walk across the mall. he can already feel the eyes on his back before he even does it. but then again, the thought of having his boyfriend back and safe is stronger than those judgmental pricks. so he wastes no time in catching the hand of the unsuspecting owner of it, intertwines and locks his fingers through the slots between, squeezing tightly
akira lets out a quiet yelp (fuck, why was that so cute?) from the surprise and sudden touch, eyes darting between their hand and to his face, before smiling so widely and softly, and squeezing back.
this time, people are staring. people are staring and muttering among themselves, and his heart won't stop beating so hard it might jump out of his body, but the giddiness he feels in the pit of his stomach is a thousand times better. it's worth it.
and it makes akira happy, especially when they get bolder. when the feared student delinquent clings to his arm and drops his head on his shoulder, when ryuji slips his hand in the backpocket of the other's pants, or when he actually (holy shit) gives a short peck on the other’s mouth on every greeting no matter where they are. it's a little weird, mosty because he's always been gagging on couples who are way too affectionate in public, but it's akira and it's bliss. the way the guy perks up, distracted from getting lost in his own thoughts as he flaunts his handsome boyfriend to the world makes him think that it's worth every shitty stare.
slowly it gets better, akira gets better but not totally. what he's been through isn't going to go away in just a span of a few peaceful weeks full of kissing and smiling. it might take years, it might never go away, but if there's one thing for sure, ryuji won’t be leaving his side no matter what.
then the day that akira leaves for his hometown comes and he's forced to go away. the group makes it absolute that they'll send him there themselves as they embark on a road trip in a shitty van and it's one of the most fun he's had.
but good things don't last forever, and they have to say their goodbyes. and not for the first time ryuji seriously debates if it's too late to transfer schools before akira comes up to him to cup his palms on either sides of his cheeks as they lock eyes.
"i'll miss you." he squeezes his face, kisses him on the nose, closing his eyes.
ryuji encases him in a long hug, kisses him long and hard, delighting in the way the other gasps out a pleased sound as he reciprocates. he wraps his arms around him tighter, afraid to let go.
"i'll miss you more." ryuji sighs into his mouth between kisses, completely forgetting that oh, the others are still here. shit. they weren't that affectionate in public.
but he pays it no mind, blinks back against the tears threatening to form in his eyes as they make promises to call and text and visit as much as they can before they make their way back.
and just like that, life goes on without seeing the person who changed his entire life for the better everyday.
he busies himself with part time work and working out when he's not on the call with akira or hanging out with the others. saves up to help his mom and enough for himself just in case he wants to make a surprise visit from time to time, dropping everything at hand once his phone that's never on silent rings as akira calls either to talk or to text to whine about anything and everything. and ryuji complies, does everything he can to help even from miles away with a smile too big and the days pass like that.
one day, he thinks. one day he'll be good enough to get into college on his own as he takes his studies seriously and work towards a future for himself. and one day, they'll be together again and they won't have to part anymore.
life wasn't perfect. it never is, but what he has now, he'll never take it for granted.
his eyes start to droop, and his head falls into the pillow of his bed, falling asleep to the sound of his best friend's sleepy good night.
they'll figure it out. they're going to be okay. he knows it.