The train announces Yasoinaba in it’s robotic tone, and Ryuji looks down at his phone, double-checking as he lifts up his duffle bag.
You: sure i’m in the rite place?
After that, Futaba sends him a map of the area, with Ren’s place circled in red, along with instructions on how to get there. He could’ve used the GPS, but Futaba’s already had it all planned during her spare time, and she doesn’t mind. And it’s not like Ren can know, considering. Well.
It’s a surprise!
It’s also the holidays, which is the perfect time to spend some time with his best friend in his hometown. Which seems like a breath of fresh air compared to Tokyo. Stepping out of the train station, he stares at the quiet of the street. This’d be dead by Tokyo standards, he thinks before shaking his head.
Walking down the steps to the bus sign, he sits on a nearby bench as he waits for the correct bus that’d take him nearest to Ren’s house.
You: yr town cant be that boring
He grins at the message he sends Ren as he takes in the quiet around him. Aside from things like bamboo fountains moving and cars, he can’t hear much. It’s a bit weird, considering he’s used to the bustle of Tokyo. It’ must’ve been weirder for Ren to get used to Tokyo and―his phone pings.
renren: it is!
Ryuji thinks Inaba is nice, from all he’s seen of it. The sound of the bus comes along, and he’s relieved to see it’s the one he’s been waiting for. Smiling at the bus driver, he sits down and looks out the window, staring at the scenery.
As he gets closer to Ren’s house, his stomach turns in anxiety. He imagines Ren turning him away at the door, or that he’s busy with his other friends.
The friends that didn’t talk to him at all while he was in Tokyo! He forcibly reminds himself. As Ren’s street comes into sight, he breathes deeply as he gets off the bus. Setting his jaw, he hangs onto a thread of determination as he walks up Ren’s street, which has a few cars and cats mainly. Standing on the porch of Ren’s house, he takes another deep breath, clutching his bag tightly as he knocks.
Not long after, the door opens with Ren on the other side, who freezes as he stares, mouth gaping and eyes wide.
“Yo,” he says, and then there’s silence. Ren continues to stare.
There’s a sound of familiar padding feet, and then, “who knocked―“ as Morgana appears next to Ren. “Ryuji!? ”
“Hey Mona,” he greets, “can I come in?” He shrugs his shoulder which has the bag strap on it, and Ren snaps out of his speechlessness.
“... Sure,” Ren moves to let him through. “What are you doing here?!”
“I wanted to surprise you!” He grins. “Surprise!”
Ren blinks and then starts to smile. “Thanks,” Ren says before hugging him.
“This place doesn’t look boring to me.” Ren sighs against his shoulder.
“You say that now,” the other boy says gravely.
“This is your last chance to leave,” Ren says as they walk through the streets. After putting his stuff into Ren’s room, Morgana stayed behind as Ren pulled him outside.
Ryuji laughs and bumps the other’s shoulder, “nah. You’re stuck with me,” he says with a grin. Really, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.
“You should save yourself, while you can,” Ren’s voice is dramatic as he waves his arms in front of him, before latching onto his arm. Ryuji’s heart skips a beat, but it always happens around Ren that he just accepts it.
“Do you want me to leave that badly?”
At this, Ren gasps, “NO!” Ren pulls him closer, attracting weird looks from the few people on the street. Ren’s head is on his shoulder. “Of course not.”
Ryuji sighs, which makes the other’s hair flutter, “where’re we going then?”
Ren moves away enough so they can walk along, their arms still joined. “To the river.”
“Why the river?” He frowns, not really seeing why they would go there. He saw it in the bus on the way.
“The sun sets soon. It’s a nice view,” Ren explains, then sighs dramatically, “for this place anyway.” The snobby tone in Ren’s voice makes him laugh, and he catches a bright smile on the other’s face.
“So ‘m I getting the VIP treatment here?” He giggles.
“Oh, definitely. You’ll be treated like royalty,” Ren says imperiously, bowing his head as they arrive at the river. Ren gestures to the scenery, “here, you’ll see the Samegawa river, otherwise known as the Samegawa floodplain!” Ren intones, and Ryuji smiles. “Here, bored teenagers do some shit, and there’s fishing, and it’s all so very,” Ren frowns, “droll.”
“Tellin’ me it’s a good view for the sunset, and now it’s droll, you’re not sellin’ me on it, dude,” he teases.
“Ugh,” Ren groans and drags him over to sit near the river. It’s almost sunset, and the colours reflecting on the river, and the quiet from the town makes him gasp.
“Woah,” he breathes as the dusk comes in.
“Yeah,” Ren’s voice is quiet next to him, but he doesn’t look away from the play on the colours. A sound slowly starts, a beat that rises and falls constantly.
“What’s the noise?” He frowns, looking around.
“Never heard those before outside of movies,” Ryuji frowns, listening.
“You get used to them.” Ren pulls him up once the sun has set, “come on. I’ll make dinner once we get home.”
The street-lights come on as they walk the way back to Ren’s house, and Ryuji marvels at the constant sound of cicadas.
“Bon appetit!” Ren produces a plate of curry onto the kitchen counter with a flourish, and then another for himself as Ren sits next to him. Ryuji’s happily watched as Ren cooked up the curry, remembering watching him do it at Boss’s place hundreds of times.
Morgana hops onto the counter and stares down at the dinner with distaste. “This is all you’ve been making since you came here,” Morgana judges before hopping off to eat his own dinner.
Ren shrugs, “it’s nice. And I either burn or undercook other food. Or both,” he grimaces.
Ryuji sighs. “Tomorrow we’re going to the store and I’ll make us somethin’,” he offers, and Ren’s eyes light up, spoon in his mouth.
“Really ?!” Though, it sounds more muffled than that due to the utensil. It’s cute, and Ryuji pushes his insanely huge crush down before he does something stupid.
“Sure. I’m not having an only-curry diet while being here, like an idiot,” at this Morgana snickers, and Ren gasps in offense, but he ignores it, “I can teach you some basic stuff that’s not curry as well.”
Ren takes the spoon and dumps in the curry to hug him, “my hero ,” Ren’s voice is high and right next to his ear, and he blushes, heart skipping at the closeness. “Photo!” Ren moves next to him, getting his phone out and bringing him even closer as Ren sorts the angle. Pictures are taken quickly as they smile into the camera, and it’s only when Ren’s already posting them to the group chat that he sees the bunny ears Ren put behind his head.
Ryuji grumbles between his curry as their phones blow up with notifications from their friends.
“Since we’re going to Junes, I’ll be able to see that cryptid you keep postin’ in the chat, right?”
Ren scowls at him, “he’s not a cryptid! He’s a real mascot!”
Ryuji sniggers as they walk up the street, Junes closeby. “Oh yeah? How come all the photos you’ve taken look fake?”
Ren crosses his arms, then grabs onto one of his arms, dragging him through Junes until they reach the food court. Where there’s a round bear-like figure, handing out balloons to kids. Ren turns around gestures in the bear’s direction.
He gapes as he gets out his phone to take a picture. It turns out fine, apart from some glare for the sun, but the mascot is in focus. “Maybe the problem was you sucked at takin’ photos that aren’t selfies,” he says as he shows it to Ren, who digs his elbow into his gut as he posts it to the group chat. “Ow! ”
You: its not!
You: rens pics of him are just bad
Futaba: fair. he can’t be good at everything
Yusuke: What a handsome specimen.
Haru: Oh, so cute!!! ♡ ～('▽^人)
Futaba: get a photo w the 2 of u
“Geez,” he sighs as he shares a look with Ren, who adjusts his glasses with a smile.
“We have our mission,” Ren intones, using his Leader voice. “Time to get a selfie with a bear!”
“Run with me?” It’s the early morning, and Ren’s obviously not happy with having his beauty sleep disturbed.
“Now?” Ren whines, muffled from the blankets and pillows on him.
“Yeah!” He grins, and Ren groans.
There’s a sigh from the Ren-cocoon on the bed as Ren’s fluffy head pokes out. And then stares at him.
And stares some more, eyes intense as he looks up and down at Ryuji in his sweatpants and muscle shirt. At this point, Ryuji’s feeling a bit nervous and trapped. Just when he’s about to say something embarrassing, probably, Ren groans once again and flips the blankets over his face.
“Fine,” the other boy says before throwing the blankets off of him. “I won’t take long,” Ren mumbles as he passes him.
“Uh,” he licks his lips, “you don’t have to if―“
“I want to,” Ren cuts him off, and gives him a Look. “don’t go anywhere,” Ren points at him while he leaves the room, clothes in hand.
He sighs and decides to sit on Ren’s bed while he waits. Ren’s room is… a room. With a bed, and the whole room smells like him, which he decides to ignore for his own sake. There’s a shelf across from him, filled with stuff that was in his room at Tokyo, and he smiles at the plastic ramen bowl on the top shelf. Next to the shelf is a small wardrobe, with what looks like some make-up scattered on the top. And next to the wardrobe is a small entertainment unit with TV and game consoles, with much better games that he rented while in Tokyo.
“Let’s go,” Ren appears from nowhere, and he yelps as a hand pulls him up from the bed. Once they’re both outside the house, they stretch and Ryuji tries not to stare at the black tracksuit pants and tank top. “Follow me,” Ren nods his head to the right as they start jogging.
“You’ve been runnin’ here?” He grins and the other boy shrugs.
“I usually prefer when it’s not the crack of dawn,” Ren says, squinting at the sky like it wronged him and Ryuji laughs.
They’ve come to the river while on their run, and they’re having a tiny rest at the shade of the gazebo there. Plus, his leg needs some down time before more running, since it seems to be twinging.
“What’s with these dudes?” He asks roughly, squinting at what looks like two guys fishing in the river. Well, the silver-haired one is fishing, while the brown-haired one gestures next to him.
“That’s Mr Narukami and Mr Hanamura. Narukami’s the one fishing,” Ren says with a yawn, shifting closer to him to rest his head on Ryuji’s shoulder. “They’ve been boyfriends for as long as I can remember. Bit weird though.”
“The dude with the talkin’ cat thinks these two are weird?” He grins and Ren shoves him.
“It’s a good weird, like me!” Ren pouts, batting his eyelashes.
“Can’t argue with that.”
Ren nods, and they spend a few minutes watching people pass by. Soon after, Ren gets up and puts his hand out, which he takes to get up. “We’ll take a different way back home,” Ren looks around, “Narukami has an army of faithful strays near where they live that we can visit on the way.”
He nods as he follows Ren out of the river and into winding streets. By the time they get to the street of Narukami’s place, which he knows because of the various cats hanging around the entire area, he’s worked up a sweat.
Ren stops running to lean down, putting his hand out as a calico cat sniffs it, a brilliant smile on his face. Ryuji’s heart flutters, so he decides to take a photo while Ren coos and babytalks the cat, who’s lying down for affection.
Something bumps against his leg, and he tears his eyes away to see a black cat looking up at him. “Hello,” he whispers as he slowly leans down, wiggling his fingers as the cat judges them. There’s a meow, and then sits down as he carefully rubs the soft fur on it’s head.
More cats come over for pats and he wonders if they could just stay on this street all day, heart melting at all the cute kittens.
Sadly, his stomach rumbles, which reminds him that he needs something more substantial than energy bars to eat.
“Let’s go,” Ren’s voice is sad as they both stand up, the kitten meowing up a storm as they leave, “they’ll still be here, but we need breakfast.”
Ma: Hows it in your friends town?
Ma: Send pics! I want to see the scenery!
You: i do have some hold on
Ryuji smiles as he looks down at his phone. Currently him and Ren are watching the TV in Ren’s room, sitting next to each other on the bed. Currently there’s some drama on, which Ren’s gotten sucked into while he talks to his mum.
“My ma would like to come here sometime,” he relays to Ren.
Ren grunts, then looks at him and scoffs, turning up his nose. “Here?”
“Yes, here! She thinks it’d be peaceful.”
“Peaceful? More like dead.” Ren mutters as he stares at his TV.
“I’unno, it’d be nice for her to have no drama. We’ve already had enough of that,” he says.
Ren’s expression becomes remorseful, “yeah. She deserves that.”
He nods, and he goes back to texting his mum while Ren gets invested some bizarre straight love triangle on the TV.
In Ren’s opinion, the drama ends too soon, and he whines all the way as he goes to choose a DVD to put on instead. Ryuji watches on, affection filling him up as Ren gestures with his DVD.
“―And why would she even go for him!? Are the writers really thinking that going for the abusive bad boy, rather than the guy who―“ Ryuji nods along, grinning as Ren vent, resting a hand on the TV’s shelf.
… Is his… ? “Ren,” he cuts off the other’s ranting, “is your hand going through the screen?” He asks, not blinking.
Ren blinks, then looks down at his hand. Which is resting on the TV’s border, some of his arm going through the screen. Like a cat, Ren jumps, then slowly makes his way back to the TV. They share a look, and Ren slowly puts his hand on the screen.
Which should’ve happened, if his hand didn’t go through it, waves rippling around from Ren’s hand. And… yeah.
“Is this happening?” He asks, wondering if this is a dream.
“I think it is,” Ren says as he moves his hand up and down the small screen, voice unaffected like his hand isn’t going into who-knows-where. “You know what we should do. We should use my big screen TV in the lounge to walk into it!” This time Ren sounds more excited.
“Shouldn’t we like, tell Morgana…“ he trails off as he walks over to see it closer. “Nevermind. Your idea sounds better.”
Ren skips out to the living room, with him following behind. They stare at the widescreen TV, look at each other and nod in unison. He’s been in scarier places than wherever this’ll go. Maybe.
They put their hands on the screen, and it goes through as they step closer. “Ready?” Ren smirks, and his heart skips a beat at the expression which reminds him of the Metaverse.
“Ready,” he echoes, and in the next beat they fall through the TV.
His body seems to get turned upside down inwardly as he hits something grass-like. He groans and takes some deep breaths as his body and mind gets reoriented from the tumble.
Nausea passing, he opens his eyes and looks around, finding Ren next to him, scratching his head. With Ren safe, he looks around at where they are. Green grass, flowers, blue skies, a sparkling lake… ? His mum would love this. Aside from the small fact that it’s inside a TV. Or however that works. “What the fuck,” he says.
“Skull,” Ren states, and he looks at Ren, who’s staring behind him. Confused, he turns around. In the distance is tall towers, like Tokyo’s, but distorted and red in a very familiar way. Okay, his mum wouldn’t like that. He doesn’t like it.
“Ain’t the Metaverse dead? An’ how’d we get in here without the app?”
“Maybe other Metaverse-like places exist?” Ren says with a shrug.
Ryuji groans, and he checks that Seiten Taisei is able to be summoned. Even though their outfits haven’t changed? But it seems fine, according to his persona. “Whatever. At least we know where to go.”
“To the creepiest part,” Ren says gravely, and they laugh as they start to walk towards the towers.
It takes ages, and yet also no time at all, like the Metaverse does, to reach the distorted area. The towers look like common ones in Tokyo, and he frowns, a bad feeling passing over him as he looks up.
“Sightseeing? How cute!” A very familiar voice coos, and his bad feeling is solidified as turns to the source of the voice. Himself. In his Skull outfit, apart from his mask. And added yellow eyes. And sharp grin.
“Ren?” He chokes out, and next to him Ren purses his lips and nods.
The other him―the Shadow Ryuji―walks closer, every step echoing. Dread claws at his stomach as the Shadow’s eyes lock onto him. “Welcome to my little area of paradise!” Shadow Ryuji gestures to the distorted area, “a part of you’s always hated how special Joker is with his wild card trick, but now you get your own special area due to how fucked up you are!”
Ryuji prods the part of his mind with his persona, and… he’s still there. “I still have my persona,” he announces weakly, not sure what’s going on at all as he steps closer to Ren.
“Going to hide behind your leader?” His shadow hasn’t stopped grinning, speaking in an overly chipper tone, “the same leader who’ll abandon you the second he finds out how useless are, chip-off-the-old-abusive-dad block you keep worrying about?”
Ryuji flinches, “he won’t,” his voice is feeble, wishing he were anywhere but here, his world narrowed down to the Shadow.
“But you think he will. That they all will, since you’re so pathetic and worthless, just some dead weight they keep lugging around like the belt good old dad―“
“Stop!” Ren snarls as he steps in front of him.
At this, the Shadow’s grin gets even wider, which is apparently possible. “You!” The Shadow says gleefully, and it feels like his insides drop to the ground as the Shadow advances on Ren.
His Shadow smirks at him before yellow-gloved hands come up to hold Ren’s face. His stomach twists as he steps back, and then the Shadow kisses Ren, and his eyes go wide. The world seems to freeze as they continue to kiss, and Ryuji rejects the feeling bubbling up in his throat to deny, deny, deny.
“You’re me, so get the fuck away from him!” He shouts, and his Shadow disappears into blue light, then a card comes to hover in front of him. “A persona? Another persona?” He catches the card, staring at it dumbly as it disappears into… himself. The hell?!
Shocked, he looks up to see Ren’s wide-eyed look, though he’s unsure if it was from the kiss, or the new sudden persona.
“... Ren, I―“ he starts clumsily, though the sound of screaming from behind them interrupts him. What now?! Twisting around, he sees old people. Like the two guys Ren pointed out. And the Junes mascot?
“We’re here to save you from your… “ The brown-haired one, Mr Hanamura, starts to talk as the distorted area changes. Back to what it was before. “... Shadow?”
TV world filled with personas and Shadows in Ren’s apparent boring home town? Whatever. The group of older people being persona-users who used the TV world to find a killer? Well, yeah. The Junes mascot being some sort of Shadow like Morgana? Sure, why not.
Somehow, all these revelations, and new friends with personas pale in comparison to the whole so my Shadow kissed you thing with his best friend.
“Ren,” he says as they walk out of Junes, which is where the other group, the Investigation Team, led them to from inside the TV world. They managed to share their experiences fine, even with Ren having a very unreadable expression throughout.
“Later,” Ren says flatly, and he flinches. They walk briskly back to Ren’s house in silence, which isn’t uncomfortable, but it’s certainly not… cosy.
He fidgets with the bottom of his shirt and Ren opens the front door, “look, I’m―“ He starts as they walk inside, but Ren holds up his hand and his mouth clicks shut.
Ren shuts the door and pins him with an intense gaze. “Ryuji,” at this, he crosses his arms, shaking his leg at how serious the other’s voice is, “I’ll never leave you. The Phantom Thieves will never do that,” he says softly.
“Huh?” He gapes, thrown off by what he thought would happen.
“No matter what you think, we won’t abandon you. And not to be cliche, but the fact that you seem to worry constantly about turning out like him,” Ren’s distaste is palpable, “means you never will, because he wasn’t like that, was he?”
“No?” He answers hesitantly.
Ren smiles and steps up to him. There are hordes of butterflies in Ryuji’s stomach at how close Ren is. “As for the last thing―“
Here we go, he thinks as he braces himself for rej―
Hands cradle his face, and it’s an out-of-body experience as Ren kisses him. Deeply. Like a continuation of the kiss shared with his Shadow…
“What?” He croaks as the kiss ends, though Ren’s still close enough for them to share breath. Maybe this whole day is a dream?!
“I’m―“ Ren hesitates, “I love you,” he whispers.
He lets out a strangled sound, mind refusing to believe it. “You―for real!?” He flounders, waving his arms uselessly.
“The realest,” Ren says severely. There’s a beat and then Ryuji starts laughing, feeling the other’s soft hair as they bump foreheads.
“That was bad,” he snickers, and Ren gasps.
“No!” He replies vehemently, “that was… good. Really good.”
“Just good?” Ren says, sliding his hands into Ryuji’s hair.
“We―we could have better ones,” he stutters.
Ren’s eyes light up as he leans in, speaking into his mouth, “you’re right!”