There was something off about Akira.
No, not just Akira--though there was something off about him too, but… it was like there was something off with the whole world, something unnameable and odd and probably just Ryuji's imagination, except he couldn’t stop thinking about it and it was driving him crazy not being able to figure it out.
The Phantom Thieves were still going strong, with all seven of them (seven? Was it always just seven?) growing in popularity at what would have been an alarming rate if Ryuji wasn’t eagerly soaking up the popularity (but weren’t they always popular? Were they ever not popular?), and they continued taking down corrupt adult after corrupt adult with the public cheering them on.
They were invincible.
So why did it feel like something wasn’t right?
Ryuji jumped, startled from his thoughts, and turned to find Akira watching him curiously. “Oh, uh… sorry dude, didn’t see you there.” He blinked, bewildered, as a thought occurred to him.
He was in his apartment right now.
How the fuck--
“Wait-- when’d you…?”
Akira smiled and met Ryuji’s gaze, and suddenly it was hard for him to think, his body and mind both feeling oddly sluggish.
“You invited me over, don’t you remember?”
“Oh… oh yeah, I guess I did,” Ryuji murmured dazedly, reaching up to rub his head as the fog cleared before grinning weakly. “What’re we standing around here for, then? Let’s head over to my room.”
Akira’s gaze darkened as Ryuji turned his back to him, a thin smile still on his face as he followed him out of the living room and into his bedroom.
“Wanna play some video games? Or did’ja wanna read some manga or something? I just got in a new volume of--”
Ryuji cut off with a startled noise as Akira suddenly reached out and gripped him by the chin, forcing their gazes to meet once more.
“Uh… A-Akira? Dude?” Ryuji laughed nervously. “S… something up?”
Something was off about Akira.
Something wasn’t right.
Akira’s eyes were never gold… were they?
Of course they were-- no, they weren’t-- they were-- but--
“You shouldn’t do that, Ryuji,” Akira warned, leaning closer with a smile on his face. “Of all the people I thought would give me a problem, you were admittedly low on my list--who would have thought that I’d need to advise you to not think so much?”
Ryuji tensed a bit at that, the comment stinging as much as it set alarms off in the back of his mind. “Wh… what the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” Akira began, snaking his free arm around Ryuji’s waist to keep him from unconsciously pulling away as Akira leaned even closer, until their lips were close to touching, “that you’re trying to figure something out that you’d be better off not knowing.”
Ryuji swallowed thickly, making the mistake of glancing down at Akira’s lips briefly--and a shiver of dread ran down his spine at the same time as an embarrassed flush heated up his cheeks as he watched Akira’s lips curve upwards into a smirk.
“Ah, I see. Perhaps I was approaching this the wrong way.”
Before Ryuji could even brace himself, Akira’s lips were suddenly pressing against his own, and Ryuji let out a muffled noise of surprise into the kiss before unconsciously leaning into it.
Fuck, how many times had he dreamed of something like this? Granted, it was usually him initiating and being the one to catch Akira off-guard before the dark-haired boy melted into the kiss, but this was even better than anything he could have ever imagined--
Or at least, it would have been if the nagging feeling in the back of his mind would go away.
“You’re in love with me, aren’t you,” Akira murmured against his lips, Ryuji going rigid in response as a heavy blush worked its way up his neck and face all the way to the tips of his ears. “It’s alright, I already knew.”
“F… for real?” Ryuji breathed out weakly, feeling absolutely mortified--how long had Akira known? Was he just watching Ryuji pine for him like an idiot this whole time?
And more importantly, why did Akira kiss Ryuji in the first place, when there was no way that he would ever love someone like him?
Akira chuckled softly. “I haven’t known for too long, don’t worry--though… you’ve been in love with me for a long time now, haven’t you?” His hand moved to cup the side of Ryuji’s face, his thumb brushing against his flushed cheek. “Since we dealt with Kamoshida, I’d say.”
“W… wait, that don’t make any sense, how--”
Akira kissed Ryuji again, and he felt his mind growing hazy, until he could barely even remember what he’d been asking to begin with.
“To think…,” Akira began, moving his lips next to Ryuji’s ear and relishing in the shiver that ran through his body in response, “your heart’s belonged to me this whole time, and I was too blind to see it. I suppose that makes me almost as big of a fool as you.”
Ryuji sucked in a quiet, flustered breath as Akira moved one of his hands to rest on Ryuji’s chest, right over his heart.
“Your heart is beating so fast… are you excited? Or are you just scared?”
“Scared? Why would I be--” Ryuji cut off as he met Akira’s eyes once more, swallowing thickly as he saw his golden gaze looking through him.
Something wasn’t right.
Ryuji jerked, trying to pull back only to find himself frozen in place, unable to move even an inch.
Akira laughed softly, the noise sending another chill of dread rushing through his body. “Oh Ryuji… you should be happy, shouldn’t you?” He lightly trailed his fingers along Ryuji’s frozen body, a smirk on his face. “There’s actually someone out there that loves you--do you really think it’s a good idea to ruin that by trying to run?”
Ryuji paled. “I… I wasn’t….”
“Oh?” Akira’s fingers lightly trailed up Ryuji’s throat, along his adam’s apple as it moved in time with Ryuji swallowing thickly. “Then if I let you go, you won’t run from me? The one person who actually wants you?”
Again, Ryuji almost physically felt Akira’s sharp words--this isn’t right, Akira wouldn’t talk like this, he wouldn’t treat me like this--cutting through him, and if he was able to move, he might have winced even as he glared weakly. “I dunno what the hell’s going on with you, but you’re acting like a dick.”
“Yet you still love me,” Akira replied, his smirk widening as Ryuji had no response to offer to that. “Not only that, but you know I’m right.” He leaned forward, lightly trailing his lips along the side of Ryuji’s neck in between words as he spoke. “Who would love someone like you?"
“--and so much more. Who would love someone as irredeemable as you? Someone with no future outside the Phantom Thieves, which are only still around because of my will?”
Akira bit Ryuji’s neck hard enough to leave a mark, laughing softly as Ryuji whimpered in response, his eyes squeezed shut.
Ryuji refused to acknowledge the tears that were streaming down his face, refused to acknowledge the pain in his chest from hearing Akira--the one person he loved, adored, idolized more than anyone--casually spelling out every last negative trait, every last insecurity that he tried so hard to bury because he thought he was finally starting to improve, finally starting to overcome all the harsh words whispered behind his back and occasionally spat in his face--
Yet he knew Akira was right, and in a way it felt almost… relieving, to hear all his negative traits spelled out so plainly by someone that he loved.
Even if no one else would love all those horrible sides of him, Akira would.
Shouldn’t he be happy about that?
Did it matter that no one else would ever love him, if the one person that he loved returned his feelings?
Akira smirked, running his fingers along Ryuji’s chest as he felt the tension gradually draining from his body.
“Do you finally understand?”
He pulled Ryuji closer, grinning as Ryuji’s eyes shot open with a choked noise as Akira’s hand pushed its way into Ryuji’s chest, his eyes glowing gold.
“From the very first day, your heart was in my hands.”
Akira’s hand wrapped around the organ in question, and Ryuji’s vision swam in pain and shock, his throat constricting and preventing a single sound from slipping out--by Akira’s doing or by his own body tensing up, it was impossible to say, not when Ryuji’s mind was running a loop of it hurts this is wrong stop please stop it hurtsithurtspleasestopplease--
“Oh, right.” Akira pulled his hand out from Ryuji’s chest, his hand covered in blood despite Ryuji’s chest and shirt being completely pristine, and laughed as Ryuji choked and panted, his body shaking so badly that Akira’s hold was the only thing keeping him on his feet. “I’d rather you not die on me, so I’ll try and be more careful with you in the future.”
“Wh… what…?” Ryuji rasped out weakly.
“Do you really want to go back to pretending?” Akira pressed his lips to Ryuji’s, smirking as--despite his fear, despite the lingering pain, despite still trying to catch his breath--he leaned into the kiss almost more desperately than before, as if answering his question without even needing to hear him elaborate. “Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just give in? To stop trying to get people to like you? To stop wasting your time tending to the whims of the masses who will never even know you as more than just ‘one of the Phantom Thieves’?” He cupped Ryuji’s cheek with his bloodied hand, his voice soft despite his harsh words. “You’re a nobody and you always will be--but with me, you can be somebody. You can be my one and only, for all eternity… doesn’t that sound so much better?”
Ryuji blinked dazedly, his gaze clouding over the longer Akira’s glowing golden eyes stared at him. “... Yeah…,” he murmured, smiling sadly. “Heh. Guess you’re right--you’re always right, leader. I already knew I’d never amount to anything; all I’m doing is dragging my ma down, constantly disappointing her and everyone else… but… aren’t you disappointed in me too?” He leaned forward slightly, desperately. “Y’know how pathetic I am; how could you still love me even after all that?”
Akira smiled softly. “Because I’m not like everyone else. I can accept everything--the good, the bad… I can love every last part of you. No one else is capable of looking past your flaws and loving you like I do.”
“... Oh….” Ryuji laughed weakly, ignoring the tears burning his eyes. “Yeah, you’re right. You’re not like everyone else; you’re… you’re so incredible. I don’t even deserve to love you, let alone for you to love me back and accept me for the piece of shit that I am.”
“But I do,” Akira replied, kissing Ryuji’s forehead. “So will you stay with me, forever?”
It wasn’t even a choice, not anymore.
Like Akira said: Ryuji had given his heart to him from the very first day, and having Akira return his feelings was a privilege that he didn’t even deserve--and would probably never deserve, for that matter.
That night, Mrs. Sakamoto returned to her empty apartment after a long day at work, with the vague yet heart-wrenching feeling that someone should have been waiting for her to arrive.