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It felt as if, just for a moment, the whole world paused, shattered, and then was restored again, feeling at the same time familiar and completely, distressingly wrong. The sounds around them fluctuated in Akira’s ears, as if he was listening to a badly-tuned radio. His vision felt strange; blurry for most of it, but frighteningly sharp where Goro and Futaba knelt together. The brunet’s lips were still moving; he spoke urgently, but in a quiet voice. Akira could hear singular phrases; like my fault , like mental shutdown and like I’m sorry , repeated over and over again.

He didn’t understand what was happening. Of course, Goro had promised him he would come clean to them; but why like this, why now? It didn’t make any sense; none of it did. The raven hesitated, and then made a step forward, wanting to help, to be there - for Futaba or for Goro, he wasn’t sure. But, though it felt like it did, the world around them did not stop. They still had a fight to finish; and it was a foolish thing to think they will be allowed the time to talk things out.

“Watch out!” Ryuuji yelled, and all of a sudden, Akira saw the rest of the Phantom Thieves scatter over the plateau. Above them, Cognitive Wakaba clearly has had enough of being ignored. Her eyes on Futaba, the monster shrieked once more and pounced towards the girl.

It happened so fast, Akira barely had time to think . His body reacted on its own, lunging towards Futaba, knowing even before he moved he won’t make it in time. This didn’t happen before; this was all wrong, and Akira was lost in the unknown, events shifting before his eyes.

A flash of white and red as Goro jerked himself up onto his feet, almost bent over in pain; a sudden movement as he pushed Futaba towards running Akira, who got almost knocked over as the girl fell into his arms, shaken but safe and unharmed. Cognitive Wakaba’s enormous paw swiped at where Futaba just was and where only Goro stood now; the brunet’s lightsabre flickering and then blinking out of sight as the force of the monster’s blow collided with it, flinging Goro to the side. His body collided with the nearby pillar with a sickening crack! . Akira regained his balance and pushed Futaba away, breaking into a run once more.

“Goro!”

“I’ll take care of him!” Yusuke said, grabbing Akira’s arm and forcefully turning him around. “Joker, you need to finish this! We don’t stand a chance without the two of you!”

“But–”

“I’ll help.”

Futaba’s voice was shaking; she was on the verge of tears, her eyes still fixed on the white-and-red, motionless figure of Goro laying under the bloodstained pillar. Yusuke let go of Akira and ran towards him; the raven saw him gently turn Goro onto his back, grab his hand and pull out what healing items he had. And then, his eyes slid over to the orange-haired girl who was now wiping her tears away from under her glasses.

“I know the truth now!” She said, stomping her foot. “This monster is not my mum! And I’ll help you defeat it, no matter what!”

Green light flooded the plateau they were standing at, and Akira watched as Necronomicon formed around his friend, pulling her inside, the force of her awakening filling them all with new strength.

He’ll be alright , Akira thought, forcing himself to turn around, tearing his eyes away from his injured boyfriend. Yusuke will take care of him. He’ll be okay. He has to be .

He felt sick; the injuries he himself had retained burning under his skin, though none of those was worse than the worry he felt for Goro. But then, Yusuke was right, wasn’t he? He had to fight. The whole world could crumble around him, and Akira still had to fight. The rest of the Phantom Thieves, though shaken, fell into ranks around him; and the fight continued.

It felt like a dream - a nightmare perhaps, but a dream nevertheless. Now the events played out similar to the ones Akira had remembered; now, when the knowledge did him no good, he could tell exactly what was going to happen. Their magic attacks did hardly any damage to the monster, but they chipped away at her strength; little by little, pulling her attention to them while Futaba and Ryuuji worked on shooting her down with a ballista. Again and again; the familiar rhythm of attacks, healing, desperate attempts to keep his friends alive; and then the war machine shooting, the monster falling down long enough they could actually attack her with all they’ve got. Rinse, repeat.

Akira didn’t feel like himself; he didn’t feel like he was the one who shouted commands, who led his team to victory. He watched himself from the side, feeling numb and frightened; and more than half of him was in the back, where Yusuke was still trying to keep Goro alive and breathing as they fought.

Finally, the ground shook, and Cognitive Wakaba fell from the sky for the last time, sliding down the pyramid. Akira didn’t stay to watch; he was already running, even before the monster hit the ground for the last time. His hands trembled as he dropped to his knees by Goro’s side, cradled his head on his lap. Akira’s gloves turned even redder than usual with Goro’s blood trickling from the cuts and gashes the last fall caused him. The raven was half-aware of his friends walking closer, helping one another with injuries, talking around him. Morgana ran close, ready to start on healing the worst wounds. He heard Futaba’s meek will he be alright…? and someone trying to comfort her; and then heard Wakaba’s voice, the last message from mother to daughter as Futaba moved away from them, only stopped by Wakaba’s own insistence.

Goro had stirred in his arms; his eyes blinking open. He didn’t have his mask on; Akira pushed it to the side when he got to him. Goro wasn’t looking at him; he was looking at the two figures further away, one of them nearly translucent. Wakaba looked over at him, and Akira saw their eyes meet. She smiled softly, shaking her head.

Goro could hardly speak; he could hardly open his mouth even, but he did anyway.

“I’m sorry.” He whispered. Akira watched as Futaba and Wakaba looked at one another for the last time, before the woman looked back to Goro. She didn’t speak; she didn’t have to. And as she faded away, Goro had once again lost his consciousness, falling limp in Akira’s arms.

“I’m… going to go.” Futaba said quietly after a moment, walking past them. She glanced at the brunet and hesitated, before looking up at Akira. “He’ll… be okay, won’t he?”

“He will. I’ll make sure of it.” Akira said. She nodded, almost to herself, before moving towards the entry back into the pyramid.

“Well, I’m leaving. I know how to get out, don’t worry.” She said, disappearing inside. Yusuke let out a soft breath, before looking back at Goro and Morgana. The cat had worked open Crow’s regal jacket, and all of the Phantom Thieves winced at the mangled mess of bruises and deep, bleeding gashes waiting under it. Akira cursed, reaching out to his own Personas to help with the healing.

“We need to get him out of here,” Yusuke said, standing up. “Quick; Ryuuji, Ann, Makoto, let’s get the Treasure and–”

Akira’s eyes widened. The comment about the Treasure made him remember; god, they needed to hurry !

“There’s no Treasure here!” He said, jumping onto his feet and pulling Morgana away, picking Goro up in his arms. The Thieves looked at him in surprise, though Akira was momentarily busy; a surge of relief washed over him when, in response to being moved about, Goro’s arms moved up on their own, wrapping around his neck.

He’s alright. He’ll be okay , he repeated, like a mantra in his head.

“Futaba awakened to her Persona here, didn’t she? Persona users don’t have Palaces! That means the moment she leaves her Palace for the last time…” Akira started, looking around for the quickest way down. As if to confirm his words, the ground shook under their feet; and all of a sudden, he saw all of his friends’ faces go white.

“Run!” Ryuuji yelled.

It was a wild run down the pyramid; one that, should have ended with at least one of them falling and breaking their neck by any conceivable way. It felt like the only thing keeping them upright was the sheer speed of their run; that if any of them stopped, if just a moment, they’d stumble to their death together with all the rubble.

Akira couldn’t think of it now, though. He couldn’t focus on anything but the white-hot, overwhelming need to run, to get out of here, to carry his lover back to safety. Their escape wasn’t an easy one and Akira couldn’t keep Goro as steady as he’d like; the brunet was whimpering quietly in pain in his arms. Akira’s own injuries hurt, like fire under his skin, but he ignored them; the rubble started to rain over his back, cutting through his coat, making his costume stick to his body with blood, but he didn’t let himself stop.

By the time they finally fell into the Monabus and started on their wild journey home, all Akira could think of was to keep Goro steady during the bumpy ride. He found his boyfriend’s hand and squeezed it with his own, looking around the car wildly. Everyone was there; everyone was trying their best to keep themselves from being thrown around the car, hissing in pain from their own injuries but definitely, wonderfully alive.

Akira felt another pang of relief wash over him; and then, still holding onto Goro’s barely-conscious body, he fainted.

 


 

“Should we call an ambulance…?” Ann’s voice was quiet, hesitant. Akira tried to open his eyes to look at her, and found he didn’t have the strength to do that just yet. His head was killing him; and perhaps it was good it did, because the moment he tried to somehow ignore the pain, the rest of his body made sure he was fully aware of just how poorly he has been treating it lately. Akira felt like someone had just beaten him with a steel pipe.

“Are you insane? What will we tell them, that we all got beaten up in the cognitive world and now require medical attention?” That was Makoto. Akira groaned, forcing his eyes open. The sky glared down at him.

“Akira has a doctor friend around here.” Morgana said, sounding worried. “If one of you comes with me, we’ll get her…”

“I’ll take Futaba up to her room. Bring the doctor there first, okay? I think she’s just fainted, but if something has happened to her…” It was Ann again. Akira tried to move, but his vision swam too much. He felt as weak as a kitten.

“I’ll go fetch Boss, then.” Makoto said decisively. “I’ll tell him Akira and Goro-kun had a cycling accident, that’ll explain the bruises… and we found Futaba-chan laying faint in front of his house.”

“He’d be dumb to believe you.” A voice mumbled, and Akira realized it was his own. He felt strong hands help him to sit down, and looked up blearily at Ryuuji, who grinned a somewhat shaky grin back at him.

“Shit, good to see you awake, mate.”

“You have any better ideas?” Makoto sighed exasperatedly, and Akira shook his head slowly, immediately regretting the action. It hurt ; though not enough for him not to look down at the boy laying on his lap. They were still holding hands. Goro’s face was ashen, and Akira could clearly see the ugly, red bruises where the bleeding gashes had been all over his body. His heart hammered in his chest with worry. Goro wasn’t awake; why wasn’t he waking up?

“He’ll be alright.” Yusuke said, kneeling next to them. Akira looked around his whole team, watching him. They were focusing on him, he noticed, all of them studiously avoiding looking at Goro. It was as if they didn’t want to confront what they heard him say, didn’t want to acknowledge hearing it. Right now, Akira was glad for it. He nodded slowly.

“Ann, Morgana, get Futaba to her room, I’ll call Takemi for a home visit, you can trust her. Makoto, fetch Boss; don’t tell him about me and Goro for now, I’ll think of some excuse. Yusuke, Ryuuji, can you guys help me get Goro to the attic while Boss’ busy with Futaba? When Takemi’s done checking up on her, please, send her over. And we’ll meet down at Leblanc afterwards.”

Slowly, and with a lot of help from Ryuuji, Akira managed to stand up, Goro’s limp arm over his shoulders, Yusuke stepping in to support the unconscious boy from the other side. All of them moved purposefully in the directions Akira had pointed to them, ready to implement their plan.

Anything to keep busy, he thought, leaning on Ryuuji’s helpful shoulder as they made their first few steps towards the safety of Leblanc. Anything to not think just yet…

 


 

The Thieves were all there, and talking in hushed voices when Akira carefully walked down the stairs, following Takemi. She waved at him and left without a word, and the raven slumped into one of the booths, earning a look from Sojiro; though for now, he was not being called into questioning. That was just as well. The painkillers and an ointment Takemi had given him after looking over Goro helped with his own pain somewhat, but it did nothing for exhaustion.

The rest of the group fell silent when he joined them, and were now looking at Akira expectantly. They won’t be able to say much, he knew; not with Sojiro there, and not with all of them looking ready to drop. Ann was actually nodding off, her head falling onto Ryuuji’s shoulder a few times. She only stayed awake because the blond kept shrugging her head off of himself.

“...Futaba-chan’s okay.” Makoto finally broke the silence, stroking over Morgana’s fur. The cat was curled up on her lap, his eyes closed, though somehow, Akira knew he wasn’t asleep. “Boss says she does this sometimes. Just falls asleep, because she needs to recharge.”

“That’s one thing to be grateful for.” Akira sighed, leaning down on the table. He waited until Sojiro busied himself with the stove further in the kitchen and looked up at them. “Goro’s going to be okay, too. There’s nothing wrong with him at first glance, just bruises and stuff. Doctor Takemi said his body’s exhausted, and that he needs to sleep it off. She did tell me to watch him, though, and to call an ambulance if it gets worse.”

There was a visible feeling of relief washing over their group. They finished the Palace, and though it was rough and costly , they were finally done with it. And no one has really been hurt, have they? Only…

“...so, uh… that… that lie Goro said to get Futaba’s Persona to awaken…” Ryuuji started, in some sort of hopeful desperation. Akira sighed and closed his eyes.

“It wasn’t a lie.” He said quietly. Around him, there was silence; and then…

“Dude, that… that’s not funny.” Ryuuji said, frowning at him. Ann shook her head, also frowning.

“Akira, what the hell are you saying?”

“Goro is one of us.” Yusuke said sharply, crossing his arms over his chest. “I admit he’s a secretive person, and doesn’t enjoy sharing about his past, but to recklessly say such a thing, that’s…”

“No, Akira’s right.” Came a quiet voice. Everyone looked down as Morgana opened his eyes. He was still curled up on Makoto’s lap, and he didn’t move; only his tail twitched lightly in agitation. “I mean… I don’t know details. But I’ve been suspecting Goro was hiding something from us for a long time. I’ve talked to Akira about it… and then so much stuff kept happening, I never really… wanted to investigate. But it’s true, isn’t it? Goro’s the guy Kaneshiro’s been talking about. He’s the Black Mask .”

Everyone looked at Akira. He hated these looks; these expressions ranging from searching to pleading for him to deny this. The raven stared at the table in front of him and nodded wordlessly. He heard a few gasps.

“That’s bullshit .” Ryuuji growled, only just stopping himself from slamming a hand down on the table. “How the–”

“You’ve known this, Akira?” Makoto asked sharply, frowning up at him. “And you’ve never told us..? You let us…”

“I knew.” Akira said, interrupting her. He was speaking in a quiet voice that somehow made them all fall silent and listen. “I knew for a while. He told me, and I didn’t tell you because I swore I would not. On condition that Goro will come clean to you guys by himself. He agreed to that.”

“Still, that’s…”

“It’s not how you think it is.” Akira said, still talking quietly. “I… really don’t think it’s my place to explain. But… you’ve known Goro for months now, just as I have. Does he really seem like the kind of guy who’d…” He stopped, remembering Sojiro was there, and though Boss rarely seemed interested in anything they were talking about, and indeed, was far enough not to be able to hear, Akira didn’t want to risk it.

“I guess… he really isn’t.” Makoto said carefully, looking worriedly at her hands. “But then… if what he said he did was true, that’s…”

“Let him explain himself to you.” Akira said in a pleading voice. “ Please . Give him the benefit of the doubt, and let him explain. I mean… I know what happened, and I’m still dating him, am I not? Goro… he isn’t a bad person. He’s been through hell and back, and he’s still going through more stuff than any of you have any idea. So please… until he wakes up and feels better, just…”

They looked at each other; Akira could see how helpless they all looked. What were they supposed to do now, really..? They knew too little to form opinions; and Akira was aware how ridiculous it must have sounded, for him to say someone who had killed another person and confessed to it, to have anything to say that would make it any better.

God, he prayed they will understand, once Goro tells them. He really did.

It was with air of dissatisfaction that they all eventually agreed to disband for the day, leaving in ones and twos. Morgana snuggled in Akira’s arms as he explained to Sojiro that Goro was in a cycling accident - Boss didn’t believe him for a minute, he could see that, but still let it slide - and climbed back upstairs. Goro laid there, in the same position he had left him in, face still ashen and glistening from sweat. Akira looked at him for a long while, and then made another, very slow trip downstairs, coming back with a bowl of water and a clean cloth, sitting down and gently wiping Goro’s face for him. He could see Morgana looking up at him from the bed by Goro’s legs.

“...why didn’t you tell me, Akira?” The cat had asked after a long moment. The raven shrugged. His mind was blank; he had no more strength to say anything. Somewhere at the back of his head, there was a vague thought he should find Goro’s phone and call his work, saying his boyfriend was sick… but that could be done tomorrow. He didn’t have the energy to do anything else today.

“It was how I told you. I promised to let him explain in his own time.” Akira mumbled quietly, wiping off Goro’s brow before pressing a very soft, gentle kiss to it. He could feel he was warm, but his fever didn’t spike, like Takemi warned it could. At least one blessing there, then.

“But… you could have told me …” Morgana murmured, looking down at his paws. Akira looked to the side at his friend and all of a sudden, felt his eyes fill with tears. He didn’t even know why; he had no idea why he was crying. It was just too much. He couldn’t bear this, he just couldn’t. Morgana looked up at him, his eyes widening; and then, with a long jump, he was there, letting Akira pull him into a rare, but much-needed, hug.

“I’m sorry…” Akira whispered, in a choked-up voice. He could feel a hesitant paw pat against his head awkwardly.

“H-hey, hey, it’s okay, you promised, it can’t be helped…” The cat mumbled, shaking his head. “A-Anyway… now we all know… once Goro gets better, it’ll all be alright, yeah? I’m sure he can… explain stuff… Hey, it’ll be okay. You’ll see, it’ll be better once we all had some sleep...”

Morgana’s voice faded away. Blindly, Akira reached for Goro’s hand; and held it tight.

 


 

Morgana told Akira it would be better in the morning, and in some ways, it did get better.

Once the exhaustion and the first shock of it all wore down, Akira became much calmer. Oh, he still worried, sure; but at least now he mostly worried about Goro’s injuries and how the talk with the rest of the Thieves was going to go, not about… well, absolutely everything .

He had always known this moment would come, he told himself. It was going to happen sooner or later. Now the thing to do was to take care of his boyfriend and hope for the best.

Goro was still sleeping when Akira woke up, laying curled up on the narrow bed by his side. He left Morgana with him as he went downstairs, had breakfast and updated the Thieves on the situation - texting them all saying there wasn’t really much to update them on in the first place.

Even so, Ann and Ryuuji stopped by later in the morning, climbing onto Akira’s attic and sat down, their voices hushed, as if they were afraid they would disturb Goro’s sleep.

“He looks awful, doesn’t he.” Ryuuji mumbled, looking over at the boy on the bed. “I had no idea the door would slam on him like that… and then, how he jumped up to protect Futaba, that was…” He stopped, rubbing the back of his neck. Ryuuji and Ann exchanged glances, and then they looked over at Akira, both with their expressions determined.

“So… we know you asked us to wait.” Ann said, quietly. “But we’ve been texting about this, and… well, you’re right, Akira. We know Goro-kun, and he’s not someone who’d do the kind of stuff Kaneshiro was talking about. I know there were these… mental shutdowns and psychotic breakdowns cases, but…”

“Ann, I really–”

“So I thought, and Ryuuji’s right with me on that one, that there really has to be a lot more to it than it seems. So we’ll wait. And once Goro-kun wakes up, you can tell him we’re waiting for him. He’s still our friend, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, man. I mean, it’s the same as with you, isn’t it?” Ryuuji shrugged, kicking his legs lightly in the air. “You told us how that assault bullshit went down. Most people at school don’t know that, so they treat you like shit. Well I’m not gonna treat my buddy there like shit just because we don’t know the full story yet.”

Akira parted his mouth, looking from one of them to the other. He tried to find words that would explain how much this meant to him, to hear them say that; and how much it will, ultimately, mean to Goro. Ann smiled at him knowingly and reached out, patting his hand gently with her own.

“We know.” She said quietly. “It must’ve been hard on you, too, huh? Keeping that secret, helping Goro-kun through it… So we’ll do our best now, too. Well…” She sighed, looking over at Goro’s sleeping form and shaking her head. “I guess that’s it. We won’t bother you now, okay? You need to rest, too. Come on, Ryuuji.”

It wasn’t even an hour after the two of them left -  both of them leaning over Goro and wishing him to get better soon before leaving - when Yusuke and Makoto arrived, each seemingly surprised to see the other there.

“I couldn’t stand sitting in the house alone.” Yusuke explained, rubbing the back of his neck. “Besides, I thought that Goro might have need of some items from the house.”

“I asked Sis about the mental shutdowns cases,” Makoto said, looking at Akira apologetically. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t get it off my mind…”

The raven had led them upstairs; this wasn’t a talk to be had at Leblanc. Yusuke had sat down by Goro’s bed, starting to take a few things he brought with him out of his bag - some clothes for Goro to change into and so on. Makoto folded her hands on her lap and looked away, clearing her throat.

“It… admittedly, at first she didn’t understand why would I be interested, but… from what I understood from what Sis did tell me, these cases have been on the steady decline since April. Indeed, there’s been no mental shutdown case for a long time, and even the psychotic breakdown cases were fewer, and have stopped completely after Kaneshiro turned himself in. It’s… If what you’ve said is true, then… it’s almost like…”

“It’s almost like someone who had no alternative beforehand was finally given one, huh.” Akira said quietly, looking at Makoto. Her lips pressed together, and then she looked over at Goro once more.

“...I don’t believe it. I don’t believe Goro-kun is… a bad person.” She said. Killer was such a hard word, Akira mused somewhere at the very back of his head. He shook the thought away.

“He’s not, Makoto. I can promise you that. Believe me, if… if not for the fact that what he’s about to tell you is very personal…” And I shouldn’t be, technically, aware of good chunks of the story , his mind supplied, “I’d have told you everything, and much sooner at that. Goro may have done bad things in the past, but he’s not a bad person. He’s the same guy who was fighting with you, side by side, all this time. The same guy who helped you awaken to your powers. We can’t change our past, but he’s trying so hard to be a good person in his present… for you. For all of us. So please, give him a chance.”

Makoto smiled at him lightly as Yusuke, having finally finished unpacking his bag, joined them by the table.

“That goes without saying.” She said. “If I couldn’t so much as let him explain himself… what kind of friend would I be?”

They didn’t stay for long afterwards, either. Makoto promised Sae she would cook that day, she said, and once she was gone, Yusuke didn’t seem to want to overstay his welcome. Akira insisted Morgana should go with him and spend the night; he remembered how Goro had said that the artist disliked sleeping on his own. The two of them were surprised by the proposal, but all it took was one look at Akira’s face for them to both shrug and agree. Yusuke seemed grateful he’ll have some company, at least, and Akira could hear Morgana propose he paints him even before they got all the way down the stairs. That pulled a little smile out of him, for just a brief moment.

Afterwards, Akira spent an hour or two helping Sojiro out in the cafe, just to give Goro a little more time; and then, he prepared two plates with curry and carried them slowly upstairs, setting them on the table before sitting beside Goro’s bed.

For a long moment, there was silence. And then, Akira sighed and covered Goro’s hand with his own.

“Look, I won’t force you to talk to me, but I want you to eat something and drink some water. I know you’ve been awake since they left, I’ve seen you check if they’re gone already when you thought I wasn’t looking.”

Very slowly, and looking somewhat guilty, Goro opened his eyes and looked up at him. Akira smiled lightly, squeezing his hand.

“How are you feeling?” He asked. Goro looked away, shaking his head. Akira felt himself sigh.

“That bad, huh. Well, let’s get something into you. Can you sit up?”

 


 

It took three days before Goro felt well enough to actually stand up and, holding Akira’s hand a bit tighter than he normally would, walk down the stairs with him. Sojiro nodded silently when he spotted the two, starting on two cups of coffee. Over the last few days, Akira noticed that Boss wasn’t as talkative with him as usual. He didn’t mind it, but he did realize the time for the talk would come, and frankly, he wasn’t sure what to tell him. It was clear his excuse about Goro having a bike accident wasn’t one the older man bought.

“Thank you, Boss.” Goro smiled faintly, wrapping his hands around the cup. Akira smiled to the side at him, before turning to his own. “I’m sorry for being an inconvenience on you for so long.”

“Don’t be stupid, kid.” Boss shrugged, looking around the cafe. It was still early; the regulars didn’t come in yet. Sojiro sighed, leaning against the counter in front of the two of them.

“Look, you two. I may seem like a silly old geezer to you, but I’m not stupid. And now, that you’re both here and not covered in bruises… or at least less covered in bruises, and we can all pretend it never happened, I’d like to know what the hell did . You boys are mixing up in some gangs, huh? You’re pulling the kid along to solve some of your cases?” He looked at Goro with a frown, and Akira saw the detective stare, not sure how to react. Sojiro sighed, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Jeez… I thought you’d be a good influence on him.” Boss said, still frowning at Goro. “The kid’s on probation; you ought to know what that means. You two are lucky I didn’t report you and have someone official ask what the hell you are all roughed up for. Now, I want you to tell me, exactly, what has been–”

Akira blinked; opening his mouth to talk, to argue, to think of an excuse that would have been at least slightly believable; but before he could say anything, before Sojiro could continue lecturing them, the bell by the door rung. A small, red-haired figure pushed the door open and walked into the cafe, looking around at their stunned faces before sitting next to Goro, taking the cup from his hands and drinking the coffee all in one go.

“Phew!” She said, putting the empty cup on the counter with a little clink . “That was good!”

They all stared. Akira wondered, wildly, how could the girl have woken up so early, not even close to the deadline set for them by Medjed. Sojiro and Goro were still gaping at her; Goro’s hand halfway up, the way he’d been holding the cup before she took it away from him, ready to take a sip.

“F-Futaba? You’re awake?” Sojiro stammered. “You came here by yourself?”

“Yep.” The girl smiled up at him, and then tilted her head. “‘S’ there a problem?”

“W-What…? No…” Sojiro mumbled, and then moved a little to the side, rubbing at his eyes under his glasses. Akira looked over at the man, smiling softly to himself; and then, his eyes met Futaba’s. Akira sighed, gently covering Goro’s hand with his own and pushing it down from the awkward pose.

“I’d love some curry tonight, Sojiro!” Futaba chimed, once she had nodded at Akira, barely perceptibly. “Bring some for me once you close up?”

“Huh…? Curry, I… yes, sure. Whatever you like.” Sojiro nodded, still looking stunned. Futaba grinned at him and jumped up from the chair, looking back at the two of them.

“Come on.” She said quietly, once Boss turned away again. “We need to talk.”

 


 

“...so, uh, aren’t you going to sit?”

Futaba led them out of Leblanc and back to Boss’s house, letting them into her room without many words exchanged. Goro had asked her how was she feeling, and received a shrug in return. And then, Futaba sat on her computer seat and gestured the two of them to sit on the bed opposite from her. Goro did, while Akira remained standing, looking around the small, extremely cluttered room.

He looked at the orange-haired girl now, and at how tense Goro was, waiting for questioning, for accusations, for something . But Akira knew Futaba, knew her even if she didn’t know it yet. And the look he saw on Futaba’s face told the raven neither he nor Goro had anything to worry about. He shook his head softly and gestured vaguely towards the room.

“Y’know what, I have a compulsory need to clean when I’m in here, so I’m just going to do that , and you two can talk.” He said. Futaba blinked at him.

“You’re gonna clean my room.” She repeated. Akira nodded.

“You’re gonna clean my room for me, just like that.” She said again, as if wanting to make sure. Akira shrugged.

“Any objections?” He asked.

“Hell no.” Futaba grinned, before sighing as she looked back at Goro, resting her chin against the backrest of her chair. “Okay.” She said, settling herself in more comfortably. “You better start talking.”

As Akira bustled about, getting Futaba’s room back into… well, not strictly speaking order , but less of a mess, he listened to what Goro was saying intently. Futaba listened in silence, very rarely punctuated by questions, sometimes to Goro and sometimes to Akira, when she wanted to confirm something. A lot of what the brunet had to say was what Akira had already known; though hearing it from his boyfriend in a low, quiet, defeated voice was heartbreaking.

Slowly, as minutes and then hours ticked away, Goro had told the two of them everything . He told them about his mother; about the miserable childhood he had, about the day he had come home to find his mother dead in a pool of blood. About the foster homes, though he skimmed over the abuse and neglect Akira knew was there. About the time when, two years ago, he came to Tokyo to look for his father , and discovered not only him, but the whole new world hidden right alongside their own. About deciding to offer Shido his services, and about how the man had been the only source of guidance and information in the frightening, confusing world of the Metaverse. About how, one day, Goro had been tasked for the first time with not only procuring information or turning a Shadow psychotic, but with killing the Shadow. About how Shido had assured him this will only result in temporary coma, and how Goro forced himself to believe that, even though deep down, he had to know it was bullshit.

And then, about how he found Wakaba in the dark, winding corridors of the Mementos, pulled out his gun and fired before he could let himself think about it. And how, after he had come out, exhausted and barely alive from a brush with Shadows too strong for him to handle alone, Shido had found him and shown him exactly what he had done.

It didn’t matter afterwards, Goro had said. He was already a killer. He already had blood on his hands. What did it matter, how much more of it was going to get there? Oh, he had tried to excuse himself, he said, of course he did. He’d tell himself he was only killing Shadows; they’re just Shadows, they’re not human. He had no choice; and anyway, it wasn’t his fault, was it?

“Only… there’s only so much you can tell yourself.” Goro said quietly, staring at his bare hands. “There’s only so far you can run; and no matter how far you run, you’ll always catch up to yourself. I killed your mother, Futaba-chan. Not a day had passed since where I wouldn’t regret what I did. My regret and my guilt will not bring her back, however, nor mitigate the pain and misery this has caused you. You are too kind to me even just by allowing me to explain myself. I was convinced you’d hate me, knowing what I am, what I have done.”

Quietly - finally done with his cleaning - Akira sat down next to his boyfriend. Futaba wasn’t looking at them; her eyes were obscured by her bangs, and she was chewing her lip. And then, just as suddenly as she marched into Leblanc today, she turned around on her chair and started to type furiously on her computer.

“You guys have troubles with Medjed, right?” She said, punching in some code in what looked like five programs at once. “I’ll take care of that for you. What do you want me to do with them? I can wipe them out if you feel like it, I don’t care.”

“Wait… what?” Goro blinked, staring at the back of her head. Futaba sighed, slumping on her chair.

“...listen.” She said quietly. “I… can’t say I like you, Akechi. What you did, I… it’s hard to wrap my head around it. But, see… I’ve been listening in on the conversations you had at Leblanc for a long time. And… well, I dunno. You killed my mum, and for that I really want to…to make you hurt . So much . But… you also protected Sojiro. You made the Phantom Thieves heal my heart. You saved my life even, back then, in the pyramid. It’s hard to… it’s hard to hate you. Especially since now I know that you didn’t want to do it, at least. I hate the bastard who manipulated you into killing her a whole lot more, that’s for sure.”

She stopped, sighed and slowly turned around once again, to face them.

“There’s… also one more reason why I don’t want to hate you.” She said quietly. “Thinking my mum hated me… thinking I killed her… Feeling completely and utterly alone in the world, to the point where it felt like the only way to be… I understand that feeling, painfully well. I felt it too, and… You’ve already figured out I’m a hacker. Well I never killed anyone, but… I hurt people without thinking, too. I didn’t care. I wanted to find out about my mum’s research and her death, and so I did whatever it took to reach that goal. We’re… really similar in that, aren’t we?”

“It’s like you’ve said, Futaba-chan.” Goro said, in a voice that was raised in protest. He looked… stunned, Akira thought as he looked at him. Goro’s expression brought to mind an expression of someone who has been bracing themselves for impact that never came. “ You never killed anyone; I’m–”

“If I knew what you did yesterday and had the power to kill you, I probably would have.” Futaba said quietly. “If I could find the bastard who killed my mum and planned all this, and made these people come and blame it on me, I’d have killed him. Now… I don’t know. I still want to have my revenge on whoever put me through this… but that’s not you. You helped me. And you want to get the bastard who’s behind all that, right? So I’m gonna work with you. The rest of it, we’ll make up as we go along. I’m not saying I’ll be your best buddy right away, but… I’m not gonna hate you, either. Cause, you know what? I don’t think my mum would want me to.”

And then, she turned around again and started to type away; and Akira smiled, wrapping a gentle arm around Goro. He could feel his boyfriend shake; in relief and regret and gratefulness and so many more overwhelming emotions. Akira knew Goro was trying not to cry.

“I’m sorry, Futaba-chan.” He managed to choke out, after a long moment. She nodded absentmindedly.

“Uh-huh. I got that. Let’s… leave it for now, okie-dokie? Now get yourself together and tell me what we do with Medjed.”

Slowly, both Goro and Akira sat up straight, with Goro trying his best to wipe a stray tear or two away. He shook his head with a soft, humourless laugh.

“Oh, I’ll tell you exactly what we do with Medjed.” And then, he sighed. “Though I suppose first we should consult with the rest of the team. I owe them an explanation.”

“I’ll text them; we’ll meet at Leblanc in say, half an hour? If everyone’s free?” Akira asked, pulling his phone out. Futaba let out a quiet groan, shrinking on her seat.

“...do I have to come too? We could do a video chat or something… or maybe just voice chat…” She started, only to deflate once she caught Akira’s eye. “Ugh, fine … but I’ll come later, okay? Once he ,” She pointed at Goro, “Is done talking about all that… stuff. I’ll pass on listening to all that again, thanks.”

“Believe me,” Goro smiled without a shred of humour, “I’m not looking forward to going through all that again myself.”