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you will not take my heart alive

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Goro Akechi is halfway out of class and glancing down at his phone to check for messages when he sees it. The calling card is his lock screen.

He freezes in the doorway. The rest of his classmates buffet him cluelessly out of the way until he’s just standing by the door in the hall, but he barely feels it, can barely even take in the words blazed across the screen. We will take your distorted desires without fail.

The phone buzzes in his hands. A text. A photo message, Akira fucking Kurusu, who he shot, who he watched die, making a peace sign with one hand and holding up today’s newspaper with the other, the tiniest smuggest smirk on his face.

It feels like a joke. It feels like he’s been stabbed in the chest. Or in the back - and here he thought he was the treacherous one. Impossible, impossible, impossible that this could happen, that Kurusu could be alive, that he could be shown up like this by those fucking kids. (And how could it be possible? Never even mind Kurusu being alive - Goro has a Persona, he has two, the cat said… Maybe they were only trying to scare him. But there was no precedent for them doing something like that, and if Kurusu was okay who knew what they could pull off?)

They must have been laughing at him the whole time. His entire body is shaking so hard he thinks he might drop the phone.

The thought occurs to him of just... just taking his gun and going straight to Leblanc, before they can go through with it. But they would have thought of that, why else would they send him this at the end of the school day? They wouldn’t even be at Leblanc by the time he got there, or outside his Palace. (He should know what his Palace is, but somehow he can’t even begin to start guessing. It’s like his brain is wading through sludge. Goro’s never felt so goddamn stupid.) And anyway, even if he did catch them in time, how’s he going to cover up an unplanned multiple homicide in Yongen-Jaya?

All he can see is Kurusu’s face. He wants to scream. He wants to snap his phone in half. One of his idiot classmates is saying something to him and he can’t parse the meaning of her words because all he can think about is that he’s ruined, and he’s ruined because he can’t hold a candle to Akira goddamn Kurusu.

But. It hasn’t happened quite yet. He’s his own last defence. He knows the inside of his own mind, he knows he’s miles better than any of their previous marks. And he’s not going to wait around to be executed.

 He takes a breath. Smiles at his classmates and says something meaningless, and then types with trembling hands.

Goro Akechi: I’m going to kill you I’m going to kill you I’m going

Stops. Deletes it. (Don’t get sloppy now, Akechi.) Starts again.

Goro Akechi: Good luck, Joker.
Read, 3:39 p.m.

 


 

He leaves school. Finds a quiet, unoccupied alley where he can think. Opens the navigation app.

Place. Keyword. It’s so hard to make himself focus, hard not to think about how much he needs to pull this off, how violated he feels by the idea of them getting into his head in the first place. (How much do they already know? They’ve been infiltrating the place for days at least - no. Stop.) Where to even start? He doesn’t… he’s never felt any mastery or connection to any one place, never belonged anywhere.

He tries his apartment, the National Diet Building, the police headquarters. Fucking Shido’s fucking house. He even suggests “The hearts and minds of the Japanese people” to the Nav as a gag. None of them are hits, of course. Hmm.

He needs to be methodical about this. He tries every special ward he’s ever spent time in, and then the rest of them too. (For a moment he genuinely fears Ni-chome will be a hit, just to bring him as much mortification as possible, even though he’s barely set foot in the place.) Goes from there and expands: Tokyo, Kanto, Honshu, Japan-

And that’s the one. Okay. He’s getting somewhere. And the location is broad enough that he should be able to get in from here, once he has the rest of it.

A keyword. What is Japan to him? A shitty fucking backwards garbage dump of a country, but that’s not a Palace, now, is it, so concentrate. A… a contest. A television show? No. A competition. What kind of competition? How do you make a competition a place?

A warzone. A battlefield.

Maybe he’s being too literal. Come on, you dumb piece of shit, they figured this out.

A colosseum. A sports arena. An arcade.

“Beginning navigation,” chimes the app.

Really? Huh.

(Okay, let’s be honest: he’d loved arcades once, saved every coin he had for them. Every Sunday, when she could, when she wasn’t working or having one of her bad days, his mother would take him to the one in the mall by their apartment. But then she died, of course, and his first foster parents told him he needed to grow up. He hadn’t understood at the time but they were right. Some people just can’t afford to waste their time like that.)

The world shifts in front of him. Not dramatically - the world goes a bit dimmer, like an overcast evening; the rumble of traffic and conversation muffles, the familiar sense of strangeness sets in. Nothing else, yet. His bike is still here, which is convenient.

When he glances down at himself he’s in blue and black. He has no time to waste but he can’t help pausing, startled. This means - what, that he’s a threat to himself? But that makes no sense, given what he’s here to do. And he can’t even will himself into his false costume, which normally he can do as easily as blinking. Not that he needs to change his outfit right now, but still. He’d appreciated the sense of total control it gave him, to know that his clothes would always be whatever he needed them to be in the cognitive world. Bizarre. Annoying.

He really doesn’t want to be thinking about any of this. He gets his pistol and holster from his briefcase, checks that the gun’s loaded. He feels better with the weight of it in his hand. More secure, more focused. He can do this. He’s going to do this.

He leaves the alley. Looks around. There’s a new building, a tower, a kilometre or two north of him, taller than even the skyscrapers surrounding it. It’s pitch-black and its silhouette is shifting like fog, the way things in the cognitive world sometimes do. He holsters the gun and gets on his bike.

The building, when he gets to it, says ARCADE DEL PRINCIPE in vivid red roman letters above the entrance. Ugh. Subtle.

The inside is nothing like a real arcade, of course. It’s darker than real ones are, cavernous and empty. There are no statues, nothing ostentatious like he’s seen in other people’s Palaces; just endless arcade machines and neon-on-black and a deep background murmur - just like Mementos, right down to the firm sense that the voices are all whispering about him. There’s probably something meaningful on the game screens blaring at him, but the thought of that makes panic flutter fast in his chest, so he’s not going to stop and look, he can’t, he’s going to kill the Phantom Thieves for doing this to him and get out and it’ll be fine.

He meets a guard, finally, at the top of the first set of stairs he finds. “Master Akechi,” the masked demon says, “what are you doing here? I thought you were taking care of the intruders!”

He doesn’t have time for this. “I’m working on it,” he says. “Where are they? Up?”

“Of course,” says the demon, “but weren’t you-”

“Can you get me there any faster than I can get there myself?” Goro says sharply. (To be honest, he’s always appreciated talking to demons. He doesn’t have to hide the ice in his voice.)

“Oh,” she says. “No. I don’t think so.”

“Then shut the hell up and get out of my way.” Something occurs to him, though, before he leaves- “Why weren’t there any guards downstairs? Are they taking care of the intruders?”

“The downstairs is empty,” says the demon, blankly.

“Yes, I know, WHY.

“It’s just empty,” she says, and this is pointless, so he just keeps going up the tower.

There are so many stairways. More and more guards as he goes higher, at least. The paths twist and turn but he feels like he knows the layout of it by - ha - by heart, already, the way you know a place you’ve never been in a dream. And even if it weren’t for that, he’s sure he could find the way by just following the trail of opened gates, or the shattered display cases where Joker’s bafflingly infallible sixth sense for loot had clearly led him.

In a dark lobby area on the fifth floor he finds… not a statue but a cheap-looking cardboard standee, just a touch larger than life, under a lone spotlight. It has a black silhouette printed on it, clearly him in the Robin Hood garb, posing like he’s on a movie poster. In tacky neon bubbles next to the image, it says:

The REAL Detective Prince!
The Bastard Rook of Tokyo!
Goro Akechi!!

Fine, he thinks. Sure. Whatever. Heaven fucking forbid his Palace have an inch of class to it.

He’s lost count of which floor he’s on when he turns his head and sees a woman alone in the bend of a hallway.

She’s turned away but he knows who she is, instantly. He knows every detail of her, the faded second-hand sundress and the length of her hair; the way her jaw curves like his. The way she’s lit too bright and cold for her surroundings, colours too brilliant and shadows too dark; the way she looks in the old photo he kept, the one that over the years has somehow fused with every memory he had of her.

She looks at him. Or, no - she's looking past him, into the empty corridor, like she's searching for someone else in a crowd.

He’s missed her for so long. And he knows this isn't her, he knows where he is, but something compels him anyway to call out to her. She looks straight at him when he does, and his breath catches - but then her expression changes, her eyes widen. Some kind of recognition… and she takes a step back.

"Wait," he says, hating the desperation in his voice. He can’t read the look on her face; apprehension, fear? He holds his hands up placatingly, like he’s approaching a skittish animal. Takes a few steps forward. "Wait, please." He just wants to hear her voice again. He just wants her to smile at him.

But even as he speaks she's turning away, walking quickly, glancing over her shoulder at him. She rounds the corner. He can't help himself - he runs after her.

She's completely gone by the time he gets there, of course. But after all, she was only an echo, a creation of his cognition, not even a ghost. He shouldn’t want to see her; there was nothing she could tell him that wasn’t already in his mind.

Goro pulls one of his gloves up and digs his teeth hard into the flesh of his wrist until he feels calmer.

Then he looks around. He’s getting closer to them, he knows it; there’s still time. Fucking focus. There’s another staircase here, and, on the top landing, a single arcade cabinet and a closed mechanical gate. Every other gate he’s seen has been wide open; maybe the Phantom Thieves had missed this area (although given Kurusu’s insistence on thoroughness that didn’t seem likely), maybe it had just shut itself behind them. Who cares? As long as it kept taking him upstairs it didn’t matter.

The machine, like all the rest of them, looks like it’s some bootleg Star Wars rip-off, all starry speckles and primary-coloured lasers over black, just off-brand enough to maybe avoid litigation if it were in the real world. He walks up to it. It’s cycling through attract mode but seems to react to his presence as he approaches - the screen goes black, and then flashes a top scores display.

It’s not like a real one. There’s only three entries, three names fully written out next to pixel art representations:

  1. Akira Kurusu        \(★^∀^★)/
  2. Masayoshi Shido    (ノ_<。)
  3. Goro Akechi        (ಥ﹏ಥ)

PRESS ‘START’ !!

For a moment Goro is just fucking done. He’s had it, had it with Joker being alive, had it with this Palace, the idea of his enemies tramping through his subconscious. He feels unsteady, he’s been too focused for too long; he feels like he’s on the verge of absolutely losing it. But he doesn’t have a choice, so he steps forward, steels himself.

The floor shakes. Once. Twice. The screen goes blue. “No,” he says, “no no no no no -”

The world falls apart.

 


 

After the fight, after the armoured monster that was Akechi collapses and dissolves, all that's left is Akechi's Shadow, on the ground, sobbing like a little kid.

They stand there for a minute in shock, watching him, before Ann says, "This sucks.”

Akira turns and looks at her. She’s staring at Akechi with the expression of someone who’s just smelled rotten milk, her arms folded tight. "This all just freaking SUCKS,” she says. “We shouldn’t have wasted time on him. He's been killing people! For years! He murdered Haru’s dad just WEEKS ago and now he's just snivelling on the floor. Haru and Futaba were right, we don’t need his help, he’s PATHETIC."

Before Akira can say anything - and what is he going to say, he gets her point, but he feels... - before that, Akechi (though it's not Akechi, he reminds himself, it's just a twisted echo of his desires) lets out what might be a sob or a laugh and says, "You're right."

Akira looks at him. His hair is in his face, his nose running, a bruise raising under his eye. He speaks like he’s spitting blood. "I'm a monster, a miserable rabid beast. I'll do anything if you don't stop me. Just kill me and let it end." He laughs again, clearly definable as a laugh this time, though it's hoarse and loud and nothing like the way his laughter sounds in real life, and adds, "I'd do the same for you."

"Oh my god," says Ryuji. "Oh my GOD, dude, we are OBVIOUSLY not going to do that, are you KIDDING."

Akechi... looks at Akira. Desperately. Like he thinks Akira might do it, or has the power to, what, authorise it? It's disturbing.

Akira says, as firmly as he can, "We're definitely not doing that. We’re sticking to the plan," and moves to go get the treasure, the rest of the group ahead of him. But as they leave, Akechi grabs his coattails and says in a thick whisper, "Please, Joker."

Akira doesn't know what to say. He looks down at him. The rest are ahead now, they'll notice that he's lagging behind in a minute. Akechi looks small, terrified, so much like a lost child. It's strange to realise that he's never seen a genuine expression on Akechi's face in real life. Never seen a genuine expression on Akechi's face, ever, because this isn't Akechi, but it feels so much like how he must actually be.

"Please,” Akechi says, “don't do this, I'll have nothing left if you do this."

Akira shouldn't want to talk to him but he finds himself kneeling next to him anyway. "If we do what?" he says, softly, so the others won't hear. He's not sure why he cares. "Get you to start treating people like people?"

This close, he can tell that Akechi is trembling hard. He can hear the ragged intake of his breath. "My whole life," he says, "was about - proving everyone wrong - getting strong enough to make everyone who discarded me regret it - but they were right, you were all right. I..." He trails off, and then repeats, staring straight Akira's eyes, his voice cracking, "I'll have nothing. I'll BE nothing."

Their faces are so close. Akechi's Shadow's eyes are inhuman and frightened and huge. "You didn't have much to begin with, if that's true," says Akira, as gently as he can.

Akechi’s face contorts into the most miserable smile Akira’s ever seen. “No shit, asshole,” he says, but not aggressively. “That’s WHY I’m - I'm fucking begging you, don't do this to me." He grabs Akira's hand suddenly with both of his. His palms are clammy and his grip is far too tight. His face is soaked. "You know we're the same, you have to see it too, you must understand what this will do to me. Please just kill me, please."

Akira feels frozen in place.

"Joker, we have to hurry it up," comes Morgana's voice from ahead of them. ("What's he even doing?" he hears Ryuji say. "Shh," says Makoto.)

Akira takes a deep breath and pulls his hand out of Akechi’s grip. "I'll help you,” he says. “It'll be fine. I promise." He expects... something positive, at least, but instead Akechi's eyes narrow in suspicion. He recoils, curls up in on himself, and stares cold and hard at Akira.

The last thing Akechi's Shadow says to Akira is, "You're so full of shit, Joker."

Akira swallows hard. Then he stands up and walks away and doesn't look back.

 


 

Goro lands on his ass in the same alley he’d come in from, painfully but safely and completely alone. He’s in the real world. They’d done it. He’d failed. He hadn’t even seen them.

He looks at his hands, watches them tremble. Clenches them. Hits the ground once, twice, again, as hard as he can, harder, so hard it feels like his bones will shatter, until he can’t do it anymore and then he covers his mouth as firmly as he can and he screams.

Then it passes.

Since Goro was a child, he felt, sometimes, removed from the world. Like his eyes can’t quite focus right, like he’s been separated from everything by a pane of glass only he can sense; like nothing outside him is real, no matter how bad it is. (Like nothing inside him is real, either; he’s only a camera, recording everything without emotion, waiting it out.) It used to frighten him but he learned to welcome it. To use it.

So, now: he feels distant, and disoriented, and shocked. That’s all.

He makes himself stand up. Wavers unsteady on his feet. Thinks, suddenly, although he thought he couldn’t think when he was like this - of petty cruelties, lives ruined and lost, stupid twisted scheming. All he’d ever been.

Ah. It’s starting, then.

Goro watches himself vomit on the ground and stagger to his bike. He goes home.

 


 

It’s the next morning when someone starts banging on the door to Goro’s apartment.

He doesn’t move. He’s been huddled on the floor in front of the television all night, letting the sound drone meaninglessly. He’d turned it down when the neighbour banged on the wall, turned it up again when he heard her leave for work; it doesn’t make him feel better either way but it beats being left alone with the litany of offenses that keep parading through his head.

His gentleman caller doesn’t seem dissuaded by the lack of response. “Akechi,” he says from the hall, “I know you’re in there, I can hear the TV. Open the door.”

Goro thinks about the last time he saw Kurusu’s face. (What he’d thought was Kurusu’s face.) The absurd amount of blood in a human head. The strange, cold mix of satisfaction and disappointment he’d felt at the time - that this was it, it was over, they were done with each other. He feels sick again.

Kurusu must be just delighted to have pulled all of this off.

“I’m not leaving until I talk to you.”

Goro does not want to see that smug fucking face but something compels him to stumble over to the door anyway. Maybe it’s the only way to get rid of him. He leaves the chain on the door, opens it a crack, and says, “You won, so leave me the hell alone.”

He tries to slam it, but Kurusu has already wedged the toe of his shoe into the gap. Goro sees him wince delicately at the pressure but all he says is, “I brought you curry.”

Of course he did.

Goro closes his eyes, leans into the doorframe, and tries to modulate his voice. “Why are you here, Kurusu? To rub my nose in it?”

“I needed to talk to you. And I wanted to see if you were okay. It… didn’t seem like you had anyone else who’d do that.” His tone is almost sympathetic. Goro can see the line of a mostly-healed cut on his cheek from the interrogation.

“Go to hell,” says Goro. He didn’t think he could feel even more humiliated, but here he is. He says, more to himself than anything, “I can’t believe you’re alive. I shot you.”

Kurusu just smiles - smiles! - and says, “If you let me in I’ll tell you how I did it.”

And what can he say to that? It’s a bit insulting to assume that Goro couldn’t figure it out himself, that he’s just dying to hear how cleverly he’d been hustled, but, well - he didn’t figure it out, although he would have if he hadn’t had more pressing problems. And he does need to know. So Goro stares at him for a moment (and Kurusu stares back, of course, that steady dark gaze behind almost-definitely-fake lenses, his face as inscrutable as ever) and then sighs in irritation. “Is it just you?”

“Just me,” says Kurusu, and holds his bag open in front of the door as proof. Not a magic talking cat to be seen. Great.

Goro bites his tongue hard and gives in. “Move your foot and I’ll open the door.”

He has lost so completely.

 


 

He watches Kurusu taking it all in - the tiny, sparse apartment (smaller than that awful attic of his - not unusual for Tokyo, but still, Goro had never wanted Kurusu to know about it) lit only by the blue glow of a screen and the sunlight leaking through the closed window shade. Goro’s uniform jacket is lying wrinkled on the floor next to a pile of used tissues. Goro himself must look pathetic, too: his eyes feel swollen and gluey, his nose running and raw. He wonders exactly how many of his worst secrets Kurusu must be thinking about when he looks at him.

How did you kill yourself, he finds himself wondering, without making anyone clean up after it? A river, maybe. A cliff over the sea. What else could he do to atone, to make up for it, to escape the way the world would look at him when they realized what he was?

Kurusu flips on a light and heads over to the kitchenette, pulling a plastic container out of his bag. Says, “Do you want the short version or the long?”

Goro winces in the sudden incandescent glare and says, “The short, obviously.”

“Could you turn off the TV?” says Kurusu.

“No.” Kurusu gives him a look, so Goro adds, more feebly than he likes, “I’m watching it.”

Kurusu looks flatly at the screen. “I didn’t take you for a big baseball fan.”

He’s not. The sound of it, the gentle predictable patter, makes him feel less like he’s trapped alone with his worst enemy. Second worst. Although maybe Kurusu surviving his own murder has shifted the rankings a bit. “Yeah, well. Go Swallows, right?” It’s good to know he can still lie, at least, but he can’t seem to harness the right tone anymore. His voice sounds like it’s on the verge of cracking.

“Sure,” says Kurusu, sounding deeply doubtful.

Goro slumps back down onto the floor, rests his forehead on his palm. “Just tell me.”

Kurusu gives him the whole story while he gets the meal ready. His voice is flat and calm the entire time; he doesn’t even sound a bit like he’s bragging, which makes it worse. And besides that, it’s a bit hard to concentrate on it all - not because of the stupid baseball game but because he can’t stop himself from thinking about how Akira Fucking Kurusu is currently discovering that Goro’s kitchen cupboards contain, in total, two plates, one set of chopsticks, a spoon, and two travel mugs. But he gets the gist.

The phone. The phone and the goddamn pancakes. He’s such an idiot.

When Kurusu’s done narrating, he sets a steaming plate on the table near Goro’s head, and sits down sideways in Goro’s desk chair. He hasn’t (presumably because of the chopstick situation) served any food for himself.

It smells incredible. And of course, because this week needed to get worse, something about that - maybe the impact of hearing what a fuck-up he was; maybe the indignity of this small kindness on top of everything else, like a consolation prize - makes something snap in him. He can feel his face contorting and tears, actual tears, start to brim. He covers his face with his hands in horror.

Don’t, not now, don’t FUCKING do it. The Phantom Thieves really have destroyed him. He hasn’t cried in front of another person since he was eight. He wants to wring his own neck.

“Oh,” says Kurusu behind him, because of course he noticed. “Oh. Um. Akechi-” A tentative hand on his shoulder. Goro pulls violently away and snarls, “Don’t touch me!” and then that’s it, he’s actually sobbing, doubled over and gasping for air. Everything has gone so monumentally wrong, his life is so monumentally wrong, and now all he has is the boy he’s hated and lusted after for months, back from the dead, feeding him home-made, microwaved curry.

Kurusu pulls back, hands up, apologetic. “Sorry.”

“Seriously,” Goro chokes out, “I don’t want you here. You shouldn’t want to be here, you moron, what is wrong with you? I...” He scrubs at his face furiously with the back of his hand. “All I can think about when I look at you is seeing you die, do you get that?”

Kurusu sits on the floor next to him. His voice is so, so quiet. “I do.”

“And I’d rather be brain-dead than feel this bad about it while you sit in my apartment, WATCHING.”

Kurusu doesn’t say anything.

“I don’t even understand how you did it,” Goro adds miserably when the silence becomes too unbearable. “None of you have Palaces, I checked, and the goddamn cat said you couldn’t have one if you had a Persona, so I thought I had to be fine. I thought I was so clever.” He laughs, harsh for once, the way he actually laughs when no one’s listening. It turns into a hiccup.

“It…” Kurusu sighs heavily. “We don’t know how it worked. It confused Mona a lot, if that makes you feel better. What we think happened is that… a Persona is supposed to be your true self, right? A version of you that you’ve accepted and, like, integrated into yourself. But there are some people - like me, and, I bet, you - who have more than one mask. Which means there’s other parts of your true self. That can become distorted. If that makes sense.”

Goro blows his nose, loudly. Fuck propriety. “It doesn’t. You sound like an idiot.” It’s hard to sound as withering as he’d like to, given that he’s still crying, but he gives it his best.

Naturally, Kurusu just smiles a little and shrugs. “That’s the best I’ve got.”

“Of course it is.” And honestly, it’s a pretty decent hypothesis, but Goro’s not going to tell him that.

After another silence, Kurusu leans forward and says, “Look. You do deserve to feel this bad. I’m sorry, but you do.”

Another bitter laugh forces itself out of Goro’s mouth. “Okay.”

“But you don’t deserve to be alone while you deal with it. So I’ll leave now if you want me to, but I’m coming back tomorrow. All right?”

Goro wipes his face with his sleeve and glowers at him: Great Akira the Moralizer, who knows exactly what everyone else deserves. Perfect, beloved Akira. “If I say no, will you bang on my door for an hour anyway?”

“Definitely.”

Goro sighs as dramatically as he can. “Fine. Get out.”

Kurusu nods solemnly and stands up. He looks like he’s about to say something else, or lean over to give Goro a masculine, heterosexual pat on the arm or some shit; but then he looks Goro in the eye and seems to decide against whatever it was, sliding his hands into his pockets.

Goro looks away, at the TV screen. Someone’s - scored, or whatever. Hurray.

He wants to sleep for a decade.

“Hey, Akechi-”

He turns his head just in time to see Kurusu throw Goro’s phone straight at him; somehow he manages to catch it, instead of it landing directly on his face, but it’s close. He’d turned it off and flung it at the wall hours ago, because it kept buzzing and he absolutely couldn’t deal with that. He’d kind of been hoping the impact had just broken it for good, but no such luck, of course.

Kurusu has the grace to look a bit apologetic about tossing it directly at his head, at least. He says, “You really should keep your phone on.”

“Just go,” says Goro.

He goes.

 


 

Akira: i’ve never seen anyone get meaner after their heart was stolen before btw
Goro: What can I say? I’m talented.
Akira: lol
Akira: you’re just not bullshitting me anymore. it’s interesting
Akira: see u tomorrow
Goro: I really wish you’d learn to type like a grown-up.
Akira: lmao
Akira: nite ;)
Goro: Fuck you.

 


 

For months before it happened, Goro daydreamed about killing Akira Kurusu. Not the way he was actually going to do it - the way he wanted to do it, secrecy and practicality be damned. It went like this:

You’re friends. You act like you’re slipping bits of information about yourself to him, bat your lashes and give him the big sad orphan eyes. (Everything you tell him is a lie, of course. If he knows anything real about you, that’s it, you’ve already lost.) You always stand a bit too close, lean a bit too far in, put your hand on his arm casually, like you don’t realise that it might mean something. You invite him to the movies or some shit.

And then, when this has been going on for - well, long enough, fantasies don’t really need an explicit timeline - you make your move. You find a way to be alone in that miserable attic with him and tell him something like Oh, Akira, you’re sooo special, the fact that you’ve never used a comb just turns me on so much, I can’t live with this secret eating away at me! I’m just so desperate for juvenile delinquent dick! Take me now!

(Maybe sometimes this part was a bit more earnest than that, but that’s awfully close to actually planning some kind of confession, don’t you think?)

But here is an essential part: before the idiot manages to stutter out an answer, you act all wounded again -oh Akira what was I thinking, you’d never want someone like me, I’m not worthy of you and anyway you definitely seem straight, how foolish I’ve been! Et cetera. Twist those heart strings, make him think about how bad he feels for you. Lean in just far enough that when he kisses you, he thinks it was his idea.

Don’t let it go too far yet. Leave him there to jerk off over the thought of you. (Something about this detail always got to Goro, made his toes curl.)

Play it out for as long as you want after that - you can fill in the details at your leisure. What it comes down to is the ending: straddling him on that sad little mattress, his cock deep inside you, and just as he’s about to come you wrap your hands around his throat, stare him straight in the eyes, and squeeze.

Don’t say anything. Hold him down. You’re almost the same size and build but you have surprise on your side; he’ll fight back, leave you with bruises to remember him by, but that’s part of the fun. Feel the vibrations of his larynx under your palms, watch the colour of his face change and the anger turn to fear. Let him spend those long final seconds looking at you, knowing that you beat him.

Usually that’s where it ended, but Goro let it go a bit longer sometimes: imagined Morgana, coming back from… wherever Goro’s imagination has banished him, whatever, who cares - coming back and finding him naked and stiff in his own bed. The shock and pain on his idiot friends’ faces. He could play up his own distress, maybe join the investigation? Maybe. Maybe that was a bit much.

It was overall a deeply adolescent fantasy, but hey, even Detective Princes have needs, right?

 


 

Kurusu comes by the next afternoon, like he said he would. Goro doesn’t get up when Kurusu starts knocking - thinks, bitterly, of making him wait at the door, to prove that Goro still has something resembling power in whatever this relationship is - but then it turns out he hadn’t actually locked his goddamn door the day before, so that’s a wash, and Kurusu just strolls right on in. At least it means Goro doesn’t have to get out of his futon.

Kurusu peers around the folding screen, the ugly one the previous tenants had left, down at Goro. “How are you feeling?”

He feels like he’s drowning in memories. He feels like bashing his own head in with a rock. He keeps thinking how fucking stupid he was, to convince himself that becoming Masayoshi Shido’s attack dog, his pet, doing his dirty work, was ever going to get him anything, ever going to make his life into something worthwhile. He’d felt so tangibly close to pulling off the long con, felt invincible; but why would he ever expect something to work out the way he wanted?

“I’m great,” he says. “Peachy. How are you.”

Kurusu’s doing that thing where he taps at the ground with one foot, so absently it seems like he’s not aware of it. “I got melon pan on the way here, if you want some.”

Goro is so, so tired. “Stop acting like I’m some… some wounded animal you have to feed until I get better.”

Kurusu looks at him. Goro feels like he must be thinking, Aren’t you? He says, “I told you yesterday what you wanted to know. I want to know how you’re doing. Seriously.”

“So you can report back to your little friends about it?” says Goro darkly.

Alarmingly, Kurusu seems to give that statement serious and measured consideration. “Partially,” he says after a moment. “Mostly because you’re a mess.”

Goro stares at him. Sits up. “You’re a total asshole when you want to be, Kurusu, do you know that?”

Kurusu tilts his head to the side a little. “I really don’t mean to be,” he says, and honestly that’s hard to fucking swallow, but. Well. Remember who he’s talking to.

Goro rolls away onto his side and covers his head with his pillow, as pointedly as he can. After a moment he hears the sound of Kurusu’s footsteps moving away. Good. Fuck off.

He wants to try to go back to sleep, but he knows there’s no point; he could barely sleep all night, despite how desperately he wants to. He’s not going to be suddenly able to relax now that Joker of all people is wandering around doing god-knows-what in his apartment. Even normally, he can never fall asleep when anyone else is around.

Still. It’s not like he wants to get up, either. So he closes his eyes and keeps thinking about Kurusu.

Goro has wondered a lot - more than he probably should have - what could have possibly made Kurusu the way he is. Not just what made him an intolerable busybody, so convinced that there's a right side to justice and he's on it (though Goro certainly wonders about that too), but - where did that preternatural calm come from, the cool predator stare? Goro knows a thing or two about facades, and as far as he can tell, that part of Kurusu isn't one. He’d made that clear in the interrogation room: take Joker’s mask off and you’ll still have Joker.

No wonder Kurusu saw through Goro so quickly. Goro had thought he was so special, the smartest guy in any room, a real life chosen one, but the idea seems so ludicrous to him now; he'd only ever grasped a fraction of the strength Kurusu so nonchalantly wielded. (Because Goro's pathetic, a monster, disposable trash -)

So how does a person, a child, get that way, in small town Kanto, with two parents? What could they possibly think of him? They’d sent him here - were they relieved to be temporarily rid of this strange force of nature in a teenager's body? Was he just a nuisance delinquent to them, ruining the family's reputation? Or did they actually love him?

And what the hell is he doing in Goro’s kitchen?

He gets up, follows the sound of running water into the kitchenette. To see-

“Are you doing my dishes?"

Kurusu turns around and says, “It was my fault they were dirty.” Which is true. “I kind of tidied up, too. I hope you don’t mind.”

Goro doesn’t have enough things for his apartment to get messy, which is sort of the point of not having things. Still. His sad little pile of tissues is gone and his jacket has been hung up, and everything else looks a bit more… arranged. It’s… nice? Really invasive and completely unnecessary. But it was nice of him.

So. Maybe he should try a bit harder. He leans against the cupboards.

“What happened to your hands?” says Kurusu - absently, but in a calculated sort of way, like he’s been waiting to bring it up. Goro looks down. They look better than they’d looked the day before, but they’re still a bit bruised and scraped from hitting the ground. He hadn’t realised it was very noticeable to other people.

“I fell,” he says, which is the most transparent shit in the world, but what is he going to say, I tried to follow you into my Palace and failed utterly and then lost my shit about it like a toddler? God. No. Absolutely not.

Kurusu looks a bit concerned but doesn’t pursue it, and maybe that’s what makes Goro decide to answer his question. “You… you wanted to know how I’m feeling,” he says.

Kurusu puts the towel he was holding down on the counter, and nods.

Goro takes a deep breath. He’s only saying this because there’s no one else in the world he can talk to, and because he feels so awful that if he doesn’t talk to someone he’s going to throw himself out of a window. He’s not saying it because he thinks Kurusu gives a shit about him or could possibly understand.

“When I was… when I was a kid, one of my foster families…” He’s not sure how to put it. He sighs and starts again. “They were pretty good, actually, but the woman, her father was a drunk. The nicest old man you’ve ever met when he was sober and the absolute meanest when he wasn’t.” He looks at Kurusu. He’s nodding again, which is incredibly annoying. “God, I’m not comparing myself to that part. What I mean is, he’d say all this shit one night and then the next day if anyone told him what happened he was just horrified. Legitimately, I think. Couldn’t remember it or understand why he’d said it, even though he clearly meant every word at the time.”

Kurusu says, “You feel like that.”

“Yeah. Except I remember everything I did.”

Kurusu looks thoughtful for a moment. “That was a good foster family?”

Well. What did he think was going to happen if he told anyone that shit. “Yeah, Kurusu, that’s it, you’ve figured me out. Great job. You’re the real detective here. You know that wasn’t my point.” He rubs the bridge of his nose miserably. “Shit, you’re just going to tell everyone that whole story, aren’t you.”

Kurusu says, “I’m good at keeping secrets,” like he’s fucking twelve years old and had been entrusted with the name of Goro’s first crush or something. “When I said I’d report back, I meant… generally. And I was kind of joking, too.”

Goro can’t help smiling a little. “You have a terrible sense of humour."

“No, I’m really funny,” says Kurusu, very solemnly. Goro snorts. “Are you sure you don’t want the melon pan?” he continues, holding up his bag. “I’m gonna eat it if you don’t.”

Goro’s already out of bed and talking to him, so. “Fine. Give it here.”

It’s really good. He’d barely touched the curry the other day. And apparently they’re just… hanging out in Goro’s kitchen, now, so with as much dignity as he can muster he hops up onto the empty countertop by the fridge. Watches Kurusu finish cleaning the plate and set it aside to dry. It’s not a bad sort of silence. He doesn’t mind it.

Then Kurusu turns to him and says, “I need you to tell me about Shido.”

Goro feels momentarily winded. He knew it. He knew it. Kurusu isn’t here to hear how he’s doing or keep him company. He just wants something from him. He’s exactly like everyone else in the world and Goro should know better than to be disappointed.

“Akechi?”

“You don’t need me to do anything,” he says, drawing himself up cold and stiff and as imposingly as he can. “You’re the big mastermind here, aren’t you? Figure it out yourself. You probably learned more than enough traipsing through my head, anyway.”

Kurusu’s expression has gone very still. “Calm down,” he says.

“No,” says Goro, and instantly regrets how childishly petulant he sounds, but he can’t seem to stop himself. “You just ruined my life, I’m not helping you with anything.”

“Well, you tried to kill me, so I think we’re about even.” Kurusu stands up straight from his slouch. His expression is obscured behind hair and lenses. He sounds like he’s being very careful about every word. “I’d think you of all people would want to help with this.”

Goro knows he deserves it but it sucks, it sucks, to have the murder attempt thrown in his face, like he could possibly forget that he’s a monster. It’s not even close to the worst thing he’s done. His jaw is so tense it hurts.

Kurusu says, “Whatever, dude. I thought…” He shakes his head minutely. “Whatever. We can talk tomorrow.”

He leaves. Or Goro thinks he does, until Kurusu adds from the door, sounding the most annoyed Goro’s ever heard him, “If this is your bike in the hall you’d better move it before it gets stolen.”

Goro looks at his balcony. His bike isn’t there. Shit.

“Akechi-”

“I’m coming,” says Goro, and stalks over to the door. Apparently he’d just thrown it against the hallway wall when he got back. He really doesn’t remember the process of getting home from his Palace at all. “Why didn’t you tell me yesterday?”

“Why do you think?” says Kurusu. He sighs, heavily. “Look. I get that this sucks for you. I really do. Just… could you try to think of other people for once?”

Akira Kurusu is the most self-righteous, condescending, insufferable son of a bitch Goro’s ever had the misfortune to meet. “What, like you do?” Goro spits out. “Give me a fucking break, Joker, you don’t care about people. You just want to feel superior to them.”

Kurusu looks a bit taken aback. Good. “That’s not true,” he says.

“Really?” He moves forward, gets in Kurusu’s face, exploits what little height advantage he has as much as he can. Kurusu just stares at him and doesn’t blink. “No one forced you to try to get famous off this shit. No one needed to ever hear about the Phantom Thieves, you could have done everything completely in the shadows and you didn’t. And don’t blame your goddamn friends for that, we both know who’s in charge of your little operation. Do you really, seriously think you’re all that different from me?”

Kurusu squares his jaw and says, “I’m trying to be.” He takes one deliberate step back - I’m not intimidated by you, that movement says, I’m just done with this. “See you tomorrow, Akechi. Bye.”

Chapter Text

Akira: hey
Akira: can’t make it today after all
Akira: rly busy
Akira: hope not having to see me cheers you up lol
Akira: pls think about the shido thing
Akira: you KNOW it’s more important than how much you hate me

 


 

When Goro Akechi was nearly fifteen, he dreamt of a royal blue crypt. It was cold, and drafty, and empty and not empty at the same time.

The memory of it tried to slip away from him when he woke, as dreams do, but something about it seemed special, different. So he clung to it as best he could, tried his hardest to piece it together: luminescent golden eyes, he remembers; a certain tune; a butterfly so black that it seemed like a hole in the world. And a voice that said, “You will find yourself in Mementos.”

He had been following his father for months at that point. He was still in the Metropolitan Assembly in those days, and most afternoons, after school, Goro would head down to where his office was, to do his homework in the cafe across the street and wait to see Shido emerge. He learned his habits, his subway route (Shido still took trains back then; Goro relished the few times he managed to get in the same car as him, overheard him complaining about colleagues on the phone). He learned where he lived. He didn’t know what he was going to do with any of this information yet, but he was smart. He’d figure it out.

One evening, waiting for his train home from the Assembly building, Goro found a strange app on his phone. Felt strangely compelled to open it. Thought of the word from his dream.

You know how this goes.

In the depths he met a man. He looked like the owner of the cafe Goro frequented, except his eyes were wrong. The man told Goro that he hated his wife, that she had their child to trap him, that all he thought about every day was beating both of their heads in until they shut the hell up for good. He said, how fucking dare you look at me like that, kid.

Something about him made Goro think about everyone he’d ever loathed, everyone who’d ever touched or hurt or abandoned him. The way he and his mother were treated like trash by everyone in the world, used and thrown away. The way she’d just accepted it. She’d thrown herself away, she’d finished the job. She hadn’t even had the decency to take him with her.

Which meant he was still here. He didn’t have to be the same.

The man shifted and changed. His mouth opened too wide.

The voice in his heart said, I’ve awaited thee for too long. Promise thyself to me, and thou wilt never again be held by the bonds of despondency. Yes. Good. I am thou and thou art I; and now we shall mix the mead of these men with malice.

It hurt more than anything else in his life. It felt like his brain was being wrenched out of his skull through his eye sockets. He was screaming and bloody and then he was stronger than he’d ever imagined was possible.

Loki defended him. He defended himself. He wanted to kill the man but Loki laughed and said, Thou canst do better than that; and so Goro reached out and took hold of something delicate inside the man’s heart and twisted it.

The man screamed for an eternity and then dissolved into shadow.

He got home far too late that night, but his foster father’s anger didn’t even matter because he knew he had been blessed. The next day at the cafe, he heard the waitresses say that their boss had been into an accident, driven his car straight into a moving cargo train; and Goro couldn’t stop himself from smiling because now he finally knew how to make his father learn his name.

 


 

It’s dark on the fourth day after Goro’s heart was stolen when Kurusu next shows up at Goro’s door. He knocks three times and Goro opens it because, well... he hadn’t loved being alone. He doesn’t say anything, though.

Kurusu doesn’t act like he’s still pissed, even though he must be. He says, “Hey,” very normally, and sprawls sideways in Goro’s desk chair again, and yawns wide. “Sorry,” he says when he’s done. Smiles sheepishly at him a little, takes a long swig out of the travel mug he’s carrying. Goro leans against the wall. He knows this act, he’s been feigning untouchability for years, and Kurusu knows he knows it, so what the hell is he trying to pull?

“How can you be ‘busy’ when you’re clearly not going to school?” Goro says after a moment, eyeing the hooded sweatshirt Kurusu’s wearing under his jacket. It’s sloppy and ordinary but somehow it kind of works for him. Or maybe Goro just likes seeing the dip of his clavicle.

Kurusu shrugs and says, “It’s a gift.”

“Hm,” says Goro. Crosses his arms. “You’re only skipping school to maintain the ruse of being dead, correct?”

“Correct, detective,” says Kurusu, although not mockingly - he sounds entertained, almost… fond.

“I could have called Shido and told him you were alive, you know. You could be totally wasting your time.”

Kurusu smiles big and dazzling at him. “You didn’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

“You wouldn’t be bringing this up as a hypothetical if you’d actually done it,” he says, “and anyway, I don’t believe you’d do it to begin with, even if I hadn’t changed your heart. You always wanted to deal with me yourself. It’d ruin the game if you brought Shido into it directly. Right?”

Of course he’s right. He’s always right, isn’t he? Acting like he figured that shit out himself when he’s seen inside Goro’s head is fucking cheap. Goro glares at him and then blurts out, before he realises what he’s doing, “I need to shower.”

“Oh,” says Kurusu. “Okay.”

“I was about to,” he adds, “before you showed up.”

Kurusu shrugs a little. “Don’t let me stop you.”

He wasn’t actually about to shower but he does need to. Maybe he announced it because he wanted to get out of this weird conversation, which feels so much like the mid-stages of the cat-and-mouse game they used to play. Maybe he just feels like shit, being seen by Kurusu in the same clothes he’s been wearing for days with grease in his hair.

He doesn’t know how to leave the conversation gracefully, though that used to be a talent of his, so he just goes straight into the bathroom and locks the door. He turns just the cold water on and lets it go until he feels too numb to think. You’re going to make yourself sick, he thinks in his mother’s voice after a while, sharp and annoyed, and makes himself get out.

When he turns the water off it occurs to him that, well - he’d sort of thought, if he was ever undressed this close to Akira Kurusu, it’d be a bit more exciting, more of an… occasion, you know. Ha. Figures.

When he goes back into the main room, towel wrapped high like a girl for modesty’s sake, he intends to go straight behind the folding screen and get changed, but he can’t help looking over at Kurusu. Just to make sure he hasn’t started sorting Goro’s books in gojuon order, or something equally intrusive and bizarre.

What he finds is that Kurusu has moved the chair just far enough to lean back against the wall, using one hand as a cushion for his head, with his eyes shut firm and his glasses tucked into the neck of his shirt. Goro can’t imagine how he could possibly be able to doze off like this, in the home of his literal enemy, no matter how declawed that enemy might be. But then, he’s pretty sure he once saw Kurusu sleep standing up on a packed subway platform and jolt to full attention the moment his train arrived.

His face looks naked, without glasses or a mask; bare and young and frustratingly attractive. He has the longest eyelashes Goro’s ever seen on a boy.

Kurusu shifts. Opens his eyes and looks straight into Goro’s, blinking lazily at him like a cat.

Goro turns his head immediately, as if that would disguise the fact that he’d been staring at Kurusu in a towel like a total lunatic, and walks briskly but not too briskly behind the folding screen. Pulls it completely closed. Sits on the floor and buries his face in his hands.

The day before had been… bad. The worst day he’d had since this bullshit started, which was saying something. He’d been mostly holding himself together until Kurusu had cancelled, and then it had hit him that there was absolutely nothing else in his life anymore. Just himself, and his past, and his gun, and a phone that keeps ringing which he can’t bring himself to answer.

He has to fucking get it together.

He stands up and puts on the first shirt and khakis he grabs, and towels his hair until it stops dripping. Reaches automatically for his cologne, but it’s the one Shido bought him (or rather, gave him a 10,000 yen note and told him to buy, because he didn’t want to work with anyone who smelled like a drugstore), so… maybe not. And maybe it’s weird, anyway, to put cologne on when you have someone over, especially if you have a fraught relationship with that person. He imagines it: Kurusu instantly just assuming that Goro put cologne on for him because what else could it be for, it’s not like he’s left his apartment recently. Yeah, no. None of that, thank you.

And then he goes back into the main room with as much dignity as he can muster and says to Kurusu, who’s drinking from his travel mug with one hand and holding his phone in the other, “How much do you know about Shido?”

Kurusu looks up at him. Puts the phone down on Goro’s desk and swallows his coffee hastily. “Um,” he says. Counts out each point on his fingers. “He’s popular. He’s been rising in politics for about a decade. He’s a litigious rapist.”

Goro wants to punch him in the throat. “That’s not funny.”

“I know it isn’t, I’m not joking.” Kurusu looks exasperated. “I’m sorry if that sounded glib. I’m just tired. And it is the literal first thing I ever learned about him, you know.”

Ugh. Okay. “And?” he says.

“And he’s your father,” says Kurusu, a bit reluctantly, like it’s just occurring to him that calling someone’s dad a rapist to their face is a minefield. “And he was using you.”

“I was using him,” says Goro, as firmly as he can. It’s true. He needs it to sound true.

Kurusu says, “Okay. Sure.”

“What does that mean?”

Kurusu looks as tired as Goro feels, which is kind of satisfying, at least. “It means sure, Akechi. I’m trying really hard to get along with you today, man, can we please just have a normal conversation for once?”

Goro hugs his arms and wishes he had more than one chair, or that Kurusu would stop taking his. “I don’t-” he begins, and then his phone, on the desk next to Kurusu’s, vibrates. Insistently. It’s ringing.

Kurusu looks at it and looks at Goro and a light goes into his eyes. He says, very quickly, “He’s been calling you and you haven’t been answering.”

“Yes,” says Goro, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

Kurusu grabs it, holds it out to Goro, suddenly fast and alert. “You need to answer it.”

“I do not need to-”

“You do, he’s dangerous and now he’s pissed at you. Do it.”

“I can’t talk to him when I’m... when I’m the way I’ve been,” Goro says. He hasn’t been able to bring himself to return calls to his stupid school.

“Crow, you are the greatest bullshitter I’ve ever met, you have to answer this phone.” And Goro knows he’s only calling him by his stupid codename to be manipulative, to remind him of when they worked together, to make him feel like part of his team-

He takes the phone. Takes a deep breath and answers it. “Hello.”

“It’s about time, Akechi,” says Shido. “Do you seriously think I have time to be chasing after a kid who won’t return my calls? Do you think that’s my priority right now?”

“No, sir,” says Goro. His throat feels thick. “I’m sorry. I’ve been sick.”

“Let me tell you something about the real world, Akechi,” says Shido. “In the real world, no one cares if you’re sick or miserable or if your leg’s just been sawn off. You still show up to work and you return your damn calls. If you were half as mature as you pretend to be you’d already know that.”

“Yes sir,” he says, and gestures frantically at Kurusu to get out of his fucking chair before his legs collapse. Kurusu stares blankly at him for a moment before getting up, and Goro falls into the chair with cold relief. “I’m really sorry, sir.”

“Now,” says Shido. Sighs. “I need you to do another favour for me.”

“Oh,” says Goro, and closes his eyes. “Wh-what might that be?” That stutter. Awful.

“It’s about the loyal customers of our… business,” he says. “How about you take care of all the ones that seem suspicious? As many as you need to.”

Everyone who’d wanted someone out of their lives. Well, honestly - they’re all suspicious. Although he means any that are potentially threatening to him, of course. He says, stupidly, “Right now? With the election coming up?”

“Yes, the sooner the better,” Shido says.

That’s so many people. He wants him to kill so many people. “But- wouldn’t it look fishy, sir, if a large number of people were… were taken out of commission just before-”

“Are you,” says Shido smoothly, “talking back to me?”

Shit. “No, sir,” he says, fast. “I’m just concerned about how this might affect your chances. I understand why you might be-” Don’t insult him, for the love of God don’t accidentally insult him- “-uneasy, but surely it would be less risky to wait until after the election, when things calm down.”

Shido is silent for a moment. Then he says, “You disappear for days and then you argue with me. Interesting. Have you become some kind of campaign advisor while you weren’t answering your phone? Are you an elections expert now?”

“No... sir.”

“No,” says Shido, and laughs and adds, “you’ve never even voted.”

Goro laughs too, as accommodatingly as he can. “This will be the first time, sir, you’re right.”

“So maybe, Akechi, you should listen to your elders and take your damn orders. Do you have any other opinions you want to share with me?”

“No, sir,” says Goro. His chest hurts. “I’m, ah - again, I’m very sorry. Consider that favour done.”

“I should hope so,” says Shido, and hangs up.

Goro lets the phone fall onto the desk. Presses a hand to his mouth.

Kurusu says, from very far away, “Okay. Okay, that was good. Hey.” He’s half-kneeling in front of Goro now, so that his face is just below eye-level, and carefully takes Goro’s free hand in one of his. Goro looks down at him. Tries to get him into focus. “Hey,” Kurusu repeats, “that was really good.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Goro says, and hates how strained his voice sounds. He hopes it wasn’t like that when he was talking to Shido, he thought it wasn’t, he used to be so good at being in control, but...

“I’m serious, Akechi.” Kurusu smiles. “From one bullshitter to another, that was fantastic.” Goro must still look dubious, because he adds, “If it was me… I just deny things, act all vapid, you know? And I’m really good at that but I can’t really hold a conversation like you just did.”

Goro can’t think of a response to that for what feels like far too long. Eventually he says, “You held conversations with me.”

“You’re a special case,” says Kurusu.

Goro’s not in the mood for deciphering Joker’s weird deadpan bullshit. He looks down at their hands. Kurusu’s grip is so light he can hardly feel it but his thumb is stroking the back of Goro’s hand.

“Do you... usually react like this after you talk to him?” Kurusu says, uncharacteristically hesitant.

Goro snorts, doesn’t quite look him in the eye, and pulls his hand out of Kurusu’s grasp. “No, because usually I haven’t had all this...” He gestures vaguely, as if he can encapsulate it all in a hand movement. “This shit going on.”

Kurusu makes a soft, thoughtful noise.

Goro hesitates. Admits it. “Sometimes I do. But, I mean.” He tries to force his voice to sound calm, dismissive. It only half works. “Usually, it’s fine. It’s just... well. No one likes getting yelled at.”

“That’s definitely true,” says Kurusu, a smile in his voice, which makes Goro feel a bit guilty. But that’s not the most pressing issue.

“He wants me to kill more people, Kurusu. A lot more. Even before I wouldn’t have wanted to.” He wasn’t a psychopath, or at least he probably wasn’t. He’s thought about it a lot, and not just in the past few days. It’s important for Kurusu to know that he’s probably never been a psychopath.

“Okay,” says Kurusu. He doesn’t look surprised, but he doesn’t look very collected either, for once. He looks like he’s thinking very hard. “Okay. We’ll figure it out.”

“Will we?” says Goro. “He’s going to keep calling me. Me, not ‘us’.

Kurusu says, “Meet with the rest of us. Tomorrow’s Saturday, so after school. Leblanc. The sooner we deal with Shido the better, especially if he’s getting paranoid; we can all help each other.” He’s seconds from falling into the faux-concerned counsellor voice Goro remembers from after his mother died. Help us help you.

Still. Maybe it’s worth a try. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt. It seems more likely that it’ll be a fucking disaster, but what else is he doing with his time now? He nods, regretting it even as he does.

Kurusu beams. “I’ll come pick you up,” he says, like it’s a date.

“You know I know where Leblanc is,” Goro says flatly.

“Yeah, but I want to make sure you actually show up,” says Kurusu, still smiling. “No offense.”

“Right.” Because he’s a child who needs to be chaperoned. A dog who needs to be kept on a leash. Great.

Maybe he’s just always going to be someone’s dog. Maybe he just has to deal with that.

 


 

The first thing Goro says when Kurusu arrives the next day is, “This is an awful idea, Kurusu, haven’t you thought about it?”

Kurusu gets a look on his face like he thinks Goro is just being dramatic, or trying to get out of it, but Goro continues, pacing around the room. “Someone’s going to recognize me on the street. They always do. And if they recognize me they’ll look at you, and - and even if they don’t, someone’s bound to take pictures. The pair of us will be all over the internet.” He snaps his fingers. “Instantly. And then we’re both fucked.”

“Oh,” says Kurusu. “You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right. I’m not suddenly stupid now that I’m- I’m like this.” He feels stupid all the time now, actually, like the biggest moron on the planet, but he can’t stand the thought of Kurusu agreeing with that.

“I didn’t think you were,” says Kurusu - genuinely, not in annoyance or obligation. He presses a finger to his lips thoughtfully for a moment, and then says, “Do you own a hoodie?”

Goro stops pacing and stares at him.

Kurusu laughs a little. “Right. Stupid question. Take mine.” And then he takes his jacket off, unzips his grey sweatshirt. His t-shirt is a bit bunched up underneath it, and Goro catches a glimpse of the pale skin of his abdomen for a second before Kurusu adjusts it and holds out the hoodie. He says, “Come on, Akechi. It has to be something that’s not your style, right?”

“I suppose,” says Goro, not reaching for it. “You’ll still be noticeable, though.”

“I’ll just be a kid who looks a bit like the dead Phantom Thief. Weird but not inexplicable. I wouldn’t pay all that much attention to that if I was just a member of the public - would you?”

“Hm,” says Goro. “I hope you’re right.” He takes the sweatshirt. Puts it on, self-consciously, over his button-up.

Kurusu looks amused by his reluctance. “You must have worn a hoodie before, Akechi. You weren’t born in a school uniform.”

“You don’t know that,” says Goro, but smiles. “Of course I have, it’s just... not something I was going to waste my clothes budget on.” Because the first money of his own he could ever spend on clothes was from Shido, and he had to be professional, and anyway it’s not like he wanted to keep wearing sloppy third- and fourth-hand clothes if he didn’t have to. He needed as much distance between himself and that part of his life as possible. So.

He zips it up. Says to Kurusu, who’s looking at him appraisingly, “How bad is it?”

“What? Not bad at all. I’m not going to insult you for wearing my clothes, dude.” He walks over to Goro and moves in a bit too close, but all he’s doing is pulling the hood up over his head, adjusting it a little. Gently nudging strands of Goro’s hair back. The fabric of the hood smells intensely like coffee, and also like teen boy, but not in a bad way. “There,” Kurusu says, not stepping away, one hand resting on Goro’s shoulder like he’s forgotten it. He smiles. “Seriously, it looks good on you. You can keep it if you want, I have another.”

“Maybe,” Goro says. He’s not sure what to do with this, with how unnecessarily kind Kurusu is being, with how comfortable it is - has been lately, even when Goro’s fucking furious; maybe always has been - to talk to him. Kurusu’s face is so close to his. He could lean forward and kiss him so easily, he’d barely have to move. He won’t. It’d be a nightmare if he did. But he could.

Kurusu tilts his head. Gets a look on his face, the I just figured out how to get past this locked door look. Says, “Actually -” and takes his glasses off and holds them out.

“Are you kidding?” says Goro.

“I just want to see,” says Kurusu. He slips the glasses onto Goro’s nose, and Goro reaches up to help adjust them because, well, what else is he going to do? Their fingers brush but Kurusu doesn’t seem to react so Goro tries not to either.

The lenses are exactly as fake as Goro’s always suspected. Kurusu steps back a little and looks absolutely delighted with himself.

“You’re an asshole,” Goro says.

“No, I promise I’m not making fun of you. You look cute. You should take a look.” And Goro could think about this damn boy calling him cute, or he could go look in the mirror, so he goes into the bathroom.

He looks… fine. Goro wouldn’t call it cute, himself, but that’s not a descriptor he particularly cares for in general, so whatever. He mostly thinks he looks uncomfortable, and like he needs either a nap or several litres of coffee, but he doesn’t… hate it. And he doesn’t look much like he does on TV, which is the important thing.

Something occurs to him. He says, loudly so it carries into the main room, “Wait - did you have these on in your mugshots?”

Kurusu appears in the doorway. “Oh. No, I didn’t.”

“You should keep them, then.”

“Good thinking,” says Kurusu, though he sounds a bit disappointed.

The weather that day is crisp and sunny, though cold enough that Goro regrets not wearing his gloves, cold enough that Kurusu hunches over and shoves his hands in his pockets even more than usual. Goro feels like he’s missed a huge part of the change of seasons, even though it hasn’t even been a week since this all started. Everyone else’s lives kept going and he just... stayed inside and thought about death and waited for Kurusu to show up at his door. It’s so fucking pathetic, when he lays it out like that. He’s so pathetic.

Maybe he should just think about how nice it is to be on the train, with Kurusu, and with no one recognizing him. He feels a bit like he’s some paranoid, aging ex-celebrity, actually, with the absolute lack of attention he’s getting - like he was being absurd to worry in the first place. Maybe he’s just a total has-been loser now. Maybe he was just so good at curating his public image that no one could possibly imagine him in casual clothes, so this is actually an accomplishment. Whatever.

A huge group of middle school girls are in their train car, so they don’t get seats; but the crowd presses Kurusu’s shoulder lightly against Goro’s back, and they listen to the girls chat about their teachers, and test scores, and boyfriends, until they reach Yongen-Jaya.

“Hey, Akechi,” says Kurusu as they leave the subway station. “Since you have more than one Persona-” (he says this so confidently, even though Goro’s positive he never confirmed it to him; his Shadow clearly had one hell of a blabbermouth) “-you must have met…” He draws his fingers in front of his face, like he’s indicating a long nose. What? Is this a weird joke about his mask?

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” says Goro blankly. And beyond that... when he tries to think about what Kurusu just said, it feels like his thoughts are slipping away from him, like water off a steep roof.

“Oh,” says Kurusu, and shoves his hands back into his pockets. “Of course not. Never mind.”

Leblanc is closed when they reach it. Before Kurusu opens the door, Goro takes the hood off and finger-combs his hair until it feels presentable. “You ready?” says Kurusu, smiling a little.

Of course he isn’t. He pats his hair down one last time and says, “Let’s just go in.”

It’s only Takamaki, Sakamoto, and Morgana, sitting at one of the booths. Sojiro Sakura isn’t there. The three of them were clearly in the middle of a conversation, but the instant the door opens they go quiet and stare. At Goro, mostly, of course. Goro can’t read their expressions. He stands, uncomfortably, by the door.

“Hey,” says Kurusu, striding behind the counter. “You guys want coffee?”

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” says Takamaki, a bit too perkily, not taking her eyes off Goro. “Cream and sugar.”

“None for me,” says Sakamoto, and holds up his can of cola, and now really isn’t the time for Goro to let himself get annoyed over absolutely nothing but good god, the guy has the palate of a six-year-old, what on earth does Kurusu see in this guy? What about him could be remotely appealing to someone like Joker? How did the Phantom Thieves end up with a dumb punk like him a central part of their stupid fucking group?

“Akechi?” says Kurusu. “Coffee?”

“Sure,” he says. “Black.”

“I know,” says Kurusu.

“You can sit down, Akechi,” says Morgana, who’s standing on the booth table between Takamaki and Sakamoto. “We won’t bite.”

“Speak for yourself,” says Sakamoto, and laughs, and says “No, dude, I’m kidding. Sit down.” Goro hates him. But he feels stupid standing by the door like this, so he sits uncomfortably at one of the high bar stools at the counter, facing towards the group. They probably wanted him to sit at the booth, but that’s not his problem.

They sit in silence, listening to Kurusu make coffee. Eventually Goro says to Kurusu, because someone has to say something, “Sakura’s not here?”

“Boss and Futaba-chan decided they didn’t want to see you, so they went to the movies,” says Takamaki, even though he clearly hadn’t been addressing her. “Um. No offense.”

“Right,” Goro says. That’s fair. That’s a bit of a relief, in fact, even though it stings. The thought of seeing Futaba Sakura and Haru Okumura has been making him feel genuinely nauseous.

“Sorry, Akechi, we’re way early,” says Kurusu from behind the coffee machines. “I factored a bit too much time in for getting here, I guess.” He must have been expecting Goro to make even more of a fuss than he did, which is humiliating. “Everyone else should be here soon.”

There’s another painfully long silence. Kurusu sets a cup of coffee on the counter for Goro, and another on the table for Takamaki. He watches her pour extra cream and sugar into her cup until it’s not coffee-coloured anymore.

“So uh,” says Sakamoto. “You feel… different?”

“That’s a stupid question,” says Goro. “Would I be here if I didn’t?” Kurusu sits on a stool too, with his own cup, not next to him but one over.

Morgana looks up from licking his front paw and says, “I thought you were here because Akira twisted your arm.”

He doesn’t… like the idea of Kurusu talking about him with them. At all. He knew he must, that’s what people with friends do, but he still can’t bear it. He snaps, “I’m here because apparently you idiots need help doing your own fucking jobs,” and takes a pointed drink of his coffee. It’s superb, which is unsurprising but irritating.

Takamaki and Sakamoto exchange a long glance, and then Sakamoto says, “Dude, the real you is super rude, huh?”

“I thought it was just your Shadow,” says Takamaki in surprised agreement. The irony of the hooligan and the American (or... whatever she is) thinking he’s bad-mannered, no matter how correct they might be, doesn’t escape him.

“I did tell you,” says Kurusu, lightly.

Goro’s jaw seems to involuntarily clench. “Did you,” he says. He looks at them, their wide-open expressions. Looks at Kurusu, who has his blank face on. “Should we go over exactly how much you’ve said about me?” He can imagine it. You should have seen him cry, guys. Shido called and he looked like he was about to shit himself. Every time I touch him he’s SO into it, he practically loses his mind, it’s hysterical. He knows this is uncharitable, unlikely, but… but still.

“Oh,” says Takamaki, just cheerfully dismissive enough for it to sound suspicious, “he really didn’t tell us anything, Akechi.”

“Yeah, dude, he’s a closed book.” Sakamoto doesn’t sound like he’s bullshitting, at least. Morgana makes a noise of agreement.

Kurusu finishes a long, unperturbed sip of coffee and says, “I told them you’d probably be pretty hostile, but you’re just like that. And you don’t really mean most of what you say. That’s all.”

“It’s just a surprise, actually seeing it in real life,” adds Takamaki, the way you talk about seeing an animal in the wild for the first time. “You know?”

Goro doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just kind of huffs and drinks his coffee. He feels strangely hurt, though he shouldn’t be; it’s not like Kurusu was going to tell them, Oh, he’s a delight to be around.

At least they all seem earnest. That doesn’t mean they are, but they’re doing a good show of it, at least.

The bell at the door jingles. They all turn to look in sync. It’s Okumura, alone, looking drawn and anxious and tiny in that huge pink sweater of hers. “Oh no, am I late?” she says, very softly, not looking directly at Goro.

“These guys were all early,” says Morgana. “Come sit down.”

Takamaki pats the empty booth cushion next to her. “Did you see Makoto or Yusuke?”

“Makoto said she’d be running late. Um, something about college acceptance, I think. I don’t know about Yusuke-kun.” Okumura gives Goro a very wide berth when she moves to sit next to Takamaki. He watches Takamaki intertwine her arm with Okumura’s and squeeze her hand reassuringly, watches Morgana hops up onto her shoulders.

They wouldn’t be acting like that if Goro wasn’t here. Why is he here? They all know he’s not needed. All he’s doing is making this girl, who he barely even knows, completely miserable. Because he’s the monster who killed her dad without blinking. Who, he remembers suddenly, still has the video of her father’s death saved to his laptop, what the hell is wrong with him?

He should definitely just leave.

The girls chat for a little bit, uncomfortably, about mundane things - school, college applications. Goro isn’t really listening. And then there’s another extended pause, and Okumura says, “Akechi.”

He looks at her. She’s still pale and tense but she’s looking directly at him now and her jaw is set very firm. She says, “I… I didn’t want them to change your heart. I thought I’d changed my mind, which is why they did it, but I haven’t. I wish you’d died. I’d trade your life for my father’s in a second.”

“Haru…” Morgana begins, sounding alarmed.

“No, I’m not done,” she says. He wonders if she’s rehearsed this. Probably. She’s pausing between every sentence to take a breath, like it’s the only thing keeping her grounded, stopping her from screaming. “I was so excited to finally have a real relationship with my father, even if he was in jail. And then you ruined it. For your father. They told me that was why. But I don’t… I just don’t care, Akechi. I don’t care what your reasons were, I don’t care if you feel bad now, and I don’t want to work with you. Akira-kun thinks there’s good in you and maybe he’s right but I do not care.

No one moves for a moment.

Goro feels like ice. He takes a deep breath and hears himself say, flat and cold, “I don’t care about a spoiled rich brat mourning her tyrant daddy, so I guess we’re even.”

The others’ voices raise suddenly in protest, but Okumura just stares at him. She looks so sad. It’s not… satisfying. He didn’t even mean it. So he stands up and adds, bitterly, “I wish I’d died too, for the fucking record,” and goes out the door.

He’s only a few metres from Leblanc when Kurusu catches up to him. Of course. The guy’s ninety percent leg, did Goro really expect to outpace him?

“Akechi, wait.” He grabs Goro by the wrist, forcing him to stop so he can flinch out of Kurusu’s grip.

“Oh my god,” Goro says, turning to face him, “could you please just leave me alone for five minutes?” The weird old man with the radio who’s always there is staring at them.

“No, I can’t,” says Kurusu, very tensely. “What the hell was that?”

That was something that was obviously going to happen if you put us both in the same room, genius,” he says, but this flare of anger makes him feel awful too. He needs to calm down before he loses it again, so he says, as carefully as possible, “Look. I don’t want to talk to you about it in the middle of the street. Go take care of your friend. Bye.” But before he can turn and leave, Kurusu has actually grabbed him by the shoulders and is pulling him through a gate in the wall leading to - a laundromat? Really? This was here the whole time? How had he never noticed?

“There,” says Kurusu, standing pointedly between Goro and the doorway. He’s nearly in full Joker mode, unruffled and authoritative and the most righteous bastard on the planet. Goro can’t fucking stand it. “We’re not in the street. Tell me why you think talking to Haru like that is okay.”

Goro just says, “I knew this was a bad idea,” and smiles joylessly wide at Kurusu. “I knew it, Futaba Sakura knew it, I’m sure Okumura knew it, but you had to do it anyway, didn’t you? What kind of point are you trying to prove? I don’t have anything to add, Kurusu. We’re not friends, I’m never going to be part of your group. I’m just a fucked-up psycho who never means anything he says, right? So I don’t know what you expected.”

Kurusu is just staring at him. He’s so tired of being looked at.

“I’m leaving,” Goro says, softly. The way he learned to speak quietly, to make people lean in and pay attention, in his old life. “Let me past.”

Kurusu shakes his head and says, “No, we’re still talking-”

“Let me past.” He does his best to push by Kurusu but the guy is like a mountain, unmovable; all he does is put his hands on Goro’s shoulders again (Goro hasn’t been touched this much by anyone in - well - this isn’t like those times, but -) and hold him back, gently, paternalistically. So Goro shoves.

Kurusu stumbles back, hits the doorframe hard with his shoulder. Looks up at him. There’s a sudden hot glint in his eye, and then, taking Goro completely by surprise, he shoves him back, hard.

Goro doesn’t fall but it’s close. The laundromat is too small for him to go very far anyway - he just ends up struggling to catch himself on the dryers. His wrist twists painfully on impact. Kurusu’s stepping towards him and he looks angry, legitimately furious, finally; and Goro can’t help himself, he starts laughing from the sheer relief of actually getting a reaction out of him, the honesty of knowing he’s being looked at like the scum he is.

He reaches out and steadies himself on the lapel of Kurusu’s jacket. And then -

And then something comes over him and he pulls himself close and kisses Kurusu hard on the mouth.

Kurusu goes very, very still. They stay like that, for a long ridiculous moment, Kurusu’s lips soft and closed under Goro’s, until Goro pushes himself violently away. He hears himself start laughing again, high and hysterical, like it’s a different person. He’s done it, he’s figured out how to get Kurusu to leave him alone and all he had to do was tear his own heart out and let Kurusu stomp on it. He finds himself staggering backwards, leaning against the dryers again.

“What is wrong with you,” Kurusu says, finally. He’s lifted his fingers to his lips self-consciously, like he’s trying to wipe Goro away. Goro can’t see his eyes under that thick shock of hair. “This isn’t funny.”

Goro presses his hands to his own mouth, tries to will himself to stop cackling. It kind of is funny, though, is the problem.

“What’s going on?” says a voice from behind Kurusu. Kitagawa, peering in alarm over his shoulder. Sakamoto and Niijima-the-younger are with him. They can’t have seen what happened, though. The rest must still be inside, talking to Okumura.

Kurusu just stands there, hand at his mouth, unmoving. Staring at him.

Sakamoto says, in what he probably intends to be a whisper, “Look, dude, he’s completely unstable.” Something about that sets Goro off again, though it’s not funny, none of it is. His stomach muscles are starting to cramp and his eyes are watering so hard he might actually just be crying. They all keep looking at him like he’s a feral dog that might bite. Unstable is right. Dropping his voice a bit more, Sakamoto adds, “I don’t think… there’s no way we can do the Palace with him, is there?”

“Akira, what happened?” says Niijima Junior.

Kurusu shakes his head minutely and turns to his friends and says, “Ryuji’s right. We should just go in tomorrow. We can figure it out.” He looks over at Goro again and says, “Akechi...” but he doesn’t seem to know how to finish the thought.

What a mess he’s made. It’s long past time to make an exit. Goro wipes his eyes and says through giggles, as flippantly as he can, “I’m going to go. This was a fun afternoon, kids. See you later.” None of them protest, of course.

When he stands up straight they all practically scramble to get out of his way, except Kurusu, who just moves as languidly as ever to the side of the doorframe. He’s still a bit in the way, so Goro bumps his shoulder roughly on the way out, just to make a point and... Goro might be wrong, it’s a tiny, tiny movement, but he could swear he sees Akira Kurusu flinch.

Took him long enough.