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Tutorial on How to Change Goro Akechi's Heart!

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1. Find out Persona users can have Palaces.

It starts as an accident really. They'd been mulling over who this “Shido-san” was when someone opened the Metaverse Navigator at the same time another person happened to say “Goro Akechi”.

The Navigator beeped an affirmative.

“What the fuck,” is the first thing to break the silence. It comes from an awed and whispering Futaba, phone cradled in her hands.

“Wait, what does that mean?” Sae is next to break the confused silence.

Makoto dutifully explains to two clueless adults while the rest of the team remain in, essentially, quiet bewilderment. Was it possible it was just some other Goro Akechi? They'd never encountered such problems before, but Ren has to consider the possibility of this just being a first for them. It was possible right? But…

Ren brings a finger to his chin and bows his head in thought. The Nav seems to always operated on the same wavelength as them; it isn't too far fetched to say a cognitive app was tied directly to their own perceptions. The app always knows implicitly which person they were talking about… and they all know only one Goro Akechi. It's a possibility it's now referring to another Akechi, but… the likelihood of that considering its spotless track record is…

Morgana hops onto the table, approaching Futaba's hands, which still cradle the phone like it’s fragile. He inspects the app for a moment, humming with ears pinned back. After a moment he looks to Ren.

“I don't know if Persona users can have Palaces, but it's not impossible. ” He pauses as Makoto translates. “You have Personas, ones you can summon and ones that are just masks you wear when interacting with people; and every Persona has a Shadow.” He waits a moment as Makoto continues to translate. “I guess it's theoretically possible to have a Palace and a Persona…”

Ryuji quietly mutters this over and over again, trying to process it, while the others seem to get the idea.

“If we change his heart…” Yusuke starts, “we may be able to get useful information from him, not just regarding this Shido-san. Perhaps a whole conspiracy; perhaps more information about the Metaverse.”

“Maybe my mom's research,” Futaba adds quietly.

Sae and Sojiro look to each other before looking back at the group. Sae speaks first, “you know, Shido-san can easily refer to Masayoshi Shido… it's not out of the question. He certainly has a motive that aligns. If that's the case, then you should probably get to him before the ballot count.”

“Masayoshi Shido… the rising politician,” Makoto says with a tenseness to her tone. “Could Akechi really be tied to someone like that?”

“It would also be faster overall to just aim for the root of the problem, right?” Morgana adds, coupled with more translation from Makoto. “I mean, we're already at an advantage. Akechi doesn't know you're alive; as far as he knows we've lost.”

“He might think we're in too bad a shape to keep going,” Haru also adds.

Ren, however, is swift to reason: “Well, changing Akechi's heart would probably put things in our favor. We can ask him to help us.”

Ryuji and Futaba give him a look that says it all, but Ren holds his ground. It's not a bad idea. “If this Shido is as powerful as it seems, then we'll need all the help we can get.”

Ann nods enthusiastically, quickly backing Ren up. “Yeah, I like that idea! Akechi was always a good fighter. He'd really help out. Plus, if this Shido has a Palace, Akechi probably knows about it, so going through would be easier.”

Haru hums in thought for a moment. “I do see a rising politician having something like the biometric scan in my father's Palace, but with close confidants.” she nods to herself. “Perhaps, yes, it might help in the end.”

“Alright. So that's four of us,” Ren nods to the rest of them. “What are your thoughts?”

“I'm alright if you're up for it,” Futaba says with a shrug.

“Same,” Ryuji says.

“We'll have to be careful,” Morgana warns, but doesn't object.

“We can check it out first, at the very least,” Makoto adds.

What follows is their usual guessing game. They try the TV station, they try his school (supplied by Sae), they try the SIU building, and then even the Diet Building (assuming he does work for Masayoshi Shido). None clicked.

“His apartment?” Ann suggested. They looked to Sae, who could only shrug.

“Maybe I can find it,” Futaba says, already pulling up the data her bug has been accumulating. And find it she does; it wasn't too far from Yongen-Jaya.

They try it, it's a hit.

Sae says that he still regularly attended school; if not school, he’d be at work. It’s not often he misses a day of either. And even then, he lives on one of the higher floors; it isn’t very likely he’d spot them unless he was actively looking for them. They take this advice, check the area on Google Maps a little, and figure they can hide in one of the few alleys nearby.

Now was the hard part.

Akechi had, predictably, never really opened up to them. It was something Ren wished he did, but it just doesn't seem to be in Akechi's nature; not unless it was calculated. They could have helped him sooner, Ren would like to think.

He knows that it was around him when Akechi let his guard down the most. He was always tense, like he needed to keep up a perfect image, but at LeBlanc the tension would melt away and he’d have a small, pleasant smile as he drank their coffee. He would talk about something in the news, or one of his cases (that could be disclosed, of course), or politics and government systems…

But interests? Likes, dislikes? It was… uncommon. He didn’t give much away. Star Wars seemed to be one of them, but when Ren made only a slightly obscure reference Akechi didn’t seem to get it. He couldn’t think of a use for lightsabers in particular, either. Was Akechi just fucking with him then?

And beyond that one comment about his mother getting together with a low-life man, of him being in the foster care system… There was nothing else Ren knew about his life.

But they had to try.

Ren would save him. Somehow.


2. Psychoanalyze the closed book.

They meet up the next day at back of Akechi's apartment complex, as per their usual procedure. They hide out of sight.

There are few things they know about Akechi that could be applied to a Palace. Ren makes a list on his phone.

1. He is a Detective Prince.

The term prince is important, Ren thinks, but when they all try keywords that have something to do with a monarchy, from ‘castle’ to England, none of them hit. They branch out from monarchies, go for something a little more parliamentary or even democratic. None of those hit either. They go for something more religious. A temple? A church? A mosque?! None of them hit.

They go for something along the lines of law enforcement. It’s at this point Yusuke points out that maybe it wouldn’t be so ‘normal’, considering the last two targets were a spaceship and a casino . Makoto fires back, saying Akechi didn’t strike her as very creative to begin with.

Nevertheless they try anyway. A court? A crime scene? A police station? A dungeon?

Nothing.

Ren goes back to his list.

2. He is a hitman.

What was his motive for even working for this ‘Shido’? They didn’t know. They couldn’t tell at all. They tried under the pretense that he wanted money, because what else would a hitman job get him, if not money or some kind of material reward?

They try it. A bank? Nope. A mansion? Zilch.

Ann snaps her fingers and yells: “A casino, just like Sae-san!” Nothing happens.

Ryuji snaps his fingers and yells. “ A treasure chest. ” Ren doesn't know where Ryuji was going with that one. He's not surprised the Nav negates this.

“Maybe he's secretly into stuff like Legend of Zelda or Grand Theft Auto,” Futaba suggests to blank stares. She remains unfazed and leans towards Ren's phone. “So maybe… a video game?” Nothing. “San Andreas?” Nothing. “Hyrule? Kanto region? Dream Land?” Nothing. “Hm.”

3. He's a full time stellar student on top of it all.

Futaba snorts. “So like, what, a library ?”

Ren looks at his cheeky little sister and ruffles her hair. She hisses at him but otherwise doesn’t say anything else.

“I don't think he'd be too concerned about his school reputation,” Makoto says. “He is a celebrity.”

Timely, since—

4. He basks in the fame.

“That has to be it!” Ryuji says. They all agree. It has to be.

They implicitly take Yusuke’s advice on creative answers and one by one, they try again. Makoto goes first, saying theater, mostly because he “is a pretentious asshole”. It doesn’t work.

Yusuke’s attempt is a conference hall, where he has the opportunity to speak out his mind to an entire audience of people. He seemed to love doing that. And yes, maybe Yusuke does agree that Akechi is more than a little pretentious. Doesn’t work.

TV station is the next one, and it comes from Ryuji. It’s a logical guess, considering how often he goes on TV. Ren actually isn’t surprised, but Morgana makes sure to let Ryuji know he is. Ryuji shoots a glare just as the Nav announces a negative.

They go one after the other and at some point already lost count of how many attempts they had. He’s silently grateful the app doesn’t shut down on them after too many tries. Futaba decides on a guess, saying library again. “Probably thinks he can read people like books, that guy. Cocky and insufferable.” Logical, but the Nav doesn’t agree.

Ann follows with another snap of her fingers and a visible ‘aha!’ moment. “A secret base!” she says, like all those superheroes. It has to be that.

Doesn’t work.

Haru pipes up quietly. “A garden?” she suggests. “Since nothing’s working.” Her smile is serene.

“This feels too surface level,” Ren says after a moment. He hums to himself in thought, trying to get into the headspace of Akechi. He was such a closed book, it felt like they were grasping at straws.

He tried approaching from another angle. A persona… was a mask. What they were analyzing was the persona he put out. But no… they had to think about the Shadow.

Kamoshida, Madarame, Kaneshiro and Okumura… they all hid behind facades of some kind. Visiting Palaces was like looking deeper into them. Like peeling off the mask to see what it hid on the other side; they're real selves just showed in where they thought their Palace was. Akechi's Palace was just his apartment… so it had to be something he was actively hiding.

Two sides of the same coin… Then it would make sense that… Akechi’s Shadow would have the opposite characteristics of his Persona, right? Maybe his Persona existed just for the sole reason of hiding something.

In other words… Maybe his Persona was making him want to overcompensate. It made sense; Robin Hood was incredibly garish.

Ren remembers the one time Akechi opened up about coming from the foster care system… It had to be about that, right? With a low hum, Ren tilts his head down as he concentrates on trying to crack open Akechi. He remembers with some vagueness that Akechi liked LeBlanc so much because it hid him away from prying eyes… He seemed to value privacy… A place to be himself.

A place where he didn’t have to conform to society’s standards for him. A place where he could… relax. Free from the burden of pretending.

Ren thinks he has it. Taking a deep breath, he brings the phone near him

“Sanctuary,” Ren says.

Doesn’t work.

“Safe haven? Safe space? Break room?!”

None of it works.

“Well, I'm out.”

“Ugh!” Ryuji groans and throws his arms up. “God, I just wanna chuck this guy into the goddamn ocean.”

“Ready to begin navigation.”

… Dead silence.

Then, “I can't swim,” Futaba says.


 3. Enter the Palace because it can't be that bad.

Blue and white warp into red and black. Their uniforms melt away into their thief outfits. The ground beneath them caves in.


4. Never mind, it is that bad.

Oracle clings to Joker like a lifeline, probably because he was close to a literal lifeline. Her arms were looped around his shoulders as she struggled to keep her head above water amidst the waves and her own panic, spitting out and yet swallowing sea water. Lucky for him and a few others he could float but the rest had to cling onto someone else.

They entered the Palace thinking there was probably an island or something, but there wasn't. They landed right in the middle of an ocean, stranded for miles and miles . Mona, who had taken residence atop Noir's head, says with a visible and irritated frown: “I can't feel the Treasure anywhere.”

Panther flounders against a silently panicking Queen. “Damn it, Ryuji! Isn't your persona on a fucking ship ?!”

“That was Captain Kidd!” Skull yells back as he clings to a struggling Fox. “Seiten Taisei just flies!”

WELL GET HIM OUT!”

“SEITEN TAISEI!”

The Persona comes out in a flash of blue, atop his cloud. He reaches out a hand to Skull and Fox, who take it gratefully. He moves towards Panther and Queen and picks them up too. Noir summons Astarte and picks up her and Mona, and Oracle brings out Prometheus, taking residence inside. Joker of course chooses Arsene, who picks him up by the armpits like an overgrown cat.

He hears a few snickers and elects to ignore it. Instead, like an adult, he surveys his surroundings—

“Over there!”

He points to a ship—a pristine, two-level yacht really—but it's better than using their Personas. He sees the unspoken question of if it's safe in Queen's eyes but there isn't anything above water within sight . There's no way they haven't been spotted like this, and honestly, Joker couldn't think of any other means of proceeding now besides going back and somehow getting their own yacht .

They have yet to really scope the place either. There's no entrance as far as they can see; for all they know, the ship is the entrance.

Surprisingly, the yacht makes a sharp turn in their direction before stopping entirely beneath them. He feels his battle instincts kick in, ready for some kind of attack as the boat approaches. He can feel his companions do the same thing, muscles tensing as they get ready.

A small figure jumps and waves his arms.

He… looks like a younger version of Akechi.


 5. Meet Akechi's Shadow.

The deck of the yacht can only take so many people at a time, but they squeeze in to the best of their ability. Shadow Akechi sets the yacht on autopilot (yachts have autopilot?) before he races to the deck and stares at them all unabashedly, wide eyed and in awe. When they settle down he waves animatedly, grinning wide.

“Hullo!” He says, yellow eyes crinkling with joy. “Welcome to my personal kingdom!”

Joker tries very hard not to let his heart melt.

Shadow Akechi is every bit as adorable as Joker imagined a small Akechi would be. His butterscotch hair is shorter but no less fluffy, only disturbed by the paper crown on his head. His sense of style also matches his real world self; a white button-up tucked into pale shorts, followed by long socks and shiny black shoes. The only difference was that he had a paper crown on his head and a little cape.

He was… so precious. Like a little schoolboy playing pretend. Shadow Akechi looks to Joker and his smile seems to brighten.

“I like you!” The Shadow declares. There's varying degrees of confused sounds from the Thieves, but Joker stays still, eyes wide as he points to himself. The child nods vigorously. “Yeah!” Saying this, he trots to Joker and clings to his cuff. “You look like the coolest!”

Joker… feels his cheeks flush a little. The innocence this Shadow displays, combined with the knowledge that this was the Shadow of real-world Akechi…

“A-aw,” Joker says, unable to help himself. He grins and pats the Shadow on the head, who closes his eyes and automatically leans into the patting. “I like you too,” the leader says.

He isn't lying, and he knows his friends know about it too. He glances at them and isn't at all surprised to see their varying degrees of concern and disapproval, but none of it is voiced either. Joker decides to make the most of the child clinging to his arm like a koala, kneeling down to see him eye to eye.

“Say, Akechi, I have a question.”

The child looks up from his adorable arm-snuggling with a curious gaze.

“This ship is your 'kingdom’, right?”

He nods and squishes his cheek against Joker's forearm like a kitten. “What about it?” He asks.

Joker takes a moment to think, briefly wondering how careful he should be around this Shadow. Shadow Akechi doesn't seem…hostile. Joker decides to take a chance and play it nice; it would be amazing if they didn't have to fight for once. Maybe they'll even placate him without having to steal his Treasure at all.

“Why don't you show us around?” Joker asks with a smile. Shadow Akechi stares up at him, silent question in his eyes. “We're just curious about it, is all.”

Shadow Akechi immediately pouts at him, cheeks puffed out; reminded Joker of how a kitten would try to hiss at him. “You just wanna steal my Treasure!”

Joker wrestles down his urge to scoop up the Shadow in his arms and instead focuses on placating the child. He places a hand over his heart and takes off his mask. “I swear, we won't steal anything.”

The Shadow watches him for a moment before; “Okay, but first gimme your mask.”

Oh. He should have seen that one coming.

Again, Shadow Akechi pouts, puffed cheeks and everything. “Do you not trust me?”

Someone places a hand on his shoulder. Turning around, it's Fox, who levels him with a gaze that screams don't do it.

He looks to the Shadow. “Well, do you not trust us ?”

The Shadow looks caught off guard by this question. Before he can answer, Queen steps in. “You have to understand that we’re in your domain, we’re at a disadvantage already, so you don’t need our masks.”

Shadow Akechi looks to Queen without letting go of his grip on Joker’s cuff. If anything, his hold tightens. “I don’t think I have a reason to trust you if you already think you’re at a disadvantage.” He tilts his head. “If you trusted me at all, you wouldn’t need to worry about me having an advantage. If you trusted me, why would you be worried I'll 'use’ my advantage at all? Wouldn’t that mean you’re already anticipating a fight?”

Joker shouldn’t be as surprised as he is by the child’s astuteness, all things considered. Part of him wants to pull away, the other wants to hug Akechi and tell him it’s okay, that they don’t have to fight. Instead of either happening, Panther comes in with her girl talk.

“Well, how about this; what do we do to earn your trust?”

Akechi immediately brightens and he looks precious again. Joker thanks the gods that let him be friends with Panther.

“I have board games!”


6. Gain the trust of a six year old by letting him beat you in a game.

The child ushers them into his living quarters. It's fully equipped with a bathroom, a kitchen, some bookshelves, a desk and a bed. All the necessities, but it doesn't exude extravagance of any kind. It…actually kind of looks like a standard apartment. Akechi takes out an empty storage box and pushes it towards them.

“Weapons here, please!”

They look at the Shadow and then each other. Joker nods, giving the go ahead. They have Personas if things go south; and they had spares in the real world, so if things went South they could retreat. Joker is the first to drop his knives, and soon they all follow suit.

He pushes the storage box to the corner and then  points at it. “Right there, where we can all see it!” He then goes trotting off to another side of his room and, with very little thought, shows off a very familiar board game.

Joker doesn’t know how to feel knowing Akechi’s idea of a fun board game at six years old is apparently the board game Go. Either way they all come to the conclusion that they have to let Akechi win as much as possible.

It makes sense, in theory. Appeal to his ego and all that. Even Joker had to agree Akechi had…quite an ego.

They take turns playing against Akechi, on his bed at the end of the first floor cabin. The rest of them just watch or do their own thing (that didn’t involve preparing items that could be used in battle) while the individual matches carry out. Some matches go on for long, and the ones not participating take to leaving the room for fresh air—fresh air of course being code for surveying the area. Joker in particular feels restless just watching the matches, and so among all of them he goes for ‘fresh air’ the most.

Not… that there's much to survey. There isn’t anything around as far as they can see—not even a hint of anything; meaning the Treasure or the way to it has to be on this ship.

They search as much as they can get away with—which is, actually, quite a lot. Akechi is pretty much entirely focused on the game he was playing; only looking up when someone left and again when someone returned, smiling wide and Innocent.

Besides the first floor, which is just the standard Tokyo apartment in a boat (probably his actual apartment), the second floor is some kind of entertainment room with a large TV and a line of couches. On the roof was the driver's seat, which has nothing out of the ordinary. It's obvious to Joker that whatever entrance there is to the rest of the Palace would be in the cabin. Going for the long con, they idle about, waiting for the string of games to finish.

A couple of times they also mull over the why of playing with the Shadow rather than going about it like the usually did. Joker reasons that if they didn't need to fight, then they wouldn't. Playing with a six year old to gain his trust isn't out of this world. It makes sense.

They leave it at that.

Somewhat embarrassingly, Skull doesn’t need to try too hard to lose to Akechi. But to his credit, Panther, and Mona don’t need to try that hard either, from what Joker could see. Noir holds her own well enough, he can tell she makes genuine miscalculations, but most of her mistakes are actually intentional. The same goes for Fox and Oracle, to be honest. Though, two out of three of them win.

Queen meanwhile shamelessly and ruthlessly beats him, because of course she does (and who can blame her? Prior to cognitive Joker getting shot, Sae was practically enamored with Akechi). In response, Akechi stares wide eyed at the board, in awe. She commends him for his skill “at such a young age”; he says thanks and moves on. Queen frowns but doesn’t say anything.

Last is Joker.

Shogi is… a little different from Go . While the main goal of Shogi is to capture the king, Go aims more at quantity. It’s different, but Hifumi’s lessons are applicable here too.

Which makes it harder to pretend to lose.

The difficulty in pretending to lose, Joker finds, is in making it believable. He knows Akechi is astute, and he knows the real Akechi knows how he plays chess by now, so his Shadow must know too. He’s certain that Shadow Akechi would be able to tell he was faking if Joker didn’t catch even a small percentage of his pieces. He would’ve settled on a pattern, but there still remained the idea that he had to lose.

… Which is still an idea . He isn’t actually certain losing would help their situation. Part of him wonders if Akechi is actually testing him in particular, seeing if he’d try to ‘fool’ Akechi like any other Shadow (which he admittedly was), or if he would treat Akechi with the respect he desired and give it his best shot.

Judging by the way Shadow Akechi plays, however… The way he grins when he captures two or three pieces, the way he pouts and hums in thought when Joker catches twice more in one move, the way he thought so long for each turn, reaching for pieces only to second, third or fourth guess his move… This was a six year old after all.

Maybe beneath everything, the real Akechi just wanted a good childhood. Friends to play with and people to love him. That had to be it, right?

Joker can’t just ask either. He has to extrapolate it from the way Akechi looks proud as he catches pieces; from the way he pouts in thought when his turn starts; the way he watches with wide, puppy eyes when it's Joker's turn. Yet…

He hates to say it, but Akechi's reactions don't line up well with a typical six year old’s, either. Meaning he can’t shake the feeling Akechi’s pretending too.

Akechi's earlier astuteness and his response to him losing a match still nag at the Phantom Thief. Joker wonders if it means something, but he can’t think of a reason Akechi would pretend to be bad at Go. What would his end goal be ?

Then again Joker can’t think of an end goal for anything Akechi does. He just has to be careful.

And Joker is careful. Each move, he spends so much time than strictly necessary just analyzing, then psychoanalyzing Akechi's moves. It takes so long that the Thieves actually separate. Under normal circumstances Joker would be worried, but… he kind of isn't.

Fox and Noir go out and stay out for more 'fresh air’, possibly actually staying outside for fresh air. Panther, Skull, Mona and Queen actually end up asking if they can use the TV upstairs (probably for more intel), to which Akechi happily allows. Oracle stays with Joker, lying on a couch with her laptop like she does with safe rooms; except Joker took so long, she actually fell asleep at some point.

“You’ve been staring at the board for a while,” Shadow Akechi suddenly says. Joker looks to his beady yellow eyes before he breaks into a childish grin. “I caught you in a bind, didn’t I?”

Akechi didn’t, actually; far from it. If Joker really tried, he would be able to end this game in a maximum of five moves, but he’s not sure if he should. Then again, even if he did the worst move possible, he’s not sure he’ll come away losing either.

Joker sighs heavily, trying to play up his disappointment. “Yeah, one hell of a bind… I’ll do this, though.” He places his black piece in the worst possible position.

Seeing that, Akechi grins and captures eight pieces before Joker’s hand even fully retreats.

Joker is…mildly surprised, actually.

“You shouldn’t underestimate me, you know!” He says cheerily. Joker looks to him and he has an almost cruel quality to his golden eyes. In response Joker can only stare, a little confused.

Akechi looks at him with a maliciously mirthful gaze. “Don’t you know the price of hubris, Amamiya?”

For a moment, Joker lets it sink in, brows furrowing in silent question before it registers in his head that something feels off . He jumps off the bed and looks for Oracle; but she's gone. He looks outside the cabin, to the deck and the driver's seat, but Fox and Noir are nowhere to be found. Feeling dread well up in his stomach, he races to the second floor, but there's no one.

The yacht is devoid of anyone except him and Akechi.

Behind him, the Shadow laughs.

“Honestly!” the Shadow goes on. “I didn’t think you were so careless , Joker!”

Joker barely notices Shadow Akechi coming into view, a hand on his cheek as he stares up at the lost thief. “You look so helpless without your friends.” He pretends to be in distress. “Oh, where are my friends? My dear precious friends? I can’t do anything without them! I need the power of friendship!’ Haha! What a joke.

The child’s face goes back to its sneering expression.  “How did you not see any of this coming , Joker? I'm disappointed! This is what happens when you rely on your friends too much; the moment they’re gone you’re lost . Your ties to people drag you down, you know.” He doesn’t pull away when the child laces their fingers together. “Even your ties with me.” His cruel grin widens and his eyes grow wild.

“You should’ve beaten me while you had the chance.”


7. Realize you shouldn’t have taken him lightly.

“Where are they?”

Ren is honestly about to have a panic attack.

The Shadow tilts his head. “You really want them here?”

“Obviously!”

He takes on a crueler, shit-eating grin as his voice continues to sound concerned. “You really wanna see them?”

Something settles in the pit of Ren’s stomach and he falters in his words. Instead of agreeing immediately like he should , he says with a lowered and almost fearful tone: “What did you do to them?”

The Shadow suddenly guffaws, doubling over and cackling so much he has to wipe his eyes, fingers coming away with mirthful tears. Akechi lets his laughter continue, on and on, letting the notes sink into Ren’s skin, letting it echo like a distorted funeral toll.

Ren knows the laughter of a child is supposed to be one of those things that brighten up the day, but this one feels wrong. Even removed from context, there is a wrongness in his movements, in his very tone. The notes reverberate in his head among thoughts of where are they, are they okay, they have to be okay, they're strong—

It feels like forever before Akechi calms down. He looks up at Ren with an almost dreamy expression, not at all intending to hide how much he enjoys seeing Ren like this.

In a sudden fit of rage, Ren calls for his strongest Persona; but before his hand so much as touches his mask he’s hit with something. Something large and pointed hits him from the side. He staggers to the ground and his head swims with the familiar feeling of having been debilotated; it takes longer than he can afford to realize his mask is thrown off, and he immediately scrambles for it.

Shadow Akechi gets to it first. Ren feels the world slow to a crawl as he can only watch the Shadow lift his foot and bring it down with enough force to break the mask in half.

Suddenly, his body feels stiff. He feels the connection he didn't notice he had with his Personas weaken with a sharp snap. Like rope stretched to its limit, only just barely tethered by a fiber.

The child breaks into a fit of laughter again.

Ren wills with everything he has to bring another mask into existence, to somehow summon his Persona without using it, but his mind is on where his friends are, where Futaba is and how he promised Sojiro he’d look after her, how Sae is waiting for her sister, how Ann's parents—

Ren doesn't care anymore.

He gets to his feet and lunges for Akechi, ready to beat the child within an inch of his life. He almost gets the little shit too, but he's blindsided by something again; a smoldering light that knocks the wind out of him. He stumbles back to the wall of the cabin and is promptly horrified when he starts sinking in. He tries furiously to escape the melting wall, pulling from the thick substance with everything he has, but it doesn't work. His legs also start sinking in, and soon all Ren can do is struggle.

It takes only a moment for his limbs to get sucked in past the joints; the wall and floor then solidify around them.

He's trapped.

Shadow Akechi’s mocking voice filters in, and something in Ren cracks a little. The child is giggling , bursting with sadistic joy at fucking with Ren.

“You can't just do stuff like that, silly!”

No. No. He was not going to give up. He just—he just needed to force a Persona out. He didn't know how, but if he could just—  

He struggles to think of a solution, but with his limbs trapped he couldn't think of anything beyond squirming like an idiot. And even if he could summon a Persona, he didn’t know how he would get out of this .

Resignation quickly finds a home in his heart and Ren whispers with a defeated tone: “What… did you do to them? Please, tell me they’re all right.”

Akechi giggles. “I could just show you.”

Ren doesn’t respond, but some part of his expression must say yes because something from the ceiling falls onto the varnished wood with a sickening wet sound and a faint crunch .

It’s Futaba’s severed arm.

Chapter Text

8. No, no, no, no no no nonononononoNONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONO

He doesn’t scream.

He doesn’t cry.

He doesn’t even vomit.

He only stares, incapable of processing what he's seeing.

“The price of hubris,” the Shadow reminds him with a lilt in his voice.

One by one, their various parts drop in front of him, from somewhere in the ceiling in an array of colors that was mostly red. It looks much like something spitting out spoiled food, their parts phasing through the solid. Ren doesn’t check what exactly each one is when it drops like half-eaten meat. He watches the dripping, bleeding pieces of his friends all pile on top of one another. He recognizes each part, each scrap of clothing, each accessory, each weapon, but it feels unreal. It feels like an elaborate prank gone too far. It feels like his soul was taken from his body and placed somewhere else, behind glass.

They look like they were ripped apart, bones crunched, guts in tatters. They look like they were chewed by a beast, all sharp teeth yet large enough that the body parts of his friends could be distinguished, their Thief outfits still recognizable.

They weren't just ripped apart. They looked like they'd been… impaled by something. And then ripped apart. They must have disappeared through the floors and walls, swallowed whole. And Ren noticed nothing.

Ren… Ren had failed them.

He led them into failure. He… He should’ve seen Shadow Akechi fooling them from a mile away. He should’ve known that just because the Shadow looked like a child didn’t mean he was actually a child.

Ren should’ve known Akechi's Palace would be different. Ren should’ve—

He failed them all. Just like that, they were gone.

What… What would Sae say? What would Sojiro say? What would their friends say? Eiko? Kana? Shiho?

What is he supposed to tell their school? Their parents ?

How is he going to bring back their bodies? How is he going to explain the state of them even if he could ?

How is he going to move forward from this, knowing he was why they—

He watches the parts fall on top of one another, without the least amount of care or grace. He watches guts squish on top of pieces of thighs, unknowing whose innards stained Haru's shorts. Their various accessories too, like Fox's tail unceremoniously dropped next to the lower, bleeding, emptying half of Morgana.

Feed. The mighty Phantom Thieves were reduced to feed for an unknown beast.

Ryuji’s head—

It hits him then and he begins screaming. Even in the small cabin, slowly filling to the brim with the scent of death, he can’t process anything beyond the wrongness of it all. He screams and he screams, but he doesn’t hear anything as his mind fills with a cacophonic static and child laughter. His vision blurs everything into wet splashes of paint. Everything mixed together, becoming indistinct, but in his mind’s eye he could still see every ripped fiber, every torn patch of skin, every shard of bone, every intact eye staring at him.

A splash of brown comes into view, quickly pulling Ren into a warm, protective shell. His face is pressed flush against a chest, and in the merciful darkness Ren can process a little bit more. A hand weaved into his hair to keep Ren’s head in place; an arm snaked across his shoulders to prevent him from moving in his despair; next to his ear, he hears a soft, honeyed voice mutter hollow comfort.

Ren knows who it is, and somewhere underneath his mountain of despair, his very soul is devastated at the revelation that they would have lost here no matter what.

And yet still he sinks into the warmth.


9. —

Ren’s mind is blank. He can’t think of a reason he’d come here at all.

The stench of bile and dried saliva fill his nostrils, but soon peeter out to the smell of various bodily fluids; from blood to urine. Essence of rotting fish and sea water mix with feces and ichor, yet still he stays put. He has no option. He’s trapped. Death’s scent is abated only slightly by the fact his face was pressed into a newly laundered coat that smelled of lavender and the bakery in Shibuya.

It had stopped raining flesh but he still hears the shattering fragments of his Treasure. They were complete now, but in a way Ren didn’t want to be possible.

Still in darkness, he perceives the ruined bodies of his friends. Still in darkness, he sees them become an amalgamate of his hubris.

They are all torn flesh, crushed bones and tattered muscles. In his mind their hair and their intestines weave into a noose, hanging from their broken spines and necks like a promise. Their faces fuse into the pulsing flesh of their torsos, into frayed muscle tissue of their abdomen, as they indignantly glare with whatever eyes they have left. He can barely distinguish them, barely tell where Futaba ends and Ann begins. Or which arm was Haru's and which was Yusuke's. He can barely tell how much of Morgana fused with Ryuji and Makoto.

They don't even have the dignity of keeping their faces intact, some morphed out of shape by their transformation, some punctured through by the thing that ate them.

Still they regard him with bared teeth, a dislocated gape or without a lower jaw at all. Their limbs twist in a way they're not meant to, into shapes that would break the bones a million ways had they still been intact. Their legs shiver under the weight before they break in half with a snap, falling to the carpeted ground like a bag of flesh and blood.

And as they wriggle, wail and weave together in his mind, ever shifting and never satisfied with their exact horror, it becomes abundantly clear:

Something had eaten his friends.

Something had partially digested them… and then regurgitated them.

Like they were nothing but spoiled goods. The people that made him want to protect this cruel world, that sown seeds of hope into his heart, were ripped away from him because he got careless. They were chewed up and swallowed only for some underwater beast Ren didn’t know to throw them back up like they weren’t even good enough to digest.

… They’re…dead.

They’re all dead.

Ren…can do nothing but helplessly breathe into the brown coat he was pressed against. He needs the comfort, however fake, just to keep himself sane. Amidst it all, Akechi continues to whisper, “It’s okay, I’m here now… It’s okay, it doesn’t matter anymore… I’m still here, I’m still here…”

It’s horribly sadistic of Akechi and yet it comforts Ren. He feels his friends glare at him from beyond the grave for even staying with Akechi, for even accepting his fraudulent consolation, their expressions in his mind furious. They don’t move towards him, they only watch his display of weakness and whisper amongst themselves how they should have seen his growing ineptitude, his eventual betrayal into Akechi’s arms.

It's not real.

But he feels it all the same.

It becomes overwhelming, their voices, their expressions, and he almost looks; but he doesn't and sinks further into Akechi's cruel warmth. It was far better than seeing the reality of their dead eyes, their ruined faces, their bodies piled onto each other like broken marionettes. At least in the merciful darkness, he could tell himself it wasn’t real.

They must have suffered immensely, fighting for their lives. They must have summoned their Personas, drained themselves, clawed for their lives only to get cleaved in half by the snapping of a jaw. And they must have screamed; in pain and for him to realize he was just being distracted—

The smell of sea water… They might have been… taken without a sound, and then drowned instead.

Drowning didn’t hurt, did it? Ren never bothered to find out, and he guesses… he’ll find out soon enough. But he’s sure drowning would’ve been better than being eaten . He’s sure of it. And he’ll take what he can get.

They suffered, but maybe not as much as it looks. They must have drowned. And still Ren feels his will to rebel slowly bleed away, knowing what awaited even if he got out. The idea of telling Sae her sister died because he walked into a trap… the idea of telling Sojiro his daughter was chewed to pieces… telling Ryuji's mother her son wouldn't come home ever again… Telling Shiho the best friend that stuck with her through everything died without dignity… Having to take care of Yusuke's things after telling his school he's gone…  Telling President Takakura Haru was gone and it was up to him where her father's company would go because Haru never decided because she was just a highschool student—

One by one he imagines their friends, of finding their relatives, of breaking the news that he failed, he failed he failed he failed he failed he failed failedfailedfailed failedfailed—

The Phantom Thief leader that got his entire team killed.

That's who he was now.

And when he ever gets out, if he ever gets out, he'll be the only one to have not disappeared. They'll ask for everyone else (because of course they would, his friends were amazing), they'll ask and he won't have an answer.

He can't imagine having to tell everyone he knew, everyone they knew, that they were gone. He can't think of a way to even go about it. They never had to; they never had a reason to. They entered life or death situations before but came out victorious all the time. What made this time different? Was it because Akechi was a Persona user?

They should've thought about it more. He should've thought about it—

Arsene was slipping from Ren's fingers. He felt the connection withering away, felt the chains coil around him tighter, around his limbs, chaining him to the ship.

Some Phantom Thief he turned out to be.

He didn't… deserve to be one. He never did, did he?

It’s delayed, he knows it’s horribly delayed, but the entire situation suddenly snaps into focus and he rips away from Akechi to vomit. Akechi hastily steps away, narrowly dodging the last thing Ren had that day, like a horrible mirror to the sight behind the Palace ruler.

“Rude,” Akechi says as Ren empties his guts.

A completely hollow shell of his former self, Ren doesn't even acknowledge how casual Akechi's being and asks instead: “How?”

He can hear the sadistic and indulgent smile in Akechi’s voice. “You shouldn’t have underestimated me, Joker. Didn’t Robin already tell you so?”

Robin?

Ren opens his mouth to ask but snaps it shut as the Shadow comes close, waving his hand dismissively as the bile and half digested curry sink into the floor. The Shadow keeps coming closer with a Cheshire Cat grin and half lidded eyes. Even though his mind tells him to move, Ren doesn't. He can't.

Suddenly, he feels the walls and floor morph a little, dragging him down until his ass is on the ground, legs forced open. Ren's heart leaps into his chest, unable to do much except watch Shadow Akechi sink to his knees between Ren's thighs, grinning wickedly. From here, the glares of his friends surround the Shadow like a corona.

“Hello, Amamiya-san,” the child says with practiced charm. “It's me, Robin Hood. But you can call me Robin.”

Ren can't think, much less connect the dots between the heroic Persona and the bastard in front of him. The Shadow’s golden eyes crinkle with mirth as he grins again and leans further into Ren's space. Ren hates that amidst the miasma of rot he can still pick up the lovely scent of coffee emanating from the boy.

“Well, I’ll get rid of this now; maybe Loki would want to take them back, too,” Akechi says with a casual wave.

“No!” Ren screams automatically. Akechi turns, eyebrows raised in surprise; as does Robin, but the younger of the two is the first to recover and he snickers.

“You want to keep their corpses here?” Akechi asks, genuinely surprised before it melts into a charming smile. “I would think you wouldn't want to see this for long. Isn't it putrid?”

That… wasn’t what Ren wanted. He didn't want their corpses, he wanted them . He wanted them back . Ren felt the anger creep back up, staining his gaze until it was a glare at Akechi. The other boy didn’t seem the least bit bothered by this, instead turning away and waving his hands. Suddenly, the parts fell through the floor.

Ren wasn’t even aware he was screaming for Akechi to bring them back until Robin shoved in his tongue, kissing the raven deeply before biting down and pulling away. Once they parted, Ren sputtered and the child grinned, flashing faintly bloodstained teeth. The taste of iron dripped into his mouth, intermingling with another unfamiliar taste. Ren felt frozen that he wasn't as put off by it as he should have been, instead tracing the motion of Robin's tongue along his teeth.

And as if nothing happened: “It’s better for everyone if we got rid of everything,” Akechi says. He ignores Ren’s protests, levelling him only with a small smile. “Trust me.”

“Trust you?! After everything you’ve done, you want me to trust you ?!”

Akechi’s smile is serene. “Just for this, yes.”

For a moment Ren falters, feeling Robin’s golden eyes follow the blood drip down his lips, but seeing Akechi simply smile at him like nothing was wrong—

“It was a neat trick,” Akechi suddenly says. “Using the Metaverse to make me think I killed you. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t, to be honest… But the fact you’re here must mean you don’t know as much about the Metaverse as it seems.”

Ren grits his teeth. “The fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“Well.” Akechi daintily pulls off his gloves. “I suppose I can explain to you. It’s clear you haven’t connected the dots.”

The raven opens his mouth to retort but is interrupted by Robin sighing loudly. The child gets himself comfortable by plopping himself on Ren like he was new furniture, his backside firmly on Ren’s crotch. Ren hisses, tries to shake the boy off, but there’s not much he can do with so little leverage.

“Careful, leader ,” Robin purrs with a suggestive grin over his shoulder. “Squirm like that and you might make me do something.”

Ren is horrified into paralysis.

Meanwhile, Akechi is rather unfazed. Along with his gloves, which he lays on a couch, he peels off his coat. “The conditions for obtaining a Persona is to have the potential to form one as well as the motivation to break the status quo; spirit if rebellion in other words, coorect?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer as he folds his coat. “There’s no part in that logic that states motivation to break the status quo has to come from a place of benevolence, nor does it imply having a Persona comes with the caveat of never having distorted desires.

“Saying distorted desires can’t coexist with a Persona is oversimplification. In fact,” at this, Akechi turns to him and smiles. “It’s entirely possible to have a Persona completely fueled by that desire, and as per the rules of the Metaverse, for the Persona user to have a Palace.”

“Bullshit,” Ren hisses, “distorted desires lead to Shadows—”

“It’s impossible to completely eliminate a Shadow, Ren. There will always parts of yourself you'll never quite fully accept.” Akechi loosens his tie, but his garnet eyes are trained on Ren. “Personas and Shadows aren't 'good’ and 'bad’ respectively. So having a Persona fueled by distorted desires…”

Akechi smiles brightly at him. “Just means I’ve already accepted myself for the monster I’ve become.”

Ren nearly jumps at how Robin runs a hand up and down his thigh, grinning wildly at him. Akechi continues to talk.

“Ah, but do you know what that also means, Ren?”

The look Akechi gives him is almost loving, but Ren feels none of it. The prince waits for an answer this time, but Ren doesn’t even have a guess to offer up. Akechi chuckles, placing a bare hand over his chest.

“You’re here… In my heart.”

His hands go up to hold his face, fingers pressing and pulling at his lips as laughter slips beyond them. It takes a moment for Ren to notice that… Akechi was flushed up to his ears. His laughter is breathy and even from here Ren can tell Akechi is practically salivating .

“Ren....I didn’t know how much I wanted you inside me . Now I can't ever let you go.”


10. Realize how fucked you are.

Akechi combs fingers through his hair, his very laugh telling of his blatant arousal. “Oh Ren, you have me worked up again,” he chides playfully. “When I realized you were in my Palace, I couldn’t keep it in, Ren… I had to leave school. I had to take care of myself in a public bathroom.”

He bites one of his fingers, smiling around it. “Naughty you… I want to savor this, Ren. I want to savor all of you… forever.

Ren feels himself shiver all over and he shakily releases a breath, trying to process this; but amidst Akechi’s borderline sexual cannibalistic intentions and Robin, who has been wiggling every now and then, practically grinding

“Please,” Ren says. “Just… let me go.” He tries to ignore the indignant shriek of Makoto, ignores Haru and Morgana clawing at his skin, the hisses and murmurs of his friends telling him to stay and avenge them . Because how dare you. How dare you be the only one to walk out of this unscathed. Stay and fight.

“I told you,” Akechi says. “I can’t. Not anymore.”

“I—ngh!” Ren jerks forward. To his horror, he’s hard . Very hard . Meanwhile, Robin’s panting, using Ren’s knees as leverage as he leans forward and presses back. The small child looks over his shoulder, shooting Ren a knowing grin.

Akechi chuckles slightly, already on his way out. “Well, I must go for now.”

“No! Wait!”

Predictably, Akechi doesn’t listen, strolling right out of the cabin. Robin takes that as his cue to get up and… start stripping .

Ren is not new to this. Ren had sex before; with people his age, and only just a few times. Since then it had been a while . Morgana lived with him for the better part of a year now; he hadn’t… He hadn’t touched himself in a long time. He hadn’t had the complete privacy he was afforded before probation, so of course he hadn’t.

The blood pumping in his cock, the way his spine tingles up and down on instinct in anticipation, his bound arms and legs, the pooling heat, the sheer horror of what was about to happen… The last thing Ren is capable of doing is think, heart palpitating (and sending more blood south) as he’s pushed into a panic. Ren’s stupid, panicked and hormone filled brain zeroes in on the smooth, pale skin Robin had. It’s visibly flawless, curved from baby fat and certainly soft

Ren is equal parts petrified and equal parts aroused.

What's going on?

This couldn’t actually be happening.

Is his body actually responding positively to this?

With a pathetic sound, he closes his eyes, but he still sees the disgust of his friends.

He hears Robin throw the shirt somewhere else, which is followed by sadistic laughter. Suddenly, there is a warm and soft weight on him. Ren doesn’t want to look, but he manages to hiss: “Why the hell are you doing this?”

Suddenly, Ren feels something hotter and wetter run it from his chin to his lips—Robin’s tongue, lapping up the blood. He hears a satisfied sigh, followed by the unbuckling of shorts. “That’s a good question.”.

“That’s not an answer!”

A low chuckle too deep for a child. His tone returns to the same, familiar honeyed voice as he says: “You don’t know much about me, do you, leader ?”

“Why don't you tell me then? How a noble thief like you would sink so low?”

There’s a pause. Ren keeps his eyes screwed shut, even if he’s met with seven other sets of eyes. He forces himself into the darkness with them. It’s better than having to watch, even though his friends have become the Furies themselves.

Robin's tone quiets, audibly losing all his mirth.

“You seem to have a misunderstanding of who I am, Joker. Allow me to enlighten you with a little anecdote,” he says, shorts and buckle dropping to the floor. “I once met this… guy who wanted to do some stupid shooting contest. I humored him, just because I can; turns out he was hired to kill me. You wanna know what I did?”

He doesn’t even pause. “I beheaded him. I beheaded him, stuck his head to my bow, and disfigured his face with a dagger to the point that no one could recognize him.”

Ren tries not to react to that. Robin evidently doesn’t care.

“That was the norm back then, Joker .

“You’re right thinking of me as some kind of icon to my brethren, but you obviously don’t know what lengths I had to go to, what lengths I'd still go to, for them. Stealing would do nothing back then; the only reason you think that is because the church friars that abused their power started censoring the things we had to do to get what we were rightfully owed . You had to kill to get anything done.

“And guess what?” Ren could hear the indulgent smile. “I enjoyed every single fucking minute of it. Because they deserved it, Amamiya. Because that was my justice.

Suddenly Ren is stomped on the chest, forcing his eyes open, and before he can even recover he’s choked by small hands. Looming over him is of course, Robin, who can’t seem to get enough of invading Ren’s space. The difference was Robin looked eerily devoid of emotion; like on the verge of snapping completely if Ren made a wrong move.

“Now, take a guess, leader ,” he says. “Since Personas and Shadows are two sides of the same coin, why do you think I’m doing this?”

Ren can’t breathe, much less choke out an answer, as Robin digs his thumbs into his windpipe.

“Humans are capable of so much empathy that you could bond with roombas ; and yet you can kill Shadows like they’re nothing? Even when they beg for their lives?” Robin grins as he says this, but to Ren his face is just a backdrop for a series of faded black circles creeping into his vision.

His grip loosens for a second. “What was it that sadistic bitch said? Something about ‘getting a shiver of excitement whenever the Shadows plead for their lives’?” His grip tightens. “And that's how you all feel, isn't it? You use them attacking you first as some sort of justification? You're Phantom Thieves. Not killers. And yet here you are.” Ren gasps for breath.

“How disgustingly reductive it is of you that their capacity to respawn is your metric for how much empathy they’re worthy of.” Tighten. “They remember what you do to them, don’t they? Is that not enough?”

His fingers go slack; Ren is allowed to breathe.

“They have to disappear from the entirety of human consciousness, have to have an effect on 'the real world’...”

Choked, pain in his throat—

“...before you stop killing and tormenting every single one you see in front of you? You think Arsene's happy about that?”

Ren gasps for air.

“You know what that means? You know what that tells me?”

He doesn’t know. He can’t think. His brain had turn to mush already.

“You’re more concerned about permanent ramifications towards you and how society perceives you than you are about actual individual suffering .”

No… no, that wasn’t…

“You’re not better than me at all. I kill with the purpose of justice .”

Tighter. Much tighter. Ren hardly feels real.

“You lot kill… because you can get away with it .”

He releases his hold and steps back, looking down at him with the manic glee of a sadistic bastard. Despite being a child half his height, in nothing but underwear, high socks and shiny black shoes, Robin is the most threatening thing Ren has ever seen.

“Don’t act like you’re some paragon of virtue, especially not to me ,” Robin sneers. “This is exactly what you deserve.”


11. Contemplate and maybe hallucinate.

Does he? Does he deserve this?

“You’re so hard. Guess that cat’s got you pent up, huh?”

He can’t deny they often got carried away in killing Shadows. And more than once when the Shadows pleaded for their lives, they ignored them entirely. But the Shadows… attacked them. They were justified, weren’t they? Shadows were evil. They were in the way of them enacting justice.

Wasn't that how it worked?

“I can hardly fit you in my mouth! Mmff… s-ho ta-shty… ”

… no. No, it wasn't. The shadows were just target practice. They killed because they wanted to get stronger, and the shadows were a guiltless way of doing it.

But Robin lived here, in the Metaverse. As far as he's concerned they'd been massacring the kind he empathized with the most, despite being human once upon a time. It should've been obvious in the way Akechi always seemed sympathetic of them whenever they were in Mementos. Even though all the Shadows wanted to do was prey on them. They were just… monsters…

… Then again, the Shadows are human in some way. They were byproducts of human existence… Was it moral to kill them?

“Haaah. I could do this all day.”

They did what they thought was right. That's what mattered isn't it? The aren't… they weren't inherently bad. They just…

… The cognitive world just had different laws of nature compared to the real world. They overlooked the nature of their actions.

That's what Robin meant, wasn't it?

At the core, they'd become twisted sadists, so long as the beings they killed came from black sludge. They'd deliberately dehumanized them on the basis of their hostility.

It should've been obvious what was happening the moment they begged for their lives. It should've been obvious when they revealed themselves to be Personas that have forgotten themselves.

“I didn't think you'd be so leaky. I could use your precum and stretch my tiny hole just for you. Wouldn't that be nice?”

If they breached the territory of a pack of lions, the lions would attack too, wouldn't they? Didn't make it moral to kill them. With that thinking, it was true they strictly didn't need to kill. They didn't need to, they just fell into routine. They just stopped thinking about it because all Shadows were bad. That was the extent of their thought process.

Sure, the Shadows respawned, and sure, they were generally hostile but the act of killing them was still an act of killing. It was with the explicit purpose of beating them up, extorting for money, items or their cooperation. Shadows even begged for their lives and they typically didn't bat an eye.

“Such a big cock coming inside my small body… Ah, my insides will be coated with you.”

Shadows aren't in and of themselves human, but they're from humans. They are one of the many aspects of the unconscious. Maybe they don't have to be treated like humans but they weren't feral animals either. Feral animals are treated with more grace than they gave the Shadows.

The more Ren thinks about it, the more he realizes they could've gone through everything with minimal confrontations. They didn't sneak around Palaces like thieves—they killed every security guard in sight. They weren't thieves. They were serial killers.

It was just Shadows. They were only like that with Shadows, weren't they? It… it was just Shadows. And even then, it didn't warrant this.

In the end they cared about people. They wanted to change society. They wanted to give people courage—

“Exciting isn't it? I'll never be able to wash you out.”

“Then what's with the Phan-site, huh?”

Ren feels clumped fur pressing against the back of his head. It feels damp and stinks of iron, acid and saliva. He feels Morgana's claws dig into his shoulders, drawing blood.

“I already told you guys how I didn't like the direction the Phantom Thieves were heading, but you still kept that stupid Phan-site.”

That wasn't… that was Mishima's idea. And it was a good resource for requests. Morgana, it was—

“To help people? Really, now. What you guys made was a forum where you can monitor public opinion; a popularity poll with an approval rating. Be honest. There wasn’t a need for any of that, was there?”

“I'm going to take you, Ren. I'll make it so you'll never want anyone else.”

… But… it was to go through Mementos…

“Well if that's the case, isn't it weird that we could still access the depths of Mementos when the approval rating dropped? We just needed notoriety.”

Morgana moves between Ren and Robin, filling Ren's vision with the sign of punctured eyes hanging from empty sockets. Inside, Ren could see a soupy porridge of organs, occasionally dripping out onto his chest.

“Why didn't you think, Ren? You never think about anything.”

“Ah! A-ah! Ahh!”

“I wanted to be human, wanted to live with all of you, but I can't.” Morgana says, digging his claws into his bare skin. “I was going to find out who I was, how to get my body, I wanted to live in the real world. But now I can't—because you were careless. You were the leader! I shouldn't have let you take the reins. What did I ever see in you?”

But… Morgana never—

“Passing the blame? Really?”

Ann grabs the back of his head and cranes it so he's forced to look into her split face looming over him, fleshy mounds dropping off the sides of her skull, yet her eyes are still sharp as ever. They're full of anger and hate, the same kind of hatred she exuded when she awakened to Carmen.

“Th-that’s… H-haaah… Th-there…”

“Look at what you did, Ren. You were so fucking horny for Akechi that you didn't notice something so obvious. What's wrong with you?”

Her hands fist his hair, ripping them from his scalp as she forces him to look at her. “I had dreams, Ren. I wanted to be a model. I wanted to be a better friend for Shiho. Now what? You expect me to model like this ? You expect Shiho to put up with me like this ?!”

Then she forces his head forward, makes him take in the child, mouth drooling over him and both his tiny hands behind him. He jerks and trembles, then his voice comes out in buzzing vibrations Ren does his best to block out. “Turns out I was friends with another Kamoshida. Hah! Even worse than the one that hurt Shiho! I didn’t even know that was possible!”

“Oh, you'll make me feel so good.”

No… he wasn't. He wasn't like—

“Pathetic and disgusting.

Ann sinks back into flesh and Makoto's face replaces it, but it's incomplete. A large part of her cheek had fallen off, and her lower jaw is tethered by only a handful of tendons, flopping uselessly as she speaks. Her eyes burn with raw, unbridled anger.

“Look at you. A child, Ren? You're turned on by a child ?”

“I'll make you feel good too… I promise.”

She spits out her words, in a similar way she spoke to Kaneshiro. “God, what would've happened if we just let you loose on the street Ren? How many kids would you have traumatized? What would you have done to them all, Ren?”

It's not… no, he wouldn't—

“Oh wow, look at your cock. It’s weeping for me… Shh, I'll make you feel warm soon. I'm almost ready…”

“You sick fuck, you’d get off on this, wouldn’t you?” Makoto moves jerkingly, like she was puppeteered by something else. Her hand, split down the middle, shot forward and held the lower half of his face in place. “Watch him. Watch him try to swallow you whole. Watch him crying, trying to get all of you in.”

Ren closed his eyes, but Makoto wouldn’t let him go that easy. “Kids are just so much easier, aren’t they? And so much tighter . You’d like that, wouldn’t you? I bet you see exactly this when you masturbate, don’t you? Is that why you didn't accept any of us? Because you wanted them younger ?”

That wasn’t true. He’d never—

“Oh, I'd have you arrested if I could, you predator. But how can I talk to Sis? Like this? How do you expect me to face her like this? I'm stuck here!”

“A-ah, you're so thick and hot, Amamiya. Even just wiggling my butt feels good—”

The brunette's face shudders before it splits open, revealing Yusuke's battered one. His scalp is peeled, marring his blue hair and turning them violet. His jaw is nothing but shards, but his tongue still flexes as he speaks.

“We saw how you looked at him. Like he was precious. You wanted to keep him close. Embrace him, keep him in your arms. Defile him.”

Ren feels his eyes sting, feels protest die on his lips. He can't think of anything to say.

Yusuke slithers, neck elongating as his head looks over Ren, cold, coagulated pieces of blood falling onto Ren's bare chest. Yusuke has only hollowed sockets, yet he can look straight at Ren. “Look at me, Ren. Look at me. Look at the monster I've become. I have no eyes. No hands to call my own. What aspiring artist can achieve anything with this?”

Ahh… ! Big, so big… you're so big and thick … you're gonna rip my little boy pussy. I'm gonna die!”

I'm sorry! I didn't know! Please, I—I didn't meant for this to happen!

“Then do something about it!”

Ryuji, with matted bleached hair and bloodshot eyes, replaces Yusuke in a nauseating display of shifting, morphing flesh. His neck extends farther, but the skin is wrapped so tightly around the snapping bones of his spine that it looked like someone had stuck his head onto a fossil made of skin. Spindly, arachnodactyly hands find his shoulders and neck.

“I-I need—all of you—inside me…!”

“Or, what, is he too hot? Can't keep it in, Ren? God, what a freak.” He sneers, bares his teeth and the rows upon rows of shards, going on for as long as his neck had become. They rotate within his neck, invoking the idea of a grinder to mind.

“Thought the worst that could happen to me was Kamoshida. Turns out it's you.

“I need—you… I-I need you—so much…!”

I want to save you! Please, tell me how to save you!

“You can't anymore,” Haru's voice says. It's the calmest and sweetest one thus far, but knowing her, it simply speaks volumes of her own rage.

She comes into view, her own face split open like a flower. The flesh, tendons and shattered bone hang around her face, yet her eyes remain in her sockets. She has no mouth nor jaw to move, but he can still see the vibrations as she speaks.

“You did this to us, Ren. You can't fix it anymore.”

“Ren, I want to feel—”

I'm sorry, I—

“The only good you've done, Ren, is that perhaps I'll get to see my father.”

Impossibly long arms spread behind her, like a spider. They prop her up, extend her until her bare chest is exposed—bare in so many senses of the word. There are breasts, but they are marred; split open to reveal broken and spilling fat cells. Her ribs are torn apart, showcasing her chest cavity, the ruined organs, the pulpy but beating heart.

“... Huh?”

Long hair falls around him. Orange hair. Ren's voice dies and his vision blurs. He feels pathetic fat tears gather in his eyes.

His gremlin little sister. His little sister.

“... I guess that’s… the Goro Akechi part of me.”

Her face is the least intact. Her skull is absolutely shattered, but they hang in place, albeit inches apart from each other. It was like her head had exploded and frozen in time. The only telltale sign it was her was her hair and her broken glasses.

“You were supposed to take care of me.”

I'm sorry—please—

“Even if you bring back my body, Sojiro won't be able to see me one last time.”

“... How… odd.”

“He still grieves for my mom, Ren. And she had an open casket wake. He could say his goodbyes to her, even if she wouldn't hear it. What about me, Ren? What about me? Sojiro will never be the same.”

“This—this isn't…how I…!”

“Can you even bring us out? Can you even bring us out of this Palace like this ? Can you leave the Palace, knowing what you're doing right now?”

“... I-I…ah… ah! Hah! There! There, right there! More, Ren, more. I want more! I… ”

“Look at him. A whore for you. Just for you. You feel guilty? Well, suck it up. You can hurt him for us, Ren. That's the only thing you can do now.”

“More, please, please more. Give me more, Ren—”

“Fuck him like a doll, Ren. That's the only thing you're good for.”


12. Execute.

It's with those words that Ren forces himself to focus, and the first thing he feels is heat. It's so hot. His body is burning, as if he'd been drenched in gasoline and thrown onto hot coal. It's worst at his groin, where his cock is surrounded by suffocatingly soft flesh; soft flesh and muscle that suck him in with fervor and embrace him in a horribly obscene way.

Robin’s facing him, small hands fisting the cloth of his shirt as the child bounces on Ren's lap. Every single sound from parted, plump lips is a high pitched moan that goes straight down, that helps fuel the smoldering coal he lay on.

It's disgusting. It’s disgusting and arousing in equal measures. He feels greasy and slick, like the only way to get himself clean again is to peel the skin off his bone.

Ren doesn't know what to do with himself, so he embraces the feeling.

He makes that aroused disgust his very own. His self hatred, his regrets and his sorrows mix with the heat, the softness, the pleasure. The lines between them blur, and somehow Ren comes to the conclusion that he should thrust up, in time.

The first thrust has Robin’s surprise color his expression. The second, he screams in ecstasy. The third, he’s a near boneless mess, flush against Ren's chest as he pants, mewls, moans and drools all over. His cocky attitude is gone; he’s wondrously helpless and pliant on Ren's chest as his eyes screw shut like he’s desperately trying to feel every single part of Ren's filthy manhood. He shifts, cheeks a bright red, hair a mess, paper crown slipping off his head as his small form is pounded into.

“R-Ren… Ren…!”

He keeps moaning it, as if the person beneath him is Ren—but Ren doesn't feel like Ren anymore. He only feels the coal fire seeping into his bone marrow, the gasoline drying and sticking to his skin. He feels enveloped in flame, yet—

Hurt him for us.

“Hold you—” Ren says. He beholds the yellow orbs blinking open and looking at him, mouth still hanging open as he's fucked into. “Let me—”

Those orbs widen in realization, and the most innocent smile breaks amidst it all. “Yes! Yes, please !”

Maybe foolishly, he lets his captive go with a shaky gesture. Ren's arms meet cold air, his feet are freed, and before Ren hears that stupid voice again, he grabs the child by the throat and forces the small body onto his back. Robin crashes onto the varnished wood with a startled and broken whimper. Something snaps and it happens in both of them.

Robin is suddenly glaring daggers, tiny hands trying to claw past black cuffs. “Fuck you, Amamiya! Let go of me!”

‘Ren’... Smiles.

He smiles even as everything crashes around him. His body is set aflame. It's scalding, almost excruciating, but he doesn't care. Not now, and certainly not when the most sensitive part of him finds a home in supple, tainted flesh, drenched in sweat and oil.

Robin keens and he changes his tune in a heartbeat, crying and straining his vocal chords in unwanted ecstasy: “Ren! Please, Ren…!”

His neck is bared. Ren wants to taste it. Ren wants to trail gasoline all over the deceptively frail body beneath him. Ren wants to take this boy and ruin him; absolutely ruin him for what he's done to—

Justice? Who cares? No one does. No one ever did. Maybe they didn't either. Evidently no one in this place does, not even him, and it’s foolish to even pretend he cares now. He never did, or maybe he stopped somewhere; but it doesn't matter anymore. It doesn't anymore, because Ren is filled with bliss; bliss, disgust, regret, and the relief of emancipation . It’s the complicated feeling of giving in to something you’re not supposed to. Like eating a tub of ice cream alone, at midnight and in the dark; or taking a nap instead of tending to a million other responsibilities.

Like mercilessly fucking the child that fed your friends to a sea monster, until tears stream down those soft cheeks.

He'll burn here. He'll burn with all of this—but first he'll let the gasoline pool in his mouth, bite down hard into porcelain and let it seep into this tiny bloodstream. He'll spread his grime all over this deceptively pure body and revel in it. He'll paint these flawless mounds of flesh with the boy's blood, with his sweat, and the tears of his friends.

(Who are always in his periphery, as he watches every minute detail of Robin's face. Sees their sneers when he claws the boy, hears their judgement as Ren bites delicious baby fat—)

“Ren… Ren…!”

It's a breathless cry that precedes a climax.

Ren doesn't care.

“St… stop… Amamiya-san! Amamiya ! You'll break me—!”

Ren pushes it, deeper and deeper, until he feels Robin is sufficiently pumped to the brim with lighter fluid. He greedily traces his mouth along the child's neck, shoulder and jaw, savoring the crimson iron that settled on his tongue. He paints pale skin red with his lips, lets the scent of coffee, sex and Robin fill his head before he bites down again and more thick paint is drawn out in overflowing rivers.

If it was still possible, an obscene moan is ripped from Robin once again, almost a scream. He arches off the wood, letting Ren take even more of him, offering himself up like a sacrificial lamb.

Fuck it. Ren would take it. He'll take it all.

He can't get enough of how soft Robin is. He can't get enough of how easy it feels to snap the Shadow's neck. He can't get enough of the wailing, fragile boy beneath him, at his mercy as he screams in pathetic ecstasy and token protests. He can't get enough of Robin.

The boy is intoxicating in his sounds and his taste and his everything . Ren focuses on his face, twisted into pleasurable pain. His small fingers hang uselessly from Ren's wrists; his eyes are screwed shut as tears stream from them; his hair fans out beneath his skull like a halo and his baby fat makes him round in such a beautiful, innocent way that makes the depravity of it all the more sickeningly blissful.

Robin, Akechi, is so, so breathtakingly beautiful . Even like this—no, especially like this, like a whore under him, sobbing and moaning. Evidently, he always had been beautiful.

Ren wants to rip it all apart.

It's with that thought that Ren coats even the inner walls of Robin with gasoline, with grease, with tar, and hopes it's enough to set everything ablaze in a surge of blue fire. He doesn't move; he only waits for everything to be incinerated, even if he knows it won't happen.

“That's that,” they say as they're swallowed by the walls.

Chapter Text

13. Actions have consequences.

Ren hardly reacts when he's roughly grabbed by the shoulders and pinned to the wall. Ren doesn't flinch when it's not Robin before him, but Robin Hood. Livid yellow eyes burn behind a mask, rage palpable in the very air. It feels like there's electricity cackling around the muscular form, about to cause a fire, but Ren knows Robin Hood won't give him anything but hell.

He also knows he's a pathetic sight. He embraces it, stares at Robin Hood with dead eyes. He hopes his abject apathy translates into something remotely resembling the rebellion he was used to feeling, but seemed so far away now.

Didn't think you had it in you, Amamiya.

That's a fair statement. Ren didn't think he had it in him either.

I'd say we're even now.

“So what?” His voice is hoarse, but he pushes on. “Are you gonna leave me alone? Or do you still want to one-up me? Do you want to kill me?”

Is that what you want?

“Does it even matter if I want it?”

Yes, ” he says. Ren blinks and suddenly he's faced with the child again, dressed like nothing happened and uncharacteristically tucking Ren back in with gentle hands. “Because if it is , then I won't do it. And something tells me you do want to die, maybe put this all behind you and see your friends again just like they were in life. You can’t possibly like that thing.”

Robin zips Ren up and looks into his eyes with a blank gaze. His plump cheeks shine with tears. “I knew we were going to be watched, but not by that . Didn’t think you were so depraved to want that as an audience for this trainwreck.”

Ren feels a shiver go through him; the faint sensation of nails, the wispy tickles of long strands, their whispers—

“Let me tell you a secret.”

He yanks Ren by the lapel, seeing eye to tearful eye. “You don't need a mask to summon a Persona, Amamiya. It says a lot that you didn't even try to reach out to Arsene at any point during all this. You just gave up; because you thought your friends were dead when I told you. You might’ve been able to save them if you really tried. Think about it; I mean Akechi had to leave the room for something , didn’t he?”

He isn't as affected as he thought he'd be at the idea. He imagined he'd be kicking and screaming, but still he remains in a…mildly shocked state.

“You really are pathetic without your friends. After everything, do you still want to see them? What you did to them? Do you have it in you to end it all, since I won't do it?”

He doesn't answer Robin. Robin doesn't seem to expect one anyway as he lets Ren’s coat go.

“I have to be fair, though. You were right about me.”

Ren simply watches him. He's too tired to talk, to move, to defy. He sits on the floor, legs crossed as he watches Robin watching him. They're farther apart than they have been in a while.

Ren almost misses it.

“I feel… heavy.” Robin’s fingers flex at his sides. Through it all he doesn’t stop crying, but his voice doesn’t break either. His voice carries a cadence that makes it sound like he’s just mildly inconvenienced by the weight. “Now that I think about it, Robin Hood wouldn’t have done this.”

Ren exhales. “So why did you?”

Robin hums a little, seemingly unbothered. “Depends on who's talking to you.”

“Who else? It's just you and me.”

“What does that even mean?” Robin asks. “Those words are empty by default.”

Ren doesn't answer; he doesn't really have an answer.

It's only a little annoying that Robin is suddenly less convinced, less self righteous, about all this. If he was going to rape Ren, he should at least fully embrace the monster he was going to be. Now it suddenly feels like Ren is doing all the legwork going down this hell; but he doesn't protest. He's tired. It really doesn't matter.

He wonders where Akechi is.

“Are you sorry?” Robin asks.

Maybe. He's sorry it came down to this. He's sorry he believed Akechi’s goodness at all. He's sorry he has filthy memories of having sex with (raping?) a child instead of saving his friends. It feels like he can't leave anymore, like he’d dug his grave already. It feels like his friends have come back from the dead only to watch his downfall in manic glee. It feels like self-flagellation at this point, but he isn’t sure for whom.

It's cold. The fire had died out and Ren is just left with ashes. He misses the warmth. He wants to burn in the flames endlessly; he wants to feel the constant singe all over his skin. He loathes the cold, how it regards him with such impassivity, neither actively hurting nor comforting. No; in the cold, it was just Ren, alone with knowledge of things that have happened and things that will, the knowledge that outside was a whole other world he felt too ashamed and corrupted to ever step foot in again.

Is he sorry? Maybe. He can't tell much of anything anymore. Ren’s sure it shows.

“Are you ?” He asks instead.

“... Maybe.”

Ren doesn't say anything. Robin doesn't expect him to; the child just walks towards him with purpose before leaning forward and planting his lips on Ren's. Small hands come up to cradle Ren's head. Ren lets it happen, hopes fire is reignited as he takes a hold of Robin's tiny hips and brings him forward.

It's only a poor imitation of something pure and innocent, but Ren accepts it and closes his eyes.


14. Fall even further.

Ren closes his eyes for a long time; when he opens them again, he’s… somewhere else. It’s significantly darker but even then he can see his surroundings, like there was a touch of ambient light emanating from somewhere. It's all guts and dripping saliva like the inside of a fleshy creature; like the walls of an esophagus that flex periodically, to be specific. The space isn't that much bigger than him; he could stretch his arms and immediately hit the pulsing muscle.

It stinks but in a familiar way that reminded Ren of his hubris. Something darker catches Ren's eye and he carefully walks to it, unused to soft, uneven ground. What greets him is the sight of something hauntingly familiar.

Futaba's goggles.

“We’re here… Did you want to see us again?”

He looks deeper down the fleshy path. It’s almost pitch black, but it doesn't bother him. Ren goes down the esophagus-like tunnel, finding hints and scraps of his friends’ equipment, the items they had on them and their masks. He feels something, retracing their steps, but it’s a little too faint to dwell on too long.

He'll probably feel it again, in greater detail, once he finds them. That's his theory. Maybe he'll find the strength to leave, but the thought of facing the punishment the rest of the world would give wasn't a good motivator either.

Ren can't find a reason to go down the path or find a way out.

“Keep going further, Ren. You need to come with us.”

… he moves on.

Their voices mix together and echo through the tunnel in a pulsing reverb. In the darkness he can see something vaguely serpentine slithering away with every step he takes, meeting his eyes with seven pairs of familiar ones that shine in the faint ambient light. They twinkle, even when there’s no light.

Ren takes a step. They slither further down the esophagus, disappearing from sight. In their wake, a trail of blood that Ren doesn't avoid stepping in.

“We’ll see each other again.”

The esophagus opens into an enormous cavern. The ceiling is lost to the darkness, but he can see the walls fairly clearly as, at its center, the apartment in the first floor cabin stood.

It wasn't hard to put two and two together. It seems from the start they'd already gone into the very heart of a trap, and Robin placed himself in the only way to bypass it. They would've been fine if they hadn't separated. They would've been fine if he'd just given up on Akechi.

“It’s okay now. Don't think about it. You can join us, Ren.”

The apartment was a rough square with only one side knocked down, letting dim light stream solely in the direction Ren came from. Behind it, in pitch black, Ren could see the stygian blue silhouette of the writhing serpent that led him. It spread its myriad arms out, more arms than he knew people, and beckoned him closer, gesturing in stilted and crooked ways. It was like it was trying to mimic human movement but couldn't anymore; all the same it beckoned, tried to entice him closer with a dance of a hundred shuddering, twitching limbs.

He follows, of course. Ren has a feeling that maybe he was never really a leader after all.

As they move, a constant distance between them, Ren can see its stygian form melt into something more distinct. He thinks he sees familiar torsos and hairs, surfacing from and sinking into indistinct mounds. It drags itself with its hands along soft, fleshy tissue, and the more he watches it move in an inhuman way Ren can't describe, it melts more with the darkness. His eyes hurt but he forces them to strain against the blackness. Just to see them.

“Together again. All of us. Like a team.”

Ren notes with impassivity that the ground is sloping downwards. He knows where it's leading to, especially since the putrid, citrus smell now fills his lungs.

He doesn't physically hesitate, but as he walks in the trail of their blood he's not sure he's actually welcome anymore.

“We forgive you, Ren. We forgive you.”

That gets him to feel something. It feels like a pressure at the back of his throat and behind his eyes. It feels like sorrow and relief; like coming home after a long, horrifying day. The form slithers to the edge and beckons him, welcoming. His friends stretch their arms out in an offer of embrace; then they fall back and melt into the darkness.

There is no splash. They're already down there.

No hesitation nor urgency in his steps; Ren just feels an unrelenting wave of acceptance. The slope suddenly turns into a steep cliff and for a moment, Ren feels instinctual shock shoot up his spine as his feet try to find ground. A split second later, as he floats in that one single moment before death, he wonders how painful it is to drown in acid.

But then there's a strong hand around his arm. His descent is halted and he collides into a flesh wall. He looks up, even if the darkness is overbearing here, but there's definitely a figure.

“Don't go there.” Akechi says.

He didn’t expect Akechi just behind him, but Ren is hardly surprised. He's a little too empty and detached to really feel anything. Akechi pulls him up and Ren neither helps nor resists. He's content being dead weight; and it seems Akechi is fine with it too. He's simply brought to the ledge again before Akechi relentlessly tugs at his arm, demanding him to follow. Ren does so and the grip relaxes.

“That’s the stomach,” Ren says. Akechi shows no reaction, but he's harder to see than the twisting mass that slithered down these corridors. Ren presses further. “Are my friends there?”

Akechi stops walking. He doesn’t look at Ren. “Does it matter?”

“Yeah.”

The brunet looks at him then but whatever expression he has is painted over by the darkness around them. “No it doesn't. Just leave them be.”

Ren reluctantly does so and Akechi seems to be surprised in his silence, though the brunet doesn't question it. Ren lets Akechi slip a gloved hand into his, like they were simply walking through a park. It's a mere imitation, but it feels a sliver more genuine than whatever kind of love he'd been shown thus far.

Ren looks around and pretends he can see everything. It’s easy to imagine what was there anyway; pulsing muscle with dripping fluid. It didn’t bother him; but the smell was another story. It was putrid, though with an undertone of sweetness that eased the stench. The farther they went from the stomach, the more the air seemed to clear of acid.

They arrive at the cavernous area where the soft light of the apartment illuminates half the empty space before it. It's harder to see with the light source, but it's a blessing to his eyes all the same.

“Where are we?”

“The first stomach.”

“I mean this entire place.” Ren pauses. “Is this your Palace?”

Akechi turns to him then. They're now by the apartment, right in the middle of light, where Ren can see Akechi's sweet smile. His eyes crinkled with mirth and adoration while pure fondness formed his lips. It feels both sickening and comforting to be looked at in such a way now. Ren embraces the feeling as just one of the many results of his hubris. Radical acceptance.

“We’re inside my other self; Loki. He's the real ruler of the ocean. If you want to know where we're going specifically… it's to the actual palace I've built here.” His smile widens. “Think Atlantis but kind of Japanese.”

Ren hums a little as he studies the apartment. The box with their weapons is there but Ren makes no move for it. His eyes then go to the bed where the familiar board game lay. It remains untouched, boasting a number of black pieces and eight, glimmering white ones.

“Why did you leave?” Ren asks as he walks closer and stares at the board. “Why did you leave me with Robin? He said it's because—”

“Don't think about it.”

Akechi's voice is low and full of warning, but Ren doesn't feel the fear he should. “I just want to know what you were doing.”

“It's not important.”

“Robin said—”

“Ren!”

The brunet stomps to him, yanking his arm so they're face to face. His eyes are wild, but it's not with anger. It's with… panic. “Don't think about it anymore,” he whispers with a hint of a plea. “Please. It's not important. Let's go home. I prepared for you and everything.”

Ren looks to the rest of the apartment, blank and bleak, so lacking in the dorky little quirks and raw, obsessive instability that seemed to gush out of Akechi's very pores. He smells sweet and lovely, in all his insanity. Ren feels his own gasoline leaking out of him, dispersing in the air to catch flame.

It feels as if crossing into the real world now would cause his entire form to freeze in an instant. Ren knows he has no place there now, and so he says: “We will.”

Akechi looks at him then, with surprised doe eyes that make him an absolutely precious thing. Ren assures him; “I just want to know for certain what happened to my friends. That's all.”

Still, Akechi’s beautiful doll eyes carry uncertainty in their glass depths. Without much thought, Ren touches his cheek and Akechi immediately grasps his hand, keeping him there to worship his very touch. “I won't run away; I just want closure. Can I have that?”

His eyes close as he presses his face to Ren's gloved hand, as if desiring with every inch of his body to merge with Ren somehow. The entire cavern seems to ripple like a distorted wave but the apartment doesn't move. Akechi's arms wind around Ren's stretched one, managing to be self-deprecating yet possessive at the same time. He cuddles and nuzzles it, much like Robin did, but there's something blatantly arousing seeing a much older Akechi rub his cheek against the palm and run his lips over the seams of his glove. He takes in Ren's scent, releases a shuddering sigh that wracks his very form and then he nods.

As a reward, Ren wraps his other arm around Akechi's waist and he's sure the brunet practically short-circuits right then and there. His face is the very picture of shock before it melts into total, submissive adoration. He practically collapses against Ren, making himself as small as possible as his arms tuck in between them. Ren embraces him, lets Akechi find a home in the junction between Ren's neck and shoulder, breathing him in and shivering against him.

The entire place shudders again. Ren's fingers ghost the outline of Akechi's ass, makes sure the brunet feels the sensation of featherlight touches just barely pressing between firm cheeks. Akechi stiffens, pushes up to Ren even more, and like that the brunet can't hide his own arousal.

Ren almost acts on it. His hand gives a ghostly squeeze, his fingers angled so they press in the direction of Akechi's entrance.

He stops when in anticipation, Akechi's form actually ripples. It's not a mere shudder, but an actual distortion in Akechi's very anatomy; like something pressed up from the inside of his skin and slithered down in poor mimicry of a snake.

Ren doesn't push it. Akechi doesn't either.

They stay like that for a few moments; and when Akechi takes his fill he pulls away to grab a lantern flashlight. Again, Akechi takes his hand, laces their fingers together and leads the way back to the sloping path. The air is so tense and bafflingly quiet, Ren feels the compulsion to break it. He simply lets his thoughts loose, only somewhat addressing Akechi.

“You know, I’ve read some books about dreams some time ago.”

Akechi hums to show he's listening and flicks the lantern open. Ren takes in the sight of the damp muscle surrounding them.

“Thinking about it now, isn't the Metaverse like a dream world itself? Everything here is made up of bits and pieces of what you perceive outside, isn't it? Dreams and Palaces… they're similar. Aren't they?”

Akechi doesn't answer.

“Akechi… were we ever above water?”

He doesn't answer that either.

“Am I part of the dream, or am I another dreamer? Is it possible you just let me have agency? Is it possible you've let me shape parts of your Palace—?”

They stop. “It’s better not to think about it too hard.”

Ren ignores the suggestion. “This is like lucid dreaming, isn't it? You have complete control over every aspect here. Does that include me?”

Akechi squeezes his hand and strokes the back of it. He leads Ren again, light swaying with their steps. The tissue beneath their feet slopes down. The walk feels shorter than without the light.

“I hear them, Akechi. I see them. And Robin—I think Robin saw them too.”

“Your friends?”

“Yes!” Ren trembles. “I saw them fall into the stomach. Crawling… writhing… they called out to me. They talked to me. They told me to hurt you, but also told me to punish myself—”

“You shouldn't do that.”

“But they told me to. I'm not—I can't just—”

Ren doesn't really know where he's going with this. He simply holds tighter onto Akechi. It should be concerning that Akechi is a comforting presence now, despite him being the cause of all this.

He was real; at least—to some degree. Ren tells himself so.

“Is it… possible for me to hallucinate something into reality? This is a cognitive world, and even though this is your Palace, what if I—”

“We can stop,” Akechi says but Ren shakes his head.

“They follow me. They watch me. They've become… something I can't describe. They're just empty and distorted, shape shifting shells of who they used to be. I feel like they won't stop chasing me until I kill myself.”

Ren pauses for a while, trying to piece things together. He wishes he could hear them, so he could ask Akechi and maybe get the reassurance it's all in his head—that he hadn't made a cognition here. Or—

“They felt real, Akechi…” Ren pauses breath. “Is it possible that… when they disappeared from the yacht, I did that to them? …Did someone else? Is it just in my head? What does that even mean ? What's even real here? I don't have a frame of reference anymore—”

They reach the cliff. “We’re here.”

Akechi shines the light down onto the pit below and Ren stands next to him, toes past the ledge. Akechi's grip on him is tight, but Ren has no intention of going past the ledge other than to see what's down there.

It's mesmerizing how human flesh is digested.


15. Dive deeper

They sit on the ledge, legs dangling in the air.

Akechi undoes and drops his tie before linking his arms with Ren, nuzzling into the warmth on his bicep like an overgrown koala. Ren pets his hair and is only a little shocked when he sees his own gloves are gone and the feathery feel of Akechi’s hair graces his palm; in fact, he’s in his uniform now. He wonders when that happened, but he also knows it’s pointless to keep speculating the details of this world.

They cuddle above the acid, which carries with it a strange, citrus scent as it eats away at flesh. Ren doesn’t know what to feel, so he doesn’t. He lets Akechi do what he wants, but he supposes it’s nice of Akechi to restrain himself to the arm.

Eventually, the bile recedes and only hair and fingernails are left. It’s shifted somewhere else deeper into the leviathan. Ren is sure the deeper parts of the leviathan are safe to traverse as long as Akechi was with him; but he’s also sure Akechi won’t let him follow where the strands all slither off to. Following probably leads out of the leviathan—if there is an out to the leviathan.

They don't really move, simply staring at the floor at the foot of the cliff. The entire leviathan rumbles.

“He's hungry,” Akechi murmurs.

“Should we jump in?”

“Heavens no!” Akechi laughs a little. “It's fine, Loki doesn't really need food.”

Ah. Ren had a feeling it was something like that. He’s not as affected by the knowledge that his friends were just eaten for sport as he should be. It’s probably a sign that he stopped being the old Ren Amamiya somewhere along the way.

The two remain silent, sitting together in a domestic state, barring their environment and the situational context. Without the acid, it smells much like fresh air; and…coffee? Ren sniffs the air a moment, tilting his head to try and find it. It turns out to be from Akechi, who remains rather still.

He looks to be in peace; like he's sleeping.

Ren pats his head again then combs his fingers through the fluffy, butterscotch strands. Akechi’s eyes flutter open and the brunet smiles happily at him. It’s awful that Ren’s heart melts.

“Do you want to leave?”

Ren shakes his head and looks down to the foot of the cliff. Akechi doesn’t say anything, simply returning to his previous position of cuddling Ren’s arm like a koala. Meanwhile, Ren lets his thoughts wander to…nowhere in particular. He has no destination in mind—

We forgive you…

—but it always draws back to his friends.

“Did you fight them?”

Akechi hums in question.

“My friends. I won’t be mad.”

“I think so.”

“What do you mean?”

“I'm not sure. I fought something.

“What does that mean?”

Akechi doesn't answer straightaway. He thinks for a moment before he returns to embracing Ren's arm.

“You compared this to lucid dreaming, which is accurate. So let me ask you: How do you know the person you're talking to in a dream is ‘real’? I can manipulate things, but I can't tell if they're ‘real’, Ren. I just manipulate.”

“Couldn't you have tested it?”

A chuckle. “It’s not that simple, silly.”

They lapse once again into silence. Akechi, shockingly, doesn't do anything remotely sexual or cannibalistic, like Ren expected. He just continues to use Ren's arm like a pillow, sometimes stroking. He eventually laces their hands together, but his touch doesn't get any greedier than that.

He seems to be waiting. Ren isn't quite sure for what, doesn't even have an idea what he was being patient for. He just waits, and by extension Ren does as well.

Suddenly, “can I ask a question?”

Ren's response is embarrassingly automatic. “That's already a question.”

“Ah…” Akechi says. “You're right.”

Akechi doesn't follow it up, so Ren prompts him. “What did you want to ask?”

“I was curious why you haven't left me yet.”

“What do you mean?”

Another soft laugh. “Is that your catchphrase now? I want to know why you haven't left my Palace yet.”

Ren opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again—and then closes it. Akechi makes a good point; after all, Robin didn't take his phone.

Robin didn't take any of their phones.

He could've just gone and left before anything happened; could've gone and left before Akechi found him. He could've left.

They could've left too.

The possibility that this was all a bad dream was… it was there and Ren didn't know how to feel about it. He could leave, check if they escaped too, and then—

And then go after Shido. Leave Akechi.

Quickly, Ren moves to fish for his phone. Akechi doesn't try to stop him; he only untangles their arms and moves to the side. It takes a bit of patting down, but Ren finds it.

He unlocks it and, sure enough, his phone is working. In fact, it was opened to the Metaverse app, where the arrow was just a blinking icon in a sea of darkness. It didn't even map out Loki's insides; meaning, theoretically, he could just… he could just press the button telling the app to take him back.

To the real world. To reality.

But—

What if his friends didn't make it? What if he went back to find that they really had been eaten, that he was the only survivor? Again, the thought of finding every one of their friends and relatives, breaking the news that they'd just vanished—

Robin.

He'd—

He can't step foot in society anymore.

Suddenly unsure, feeling his anxiety melt into his expression, he looks to Akechi to gauge the prince's reaction. It's surprisingly blank.

“Are you leaving?” He asks.

Ren looks back at his phone. He fiddles with the app, nervous, trying to check for any tells of an illusion. He can't find any, but at the same time there are too many. Had the Nav always had this font size? Had it really only been two hours since they came in? Didn't he delete that camera filter app last night?

Tremors wrack his body. He can't tell if his phone is part of the illusion anymore. He starts doubting his own memory; suddenly every single detail feels off putting. It feels like he can't get a good foothold on anything.

“I won't stop you.”

Akechi is staring up at him, because Ren had apparently stood at some point. His ruby eyes don't reveal anything; they're quite neutral. Just interested.

“I won't even mention anything that happened here.”

“Where are my friends?”

He shrugs. “I don't know, Ren.”

The phone stares at him, with all his apps and all shifting in his memory. He opens all his photos, all his music, his messages, but the anxiety doesn’t leave. Something always feels wrong. Did Ryuji always have such bleached hair? Did Futaba use that many emoticons? Did he already download that song Ann showed him yesterday?

Was it even yesterday? How long has it been?

He can't really grasp the world outside, for some reason. But he remembers every cruel detail of this. It feels like someone had pulled the rug from under his feet, only for him to fall into an entire space of nonsense colors and fractals.

His mind is mush. Why does it feel like mush?

It smells sweet.

“I’ve done things. I can't go back.”

“Of course you can. I won't bring it up, remember? How will you even be convicted of statutory rape? There's no one to be a victim.”

“You should be stopping me. Why aren't you stopping me?”

“Do you want to be stopped?”

“I—” That gets him. That really gets him.

Does he? He shouldn't, but he does. He can't place why other than it would make sense, but him wanting to be stopped doesn't really make sense.

He should press to exit.

“Ren, you have no reason to stay. It's not like you can't tell people your friends were just gunned down by Shido and his cohorts.”

Akechi says this so casually that Ren doubts his authenticity immediately. The problem as it turns out isn’t that Ren can’t ascertain which of Akechi’s words is true, it’s the fact that Ren won’t be able to trust any of Akechi’s words. Ren once again shivers, unable to really pin down a solid… anything to hold onto. He moves to embrace himself, to try and find comfort in his own warmth, but then he feels it.

Something under his skin bulges and squirms before it disappears inside.

Suddenly, Akechi has a hold on him again, around his arm. Ren is dangling over the cliff. He must have shut down and panicked. Akechi, however, is frighteningly neutral.

“You should be careful.”

“If I leave,” Ren says. He feels emotion again, and it's not a good one; it feels sorrowful and he's sure it shows in his eyes and his voice. “If I leave, will I really wake up? Or will it just be an illusory Tokyo? Can you do that?”

“I could.”

“That doesn’t help!”

“Am I supposed to help?” Akechi asks, taking a hold of his arm with both hands to pull him back.

Ren feels the fit of his uniform tighten in some places as creatures wriggle around in his flesh, distorting his shape. His phone is still clutched in his hands, but if even he’s tainted by the Palace, what more his phone—

Ren keeps failing to grasp what's what. According to the Nav, nothing exists here.

Ren… Ren doesn't like this. He really doesn't. If his friends are alive and well outside, then they'll find him or die trying. If this is his real phone, he'll leave into a cold, cruel world and forever be wracked by anxiety that he only stepped into another illusion. Uncertainty is already clawing at his mind, and it's just in regards to his phone . The only way to leave for certain is if he kills Akechi. But can he even do that on his own? Here?

Say he left, or 'left’, what would he do? If he can't find his friends, what'll he do? Suddenly the future is so full of dark crevices and uncertainty when just yesterday it was full of hope. Even though he's far from that place, he feels so, so cold. Frozen solid. Alone.

If he sees his friends, he won’t believe it. If he doesn’t, he’ll be alone. If he kills Akechi—

Ren doesn't want to think. He really doesn't.

Maybe if he didn't feel so broken he'll be able to think of something. Maybe if he took Robin seriously at first things would be fine. Maybe if his friends were still around, intact, preserved, uncorrupted with hatred—he'd be able to just leave and find the truth for himself.

If he was still Joker—

… Ah.

That’s why.

He's not Joker anymore. He's lost that persona. He's just Ren now, and that’s the problem.

He chucks the phone. It hits the fleshy wall with a squelch and then falls down, down, down. The floor is gone replaced now by a dark abyss. It keeps going.

“Oh, I wasn't expecting that.”

Akechi sounds like he genuinely didn't.


16. Work up an appetite

“I have something to show you,” Akechi says.

They’re back at the apartment, shoes toed off and everything. As usual, Akechi has a firm hold on Ren’s wrists; not quite enough to be uncomfortable but a clear sign he didn’t want the raven going anywhere. He smiles at Ren, full of the same love and adoration as before; fondness bled into every inch of his expression. Ren didn’t really know how he was supposed to feel about it but it felt nice.

The air had consistently smelled sweet and it was getting addicting. Far too addicting for it to just be a pleasant smell. It doesn’t quite make his head fuzzy in the way Ren imagined; if anything it actually clears his head more and more. He feels focused solely on the present; specifically on the way Akechi has a hold on his wrists.

He studies the walls of the apartment, the bare furnishings that barely indicated anyone lived here. It was so, so bare and devoid of personality, Ren had to wonder if Akechi simply retreated straight into the Palace everyday instead.

“What did you want to show me?” Ren asks.

Akechi doesn't answer and instead turns Ren around so he’s facing the wall opposite the opening. Akechi then fills his vision, raises a hand to his cheek and gently strokes it, like beholding something precious. It’s a far cry from the recklessness and cruelty Robin treated him with, so Ren can’t help but appreciate the gesture.

And, frankly, Ren had never really stopped feeling attraction to Akechi. He's just…objectively attractive. Beautiful. Ren has to wonder if he thinks the same, stroking Ren like this.

When he’s done stroking Ren’s face, studying every detail, he takes Ren’s hands again and leads him out.

The esophagus-like surroundings are… gone. Instead, there is a large, extravagant interior of a more European aesthetic with hints of Japanese. It's a multitude of regal colors, with undertones of darker hues here and there.

They jump off from the platform holding up the apartment, like it was a display. Actually, looking around again, the area they're in strikes Ren as an exhibit. There are pieces of the Tokyo he's familiar with; from the station entrances to the Shibuya bakery Ren remembers Akechi frequented. There's even a display of LeBlanc that, instead of consoling him makes him feel a pang of fear. It strikes in him the idea that maybe Sojiro will come bursting out if there, demanding where—

Akechi strokes his wrists, effectively getting Ren out of it, then leads Ren away from the exhibit and past large windows that reach the ceiling. The windows all boast a view of a wide underwater landscape full of reefs, plants and fishes, with hints of a fallen civilization here and there.

Akechi then leads him past sliding doors into a private dining room; completely Japanese, like they walked into another building altogether. It was large and mostly in whites and golds but accented with a deep wine color. Contemporary silk paintings lined the three walls, all depicting various kinds of chaos; from disasters to artificial, all in different time periods. At the sides of the room were two miniature gardens, complete with ponds and a bamboo fountain. The fourth wall was seamless glass that overlooked a sprawling underwater city that spread so far, the cerulean hue began to mask it.

At the very center of the room was a Japanese-style table, deep wine cushions at the sides. In front of it was another table, but more oddly shaped; a sushi plate, Ren realized, about half Ren’s size next to a long tray of tools. It ranged from a set of knives to spreader bars; all indicative of Akechi's earlier intentions. Now, the prince was so gentle and pensive that Ren wasn't sure what his intentions were anymore.

Again, Akechi pulls him; not too forcefully but enough to get his insistence across. Ren follows obediently until they’re right next to the table. Akechi doesn’t let go of him until he sits on the massive slab of wood, smiling sweetly and running his hands up Ren’s arms. His hands eventually tangle in Ren’s hair, pulling closer.

“Is this what you wanted me to see?” Ren asks.

“I want to show you even more.”

It dawns on Ren rather abruptly that this is the least amount of layers Akechi has ever worn around Ren. He only has his button up and slacks; and somewhere along the way Akechi must have already undone the very top button of the shirt for him. If that wasn’t suggestive enough, Akechi’s face is tilted almost coyly away, but the smoldering fire in his garnet eyes speak volumes.

Fire. Ren wants that fire.

He leans in close, lets the sweet smell fill his senses, then whispers against Akechi’s lips: “What happened to wanting to savor every bit of me?”

“I don’t mind being patient,” Akechi says, running dull nails along Ren’s scalp. “Besides, I wanted to make it up to you.”

That gets Ren to pause and he distances himself.

“I… saw.” Akechi’s eyes grow distant. “I saw that trainwreck. I shouldn’t have left you with Robin… I’m sorry.”

His voice is quiet and…legitimately sorrowful. “I learned something about myself. I had an epiphany, and I…” He trails then, staring somewhere else. Suddenly, he leans away, reaching out for the cutlery. The way he goes for the knife is so unhurried that Ren stays put, unafraid of suddenly having his throat sliced open.

(He probably wouldn’t resist anyway.)

Ren is only a little shocked when Akechi takes his limp hand and makes his fingers curl around the handle of a sushi knife. He looks at the brunet in slight confusion, but Akechi only smiles softly.

“My initial plan was to rape you, eat you and then keep you here, to keep raping and eating you over and over again, ad nauseum. But that wouldn’t have made me happy. In the end, all I really wanted was…” Akechi trails fingers down Ren’s forearm. “Your touch… The touch of someone I actually like. And realizing that I just… didn’t have the heart anymore.”

Ren looks at the knife then at Akechi. “And so, you want me to…?”

His eyes shine then. “I want you to eat me while fucking me.”

“…uh huh.”

“Only if you want to!” Akechi tacks on immediately, but his entire body is tense with anticipation. His entire form shivers, not quite in the way that says he’s holding back, but in the way that says he’s keeping himself from falling apart. “Y-you don’t have to. But I don’t know how else I can… I don’t know how else to tell you that I…”

… Ren gets the idea.

Before Akechi can fill the space with more words, Ren plants a hand square on his chest and pushes him onto the slab of wood, inadvertently displaying him. Ren climbs over the prince, knife still in hand, and hovers for a moment.

“Will it feel good for you?”

Akechi breaks into a toothy smile. “It will for the both of us! I’ll taste good for you, don’t worry! Th-there’s even stone grills and sauces under the table, if I’m not…”

The brunet is hushed by Ren leaning down and breathing in his scent, already in love with the intermingling of sweet and citrus with something more savory and more…difficult to pin down. His very essence, Ren supposes. After a slow exhale, Ren breathes against Akechi’s ear and neck: “I have no intention of stopping, you know. I’ll keep eating you and keep on denying you release until you’re a sobbing, begging mess, Akechi.”

“G-Goro…”

Ren leans back and gives a questioning hum. Akechi, flushed already and eyes lidded, stares back at him before breathing out: “Goro… Call me Goro…”

“... Alright,” Ren says and pecks his cheek. “Goro it is.”


17. Play with the food

The first thing Ren does is cut open Akechi’s shirt in one smooth motion. Akechi’s breath hitches as the cloth rips. He moves to get up but Ren cuts through the sleeves too and pulls it from underneath him. Ren tosses the white shirt away and admires the pale, muscled body beneath him. His skin doesn’t squirm, but he does tremble. Ren can’t help but run an appreciative hand over his upper body, fingers skimming over his nipple.

Akechi makes a sound; something not unlike a squeak. Ren can’t help but smile at that.

Ren pulls away to work on Akechi’s slacks, tearing it open and sliding them off his legs together with his boxer-briefs. Again, Ren tosses them somewhere else.

To no one’s surprise, Akechi’s rock solid cock springs free and slaps wet against his stomach. It’s almost adorable. Despite the embarrassed look in his eyes, Akechi’s legs stay spread and his arms at the sides of his head, simply waiting for Ren to ruin his body in so many ways not possible anywhere else.

Ren smiles as he gets his hand on two spreader bars. Two really long spreader bars; longer than the sushi plate is wide. He catches Akechi biting back a whine as he stares wide-eyed at the things Ren picked up.

With an air of nonchalance, Ren secures Akechi's wrists one at a time with the spreader bar under the slab of wood, behind the feet propping it up. He secures Akechi's ankles the same way, with no resistance at all. And just like that the prince himself is spread-eagled, completely at Ren's mercy.

…At least, visually. Ren reminds himself that at the end of the day, he was the one actually trapped; not that he really minded. It was surprisingly easy to forget this was a cage in how elaborate it is.

Performance art. This was just performance art. He could do that. He shrugs off his blazer, snaps off his suspenders, and pulls off his turtleneck.

Akechi’s eyes smolder with lust.

A familiar fire Ren misses. He can't wait to see himself on fire.

Goro's arms flex and Ren can see, with stunning clarity, the way they move under his glistening skin. It’s the same with his legs—thighs in particular, which also flex in anticipation. He’s… He’s very muscular, actually; which is a surprise, given how slender he appeared.

His cock…is already weeping.

Ren clicks his tongue and shakes his head in disapproval. “Already a dribbling mess, aren’t you?”

Akechi hides his face and mumbles something into his upper arm. His legs try to draw closer to himself but don’t go very far. Chuckling, Ren again runs a hand over Akechi’s body, appreciating every single crevice of it and how the muscles beneath Ren’s hand flex. His hand travels to Akechi’s thigh, squeezing it; it’s barely fat. Stiff almost.

Ren can already tell chewing Akechi is going to be torture for his jaws.

… The way that thought automatically forms should be unsettling.

It should be even more unsettling that Ren isn’t unsettled that much either. Instead, Ren climbs over Akechi again and lays the knife teasingly next to Akechi’s face. He doesn't really need an answer, it's been obvious for a while now, but Ren asks anyway.

“Did you drug me?”

“I wouldn’t call it…a drug…”

Ren angles the knife so it digs into Akechi’s neck but doesn’t break skin. Akechi whines, tries to press his neck into the blade but it’s hardly enough to draw blood. “Then what did you do, Goro?”

He takes a moment to breathe, eyes fluttering as they try to focus on him. “Con…consider it…  Loki’s special power…” His lips tremble and he squirms, clearly uncomfortable even in his own skin as he tries to cut himself. “Drawing your desires to the surface… All the… repressed thoughts… Sometimes, I make them…go crazy. Other times… it’s just… a nudge .”

… That isn't very surprising to be honest; or as surprising as it should be.

Ren had always liked Akechi, for better or worse. It's why they came here in the first place. Ren liked Akechi. He liked the way Akechi came to LeBlanc every time, striking idle conversation. He liked the way Akechi had civil debates with him. He liked playing chess with Akechi. He liked the way Akechi drank his coffee and genuinely smiled around the rim. He liked the way Akechi unconsciously groomed his hair when he was saying something embarrassing. He liked the way Akechi talked, acted, moved…

All a facade.

He supposed this is just the consequence of having a crush on a chameleon.

He caresses Akechi's face with the knife. His eyes flutter close, he arches his back and the softest moan slips out from parted lips. Yes, Akechi is a monster Ren should never have trusted, but he's also the most beautiful one.

The most beautiful fallen angel.

Ren had always been smitten—and now they're two of a kind.

“R-Ren…”

He indulges the quivering prince below him, latching onto his neck with barely any teeth. He sucks hard, hopes blood clots under his skin in patches as he goes down. He eventually finds one of Akechi's nipples and sucks on it.

The prince lets out a high moan and squirms again, all actions that has addicting fire pooling in his gut. Ren lets his free hand travel down, wrapping his fingers around Akechi's aching cock and starts pumping.

Akechi whines, pleadingly stares into Ren's eyes. Again, Ren indulges him, this time by cutting a line from the back of his ear to his collarbone, deep enough that blood starts gushing out. Through it all Akechi moans, louder than before. His breathing quickens and Ren can feel the way his dick throbs in his hand.

Ren quickly laps up the blood—

He groans.

It tastes so good.

It tastes like it always does, but… but somehow better. Richer. Complex. Ren can't get enough of it. He laps it up again, highly aware of his saliva coming out like a waterfall. Akechi pants, tilts his head to the side to let Ren suck out all the blood he can.

It soon becomes too little for him. He slices open Akechi's shoulder, where he's pretty sure an artery is. He just digs the knife in deeper, practically carving out some of his flesh. Blood spews out, like a high pressure pipe being severed, and Ren drinks it all.

It's sweet. It's iron; salty and sweet. He loves it. He loves the way Akechi groans every time Ren licks. He loves the way Akechi's hips buck, trying to find friction of some kind, every time Ren sucks. He loves the way Akechi arches into his mouth when Ren finally bites down.

More blood rushes into his mouth and Ren is just hooked. He digs his teeth in, hears Akechi moan even louder, then tears.

His teeth are too dull to really pierce the dermis and epidermis in any meaningful way, so the strip just keeps tearing and tearing. Ren is almost half an arm's length from Akechi when he decides to just cut it off with the knife.

The remaining skin flaps uselessly over exposed muscle and fat. There's now an expanse of quivering ligaments from Akechi's shoulder to halfway down his chest.

Still, Akechi gives shaky, aroused sounds—from hitched breaths to quiet whimpers.

Ren pushes the skin into his mouth and chews rather thoughtfully. It’s a little tough; similar to the texture of overcooked meat but slippery like raw fish from the blood and sweat. Biting really is a chore and the slippery feel doesn't help matters. Still, the taste is downright exquisite ; better than whatever prime western beef or wagyu meat Ren has ever tasted in his life—and that’s just raw . His mouth waters even more at the thought of cooking it.

He needs more .

His desire to consume Akechi until there's nothing left to eat completely overrides even his own arousal; but ultimately he remains torn between consuming Akechi like a starving animal while fucking him or taking his time until Akechi begs for his cock. It’s not like Akechi couldn’t be eaten raw. He definitely could, especially in bite sized pieces; but eating him like the prime cut of meat he was seemed more appropriate.

The possibilities were endless. He could make steak, he could make slow cooked stew, he could even just enjoy Akechi like beef sashimi. It was overwhelming.

As he thinks, Akechi watches him with undivided attention. Once again the prince is shivering in anticipation, a small impatient sound at the back of his throat.

Ren hums, looms over Akechi again and licks his wound clean. He moans and arches up into Ren's mouth again. Ren feels how constricting his plaid slacks are.

Akechi tastes wonderful. Ren could just eat the brunet like this. He really could.

But that's not what Akechi deserves.

Chapter Text

18. Butcher the animal

“Tell me if you’re about to come,” Ren starts.

He basks in the way Akechi’s eyes roam his chest with a self indulgent smirk. He waits for Akechi’s little nod before adding: “if you orgasm without my permission, I swear to god I’m going to walk right out and leave you here.”

In the back of Ren’s mind, he’s acutely aware that the threat means absolutely nothing.This is Akechi’s Palace—and the prince is a lucid dreamer. If Akechi wanted, he could kill Ren right now.  If he wanted he could actually, legitimately torment Ren for as long as he fancied having Ren around. If he wanted , he could just break out of his restraints right now .

He just doesn’t .

Why he doesn’t is…another story.

Whatever. Ren doesn't want to think anymore. As is he just wants to eat. Eat and fuck.

Ren starts with the skin.

Looking over Akechi, Ren determines which parts to keep and which to eat; as tempting as it is to butcher every part of the brunet, there are parts that wouldn't be worth the effort.

Hands and feet are out. He could explore finger food some other time, if Akechi would let him.

Forearms and shins are already off the slab of wood; it would be too troublesome to work on, especially since as is those parts were most mobile. A shame, since Akechi had lovely, lovely calves.

Ren didn't want to touch Akechi's neck, either; he wanted to hear every filthy moan the brunet had to give. He wanted to hear the brunet begging to be filled once every part Ren wanted to eat is torn away.

And he had every intention of fulfilling that request once Akechi begs enough for it. And so, he has to leave the muscles around his backside. Ren feels his entrance, runs his fingers over the ring of muscle in appreciation. Under his soft touch, Akechi flexes, squeezing his hole, trying to catch Ren's finger.

With a smirk Ren slips a finger in raw and guesses where his prostate is, digging into it. Akechi instantly bucks his hips as much as the spreader bar can allow. “Ren!”

Ren ignores him, instead taking his finger out and casually climbing over Akechi to make incisions along his shoulders to start skinning him. Again, he squirms under Ren, especially when Ren’s clothed bulge purposely rubs against his own hardness. His breath hitches and is released in a gasp when Ren starts cutting along his shoulders with culinary expertise.

Ren presses a chase kiss to the side of Akechi’s neck as he cuts. He stops cutting at the inside of the elbow, cuts half the circumference before following the arm back to the body. Blood pools in the incisions as Ren continues slicing through skin; into the underarm, down the side of Akechi’s body up to the knees. The knife slides back up, skims above his cock and goes down the length of his thigh again; Ren doesn't stop until the cuts on his body are almost symmetrical.

And all the while Ren grinds down as he works, roughly grabbing his hip and drawing him closer under the pretense of getting a more accurate cut.

Akechi trembles and lets out small noises that all sound like shaky whimpers. When Ren finishes, effectively separating the skin of the back from the front, Akechi is still a shivering mess and his cock shines with dribbling precum. His breathing is quick and labored and his eyes are a red haze barely looking in Ren’s direction.

Grinning, Ren begins skinning and relishes in the way Akechi half moans, half screams under him, limbs struggling against restraints and hips pushing up into Ren. Akechi pants, endlessly trying to catch his breath but to no avail. It gets worse the more skin Ren shears away, the more blood pools in the crevices between fibers and below, spilling onto varnished wood.

“C-come… gonna…”

“Really into this aren't you?” He whines when Ren angles his hips away so Akechi meets only cold air. “Hold it in, Goro. I'm almost done.”

He nods with teary eyes, watches Ren shear his skin away with deft hands, thanks to culinary experience. Ren pulls and pulls, makes it quick so he can get to the next step.

Ren regularly looks back to Akechi, grinning at the way Akechi looks like a sobbing mess, biting his lip as he tries furiously not to come right then and there. His limbs all work against his restraints, and without skin it's fascinating to see how the muscles flex.

“You're so, so beautiful,” Ren says with surprising honesty. Akechi whimpers. “I could honestly watch you like this all day. I wouldn't get enough of it.”

“D-don't say things like that! Y-you'll make me c-come—”

“Ah, it's your job to stop yourself, isn't it?”

Akechi whines again, pathetic and teary.

Ren reaches the last inches of skin and just yanks it off, eliciting a yelp but like a good boy, Akechi doesn't orgasm right there. Ren leans over and kisses the bloody chest and works his way up to Akechi's lips as a reward the brunet takes gratefully. They kiss open mouthed, tongues sliding and lips sucking. It's messy and hungry, just the way Ren wants it.

When they pull away, Akechi gives a tiny whimper. “M…more. Ruin me more.”

A more chaste kiss. “Of course.”

Without hesitation, Ren moves to his biceps. He takes off the remaining skin with speed, a little more used to butchering a human.

Then, he starts slicing down.

Akechi tenses, wails, and the knife gets stuck. Lovingly massaging the skinned bicep, Ren murmurs: “Shh, relax… I want you to be tender.”

He nods and, taking a deep breath, tries to relax. His arm stops straining against the bar below him and Ren is mesmerized by the way the muscle lengthens as he relaxes. It's hard to separate sinew from ligament with all the blood pouring out, but thankfully Akechi is needlessly extravagant and had ponds be part of the dining room.

Ren moves as quick as he can; he finds a pitcher, fills it with filtered pond water, and then pours some over Akechi's arm. The prince gives a little squeak but otherwise doesn't tense any more than necessary. Ren quickly locates and memorizes the division of the muscles and works as quickly as he can before blood can cover up the colors.

As he works, he can hear Akechi panting; glancing at the boy, he can see the flush from Akechi's cheeks to his ears and down to his neck, before it abruptly cuts to muscle.

“Feels good?”

Akechi nods vigorously, drawing his lips into a line to keep from making more sounds. Ren can see how he tries to visibly relax, how his hips try to find friction but can't move more than half an inch from the wood. Though he was bleeding from almost everywhere, his cock was still standing, throbbing and leaking copious amounts of pearly fluid right onto exposed muscle.

“Do I have to worry about damaging any nerves?”

Akechi shakes his head, still adorably trying to keep from making sounds.

“So… it'll feel good, no matter what?”

Nodding.

“Well, if that's the case,” Ren says as he separates the muscles from each other (best as he can, anyway) and lays them next to Akechi. He leans over and flicks the tip of Akechi's dick with his knife—the brunet yelps. “I’m curious to see what happens if I skin your cock and give you a blowjob.”

Akechi gasps for air. “It'll feel amazing , Ren. I'll make it feel amazing for both of us—”

“You will, won't you?”

Ren flicks his tongue over the slit of his cock and Akechi can only buck his hips into nothing; and not very effectively to begin with.

Ren gets to work on the other arm. He pours water, finds the sinews, and starts working again. It's quicker this time around and soon, Ren has rough cuts of muscles. It's not like his work in LeBlanc or the beef bowl shop, but given that he's never butchered an animal (much less a human) and Akechi is still alive and bleeding, he felt like this was pretty good work.

The prince, meanwhile, is a wreck. His upper arms are now just a mess of hanging nerves Ren didn't sever and bloodied bone. Still, they shake; as do his forearms, despite human anatomy dictating otherwise. Ren touches the smooth bone and runs his fingers up and down.

“Can you feel this?”

Akechi shakes his head. Ren touches a nerve instead and Akechi gasps before it settles into a little, long drawn whine. Ren can't help but laugh.

“What does this feel like?”

“G-good.” A moan catches in his throat. “Like… you're inside me and you found a spot that feels good and makes me warm.”

Ren nods a little vaguely. The exact logic is a little lost on him, but he figures the closer to a nerve it is (regardless of where it is), the better it will feel for Akechi. A simple enough rule that has him wondering if he should just cut open Akechi's ass and stimulate the prostate directly.

It suddenly dawns on him that… if he's going to cook, he should probably do that. He looks for something like a dildo, or a buttplug, but there's nothing sexual besides the spreader bars and some rope. Can you even stuff rope up an ass?

Probably, Ren thinks, but also—troublesome. Very troublesome.

He looks again, now drawing Akechi's curious gaze. He ignores it in favor of striking some sense of anticipation in the brunet. It seems to work because he hears Akechi squirming again.

Ren's eyes land on a rod-type knife sharpener and he grins. Fucking perfect.

He takes the knife sharpener, walks to Akechi's backside and kneels down in front of it. He teases Akechi's entrance with the tip of the sharpener and Akechi makes a little surprised noise at the back of his throat.

“Cold?”

“M…mhm…”

Ren rubs a hand over Akechi's bare abs, getting his hand even more bloody and using that to lubricate the sharpener. At least to some degree. Once he does so, he presses it against Akechi's ring of muscle.

“Ready?”

The prince nods quickly. Ren obliges, starting slow. The tip moves past the muscle and Akechi gives a long, drawn out exhale. Then, when he hears Akechi take in another breath, he shoves the sharpener up to the hilt.

Akechi screams. His limbs all spasm, trying to draw close, but fail and so fall uselessly back to their previous position. He's panting again, much harder. Even from here, Ren can see how Akechi's dick throbs and chuckles. He runs an appreciative hand up and down his cock, spreading precum, even lightly scratching under the head—

“Ren!” Akechi sobs. “Ren—please, d-don't, I'll—”

“Come? Told you, that's your responsibility.” Ren takes his hand away though, but not without flicking the hilt of the knife sharpener. “Be careful not to suck that in too much though, might get stuck.” He's serious about that one.

“D...does that…” a pant. “Happen…?”

“Ee'yup.” Ren takes out the chopping board then goes around the table to where he can work and watch Akechi. He wipes his hands clean on his pants and starts cutting the slabs of meat. “How are you doing over there?”

“Trying not… to suck it in…”

“Good boy.”

The tiniest whimpering sound. Ren smiles as he cuts the meat, fashioning them into bite sized pieces. He feels his mouth water just looking at them, glistening all over the chopping board, tempting him to just pop one in his mouth. He does and— god. It's so good. Tough because of how much Akechi works out, but really fucking good.

He needed to cook this down. Akechi would taste so much better.

Ren feels the familiar heat begin smoldering inside him. It doesn't come with the self loathing he had with Robin, even if arguably this is a more reprehensible act. He wonders if it has something to do with Loki; or maybe he's only been nudged past the obligation to adhere to morals. Or , maybe, this whole thing is so absurd that Ren had unconsciously decided this was all just a bad dream.

… that seems most likely.

He makes eye contact with the brunet, whose upper arms are completely devoid of meat, with blood continuously pouring down the humeruses. Akechi locks eyes with him, watching him chew with rapt attention.

“H-how do I taste?”

Ren smiles before picking another one and placing it in his mouth. He walks over to Akechi, leans down and kisses the brunet, letting the piece of meat fall from his mouth. He pulls away, watches Akechi's mix of emotions melt into something more resembling arousal, and whispers: “absolutely divine.”

Akechi barely chews, just swallows himself. “Ren, cut more of me! Please!”

Ren just gives a small smile, taking a pair of chopsticks, drizzling sesame oil over the stone slab and carefully pressing down both sides of a small strip to cook it down. He pops it in his mouth—

Ren can't help the moan that slips out.

It's significantly softer than before. It almost melts in his mouth and bursts into a salty-sweet and meat flavor that can only be described as Akechi.

It's hopelessly addicting and Ren goes through everything in mere minutes, wolfing everything down. He takes turns eating it raw and taking the time to cook it properly, but either way is the same. It's Akechi. The taste of Akechi fills his mouth and coils his gut in a way that makes his skin tingle, makes his cock throb and long for every part of the prince.

His mouth continues to water even after everything is gone. He looks to Akechi, who isn't much better; the prince is once again panting, his cock standing proud, just enraptured by the carnivore Ren had become.

From here, it's a little less methodical. Having had a more intoxicating taste of the prince, Ren has trouble holding himself back from ripping the meat off Akechi's bones. Still, Ren tries to take his time. He starts with a cut straight down the chest, down the abdomen, almost reaching his cock. Ren teases him by running the sharp blade over the slit and Akechi gives a drawn out whine.

“What a masochist,” Ren says right before licking up from Akechi's abs to his chest.

“A-ah…”

“That feel good for you?” He takes a hold of the metal rod and starts slowly thrusting it in and out of Akechi. The brunet looks away and whimpers, used to having it muffled by his shoulders—except there's nothing there but bone.

“I need you—inside me! I need you—”

“Ah-ah.” He shoves the rod back in, making sure it's angled up that it hits Akechi's prostate.

“Ngh! Please !”

“Patience, my prince,” Ren says.

He runs the knife again along the cut, getting through the muscle up until he hits bone. He can feel how dull the knife is getting and so without warning he yanks out the sharpener (Akechi yelps) and starts sharpening the knife in long, slow motions.

Akechi is incredibly worked up again, his entire body shaking as he watches. When Ren's knife is properly sharp, he stuffs the rod back up in Akechi's ass and continues working.

It's difficult separating the muscle tissue from the ribs. Typically, when animals are butchered their ribs are cut open and are hung upside down so all the organs can just fall out. But not only did Akechi forget to prepare a saw (and probably wasn't in a state to anyway), Ren wanted to preserve Akechi's skeletal structure. Ren wanted to see his skeleton and his organs working, wanted to see the way his lungs expand and contract in a rapid rhythm. More time painstakingly separating the muscle with what meager knowledge Ren had of human anatomy was a small price to pay.

The process is slow, he knows. It also feels good. The more Ren does this, the more Ren thinks about the meat he'd get to eat, the more the heat coiling in his stomach strengthens. The more he feels the addicting fire that took over him.

Build up; this was all an elaborate build up to torment Akechi but now, it was starting to get painful for him too.

When Ren finally, finally, gets the meat off the front of Akechi's ribs he places it on the table, immediately setting to work on the abdomen. It's significantly easier and he does it quick enough that Akechi starts writhing again, lewd sounds coming out of his lips in droves.

At this point Ren doesn't particularly care how aesthetically pleasing the meat looks separated from its owner. His cuts are constant and controlled, but they don't follow the division of muscles anymore. He just runs the knife along the sides, bit by bit, occasionally yanking the sharpener out to get the blade back to a point. When Akechi's sides are sufficiently cut through, Ren just pulls the meat away, practically tossing it onto the table behind him.

Ren pulls away to admire the boy beneath, who watches through half-lidded and hazy eyes. Blood continuously pours from every part it can, covering the wood and even dripping onto the floor in a large pool.

Every breath Akechi takes, Ren can see his lungs expand before shrinking, shaky. His heart beats rapidly, causing the blood rush to his cheeks and his twitching cock. Even his other organs twitch and shudder in anticipation.

Ren begins harvesting.

He remembers reading somewhere that hollowed organs have nerve endings, while dense ones don't. Ren takes that to heart (heh), taking out Akechi's kidneys, his liver, anything that he could recognize from his old biology class except his digestive system. It seems Akechi hardly feels anything as he sorts through the organs. It's when he touches the digestive system that Akechi starts reacting. Akechi starts making particularly lewd and wanton sounds when Ren takes his intestines and carefully take them outside, vaguely massaging them.

When Ren reaches Akechi's chest cavity, he pauses.

… If he takes the lungs out, what'll happen to Akechi? Will he just breathe like normal? Will he pass out? Will he die ?

Why is Ren even worried about that?

“Ren? What's… what's wrong?”

“It's… your lungs.” Ren pauses, his question at the tip of his tongue but…he thinks better of it. He shouldn't… worry, right? He shakes his head and, instead of taking them out, pops them instead.

Akechi feels that. His breath stutters and he starts gasping for air, but he doesn't look particularly panicked. If anything, he looks to be in bliss. Ren releases a breath he didn't know he was holding.

“Feel good?”

The brunet nods vigorously.

Ren grins, running the knife along the disks of Akechi's spine. The boy whimpers with each scrape, jolting up. “Ren… d-don't… cut…” he gasps for air. “Don't cut…my spine…”

“What? Like this?”

Ren lightly nicks one of the discs and Akechi screams, even though he's so short on breath. He replaces the knife with a hand, running up and down the length of it. The brunet shivers and moans, hips squirming in a fruitless effort to find friction. Ren gives it to him though, wrapping another hand and pumping his cock just as his hand grips his spine.

Akechi loses control fast. His head knocks against the wood and moans. Ren watches his spine bend in fascination as his fingers find Akechi's tailbone. Without warning, Ren scratches the very tip right as fingers squeeze Akechi below the head of his cock.

The brunet wails: “More! More, please! Ren, please, please let me—!”

He devolves rather quickly into a series of high moans and gasps for air. His entire body shakes.

Ren… Ren's starting to suffocate in his own pants, his dick throbbing. He's almost losing it, but he's determined to draw this out. Akechi hasn't begged nearly enough to satisfy Ren; he leans over, finds Akechi's lips and whispers: “I want you to try harder for my cock.”

With raw self control, Ren leans away and begins cutting again. He doesn't have the patience to work near the ribs anymore, so he jumps to the lower back muscles. He carves them out, doesn't even care if there's skin, and both accidentally and purposely scratches up Akechi's spine.

Just as Ren finishes stripping Akechi's abdomen of meat, the boy under him sobs: “Ren! I'm so close! Please! Please, please let me come! You don't even have to fuck me, just please… !”

Ren simply clicks his tongue, carrying the meat back to the table. He cuts them all, eating some and setting aside others. As he does this he can hear Akechi's frustrated sounds, he can see how Akechi constantly shifts his hips to try and get off on the knife sharpener.

Ren really can't hold back for much longer. He eats sparingly and cooks the rest before eating them. It feels like a buffet with nothing but the taste of Akechi in everything. The muscles, the liver, the kidneys… Even the pitcher of pond water had ribbons of sweet blood.

Ren lets Akechi have some, of course; fed only by way of Ren sloppily making out with him as the raven plays with the knife sharpener, or his cock, or his spine. Every thrust has Akechi moaning into Ren's mouth, around pieces of himself. Every time Ren pulls away, Akechi barely chews and swallows before letting out another wanton moan. Ren does this, again and again, edging Akechi for each morsel he gets.

And through it all, Akechi begs. “Ren, Ren, I need you already, please, please, I can't take it anymore, please let me come. Let me come just once, I promise I'll be good, Ren—”

He doesn't listen.

By the time all the meat and harvested organs are gone, Akechi is legitimately sobbing. Ren takes the still-sizzling stone grill and finally settles between Akechi's thighs. He sets the grill on the floor, far from himself and then licks Akechi's skinned thigh, lapping up the blood and ichor, everything he can about the boy. He still hungers for the brunet. He still hungers for Akechi.

He still hungers for Goro.

He gives Goro a particularly strong bite where thigh meets perineum. Goro's hips jump, and the brunet tries to bite back a sob. Absolutely relentless, Ren strokes his cock as he starts digging into Akechi raw, tearing through ligaments with his bare teeth, cutting only when necessary. He skins the back of Goro's thighs with a mix of teeth and his trusty knife that still periodically has to be sharpened.

When his thighs are laid bare, Ren takes the grill and presses it to the muscle.

It's the loudest scream he's ever heard from Goro.

Goro sobs harder, whimpering and moaning in turns, all as he manages to form the words: “Ren—close, close again! I'm—!”

Ren rips the grill away and pauses as Goro's orgasm is halted once more. Again, Goro feels the orgasm ebb away and he can only give a pathetic little sound as a response. Ren just leans over and inhales the mouthwatering smell with a satisfied sigh.

Just like Goro, Ren is starting to lose himself fast. He's not sure how exactly, but he finds himself ripping into thigh muscles, both eating it raw and cooking it before wolfing it down. Once or twice he feels nerves between his teeth and he bites down, almost snapping them, and Goro can't do anything short of moaning.

Ren has to keep himself from eating too much, highly aware that he's not in a state to try and find which fibers constituted his ass. He plays it safe instead, sticking to consuming the front of Goro's thighs.

“Ren… please…” Goro whimpers. “I've been good. I've been good, haven't I? Please, I…”

The fronts of his thighs are gone by now. Ren licks the femurs clean then nips the muscles of his hips. Ren kisses him from his hips, to his spine, to his ribs then to his lips. “You have been good, Goro. You've been so good. Absolutely delicious, just for me. Just hold on for a little longer, can you do that?”

Goro gasps again, trying to find air now that his lungs can barely inflate. He nods after a moment, even as tears slide down the sides of his face. Ren licks them away before returning to kneeling between Goro's legs.

He takes the knife sharpener one last time, bringing the blade to a point again, before setting it and the grill aside. Then, with a relieved sigh, he drops his pants and his boxer-briefs. He barely even noticed his own arousal throughout everything, so he's a little shocked at how hard and wet his cock had been.

Well. There was just one last thing he wanted to do.

“Hold on, okay?” Ren says. Goro nods.

He makes a light incision around the base of Goro's dick and already, he can hear Goro muffling wails. It's different, to say the least; especially since he wanted this one intact. Though…all things considered, even if it wasn't it would still function somehow .

Either way, Ren takes his time, peeling the skin off like a sleeve. It comes off a touch easier (and Ren notes, with some disappointment, that muscle had joined the skin as well), though it's still a bloody mess. So much that the blood was getting on his legs, too. Ren doesn't stop though; he only stops when the skin is completely off. Goro's dick is now a throbbing, red muscle that was making Ren aware of his own need.

Without warning, Ren latches onto Goro's tip, flicking his tongue over the bloodied slit. He circles the head with his tongue, lapping every single drop of blood he can before going down further.

Ren can taste the salty taste of precum dribbling over his tongue, smearing on Goro's throbbing muscle as he pulls away only to take in more of Goro. It's when Ren's at the base that he starts bobbing his head up and down relentlessly, while fingering Goro's entrance. He fleetingly wonders if he should use lube, but honestly after everything it would be moot. His fingers go in dry and fast, quickly adding up and massaging the spot that made Goro cry earlier.

And of course, somewhere above him Goro is losing his mind. Ren can hear how the brunet pulls against the restraints, trying to fold into himself, just a blubbering mess of lewd sounds, a litany of pleases and Ren's name, said in the most erotic way possible.

Then like a switch had been flipped—”Coming! I'm coming! I—”

Ren pulls away immediately and Goro doesn't try to hide his sobbing. “Ren…”

“Shh…” Ren presses a kiss to the tip as he crawls up to Goro, eye to eye once more. “Give begging one more shot.”

Goro doesn't disappoint; tears stream down his beautiful face and his voice comes out high and strained. “I need you Ren. Please, I need you so much. I've always needed you. I want to feel complete, you're the only one who can make me feel complete, Ren. Please…”

And it dawns on Ren that… this is exactly what Akechi wants. To be exposed, to be taken apart, to be embraced in the most intimate ways possible. Complete exposure, no boundaries between the two of them; merging together seamlessly.

It's fucked up, but everything is still so beautiful. Goro, no matter what, is beautiful.

He kisses Goro as he slides in; swallows the gasp and all the tiny whimpers Goro makes before pulling away once more.

“As you wish.”

And just like that, the fire he'd missed breaks free. Ren loses control right then and pounds into Goro without mercy. Goro, having been edged for who knows how long, orgasms almost immediately; but Ren doesn't care. He simply takes the knife, slices his large intestines in two and pulls one end over Goro's skinned cock, pumping it in time.

Goro loses himself moaning again, barely looking at Ren. His eyes are screwed tight, mouth open in a silent scream.

“This is how you feel, Goro,” Ren says. “This is how you feel—don’t you feel amazing? You're amazing. You're—”

“Coming, Ren—coming again—!”

“Already? Hah—naughty.” Ren pants. “How long—have you—wanted this?”

“Don’t know—forever?” Goro looks confused for a moment but his expression melts into pure ecstasy. “Forever… Forever! I've wanted you forever! Ren!”

Ren kisses him. He keeps thrusting and pumping in a rhythm, completely merciless. He swallows all of Goro's sounds, all of Goro's noises, anything he can really. He wants more of Goro.

Then finally, the coil snaps and Ren moans into Goro's mouth.

It's—it’s not like the fire he felt with Robin. This felt…different, somehow. More intense on a deeper level. He doesn't feel like he's dripping gasoline anymore, but something still feels amiss. It feels a little like a thin fog had lifted, and while it didn’t leave anything too different, it… It was different. Ren couldn’t place it. This place didn’t feel real. He didn’t—

He feels hands on his face. He moves to hold Goro's hands but finds he's restrained. It hits him suddenly that he feels a lot more air around his midsection; which he doesn't have anymore. It's just his spine. His legs are spread and restrained, majority of his organs are gone except for his stomach and intestines, which he feels hanging uselessly. And he feels his dick, wrapped in this own viscera.

Over him, Goro strokes his cheeks wearing the softest, most angelic smile he's ever seen.

“I've wanted you forever, but I never realized it.”

Ren feels himself fading a little. From exhaustion? Had to be.

“I thought I hated you. That I was envious. Maybe I was. Maybe I am.”

Ren does his best to keep his eyes open. He stares into Goro's eyes, exhausted but also kind. Warm. It's not a burning fire. It's not an icy cold. It's just… warm. Pleasant. Fuzzy. He likes this, he decides.

It's getting a little dark.

“But it changed when I felt you in my Palace. In my heart. Wanting to change me.”

He tries to reach for Goro and is met with soft, butterscotch strands. He feels a tug and suddenly he's faced with his own heart. Goro holds it close; Ren tangles his fingers into Goro's hair.

“You thought you could save me.” He hears tears in Goro's voice. “Even if you don't think that anymore, it's… it's the best thing anyone can ever say to me. Thank you.”

Everything feels like it's melting away.

“I'll be your cage. I'll be the best cage for you. I'll keep your heart safe, Ren… Good night.”

Ren can’t keep his eyes open.

“I love you.”

Chapter Text

19. Fill in the blanks

Death.

There is no death here.

Ren wakes up the next day in bed with Goro, completely intact. Goro is also completely intact. It was as if they just had a night of fooling around instead of… whatever happened…last night? Earlier today? There were no windows to infer time from; and anyway, they were underwater last he checked. And again , Goro had control, didn’t he? It didn’t really matter. Everything was a dream here.

When Goro wakes up, he asks if it’s possible to bring back his friends; Goro doesn’t look particularly peeved at the question to his surprise. Goro simply asks, “Is that what you really want?”

… Yes, he wants to say. He misses them. But…

Did Ren ever want to be a Phantom Thief to begin with? Did he ever want to be a leader? Thinking about it now, it constantly felt like he’d been carrying them. Like they were just along for the ride, but never actually doing anything past token contributions.

Requests? Ren got them from Mishima.

Equipment? Ren got them from Iwai.

Recovery items? Ren got them from Takemi.

He scheduled everything, he directed them in battle otherwise they’d get killed , he was even the one making sure their notoriety spread; the easiest fucking job . They never did anything for the Phantom Thieves unless he asked. He shouldn’t have to ask.

The more he thought about it, the more it felt like they were just trying to take credit for his efforts. He could’ve done this himself if he really tried—

But it dawned on Ren he’s not supposed to hate his friends.

“Are you making me hate them?”

Goro smiles. “I can’t do that, Ren.”

He doesn’t want to try and psychoanalyze it anymore. He doesn’t want to leave. He doesn’t want to think. It’s easy with Goro—it’s just so easy to stay with him.

Time passes.

But it also doesn’t.

Ren wonders if time only passes when Goro is in the Palace; even if he physically can’t see Goro, he can always feel the brunet somehow. Or maybe it’s because this whole place was Goro’s. He can’t really tell for sure how much or how little time passes day to day, but it feels like a lot between blinks.

Goro sometimes appears before him with a newspaper for November 26, but suddenly when Ren sees him around a corner, it’s December 5. Then in the dining room (when they’re eating Big Bang Burger instead of each other), it’s back to November 26.

Does Goro reread newspapers? Who the fuck even does that?

In between those, Goro shows up with little trinkets from outside; like this charm he found in the antique shop in Yongen-Jaya, or a box of cookies from the bakery in Shibuya, and one time he came in with a cat . Was it a real cat? Who the fuck knew?

Goro even takes him outside, if it was really outside. It’s December air. He knows it’s December because all the TVs say it’s December 11. Goro tells people they’re friends—or lovers, if Ren wanted, but Ren said that was up to him. It was his Palace anyway.

Ren asks if they can go to LeBlanc, and surprisingly—Goro obliges. Honestly, that’s how he knows this is still Goro’s Palace. But when they go there, LeBlanc is closed.

Ren shrugs to himself, unlocks the door and makes Goro’s favorite blend. He puts a heart.

Sojiro and Sae.

This particular…moment in time doesn’t sit well with Ren.

Sae doesn’t move, and Sojiro stares at him with emotions Ren forgot about. Fear, shock, betrayal, distress… a whole slew of emotions. What are those like?

They’re both tied up; while Sojiro bleeds from his head, Sae is bleeding… From her chest and neck. Not hard to figure out what happened with Goro standing to the side, his thief knife in hand. Goro nudges Sae’s body into the water with his foot. He’d said his goodbyes.

He looks at Ren. What was Ren supposed to say?

“Kid—”

Ren looks at Sojiro.

“Kid, you all went missing—where’s Futaba? What happened to Futaba?”

“You’ll see her,” Ren says.

“What?” Sojiro looks scared and his old, tired eyes well up with tears and shock. “Ren, this isn’t—what happened to you?! You were supposed to stop him! You were supposed to protect my daughter! What did you do to her?! What the fuck did you do to my daughter?!”

Ren doesn’t reply; he lets Sojiro’s demands and admonishments wash over him like a tidal wave and sink into his skin. He feels something familiar, but it’s so, so dull now. When Sojiro pauses for breath, Ren cuts him off: “Thank you, Sojiro. Thank you for giving me a place to stay, and teaching me how to make coffee, and teaching me what it’s like to have a family. Thank you for believing in me when my parents didn’t. I really wish things could be different.”

“What—Ren, what happened to you?”

Ren shakes his head. “Dunno, Boss.”

“Is that okay?” Goro asks. When Ren nods, Goro says: “You can look away now, Ren.”

Ren doesn’t; lets Sojiro’s blood get on his face when Goro slits the jugular. It’s warm on his face, but he feels the tiniest bit colder.

Fixture.

They came back.

Like him, they stay here. And time passes.

Sometimes, they’re separate and whole. Sometimes, they’re in pieces. Sometimes, they’re an amalgamate. They leave only when Goro is around.

Goro never really sees them; nor does he know where they came from.

They’ve become a constant within the Palace.

Ren has gotten used to them.

Familiar face.

“Do I know this guy?” Ren says as he stares into amber eyes, brows stitched together in confusion. He really can’t tell. The baldness and the goatee is familiar, but he can’t be sure. He removes the bald man’s shades and gasps. “Oh. Oh, you’re that drunk guy.”

Goro laughs. “It’s charming you only know him as a drunkard.”

The bald man makes angry sounds; probably cursing him out, but with cloth stuffed into his mouth, it doesn’t really mean anything. He’s restrained to a metal chair, and as he tries to get out all he really does is nudge the chair this way and that. Ren is hardly threatened. He felt more threatened when the bald man actually new boxing and punched him in the face, knocking Ren into his little model ship collection. It hurt a lot.

Oh well. They got the guy now.

“I should've known it would be this easy,” Goro laments. “You were always so careless around alcohol. Didn't even notice you were being followed home. Adorable.”

Goro laughs. “I was going to go through all the trouble of getting you past the election before killing you and hopefully rub it in that none of it was really you're work, but mine. ” His smile is sharp. “But this works, doesn't it, Ren? Ah, speaking of!”

Goro pulls the gag out of his mouth. “What did you think of my boyfriend? An absolute charm, isn't he, Shido-san?”

Oh, it’s Shido-san.

“Should’ve known you were a whore like your mother.”

Goro laughs. “He’s so funny, isn’t he, Ren?”

“I’ve heard better jokes. Is this your dad?”

Goro nods enthusiastically. “Wanted to have him for dinner!”

“Excuse me?” Shido says with a deep scowl.

Goro forces the ball of cloth back into his mouth and then gropes his bicep. Shido flinches, a brief flash of horror contorting his face. “I’m just a little worried, Ren. He’s surprisingly muscular, you know. Very tough meat. There should be a mallet under the table, though.” Shido’s eyes widen as he looks to the both of them before his struggling is renewed and his panicked words are muffled. “Oh stop struggling, Shido-san! We have to make you tender otherwise you won’t taste any good.”

Ren gets the mallet and hands it to Goro. “Don’t worry, honey; I’ll just watch.”

Goro beams. He beams and he beams the entire time he pulls Shido apart. Again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

From then on Shido becomes a rather gory but normal fixture around the Palace. He’s always bloodied and lacking in parts somehow.

His sharp eyes full of anger have become dull and despondent.

Now, he’s staring at the organs that escape him, trailing away. His lower half is completely gone and the only thing propping him up is the metal restraint of a chair, fastened around his neck. His arms don’t move, simply lay on the rests. Ren steps on his intestines, squats down and looks into his eyes. Ren pops the gag off.

He doesn’t say anything.

Robin.

Ren hasn’t seen Robin around.

He remembers this fact because he sees Robin one moment in time, just sitting on a chair in one of the many European castle hallways.

It becomes apparent why Ren hasn’t seen the boy, as when Robin spots him , the child whimpers and runs away. Ren has half a mind to let him go but the other half tells him to pursue Robin. What can Robin do now anyway? Ren doesn’t have much to feel.

Ren is taller, with longer legs, and he catches the child by the arm.

“Let me go, Ren!” He screams.

Ren doesn’t. Not like Robin let him go.

“Why are you running from me?”

Robin doesn’t answer. He only starts crying—almost sobbing, actually. Fat and oddly colored tears roll down his cheeks as he pathetically keeps his arm there, not struggling. He just gives up. His teary voice is replaced by something more tired. “What do you want, Amamiya?”

“I haven’t seen you.”

“Do you want to see me?”

Ren doesn’t answer. Robin scoffs.

“Why are you crying?”

“Comes with the job,” Robin says as he wipes his eyes with such despondence that it’s like he’s burst into tears like this a million times. “It’s gasoline, Amamiya. Any idea why that is?”

“No,” Ren lies.

They stay quiet for a moment; a moment that feels like forever, but probably isn’t. Ren doesn’t let Robin go and has no intention of letting him go, though why Ren can’t say. Robin probably realizes this because he takes a more comfortable position on the ground. Ren does the same.

“I don’t know who I am anymore,” Robin murmurs, staring out the window, into the deep blue. “Am I Goro Akechi? Am I Robin Hood? Am I someone else? What do you think, Amamiya? Do you think I’m still me? Are you still you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Fuck you. This is your fault.”

“No, it’s not.”

Robin’s tears fall faster. The gasoline drips onto his legs, runs down the soft skin and onto the floor. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Ren.”

Ren watches Robin shift to all fours, leaning towards Ren. Ren keeps him away.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry for doing this to you!” He sobs. “I shouldn’t have done this to you! I shouldn’t have done any of this! I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Run! Just run ! Leave me! I won’t stop you, just go !”

Suddenly, another pair of hands scoop up the bawling Robin.

“Shh.” Goro pats Robin’s hair. “That’s enough.”

“I’m sorry!” Robin tries to reach for Ren but Goro stops him. “Arsene, you have to go back! I’m sorry! I’m sorry, please, forgive me! I didn’t mean to do any of this! Just leave us here!”

“That’s enough, Robin,” Goro says.

Loki.

The Palace is virtually never ending. The actual castle, a mishmash of European and Japanese aesthetics, is just a small part. There’s a whole underwater that Ren could visit. The water doesn’t drown him, so naturally he leaves the castle and explores the city the castle overlooks, just so he has other things to do too.

It’s actually nice, just being expected to exist.

He doesn’t have a society to fix or to participate in . He’s free of expectations, free of responsibilities, free of consequences. He’s absolutely, unfathomably free. He doesn’t need to do anything. Here, it’s just what he wants to do, in the present. Everything before and after is meaningless. He floats in nothingness, aimless, and it’s a beautiful feeling.

He roams the city, and eventually he comes across Loki.

… How to even describe Loki?

Ren seeks out the serpent that ate his friends so many, many times, but it never feels like he gets any closer to describing the leviathan.

Loki… has no conceivable end. He? He is definitely a sea serpent of some kind . It was hard to really… grasp any characteristics of Loki. Ren can only really remember black and white fractal patterns, rows upon rows of teeth… tendrils. Around Loki’s neck were tendrils, or fins? He was massive, with a hundred eyes and a hundred horns, but also none of any of those. He swims through the underwater, but Ren never sees a tail. Actually, does he ever see Loki’s head?

… Does Ren even see Loki?

Ren can’t tell. Loki just…defied true description, or true understanding. It seemed like he just existed in a different realm altogether. Ephemeral. Loki doesn’t really exist; at least not the way Ren was used to.

Loki had no end, like everything else Ren was used to.

He ate and ate and ate, but he was never satiated. He just took whatever he wanted and consumed it. It would be a pathetic existence, to just consume; but that was just the way Loki was and in his sheer power Ren wonders if maybe the ultimate form of existence is one that is never satiated. Transcendent, infinite, forever consuming. A beginning without end, a metamorphosing constant, naturally void of anything.

Loki has nothing, and so he hungers for everything.

The Treasure

Had they ever had a chance?

Ren decides that… no. They never had a chance. Say they beat Goro, they beat Robin and somehow beat Loki. From there they just had to take the Treasure, right? But what even was Goro’s Treasure?

Goro never tells him outright, but Ren think he’s figured it out.

Goro’s Treasure was the desire itself. The distortion, the Metaverse; the power within the cognitive world. Because Goro wanted control. He wanted control over everything, and it made sense such a feedback loop would result in a lucid dream. The Treasure can never really attain physical form because Goro won’t let it. It’s the fuel to his Personas, the fuel to his very Palace, to his very being.

He lived on this distorted sense of control. Maybe he lived like this because he didn’t know what other, better way there was.

I’ve already accepted myself for the monster I’ve become.

Ren wonders if Goro really does think that.


20. Watch a sunset.

“You let Shido go?”

They sit together on a beach, just shy of the water. Ren has his arms around his knees, and Goro mirrors him like always, both in just shirts and a pair of shorts.

Goro nods, digging his bare feet into the sand. “I was getting tired of torturing him every day, so I let him go. Besides, he’s thoroughly traumatized now; driven to insanity and all that. He’ll just end up rotting in some backwater psych ward since people have forgotten him.”

“Forgotten him?” Ren asks, looking to Goro.

The brunet nods again. “Everyone’s forgotten. Sae-san, Boss, your friends… us too. It seems anyone who’s disappeared into or stayed long enough in the Metaverse is just gone from everyone’s memories.”

Ren looks at his feet, flexes his toes into the sand. The air is warm, salty and bittersweet. Mostly bitter. “All that work amounted to nothing, huh?”

“That goes for both of us.” Goro stands and dusts off his shorts, to no avail. “I have nothing to go back for. I can just leave.”

“Will you?”

“Yeah. Society never cared for me until I was useful. Now that I’m no one again, I don’t see why I should stay.” Goro pauses for a moment, looking to Ren. “There’s a secret I never really told you about.”

“What?”

“There are other places on the other side, besides the Metaverse. Other areas of humanity’s psyche, made into tangible reality. Isn’t it interesting?”

“I thought you didn’t care about society?”

“I never said I didn’t ,” he says, smiling. “I… don’t like participating. But it makes for a good show, doesn’t it? I can just keep going deeper, and it’ll be like having a backstage pass. I can find a way to become as close to a god as possible. Or, I could just find where our souls go to rest, find my mother. Maybe even wake her and see if she hates me.”

“Is that where we’re going?”

“No, that’s where I’m going.”

At this, Goro leans down, takes Ren’s hand and presses something into it. When he pulls away, Ren finds Goro's phone in hand, already unlocked and open to the Metaverse app. Like before, the arrow is a blinking icon in a sea of darkness, aimless.

The exit button is right there.

Goro holds Ren’s wrists; gentle, but firm. “I checked and LeBlanc is still there, empty. So is the Sakura residence. Everyone’s memories are so muddled right now, you could slip in and take anyone’s place. Boss’s, any of your friends, my place… or reclaim yours.”

“Goro…”

“I know it's hard to believe me, but I really won't stop you this time. You can go back home.

He wraps Ren in a hug, settling right between Ren’s legs as he hides his face. He whispers against Ren’s neck, loud and close enough that Ren can hang onto every word. “Even if you don't believe me, I love you, Ren. I’m sorry this is the only way I know how to show it.”

Ren returns the hug, closing his eyes. For once, his head feels clear, and he thinks he can grasp for certain the boy in his arms. He thinks all at once he can feel Goro's warmth, Robin's tears and Loki's nothingness.

“… I know.”

They stay like that for a moment, and then Goro pulls away.

“I…can visit you, if you want. It's… just an offer. Only if you want to…”

Ren doesn’t reply; Goro fiddles a little with his hands before straightening himself and walking past the shoreline. He looks back, hair against the setting sun with the most sorrowful smile Ren has ever seen. Feathery, butterscotch strands lightly sway in the wind and the droplets at the corners of his eyes shine a little.

He's absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. Ren wants to hold his hand, kiss the tears away, and sink into the sea with him.

“Goodbye, Ren.”

He turns around, and then he walks. He walks and walks, drenching his shorts and his shirt, up until he’s waist deep—

The arrow blinks; aimless.