First week of February, 2017
Being dead shouldn’t be this uncomfortable.
He remembered the gunshots, a bullet tearing through his side at the same time that he’d blown the cognition’s head to pieces. It probably should have been unsettling to shoot something that looked just like him, but instead of discomfort or unease, he felt only satisfaction at blowing away his father’s disgusting idea of him.
Loki and Robin moved without being commanded, ripping through the remaining shadows that the cognition had summoned. They didn’t stop until every last one was gone, and their master was as safe as he could be. But the bulkhead remained closed, sealing him in, and exhaustion from multiple fights, wounds, and emotional turmoil set in. He sank to the floor, lightheaded, watching blood sluggishly darken the stripes of his suit.
He didn’t know how long he sat there, hazy and confused, his personas hovering protectively over him. But eventually, the ship began to rumble and quake, and from the other side of the bulkhead, an explosion ripped through the engine room and the whole ship began to tilt.
Princeling, you have to get up, Robin urged, deflecting a chunk of falling metal. Loki said nothing, but he continued to clear the floor of debris even as the tilt of the ship caused Goro to slide towards the end of the room. You at least must stay awake! Robin called. We cannot protect you if you pass out!
Goro tried and failed to dig his claws into the metal grates of the floor, landing in a heap as the room shuddered again. The effort left him delirious, confused. His only clear thought was that he would be the only person to know what happened to someone if a Palace disappeared while you were inside. And he would take the secret to his grave. It made him giggle a little, as his vision started going black around the edges.
You’ll never see the Trickster again if you give up and die, Loki hissed, grabbing a length of pipe and ramming it into a pile of debris to block a cascade of scrap metal from landing on Goro. You don’t want to die, or we wouldn’t be here!
He didn’t want to die. Not like this. But it was increasingly hard to see, and he couldn’t move at all, and the last thing he was aware of was a horrible screech as a metal beam ripped through the bulkhead. Loki filled his vision, shielding him with his body from the worst of the impact as rubble rained down, and then his persona shattered as his vision went black entirely, and he knew nothing else.
He had to be dead. There was no way he had survived all of that. But somehow he was conscious, uncomfortable, and growing increasingly confused about what was happening.
When he pried his eyes open, he was met with plain white ceiling tiles and fluorescent lights. There was something over his right eye, some kind of bandage, and it ached to breathe. And then he tilted his head to the side, finding a tangle of hospital equipment and Akira Kurusu, fast asleep in a chair that was just a little too small.
Goro recoiled, and immediately his body protested with pain, spreading like fire all over him. His legs were in agony, he couldn’t feel his arm, his bandaged eye ached with a throb that didn’t feel right at all… And Akira was there.
What was happening? Where was he? What was going on? The machine monitoring his heartbeat beeped shrilly as he panicked, and every time he moved it just made the pain worse. He was barely aware of people rushing in, someone yelling. He tried to scream, but all that came out was a rough wheeze. And finally, a grounding pressure on his hand, fingers lacing with his own. He latched onto the sensation, squeezing as hard as he could. That, finally, felt familiar.
That, finally, made him freeze.
Akira hadn’t meant to doze off, but between staying at the hospital until they kicked him out each night and trying to keep up with his schoolwork, he’d worn himself to exhaustion. The heart monitor going ballistic dragged him from his sleep like the world’s worst alarm clock, but it took a second for his brain to wake up enough to realize the reason it was going ballistic. And then it clicked.
Goro was awake. Goro was awake, and freaking out, and thrashing around, and probably hurting himself. Akira shot to his feet, but before he could get to the side of the bed, a bunch of nurses rushed in, trying to hold Goro down.
“We’re going to have to sedate him,” one of the nurses said, and another broke away to fumble for a syringe and a vial of medicine. Akira caught a glimpse of Goro’s face, fearful and panicked, mouth open in a soundless scream, and reacted without thinking. He lunged for the nearest nurse, shoving them aside to get to Goro.
“Kurusu-kun, you need to back off,” someone ordered.
“Don’t hurt him! He’s just scared!” Akira shouted. Surrounded by people, at least one of whom had a needle… Someone tried to grab his wrist to pull him away from the bed, and he acted on autopilot, shoving the nurse back. He stepped back to catch Goro’s free hand with his own and link their fingers together. Physical contact that wasn’t trying to restrain him might help.
Goro froze, clearly processing, and then squeezed his hand so hard he swore he felt his bones creak. But he didn’t pull away, facing the increasingly-annoyed nurses that he’d pushed away and the security guard that had shown up because of the shouting.
And then Takemi walked in, sharp eyes flickering between the terrified, panicked boy in the bed and the frantic guinea pig between him and everyone else. Their hands were white-knuckled where they were holding onto each other, and she stepped forward, making sure to tread directly on the security guard’s foot with her heels. “Hey, stop it. Leave them alone.”
“His vitals were going haywire,” one of the nurses said, and Takemi shook her head.
“He’s scared half to death, which, considering how close he was to being dead, isn’t surprising. Give him a minute to calm down. And leave Kurusu-kun here; that will help significantly.”
“I’ll watch them,” Takemi said. “He’s my patient. All of you get out before you send him back into a coma.” She ushered them from the room, nodding just once to Akira before drawing the curtain around the bed and giving them a tiny bit of privacy while she checked Goro’s chart.
Akira barely noticed. As soon as the danger of someone dragging him out of the room was gone, his full attention returned to Goro, who was holding very still, his pulse beating rabbit-quick as he held Akira’s hand like a lifeline.
“Goro,” Akira said gently. “It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re safe. You’re in the hospital. I’m here, I’m not going anywhere if you don’t want me to. Breathe. We’re going to get you some painkillers, it’s okay.” He could hear Takemi moving around behind the curtain, adjusting the IV, adding the drugs that would ease the pain Goro had to be in. He held Goro’s hand in both of his, and as the medicine kicked in, gradually his grip relaxed, gradually his breathing got less shaky, and the emotion in his eyes looked less like a cornered animal and more like confusion. He stared up at Akira with his one good eye, but when he tried to speak, it was just a dry rasp, and Akira hushed him. “Sensei?” he called. “Can we get some water?”
There was an affirmative noise from the other side of the curtain, and then Akira squeezed Goro’s hand softly. “Don’t move, okay?” he murmured. “You’re hurt really bad. Just breathe.”
Takemi appeared through the curtain with a large jug of water with a straw. She handed it to Akira, then said, “I’m going to step out for a few minutes. I’ll be back to do some basic tests, but nothing complicated. So just relax. I’m glad to see you awake, birdie.”
Goro didn’t respond, but accepted the straw when Akira offered. Once they heard the door close and he’d drank his fill, Goro looked up at Akira, wary and anxious. “How?” he whispered. “How am I alive?”
“I don’t know, Goro,” Akira said. “We were exploring in the ruins of the metaverse, and when we went into the wrecked ship, we just found you, buried in a pile of rubble. You… You were almost dead.”
Goro frowned, then winced as it hurt his face. “The ruins of the… What…?”
Akira bit his lip. “There’s...a lot that you missed,” he said with a weak laugh. “I don’t think I have time to explain before Takemi-sensei comes back.”
“I remember...there was an explosion,” Goro mumbled. “I couldn’t get out. The barrier was still up…”
Akira shushed him, squeezing his hand. “Hey, don’t worry about it right now. Let Takemi-sensei run her tests, and then I’ll explain everything. Please.”
Goro twitched, like he’d wanted to move and thought better of it. “I know something is wrong. I can’t feel my arm, my legs hurt if I even think about moving, my eye doesn’t feel right, and I am trying very, very hard not to have another panic attack. Just tell me.”
“After she makes sure you’re okay,” Akira insisted.
There was silence for a moment, and then Goro said, “Fine. I can wait. But don’t you dare leave without telling me. I’ll…” He trailed off, thinking, then concluded tiredly, “I’ll send someone to kick your ass, I suppose.”
Akira choked. “I’ve been spending the past two weeks fighting to not be thrown out. I’m not going anywhere,” he said, reaching up to brush the knuckles of his free hand against Goro’s cheek. “I promise.”
Takemi returned to do a few basic tests, checking his blood pressure, his good eye, his basic coherence and focus. Once she’d successfully concluded that the coma hadn’t left him with any obvious brain damage, she checked his bandages, adjusted the IV, and gave Akira a handwritten, signed note that gave him permission to stay past visiting hours if he and Goro wanted it. More in-depth assessments would follow tomorrow, but for tonight, they just wanted him to rest and work on figuring out what kind of pain he was in so that they could learn how best to manage it. With one final order to Akira to text her if they needed anything, she headed out, and Akira pulled his chair over to the bed and sat down.
“I’m going to start from the beginning,” he said. “But I’m going to stop if you get too upset, because Takemi-sensei said that you shouldn’t be under too much stress.”
“Not knowing is stressing me out already, Akira,” Goro huffed, but there wasn’t much bite behind it when he was tucked into bed, looking for all the world like he was ready for a bedtime story instead of the tale of how he’d ended up in the hospital.
So Akira told him. All about defeating Shido, the public’s apathy in the wake of his confession, the impossible fight against a god that had ended with summoning a demon in the skies of Tokyo… And then, after a few weeks in jail, exploring the ruins of Cognitive Tokyo until they found the wounded Goro. He’d been in a coma for the two weeks since they found him, and now he was here.
“As much as I’d like to believe you’re exaggerating, fighting a god doesn’t seem beyond you,” Goro sighed. “And… Shido is paying for his crimes. Thank you. But what about my injuries?”
Akira reached into his pocket and pulled out a compact mirror. “Takemi gave me this. The other nurses don’t want you to see yet, but I know you’re going to hate it if I sugarcoat things, so…” He opened the mirror and pressed it into Goro’s undamaged hand, but didn’t let go yet. “Your legs are a wreck. Some of the cuts went down to the bone. You don’t have any spinal damage, according to the doctors, but you might never be able to walk without some kind of support again. You’ve got burns all down your right side. No one is sure how the burns weren’t a lot worse, but they said they can do skin grafts for the ones on your face, so they don’t look as rough. Your...right eye is gone. It couldn’t be salvaged. Neither could your right arm. That’s the worst of it. I told them as much as I could about how I found you, and they said it was a miracle you’d survived at all.”
He let go of Goro’s hand, and Goro shakily lifted the mirror to look at his face. His hair on the right side, once so neat and silky, was burned away in uneven clumps, doing nothing to hide the meticulously-applied bandages over what he now realized was an empty eye socket. He forced himself to keep breathing, not wanting to panic in front of Akira any more than he already had, and tried to move his other arm. It ended in a lump of wrapped bandage just below his elbow, and he crushed back the scream that wanted to erupt from his chest.
“Loki,” he mumbled instead. When Akira made a questioning noise, he repeated, “Loki. That’s probably why the burns aren’t so bad. He was trying to shield me. They both were. I’d have died if they hadn’t blocked as much of the debris as they did.”
Deep in his heart he felt the familiar curl of his personas, but they stayed quiet, weak just as their master was.
“That… That makes sense,” Akira said softly.
Goro shut his eyes. “...thank you for telling me.”
“You needed to know. The nurses were going to downplay it, tell you that you were going to be ‘just fine’. I know you would have hated that.” Akira looked down at his lap. “The other thing is...no one in the public remembers you. Not your fans, or the police… Just us, Sojiro, Sae-san… People who knew you personally. Which… I guess it could be a good thing? Y-You can start fresh. No pressure.”
Goro realized he was tearing up, which not only made his eye sting, but was mortifying. He didn’t want to cry in front of Akira, but it was too much at once. “Hilarious,” he choked. “I’ve failed at literally everything. I couldn’t even die properly. I’m still alive, and I’ve ended up in Hell anyway.”
“Don’t give me your stupid fucking platitudes now.” He sounded more tired than angry. “I’ve lost everything. All that time building up my reputation, gone. My schooling. My job. My face, my limbs. I have nothing. And I don’t need your pointless reassurance that everything will be okay.”
“It might not,” Akira agreed. “But we’ll figure it out. All of us. For now, though, is there anything I can do?”
Goro thought about it, of two minds regarding Akira Kurusu, as always. He wanted him to leave, so he could cry and break down in peace. He wanted him to stay, because he didn’t want to be alone in this hospital, crippled by the fear that Akira might not come back. “I’m fine,” he said eventually, letting the hand holding the mirror drop limply to the blankets.
Akira moved the mirror to the side table. “I can tell you’re lying. But that’s not what I asked,” he pointed out with a tiny smile. “I asked if there was anything I can do. You can be fine and still want a hug.”
“Is that allowed?” Goro asked automatically, but immediately he followed it with, “I’d...like that, I think.”
It took some careful maneuvering to not bump Goro’s legs, but gradually Akira made his way into the hospital bed beside him. It was wide enough that they both had enough space, and inclined enough that Goro could lean into him and Akira could slip an arm around his shoulders. Goro settled with a heavy exhale, tears still welling without permission. Akira pretended not to notice as his shoulder grew damp, just made sure a tissue box was within reach and kept quiet.
Eventually, Goro’s sniffles subsided, and in the dimming light as it grew later, Akira said softly, “The others are glad you’re awake. I texted them while Takemi-sensei was doing the tests earlier. Sae-san wants to come see you.”
“I presume you told her what happened on the Ship?” Goro said, barely a whisper. “She has to know about the metaverse, considering the trick you pulled…”
“Yeah.” Akira pulled the blanket up over his own legs, clearly not intending to move from the bed anytime soon. “She was...really upset when she found out you hadn’t made it out.”
“I suppose she can visit. I can tell her what you told me, that her sister puked when she saw my ruined arm.” He sounded more and more drowsy as he spoke, and Akira laughed quietly.
“Whatever you want, Goro,” he murmured, and as the other boy nodded off against his shoulder, he added, “I’m glad you’re okay.”