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Featherfans Unite!

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Second week of March, 2017

Skin grafts, observation, surgery, physical therapy… All of it took weeks. Goro tolerated it, mostly, in-between visits from the Thieves, Sae, and Sojiro. He hadn’t expected forgiveness from the cafe owner or Futaba, considering his part in Wakaba Isshiki’s death. But for some reason, Sojiro was more upset by the fact that a fifteen-year-old had been coerced into murder, and Futaba had bowed her head and said sincerely that she was glad he was alive.

He didn’t understand. Akira said he didn’t have to, that he could just accept it, but that wasn’t quite good enough.

His apartment had been paid for by Shido and was seized in the assorted investigations. Sae had tried to salvage some of his personal things, but the rest was gone, and he had nowhere to go. So when they finally deemed him healed enough to be released from the hospital, he found himself at the Sakura household, where a room on the first floor had been made up for him and Akira.

“You don’t need to do this. I wouldn’t want to impose,” he attempted.

“It was this or Leblanc,” Sojiro said wryly. “And you can’t exactly do the stairs right now.”

“Unless you let me carry you,” Akira chimed in, and Goro made a face. Being allowed to get out of bed seemed like a boon at first, but he’d quickly realized that it wasn’t any better. The wheelchair was nearly impossible to maneuver with one arm, and it hurt so much to stand that he couldn’t manage the crutches for longer than a minute or two. It was enough that he could make it to the restroom on his own, thank god, but for anything else, he needed someone’s help. And he hated it. Akira was on a break before the new school year started and was ridiculously attentive. Goro just wanted some semblance of independence back. Going from relying entirely on himself for most of his life to not being able to put pants on without help was infuriating. It left him irritable and snappish as the days went on, and since he was trying to be polite to Sojiro and Futaba, Akira took the brunt of it.

“Okay,” Akira said, helping Goro get the wheelchair into position at the kitchen table. “I made soba and vegetable tempura. Not the microwave kind, so I dunno if Futaba’s coming down for lunch today, but the tempura turned out a lot better this time. I got it crisped up properly!”

Goro poked lethargically at his food. “Eggplant and purple sweet potato?”

“And green onion, and yellow peppers,” Akira said proudly. “I’m getting so much better at things that aren’t curry.”

With a noncommittal hum, Goro started eating, and there was silence for a while. But then Akira started chatting, trying to make conversation.

“I want to get to the point where I can try to make sushi. I know you like sushi, and being able to make it from scratch seems like fun if we can’t make it to a restaurant.”

“Because of me,” Goro muttered.

“No, because people are busy,” Akira countered. “It’s not because of you.”

“Of course it is. Don’t patronize me. I know you’ve been giving things up to help me,” Goro hissed. “When was the last time you went to any of your part-time jobs, other than wherever you run off to on Sundays?”

“Hanasaki-san and Lala-chan understand…” Akira said, but he looked notably less certain of himself.

Goro snarled. “Don’t pretend I’m not a burden, Kurusu.” He knew the switch back to family names stung, because Akira flinched, but it didn’t stop him. “I’m taking up a room in the house of a man whose loved one was murdered by me. The people that I tried to kill are wasting their time because they feel some obligation to visit me. And you… You can’t just keep fucking taking care of me like nothing is wrong! Like I didn’t almost destroy your life! And you’re still letting me take and take from you! Why were you even in that ship? Why would you go back in there? Were you just looking for my corpse to salvage?!”

“I went because I was mourning you, you asshole!” Akira cried. “I needed closure! I needed to accept that you weren’t there anymore! And if we found your body, I wanted to make sure you got a proper burial, because you saved our lives!”

“‘Closure’? You shouldn’t have given a damn about me after what I did! I deserved to die!”

“I would rather have you alive!” Akira insisted. “I never wanted you to die!”

“YOU SHOULD HAVE JUST LEFT ME THERE! IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER FOR EVERYONE!” Goro roared, and silence fell in the wake of his words. It was broken only by a soft whimper from the doorway, and both boys looked over to see Futaba holding onto the doorframe, her face pale. Akira got up from the table, breathing hard, and went over to make her up a bowl of soba noodles and veggies.

“I’m sorry, Futaba, we didn’t mean to bother you,” he said, handing her the bowl.

She took it, her hands shaking a little. “It’s okay…” But then her gaze flickered to Goro. “Nothing can get better if you’re dead,” she said, so quietly they could barely hear her. And then she was gone, fleeing back to her room with her lunch.

“Nothing is getting better because I’m alive, either,” Goro muttered.

“Can we...not do this right now?” Akira asked. “Please.”

It was just like before. They’d both known something was wrong, dancing around the awkward truth of raw emotion. But now it was coming to a head, and Akira wasn’t prepared to handle it.

Goro looked down at his half-finished lunch, then pushed it away. “Sorry… Can I just… I want to finish my book.” Futaba had given him one of her old tablets so that he could read ebooks, since it was easier to swipe the screen with one hand than hold a physical book and turn pages.

“Yeah…” Akira wheeled him back to their room without another word. They were going to have to deal with this at some point. But it was painful, and even though Goro felt bad for hurting Akira, and even though Akira wanted to argue, both of them stayed quiet.

***

When Goro stirred that night, at first he wasn’t sure what had woken him up. Usually if he was conscious this late, it was because his legs ached, or the itch of an arm that wasn’t there had disturbed him. But tonight, he laid there for a moment, until he finally realized that the strange noise he was hearing was Akira.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could just make out the other boy, wrapped in a worn blanket patterned with Featherman masks that they’d found in a closet. He was trying to be quiet, but it was obvious he was crying. Goro shut his eyes again, guilt creeping over him. Akira was unhappy because of him. If he wasn’t here, if he’d died, things would be different. Better.

He didn’t realize he’d said it out loud until Akira’s sniffles ceased with a choked noise. “Y-You don’t mean that…” he said weakly.

“I do.” It was too late. He’d said it, now he had to own it. “You wouldn’t have to worry about me. The others wouldn’t have to waste time visiting. You could push that stupid chair down the stairs with me in it and everything would improve.”

“Goro,” Akira said, shifting to face him.

“Stop. Don’t do that. I can hear the pity. It’s disgusting.” He struggled to push himself up with one arm, and when he succeeded, he growled, “You won’t let me go and move on with your life. I can barely move. I can barely do anything on my own, and I hate it! My entire life has been nothing but failure! And now that I’m helpless, you think you can fix me!

Akira’s eyes widened. “No… No, that’s not… I just think you deserve to be happy!”

“Well, I’m not!” Goro shouted. “How can I be happy like this? I have nothing! My only purpose in life is gone! I have nowhere to go! What’s left for me now?!”

“I don’t know!” Akira yelled back. “I don’t know, but I want to help you. You don’t deserve this; nothing that happened to you was fair. I don’t even care that you tried to kill me, or that you probably still want to. I just want something to go right for you for once!”

Goro really, really didn’t want to cry, but he couldn’t stop himself as he burst out, “Of course I don’t want to kill you, you fucking moron! I… I just want everything to stop hurting so much…” He tried to wipe at his eye, but it didn’t help stem the tears any.

“That’s all I want, too,” Akira said, his voice cracking.

Somehow they ended up in a heap between their futons, holding onto each other and sobbing. Goro shoved his face into Akira’s shoulder, feeling Akira’s fingers twisting into the back of his pajamas. “I don’t deserve this… I don’t deserve any of you taking care of me like this…” He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to live like this, either. But a pitiful, selfish part of him was glad that someone actually cared.

“I want to,” Akira said, muffled. “I know you think you shouldn’t be here, but I’m just glad every single day that you’re still alive.”

“You shouldn’t be.” Goro’s voice was thick with tears. “All I’ve ever been is a burden.”

Akira hiccuped. “Not to me. And things will get better. The doctors said that the pain will be less the longer you do the physical therapy, and things will get easier. You won’t have to keep taking meds. And we’re not going anywhere, Goro. I promise.”

Fear that he hadn’t been able to name crystallized into something recognizable and sharp. That they would get tired of helping, if he didn’t recover sufficiently, or quickly enough. That eventually they would decide he was too much trouble. And the realization that he’d subconsciously been encouraging that with his attitude, hoping they would just move on and stop bothering with him sooner rather than later, so it would hurt less.

And as always, Akira managed to assuage that fear without even knowing what it was.

“You’re the worst. I’m sorry for screaming at you,” Goro said, clinging tighter, and what he meant was, Don’t let go.

“I know. It’s okay.” I won’t.

***

Outside the door, Sojiro listened for a bit longer, until it was clear from the silence that they weren’t going to fight anymore. Honestly, those two, waking up the whole house. He’d had to grab both Futaba and Morgana to keep them from bursting in. They couldn’t have had their screaming match during the day?

He was glad Goro had finally gotten it out of his system, though. That boy had a bad habit of bottling up all of his frustration. Not that Akira was much better. Now, though… Now, hopefully they could start moving forward.

With less screaming.

***

When Goro woke up again the next morning, he was more sore than usual. They’d both passed out on Akira’s futon in an awkward sprawl, which his legs were unhappy about. His eyes felt raw, swollen, and he really needed to wash his face. But his hand was tucked into Akira’s, and the other boy was smiling in his sleep.

He still felt unworthy of the care they’d shown him. But, if Akira was going to be there...maybe he would be okay after all.