“So basically none of us had a real childhood, uh.”
Ryuji looked crestfallen. Haru patted his back.
“...it depends on your definition of childhood, I suppose.”
Ann pondered for a while.
“I guess I had a relatively sheltered childhood at first. Surely we all had a chance to play with other kids back in primary school, though..?”
Yusuke shrugged. Futaba snorted.
Goro remained gloomily silent.
“...ok, maybe not?”
They all let their gaze fall upon the floor, their minds lost in what could only be uneasy memories.
The small slap of a fist against a palm echoed through the room.
“Well then, let’s reclaim this.”
Ren’s voice was just as calm and assertive as usual, and somehow it snapped them out of their thoughts.
“What do you mean, leader?”
Ren casually shrugged.
“I don’t have anything here in Tokyo, but I do recall some games I took part in when I was a kid, and there’s a play yard close by. Let’s go there.”
“Not now. It must be packed with children. Let’s meet tomorrow in the evening, it’s a Sunday night. Children leave early, and the place will be ours.”
“Are you seriously suggesting we go play in a children’s yard because we didn’t have a ‘real childhood’?”
“It’s never too late to reclaim our childhood.”
In retrospect, the smirk on Ren’s face should have alerted Goro.
Night was falling when they met the next evening. Ren led them to a small playground that was indeed empty at that time.
Futaba dived to the swings. Yusuke followed lazily, pushing her until she went way too high and started shrieking. They were soon joined by Makoto and Haru.
Ren smiled while watching them, then went up the slide. Ryuji ran after him and pushed him down. Ann followed through and soon all three were tumbling down the metal slide, complaining about bumps and burns.
Goro stayed aside along with Morgana. The not-a-cat eyed him lazily, then suggested:
“Want to try the roundabout?”
Goro hesitated, but before he knew it, he was pushing the cat around. It was way too enjoyable to hear it screaming bloody death about how fast it was going and how he was going to get sick.
After about fifteen minutes of fooling around the playground, they gathered around the roundabout and Ren flopped on it beside a rather dizzy Morgana, his feet lazily driving the game left and right.
“So, what did you guys bring?”
Each of them had agreed to bring something they played with when they were kids, to share what sparkles of childhood they had with the others.
Ann went first and uncovered a big, sparkly make-up box. She went to a bench and sat, opening the colorful box.
“That was all I had when I was alone in my room… I loved this box. It’s a bit battered, but the make-up is still good. Anyone wants to try?”
It made most of them pout, but then Haru giggled and sat beside her.
“Alright, let’s do this.”
Ann smiled and got to work. The colors were too bright, too sparkly, too childish, and soon Haru’s cheeks were covered in blush.
“You don’t have to force yourself if you don’t want to, but this is fun. And contrary to 8-year-old Ann, I can assure you that I know what I’m doing, even though this box is not as complete as what I use for my make-up routine.”
Ren was way too enthusiastic to go second, Makoto third, and even Ryuji was enrolled. Soon enough, they were all looking like…
“Come on, Futaba, don’t be like this! It’s fun.”
“No way you’re getting this stuff on me. I brought my own childhood weapon.”
Futaba dived into her bag and showed them her own treasure: a Featherman mask. She promptly put it on.
“Ta-daaaa! Now you’re not getting me with your make-up. I’ve always been Feather Green since I was a child. This mask is rather old now, it’s the one I used to play, but it’s vintage! I have another one at home on display.”
“But it’s not fair if you’re the only one able to play with what you brought!”
“Yeah well, deal with it, losers. You can all be Feathermen, but I’m Feather Green and I’m keeping the mask.”
After some struggle, all of them were assigned their own rangers, and Ann added a small make-up symbol on their cheeks to remind them who was who.
Goro didn’t sulk when he didn’t get to play Feather Red. He didn’t want to be the dumb hero. Of course Ren would be Feather Red. He was much happier with being Feather Gold anyway.
They mock-fought for a while, and Goro came to two conclusions:
- Futaba was way too good at remembering the fight positions.
- Futaba had definitely noticed he was way too good at said fight positions too and his serious Detective Prince cover was completely blown.
“You’re such a nerd,” Futaba smirked at him.
Before Goro could retort anything, Ren ruffled his adoptive sister’s hair and she lost her train of thought, loudly complaining about this mistreatment.
“Alright, who’s next?”
“My turn!”, Haru said, diving into her own bag and uncovering a game of Monopoly.
“No way I’m playing this. Not here, not now, and not with you. I’ve had my deal with money games in these dumb palaces anyway.”
Haru’s shoulders fell a bit, but she quickly recovered and smiled.
“You’re right. Maybe it’s not optimal, considering we’re outside. We’ll just have to have a game night together or something!”
“It was not such a bad idea, though, Haru. Anyone else has something more fitted for outside games?”
Ryuji, Makoto and Yusuke all dived into their own bags, and respectively took out a ball, a jumping rope and a cup and ball game.
“Oooh, this brings back memories!”
They spent some time playing dodgeball (Futaba complained loudly; Goro expertly avoided the field), then took turns with the jumping rope (Morgana boasted when his jump score got undefeated) and the cup and ball game.
“You’re way too good at this, Yusuke.”
“Ah. I had a lot of training. It’s just a twist of the wrist; Sensei made me use it to get my hand more stable when I was painting.”
They didn’t dare ask further. No need to make it all gloomier than it had to be.
After a while, they were all exhausted. The sun had set by now, and the games went back to their bags.
“These were fun, but isn’t there something we could all play together to conclude? What do we have left?”
“Of course, I couldn’t bring anything… I am happy I got to discover some of your games, but there isn’t much I can do.”
“Goro, what did you bring?”
Goro had really hoped he would be able to dodge the question. Even by Phantom Thieves standards, his childhood had been way too unconventional. Futaba had already pulled out the Featherman card (not that he would have done it himself. Even though they had seen his lightsaber in the Metaverse. And his laser gun.. He still had some pride to keep somehow), and everything else...
After much debating with himself, Goro had decided to bring an old scarf. A memory of one of his foster homes. The fabric was of a pleasant dark blue, soft and velvety, nice and comfortable-looking despite being a bit dusty.
“Oooh, Goro, that’s such a sweet idea! It’s been ages since I last played Blind man’s!”
Goro had to bite his tongue. It wasn’t what he had in mind. It was probably for the best that Ann still jumped to that conclusion.
“Alright, let’s play! Goro, you’ll be blind man since this is your scarf. Are you ready?”
Before he could answer, Ann picked up the scarf from his hands and tied it to his head, effectively blinding him.
He tried to resist but soon she was spinning him and he almost lost his footing.
“Alright, everyone, hide!”
He was left in the dark, barely able to stand on his feet, voices around him whispering and giggling.
Goro had no idea how long he spent staggering in the playground. He bumped his knees twice on the turnabout, almost fell upon catching the rope of a swing, and totally did not lose his balance by tripping on Morgana (who yowled and ran away, that cheater.)
The ruffling and whispering kept going on for a while, but it died down, and now he had no clue left to find them.
The darkness created by the scarf blinding him didn’t help.
The silence in the playground was eerie, the fallen leaves creaking beneath his soles the only sound that came to his ears now.
Had they all ran away, leaving him alone?
Was this just a big, cruel prank?
Let’s reclaim our childhood games …
If there was one thing Goro had learnt during his own mockery of childhood, it was that child’s games were cruel.
No matter how much the Thieves had told him he was one of them now, after the whole Metaverse disappeared, after they managed to miraculously break him out of a cell in a different plane of existence, the doubt lingered.
Goro doubted it would ever go away.
His arms held out before him, he winced and tried to quench the uneasiness that was growing within him. He did his best to pay attention to small noises around him.
Someone had moved on his left. They were still here.
Some kind of crouching, a very very muffled giggle?
He staggered a bit more, and his knees met something. He waved his arms but met nothing. He was so sure there was someone, though...
Another muffled giggle. Goro clenched his teeth. He hated that feeling that they were making fun of him. He hated how it grew within him.
Paying even more attention, he realized that there definitely was something at his feet. He knelt and, arms held out, braced himself for an impact, until his hands met something…
A loud purr answered. A purr that was way too deep for it to come from the not-a-cat Goro knew.
Actually, if he really focused, it did sound like...
“Oh, for all that’s…”
Goro’s hand met skin, made a bit sticky with cheap, girly make-up, but of a texture he would recognize anywhere.
It wasn’t like he was used to touching anyone else’s skin.
He let his hand trail down the shape of a jaw, and the purring got louder.
Goro sighed and tore the scarf away from his eyes.
“Ren. It’s you.”
Sure enough, his eyes met Ren’s, which were glistening with malice.
“Stop making fun of me.”
The words fell from Goro’s lips before he could catch them. He winced at the childishness.
“So you got into the childhood spirit in the end.”
Ah well. He would indulge him.
Goro shrugged and looked around. It was late enough now that night had completely engulfed the playground, and only Ren seemed to still be here.
“Where are the others?”
“You were taking too long. They had to go back.”
Goro felt played.
“You cheated. This was a set up, wasn’t it? The giggling… you all planned this.”
“We didn’t plan anything. I just… saw the opportunity.”
“The opportunity to have me go around in circles for so long that I thought you all had left?”
Ren had the decency to wince.
“Oh, no, that wasn’t… I’m sorry. I just… I wanted all of us to have fun, and it seemed like it worked, and then Haru saw the time and Morgana went with her and then I felt like we could have… some time together?”
Goro’s eyes fell on the ground.
“...you really thought we left you here alone to mock you?”
“Of course I did. What did you expect?”
Nothing like blunt honesty to make someone feel awful. Goro heard Ren whimper in guilt as he picked Goro’s hand.
“I would never.”
Goro snorted, his eyes still stuck on the ground.
“Tell that to my mind.”
“Goro. Please. Look at me.”
Goro raised his head back to meet Ren’s eyes, filled with something akin to determination.
“Goro, I would never leave you alone. Never . Now we are going to go back home together , because you are important and I care for you.”
Goro sighed, torn between really wanting to believe Ren, and the nasty memories that reminded him how worthless he was.
“It won’t be easy to have you trust me on that, won’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
Ren’s eyes met his again, betraying a turmoil of emotions.
“Trust me that I am
letting you go, ever. If even bringing you back wasn’t enough, then…
“I don’t know. I don’t control it. You’re not going to save me from years of being unwanted, Ren.”
Ren sighed and let himself fall beside Goro on the couch, their two cups of hot chocolate forgotten on the table before him.
“Goro. I promise I will tell you as many times as needed. I am not letting you go. I am not letting you go. I am not leaving you alone. I am never abandoning you.”
“Tell that to my lizard brain.”
“Maybe I can distract your lizard brain enough that it will stop sending you this bad energy.”
Goro’s eyes widened when Ren invaded his personal space.
He should have been used to it, by now. One would have thought he would get used to the whole “dating” thing, but it always seemed like his heart was about to burst when Ren got closer to him.
Especially when Ren’s ( his boyfriend’s , his mind supplied uselessly, because it was so hard to get used to the notion) hands were reaching for his neck like this.
“What are you…”
“Goro, that scarf… It wasn’t for Blind man’s, was it?”
“Of course you of all people would know.”
Ren’s hand softly caressed his cheek, before stroking his neck, popping open the first buttons of his shirt, making his skin bristle with anticipation.
“I had the same kind of scarf when I was a kid, except more silky. It’s very comfortable, and very convenient for… some kind of things. My… friends , I think? dared me to try when I was five. I loved it, I loved that sensation of free-falling, and the funny dots of light in my eyes, and the black that came upon… until my parents found me out. I got yelled at so loud I never did it again.”
Goro eyes fell on Ren’s pale, well-defined neck, and he brought a hand to caress it shily.
“What about you? Has anyone found out?”
“The choking game? Of course not. As if they’d notice the choking marks on an unwanted child’s neck.”
Goro let out a self-deprecating laugh. Ren traced his neck again, dipped his hand under his collar, his touch light as a feather against his clavicles.
“Why did you do it? A dare, too?”
“No. I was eight, and it was an accident at first, I just… Well, but I liked it.”
“You liked it?”
Goro averted his eyes.
“You said it. The sensation of… falling. Things going dark. And new colors appearing before your eyes, and then… nothing had importance, just sensations?”
“Goro, do you still…”
Ren’s eyes were now trailing over his neck, his gaze uncertain, afraid, aroused ?
“Yes. Yes, I do. Sometimes. Even ten years later, even now I know what it means. It just… grounds me. Gives me wings. Frees me, too. And it’s… exciting.”
Ren exhaled loudly.
Goro brought his face closer to his boyfriend’s, his voice a mere daring breath against the other’s lips.
“Go ahead, Ren. You already stole my heart--steal my breath, now.”
He barely had the time to finish his sentence when Ren pounced on him, both of them lying down fully on the couch now. Goro’s shirt quickly fell open, his torso on fire under the touch of his lover’s hands, his neck prickling where Ren’s lips had started devouring him. He swallowed a moan, but Ren’s lips shaped a smirk against his skin.
He felt the words ghosted over his sensitive skin more than he heard them, an imprint of a promise etched on his body.
“I will steal your breath and make it yours again. Trust me. Trust me .”
Goro shivered and didn’t answer, catching his lover’s hands and bringing them against his neck.
He looked at his lover straight into the eyes, more serious than ever.
“I’m yours. Do it .”
Ren dived and kissed him deep and slow on the mouth, his hands wrapped around the delicate neck he’d just lavished in kisses and bites.
Goro let loose. His eyes fell closed and his mind started to swim, diving into sensations he’d learnt to enjoy a long time ago. His body first tried to struggle, but when the hands tightened their grip, he gave up and felt his hips buck up despite himself.
A low voice growled in his ear, making him shiver.
“I’m not letting you go, Goro Akechi. I am never letting you go. I will take you through the darkness and bring you back to the light.”
Goro didn’t open his eyes, focusing only on the feelings, the swimming colors before his eyes and the warmth of his lover’s breath on his skin, his body taking over and his fears quenched by the surge of sensations.
His choked throat let out whine after whine, and Ren answered with mirrored groans, as they took turns kissing, caressing, mapping each other’s body with touches and feelings, and hips bucking and warmth building up, and they got louder...
It didn't take long, and yet it felt like an eternity.
When they both fell limp on the couch, exhausted, Goro finally opened his eyes to meet Ren’s again.
They were dark, tired, a mirror of his own--the eyes of a shipwreck-survivor who had to hold his breath until reaching the well-deserved shore.
They took a deep, simultaneous breath, and it was the most alive Goro had felt in a long time.
“Goro. I’m never letting you go. You will never be alone. Not again, not anymore.”
Not trusting himself to speak, Goro merely nodded and fell back into his lover’s arms.
Ren’s throat let out a low chuckle.
“I’ve got you.”
Children’s games were cruel, but to Goro Akechi, it was a wonder what one could learn through them.
After all--they’d proven that even he could enjoy losing control. He could enjoy being left in the dark, when this dark was brought upon him by one Ren Amamiya. It only meant there would be light after.