Goro steps out onto the apartment rooftop with the blanket in his arms, but Ryuji is already sprawled out on his back.
“I have a blanket,” Goro says, standing over him.
“You can use it. I don’t need it.” Ryuji tugs on his hoodie, still kept wide open, unzipped and exposed to the cold.
Well. Goro didn’t bring the blanket for himself, but that’s alright. He neatly folds it up and leaves it to the side for later.
Then Goro draws back to Ryuji and lies down next to him. The chill from the concrete goes straight through the thick cotton of his dress shirt when his back meets it. He likes the connection. It grounds him, keeps him here in the moment, in his own skin.
He peeks over at Ryuji, who’s still staring up. Wonders what he’s looking at. There are no stars in the sky, washed out long ago by light pollution, before they were even born. Goro read once that even if you leave the city, the light is so strong that it blots them out for hundreds of kilometers. This is the world that they have been handed. It’s a product of careless decisions from the adults who couldn’t give less of a shit, who devoured everything good for themselves and left the carcass behind. It’s a disease he will cut out, starting with one man.
A buzz comes from Ryuji’s pocket. It catches Ryuji’s attention unconsciously, eyes snapping down to his phone in an instant. But then, very deliberately, he turns onto his side and looks at Goro. Doesn’t even touch it. He knows that when they’re up here, it’s only them.
Goro smiles, small and victorious.
“Not going to check?”
“Nah, I’ll just answer later.” Ryuji passes this test, too. “I don’t think it’s anything big. We’re goin’ in to Mementos tomorrow.”
“What about a Palace?”
“Um, there’s nothing right now. We haven’t picked a new target yet.”
“Well, I have names. I can give you a target… someone who will keep the Phantom Thieves plenty relevant.” Goro rolls over to face him. “Don’t let them choose on their own anymore. They can’t get too close to Shido.”
“That’s not how it works,” Ryuji says. “Everyone’s gotta agree on a person.”
“Then you just plant the seed and I’ll take care of the rest. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever it takes for the Phantom Thieves to keep bringing results. I know their fame can reach even greater heights.”
Ryuji starts to grin, mouth quirking up in one corner. “Kinda sounded like a compliment there.”
“The bigger they are, as they say.”
“But your dad’s gonna fall the hardest.”
“Yes, that’s right.” Goro watches Ryuji shut his eyes, looking self-satisfied, so sure of the game.
Maybe Ryuji still doesn’t get what it means to win. What he has to give up, who he has to sacrifice. They’ll cross that bridge in time. For now, it makes no difference how Ryuji goes about it. As long as the Phantom Thieves are groomed to their full potential, primed to take the fall, then Goro will have what he wants.
In a way, he already does. Ryuji is doing this for no one else but him. Ryuji will set fire to the Phantom Thieves, watch them burn, go down in flames himself. He’ll give it all away to see Shido to the top, just so Goro can see Shido down to the bottom.
It’s a feeling that burns deep in his chest.
“Ah, shit, it’s cold!”
Ryuji pulls his hood up with an exaggerated brrr, stretching it tight over his hair. It makes Goro a little nostalgic.
“Reminds me of that night,” he says. “Your hoodie.”
Ryuji peeks out from under the shadow of his hood and smiles. “What night?”
This was how he’d looked back then, after all. Hood up, hiding his face and the anxiety in his eyes as he lingered in the border of Nichome, looked small and out of place wearing a jacket on a hot summer night. If he hadn’t tried so hard, Goro might never have noticed him. But he did, of course. Goro had seen enough of Ryuji in the Metaverse and out of it to recognize him right away. Suddenly, they had another thing in common.
In his condescension, Goro had told him to watch out for the big, bad men out there. That one day, someone could hurt him.
“Know all about that already,” Ryuji had said, angry and dark.
And Goro had understood.
It was one more thing.
And that anxiety is still there at the mention of it, even now; just a flash in Ryuji’s eyes and then it’s gone. His smile gets bigger in its place, growing more lopsided for it. “I wear this thing all the time and that’s what you remember?”
“You could say it made an impression on me.”
“Geez… guess I gotta try harder. Get you to think about somethin’ else.”
“If you’re asking me to forget, it’s impossible. Not that I would do it, anyway.”
“No, just, make a new memory.” Ryuji’s gaze drifts away, evidently in contemplation, before he looks back to Goro with eager energy. “I’ll be wearin’ it on the day we get Shido.”
Goro hums, the sound of precious acknowledgement, and Ryuji doesn’t hide how pleased it makes him. That day is fast approaching – while Shido has been putting his plans into motion, Goro has done the same with his. He’s biding his time, setting the pieces in place. Ryuji must feel the anticipation, too.
“You thought about how you’re gonna do it?”
Goro stops mid-thought. “Of course.” It’s like asking if he remembered to breathe today.
His curt tone subdues Ryuji, makes him quiet down. He lifts one shoulder up in a shrug. “Okay. You just never really talked about it.”
“Because there isn’t much to say. The plan is done. It’s all in the execution now. We either succeed, or we fail. So… this is it. There are no second chances. No take backs. You won’t be able to run away when the time comes.” Goro keeps pushing, because he needs to hear it. “Are you actually ready for that?”
Ryuji doesn’t buckle under the pressure, doesn’t blink. “Never been more ready.” It’s reassurance, but it’s not enough.
“This isn’t just to disgrace him. It’s the day he ends.”
“I know,” Ryuji says, but he doesn’t. Not the way that Goro does, not the way that Goro wants him to.
Yet again, despite himself, he’s letting Ryuji in deeper.
“I’ve waited for this for so long,” Goro says, consciously softer. “This is everything to me. Everything I’ve worked for has been to get to Shido, and I’m here. And…”
Goro pauses. The look on Ryuji’s face is what makes him do it – selfless, unguarded. Just waiting for Goro, watching, breathing in and out in slow seconds, like he feels safe. Like this is safe. And the more Goro thinks about it, the more it starts to come together what it means for him to be here with Ryuji, on this rooftop, in their space.
This is the one place he can be free. Nowhere else. Not downstairs in his apartment, a dressed-up prison picked out and paid for by Shido. Not at school, where he lies, not in the studio, where he lies, not in the outside world, where he lies and he lies and he lies. Here, he is honest. Finally, finally honest.
“If we do it right, he won’t live to see the new year.”
It’s the undercurrent of Goro’s every move, but this is the first time he gives voice to it. He can’t miss the way Ryuji’s eyes widen when he does. “Yeah.”
“It has to be destruction so utterly complete, it’s unlike anything he has ever experienced. Just when he thinks he has it all, I’ll take it away. And I will ruin him. He’ll be exposed for everything he ever did to me like the repulsive piece of shit he is. He’ll suffer for it, every single day. I want him crushed under the weight of his shame until he can’t take it anymore. I want him to die.”
Ryuji stares at him but Goro is too open to stop, his mind so clear.
“And once he’s gone, then I will be too.” The words come out of Goro’s mouth easily, comfortably. Naturally. It’s what he’s always known. “I’ll make it permanent. Remove myself from the gene pool. End his line forever.”
Ryuji’s eyebrows furrow a little. He’s still staring, like he’s trying to look straight inside Goro. “Don’t have a kid then.”
“You never know. Besides.” Goro exhales, sounds a little like laughter. “I prefer to scorch the earth.”
And truthfully, when it comes to Shido, Goro was always on a time limit. Successful or not, he will be dead by twenty. Snuffed out in his prime before his conscience can decay, stopping the rot at the source. Goro can say he won’t be that kind of adult, could deceive himself forever, but he wants to be sure. Nothing like his father. Even now, Goro still promises his mother that he will never become a man like him.
So Goro waits for the challenge, the pushback. He meets Ryuji’s gaze, daring him to say shit about it. Anything. But Ryuji is quiet and his eyes are soft. They look almost watery with the smear of the neon lights around them.
“I get it, man, but… that day’s not that far away. It’s gonna real happen soon. You’ll be done at eighteen. And it’s your life, but.” His eyes are becoming tighter now, more saccadic, moving all across Goro’s face as if he’s trying to memorize it. “I dunno. Just sounds kinda short.”
Goro feels around for Ryuji’s hand and finds it, locking their fingers together. Ryuji’s skin is chilly from the night air, but there’s a warmth in the core of his palm that Goro wants. Ryuji squeezes his hand back and holds on, doesn’t say anything else. They just quietly feel each other and absorb. They let it all sink in, the fit of their hands and the chill in their bones and the smallest details of their faces, feel the memory being made in real time.
This is something to hold onto until the end. A moment that will go with them, then go on without them.
It’s awhile before Goro can speak again.
“What’s the best age to die?”
Ryuji thinks about it for a second. Then he says, “Twenty-seven.” Of course. A classic.
“They get remembered forever.”
“Sometimes,” Goro counters.
“C’mon,” Ryuji says. “You’d be in the club for sure.”
“Hah. Sadly, I must decline my membership. You can have my place instead.” Goro drops his voice. “You would love it, wouldn’t you? All that attention.”
He leans in and Ryuji pulls his head back, a twinge of annoyance on his face, but then he loses the attitude and meets Goro halfway. “I mean… that ain’t really it. I know it won’t be like that for me. I just want enough time to do everything I wanna do before it’s over.” His eyelids flicker down, heavy. “Yeah, that’s long enough.”
Goro slips a hand behind his neck now, guiding him forward with gentle pressure. Ryuji tucks his head in closer, closer, until Goro can feel Ryuji’s breath warm the tip of his nose.
“There’s time now,” Goro says.
Their kiss is patient and slow, sharing the warmth of their mouths, letting the heat build between them until it glows. Goro grips Ryuji’s face tighter, urges him deeper, and Ryuji follows in kind. He takes in Goro’s bottom lip and sucks, long and slow pulls that draw all his blood to the surface, that tease his lip swollen-hot and plump before Ryuji drags it out against his teeth. When Goro’s eyes slip open and lock with Ryuji’s, he knows the smolder he finds there, the fire that he’s stoked within.
He reaches back and pulls the blanket across them both until they’re bundled together, until they’re so close they can fall right into each other. They’ll pass through the meat and bone and they’ll melt in the middle, until one ends where the other begins, until they touch and mix and absorb, absorb, absorb.
Until there is nothing left.