Goro didn’t know if Akira was just stubborn or utterly stupid.
Both, probably. After all, Akira was demonstrating both traits right now, crowding him against an alleyway wall just behind Kichijoji’s jazz club. It was well into the evening, the only source of light being a lamp-post at the mouth of the alleyway, casting sharp, defined shadows over Akira’s face, emphasised by his lack of glasses.
“Why,” Akira began quietly, breaking their tense stand-off just as Goro began to relax into it, “Do you keep running away from me?”
Of fucking course he’d ask that.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Goro’s gaze remained just past Akira’s ear, “I don’t have time to entertain your brainless sentimentality while a madman thinks he can trap us in his horrible little paradise for all of eternity.”
Akira spread his arms out, “Right, you don’t have time for my brainless sentimentality... but you have enough time to wander around Kichijoji at night by yourself?”
There was something thrilling about cracking that impassive poker face Akira mastered. The twitch of a clenched jaw muscle, the harsh exhale as Akira dipped his head - Goro could practically hear him mentally counting to ten. He couldn’t help but look, observe, despite telling himself not to make direct eye contact. Making direct eye contact with Akira was dangerous, lately.
When they had been deposited into this False Reality, Goro had thought the hardest part would be to get Akira to agree to his deal. They were both enemies, after all, and Goro had shot him in the head once, and tried to kill him again, and flipped his shit and had a dramatic and mortifying psychotic break in front of him. Why would Akira willingly join up with him? But no, the deal had been the easiest part - the hardest part was keeping Akira at fucking arm’s length.
It was like all that shit never happened. Akira and him fought together like a well oiled machine (and that too was dangerous, because Goro loved that as much as he tried to smother that emotion in its cradle), Akira sought him out, invited him to the jazz club, spoke to him, orbiting closer and closer until Goro realised, with a nauseating jolt, that once again he was too close.
So, he put distance between them. It was for their own good.
Akira finally looked up. The poker face was back on.
“Is it me?” Akira said.
It’s always fucking you, Goro did not say.
“No,” he lied, flexing his fingers and feeling the leather gloves strain from the repetitive movements. He could hear their soft creaking, “In case you have forgotten, Joker, we’re enemies. Just because we made a deal to save ourselves-”
“Rivals,” Akira interrupted.
Goro made the mistake of making eye contact. Without the glasses in the way, he could see the small flecks of darker grey in his pale irises.
“...rivals,” Goro amended after a too long pause, “Enemies, whichever suits you best.”
“Rivals, ” Akira repeated, his tone softer this time. He moved closer even though there wasn’t any room for it, almost stepping on his shoes. Goro was slightly taller, but Akira made up for it by tilting his chin in an echo of Joker’s arrogance, their noses touching.
All he could see were those stupid grey eyes.
Those stupid grey eyes that
(first time goro killed someone in the real world like this, actually
seeing all the blood and the way the muscles go slack and
joker’s eyes sliding unfocused as he pitched slowly
off his seat on the floor, staring, staring, staring
Goro shoved Akira back before he consciously thought of it, his hands clenched around his shoulders and squeezing his eyes shut so he didn’t have to look at this fucking idiot. First time he killed someone in real life, and it was the first time Goro had such a fucking visceral reaction. Shadows were easy, they crumbled. Making people go psychotic? Even easier, he only saw the aftereffects curated through the artificial screen of the media, had told himself that he hadn’t pushed them in front of the car/train/ledge, they had done it all themselves, once he stripped their inhibitions completely away. Everything they did was what their animal brain wanted. Goro just gave them the push.
Akira was none of that. Akira was: walk in, bang, blood, fragments of skull, brains.
He could smell it, abruptly, the sharp spike of gunpowder that never happened in the cognitive world, the jolt in the wrist from the recoil and the metallic tang of blood, and the unique sound a dropping corpse made on a solid floor.
“Don’t,” Goro scratched out, feeling Akira gently grip his wrists with a quiet, concerned murmur of his name. No matter how hard he clutched Akira’s shoulders, he could feel his hands tremble, “Don’t.”
“Akechi,” Akira’s voice sounded strangely far away, “You need to breathe.”
“I killed you.”
“You didn’t, look, I’m-”
“I did, ” Goro forced out, and there was no more oxygen in his lungs and everything went spotty and distorted for one long, flatlining moment.
He came back to himself sitting on the floor of the alleyway, Akira holding his hands between them, very calmly saying; ‘we’re in Kichijoji, you don’t have a gun, Akechi, you haven’t shot me, we’re in Kichijoji-’
It took Goro a moment longer to realise he was muttering something himself, and he quickly stopped with a breathless, mortified curse. Fuck, shit, fuck. This was why he needed Akira to stay the fuck away from him. All of this- he could deal with the Mental Shutdowns and the other people he killed via Shadows, but Akira was different, because it always came down to Akira, with his messy death but not death and Goro hating himself for having to kill him in the first place because- because- he didn’t know why. Why did he do it?
Shido told me to, it was for the plan, but why did he.
“Why the fuck, ” Goro forced out in a horrible raspy voice that almost sounded like he’d been crying fuck, “A-Are you comforting me for shooting you?”
“Cognitive me,” Akira corrected, giving his hands a hard squeeze.
“It was still you!”
Akira didn’t say anything as Goro’s shout echoed into silence around them.
“I thought,” Goro still couldn’t look him in the face as he continued, desperate for Akira to see sense and stay away from his fucking murderer , “It was you . I would have shot you, if your- stupid insane plan didn’t work. What about that do you not understand?”
“Did you want to kill me?” Akira asked him, his poker face still determinedly in place. Goro had a violent, half-crazed urge to claw it off.
Akira nodded slowly, like Goro just told him what the opening times were for the jazz club, “I figured.”
“What-” Sheer confusion wrenched Goro out of the lingering clutches of his panic attack, and he sat there, staring at Akira who stared back at him. The shadows of the alleyway meant he couldn’t quite make out his eyes, “What?”
“I remember it too,” Akira started slowly, “Not the… shooting part, obviously, but the… the bit before it. With… the interrogation. All those cops just, beating the shit out of me or drugging me, whatever. I realised how dangerous things were then, but I also thought, like, ‘wow, I bet Akechi would’ve just walked in here and shot me. None of this bullshit’.”
Goro stared. Once again Akira surprised him, but more in a concerned way than anything.
“...what is wrong with you,” was all he managed to muster.
“A lot of things,” Akira quipped, his mouth tilting into Joker’s smile. It quickly faded, “But I also think you’re full of shit.”
Goro looked away.
“I think, you find it easier to tell yourself that, ‘I wanted to’, because the alternative is to admit that you were just letting yourself get dragged along by Shido, forced against your will-”
“I wasn’t forced into anything. I chose to kill.”
“Did you?” Akira squeezed his hands again, “Look, I’m not… trivialising what you’ve done, but. I doubt you envisioned yourself as a supernatural hitman when you first went to Shido, right?”
Goro didn’t say anything, because Akira was annoyingly right. He hadn’t known what he envisioned himself being when he presented himself to Shido as someone able to travel the Metaverse. Blackmail, definitely, he knew back then Shadows were eager to spread the suppressed desires and secrets of their real life selves, but slowly things had progressed, and then he was causing Mental Shutdowns and psychotic breaks in his victims and it was just a… a thing he was doing. Had to do. Because he was elbow-deep in Shido’s conspiracy and he knew his existence teetered on his usefulness to it. The second he hesitated, snip, that was him discarded.
“You were failed by the people who should’ve had your best interests at heart, and you’ve gotten seriously warped from it,” Akira finally let go of his hands, “Okay?”
“Nothing about this is ‘okay’,” Goro said dully.
They sat in silence for a long time. Goro’s legs started to get pins and needles from his awkward huddle and the floor was fucking freezing, but he didn’t want to move.
“If it helps…” Akira spoke up suddenly, his tone morbidly amused, “I forgive you, for shooting me in the face.”
“And I’ll do it again, given the chance,” Goro snapped, just to be spiteful.
Akira leaned forwards and gripped him by his biceps. Goro lifted his head at the sudden contact, stupidly making eye contact again.
“You’re still full of shit,” Akira told him sweetly, leaning in a bit more. They were nose to nose again, but this time Akira was the slightly taller one, looming over him. The shift in perspective weirdly helped, “And still running away from me.”
Goro didn’t say anything. His chest felt tight again, a fear that was both different and identical to earlier squeezing his ribs. Akira was an idiot, a complete moron, to keep doing this . Did he have no self-preservation in that empty head of his? Didn’t he realise that Goro was one bad psychotic break away from strangling him or shooting him again or something? The mere, faint idea of it made him feel like his insides had been replaced by a bag of writhing, biting snakes.
He didn’t know what he was feeling, what Akira made him feel - this awful, intense craving that made him want to sink his fingernails into his skin and never let go. It was violent and ugly and the furthest thing from sane, but it scrabbled insistently at the edges of his thoughts. He wanted Akira, rival, enemy, whatever suited them, but that violent emotion- he couldn’t predict it, and what if-
Akira’s hands slid up his arms to his shoulders, and back down again. A soothing, rhythmic motion that had Goro shivering all over.
“What are you scared of?” Akira asked him quietly.
Goro felt his fingers twitch.
“Scared?” he tried to scoff, but it came out too breathless.
He was. He wasn’t shivering at all - literally trembling under Akira’s hands. That violent, ugly emotion was overwhelming him, scrambling his thoughts - he kept seeing Akira’s blank, empty eyes after putting a bullet in his skull and he didn’t know what that fucking meant. Did he want that? Was he repulsed by it? He felt sick and dizzy.
Akira was looking at him. They were still nose to nose.
“I might kill you again,” Goro finally blurted, and he didn’t know what he hoped to achieve by admitting that. He always did end up vomiting his vulnerabilities and weak spots at him and he didn’t know why.
“Do you want to?”
no, came the quiet, pathetic thought, no, i don’t, but i don’t trust myself, i don’t
“Yes,” he lied instead, “I do.”
Akira saw right through him, “It’s okay. I’ll just kick your ass again if you try.”
Goro made a weird, strained noise. It might’ve been a laugh, whatever. It didn’t matter, because Akira swallowed it up by gently kissing him and Goro fell apart again. He barely kissed back, breaths uneven and fingers shaking as he clutched at Akira’s sleeves, but he didn’t push him away. He held him in place.
“S’okay,” Akira murmured into the kiss, “S’okay.”
It wasn’t, but Goro left the lie unchallenged.
Akira had won again, after all, outsmarted him. Goro had tried keeping his distance, but Akira had determinedly swallowed up the gap he left between them until they were here, Goro curled up on the ground like a fucking child and willingly caught in Akira’s gentle grip. Akira was killing him with kindness and it was the single most agonising thing Goro ever experienced. He never wanted it to end.
But it had to.
Akira broke the kiss, left another lingering one to the corner of his mouth and said, “We’ll work it out after we get back to our own reality.”
And the opportunity was there, for Goro to say I won’t be there, because. There was a chance he was dead and non-existent beyond this false paradise. But that will make him a hook, a trap for Akira’s will to falter and he refused. He refused to be reduced to that. Even if this terrified him, this forgiveness and Akira’s determination to carve a permanent, painful place inside of his heart.
Goro will not become a temptation.
So, he just said, “You’re an idiot.” instead of ‘I’m going to die soon.’
“Yeah,” Akira said, “Maybe.”
And he kissed him again, ignorant of the pain he was tumbling head first into.
And maybe, Goro hated him enough to let him fall into it without a word.