Shido’s palace had been an unpleasant experience to all of them, but, to Goro, facing that cognitive and distorted version of himself had been especially disturbing. As much as he tried, he couldn’t take that sadistic smile out of his mind, his sharp laughter still echoing in his memory.
The worst thing about it, however, was thinking about how he came so close to become exactly like Shido’s perception of him: an empty tool moved by nothing but hatred.
A pained hiss escaped his lips as Ryuji cleaned the bullet wound on his shoulder. After everything that happened that night, the two of them went back together to Ryuji’s house, despite the concerned protests from the rest of the group. Ryuji raised his eyes, looking at him.
“Is it hurtin’?” he asked.
It was. The life stone had managed to stop the bleeding and mend the muscles, but, on the surface, it was still an open and fresh wound. Goro forced a smile.
“It’s fine,” he said. “It’s not even bleeding anymore.”
His answer made Ryuji furrow his brow.
“I asked if it hurts, not if it’s bleedin’,” he said.
“A little,” admitted Goro. “But it should get better soon.”
Ryuji nodded, then focused his attention once again on cleaning and covering that wound. Goro observed him in silence, noticing a hint of concern on his face.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“If you had no healin’ items there with you…” murmured Ryuji, shaking his head. “I don’t even wanna think about it.”
He made a pause, looking at Goro’s face.
“You really scared me back there,” he said.
Goro lowered his gaze, an uncomfortable sensation taking his chest.
“I should be the one saying that.”
He could feel Ryuji’s eyes still on him, and took a deep breath before proceeding.
“When I saw that explosion, I thought my heart had stopped,” he said. “For a moment, I was sure you were gone.”
“Yeah… That shit was pretty scary,” admitted Ryuji in a low tone. “Glad it worked, though. Only thing in my mind at the time was to keep you guys safe… I’d never forgive myself if anythin’ bad happened to you.”
“But nothing happened,” answered Goro. “Thanks to you.”
He glanced at Ryuji, seeing a tiny smile take his lips. He was once again focused on covering that wound, and Goro used that chance to smile to himself as well.
“Y’know,” said Ryuji after a while, “despite everythin’… It feels kinda nice to know I did somethin’ good.”
“Of course you did,” answered Goro. “You’re always doing that.”
He hesitated for a moment, pondering if he should keep talking. It took some effort, but he did.
“You helped me give up on my revenge.” His voice was low, and he couldn’t look at Ryuji as he spoke. “You made me realize I could still find a way to make things better. I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for you.”
Another pause. He glanced at Ryuji, meeting his gaze.
“And I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you today,” he added in a whisper.
Carefully, Ryuji leaned in his direction, placing a kiss on his face while caressing his hair.
“You didn’t,” he said. “We’re both here.”
But it was still difficult to get rid of those feelings of anxiety and dread, first from believing that he was about to die, and, later, that he was about to lose the person he came to love. Despite Ryuji’s comforting words, something in his expression made Goro believe he felt the same way. This time, he was the one to pull Ryuji close, hugging him. There was a sharp sting on his injured shoulder that made him grunt.
“Be careful,” said Ryuji.
Goro rested his face on the crook of Ryuji’s neck, closing his eyes, and Ryuji soon did the same. His warmth was as comforting as always, but part of Goro was still taken by that unrest, as if, as soon as he opened his eyes again, he would be back at Shido’s palace, staring at that distorted version of himself as it pulled the trigger—or worse: watching Ryuji die in front of him. For a long time, neither of them moved or spoke a word.
“I think I’m scared of lettin’ go of you,” murmured Ryuji after a while.
“You don’t have to let go.”
“Wish I didn’t…” Ryuji let out a small, humorless laugh. “But you still got some wounds that need cleaning.”
“And so do you,” reminded Goro.
“Yours was worse than mine.”
“And you already took care of it.” Goro stared at him, unwilling to give in. “The rest are just scratches, they can wait a little.”
Ryuji seemed about to protest, but Goro’s serious expression convinced him.
“Fine,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s anythin’ that bad here.”
“We’ll see. Take off your shirt.”
Ryuji did as he said. Some bruises were already starting to form on his back, and would probably get much darker on the next day. Goro cleaned a few areas with scraped skin, then gently applied an ointment to help with the pain.
“Cold…” complained Ryuji.
As a response, Goro placed a soft kiss on his shoulder.
“It won’t last long,” he said. “But maybe I used too much of it… It seems I’m not as good at treating injuries as you.”
“I just kinda got used to it,” answered Ryuji with a small shrug.
His answer made Goro frown.
“That’s a little depressing to hear,” he said.
“Ah, my bad…”
“It’s fine,” Goro reassured him. “Tell me if it’s painful.”
Ryuji agreed with a nod.
“Is your head still hurting?” asked Goro.
“A little, but the back is way worse.” Ryuji made a pause, letting out a small, frustrated groan. “And my leg… This shit fuckin’ hurts.”
“You should take care of it while I finish here, then.” Saying that, Goro handed him the ointment. “Here.”
Ryuji nodded again, taking it and lowering his pants so he could do as Goro suggested, applying that medicine over and around that large scar.
“It looks swollen,” observed Goro. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah, this happens a lot,” he said. “Sometimes it gets bad from just runnin’ a little around school. I don’t know how many times I got out of P.E. ‘cause of it.”
“Are you sure you should be forcing it needlessly like this?”
Ryuji glanced at him over his shoulder, offering him a slight smile.
“It’s much better now,” he assured. “Way better than last year, for sure. I can’t go back to runnin’ as I did before, but I can take a few laps without a problem.”
“Just don’t push yourself too far,” asked Goro. “It might be better now, but you’re still recovering.”
“Alright,” he said. “Is it hurting anywhere else?”
“Nah, I think that’s pretty much it.”
He reached for his t-shirt, but Goro placed a hand on his arm.
“You should wait a little before wearing your t-shirt again,” said Goro. “The medicine might stain it.”
“Wasn’t gonna wear it,” answered Ryuji. “Just thought I should clean it before my mom sees it.”
Goro glanced at the t-shirt, soon understanding what he meant: it had some dirt stains, as well as a few blood ones from when he fell after the explosion. He then looked at his own shirt, which, despite not being affected by the bullet, had a big bloodstain on the shoulder.
“True,” he said. “I’ll probably need you to lend me something. I don’t think we can get rid of that stain.”
Ryuji observed it for a while.
“I can try—”
“No,” answered Goro, serious. “You’re going to rest. I have more than enough money to buy a new shirt.”
“Alright, rich boy…” answered Ryuji in a slightly mocking tone. “Are you sure, though?”
“Yes,” said Goro. “I wasn’t particularly fond of it, anyway.”
“If you say so…”
Before any of them could continue that subject, Ryuji’s phone buzzed, calling their attention. He reached for it, looking at the screen.
“Is it Akira again?” asked Goro.
“Yeah.” Ryuji smiled to himself. “Askin’ if we’re really fine, and if we need anythin’.”
Goro sighed, shaking his head.
“He worries too much.”
“And it makes you happy,” retorted Ryuji with a grin.
Ryuji chuckled, then cupped Goro’s face with his palm, leaning in for a brief kiss.
“Sorry for breakin’ your cool dude act,” he whispered.
Goro held him by the chin, squeezing Ryuji’s cheeks with his fingers.
“Keep provoking me, and this won’t end up well for you,” retorted Goro in the same tone.
“Is that so?”
Ryuji’s grin widened, and Goro let out an annoyed groan before kissing him again. He felt Ryuji giggle against his lips, and, as much as he wanted to keep his annoyed act, he couldn’t. He kissed Ryuji’s face before moving away, looking at him.
“I’m not used to this yet…” he admitted in a low voice. “Being part of a group, having friends… Being loved.”
Ryuji showed a soft smile, caressing his hairline.
“You will,” he said.
Goro sighed, once again taken by those unpleasant feelings from before.
“It’s over, right?” he asked in a mutter. “Shido… I don’t need to think about that man anymore, do I?”
“I can’t say you won’t…” answered Ryuji. “Stuff like this doesn’t really go away for good.”
“But,” added Ryuji, “he won’t do anythin’ bad to you, or anyone, ever again.”
He knew that was true, but that uncomfortable feeling still didn’t go away. Maybe it would take some time for it to finally get better.
“I need to keep that in mind.”
Goro made a pause, thinking for a moment.
“I feel like I was born again tonight,” he said. “I can’t undo all the terrible things I did, but… I feel like I can finally move on now.”
“That’s good,” answered Ryuji. “You deserve another chance.”
“I won’t waste it.”
There was no doubt in his voice, and it made Goro smile.
“You have so much faith in me,” he observed.
“And you didn’t disappoint,” answered Ryuji. “Not even once.”
Goro lowered his gaze, and Ryuji kissed his forehead.
“Things will get better from now on,” said Ryuji. “You’ll see.”
“I hope so.”
“Now, lemme take care of you.”
He tried to move his thoughts away from that unpleasant subject as Ryuji cleaned the rest of his small wounds. When he was finished, he stood up, placing the first-aid kit on his desk, limping to his wardrobe to get a set of clean clothes.
“How is your leg?” asked Goro.
“Still hurts.” Ryuji sighed, absentmindedly placing his hand over it. “I think I’ll ask my mom to buy some painkillers on her way home.”
“Don’t you want me to go, instead?” offered Goro.
Ryuji shook his head.
“Nah… Your fans can be scary.”
“I know,” agreed Goro in a tired tone.
“And my mom knows my leg hurts sometimes,” added Ryuji. “She won’t think it’s suspicious, or anything.”
Goro nodded. Ryuji changed his clothes, then offered Goro a clean t-shirt and pants. With a few pained grunts, he lied on the bed again, reaching for his phone to message his mother.
“I thought about this for a while,” said Goro as soon as he changed his own clothes, lying beside Ryuji. “I’ve decided to stop being a detective.”
The news made Ryuji stare at him with widened eyes.
“You sure?” he asked.
“It was nothing but a facade from the beginning,” answered Goro with a small shrug. “I want to let go of everything related to my old life. My job, this Detective Prince act…” He lowered his tone. “I don’t want to be that person anymore.”
“It was never you,” said Ryuji in a serious voice. “Not the real you, at least.”
Goro didn’t answer, considering those words for a moment.
“Do you think I can be better?” he asked.
“You already are,” answered Ryuji. “You’ve changed so much in just a few months… Everyone can see that.”
“Yes, but…” Goro sighed, staring at the ceiling. “Sometimes I wonder if I deserve it.”
Ryuji turned to the side until he was facing Goro, placing a hand on his face, gently caressing his cheek with his thumb.
“You do,” he said.
Those simple words were enough to make Goro’s chest feel lighter. He turned to face Ryuji as well, moving closer until his head was touching Ryuji’s chest. The feeling of Ryuji’s hand on his hair was comforting, and made him slowly relax close to him.
If anything, for the first time in years, he was glad to be alive.