It's a soft mewl that pulls him out of his thoughts and reminds him he's about to miss his apartment again. Goro stops with a sigh, eyeing the apartment building that's been his---home for about three years now. Simple yet oozes class, that building, and Goro hates coming to that place.
It's not a home.
Another mewl, and he blinks. He turns behind him, to the dark alleyway he passed by not too long ago, and he blinks again when there's a third mewl. The rain hasn't let up since he'd stepped out of the Metaverse, with yet another job done, and he has to go to his apartment soon, to do his homework and to sort through the new cases he picked up.
Goro walks back and into the alleyway.
It's dark, and it smells like rotting trash in here. He has to bite back a laugh at that. Of course, everything pristine and lovely on the outside always hides something revolting---even this neighbourhood does, but he didn't come to this sickening pit to mull over something he's known his whole life, so he walks in the dark, ignoring the smell and the squelching noises his shoes make whenever he steps on something. The mewls don't stop as he makes his way to the sound.
Goro stops on his tracks, fingers tightening around the handle of his umbrella as he stares at the sight that greets him. The one that's been making the noise is a kitten---of course it is; what is he expecting, a shadow out to kill him?---and it's surrounded by an adult cat---its mother, he supposes. They both lay unmoving inside a toppled box, seeking shelter from the rain, and the kitten mewls again, head moving against its mother's belly.
This is a waste of time, is what he thinks as he takes a step back. This place is disgusting, has nothing but trash with a sickening scent filling the air. There's no room for another one here---
The kitten's soft mewl stops Goro from turning back, and he looks back at the box. The kitten slowly rubs its head against its mother, and it’s obviously weak, now that Goro is looking closer. A small paw presses against the older cat gently, but the cat doesn't move. Before he knows it, Goro is standing in front of the box, eyes staring at the cats. Neither moves; the mother lies limp with her eyes closed, the kitten too busy shaking its mother awake. Goro isn't a genius in his own right, with all the cases he solved being the ones that he himself caused, but he can tell what's wrong: the mother is dead.
The decision here is easy: kill the kitten, because it's obviously dying, desperate for its mother's warmth. It will be dead by tomorrow morning. If Goro is feeling merciful, he should off it now instead of leaving its cries to mix with the rain until it succumbs to the cold.
He watches as the kitten opens its small mouth and lets out another mewl, and it rings in his ears. It's familiar, he realises.
Everything is familiar.
Goro brings the kitten back to his apartment and calls the nearest vet. The sudden appointment turned out to be expensive.
Shido can pay for it.
Goro wonders if he made the wrong decision, after all.
The kitten is what it is: a kitten. Needy, helpless, and constantly soils Goro's bed. She eats Goro's free time and money like they're a delicious meal she can't get enough of. She's annoying, and she's not even cute: her fur is an odd mix of wispy grey and orange that's almost the colour of mud, and her yellow eyes unsettle him. Because she was on the verge of dying when he found her, she has to be closely monitored and can't be left alone, and Goro debates leaving her in the dark alley where he found her. He has no time for a highly dependent animal when he has no time for himself.
But he buys a bed, and he fills it with used clothes he fished out from the laundry basket. She immediately latched on to his scent, the vet said, eyeing the way the kitten insistently crawled out of her grasp and towards Goro. His clothes will make her think he's with her.
True enough, he doesn't have to deal with her insistent cries when he has to leave for school---or work. The first night, he comes back to her curled up in her bed, buried under his clothes that he knows he'll throw out later instead of wash.
The next day, he wakes up and feels a weight pressing down his chest. The kitten is curled up on his chest, ears twitching, asleep. God knows how she climbed up his bed.
A month in, and the vet says she's recovering. Goro pushes down the relief he feels.
She's livelier, and her cries whenever she can't find him stops. She learns to climb his bed efficiently, and she long since abandoned her own bed in favour of claiming Goro's as hers.
She can eat steamed fish and wet cat food in place of the kitten formula Goro used to feed her. She's apparently older than he first thought. Considering her size when he first found her, she can easily be mistaken as a week old kitten. The change in her diet is welcome; Goro is forced to abandon the instant noodles and apples diet he's strictly following his entire life in favour of actual food, if bland, steamed fish is considered as actual food anyway. It will be good for his health.
He burns his first ever cooked meal since he was seven, and he gives the edible parts to the kitten. Forget that he didn't bother looking up how to steam fish.
When the weekend hits, he buys cat food for her, and he returns to his instant noodles and apples diet.
Five months in, and Goro throws the kitten out one morning. She's healthy now, bigger and daring like she was never malnourished and on the verge of dying before, and she scratches the sofa. The kitten doesn't need him anymore, and he doesn't need her ruining his furniture.
He comes back to his apartment after school, and he finds her curled up in front of his door. The kitten sees him and mewls, stretching then rubbing her body against his leg when she finally moves from her spot.
Goro buys a scratching post and a collar the next day, one that is red with a white bell that he knows will annoy him for the rest of his life, after school.
"I have a cat, too," Goro says with a smile, fingers curled around his quickly cooling cup of coffee and eyeing the black cat that’s watching him from the stairs. He looks back at the boy behind the counter, watches the way Kurusu Akira pauses for a second from wiping the counter, then Kurusu nods, running the rag he holds against the flat surface once more.
"Yeah?" is all he says.
"She's not as cute as your cat, though," Goro says with good humour. "She's a stray, and her fur is an odd mix of grey and orange, with yellow eyes. Not that adorable."
"Morgana's a stray, too," Kurusu says, then, "what's your cat's name?"
Goro pauses at that. He's never given it thought. The cat's been living with him for months now, has her own feeding bowl and bed (that she never uses) and scratching post. She already has her shot of vaccines and a small cabinet full of toys and snacks.
She doesn't have a name, and her vet never really pressed Goro to give her one, so he didn't.
"Furball," Goro blurts out, because that's what she is, when she's tightly curled up in his bed. A ball of fur.
He narrows his eyes when Kurusu's smile widens significantly to a smirk, his eyes full of mirth. "That's adorable," Kurusu says, hands still, bright grey eyes focused on him. The knowing smirk is still there.
Goro leaves Leblanc that night feeling warmer than normal.
Goro comes home bleeding.
The last job did not go as well as expected, or maybe he'd been reckless, but the fact of the matter is that he's bleeding. It's not life threatening, but the deep gash on his side is enough to lightly stain his uniform and to make him visibly wince when he moves, so he's forced to take a taxi home.
Expensive, again. Shido can pay for it.
Furball's yellow eyes are wide as she stares at him from the sofa. Her entire form is still, but her eyes follow him as he stumbles around the apartment until he's in the bathroom and wrestling the first aid kit out from the medicine cabinet.
It takes him far too much time and far too much pain to stitch the wound closed; he needs a supply run for anaesthesia and antibiotics and a doctor who won't ask why Akechi Goro, Detective Prince, has far too many scars on his body and a wound to stitch closed. The stitching is ugly and, therefore, will leave an ugly scar, like all the others, but it will do, like all the others. At least Goro won't die from it.
He just finished cleaning his wound when he hears a mewl, and he feels Furball's gaze heavy on him as he turns to look at her. She's under the doorway to the bathroom, sitting in a way that makes Goro think she's not sure if she's allowed inside or not, and that's a first, because she'll always let herself in if the door is open, never mind if Goro is shitting on the toilet or not.
So Goro wipes his bloody hands on the towel meant for this kind of situation and limps to her (and it's how he realises he sprained his foot, too), and he slowly kneels in front of her to scratch under her chin. She lifts her head for easy access, eyes closed and obviously pleased, and he feels the low rumble of her purring against his fingertips.
"Sorry," he says, and he realises it's the first time he actually talked to her. "I'll make sure this will be the last time you see me like this."
It's not a promise, because he knows he'll break it, but God help him if he doesn't at least try to keep it at the minimum.
The chime of the bell in Leblanc sounds different, and when Goro finally slides into his usual seat, he points it out to Kurusu, whose eyes merely flicker above Goro's head before returning to the cup he's filling for Goro.
"It's a new one," Kurusu says as he slides the cup in front of Goro. "Morgana broke the old bell."
"How did Morgana break...?" Goro doesn't bother finishing it. He doesn't think he wants to know how the weird, speaking cat managed it. He chuckles instead, taking his cup. "That sounds handful."
"Sojiro made me replace it, and Morgana isn't going to get any sushi for a month to replace the money I lost." Kurusu sounds exasperated, and Goro can't help smiling against his cup. "How's Furball doing?"
Hearing Furball's name from Kurusu like that feels...weird. Foreign, but not at all. Goro forces a small smile, pushes down the strange feeling that swells in his chest. "She's doing well, thank you." He puts down his cup, and his forced smile is replaced with a frown. "She started sneaking out of my apartment, usually through the kitchen window and making a mess of the sink. It's odd, coming home to an empty apartment." He purses his lips, remembers all the nights he'd come home without her in her usual spot in the sofa, and his chest tightens at the memory. He doesn't like it. "I should be used to such an arrangement."
"Her presence must have made all the difference," Kurusu remarks, his attention on the glass he's wiping dry. He looks up at Goro. "Living alone must have been exhausting."
Goro blinks, and he looks down at his cup. "No, it's...I'm used to it, so it shouldn't make a difference."
"Well, now you're not, because you got Furball," Kurusu says, and how does he always know what to tell Goro? "She still comes home, right?"
"Of course," Goro replies, and now he smiles. It's less forced this time. "She has the gall to come in through the front door, meowing until I open the door for her."
Kurusu laughs at that, and Goro finds himself leaning towards the sound. "Of course, she does," he says, though it's more to himself than to Goro. "Your home is hers, too," he tells Goro this time, "so she'll keep coming back no matter how many times she leaves." He waves a hand at the stairs. "Morgana can attest to that."
Goro stares at him, and he looks down, at his coffee. He thinks of the time he picked her up and dropped her outside his apartment building, when it's become apparent she's recovered and old enough to survive on her own, and she came back to him and acted like he never threw her out. Then soon enough, his home became her home, too.
Somehow, for the first time, he realises he doesn't mind his apartment that much anymore.
He comes home later than normal, carrying a bag of cat food and cat shampoo as well as a bag of apples, and he finds Furball sitting in front of his door. When she sees him, she meows, very eagerly, and she comes to him and circles around him as he makes his way to his door and unlocks it.
His apartment is dark, and Furball scrambles into the living room and perches into the sofa as he turns on the lights. Standing under the doorway, Goro lets the view of his apartment sink in.
Furball's toys are scattered on every corner of the apartment; her bowls of food and water are lined against the counter and beside the stool where Goro sits with his noodles and apples; parked beside the door to his bedroom is her unused bed, splashed with pink and dotted with ribbons to play with; and inside his room is an unsuspecting caramel-coloured cabinet where all of Furballs supplies and food are stashed in.
They bring colour to his otherwise dull and monochrome apartment.
Goro kicks the door closed and drops his groceries, and he makes his way to the sofa and drops beside Furball.
Traveling Mementos alone always managed to get something to crawl under his skin, making him feel like peeling his skin off him and leaving it behind, the sense of dread and horror always just a step behind and never leaving him, but now that he's traveling with companions inside a cat-bus, no matter how nauseous and annoying they may get, that feeling of wanting to skin himself has never bothered him.
Joker taps his hand against his shoulder, and he twists in his seat to raise a brow at the leader of the Thieves. There's a small, knowing smile on his face, and it makes Goro think of the inevitable end that will come to pass. If he's grimacing, he can pass it off to the noise pollution inside the bus. Joker doesn't look like he's enjoying the noise the rest of the Thieves are making, either, if he's bothering to speak with Goro. Then again, he's the only one who really speaks with Goro, isn't he?
"Do you think if you bring Furball here, she can be a cat-bus, too?"
The question takes him off-guard; the fact that Oracle hears completely blows off his guard. She widens her eyes at him and says, "Furball?"
"Crow's cat," Mona's voice quips through the radio, voice static, "wait, no one knows about his cat?"
"This guy's got a cat?" Skull's scrutinising gaze pisses him off, if he has to be honest, but he's too busy scrambling for a reply to think much of it.
"Why," he says instead, "Skull, does it bother you that much?"
"What? No, dude," Skull says, and it makes Goro realise that what he said is the wrong thing to say, "I just...didn't peg you as a cat guy. Or an animal guy in general. You just don't give off that vibe, you know?"
"He's a cat guy," Joker quips in with a smile, "and his cat's name is Furball."
Oracle's laugh is loud and full, and it swallows the noise pollution that plagues the Mona-bus. Panther and Noir are giggling, and if Queen has any reaction to the name, Goro doesn't see it.
"Furball!" Oracle loudly says. "That's so adorable."
"That's what I said, too," Joker says with a grin. Goro grimaces again and looks away.
"Hm, I wouldn't say it's a flattering name, but it is nice," Fox says, "for a cat."
"I think that's everyone's way of saying Crow has shit naming sense," Skull flatly says, and he yelps when Panther slaps his shoulder.
"Don't listen to him!" Panther tells Goro as she turns to him. "Do you have any pictures of Furball? I'd love to see her."
"Me, too, me, too!" Oracle quips in, "and you know, Joker's got a good question. Hey, Mona---"
"No, normal cats can't do it!"
Goro sits there, opening and closing his mouth, as if he can’t really get any words to come out. Truthfully that’s how it is, and he dislikes the attention he’s getting, the Thieves’ expectant looks, Joker’s smile. He hates, hates, hates---
“Sure,” he croaks out. “I don’t have pictures of her, though. Perhaps next time.”
There’s cheering in the bus, and it drowns out the hatred that he carries, if only for a moment.
A week after infiltrating Niijima Sae’s Palace, Goro sits in his usual stool by the counter, cup noodles empty. Furball merrily eats her food just a few paces away from him, and he opens his laptop.
He doesn't use any of his social media accounts. They're mostly just there for convenience, just to say that he does have online accounts, are you perhaps interested to follow me? My accounts are public, but mostly unused, ha ha. Things like that.
Now, though, he has a use for them.
He stares at the Create New Post page for too long. If he posts this, then surely Kurusu will ask, because any of his posts definitely gets too much attention, and they spend so many nights in Leblanc just talking about their cats. His answer will be as sincere as all his answers about Furball.
I can't keep her anymore.
Of course, he can't. He never meant to let it go this far, to begin with.
So Goro uploads his only picture of Furball, and he asks if there's anyone willing to adopt his cat and to take good care of her in his place.
The response is overwhelming.
He doesn't read any of it.
"Why did you put her up for adoption?"
The coffee Kurusu served him burns, and it's bitter. The taste is disgusting, though Kurusu knows the blend he prefers by heart.
"I'm afraid I'm no longer fit to care for her," is Goro's answer. "Truthfully, I'm barely fit to care for any animal. Sakamoto's right in that regard."
"Ryuji didn't say that." Kurusu pauses. "She's going to come looking for you if you give her away."
Goro stops at that, stops himself from grinding his teeth together. "I'm aware, so I'll have to let whoever is going to adopt her know about it. I trust they'll do their best to make sure she doesn't escape."
"I don't trust your fans, truthfully," Kurusu says. "They might just treat Furball like a souvenir from you."
Goro's fingers tighten around his cup. "I just have to choose wisely, then." He smiles tightly at Kurusu, but he's still frowning at Goro. Don't do that. "I'm a detective, remember? Running background checks is part of the job description."
"I can take care of Furball for you."
Stop caring. "You can't."
Because I'm going to kill you. "Won't Sakura-san mind the extra cat? And Furball isn't exactly sentient like Morgana."
"I'll figure something out," Kurusu says, and Goro's eye doesn't twitch. He's better than that.
He quietly counts to three. Kurusu doesn't blink in those three seconds, and Goro tries to relax his smile at him. "It takes me by surprise how invested you are in this. You don't even know how Furball looks like."
"She's a cat," Kurusu says, as if that answers anything. "And she's your cat, and I saw your post going around. You can’t pretend we don’t talk about her almost everyday. Look, if I have her, you can always visit Leblanc to see her."
Goro stares at him. There's a stubborn shine to his grey eyes, his lips pulled downwards in a way that is so very subtle, it's unnoticeable, but it's there. Kurusu is clearly upset about this, and Goro shakes his head, standing up from his chair.
"You're too kind," he politely says as he pulls out his wallet. Kurusu stops him, his fingers gently curled around Goro's wrist, and he fights the urge to wrench his hand away and smack Kurusu across the face.
"It's on the house," he says, though it shouldn't; Goro barely touched it. "Think about it. Furball won't be happy."
"I've already thought about it," Goro replies, smile still in place, "and I figured that Furball can't stay with someone like me." He gently pries his wrist from Kurusu's grip. "Thank you for the coffee. I apologise for wasting a good cup."
When he comes home, he heads straight for the bathroom, and he scrubs the wrist Kurusu held until the skin is a harsh pink against fair porcelain.
One week later, Furball leaves Goro's apartment for good, and the day after that, Kurusu Akira is arrested.
Furball doesn't return home, and it's for the best.
Goro comes back to an empty apartment, the gun in his coat pocket weighing him down.
The apartment is dark. Nothing litters in all corners of his apartment, nothing is lined against the counter beside his stool, there's nothing beside the door to his bedroom, and the caramel-coloured cabinet in his bedroom is empty.
For almost a decade, he's alone, but give him a year to have a small, useless thing to waste his time on, and suddenly the emptiness is suffocating.
He stands in the living room as his front door clicks closed on its own. It's done. He threw everything away, and he pulled the trigger. He'd gotten rid of everything that's in his way. The cat, Kurusu---
He'd gotten rid of them. He can't take them back.
The sofa is empty. The gun in his coat is heavy.
Pain flares from his knees as he folds into himself on the floor. He runs his fingers through his hair and tugs and tugs and tugs. He hears something that feels so far away, and he ignores it until his throat burns and he's vomiting what little he had for breakfast.
Only the dull walls of this dull place hear him.
A week before the election, Goro doesn't come back to his apartment, and the Phantom Thieves send their last calling card for all of Japan to see.
Kurusu Akira stands in front of a door, the number 402 etched into the hardwood, and the name etched on a metal plate underneath it, Akechi.
For absolutely no reason whatsoever, he rings the doorbell. Then he rings again, after a minute. There's no answer. What is he expecting? No one lives in this apartment anymore.
March 19, his last day in Tokyo. He made it a point to say farewell to all his friends and the people he's met throughout his stay here, but even then, it isn't as if he'll never see them again. He can always visit them, and they can always visit him.
This, though---this is different, because when he says his farewell to this...this door, it's final. There's no one to go back to, and that---that's one of his regrets, among many things, and all of them trace back to the same person. There's so many regrets, so many what-ifs and if-onlys, Akira could drown in them.
It makes him wonder if this is how true freedom should feel.
He looks down, fishing out a black necktie from his pocket. It's silk and smooth against his fingers. It's expensive, that's easy to tell. Of course, it is; the necktie is Akechi's. He left it with Akira, when he bought Akechi his new accessories for Palace exploring. Akira never got around to returning it, and when what happened, happened, it's the only thing that he has all the way until he shot a god in the face.
The necktie is what they would call a memento, but Akira just thinks he can't let go.
He wonders if he should return it now; he wonders if that will make an ounce of difference.
Akira freezes on the spot, his fingers tightening around the necktie. Then he hears it again, a mewl, a little bit loud to be outside the building, and it's weird; how did it get in here?
He turns to the direction of the sound, and he blinks at what he sees. Not too far from him is a cat, with a very odd fur the colour of wispy grey and orange that's almost the colour of mud. The cat's eyes are an unsettling yellow, watching him intently. She wears a collar---red with a white bell, and it jingles as she tilts her head at Akira, at the necktie.
Akira's breath hitches, and he almost chokes out a laugh as he takes a step towards her, then another, until he's kneeling in front of her. She stays in place, watching him and unafraid. She looks at the necktie.
His hand is shaking as he offers it for her to sniff, and she does, leaning forward and pressing her nose against the piece of clothing, then after a second or two, she affectionately rubs her head against the tie.
Akira warned Akechi about this, didn't he?
"Furball," he says as she meows at him, as the tears that hold him back finally let him go, and she rubs her body against his outstretched hand that holds the necktie. His shoulders shake, his vision blurs, but he can't leave the cat hanging like this. He knows she came a long way to get here. Someone has to greet her back.
All this way, only to find someone she doesn't know who only has a piece of Akechi's clothing to give her.
He did try to promise to care for her. He hopes Akechi doesn’t mind.
"Furball, welcome home."