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False Start

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He couldn’t tell you the last time he’s been held. Maybe never.

He thinks his mother might have, before, though he’s unsure if it counts. She would have been holding onto the idea of the man she loved, the man who never loved her back, the loving family she’d never have – not the child that tore her future apart and left her suffocating in the wake of rejection and disgrace.

Why she killed herself instead of him – Goro didn’t know. Maybe the company of her worst enemy was still better than no one at all.

But there’s an arm draped around his waist and a body pressed to his – hair tickling his chin, soft pads of fingertips lightly grazing the skin of his back, someone else’s leg under his own.

He knows this can’t be real.

He knows he’s in love.

“You’re awake,” a voice heavy with sleep rumbles into his chest as fingers drift to the dip of his waist.

He knows this voice, hears it every morning when he wakes, every night before he sleeps.

Heard it in the minutes before he died, mere moments ago.  

“It’s a rare occasion for you to wake up before me,” Goro says, running a hand through Ren’s hair and pressing lips to his forehead. Ren hums in response. “Although, perhaps awake is too generous a word.”

He can feel the smile against his skin. “Can’t be helped, I’m getting old. I need all the rest I can get,” Ren says, grabbing the hand Goro was steadily shifting down and down and putting it back in his hair. Goro complies with the unspoken demand.  

“Twenty-six years old,” Goro says as he massages Ren’s scalp, enunciating each word with all the weight his age demands. Which is to say – with heavy sarcasm. “You’re at death’s door.”

“Been knockin’ for a while now. Could croak at any second.”

“Any second?” Goro asks in mock concern.

“Mhm,” Ren confirms.

“Then I suppose there’s only one thing we can do.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” Goro says, rolling them over and pinning him to the mattress.

And this can’t be real, not when he’s dead on the floor with a bullet in his head, the same way Ren – No, no. Not Ren. He wouldn’t, would he? It was someone else there, someone else in that interrogation room, not him. Was he dreaming?

Is he dreaming?

The lives he remembers don’t match up.

He thinks reality may have lost touch with him. He’s not sure he wants to reconnect.

It doesn’t matter, he has Ren here and now, real or not – the past can be forgotten. His sad excuse of a life was nothing but empty and explosive before they met. Bouts of liberating insanity interrupted by the farcical stage of existence he was trapped in. Ren’s gray eyes introduced more color to his life than a prism in direct light of the sun.

He lowers his mouth above Ren’s, hovering there before teasing a kiss at the edge and whispering, “We’ll just have to make the most of it while we still can.”

Ren laughs and pushes him off, sitting up. “Maybe tonight. I’m going to start breakfast.”

“But you might not make it until tonight,” Goro says in practice of futility as he swipes a lock of hair from his mouth. “You really need to learn how to seize the moment.”

“I’ll survive for your sake, promise. You can seize the moment to your heart’s content later. Go take a shower.”

“Will you be joining me?”

“Go take a cold shower.”

“Copy that – rejection received loud and clear,” Goro sighs. Ren laces their fingers together, grinning before kissing him far too chastely. Goro follows when he pulls away, drawn to him the same way the tides chase the moon – unthinkingly, compelled by powers outside of his realm of understanding or control.

It terrifies him.

It’s the best thing he’s ever felt.

“Today’s going to be a long day,” Ren says, the mischievous, affectionate glint in his eye softening to something somber.

Goro squeezes his hand. “It’s been ten years,” he says, a memory slipping into his head that wasn’t there before. Ten years since – “It’s almost hard to believe.”

“It’s not the only thing hard to believe,” Ren says, reaching over to the nightstand. His hand comes back holding a simple gold ring between thumb and index finger. He holds it up to an eye and looks at Goro through it.

“Took them long enough to make it legal, didn’t it?” Goro asks, closing his hand over Ren’s. “And I could name a friend or two of yours who would still choose not to believe it.”

“They’re your friends, too,” Ren says, letting Goro slip the band over his ring finger – the matching band to the one Goro fell asleep wearing, the one he only ever took off to clean.

And Goro never wanted this, but he needs it now that he has it. Needs this intimacy he never quite convinced himself was for weak minded idiots who would live only to experience betrayal and loss and pain.

But Ren doesn’t hurt people. Ren is good and wholeheartedly in love with the act Goro plays just for him.

He’ll act until he dies again, until hell reaches out and finds the frayed strands of his soul that are still clinging onto this idealized life he’s found himself in.

He’ll act until time erases him from history – until the last few rays of the sun blink out from existence in the furthest reaches of the universe.

He needs this.

“Mm. Friends or not, they certainly enjoy giving me a difficult time,” Goro says, vague memories flitting around like dandelion seeds in the wind – of distrust to irritation to begrudging acceptance to relentless pestering.

Of fondness and so much guilt.

“That’s just how they show they care.”

“I’d prefer compliments.”

“They know.”

Goro presses his face into the crook of Ren’s neck to stop himself from saying something snide. Ren doesn’t like it when it’s aimed at his – excuse him – their friends. He drags his teeth across the skin of his throat instead, the elicited shiver both expected and welcome.

“We can make it fast,” Goro suggests, lowering his voice in the way he knows Ren has trouble resisting.

Ren falters and Goro thinks maybe he’s won this morning’s game after all. He runs a hand up Ren’s leg.

Ren tugs him closer and whispers seductively in his ear, “Take a shower. I’ll start breakfast.”

Goro groans and stands up, mussing his hair with a few varieties of frustration. “You know you’re only depriving yourself at this point?”

Ren grins and Goro feels the same way he did when he was seventeen and finally managed to convince Ren that they should get something to eat that wasn’t from Leblanc in a way that couldn’t be confused for platonic or as a joke.

It happened after he – or was it before they – or was it –  –  – ?

The details don’t matter, do they? He can fill in the blanks later.

“I like it when you pine after me,” Ren says.

“Sometimes I think you like teasing me more than you like me.”

“Mm, maybe,” Ren pretends to think about it, tilting his head and biting his lip. “It helps that you look really sexy when you finally get what you want after a long wait.”

“If that’s the case, then I should be irresistible all the time.”

“Oh?”

“I got you, didn’t I?” Goro asks. The smile that blooms across Ren’s face makes Goro want to destroy the rest of the world just to create an excuse to do nothing but look at him until he’s the last thing he sees. He’s pathetic, but he made peace with that before he became a murderer. As long as Ren never finds out – “Married you, even convinced you to take my name.”

“Shut up, I’m still bitter about that. I keep finding things my name needs to be updated on every week.”

“I appreciate the suffering you’ve endured for the literal sake of my name,” It took months and every bit of charm he had to sway him into it. Maybe a little bit of bribery in the form of a kitten. Alcohol may have helped, too, he thinks. The details slip through his fingers like desert sand, shifting but warm in his hand. But honestly, the desert doesn’t matter when he has the sun’s magnificence all to himself. “I’ll go take my shower. If you could make me –”

Ren shoos him off. “Your high protein, low carb whatever – got it. Still don’t know why you’re suddenly on a diet.”

“It’s healthy. Keeping up my appearance is an important part of my career.”

“You don’t eat bread or rice. It’s not natural.”

“When I’m fifty and look thirty, you’ll thank me.”

“And you’ll just have to deal with me getting fat and having wrinkles.”

“As long as you keep making the coffee in the morning I’ll accept all of your poor choices.”

“I’ll remember that,” Ren promises as he heads for the kitchen.

And Goro doesn’t want to leave the room, doesn’t want Ren to walk through that door –

“Do you ever regret it?” he asks before Ren steps past the threshold, past the room he knows exists – where the fibers of the rug tickle under his feet, the strips of light bleed out from the ends of the curtains and into his eyes while he’s still trying to sleep, the unmade bed still warm with body heat –

“Regret what?” Ren asks, turning away from the door, the door that leads to the rest of a house Goro can’t quite recall, even if he knows that it’s his own.

“Ten years ago – starting the Phantom Thieves, and then with what happened to  ̷̭̙͂̇ ̸̢̳͆͌ ̴̻̩̌̐ ̷͓̒ ̷̦̜̈́̈́ ̷̞́͜ ̴̞̹̋̕ ̶̤̝͛̊ ̶̹̘̔̐ ̶̡̯͑ ̶͉͖̄͘ ̵͓͚̀ ̸̛͎̦ - - - ”

Goro’s tongue goes dry in his mouth, and he quickly reminds himself that details don’t matter. They’re unnecessary things that get in the way of the big picture. His heart drums beneath his ribcage and he doesn’t know how this pressure isn’t pumping the blood straight out of his body, but if he could just keep Ren in this room

“No, I don’t regret it. Even with how it ended. If I never started the Phantom Thieves – how would I have met you?”

And Ren’s back in his arms, his breath hot against his neck, a thumb hooked to the band of his sweats –

“I love you,” Ren says, brushing back Goro’s hair, the ring on his finger smooth against his face.

And everything is perfect, exactly like this.

And it must have been a bad dream. It was his paranoia creeping up on him from a time back when no one was on his side and he was so tired and angry. He’s a disaster and Ren knows it – maybe not the depth or the scope of it, but he still knows and still loves him –

He trips forward, the arm around his waist – gone. The lips that shaped the words he never thought he’d care to hear from anyone – gone.

Ren – gone.

He stumbles over nothing, the carpet under his feet stripped to rusted steel plating bolted down and welded into place – red and corroded and rotting from the inside out.

He coughs and nearly gags on the blood congealing in the back of his throat. He takes a step, the hand pressed against his chest helpless against the blood escaping the bullet hole with each beat of his heart. His doppelganger had shitty aim, but he didn’t.

He collapses to the floor and stares into the dull, vacant eyes of his cognitive self as it fades back into the disgusting reality of the mind that shaped it.

He remembers Ren’s smile – the feel of it against his skin, the shape of his eyes as they crinkled up, the hand combing through his hair.

His vision leaves him, but it's not from loss of blood.

The last time he cried was before his mother died.

 

 

He wakes in a blue room.

A spotlight shines down on him, stretching his shadow out and up onto the stage curtain behind him in a crude caricature of himself.  The three-legged stool he sits on wobbles with each wet breath he takes.

He knows this place.

The barren audience chamber screams in shrill silence at him, echoing in the hollow space of his skull where he tried to carve out his humanity with each life he took.

“Give it back,” his voice sticks to the back of his throat like sap on his fingers.

You don’t deserve it.

“I don’t care!” he shouts, throwing his chair out into the seats. “It’s mine! Give it back – give him back to me,” his voice lurches with each uneven breath.

Earn it.

“I’ll do – anything. It’s – it’s someone else, right? Someone else has to die before – and then I – I could. That’s what you were trying to show me, right? That’s what – Ren. I’d win. And he wouldn’t even know, wouldn’t know anything and I could have everything as long as –” he laughs, but it's crooked and stilted. The stage spins around him. “My future –”

 

 

His alarm goes off - and he is seventeen and impossibly alone.

He stares at the empty space next to him, the white noise of his phone muting the chaos in the back of his head. Outside, the pink blossoms of spring are dull and lifeless under his feet.

He spots Ren at the station – both everything he’s ever wanted to be and everything he’s ever wanted.

Ren notices him staring and smiles uncertainly, timidly – glancing around to see if maybe he was looking at someone else. Akechi remembers a smile against his skin and an arm around his waist, of lips pressed to his own and a confession he didn’t deserve.

He smiles and waves the way he does for the cameras and leaves Ren behind.

He has lives to ruin before they can meet.

He is his mother’s child.