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Stalking, Attempted Murder and Karaoke

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“I came here to kill you, Goro Akechi.”

Goro fucked up.

He fucked up the second he decided that Haru Okumura could be just written off. He should have known better. Haru Okumura wasn’t a helpless heroine who would let herself be confined in a tower. She had already stepped out of her prison and tasted blood.

She had good reasons to seek vengeance on Goro. He knew it. Even if her dad was a piece of shit who deserved everything that happened to him, she still wasn’t going to just accept losing him. To her Goro Akechi was an enemy, an unrepentant villain who stole the illusion of happiness from her.

Goro frantically reached inside his briefcase, pulling out his gun—the real one, not the fake model he used in Metaverse. The briefcase fell to the ground as Goro took off the safety and aimed the gun at Okumura. There were more than ten meters between them. Even if she lunged at him, he should be able to shoot her before she slashed at him.

Okumura didn’t seem surprised to see a gun aimed at her. Instead her expression was one of minor disappointment.

“You think you can shoot me?” she asked, as if it was a laughable idea.

What was laughable was this whole situation. Okumura, wearing something that was clearly a replica of her Metaverse outfit, that she must have commissioned someone to sew for her, and holding an axe like it was perfectly normal. It wasn’t even one of those big axes she took into the Metaverse. No, if it was, Goro would be less scared because it would be hard for her to chase after him with such a big weapon.

But no, what alarmed him was the fact that it was an average axe. The kind you could easily buy in a shop. She could actually use it as a weapon in the real world, unlike the axes she carried with her in Metaverse.

The fact that she had clearly put so much thought into choosing her weapon terrified him.

“And you think you can just ambush people in a parking lot and kill them with an axe?!” he hissed, hiding his fear behind a mask of defiance.

It annoyed him how that setup actually made sense. Okumura was actually proficient with an axe. She would be able to kill someone with it. She could then abandon the weapon at the scene and, because gloves were a part of her outfit, there would be no fingerprints. Not to mention her ridiculous outfit would ensure that anyone who saw her would remember the outfit rather than the person wearing it.

“I don’t think you are one to point fingers given what you have been doing,” she said, her voice steely as she took a step forward.

Goro felt himself panic. He couldn’t actually shoot her. If he did, Phantom Thieves wouldn’t forgive him. Akira wouldn’t forgive him. All of Goro’s plans, everything would be for nothing.

“Wait, let’s talk. I know I did some unforgivable things, but I plan to take responsibility for them. I already promised I would give myself to the police once we take down Shido. Surely, letting the justice system take care of me is better than dirtying your own hands.”

Haru Okumura didn’t say anything, she just took another step forward. Goro found himself mirroring her as he took a step back.

“I know you are angry at me about what I did to your father,” he said, as he felt the hand in which he was holding the gun shake a little. His finger wasn’t on the trigger. He hoped Okumura couldn’t see that in the darkness of the night. “I won’t lie to you. I don’t feel remorse about it, but I will confess to it. Justice will be served, so can we please talk this through?” he said, feeling the desperation enter his voice.

Okumura tilted her head slightly, as if Goro said something perplexing.

“You think this is about my father?” she asked in a patronizing way that immediately told Goro his assumption had been wrong.

Wait, if Okumura hadn’t come here for revenge then why…

And then it hit him. Haru Okumura didn’t have to leave the Phantom Thieves. She chose to do so, even though she could have chosen just to suspend her membership. Or to stop being a part of active operation, but still be a member.

It wasn’t only that, when she appeared she introduced herself as Beauty Thief, which was the nickname she used before joining the Phantom Thieves. There was no reason for her not to call herself Noir. Except for one.

She didn’t leave the Phantom Thieves because she didn’t want to be in the same organization as Goro. She left because her goal was to protect the Phantom Thieves. She had a lot of respect for them, and because of that she didn’t want to sully their creed of not killing anyone. So she took it upon herself to distance herself and watch over them from the shadows.

Her motivation for ambushing Goro wasn’t revenge. All her actions had been about protecting the Phantom Thieves and what they stood for.

“You… You think I’m planning to betray them?!” Goro hissed, as he finally understood what he was being accused of.

“I don’t think you are going to betray them. I know you will. After all, I know more than anyone else about betrayal,” she said, her voice eerily calm. She was now five meters away from Goro. He found himself taking a few more steps back, but he knew there was a limit to how far he could run away. At some point his back would hit the metal fence.

Okumura was standing between him and the only alleyway leading out of the small parking lot. If he tried to climb the fence, he would just turn himself into an easy target for Okumura. Plus, Okumura would likely be able to easily chop her way through the fence.

There were a few cars parked on the left and right side of the parking lot, but they were parked against the wall. Goro wouldn’t be able to use them as a cover.

“It’s true, I initially planned to do that. But I’ve changed my allegiance since then!”

Okumura glared at him.

“You aren’t the type of person to change your plan,” she said coldly. The confidence in her words chilled Goro. “I could tell from the moment I met you that you knew how to bury your desires deep within you. How to smile while you are being humiliated. How to push all of those feelings deep down until they turn into a weapon sharp enough to achieve your goals.”

Goro felt himself swallow.

She was right. In a different world where his desires hadn’t been laid bare by Akira, he would have been able to shoot him. He would be able to bury his feelings. He would turn all his pain and longing into a weapon sharp enough to pierce through even the person he had grown to love. Goro knew that about himself. What Haru Okumura was saying was true. Goro was that kind of a monster.

The hand in which he held the gun was still shaking.

In that different world, he would be able to shoot her. He might have been able to justify it as yet another corpse on the bloody road to take down Shido. But in this world, he couldn’t do it. Not any longer. The very idea made him physically sick.

He didn’t want to die. He was scared and desperate, and yet for the first time he found himself completely unable to fight against the threat to his life. It was almost as terrible as that time two years ago when he had tried to beat Shido in his Palace, only to end up beaten to a bloody pulp and barely escaping with his life. He felt exactly as outmatched against Haru Okumura as he did back then. None of his pleading or bluffs would work against her. He couldn’t raise a hand against her. She had cut off all the escape routes.

Goro was doomed.

The moment Haru Okumura was close enough to leap towards him, she would attack with one deadly strike. The only reason for her slow approach was that she wanted to corner Goro first. If she rushed, she could accidentally create an opening for him to escape. But she didn’t. She kept approaching him steadily, like an incarnation of death—secure in her knowledge that he wouldn’t be able to escape his fate.

Goro really didn’t want to die.

He hadn’t even made up for half of the terrible things he’d done. There was so much more that he still had to do. He was supposed to take down Shido together with Akira. He was supposed to help Morgana overcome his insecurities. He was supposed to make it up to Sakura for how much he had ruined her life.

He… He hadn’t even had sex with Akira! They only had a makeout session once. It would be outright cruel of the universe to deny him that after he saved Akira’s ass so many times.

It couldn’t end like this.

“It’s over,” Okumura announced as she raised her axe.

Goro braced himself for the inevitable.

And then they both froze as they heard footsteps. They were distant at first, but grew closer by the second. Goro held his breath, unsure what to expect.

“Now, now, what do we have here… A lost kitty alone with a guy in a dark alley,” a condescending voice resounded as Goro saw a dark silhouette enter the parking lot. Okumura had lowered her axe and was now staring in that direction, looking as if someone struck her. Goro couldn’t fault her.

He too recognized the voice of Okumura’s asshole fiance.

“You thought you could escape me,” Sugimura said, sounding like a total creep. “You thought I didn’t know you were meeting someone, you slut! But it ends here! I set up a GPS tracker on your phone at one point. I’ve been waiting to catch you in the act! You were sly enough to leave your phone in the car, but that's not enough to escape from me!”

Goro hastily pushed up the scarf around his neck, so that it would cover the lower part of his face.

“I will show the whole internet the photos of your secret tryst! I will have my revenge for the humiliation you made me go through, you bitch!” he shouted, as he turned on the flashlight on his phone to take a photo.

Goro had to close his eyes as the light shined straight at him, but even then he could tell Sugimura’s expression underwent a massive change as he finally saw the scene he had walked in on. Okumura, wearing an elaborate costume and holding an axe, and a man pointing a gun at her.

They probably didn’t paint the romantic picture Sugimura had imagined.

Goro quickly moved his hand to point his gun at Sugimura.

“Drop the phone to the ground! If you try to move I will shoot you!” he threatened, using his more guttural voice. Goro knew it sounded very different from his usual pleasant voice, and hopefully it would be enough to stop Sugimura from identifying him.

Sugimura yelped and let go of his phone as if it was a hot potato. It fell to the ground screen-first and hit it with a satisfying sound of something cracking. However, the flashlight was still working, illuminating the awkward stand-off.

“What?! What the hell is this?!” the man whimpered, as the reality of the situation finally hit him.

Okumura was silent, as she seemed to not know what to do about this unforeseen intrusion. Goro was also confused, but he didn’t have time to be distracted. Sugimura was his one and only chance of escaping this predicament alive.

Goro had to survive. By any means necessary.

“Okumura… How about we make a deal? I understand you have many grievances towards me. How about I make it up to you by killing this idiot, and in exchange you will let me go?” he proposed. She looked at him in a daze, as if unable to comprehend his suggestion. Sugimura, meanwhile, seemed to have completely lost his cool.

“What? What?! You can’t—”

Goro put the safety on and took it off just to make his point clear. It immediately shut Sugimura up.

“Wait, you killed my father and now you want to make up for it by killing more people?!” Okumura protested.

“I think calling him a human being is too charitable,” Goro pointed out.

“Wait, he’s the guy who killed Kunikazu Okumura?!” Sugimura asked, finally realizing just what kind of confrontation he had walked into.

“That’s right,” Goro said, letting himself sound outright psychotic. The fear on Sugimura’s face was making him feel like he was in control again. Goro could do it. He could overcome the odds stacked against him. “And now that you know this I can’t let you walk away.”

Sugimura whimpered.

“I thought you said you will kill him if I agree to let you go,” Okumura said, finally regaining herself.

“You say that as if you want to let this piece of trash go after he saw us,” Goro hissed, before presenting his strongest argument. “He kicked Mona.”

I know,” Okumura said impatiently, in a tone of voice that clearly suggested she had already considered it in favour of Goro’s solution.

“Wait, you can’t let me die,” Sugimura pleaded, as tears welled in his eyes. He tried to take a step toward Okumura, but she raised her axe on reflex. He immediately stopped in place.

Goro realized she was shaking.

“Why… Why would you give me that choice?” she whispered, clearly conflicted.

Goro wasn’t sure how to answer. Because it seemed to be the best way to survive? Because while Goro would have loved to beat up the man before him into a bloody pulp for everything he had done, he believed Okumura deserved to be the one to decide his fate? Because he wanted her to have her revenge in a smaller way that didn’t involve killing Goro? None of those felt like a satisfying answer he could give to Okumura.

But maybe it was simpler than that. Okumura understood his twisted character, but the reverse was also true. Their circumstances were wildly different, but Goro was the one who understood what it was like to be a prisoner of fate crafted by one’s parent. What it was like to have your freedom stolen from you the moment you were born, because you would forever live with the shadow of your father hanging over you like a curse.

Yes, there was only one answer he could give to that question.

“Because I thought you were done with other people making choices for you,” he finally said.

That seemed to give her a pause. She looked at Sugimura, who was trying to make himself look smaller. It was a calculating look devoid of any sort of undeserved sympathy.

Finally, Okumura took a step toward him. Sugimura looked at her with hope, but didn’t dare to speak, mindful of the gun still aimed at him. She placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Put the gun down, Black Mask,” Okumura said. Goro clicked his tongue, but lowered the gun. Sugimura seemed outright elated at that.

“Ah, I knew you would—”

However, he didn’t get to finish as Okumura interrupted him, her voice steely.

“KNEEL.”

His face contorted as he heard her order. Goro could see him tense in resistance, but Okumura must have realized that too, as the grip she had on his shoulder visibly tightened.

“What are you—”

“I told you to kneel,” Okumura repeated, sounding extremely displeased with the fact that Sugimura was still standing. “Or do you want me to cut off your knees instead?”

As she raised the axe threateningly, Sugimura seemed to realize that kneeling was a very appealing option. In fact, he was so eager that he must have broken some kind of world record in how quickly he fell to his knees.

“Now, that’s better,” Okumura said, her voice oozing sweetness and murder in equal measure. “You are probably very confused about what’s happening right now, so I will try to explain in really simple terms. You see, Black Mask here, as much as I hate him, has a point. I should deal with you myself. I probably should have done this earlier, but there was just so much going on and I was more focused on the whole mess with my father. And I really didn’t want to see your face ever again.”

She paused for a moment.

“I want to say I hate you, but I don’t think that’s the right word. I certainly hate Black Mask over there for killing my father, but you… I feel like comparing the two of you is actually unfair to him. He at least put some effort and hard work into this and I would relish dismembering him…” Sugimura let out a terrified gasp, seeing Okumura’s merciless expression directed at him. However, she simply made an exasperated sigh. “I thought I would feel the same way about you, but now that you are before me it feels like too much effort. That’s right. I won’t kill you. I won’t kill you simply because you are that insignificant. You wouldn’t even make a good fertilizer for my plants.”

She finally let go of his shoulder. Sugimura immediately scrambled backwards.

“You are free to go. Just make sure to not inconvenience me anymore,” she said as she pushed some of her hair back. Sugimura gave her a frightened look, but then glanced at Goro as if also waiting for his permission to run away.

“I will respect her decision for now. But just so you know, if you breathe a word about seeing either of us here I will kill you. And I won’t need to ambush you with a weapon in a dark alleyway. Oh no, you won’t see me while I crush your heart. No walls or bodyguards will be able to protect you. So you’d better behave yourself. It’s just too easy to squash a mosquito like you if it flies too close. Now scram.”

Sugimura took that as his cue to run off. Goro watched him disappear into the alleyway leading to this small parking lot before remembering that he really should be doing the same thing.

He glanced at Okumura. Her gaze was distant as she stared at the direction where her ex-fiance ran off.

“We should talk,” she finally said.

It wasn’t a suggestion; it was an order.

*

As it turned out, Okumura wasn’t so naive as to try to ambush someone in a dark alleyway without backup.

No, she came with two well-built bodyguards that quickly relieved Goro of his gun and phone. He didn’t resist. He spent enough time with Shido to recognize that those two were professionals. If he tried to resist, they would be able to incapacitate him without even breaking a sweat.

They escorted him to the car, which then transported him… to this place.

“Feel free to choose the music while I order food and drinks,” Okumura said, as she picked up the menu card. She had changed into her usual sweater and skirt while they were in the car.

It seemed Goro would have no say in what would constitute his last supper.

Goro obediently tapped at the screen to check what songs were available. He had no doubts that his life was still in danger. It wouldn’t be easy to persuade Okumura to actually give him a chance. Even if the two bodyguards weren’t here, Okumura probably had a way to deal with him on her own.

Hell, if Goro was going to die, he would at least die listening to timeless classics.

Okumura finally finished ordering their food through the phone and turned to look at the screen.

“Did you just queue fifty Featherman songs?”

Goro wordlessly hit the start button, before Okumura could stop him. She was the one who brought him to karaoke, and she would have to suffer the consequences.

The familiar notes played through the loudspeakers. Ah, the first opening of the second season of Phoenix Ranger Featherman R still sounded great. It reminded him of the simpler times when his mother was still alive.

Shame she didn’t live to see the finale of that season.

He picked up the microphone. Okumura probably wouldn’t want to start the discussion before the food and drinks were delivered, so it would be better to pretend this was an actual karaoke party.

Okumura watched him, dumbfounded, as Goro started to sing.

Coming from the south! Coming now!
Our feathers will tear through the enemies!
Our wills won’t be crushed!
We will defeat the evil!
We will protect the smiles!
Phoenix Ranger Featherman R!”

He didn’t even need to look at the screen. He sang this so much as a child that he knew the lyrics by heart. While he was singing one of the workers came in, carrying the tray with their drinks. Goro ignored them as he continued to sing.

Soaring high! Aiming for the sky!
Our smiles won’t falter
As we raise our heads up!
Flying towards the future
Holding our unbreakable bond
Phoenix Ranger Featherman R!

It was the end of the part played during the TV opening, but Goro chose the long version of the song. He liked the longer version even as a kid, but the more he grew up, the more the lyrics from the latter part of the song resonated with him.

Even if the fierce winds
Blow in our faces
Even if we have to grit our teeth
We will grasp the happiness!
Crush the enemies of mankind!
Burn your hesitation into ash!
Phoenix Ranger Featherman R!

The rest of their order was brought in while he was singing. Judging by Okumura’s thanks and generous tip, those were all the things they were waiting for. Goro finished singing and put the microphone down as the ending theme started to play instead.

“I didn’t know you could sing,” Okumura said. She seemed to be taken aback by Goro’s proficiency in that regard.

“I was taught some basics before they let me take part in TV interviews,” he admitted. “Breathing techniques and all that.”

Okumura looked at the screen that displayed the lyrics. Her gaze was distant.

“So you like Featherman.”

“Yes,” he said quietly. Normally, he wouldn’t admit that, but he knew honesty was his best bet.

Now that they were sitting opposite each other in this small karaoke room, Okumura had to face the painful truth any prospective killer had to confront at some point—that the person you wanted to kill was a person.

It might have seemed obvious, but it really wasn’t. It was something that was easy to not think about, not until you were done and your hands were already stained with blood. Not until you heard about their family being in mourning. Not until you saw the fresh flowers on the grave.

And not until you discovered that they had hobbies, likes, and dislikes just like a normal person would. Those small details hurt the most, grounding the abstract crime in the unforgiving reality.

“Just so you know, I’m pretty sure Sakura was willing to forgive me because she agrees with my Featherman headcanons,” Goro said, unable to stand the silence. “But I really don’t think that will be enough for you.”

Okumura shook her head.

“She’s strong,” she finally said. “I can’t imagine ever forgiving you.”

Goro sighed. Guess he had to go through the same discussion again. Not that it would be any easier.

“You don’t have to. And I certainly don’t expect you to. Sakura insisted on wanting to forgive me, but you don’t have to mirror her. My only request is that you don’t murder me, so I can give myself up when this is all over.”

Okumura glanced at him, clearly distrustful.

“Why should I believe that you really are cooperating with us now?” she asked. “We have hard evidence that you were planning to betray us.”

Goro looked blankly at the snacks lying on the table before him. That was the biggest problem—the evidence. It worked great to prove a crime, but it was hard to prove something as intangible as love.

Goro took a sip of water as he tried to gather his thoughts, then put it down with too much force.

“Because Joker is a fucking miracle worker, in case you haven’t noticed how stupidly good he is at bending people to his own will. How the hell am I supposed to quantify that?! He completely derailed my plan that took me two years of careful planning and preparing. Two years! And somehow I feel grateful about it, because he is so stupidly selfless and good and I know he only had good intentions in mind. But unless I spontaneously spawn a Palace so you can actually witness how fucked up I am, I have no fucking way of proving this to you.”

Okumura seemed taken aback by his sudden outburst. Apparently, having only witnessed his actual personality once, she had yet to get used to it. She blinked, then looked away seemingly in thought.

Finally, she pulled out her phone, tapped at it, and said, “Goro Akechi.”

”No matches found,” the metaverse app announced.

“I guess you really don’t have a Palace,” she muttered, sounding frustrated.

Goro wasn’t sure how he should react to his ridiculous suggestion being taken seriously.

“I don’t,” Goro confirmed, unsure how he should proceed now.

“I don’t understand. So many other people who committed crimes had Palaces, but you don’t.” It obviously bothered her. The fact that Goro didn’t fit into the neat mold of an antagonist that the Phantom Thieves had been fighting against seemed to annoy her.

Goro hesitated for a second.

“It’s not about being good or evil, but about the cognition you have of yourself,” he finally said. He wasn’t sure if it was a good direction to go in. Honestly, if he had a choice, he’d rather never discuss the matter of how he viewed himself—it was a topic almost as nebulous as his past. “Basically, the scum who get Palaces are the ones who don’t admit to themselves that what they are doing is evil.”

Okumura’s hands tightened, as she looked down.

“...so you admit that what you are doing is evil. Otherwise, you would have developed a Palace as well.”

“I’m a cursed child, Okumura. There was never a future in which I could become a good person. The Detective Prince persona was a calculated lie that I cultivated. If I could live it for a long time, maybe I would fall under the delusion that it was the real me, too. But that would never happen.”

“Why?” she asked, sounding genuinely curious.

“Because from the very beginning I planned to throw it away. It was fun living in the limelight, but I knew the second coming of the Detective Prince would die at the end of this year. It was only a stepping stone, after all,” he admitted. He didn’t want to share more detail, so he quickly switched back to the previous topic. “That’s why it’s impossible to steal my heart. I don’t need to lie to myself that what I’m doing is helpful to society. From the beginning, I only cared about the results.”

“But now you've decided to join Akira,” she pointed out. She seemed frustrated at the puzzle that was Goro Akechi’s twisted personality.

“That’s because he shares my goal. I admit, I wanted to do nothing more than bring Shido down with my own hands, but hearing that he was the one who ruined Akira’s life, I decided I was willing to share in that regard. That’s all there is to it, really.”

It obviously wasn’t all, but Goro wasn’t about to share how much his decision had also been influenced by his dick.

Okumura shook her head.

“That still doesn’t make sense,” she said, noticing the giant heart-shaped hole in his explanation.

Goro grit his teeth.

“I’m not sure what else I could say to you,” he replied, frustrated.

Okumura opened her mouth to reply, but then froze as another song started playing.

“Oh, I know this one!” she shouted, suddenly excited.

Goro blinked as Okumura quickly grabbed the mic and rose from her seat.

From the ashes we raise!
Our feathers will shine!
Until the evil is vanquished
We will soar in the skies!

Even in those dark times
Our resolve will stay sharp
Like our beaks that will
Pierce through the skies!

Fight for the future! Fight for what's right!
Phoenix Ranger Advent Featherman!

Goro could only watch dumbfounded as Haru sang the opening theme of Phoenix Ranger Advent Featherman. It was certainly a surprise. He didn't expect a rich girl like Haru to be into sentai.

He watched her finish the song, complete with the iconic pose of Pink Argus.

“Well, that was refreshing,” Okumura said, as she sat down.

“I didn’t take you for a Featherman fan,” Goro said, unable to keep his curiosity.

Haru made a small smile.

“I don't think I count as a fan. Futaba definitely puts me to shame in that regard. But I've always looked up to heroes of justice, so I guess it's not surprising I also enjoyed Featherman. I was excited when I heard that Phoenix Ranger Advent Featherman would have a female lead.”

That did check out. Okumura always seemed to look up to people stronger than her. It made sense that masked heroes would appeal to her as an escapist fantasy filled with potential role models.

"Yes, her actress did an incredible job," Goro said, unsure what to think about this new development. Bonding with people whose parents he killed over Featherman was starting to become a strange trend.

“Do you want to sing the next one? I need to fix myself,” Okumura said, handing him the microphone and reaching into her bag, presumably to pull out a mirror. Goro took the microphone, but the song that was currently playing wasn’t one he was particularly excited about—an image song of the mascot character from Phoenix Ranger Neo Featherman. He glanced at the screen to see what song was coming next.

That was a mistake.

When he realized that Okumura had moved, it was too late. She stepped over the table, scattering some of the snacks onto the floor, to land on top of Goro and pin him down to the seat. A switchblade hovered over his neck. Goro had no doubt that it was sharp enough to hurt him. The only reason why it wasn’t pressing against his neck was because he managed to grab Okumura’s hand and was now resisting her push. However, she was pinning his right hand against the seat, turning the whole situation into a very unfavorable stalemate.

“This is your last chance,” she hissed. The force she put into her hand was no joke; Goro was barely keeping the switchblade centimeters away from his throat. “You are hiding something. Spit it out, or I will stop you right here and now!”

“Here? On camera?!” he shouted. One of the reasons why he let his guard down was because he didn’t think Okumura would want to leave behind evidence on tape. He had assumed she would kill him after they left the karaoke.

He really had to stop underestimating her.

“The owner of this karaoke owes Mihail a favor. There will be no tape,” she explained. When Goro looked at her blankly, she added, “My bodyguard. The one with the ponytail.”

“He doesn’t look Russian,” Goro deadpanned, still fighting against Okumura’s push. The man in question looked very much Japanese.

“It’s just a moniker. They offered to let me assign them, but it felt awkward, so I let them choose. The other one is Taro,” Haru explained, while she continued her attempts to stab Goro's throat.

Taro looked like a stereotypical european with blond hair and caucascian features. It seemed Okumura’s bodyguards had a theme going on.

Still, it wasn’t important right now.

“I told you the truth, Okumura. Just because I’m not spilling my whole tragic backstory to you doesn’t mean I’m lying!” he shouted. He tried to throw her off, but she was strong enough to keep him in place.

“I don’t care about that! There’s something about Akira you aren’t telling me. And it can’t be anything good!”

Goro clicked his tongue. This didn’t look good. He could feel his hand slowly going numb, and his continued attempts to throw Okumura off him were unsuccessful. As much as he hated it, telling the truth would be the only option.

He winced.

“Oh, fuck you! Fine! But promise you won’t kill me over how dumb it is!”

“You aren’t in a position to make demands,” Okumura replied coldly, narrowing her eyes, but the strength with which she pushed the switchblade relented a bit. “So tell me, what are you hiding?”

“That I’m fucking in love with Akira and if I kill him I won’t be able to bone him. And I really fucking deserve to at this point,” Goro hissed.

Okumura's attack weakened when she heard that. Goro expected a lot of things, but he didn't expect Okumura to just stare at him, her eyes empty of emotion.

“Really?” she finally asked. “You are telling me you decided not to kill Akira because you fell in love with the person you were supposed to assassinate.”

“Feel free to laugh at my life being a plot of a B movie and the fact that I fell for the first person who was actually nice to me, but stop fucking trying to kill me!” he shouted, frustrated. “Why do you think I kept saving that idiot's life?! Because I had anything to gain from it? Of course I fucking didn’t. He was just so stupidly endearing and nice that I kept helping him without meaning to!”

Okumura was silent for a moment.

“That’s… kind of pathetic for an assassin,” she finally said, not hiding her disappointment.

“Look, I only worked for Shido because I wanted to ruin him; I wasn’t exactly loyal to him in the first place. Besides, you’re the pathetic one,” he hissed. “I might have killed your father, but I only did it because someone ordered me to. Do you think killing me will fix anything? It won’t. The adults who decided that he should die will still be around. You are helping absolutely no one by murdering me. You might insist it’s for a greater good, but you are really doing it for self-satisfaction.”

He could see Okumura falter at his words.

“That’s not it…” she started saying, but she didn’t get to finish.

“It isn’t? Then why aren’t you making me tell you who actually decided he should die? I dropped Shido’s name, but I never said he’s the one who made that call. Yet, you haven’t asked me about that even once. You simply planned to kill me and call it quits, because it was easier that way, didn’t you? And here I thought you graduated from doing things the easy way.”

He could feel Okumura’s rage in the way her fingers painfully dug into his wrist and the renewed strength with which she pushed the switchblade towards Goro.

“Stop talking like you know how I feel!”

“Oh, but I do know,” he said, his face splitting in a smile. “You might have talked about how you wanted him to go back to who he used to be, but that wouldn’t have been enough. Oh no, after all, he made you suffer, and you are a type to really hold a grudge. You are exactly like me in that regard.”

He could feel Okumura’s hand shake slightly in his grasp.

“I’m not!” she denied, but Goro could tell it was a lie. The way Okumura lowered her gaze was all the evidence he needed—she had finally looked into the mirror and she sure didn’t like that it was Goro’s face reflected in it.

“I heard some of the sugar-coated lies you told Phantom Thieves, but I never believed them. The fact that you would be willing to forgive being sold like some sort of sex slave to that creep? Nobody would forgive that. And you knew you wouldn’t be able to become family again after the change of heart. The second he confessed his crimes he was guaranteed to spend the rest of his life in prison. The happy family life you lost was impossible to regain from the beginning. And you aren’t dumb; you knew that. You understood it was impossible. That wasn’t what you were after.”

He could tell by the panicked expression on Okumura’s face that he was right. He was peeling off the paint and uncovering all the ugly feelings she didn’t want other people to know of.

“What you wanted was to see him fall by your hand. To topple him from the throne he built on your suffering. Maybe to have him beg for your forgiveness. That could also be fun. You wanted that satisfaction. And the reason you are angry at me, specifically, is because I stole it from you. I might have killed your father, but what you are really angry about isn’t his life, but the vengeance I denied you.”

Something wet fell down on him. It took Goro a moment to realize those were tears.

“You’re wrong! I loved him!” Okumura shouted through tears that were spilling out from her eyes. “Even with everything he did, some part of me couldn’t let go. I wanted to hear him say what a great daughter I am. Even when I planned his downfall, even when I calculated how long he would end up being imprisoned for his crimes, even then… Even then some part of me regretted my choice to betray him. But I had to! Because he wanted to sell me off!”

Goro felt something heavy settle down in his stomach.

Okumura’s words didn’t feel foreign to him. Quite the opposite, he could understand her feelings. Her reluctance to let go.

...since when did he get so attached to Shido? When did he start to consider that bastard a father despite everything? Since when had he let this dependence form?

This was bad. How come Goro hadn’t noticed it until now? It was a problem, a vulnerability he let himself develop. Did Shido notice it? He couldn’t have, right?

“You’re right. I hate you. I hate you so much for stealing both him and my victory. It took so much for me just to turn against him. To find courage and wickedness to backstab the person so dear to me. I deserve something more for all that effort! I should’ve at least gotten one apology! One hug… It was all I wanted…”

Goro wasn’t sure what happened next. He knew that at some point Okumura let go of the switchblade. It fell down on Goro’s chest, nicking him, before bouncing down to the floor. Then she lost the strength to support herself and just let herself lie on him while crying. And for some reason Goro ended up hugging her.

Tears pricked in his eyes. He wasn’t sure why. This whole situation felt strange and foreign. Normally, other people’s tears annoyed him. After all, he learned the hard way that crying didn’t help. But this time it felt like Okumura’s tears were in some way his own. As if just for a moment they forgot their grudges and let themselves share their pain, all while the very upbeat tune of Phoenix Ranger Featherman Victory blared from the loudspeakers.

In hindsight, maybe Goro should have chosen some different tracks.

He wasn’t sure how much time passed until Okumura finally stopped sobbing, and then how long it was before she finally pushed herself up. Goro felt mostly numb at this point, like someone pulled out his heart and then clumsily pushed it back in, not quite connecting everything correctly.

If Okumura decided to kill him now, he probably wouldn’t even have energy to resist.

“You really are weird,” Okumura finally said, as she used one of the napkins to clean her face.

“Yeah, I know,” Goro said. It felt like his voice came from far away. Goro wasn’t even sure if it was his.

“I don’t think I will ever forgive you,” she continued.

“That’s all right. If no one hated me, it would feel weird,” Goro agreed. Someone needed to validate his self-hatred, and the Phantom Thieves were really terrible in that regard. It was nice that at least Okumura would pick up the slack.

Okumura stared at him. It might have been more effective if she still wasn’t sitting on top of Goro. His legs were starting to feel numb.

“If you keep that attitude I might forgive you, just to annoy you,” she threatened.

“Please don’t.”

Despite her words, Okumura did seem to be in a much better mood. Goro wondered if he should ask her to get off him, but decided not to push his luck.

“Say, were you the one who killed the cognitive version of me in my father’s Palace?” she asked after a moment of silence.

Goro was quiet as he considered his answer.

“Yes, what gave it away?” he finally admitted.

“I knew she had to be there. My father might have considered me nothing more than a possession to be sold at that point, but I should have still appeared in the Palace in some form. The other Thieves dismissed my lack of presence as him not caring about me, but deep down I suspected it was something else. So when I learned that you also had power to enter Palaces, I thought that maybe you had killed my cognitive self.”

Goro covered his face with his arm, as he tried to gather his thoughts.

“After I followed you into his Palace, I managed to avoid the security by introducing myself to the guards. At that point I had disgraced a number of his competitors, so Okumura’s Shadow was under the mistaken impression that I looked up to him. When I was brought before him, he acted like we were best friends. And as some sort of twisted proof of our supposed friendship, he pushed the cognitive version of you towards me and told me I could do whatever I wanted,” he recounted.

“And you obviously chose to murder it,” Okumura said with a sigh.

“I don’t think there was anything that I found not offensive about that situation. Starting with the fact that your cognitive self was so different from you that the hair was the only recognizable feature, through Shadow Okumura acting overfamiliar with me, and ending on the belittling assumption that I must be straight and willing to jump any women brought before me.”

He couldn’t completely see Okumura’s expression from where he was lying, but he could tell she also wasn’t thrilled by Shadow Okumura’s actions.

“How did he react?” she finally asked, in a small voice.

“Who?”

“My father’s Shadow. How did he react to my death?” she asked.

Goro wasn’t sure if he should say it. It wasn’t a pleasant truth.

“I think you know.”

“Yes, but I need to hear it. How did my father’s Shadow react?” Her gaze was steely as she demanded the truth. So Goro decided to give it to her.

“He was offended that I destroyed his gift to your shitty fiance,” Goro admitted. “Shouted at me how that wasn’t what he meant by whatever I wanted. That he expected me to return your cognitive version in a usable state. I got pissed and told him that he could still give your cognitive double to Sugimura, since he obviously wouldn’t be interested in the brains I just shot out of it. And then Shadow Okumura started to mutter creepily how I was right, and at that point I decided I wasn’t being paid enough to interact with his Shadow any more than I already did. So I went back to look for your group.”

Okumura didn’t say anything. She just stared blankly at the snacks lining the table. Goro wondered if it would be the end of their conversation, but then she took a deep breath.

“You really are a terrible liar, Akechi,” she said, as her face twisted into a grimace. “Cognitions don’t just disappear after being killed. Morgana told me that they return after some time, after I killed my fiance's cognition. And I visited that Palace no less than three times. Meaning, it wasn’t just on a whim. You killed my cognitive double each time I explored the Palace.”

Goro winced. He hated being seen through like that.

“No, I only killed it once,” he insisted. It was true. The second time he just bound cognitive Okumura and threw it into the nearest air vent to save himself trouble. Cognitive Okumura was so obedient that once he told it not to move, it just laid there like a corpse.

Honestly, Kunikazu Okumura had to be blind to think that that thing was even remotely similar to his daughter.

Okumura gave him a look that clearly communicated that she thought Goro was bullshiting her, but she didn’t see the point in wasting her time arguing with him.

“One more question,” she said after a pause, fixing her eyes on Goro. “Have you told others that Shido is your father?”

Goro knew he made a pained expression. He didn’t quite realize how uncomfortable it would be to hear someone acknowledge that connection. Okumura probably dug into his past and realized that the fact that there wasn't a point of connection between him and Shido was suspicious. It shouldn’t have been difficult for her to figure out what kind of lack of connection could result in grudge as big as Goro’s.

“No, not yet. I definitely plan on telling Akira, but I figured it would be better to do it once we are done with Sae’s Palace. I don’t want to distract him more than I should,” he admitted.

“Are you afraid he would hate you?” she asked. Goro was silent for a second before stifling a chuckle.

“Really? Come on, you are selling him short if you think that’s what I’m worried about. No, I’m concerned that if he realizes the extent of Shido’s involvement in fucking up my life, Akira will decided to just storm his Palace alone the second he can, because he’s a selfless idiot.”

There was a moment of silence.

“You do have a point,” Okumura admitted, reluctantly.

“So I would be grateful if you didn’t share that with others. I’d rather tell them that on my own terms when the time is right,” Goro asked, feeling self-conscious despite himself.

“You don’t have to worry about me mentioning something as insignificant as your past,” she said, finally standing up. Goro hissed with pain as he felt the blood start circulating through his legs again. “I have nothing to gain from exposing that.”

“I’m glad we at least agree on that,” Goro said, feeling relief. He had mentioned some of his past to Akira, so it shouldn’t have been such a big deal... and yet Goro didn’t want him to learn the rest of it from anyone else.

Goro wanted it to matter when he finally decided to share everything with Akira.

Which was a sickeningly sweet sentiment and Goro would probably feel disgusted with himself if he hadn’t just narrowly avoided death. However, as he was lying with his legs still recovering from Okumura’s weight and listening to the Phoenix Ranger Neo Featherman battle theme, he couldn’t find it in himself to deny his feelings.

He would have plenty of time for that tomorrow.

“That’s all I needed to know, then,” she said, then she paused as she looked at the console. If Goro’s estimate was right, there should still have been more than twenty songs queued. Okumura raised her brows, probably realizing that. “Do you want to sing some more, Akechi, or would you rather I cut this karaoke session short?”

She turned towards him as if she actually cared about his opinion. Her fake concern just pissed Goro off.

“What? Were you that taken with my singing? Maybe I should have taken the path of an idol rather than a detective,” he said, pushing himself to sit up. His legs were still in pain, but there was no point in lying helplessly for too long.

Okumura winced as she took a bottle of juice from the table.

“It would suit you. You are used to faking everything about yourself anyway,” she said, giving him a critical look before taking a sip.

“I’m glad you agree, but after I take Shido down my connection to showbiz will go down the drain, so I guess I will have to give up on that dream,” he replied, not hiding his sarcasm.

“If you struggle with employment once this is over, I can always hire you as a janitor at my cafe,” Okumura offered with a blinding smile.

Goro wanted to tell her where she could stuff that particular employment offer, but then he realized it wasn’t all that bad. Sure, it would involve dealing with filth, but Goro’s current job involved that too. And even with all the attempts on Goro's life, Okumura would still make a better employer than Shido. At least he wouldn’t have to fake liking her.

“I will consider it,” he said, making sure to sound sceptical, so that Okumura wouldn’t withdraw her offer.

His bluff seemed to have worked, because she picked up the microphone and passed it to him, “Then I will request one last song from you to honor your idol career, which died before it even began.”

Goro took the microphone. As the opening song of Phoenix Ranger Neo Featherman started to play, he decided to give it his all for his final number.

*

Okumura pushed most of the remaining snacks onto him. It was an outright patronizing gesture, but at the same time, Goro found himself unable to refuse. It would mean wasting perfectly good food.

He would hate himself for that.

Okumura’s bodyguards were waiting on them outside the building and escorted the two of them to the car. Goro’s briefcase and phone had been left there, so he had to accompany Okumura to retrieve them.

“You are really lucky, kid,” Taro said, grinning to himself.

“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Goro replied, trying to sound tough. Mikhail laughed at that, as if Goro was the most entertaining thing he had seen all week.

Goro told himself it wasn’t wise to be offended by someone who could probably kill him in fifty different ways, but at the same time the threat of death was rarely a strong deterrent for him.

“What’s so funny?” Goro hissed.

Mikhail replied in a language Goro did not recognize, which made the whole thing even more annoying. There was no way Mikhail didn’t speak japanese judging by his previous reaction and the fact that he looked as japanese as they came.

“He says the way you are trying to act tough is cute,” Taro supplied in perfect japanese. There wasn’t even a trace of foreign accent in his speech.

Goro was now certain they were messing with him, and to make it worse he had no way of getting back at them. He hated every second of their patronizing laughter.

Okumura, who walked by his side, was smiling widely. Goro had a feeling her bodyguards would be getting bonus pay for sassing him like that.

*

Goro was glad to get his briefcase back. It would be a pain to engrave an A onto another one. Also, explaining to Shido how he lost his gun a few days before having to use it would be a doozy.

“Are the Phantom Thieves planning to go into Shido’s Palace?” Okumura asked, as she watched Goro check if his briefcase had all of his belongings. She didn’t make any attempts to hide that fact from her bodyguards, and judging by their expressions, she had already explained the situation to them.

“Yes, I suggested a short visit before we steal Sae’s treasure, so the other Phantom Thieves can decide if they want to take part or not,” he explained. "We will probably decide on a date through the chat."

“I see. Inform me if you decide on something outside of the chat,” she said, while Goro was closing his briefcase. He froze.

“Are you planning to take part?” he asked, unsure how he felt about it.

“It was frustrating to hear you insinuate that my vengeance is a half-assed one, but you did have a point,” she slowly admitted. “I wasn’t taking this seriously enough.”

Goro couldn’t help feeling chills at the idea of Okumura becoming even more serious. He quickly closed his briefcase.

“That’s all. I should really go now,” he said, looking around to remember which way he should go.

“Actually, I was thinking of giving you a lift for all the trouble I caused you,” Okumura said, clearly enjoying how uncomfortable she was making Goro feel.

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly trouble you,” Goro said, involuntarily falling into his Detective Prince persona.

“But I insist—” Okumura’s words were cut short as suddenly a car stopped right next to them. They both fell quiet as the windows rolled down. Goro could see the bodyguards moving forward to protect Okumura from the potential danger.

As the window finished going down, a familiar face appeared to them.

“I’m glad you’re still alive, Akechi,” Sakura said, sounding genuinely relieved. “I thought you were a goner when I saw the GPS data showing you and Haru together. Oh, hi, Haru! You are still here,” she added, when the bodyguards moved away, revealing a very confused Okumura.

It was only then that Goro realized this was Sojiro’s car.

“Did… Did you just ride all the way here, because you were worried about me?” he asked, feeling a strange mix of emotions.

“Yes. I even brought the key item to save you,” she announced proudly, as she pulled her head from the window. What appeared in her place was a very distressed cat.

“Wait, Haru! Don’t kill Akechi! He might be an asshole, but he also has some good points! I know he did some unforgivable stuff, but uh… I mean, it's forgivable stuff! Forgivable! So please, give him a chance to—”

Morgana was forced to stop as Haru pulled him out of the car and into her embrace.

“It’s alright, Mona. You don’t have to worry,” she said gently. Morgana seemed to melt in her hands.

Wait, since both Sakura and Morgana were here…

“Did Akira come too?” he asked, feeling hopeful, despite himself.

“No, this car can only fit one person and a cat on top of me,” Sojiro’s voice came from inside of the car.

“Besides, it would take too long if we had to stop to get Akira,” Sakura explained. “I knew every second counted!”

Goro was about to say that it was still a pretty late rescue, but then he realized that Okumura didn’t have her phone on her while she was attempting to murder him in the parking lot. Sugimura mentioned she left it in her car. It would only be when he was taken to karaoke that Sakura saw the two of them together on a GPS map.

“Well, I’m fine,” Goro said, knowing that his continued survival depended on him staying silent about Okumura's murder tendencies.

“Yes, I just wanted to have a private talk with Akechi. I’m sorry if I have alarmed you,” Okumura apologized, sounding perfectly innocent.

“I see, I’m glad,” Morgana said excitedly, immediately buying her lie.

“It’s all right,” Sakura said, not hiding the hint of scepticism in her voice.

“I already talked things through with Akechi, so you can consider the matters between us settled,” Okumura added, probably picking up on Sakura’s doubts.

Sakura was silent for a moment while she considered.

“I think you should take the key item, just to be safe,” she suggested, turning towards Goro.

“I’m not some sort of item!” Morgana protested loudly.

Goro considered her words. Futaba was making a good point. Goro had a feeling he would sleep much better knowing that Okumura wouldn’t be able to murder him in his sleep. Morgana was the only person capable of guaranteeing his safety in that regard.

However, he also had to consider the current situation.

“I think it would make more sense for Morgana to go with Okumura,” he said, despite himself. She was probably very upset about everything that had happened during the last two hours. Giving Okumura the cat would probably help defuse the situation.

Morgana raised his head to look at the girl holding him.

“Do you want me to go with you?” he asked. However, Okumura shook her head in denial.

“Sorry, but I need some time alone right now. I also think you should go with Akechi,” she said, gently passing the cat to him.

Goro took Morgana into his free hand without thinking.

“Take care of him, Mona,” Futaba said, as the windows rolled up. As they closed, he heard her muffled voice, “Step on the gas, Sojiro! My anime starts in half an hour!”

“Goodnight,” Okumura said, as she entered her car. Both cars quickly drove off, leaving Goro with nothing but a cat in his arms.

“I think we should get sushi,” Morgana suggested.

Goro wasn’t sure how he should feel about the fact that a talking cat was the most predictable part of his current life.

“That’s a great idea,” Goro said, because he definitely deserved it for surviving this evening.

Morgana made a loud meow of approval.

*

However, Goro ended up having to deal with one more unpleasant thing before being able to catch a break.

“You were supposed to call me once you were done,” Shido demanded through the phone, shortly after Goro returned.

Goro couldn’t help feeling self-conscious about answering the phone when Morgana was present. Of course, the cat had no idea about the connection between him and Shido, but even then it felt like he was intruding. It was a small mercy that Morgana was smart enough to be silent.

“I’m terribly sorry, there were unforeseen circumstances that I needed to take care of,” he said, trying to sound as obedient as possible.

“What circumstances?!”

“One of the Phantom Thieves accused me of killing Okumura. Of course, she had no proof. She just felt anxious about the fact that the Phantom Thieves would be disbanding soon. I had to waste my time calming her down and explaining to her that her farfetched theory was nonsense.”

“Are you sure you haven’t messed up?” Shido asked, sounding suspicious.

“You wound me,” Goro said, carefully modulating his voice. “As I said, she had absolutely no proof. She just needed a convenient villain to hate and I fit the bill. It took me some time, but once I managed to disarm her arguments she just crumbled like a house of cards. Nobody else expressed any suspicion about me. Everything is going according to plan.”

“I don’t think I need to say it, but I have high expectations of you,” Shido said.

“Of course, that’s why I was making sure that the person in question won’t escalate the situation and cause some unforeseen problems. I’m not going to be complacent just because there’s only a week and a half left until the Phantom Thieves attempt to steal Niijima’s heart. I don’t think I need to remind you, sir, but they are nothing more than a group of misguided teenagers. Looking after them is like herding cats.”

Mona gave him an offended look, but stayed quiet.

“Update me if anything changes.”

“Of course.”

Shido disconnected immediately after that. Goro waited a few seconds before allowing himself to make a sigh of relief.

“So that was Shido,” Morgana said, sounding thoughtful. Since he was in the same room, he must have heard Shido clearly through the phone.

“Isn’t he a doozy?” Goro asked, as he let himself fall onto the sofa. “The biggest sociopath I’ve ever met.”

“The way you spoke to him told volumes,” Morgana agreed.

Goro froze at that statement. He slowly turned towards Morgana, so he could see him.

“What do you mean?” he asked slowly. Morgana blinked at him, before coming closer.

“I’m not sure how to put it. I mean, I haven’t seen you act naturally for long, but even though in both cases you were acting like an asshole, it was different. When you talked with Shido it just didn’t feel natural.”

Goro narrowed his eyes. It was strange to hear someone else’s assessment of that.

“I’m not sure I follow,” he said, hoping to hear more.

“I guess it would be the fact that you are so restrained. When you talked with Shido you forced yourself to use all those adult words and to act like everything is for the sake of this great conspiracy. And well, you are good at making big plans and executing them, but at the same time it’s not completely you. The real you will also jump into the battle arena for a dumb reason and beat up a bunch of shadows because you can.”

“It wasn’t a dumb reason,” Goro argued.

“You risked your life in that arena so you could ask Akira to do something potentially embarrassing. That’s a dumb reason,” Morgana pointed out. “Even if there is a bigger plan, you get easily distracted with things unrelated to it and then you forcefully justify those distractions to yourself.”

Goro grit his teeth at that assessment. He wanted to shout it wasn’t true, but doing that would just prove that the argument was getting to him.

“That’s not—”

“You are a chaotic person. You can devise a good plan and follow through, but you’d much rather use a forceful approach,” Morgana continued, as he jumped onto the table. “In a way you are constantly at odds with yourself.”

“I didn’t ask for a psychoanalysis,” Goro hissed.

“I thought you liked it when other people talk about you,” Morgana pointed out. Goro winced at the well-aimed jab. “But you are right, we should totally get to sushi now.”

Morgana’s simplemindedness was sometimes a blessing.

Goro forced himself to get up from the sofa and divided the sushi between him and Morgana. To cheer himself up he also decided to continue indoctrinating Mona into the Star Wars franchise.

“Oh no, the Empire is getting the upper hand!” Morgana shouted loudly. “And Luke is stuck on some remote planet with a weirdo.”

“Yoda isn’t weird. He just doesn’t have any fucks left to give,” Goro disagreed. Not that he didn’t understand where Morgana was coming from; he remembered thinking the same thing when he was a kid. However, as Goro grew up and became more and more disillusioned with society, he recognized that Yoda wasn’t crazy. It was the world he lived in that was crazy. “He’s actually doing Luke a huge service. I would probably drown him in the swamp if he ever showed up on my uninhabited planet.”

“I don’t think you would,” Morgana argued, his eyes still glued to the screen. “You would try to dissuade him, but you wouldn’t do anything rash like killing him.”

Goro glared at the cat.

“And how would you even know that?” he asked, unable to hide his irritation. Maybe it was because so much happened during this day, but Goro couldn’t stand how easily Morgana disarmed his harsh remarks. “I was going to kill Akira. Isn’t that proof enough?”

“But you decided not to,” Morgana pointed out. Finally, he turned his head to look at Goro. “I was there when you saved his life from a burger, you know. Don’t expect me to be able to imagine you mercilessly killing Akira when you pretty much dragged him to a doctor to make sure he was all right.”

Goro opened his mouth. Then closed it. Then opened it again.

“That’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about jedi and secluded planets,” Goro said, realizing he had no chance of winning with Morgana if he continued to argue that he didn’t care if Akira died.

Morgana blinked at him.

“You still wouldn’t kill Luke,” Morgana pointed out.

“Why?” Goro asked, because he was starting to wonder how Morgana could have so much faith in him.

“Because Luke is idealistic,” Morgana said. “You might act all harsh, but deep down you still want to believe that the good will win over evil. That there is justice in this world.”

Goro felt as if Morgana had just slapped him with his paw.

“I what?!”

“That’s why you look up to Akira so much,” Morgana continued, his eyes once more returning to the screen. “You want to believe that his ideals will come true. That’s why you ultimately choose to side with him.”

“That’s bullshit.” The idea that there was some sort of idealism still alive in Goro’s heart was ridiculous. It was just his dumb hormones making decisions for him.

"I've realized recently that I've been thinking about everything in a black and white, but the world is not so easy," Morgana admitted. "It's easy to villainize someone. For the longest time I thought the person behind mental shutdowns had to be evil incarnated. All Palace owners had some reasons, however misguided they were to turn into twisted adults. But the culprit behind mental shutdowns just had to be nothing more than a murderous scum."

Mona's ears lowered, as he paused. The sound of battle coming from the screen was the only sound filling the room.

"I feel stupid for assuming that now. Sure, you did some terrible things, but you aren't nearly as much of a terrible person I made you to be," Morgana admitted, as his attention strayed from the movie.

"Don't be stupid. I am a terrible person. I was comparing myself to Yoda, but if anything I'm someone evil like Darth Vader," Goro argued, before belatedly realizing he was digging the hole underneath himself with that argument.

He would have to make sure Morgana never saw Return of the Jedi now, because he would die from embarrassment if Morgana ever learned Darth Vader got redeemed at the very end of the story.

"But even Darth Vader probably had reasons why he became evil, right? He was Obi Wan's student, so he had to have been a good person at some point."

"That's not important," Goro said dismissively.

"Circumstances are important!" Morgana insisted. "What if Obi Wan simply didn't give him the proper guidance! He seemed to feel pretty guilty about how things turned out!"

"Even if that's the case, it was Darth Vader who murdered people and helped to establish the Empire. His sins are his to bear, not Obi Wan's!"

Morgana looked down.

"Is it really that simple?" he asked, his voice more subdued. "Can we just dismiss the circumstances and judge someone based solely on their deeds?"

Goro felt his hand clench.

"What are you trying to say?" Goro asked. He had a feeling neither of them were really talking about jedi at this point.

"You got your powers about two years ago, didn't you?" Morgana asked.

"Yes, around that time. But what does it have to do with any—"

"I woke up in the depths of the Mementos around two years ago. It was hard to measure time down there, but I'm pretty sure that's the case," Morgana admitted.

Goro felt his breath shorten.

"What are you implying?" he hissed, even though he could tell exactly what Morgana was trying to say.

"It's still hazy, but I'm pretty sure—I was born to be a guide. A guide to the bottom of Mementos," Morgana explained. "I don't know if I was changed into a cat to fit that new purpose, or if I was created for it back then, but the fact is… I don't think it is a coincidence that your awakening happened at the same time."

Goro could feel something nebulous grow in his throat.

"Are you serious?!" he hissed.

"It's just too much of a coincidence no matter how much I think about it. Unless you can think of another persona user operating in Tokyo who awakened at the same time as you did," Morgana pointed out.

Goro was silent for a moment, his thoughts chaotic and unstable.

"It's not your fault I turned out like this," Goro said. It was his fault. It was his father's fault. It was society's fault.

Morgana… even if Morgana appeared before him two years ago, would it really change anything?

"It's not that it's my fault," Morgana muttered, his ears lowered. "It's more… How should I put it… I'm sorry I couldn't be there for you."

Goro found himself taking a deep breath.

"Don't be dumb. You were probably busy trying to survive in the depths of Mementos when I agreed to work for Shido. There was no way you could have met me early enough to make a change," Goro hissed. He felt angry. He couldn't even tell what he was angry at. The fact that this chance never existed? The fact that Morgana was trying to share his burden when it wasn't his business?

It was unfair. The world was just too unfair.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. It just bothered me," Morgana explained in a small voice. "Because if that's true… some guide did I turn out to be."

"If anyone is at fault, it's the person who left you alone at the bottom of that hellhole," Goro muttered.

Morgana's ears flicked.

"I guess that's true…," he muttered, turning his head towards the screen. Then he froze. "Wait, why is Luke dueling Vader? I think I missed some important stuff! Rewind it, Akechi! I need to know what happened!"

Goro took the remote, rewinding the movie. He wasn't sure what to think about Morgana's conjecture. Or if he even wanted to consider it.

Nothing good would come out of it. The idea that there was some sort of chance of happiness in his past could only lead to unnecessary self-pity. He was better than that. He would just continue walking his path towards the inevitable destruction as he did until now.

"Wait! Is Lando betraying them?! How could he?!"

At least the cat was easily distracted.

*

Goro didn't expect to be woken up by his phone. He had planned to skip school anyway and sleep off the stress of almost being killed. Morgana was lying sprawled on top of him like a patented Okumura repellant.

"Who is it?" Goro answered when the phone started ringing for a second time. Shido didn't usually call him at this hour.

"Are you alive, Goro?!" Akira's panicked voice shouted through the phone, pulling Goro out of sleepiness faster than any coffee.

"A-Akira?!" Goro stuttered. He tried to sit up, but he did it a bit too suddenly causing Morgana to comically fall down. Goro was greeted with a very unamused stare from him.

"Okay, your head seems to be attached. Are your limbs in place? She didn't cut off any, right?!" Akira asked nervously. "You still have your dick, right?"

"Akira, what the hell are you asking me about at seven in the morning?!" Goro demanded.

"I just woke up to a message from Futaba that Haru met up with you yesterday. I need to know if you are all right!" Akira explained frantically.

Goro opened his mouth, but no words came out. The fact that Akira worried about him was sweet, but the fact that his suspicions were so on point was unsettling.

"No physical harm came to me," Goro assured him after a second. He might have been traumatized for life, but aside from the negligible scratch from the switchblade there were no actual wounds.

"Really?" Akira asked, sounding very disbelieving. "All this situation had been fresh for Haru and I just… It's not like I don't trust her, but her way of coping with her emotions had always been… specific."

It was a very kind way of saying that Okumura dealt with stress by brutally beheading shadows in Metaverse.

"I think I had sorted the situation with her, so don't worry. It really was just some talk," Goro assured him again.

Akira breathed a sigh of relief.

"That's good… sorry for calling so early. Oh, by the way, I heard Morgana is with you. When is he getting back?"

"I'm staying here today," Morgana proclaimed, from where he was lying on the bed.

Goro blinked at him.

"He says he's staying at my apartment today," Goro said.

"So, he's coming tomorrow?" Akira asked, trying to sound more confident than he seemed to feel.

"I promise nothing," Morgana said, jumping off the bed. "I'm not done here yet, Goro. Akira can live for a few days without me."

Goro watched him silently leave, presumably to use the toilet. It felt weird to realize that Morgana seemed to be looking out for him.

It only hit him a second later that Morgana used his first name. He stared for a few seconds at the door, trying to understand what just happened.

"Goro? Are you there? What did Morgana say?"

"I don't think I have good news," Goro said reluctantly.

*

Akira: It has been decided we are going to check Shido's palace tomorrow

Akira: Big thanks to Makoto for actually scheduling this

Makoto: Don't worry about it

Akira: Also

Akira: Goro

Akira: As the leader of Phantom Thieves I order you to give me back Morgana tomorrow

Goro: I'm not keeping him by force. He just decided to stay for longer

Goro: Also, it's only been three days.

Goro: Are you already entering withdrawal?

Akira: Yes, but Futaba is entering it too

Akira: And unlike me she can and will break into your social media account to humiliate you if this situation continues

Futaba: Consider yourself warned

Goro: I will gladly return him back tomorrow. I've been coerced into living off sushi for the past few days and long for escape

Futaba: I didn't think it was possible, but it sounds like you are pampering him even worse than Akira

*

The Diet Building stood tall against Tokyo's overcast sky—proud, majestic, and appropriately phallic given the amount of dicks infesting it.

"You shouldn't scowl so much, Goro," Morgana hissed from under his coat. Goro was starting to get better at smuggling a cat, which was a skill he never suspected he would need.

"I'm not saying that if there was one building I could burn down, it would be this one, but it would be high on the list," Goro conceded.

"Did anyone ever tell you you should try to solve your problems in less destructive ways?" Morgana asked, his voice clearly judgemental.

The answer was no, because the only people who knew that about Goro were people paying him to keep being a destructive asshole. Having Morgana suddenly call him out made Goro uncomfortable.

"If you keep trying to play the role of my conscience I will stop buying you sushi," Goro threatened. "Don't you already have your paws full doing that shit to Akira?"

"Akira's a lost cause," Morgana admitted.

"I'm a paid assassin," Goro reminded him, because he couldn't see how Akira could be more of a lost cause than him.

"I don't have to tell you not to eat food from the floor," Morgana countered, sounding tired.

It was hard to argue with that.

"Oh, he's already here." Sakamoto's voice carried as much disappointment as his face did upon seeing Goro.

"Ryuuuuji," Takamaki hissed at him. "Can you please not start fighting right after we meet up?"

"I'm not starting a fight," he said defiantly, crossing his arms.

Takamaki sighed.

"You've been cranky ever since our last visit to the Palace. Are you that angry that he got to show off in the arena?" she asked, fixing him with an unamused stare.

Sakamoto sputtered.

"I-I'm not angry!" he denied, averting his gaze.

"Oh, would you like me to give you pointers on how to battle more effectively?" Goro asked, his words dripping with fake cheer. "Because it feels like you still have a lot of room for improvement."

Takamaki sighed into her hand, as she realized the futility of her attempts to defuse the conflict.

"Are you trying to say something?" Sakamoto growled.

However, before Goro could reply someone interrupted them.

"I'm pretty sure he was just trying to be thoughtful, but he can be so clumsy with words… Isn't that right, Goro?"

Goro swallowed in a vain attempt of cleansing his throat from the terrible aftertaste of Haru Okumura using his first name.

"Haru? What are you doing here?!" Takamaki asked, sounding in equal parts confused and delighted.

"I've been giving it some thought and realized that maybe my decision to leave was too rash," she admitted with a serene smile.

"Are you sure you aren't pushing yourself, Haru?" Niijima asked, as she joined their group together with Kitagawa.

"You don't have to worry, Mako. Now that I’ve had some time to clear my head, I know exactly what I should be doing," Okumura explained cheerfully.

Goro felt chills go down his spine at the hidden subtext of that sentence.

"Hey, sorry we’re late!" Akira called, Sakura trailing behind him. "I had to stock up on some stuff and it took a bit longer than expected."

He was carrying a much bigger bag than usual under his arm. It seemed he had stocked up on essentials.

"Good morning, Akira. I hope you don't mind me rejoining the Phantom Thieves," Haru said, not wasting her time.

"Haru? Oh, sure," Akira replied reflexively. "Glad to have you again."

"We should be going," Goro hissed. They were starting to draw attention.

"Right, let's go," Akira agreed, activating the app.

As the world blurred around them and then reshaped once more, Goro was the only one who didn't gasp in surprise when they saw the Palace and the desolate landscape surrounding it.

"Is… Is this still Tokyo?" Takamaki asked.

The sound of crashing waves filled the silence as everyone looked at the ruins of the buildings extending out of the water. There was no island. No civilization in sight.

"This is the fate Shido envisions for the masses once he becomes prime minister," Goro explained as he looked at the flooded city. "A futureless husk of a nation he will drain everything from so he can enjoy himself on this decadent ship." As he walked towards the entrance, he stopped to turn towards the thieves and spread his hands. "Welcome to the Cruiser of Pride! The ark that will only save those who Shido deems worthy!"