“Have you ever considered cycling?” Ryuji lifted his head from his boyfriend’s shoulder, having given up trying to pay attention to the movie they were supposedly watching. Goro had been on his phone for the past half hour, only looking up to show Ryuji a particularly entertaining tweet or making a biting comment on just how bad this movie was. To be fair, that was why they were watching it, but they’d expected it to be a little more ‘so bad it’s funny’ and a little less ‘completely mediocre in every single way.’ Ryuji had started dozing off, but in his defense Goro’s shoulder made a nice pillow (surprising, considering how pointy he was, both physically and metaphorically) and he’d woken up early that morning to get to school on time.
“Cycling,” Goro repeated. “You know, riding a bicycle.”
“Yeah, I know what cycling is, thank you, Mr. Honor Student.” Not that he was technically an honor student anymore, since he dropped out partway through second semester and even if he hadn’t he would’ve graduated by now, but he got grumpy and defensive whenever anyone brought that up.
“You’re welcome,” he said, with a dazzling media-ready smile, and Ryuji reached around him to tickle his side until he looked less smug and more like an angry cat, squirming and breathless and looking more likely to bite Ryuji than kiss him, which is what he did, distracting Ryuji long enough for Goro to steal the bowl of popcorn from his lap.
“Hey, I was eating that!”
“No, you weren’t,” Goro said, tossing an unpopped kernel into his mouth and biting down on it with a horrifying crack. “It’s only the unpopped ones left and you don’t like those.” He crunched on another one for emphasis.
“Yeah! Because they’re nasty,” he said, “and you’re gonna mess up your teeth.”
“Whatever,” Goro said, pouring the rest of the unpopped kernels into his mouth. “More for me.”
“Gross,” Ryuji said, kissing the side of his head fondly anyway. “Okay, but what were you saying about biking?”
“That you should give it a try,” he said. “You miss running, right? I know it’s not exactly the same but…”
Ryuji sighed. He had hoped it wasn’t so obvious, so that only Akira would ever have to witness his deeply embarrassing track-related breakdowns, but the problem with dating a former detective-slash-professional liar is that he could be annoyingly perceptive. “Yeah, I guess,” he said. “I dunno, I’m mostly over it.” Goro gave him a look of flat disbelief. “Okay, maybe I’m not, but what else am I supposed to do? Like, I mostly made up with the rest of the guys and they’d probably let me back on the team but I just. Can’t.”
“Why not? Akira makes it sound like they’re all at least most of the way to forgiving you.”
“Okay, first of all, since when do you and Akira gossip about me-”
“Oh, like the two of you don’t gossip plenty about me.”
“Fair, but second, as if you have any room to talk about being weird about being let back onto teams of people who have mostly forgiven you .”
“Ouch,” Goro said.
“And third,” said Ryuji, who was on a roll now, even though he was approaching the stuff that was harder for him to talk about, “it’s not just that it would be kinda awkward, which it totally would, but also I physically can’t. Like, I’ve mostly accepted it by now, I think, most of the time, but I’m never gonna really fully be able to run again.”
Goro nuzzled his shoulder comfortingly, because he was bad at talking about these kinds of emotions, and also because he was absolutely adorable in a way that reminded Ryuji of a cat (well, specifically Morgana, since Ryuji didn’t have much other experience with cats, but neither of them would have appreciated the comparison so Ryuji kept his mouth shut about that specific line of thinking).
“It’s just… weird, I guess?” He closed his eyes and leaned his head on Goro’s as he spoke, because if he looked directly at his face, saw any sympathy there, he might not be able to continue without feeling like he was wallowing in too much self-pity. He knew that wasn’t true, but it didn’t stop him from feeling like a burden sometimes when he wanted to talk about how this specific part of his life had been messed up, not when so many of his friends had it so much worse. “It was such an important part of my life for so long, and I had kinda been planning on making that my future, like in college and stuff, you know? And now it’s not, and most days I can’t even walk without some kind of pain, not that much, I can manage it but it’s still a reminder that everything’s changed and I’m never gonna be that person I thought I was gonna be ever again.”
Goro hummed in agreement, which like. Duh. Of course he got that, out of anyone he could’ve said it to, even if all of their lives had changed drastically, so probably any of his friends would’ve understood, but sometimes with the rest of them Ryuji felt like he had to fill his specific role as the funny guy, the hard-hitter, Joker’s right hand man. He was always there, always okay, so that no one had to worry about him when they had their own problems. And none of them except Ann had known him before so it was easier for them to take for granted that this was just how he was. But Goro knew better than anyone what it felt like to have to remake yourself and rebuild an entire life from the ground up. More literally than Ryuji did, and with higher stakes, but that wasn’t what they were talking about and today it was Ryuji’s turn to have an identity crisis.
“I don’t know, I guess there’s no point getting so caught up on this still but,” he shrugged, “you know?”
“Well, when you put it so eloquently…” Goro had that smug look on his face again and Ryuji put a hand over his mouth to make him stop being pretentious while Ryuji was having his moment, which Goro promptly licked.
“Your tongue has been in my mouth, I don’t wanna hear it.”
“Okay, fair, but listen,” he said, “I was making a point here. I think.”
“Now you sound like Morgana.”
“Shut up!” Goro smirked but obediently stopped talking, at least for the moment. “But I kinda don’t know what to do because maybe people do expect me to go back to track, now that I would probably be allowed back on the team? And I don’t really want to talk to them about this, so it feels like I’m letting them down again.” This seemed like a good opportunity to let Goro maybe give him some comfort and/or advice, so he paused, but Goro just looked at him expectantly.
“Oh, am I allowed to talk again now?”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re completely insufferable?”
“You, on a daily basis,” he said, still with the same shit-eating grin. “Sometimes Akira, but he prefers to say infuriating .”
“Of course he does,” Ryuji muttered, even though that really sounded more like something Goro might say about Akira, and Goro was just projecting.
“But if you want my input,” Goro said, “I think that, with all due respect, fuck them. You didn’t let them down by getting targeted by an asshole with a god complex, or by having your leg broken and your life ruined, or by moving on with your life and making new friends when they all abandoned you.”
“Huh,” said Ryuji. “Yeah, you might have a point there.”
“Of course I do,” he said. “I’m always right.”
Ryuji stared at him in disbelief, wondering if he had forgotten several notable occasions where he had been wrong (including but not limited to: when Ann bet him that he couldn’t beat her at the dancing game at the arcade and he had to buy her crepes for a month, when Akira jokingly argued that rabbits weren’t rodents just to start shit but turned out to be accidentally correct when Goro had looked it up to prove that they were, when he assumed there was no space in Ryuji and Akira’s relationship for him and tried to distance himself in order to not come between them which only made everyone miserable, and that time he died instead of realizing that yes, the Phantom Thieves did actually want to be friends with him) and Goro stared back, as if daring Ryuji to bring up any of that. The brief staring contest was broken by Goro shoving his cold feet against Ryuji’s legs, so Ryuji pushed him off the sofa, but Goro caught him by the collar and pulled him down with him, so that they fell to the floor in an undignified tangle of limbs, and Ryuji was glad that Haru had talked him into buying a rug as Goro’s head hit the floor with a thud.
“Way to go,” said Goro mildly, casually running one hand up and down Ryuji’s spine, which Ryuji took to mean that he was okay.
“You started it,” Ryuji said, shifting his hurt leg slightly so that it wasn’t twisted at a painful angle and resting his head on Goro’s chest, listening to the steady rise and fall of his breathing.
“I would never,” Goro said. “I’m still right, though.”
“Fine, this time you’re right,” Ryuji said. He sighed again.
“Yeah,” Ryuji said. “You make a good pillow.”
“Not sure I believe you, and also not what I meant.”
“You’re right again, you have too many bones and you need to eat more,” Ryuji said, and Goro gave a little huff of laughter. “But yeah, I’m good, I’m just thinking.” He knew Goro was right, just as Akira had been right when they’d had a version of this same conversation, though it had been over ramen so there was slightly less charged physical contact, but it was still hard to get himself to believe it. “It’s like, I feel like I’m letting down my past self because I’m not the person that he wanted to be and I’m never gonna be that person.”
Now it was Goro’s turn to sigh, almost displacing Ryuji as his chest heaved. “Listen, for what it’s worth since I didn’t know you before, I like the person you are now. But since I know Akira and I and all of your friends have told you this multiple times, I suspect that’s not the real problem.”
“Ugh,” Ryuji said. “I mean, yeah, but you don’t have to call me out like that. I just… I dunno, it sounds stupid even in my head.”
“You’re allowed to miss track,” he said, because of course he would be able to tell what the real problem was. Annoying observant detective boyfriend who cared about Ryuji’s emotional well-being enough to notice what was wrong. “It was your life for a long time, and you didn’t choose to give it up. You’re allowed to mourn that.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“And if it’s the actual experience of that kind of endurance exercise that you miss, that’s why I recommended cycling. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s a similar kind of distance workout without any of the impact.” He shrugged, as well as he could with Ryuji still laying on top of him, one hand absent-mindedly playing with his hair. “I picked cycling over running for that reason. Building up enough resistance that it wouldn’t be painful would’ve taken too long, and I needed to be able to do more training without any of the delay.”
“So you picked the sport you thought you’d be the best at with the shortest learning curve, because you’re an impatient perfectionist,” Ryuji said. “Yeah, that sounds like you.”
“Not the point,” said Goro, turning his head away in embarrassment, the way he always got when confronted with proof that people cared enough about him to understand him.
“Yeah, whatever,” Ryuji said, letting him keep his pretense at dignity this time, “but it’s not just the training.” Though he did miss that part of it too. He missed long training runs, through the city streets on routes that he knew well enough that he could still picture every step, letting his mind go blank and his body go numb, only aware of the fall of his footsteps and the rhythm of his breathing and the pounding of his heart. More than that, though, he missed meets. He missed the rush of it, the thrill of competition, of pushing himself beyond what he thought his limits were, the delirious exhaustion at the end of it all because he’d given it everything he had. The only thing that compared was fighting Shadows, and that wasn’t an option anymore. “It’s mostly about racing.”
“Oh, you don’t think I’m enough of a challenge for you,” Goro said. “I see how it is.”
“Wait a minute, that’s not what I meant,” Ryuji said, “but since you’re so confident, maybe you wanna go at it sometime.”
“You’re on,” said Goro, smirking, “unless you’re afraid I’ll beat you.”
“Me, afraid?” Ryuji scoffed, pushing himself up on his elbows so that he was looking down at his boyfriend. “Shut up.”
“Make me,” Goro said, with a gleam in his eyes that told Ryuji that he knew exactly how that sounded, a suspicion which was confirmed when he raised his head up so that Ryuji could kiss him more easily, Goro’s mouth hungry against his. And then he broke away and said, “Although maybe not right here. It might be a good idea to relocate to somewhere a little more comfortable. No offense to your floor, of course.”
“Sorry, didn’t realize your delicate ass was too good for the floor,” Ryuji said, trying to stand up without hitting his head on the table.
“I was thinking more of your leg,” said Goro, “but whatever makes you feel better.”
“Oh,” said Ryuji, offering his hand to help Goro stand and then pulling him closer, a hand on the back of his neck to pull him into a kiss, and he squirmed a bit as Goro’s cold fingers found their way under the hem of his shirt but only moved even closer, leaning into the contact. “Thanks,” he said, in a gasping breath in between kisses, and he could’ve sworn Goro was laughing at him, could feel him smiling against his lips. And then Goro shoved him gently down onto the couch, giving him enough space to make sure his leg was comfortable, and Ryuji reached up to grab his shoulders and kiss him more deeply. On the tv, the credits of the long-forgotten movie rolled, and then ended, and neither of them noticed.
They completely and utterly failed to convince Akira to join them, both because Goro insisted on going first thing in the morning before it got too hot and Akira refused to be out of bed before eleven at the very earliest in an emergency, and because Akira very strongly preferred to be excluded from what he called “your jock nonsense.” (Goro had made a face like Akira had spit on him and tried to argue that he wasn’t really a jock since he’d never actually been part of a team, to which Akira responded that if he wasn’t a jock he was a prep, as if that was the worst insult he could possibly think of. At that point the conversation devolved into their usual weirdly flirty bickering and Ryuji took advantage of the distraction to steal the rest of Akira’s noodles.)
Goro started pretty slow to give Ryuji a chance to get used to the bike, which somehow felt just as sweet and thoughtful as it was insulting, but once he was satisfied that Ryuji could keep up he was just as terrifyingly reckless at cycling as he was in every other aspect of his life. Ryuji wasn’t sure if Goro won because he was in better shape, or because Ryuji slowed down to avoid pedestrians while Goro seemed to assume everyone would get out of his way, but either way it was close, and it didn’t really matter anyway. Because when Ryuji hopped off his borrowed bike in front of Leblanc, bone-tired and pleasantly sore and feeling like a piece that had been missing from his life had fit into place for the first time since his last race, Goro was there too, hair windswept and plastered to his forehead with sweat, teeth bared in a triumphant grin, and Goro might’ve won the race but the kiss Ryuji pulled him into was more than enough of a consolation prize.