Actions

Work Header

hell take us, heaven can wait

Chapter Text

2016 - THE EDGE OF THE EXPANSE

Demi-Fiend tripped over a corpse. 

This wasn’t an uncommon thing. When you’re waging an eternal war against the immortal Great Will, corpses tend to feature strongly in any given landscape. World by world, reality by reality, he was carving a slow and steady path to the final demise of the true enemy, and that path was built on the bones and bodies of humans, demons, angels, and fucking whatever in between. Tripping over a corpse in the space between worlds wasn’t really all that weird. 

What was weird was that the corpse groaned - rendering it a not-corpse - and that it was human.  

Demi-Fiend paused to consider the human. He looked young; pallid and very much on death’s door. His soul was a stubborn little flicker though, fighting against the gentle pulls of the Expanse leeching his spirit dry. This human was very far from home, in a land entirely hostile to them and starving for the dwindling vitality within them. Human souls were a rare delicacy, this deep in the Expanse.  

His curiosity was piqued. 

Demi-Fiend crouched down and observed the human up close. The human was dressed oddly: a striped jumpsuit with a mean looking, beaked helmet, something akin to a Demonica but without the militaristic bells and whistles. No weapons, no identification, no gauntlet with a demon summoning capabilities...

Demi-Fiend reached out, gently prising the visor off the helm and curling his fingers around the human’s wicked looking chin guard. He tilted their head from side to side, studying their pale visage. 

There wasn’t much resistance. The human really had one foot in the grave - still stubbornly clinging on despite there being no hope for survival. So much grit and determination, and for what? A slow, agonisingly pointless death. It’d be a waste to lose that, just because the human had the poor luck of tumbling into this forgotten crack within the Expanse. 

Was this how Lucifer had felt, all those millennia ago? The thought of it made Demi-Fiend snort. 

“Hey,” he commanded, violently shaking the human by their stupid looking chin guard, “Wake up.”

The human woke up in sluggish stages, his limbs twitching and his eyes fluttering open. They were beautiful eyes, shifting from amber to crimson in the undulating light of the Expanse. Demi-Fiend could glimpse tempered madness in there, reminding him viscerally of Chiaki, a heart so consumed with a hunger for strength and independence, that…

The human jerked in his grip, voice cracking as he rasped; “ Loki -”

Ah, the heart swelled , and from it burst a- what? A demon? A god? Demi-Fiend peered up at the strange entity looming over them both, fading at the edges, already losing substance. The human was too far gone to sustain this odd projection. 

What a power - to claw together the darkness in your heart and manifest it as a monster with claws and fangs and malice. Demi-Fiend memorised the brief flicker of that savage heart - Loki, was it? - the thin limbs, fiery hooves, red fanged smile and the long braids. Beautiful. Demi-Fiend wanted it, a familiar flash of greed rising within him as the entity crumbled away into nothingness. 

“You’re too weak for that,” Demi-Fiend informed the human, who was too busy gasping out curses; all bluster to cover the fear in his eyes. Understandable. Animal instinct became overwhelming when you were this vulnerable. 

“Who… the fuck …” the human coughed out. His eyes were unfocused, his breathing ragged. Death was imminent. 

“It’s rare to see a human as stubborn as you,” Demi-Fiend said, “Most of them die when they fall this deep.”

The human bared his teeth like a feral dog, and those eyes focused on him, blazing red. Definitely a Chiaki; “I- won’t , just, die.”

“It’s inevitable at this point,” Demi-Fiend told him honestly, “You haven’t got long left.”

The human snarled at him, defiant and furious, even as his breaths audibly wheezed and scraped his lungs. Demi-Fiend met that maddened glare head on with a tiny little smile, and knew exactly what he was going to do. 

It’d be a waste to leave the human here to rot. 

Demi-Fiend will give him a gift, much like Lucifer did to him all those lifetimes ago. What the human did with this gift was up to him, and if he died, then, oh well, he died. 

But if he lived… well, it’ll be interesting to see where the human’s tempered madness led him. Back to his world? Maybe he’d get lost and end up in Amala, scrapping with Lucifer’s minions. Or perhaps he’ll follow the natural migration of the demons towards the Great Will, fighting and dying as any bog standard foot soldier in Demi-Fiend’s endless war. Or maybe he’ll become like him, a prowling Godslayer that haunted the Creator God’s shadow like a relentless Grim...

Whatever became of him, it would be fun to watch. 

“You know what, you caught me in a good mood,” Demi-Fiend said, “I’m going to help you.”

The human did not look reassured. Good. He knew there was a catch. 

“You might thank me for it, or curse me, I don’t care,” Demi-Fiend said, and he tapped into his internal inventory - a minor pocket dimension where he stored all of the crap he’d accumulated over the last few lifetimes. 

He was feeling generous, and this human was going to need a bit of a handicap, so he allowed Kailash to wriggle from his internal inventory and into his hand. The Magatama uncurled, its serrated pincer jaws opening wide and barbed tentacles wriggling, the parasite sensing warm, living meat nearby.

Demi-Field dangled the writhing parasite from between the claws of his forefinger and thumb, just above the human’s face. 

How strange. He actually felt a little bad about what was going to happen. The symbiosis between human and magatama was always so unpleasant…

(no, it was agony, violating and nauseating and inescapable, to feel the writhe of the parasite gnawing into your brain stem and transforming you down to the molecular level, where all you can do is scream and SCREAM AND SCREAM-)

Demi-Fiend blinked, gently smothering the remnants of Naoki inside of him. The human gazed up at him and the starving parasite in open terror.

“This will hurt,” he told the human, “But if you endure it, you’ll live.” 

And then he dropped the demonic parasite onto the human’s face. Somehow, the human found enough air in his failing lungs to scream , to howl, to cry, almost drowning out the wet, crunching noise of the magatama burrowing through his eye and into grey matter, seeking out the brain stem. 

Demi-Fiend kindly held his head still until the curse had hooked its claws into the human’s heart and stripped it away. 


FIVE YEARS LATER...


“Three, two, one… happy new year!”

Akira sighed quietly at the enthusiastic cheers that filled the Counter-Demon Force’s briefing room. The night shift was making the most of the lax atmosphere the late hour brought, one of the monitors playing a recording of one of Tokyo’s old fireworks displays. Party poppers were set off, a contraband bottle of champagne was uncorked and poured, and a new year was ushered in with high hopes - Akira envied their optimism. 

“Hey, Akira,” one of night shift turned to him, a young technician called Yoichi, and held up the bottle of champagne, “You want some? C’mon, loosen up a little! You’ve been scowling at your terminal all night.”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Akira said, “I don’t like drinking on the job.”

“It’s New Year’s!” Another night shift technician, Amaya, cajoled, “You can ease up a little on New Year’s!”

Akira grunted, and with a few sighs and grumbled, Yoichi and Amaya left him to it. The night shift was mostly a skeleton crew, so it was only three technicians, a supervisor, and Akira himself who occupied the briefing room. His lack of desire to socialise was therefore very apparent. 

another year already, huh? Akira thought to himself, clicking through the data the day shift had compiled for him to process, that means it’s been five years since...

His gaze dipped a little from the monitor, his mouth twisting slightly. 

“Hey,” a firm hand clasped his shoulder, almost sending Akira leaping out of his seat from surprise, “C’mon, take a break, Akira. That’s an order from your supervisor.”

Damn it. 

“Kazuki,” Akira mock-whined, but he let his supervisor pull him away from the monitor and into the small group. They had repurposed the briefing room as a table, a few paper plates of party snacks and bottles of non-alcoholic drinks lined up. It seemed Kazuki was only tolerating the one glass of champagne for the night shift. 

“Here’s to hoping the new year will bring us less demons,” the third technician, Dai, grumbled, “Or at least a better way to deal with them.”

“Can we not talk about demons tonight of all nights?” Amaya groaned, swirling her champagne carelessly. Amaya reminded Akira considerably of Ann - blond, blue-eyed, a little careless with her words. Except while Ann was in America, posing for advertisements on billboards and TV, Amaya was more the sort to challenge Kazuki to arm-wrestling matches or squat races. A real gym bunny, that one. 

“What else are we going to talk about?” Yoichi drawled sarcastically, “That time you shorted out the lavatory’s door and locked yourself in there for three hours?”

Where Amaya was buff and wanted everyone to know it, Yoichi lived up to the stereotype of ‘gangly nerd’. He had bottle-eyed glasses that put Akira’s frames to shame, with an unfortunate bowl cut and a noodle-like body that even Futaba could take in a fight. If Akira hadn’t already known his age, he would’ve thought him still in middle school, he was that baby-faced. 

“Didn’t the toilet overflow too?” Dai added slyly. He, compared to his fellow technicians, was mundane to the point of being weaponised. He was skilled at fading into the background, limboing beneath unsavoury taskings and using his lack of presence as an excuse to slack off. Akira always had to remind himself to keep an eye out for him to make sure he did his job. 

“Hey! You guys promised to never talk about that!” Amaya barked, squaring up to the two sniggering guys, “You want me to put you in the infirmary!?”

“Guys,” Kazuki scolded gently, “Don’t.”

The technicians settled with low grumbles. 

And last but not least: Kazuki. The supervisor of the night shift. Akira actually didn’t know much about him, except that he had links to some group called the Shadow Ops. Calm, soft-spoken, and with ‘government stooge’ stamped all over him, Akira made sure to keep his mouth shut and his head down around him. Not that he distrusted Kazuki - on the contrary, the guy had saved his life more than a few times in demon skirmishes, but, still… Akira’s instincts niggled, and he trusted his instincts more. 

It was a motley group to be sure, but they were a group Akira had been stuck with for almost a year now. They weren’t the Phantom Thieves, though, and Akira felt another pang of longing shoot through him, a wistfulness for a simpler time.

They all went their separate ways not long after the Metaverse was destroyed, and it wasn’t long after that when the Pit of Naraku yawned open in Tokyo Bay - as well as other locations all over the globe. And from those Pits came demons, irrevocably changing everything…

“Hey, Akira,” Yoichi said, drawing him from his thoughts, “You’ve been really quiet tonight. I mean, more so than usual.”

“Is New Years not a good day for you?” Amaya asked sympathetically, “Like, missing someone or…?”

“Amaya,” Dai muttered into his drink. 

“Oh, yeah, I guess,” Akira shrugged carelessly, snagging one of the paper plates. It was heavy with party sausages, “I mean, I usually spend it with Futaba and Sojiro, so.”

“Ah, Futaba,” Yoichi sighed, “Now there’s a girl after my heart…”

“She’s way out of your league,” Dai said flatly, pointing his drink at the bespectacled man, “And she’s busy with way more important things than fending off the clumsy advances from a supernerd like you, like tweaking the demon summoning app so it hopefully stops doing those stupid fusion accidents-”

“I’ve never had a fusion accident,” Amaya said sweetly, “Maybe you’re just using the app wrong.”

“How can you use it wrong? It’s literally idiot proof!”

“Yet you still fuck it up, eh? Hahah!”

Akira sighed when the three technicians launched into a friendly squabble, catching Kazuki’s eyes. The supervisor was giving him a curious look. 

“Futaba’s probably still working in the terminal room,” Kazuki said when Akira made an inquiring noise at him, “I’ll be willing to let you wander over and spend some time with her for a bit.”

“That’s okay. We’ll catch up tomorrow or something,” Akira said easily, “Besides, knowing our luck, something’ll happen while I’m gone.”

Kazuki laughed quietly at that, “Oh, no doubt about that. It’s one of the laws of the universe.” 

They returned to their respective posts not long after that, lethargic and relaxed from the glass of champagne and festive mood. Akira eased into his seat, idly scrolling through the reports for anything of note. Yesterday the Pit of Naraku in Tokyo Bay had been blessedly quiet, with only the occasional report of a demon sighting in the surrounding wards. Nothing new or exciting. 

Akira’s mind wandered, as it always did during this monotonous work. He couldn’t help but wonder how his life would’ve been, if the Pits of Naraku hadn’t ruptured through the earth and spewed demons out into the world en masse, where everyone else would be. A handful of the Phantom Thieves had joined the Counter-Demon Force, or CDF for short, Makoto was in the SDF, Ann was in America as an agent, with her public persona that of a model, Haru had marshalled Okumura Foods into a company more focused on sustainable farming and hydroponics in case the worst happened… 

The worst… 

Akira turned away from the reports, and drew up the security monitors of various demon hotspots around Tokyo. Minato and Shibuya had the majority of them, and large swathes of the wards were in ruins, blocked off and deemed No Man’s Land from where the demons had staked a permanent claim. When viewed from a map, it looked as if the demons were trying to expand their territory from the Pit of Naraku. Koto had been lost in the first year - it wasn’t even counted as a Tokyo ward anymore. 

“In the last twelve months, we’ve lost more than we’ve gained,” Akira muttered into his hand, his cheek resting on an upturned palm as he watched a few of the live feeds. There was one surviving camera in Shibuya, near the train station. So weird to think that only five years ago he was diving into Mementos from there. It felt like a lifetime ago - or like it happened to a different person, in a different world. 

Absently, Akira’s hand drifted to the inside pocket of his Demonica, where Akechi’s glove rested close to his heart. 

He couldn’t help but wonder, if Akechi was out there somewhere - surviving, maybe? Akira could easily imagine him running roughshod over any demons foolish enough to challenge him. Maybe he was like those Ring of Gaea cultists and was living Shibuya or Minato, eking out a violent existence alongside the demonic invaders. Anything to avoid becoming leashed to someone else, even if it was an organisation like the CDF: dedicated to the long-term survival of mankind no matter the cost. 

really dodged a tight leash there, akechi, Akira thought wryly, i hope you’re free and happy, wherever you are. 

Because the alternative - to think, to believe, that Akechi was really- 

An alert pinged through his terminal. Akira snapped to attention, glancing down at his Demonica gauntlet that was also pinging the same alert. 

“Shit,” he grumbled, “Now?”

“Hop to it, Akira,” Kazuki called from his own terminal, “We’ll support you from here, as always.”

“We’ll be with you in spirit!” Yoichi added, his voice thick with wry humour. 

“I’m sure your moral support will save me from a demon trying to beat me with my own spine, thanks,” Akira said flatly, but he rose from his seat and picked up his Demonica helmet set aside next to his terminal, stifling an agitated sigh. New Years and he had to deal with a demon attack all by himself. Great. 

“Shame they don’t send you out in pairs anymore,” Amaya murmured worriedly as he started for the doors, “Are we really that stretched for manpower…?”

Akira didn’t reply. Everyone knew the answer to that. 


It was strange to see Tokyo so dark. 

The demon shifted their weight silently atop of a half-crumbled roof, their eyes catching the ambient light like a cat’s, scanning the street below. The tarmac from the road was cracked and littered with debris, the burned out chassis of cars piled up as a makeshift barricade. It looked like something out of a film, and not the shining metropolis that was Tokyo, that the figure remembered…

A flutter of wings. The demon looked up - and flinched, quickly scurrying back into the shadows with a feline grace, out of sight and taut with anticipation. 

Above them, angels were circling. 

“The demons have come this far, have they?” One of the angels spoke, their voice like a thousand, thousand knives against the demon's eardrums. They had to grit their teeth, dig their claws into their thighs to resist the urge to flinch. Angelic voices grated, agonisingly, stirring the parts of the demon that still retained humanity, repulsing the parts that hadn't.

“Humans breed quickly, but take precious time to mature,” the second angel said, “The demons may be outpacing their ability to resupply their ranks.”

“How inefficient.”

“Such is the way of humanity. But this is beneficial to us. When humans become desperate...”

“Their hearts open up to the word of God. This is true. We may find the Lord’s ranks swell with new believers, as the demons overrun the Kasumigaseki Blockade.”

“What is the human saying? There are no atheists in foxholes?”

The angels laughed, metallic and lifeless. The demon watched from the shadows as the angels flew away on cold, sharp wings, vanishing into the dark gloom and leaving an unnatural silence in their wake. They waited for a bit before sidling out of the shadows, hopping down from the crumbled roof and onto the cracked pavement below. 

Kasumigasekai Blockade. 

The demon's mind brought up a mental map - ragged at the edges, faded with time and - other things, but they recalled the layout of Tokyo well enough. That was in Chiyoda, near the National Diet Building. Had the humans really been pushed back that far…?

“I knew it was bad,” they murmured, their voice hoarse and soft from disuse, “but not this bad.” 

But it wasn’t really all that surprising. With how easy it had been to slip into this world from that gaping pit… 

The demon gazed up at the sky as they absorbed this fact. The lack of city lights meant the moon and stars were in clear view, cold, distant glints of light that twinkled down at a battered Tokyo. From Koto to the edge of Shibuya, they had walked, and all they had seen was destruction and demons and angels, remnants of human struggle that said they had fought tooth and nail for every single inch yielded to the demonic ranks encroaching upon their territory. 

“Ahhh… you don’t make things easy, do you, Joker?” they murmured. 

And with that, the demon once known as Akechi Goro slipped back into the darkness, silently tracing a long path towards the Kasumigasekai Blockade. 

Chapter Text

The Kasumigaseki Blockade repelled yet another probing assault from a demon horde. 

This wasn’t anything new or alarming - demons knew enough of human affairs to understand that they had central command, that the easiest way to subdue them was to cut the head off the snake of their government and military arm. After all, it wouldn’t do to slaughter every single human that crossed their paths; humans were precious resources, rapidly in decline thanks to their sheer defiance in the face of conquest. It was best to be as precise as you can, when pacifying an entire species.

The blockade protected CDF’s central command, as well as the remnants of Japan’s government, nestled in a bunker system within Kasumigaseki. Akira had the dubious ‘honour’ of being one of the few vital summoners stationed in this combat heavy area to protect it from demonic incursions. Dubious, because it wasn’t as if he had a choice - wasn’t as if anyone had a choice, in the matter. 

His value was doublefold; as well as possessing a Demonica embedded with a Demon Summoning Programme, as all soldiers in the CDF had, his Persona summoning abilities were still intact, revitalised by whatever the fuck happened when the Pits of Naraku split open the earth. There was no Velvet Room though, so he was stuck with the Persona roster he had after the collapse of Maruki’s reality, but… 

Well, it gave him higher survivability than your bog standard human. The same was for his friends. 

Speaking of… 

“Hey! If it ain’t Joker! Long time, no see, bro!”

Akira looked up from where he’d been reloading his rifle, seated on a repurposed supply crate behind the protective wall of corrugated iron and Hesco blocks. Approaching him at speed was another CDF soldier, clad head to toe in Demonica armour. Akira’s HUD pinged an IFF: Sakamoto Ryuji. 

“Skull!” Akira greeted, leaping off the supply crate. The second Ryuji was in range, they pulled each other into a one-armed embrace, thumping each other’s backs and bumping their helmets’ face plates together. 

Ryuji let him go with a happy laugh, lifting the plate of his Demonica helm to grin at him; “Man, I almost didn’t recognise you there. Good thing the Demonica tells us who’s in these tincans, huh?”

“Yeah,” Akira lifted his face plate too, feeling something warm and relieved wriggle in his belly at the sight of his old friend, “What’re you doing here? You stationed in Kasumigaseki now?”

“I wish,” Ryuji said wryly, “No. We’re a, uh, we’re a recce party into Shibuya. Apparently some angels are all skulkin’ around, bein’ their snooty, self-righteous selves. Gonna see what they’re up to, ‘cuz they’re always up to somethin’, y’know?” 

“True, true,” Akira agreed. Angels were even worse than the demons, in his opinion. At least demons were kind of like humans, in terms of negotiating and understanding them. Angels were just… lifeless and wrong. Puppets and empty shells obeying the commands of this ‘God’ they demanded humanity worshipped. Yeah, no, Akira will take the demons any day. 

“Better you than me,” Akira added, playfully punching Ryuji on the shoulder before lowering his face plate. He gestured to the protective wall blocking the way towards the Kasumigaseki Blockade; “You going now, or do you have time to stay?”

“As fun as it’d be to shoot some demons with ya, Joker,” Ryuji sighed, “I gotta move. But, hey, on my way back, I’ll drop by the CDF compound. How ‘bout that? I’m sure the old man won’t care if I’m a few hours late back.”

“Sure, I’ll be looking forward to it,” Akira said warmly. They shared a high-five, a baton pass just like old times, and with a jaunty wave, Ryuji slipped through the wall’s narrow gate and into the street beyond. Akira hopped up onto the supply crate to peer over the wall, to watch his friend walk down the dark road by himself, heading towards the blockade’s front. 

“See you later, Ryuji,” Akira whispered, “Stay safe.”

Seeing Ryuji again had been a nice surprise, but all too fleeting. With the exception of Futaba, Sojiro and Morgana, he only ever saw people in stolen handfuls of minutes between missions and duties. It was an insidious kind of loneliness that made Akira’s shoulders slump in the quiet of Ryuji’s departure, his quiet sigh muffled behind his helmet. 

He climbed off the supply crate and sat back down on it, resuming his rifle’s reload. He hadn’t yet been given the all clear to return to the bunker despite the blockade’s front being quiet for over an hour now. He hoped no one had forgotten he’d been called out to reinforce the rear… 

or maybe a demon slipped through, and they don’t want to announce it in case it causes a panic, Akira thought grimly. Yeah, that was more likely. 

The snap of his rifle’s working parts sliding forward echoed sharply around him, and he rested his rifle across his lap. Well, since it was just him here, and his Demonica wasn’t picking up any demons or angels close by… 

He loosened the front of his Demonica, enough to delve his hand into the inside pocket, drawing out an old, dark glove. He held it gently in his hand, rubbing a thumb over the cracked leather despite being unable to feel it through his gauntlet. Honestly, it was this that kept him sane during this long, lonely grind. Just looking at it reminded him that he had to keep going, had to keep surviving, all for Akechi’s sake. 

Akira lifted the glove, pressed it against his faceplate, close to his mouth. 

“Miss you, Crow,” he whispered to the glove, and safely stowed the glove back inside his Demonica, safe and sound. The moment he zipped up the inside pocket, his gauntlet pinged an alert, and he hurriedly neatened his armour out before checking out the message: 

Akira, head to the blockade front. Demon horde inbound ETA 30 minutes - Kazuki

“A horde? Great,” Akira grumbled, but he shouldered his rifle and stood up. Standing on the blockade’s wall was leagues better than staring at a wall all night, he supposed, even if it did carry a high risk of being eaten by starving demons. 

“I seriously miss Shadows,” he muttered under his breath as he left his post, following in Ryuji’s footsteps towards the front, “Let me have a solo cage match against Shido any day.” 


JOIN THE COUNTER-DEMON FORCE TODAY, the poster said, ONLY YOU CAN HELP DEFEND OUR LAND AGAINST THE DEMONIC THREAT.

Goro tilted his head curiously at the battered poster. It pictured a human in strange armour, a rifle resting against their hip and their free arm held across their chest in a form of salute, the COMP on their gauntlet shining with a bright light. It was a heroic picture, to be sure, and he reached out, his claws gently following the script at the bottom. 

“Counter-Demon Force…” he repeated, tapping the name contemplatively, “That sounds like something Joker would join.” 

“Ohhh~ are you fresh meat?”

Goro glanced up from the poster at the warbling voice. Above him, perched on a store’s awning, a harpy gazed down at him with hungry, yellow eyes, clearly sizing him up. Goro felt the tension coiling in his shoulders drop. Oh, it was just a brainless weakling. 

“The only fresh meat I see here is you,” he purred, letting his voice rumble into the space between them, “Are you as blind as you are hideous, Harpy?”

“Bah, no need to be so touchy,” Harpy huffed, fluttering her ragged wings and drawing her thin lips back in a sneer, “Ugh. Fiends. Always so arrogant and holier-than-thou-”

Goro rolled his eyes and turned away - only to pause when an idea occurred to him. He glanced back up at the grumbling, sniping bird woman, tapping his bottom lip thoughtfully with a claw. It’s all well and good just roaming Tokyo in search of Joker, but doing so blindly was inefficient, and he was somewhat ignorant of the current state of things… 

“Oi, chicken feet,” Goro called up, “Shut up and come here.”

“Chicken feet?” Harpy shrilled, “Who’re you calling chicken feet?!”

“You,” he said bluntly, “Now come here before I decide to eat you.”

Harpy squeaked and quickly hustled, flapping down from the shop’s awning to hover just out of arm’s reach. It would do - he would easily catch her the moment she tried to flee. He shifted his weight, jutting his hip out and resting his hand on it; a casual, relaxed posture that only seemed to make the bird woman more nervous. 

“I need information and you will give it to me,” he declared imperiously, “Tell me the state of Tokyo at once.” 

“For free?” Harpy questioned dubiously, only to flutter in a panic when Goro’s eyes narrowed dangerously, “Of course for free! As, uh, thank you, for not eating me, oh powerful Fiend! Ehehe, heh, so, Tokyo. Um, hmm, what do you want to know, specifically, Master?” 

“The Kasumigaseki Blockade,” Goro said, “It’s close by, isn’t it? What should I expect getting there?”

“You’re going there?” Harpy frowned, her pointed, woman’s face making the gesture harsher, “It’s where the humans have dug their heels in. It’s said that’s where all the orders for those ghastly Counter-Demon Force brutes come from, and where the human leaders are. If we kill them, then demons will have full run of Tokyo, heehee~”

“Is that so?” Interesting. “I assume the demons are conducting a coordinated siege on that location, then?”

“A what?” Harpy stared at him, “Why would we do that?! You’d have to share the spoils with everyone, then! No, it’s every demon for themselves. Whoever breaks through gets all the humans they could want! Oooh, if only I were a few centuries younger, I would’ve plucked out those CDF brutes’ eyes and-”

Well, at least Goro could count on demons being self-sabotaging in their selfishness. He sighed and interrupted Harpy’s bloodthirsty ramblings; “And the angels?”

“Them,” Harpy spat, “Brown-nosing bottom feeders, the lot of ‘em. Though…” The bird woman flapped her wings a few times, leaning in slightly to whisper conspiratorially; “I hear they made a deal with one of the humans in charge. A very backstabbing, hush-hush deal. You know how humans are.”

Interesting.

“I see,” Goro smiled pleasantly at Harpy, “Thank you.”

And faster than the demon could react, he lunged forwards, tearing the creature apart with his bare hands in a few, short, violent moments. The demon barely had time to let out a startled shriek before her corpse crumbled into magnetite. Goro devoured the fleeting remains of her spirit, a brittle Forma that had barely enough spark to take the edge off his appetite. A weakling indeed.

“Hm, she did taste like chicken,” he mused to himself, licking the blackened blood off his fingers, “A rotting, diseased chicken...”

But she had been informative, weakling or not. Goro now knew he had to infiltrate the Kasumigaseki Blockade. If a few of the human leaders were already thinking of cutting deals with the demons and angels, then things were going to get very messy very quickly amongst the human factions. He needed to find Joker, fast. 

But he couldn’t do so as a demon; he’d be shot on sight the moment he entered human territory. But if he masqueraded as a human…

Goro sidled closer to the shop front. Miraculously its glass wasn’t kicked in, though it was dirty and peppered with the brown remains of arterial spray. Bloodstains soaked into the pavement quite regularly in these parts of Shibuya, enough so that Goro simply ignored them now. 

Scarlet eyes gazed back at him in his reflection. 

“Hm…” he leaned forwards, cupping his chin with his hand and tilting his head from side to side. He looked like he hadn’t aged a day since he lost most of his humanity, his cheeks and jawline still soft from youth, giving him a strange edge of gentleness that was decidedly at odds with his demonic eyes. The crimson in them was starker, alight with a preternatural glow, framed with thick, dark eyelashes that made them seem smokey and beguiling. Goro could admit he had charmed many demons by fluttering them - luring them in close enough to bury his arm elbow deep in their guts. 

If it worked on demons, it would work on humans too. 

His hair, though… Goro grimaced and grabbed a fistful of it, yanking the thick, brown locks irritably. There was no such thing as hairdressers in hell, and he hadn’t been willing to cut it himself in case he gave himself a horrendous haircut. Could you imagine, living eternally with a shitty bowl cut like Setanta? No, absolutely not. So, Goro had let it grow out, becoming a thick mane of hair that flopped into his eyes more often than not but was nice to run his fingers through, to simulate human contact. 

The problem was he looked like a wildman who had just left his cave for the first time in decades. It wouldn’t do. 

“The things I do for that man…” he grumbled under his breath, shouldering his way into the abandoned store. After a bit of rummaging and picking through the pillaged wares, he could a small bag of hair ties. He wandered back over to the glass, and with a frown, carefully gathered it up into a ponytail. It looked a little tamer, but still wilder than he liked. It would do. 

He still looked like a demon, though. 

Goro frowned at his eyes, at his claws and his fangs, huffing out a slow breath. It would seem he would have to do some minor shapeshifting to fit in. With such minor changes he could maintain it for years, but there was still an edge of discomfort to it all, like wearing too-tight clothes or being gently smothered by a veil. Concealing his true self, just to fit in…

He shook off his misgivings and adjusted his form a fraction. There, blunter nails, smaller fangs, and eyes that didn’t glow like a demon’s. Perfect. 

Goro admired himself, rarely able to stare at his reflection like this. The only issue now were his clothes. They were a little strange by human standards, a skin-tight, sleeveless bodysuit that resembled black snake skin, with open slits over the hips and outside of his thighs. At a glance, it probably wouldn’t draw much notice, but under close scrutiny… 

At the very least, he should probably get some shoes instead of running around bare-footed.

One bout of looting later and Goro had a cosy bomber jacket with a stylised suzaku bird embroidered on the back, and a sturdy pair of black boots. His disguise was ready and complete. 

“I wonder if you’ll recognise me, Joker,” Goro asked his reflection, toying with his hair, curling one lock of his fringe around his finger, “I wonder if I’ll recognise you. You must be older now, right?”

His reflection gazed back at him, silent. 

Unable to procrastinate any longer, Goro lowered his hand, easing out a quiet sigh. Kasumigaseki wasn’t far from here - only an hour’s walk at a demon’s pace. He should get there before the sun rises, meaning if there were guards, well, they might be tired enough to let him through without too detailed of an interrogation. 

He rolled his shoulders, loosening up his limbs, and broke into an easy, relaxed jog.

Let’s see how much he remembered being human.

Chapter Text

The skyline was ablaze with red. 

“Move, move! Get up on that wall now! Don’t let up-!”  

Inhuman wails and howls almost drowned out the staccato rhythm of staggered gunfire and the blockade commander’s barked, almost hoarse orders. Akira just let the cacophony wash over him, breathing slow and steady as he aimed down his rifle’s scope. He didn’t have time to panic or worry - his mind was focused on too many things: 

First, the rifle in his hands, his main weapon, aim, inhale, hold, fire, exhale, aim, inhale, hold, fire, exhale. 

Second, Arsene, beating his wings to fan the cursed flames before the blockade’s wall, incinerating any demons reckless enough to charge inwards.

Third, his own demons, shackled by his Demon Summoning Programme, cackling gleefully as they delivered pain unto their own kind. 

Fourth-

‘click’

magazine is empty. 

Akira ducked beneath the blockade’s wall, his movements automatic as he reloaded. Yet, he could still see past the wall, through Arsene’s eyes, his Persona starting to flag from the constant stream of magic. The Flame Wall was an impenetrable defence when it came to undead hordes of demons, but fuck was it exhausting to maintain - but he couldn’t drop it, he couldn’t, the horde hadn’t yet thinned-

reloaded

back up. 

Akira could feel sweat tickle down his back, his fringe sticking to his damp forehead as that telltale buzz of dizziness started to sink its claws into his consciousness. The wooziness was enough to make him pause, to stare at the scene before him and- 

Once upon a time, the Kasumigaseki Blockade had once been known as Sotorobori-dori Avenue, a wide stretch of road that handrailed the district’s southern border. Now it was a war zone; instead of cars trundling across the tarmac, there was a literal army of reanimated dead. A crafty demon had gone through the trouble of collecting human corpses to puppet as mindless, groaning shock troops, their shambling, shuddering forms a mix of civilian, SDF troops and CDF soldiers. 

The civilian zombies were easier to put down - they wore normal clothes. The soldiers wore kevlar, Demonicas - bulletproof plates that turned them into tireless, staggering tanks. Arsene’s flames weren’t hot enough to burn through them fast enough. 

“God damn- how many are there?!” a soldier on his left spat, gesturing angrily for his own demons to send another slew of scorching flames down upon the horde, “Aren’t demons meant to eat corpses!?”

Akira didn’t reply. He glanced up at his own demons - Samael and Murmur - circling above the horde, deigning to toss a few Agidynes and Maragidynes onto the zombies below. Arsene kept flapping his wings, his clawed hands outstretched, fanning the cursed flames, sparks and motes of bluish flames circling the Persona’s form. 

“Just need to hold on,” he murmured to himself, squinting against the dull throb of pain starting to pound through his skull, “Hold on, hold on, hold on…”

“Akira,” the blockade commander, Nao, spoke over the comms, “Your Flame Wall is losing intensity.”

Akira clenched his jaw, “I’m aware.”

“The horde isn’t yet taken care of. Try to hold on.”

“I am,” Akira growled, his next shot fired with more force than necessary. He snatched the trigger, his shot glancing off an undead CDF soldier’s helmet, “Fuck.”

Enough of the undead had collapsed into the Flame Wall to thin out parts of it, small, narrow holes in the defence for the more well-armoured zombies to go tumbling through, scrambling at the blockade’s wall. Their hands pounded relentlessly against the iron walls, fingernails scrambling. It wouldn’t be long until they started piling on top of each other to make a pseudo-staircase onto the wall. 

“Damn it- ignore the undead at range! Focus on those at the wall!” Nao barked, sending a ripple of alarm through the gathered CDF troops. 

Akira exhaled shortly, adjusting his aim-

-then the world exploded. 

A glaring flash of heat and light that rendered him temporarily deaf and blind - the Demonica’s safety functions cutting audio and visual feeds to protect his senses. Akira ducked behind the wall without thinking, his world dark and silent until - noise filtered through, a buzzing, roaring white noise that sharpened into sound-

“-IGHT HAS BEEN CAST UPON YOU.”

“Rejoice, for we bring salvation to you Unclean Ones.”

Fuck.

Angels.

“SHOOT THE FUCKERS!” Nao roared, and there was an edge of manic defiance in the answering shouts of the CDFs. Akira peeked over the wall to see that the mob of undead zombies had been replaced with a small squad of angels: a dozen Powers headed by a Dominion. The road had been all but glassed. 

“Arsene!” he barked, digging deep for the mental reserves necessary for this bit of unpleasantness. His Persona laughed throatily, lobbing handfuls of cursed flame at the Power that came swooping down on it amongst a hail of gunfire. The angel caught the flames right in its metal face, and it recoiled with a scream of agony. 

Samael swooped down to smash the writhing angel with its thick, serpentine body. The angel crashed into the earth with a sickening crunch, but two more of its brethren advanced with vengeance, piercing the Fallen demon with their spears. Samael went down screeching and spitting useless fire. 

‘Ding’, his Demonica’s HUD said, ‘SAMAEL is DEAD’.

Unlike the zombies, the angels had agility and flight on their side. They swooped down on the blockade’s wall, deftly evading the CDF’s demons and going straight for the throat - the humans themselves. Akira watched as a Power plucked a soldier off the wall and threw him onto the glassed road, still molten with slag. His screams were piercing. 

“Ignore the weaklings!” the Dominion commanded, and Akira saw its empty eyes focus on him, a hand outstretched at Arsene, “That is the true threat! Kill the Persona-user! His unshackled soul is an abomination to our Lord’s eyes!”

Oh, fuck. 

There was something uniquely intimidating at having almost a dozen angels zero in on you with murderous intent. They didn’t care for the gunfire raining down on them, human bullets deflecting off their metal forms, shrugging off or shouldering aside the CDF’s demons clawing and scratching at them. It was only Arsene’s cursed flames that sent them scattering and shrieking, but Arsene could only do so much and twelve Powers was apparently that limit. 

Four Powers were killed, but only one needed to get through - and one did, swooping through the smoke and fire and gunfire to snatch the front of Akira’s Demonica, hauling him bodily off the wall like he weighed absolutely nothing. All Akira could hear was his heartbeat, the shouts and bellows of the other humans, and all he could see were the empty, soulless eyes of the angel holding him literally by the throat. 

“Die, Filthy One,” the Power intoned and-

-promptly lost his head. 

A moment of confusion, of weightlessness, as Akira blankly stared at the headless angel jerk and spasm, its form crumbling away - and sending Akira crashing down on the edge of the wall. The white-hot rush of pain from his ribs striking the hard edge jolted him back into full awareness, and he yelped, scrambling for purchase before he tumbled onto the slag-hot road below. Hands grasped his arms and shoulders, the other humans quickly hauling him back into safety as the other angels reeled in confusion, looking around for the new threat. 

“What? No! It cannot be!” the Dominion turned away from the blockade’s wall and let out a noise of disgust, “YOU! HOW DID YOU ESCAPE-”

The Dominion screamed, a noise of crunching, tearing gristle, of wet meat being torn apart, and once more the tide of battle shifted and changed. Akira was panting once he was safely back on the wall, him and his fellow CDF soldiers warily peering over the edge of it with their guns at the ready. The Dominion’s corpse was already disintegrating where it had been tossed into a broken heap on the road, and the other angels were rapidly fleeing the scene, yelling curses and vows of their return. 

Silence followed swiftly on the heels of their departure, filled only with the sound of crackling flames, the groans of the wounded, and the unsubtle clicks of rifles made ready. 

“What the hell just happened?” Nao muttered over the comms, “Gus, did you see!?”

“Uhhhh, yeah, a guy just… killed the angel usin' some magic bullshit.”

“A guy?”

And through the smoke and the ash and thin steam rising from the cooling road, a human-sized figure could be seen walking towards the blockade. Akira squinted, his Demonic enhancing the visual feed and zooming in, but with all the smoke it was difficult to make out who - or what - it was. Definitely humanoid. 

“This is the Kasumigaseki Blockade!” Nao’s voice, slightly hoarse from screaming, boomed out, and the figure paused its approach, “Demons and Angels are unwelcome and will be shot on sight! This is your first and only warning!”

There was a pause, taut and high-strung. Akira found himself holding his breath. 

“Well!” a young, strangely familiar voice called out over to them, “It’s a good thing I’m not a demon or an angel, then! I’m a human, hoping to leave demon-infested territory…?”

Another pause - less tension, more confusion. 

“A… human?” Nao sounded wary, “Who single handedly killed a high-ranking angel and is just wandering around demon territory alone?”

“I’m very sturdy,” the human (?) said simply. 

The smoke and steam was clearing, and from this distance it did look like a human. Akira’s Demonica wasn’t pinging any demon signatures from him either, but then, how did they…?

“Ring of Gaea,” the soldier to Akira’s left muttered in disgust, “I bet he’s one of those psychos.”

“Oh, yeah, they can fight demons with their bare hands,” another soldier added, “Scary people.” 

“I hear they eat demons to gain their strength,” the first soldier said, “They’re practically demons themselves. Fuckers.”

But despite their clear misgivings, the CDF were lowering their guard. No one wanted another fight on their hands, and with no demonic signatures present, then it was safe to assume this was a human, right? They hadn’t yet encountered a demon capable of spoofing Futaba’s patented ‘Demon-Sniffer’ sensor. 

“...alright, approach slowly with your hands up,” Nao ordered after a short pause where he conferred with a few others, “Any hostile or suspicious actions will have you shot on sight.”

The potential human obeyed the commands. Gingerly stepping across the cooling, but still no doubt hot road, the figure strolled over to them like they didn’t currently have several guns trained on them. Their hands were raised up high, and the closer they walked, the easier it was to make them out: a civilian dressed in a short bomber jacket with a dark bodysuit underneath, and some thick boots. His brown hair was tight up in a loose ponytail, and his face- 

no, Akira thought numbly, recognition finally dawning the moment he saw a glimpse of those eyes. The person had glanced up at the wall, their gaze sliding past Akira with an expression of mild curiosity, and their features were unmistakable. A person who- it was- 

it’s him, Akira thought, a confusing mix of giddiness and sheer bewilderment, akechi!?

“That’s close enough!” Nao barked, “State your name and where you’ve come from!”

The human stood there, arms still raised, and seemed to find the whole situation a bit amusing. 

“Akechi Goro,” the human answered, “From Shibuya… and a Persona-user.”

A murmur rippled through the crowd then. Akechi - it was Akechi holy fuck - scanned the wall, as if he was seeking someone out- but, of course, he would’ve seen Arsene, wouldn’t he? The Persona had vanished when the Power had grabbed Akira, but Akechi would’ve seen- Akira’s fingers twitched, fighting the urge to tear off his helmet and scream ‘it’s me, i’m here!’ 

“Persona-user?” Nao’s voice was utterly neutral, “Prove it.”

Akechi twitched his shoulders in a shrug, and cast his hand over his face with a soft, lilting murmur of Loki. A sunburst of black, sluggish flames, and a familiar Persona loomed over him - rough around the edges, Loki’s lanky, jagged form more smoke and presence than an actual physical being, but Akira recognised it all the same, recognised that oppressive, hot pressure bearing down on them from its mere proximity. 

“It’s him,” Akira said, then realised he hadn’t turned on his comms, and quickly did so, saying directly to Nao, “It’s him- he’s telling the truth. I know him, Akechi, I mean. He’s human and a Persona-user. I promise you, it’s him.” 

“...I see,” Nao replied after a moment, “If you vouch for him, then… but, where has he been all this time?”

“He’s… very independent?” Akira offered awkwardly, and he tried not to fidget when Akechi’s gaze settled on him. There was no way he could hear him from so far away, though. Akira was whispering inside his helmet here, “He’s the type to run with the Ring of Gaea more than the CDF.”

“Until it became inconvenient, I assume,” Nao guessed, heaving a sigh, “Ugh, well, we can’t turn away a Persona-user of all people. Are you willing to take responsibility for him?”

“Yes,” Akira said without even needing to think about it, “Yes, I am.”

“Fine. God, I hope we don’t regret this.”

“Alright,” Nao said aloud, “You can come through. Get to the gate there and submit yourself to a Demon-Sniffer check! Need to make sure you’re not a sleeper agent or something.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Akechi said, his gaze not wavering from Akira for a moment - not until he turned to approach the blockade’s gate, vanishing from Akira’s view entirely. 

it’s him, he thought again dazedly.

What the hell.


“Do you think I’m hiding a demon up my ass?” Goro asked pleasantly, when the wary CDF soldier requested a strip search, “I can tell you now: I am not.”

“It’s to make sure you’re not bringing in contraband,” the human said stubbornly, fidgeting with the rifle in his hands. Goro counted no less than six guns aimed in his general direction, and if he was still mortal he might’ve been concerned. As it was he felt a bit annoyed about the whole thing; “Reds are a banned substance and come from the Shibuya district-”

the hell are ‘reds’? Goro growled irritably; “I’m not smuggling Reds up my ass either.” 

“Sir,” the human began warningly. 

“Hey, hey, Kunio, it’s okay,” another voice interjected.

Akira. 

His voice was distorted by the strange helmets these humans wore, and from the outside he was indistinguishable from all these other unimportant humans - but Goro knew Akira’s soul inside and out. He knew how it smelled, how it felt, how it looked, seared into his memory until he could map it out behind his eyelids. Goro slowly turned towards that dazzling light, his expression perfectly neutral as Akira inserted himself in the ring of soldiers surrounding Goro. 

“Akira, it's protocol,” Kunio said.

“I’ll vouch for him. If he turns out to be dealing Red I'll shoulder the blame,” Akira said, “Besides, I don’t think a strip search is necessary. His bodysuit is, well.”

There was a pause where everyone looked at him. Goro looked down at himself, at how his bodysuit hugged him snugly, with no belt or pockets to conceal things in. The only pockets he had were in his bomber jacket, and those were barely deep enough to stuff his hands in. 

“Is that bodysuit vacuum sealed on him or something?” a human muttered behind him, “I can see his ass in high definition…”

“At least turn out your pockets,” the hard-ass human said, sounding exasperated. 

Goro obligingly emptied out his pockets - nothing inside - and after commenting in disbelief how he wandered to Kasumigaseki with nothing but the clothes on his back, Goro was released into Akira’s tender mercies. Curiously, his other half didn’t speak to him at first. Merely gestured for him to follow until they were out of view of the blockade and deeper into human territory, until-

Akira stopped next to a stone bench. They were in a small park, barely bigger than a football field and nestled between two high-rise buildings. In the horizon, the night sky was beginning to lighten into something more bruised coloured, the heralding of an approaching dawn. 

A hiss of an airseal being undone, and Akira tugged off his helmet. His hair was a mess, and he was paler than Goro remembered and - older. Harsher. Tireder. Still recognisable, though, physically and spiritually. Goro greedily drank the sight of him in, his heart thumping a rabbit-fast pace in his chest, hard enough to hurt.

“Akira,” he said, betraying none of the jubilation bubbling inside of him, “You’re taller than me now.”

“Five years, and that’s what you say to me?” Akira half-laughed. He sounded stunned, overwhelmed, his own eyes intensely running over Goro’s form. He looked confused, like he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing, “Not- not ‘how’ve you been’ or ‘what’s with the gun’ , it’s ‘you’re taller than me’.”

“Well, you are,” Goro said simply, “And I’m annoyed about it. I was the taller one before.”

Akira has grown approximately three inches since the last time they saw each other. Meanwhile immortality meant Goro’s growth was arrested, his face lacking the sharp-edged maturity Akira now had. Akira was just- older. He aged like fine wine, damn it, even though he was still young - five years? Really? It had felt like lifetimes to Goro. 

“You’re older,” he added when Akira frowned, “That’s what I mean. You’re… older.”

Akira’s frown softened, his grey eyes alight with understanding. 

“Yeah. You… you haven’t changed at all,” Akira murmured, then winced, “I mean, your hair and- clothes, those have, but you… it’s almost like you haven’t aged a day. Cursed to be baby-faced forever, huh?”

Oh. Goro’s stomach did something strange, and he fought the urge to touch his face, to ensure - still human. Of course. He looked human. 

“I have good genes,” Goro said, deflecting the topic entirely, “Akira, what are you doing?”

“Uh, talking to you?”

“No, I mean… that,” he pointed at the rifle hanging loose in Akira’s grip, “A rifle. A soldier? Is your self-preservation so shot you’re throwing yourself headfirst into demon hordes now?”

“What- that’s rich coming from you!” Akira huffed, “What were you doing, roaming about Shibuya? Is that seriously where you’ve been for the past five years? Living with demons? Joined the Cult of Gaea? What?”

Dangerous waters. Goro changed the subject; “As much as I’m enjoying this argument, I’m hungry and tired. Can we continue this later?”

Akira opened his mouth, then closed it, warring between two powerful desires to continue butting heads and to see to Goro’s needs. After a taut pause, Akira scowled, jabbing a finger roughly at Goro’s nose, “This isn’t over. You can’t come waltzing back into my life without explanation and think I’m just going to fall all over you-”

“Hungry,” Goro said again, “Starving. I’ve been living off expired baked beans for the past week.” 

“You don’t know how to operate a can opener,” Akira grumbled, and of course he would bring up that humiliating memory, but he turned on his heel, his helmet held under his arm, and continued walking through the district. 

“You don’t need a can opener when you can use a rock.”

“Akechi Goro, Detective Prince and Supernatural Hitman… opening a can of baked beans with a rock.”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Goro said lightly, lagging half a step behind Akira to better observe him. He was a thorny tangle of emotions, he could taste them - anticipation, anger, worry, fear, happiness, so much happiness, relief, tangled up, thorny, a bright thrum of akira and mine and so hunGRY-

Goro slammed down hard on that surge of demonic hunger, biting the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood, tangy and hot. He tore his gaze away from Akira’s exposed nape - where he’d been eyeing it predatorily, mapping out the perfect spot to sink his jaws into to snap the vertebrae - and looked up at the sky. 

No. He wasn’t going to give into that urge. Akira was his, but he was only his when he was alive. Goro would sooner start eating his own limbs than devour Akira. 

i'm really hungry though…

“Goro?”

He’d stopped walking at some point, and Akira had paused a few steps ahead, looking back at him with open concern. Goro quickly shuffled his mask back up, mental fingers clumsy with the shroud of ‘humanity’. He remembered and didn’t remember how to do - this. Akira was just… had been his goal for so long, and now he was here, within his grasp and… 

“I’m fine,” he said, and caught up to him, this time walking side by side, “As I said, I’m just… tired.” 

“Yeah…” Akira scrutinised him, but let the subject drop, “There’s a few bunks free in the CDF HQ, though… I feel I should warn you, announcing yourself as a Persona-user means the CDF aren’t going to let you go without a fight.”

“I wouldn’t have come if that bothered me,” Goro said honestly. 

“Hmm,” Akira said. Clearly, he sensed bullshit, but was unable to figure out what that bullshit was. 

Good. 

Goro refocused on the path ahead, and stamped down hard on his hunger. 

With any luck, Akira will never find out.

Chapter Text

Of course, it wasn’t that easy. 

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Akechi-san,” his interrogator said with a gentle smile that meshed well with his handsome face. Kazuki, he had introduced himself as, a supervisor to Kasumigaseki’s Persona-user (Akira). On the surface, he seemed like a genuinely nice person, but Akira was wary around him, and beneath the shell of meat and thumping hot-blood was… something less nice.

Goro maintained eye contact with the human, tasting wisps of interest and calculation and agitation- nervousness? Yes, Goro could sense it, buried beneath everything else, a flash of fear like a minnow in a shallow stream. Not physical, but a worry-fear - Goro’s arrival complicated something Kazuki did not want complicated. 

(“I hear they made a deal with one of the humans in charge. A very backstabbing, hush-hush deal. You know how humans are.”)

Interesting.

“It’s fine,” Goro replied, half of his focus on the human, the other half on the brilliant dazzle of akira, approximately fifty feet away to the north. Akira had protested and huffed and complained, but he had eventually capitulated to Kazuki’s rank and seniority to allow Goro to be interrogated. It was protocol, apparently, but Akira’s expression said this had been a little white lie. 

half-truth? Goro mused, half-lie? same thing.

“You’re not in any trouble,” Kazuki said, clasping his hands on the interrogation table between them. The room was small, disturbingly similar to the interrogation room he had shot Cognitive Akira all those lifetimes (five years) ago. The chair was uncomfortable, and Goro kept his hands flat on the table, idly tapping his fingernail against the metal surface. 

tptptptp-

“Why would I think I was in trouble?” Goro asked mildly, “Is it illegal to be a human survivor in demon territories?”

“Hm,” Kazuki affected a sheepish look, but something roiled beneath the surface. Flash - minnow-emotion, too fast and buried. Goro’s attention sharpened on him, “No, of course not. But the Ring of Gaea cultists exist in a grey area, and the fact you’re a Persona-user who has been evading the law for five years…”

There was a pause, Kazuki’s gaze considering as he finished; “Your case was never concluded, Akechi-san, regarding the mental shutdowns.”

...oh yeah, Goro realised after a blank second of confusion, i murdered people. i forgot about that.

He didn’t say that, though, remaining silent, and Kazuki took that for worry; “Now, things have changed since then. What information we got from Shido and the Shadow Ops when they investigated the issue… you were a minor trapped in a no-win situation, and the mental shutdowns that didn’t result in deaths were reversible. If anything, you could be done for reckless manslaughter.”

“But?” Goro prompted when Kazuki trailed off. 

“But, we’re willing to reduce that to a slap on the wrist, in return for your cooperation,” Kazuki smiled winsomely, “Our forces are stretched thin, and Persona-users are the only ones who can permanently kill demons and angels. There are less than twenty-five Persona-users in all of Japan, and it’s not enough to defend the whole nation from the demonic invasion.”

“So, you want me to join the Counter-Demon Force in return for a waived prison sentence, is that it?” Goro smiled back, but it was sharp and mean, “What if I say ‘no’? You really think you have a prison that can hold me?”

Kazuki grimaced; “We have our ways,” he said vaguely, “But they’re unpleasant and borderline inhumane, and we don’t want to get to that point.”

“But you will if you feel it is necessary to get me under your thumb,” Goro hummed, tapping his bottom lip in thought, “Is that how you secured Akira’s cooperation?”

“What- no, no, he joined us willingly,” Kazuki laughed, but Goro sensed the lie in his words, a writhing, maggoty emotion that had him narrowing his eyes at him, “All of them have. Demons and angels are humanity’s true enemy, we can’t waste time fighting amongst each other.”

“I suppose,” Goro said doubtfully. 

“Now then,” Kazuki picked up a pen off the table, holding it poised over his notepad, “I’m going to ask you some questions about where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing… just to create a basic profile. We rarely get information regarding the territories under demon control, so…”

“Hmm,” Goro said as unhelpfully as possible. 

Kazuki was undeterred by Goro’s thinly veiled hostility; “Let’s start at the beginning. Where were you when the Pit of Naraku first appeared in 2016?”

having my puppet strings yanked about as metatron and lucifer fought over me, Goro did not say. 

“In the Metaverse,” Goro said blithely. It technically wasn’t a lie.

Kazuki gave him a flat look, “The Metaverse.”

“I was trapped there for years,” Goro said, warming up to Kazuki’s unimpressed look considerably, “It didn’t vanish, you see, it sort of… tumbled down lower, within the Expanse. Anyway, I couldn’t escape until I found this strange, fantastical path that took me through multiple alternative worlds and realities, each one a horrific mirror of Tokyo. After the world where all of Japan had been nuked off the face of the earth, I fought an entity called the Ancient of Days and-”

“Akechi-san,” Kazuki sighed, “If you don’t want to answer, just tell me.”

Little did he know, Goro was speaking nothing but the truth. Still, he gave him a sweet smile and said; “Of course, my apologies.”

“Right,” Kazuki rubbed a hand over his shorn hair, “You said you came from Shibuya at the blockade. How long did you spend there? Why did you approach Kasumigaseki? What’s your goal?”

Dangerous waters. 

“I was hungry,” Goro murmured, “And it was getting increasingly dangerous to scavenge for food. I’m powerful, but as a human I still need to sleep and rest… it came to a point where I realised I could no longer survive by myself. I heard a Persona-user was at the blockade and I came to see if it was one I knew.”

“Akira,” Kazuki said. 

“Mhm. Akira,” Goro tilted his head when he sensed Akira’s soul shift. Akira was moving further away, slowly, relaxed. Where was he going? 

“What’s your relationship with him?”

Goro paused, refocusing on Kazuki. He could sense calculation and interest and schemes, could taste the manipulation curdling on the edges of the human’s thoughts. Oh, what were you planning, little worm? 

“That’s a little forward,” he deflected. 

“Akira was quick to vouch for you, and according to reports you two were… close,” Kazuki said delicately. 

Goro smiled a savage smile, pointed canines on display. They were no longer fangs, but they were still sharp and looked suitably threatening ; “None~ of~ your~ business~”

“Touchy subject, then,” Kazuki muttered to himself, and scribbled something down, “Okay, last question and you’re free: have you ever eaten demons?”

Goro barely kept his expression straight, startled at the question. Unfortunately, his reaction wasn’t completely hidden, and Kazuki heaved a sigh, “That’s a yes, then.” 

“I… why do you… ask?” Goro asked warily, certain his disguise hadn’t been seen through. He doubted the human would’ve sat here so easily and relaxed if he knew Goro was a demon but- what was with that question? Out of nowhere??

“We know some humans eat demons out of… necessity, or some misguided belief that it will give them strength,” Kazuki explained, “It’s not illegal, but it has been proven to cause some… physiological changes in humans. If you eat too much, you’ll become something like a demon, or a ghoul, but if you’re below the threshold you should be… fine. You might ping a false positive on some of the more sensitive Demon-Sniffer sensors, though.”

Goro stared at him, realising he had just been handed the perfect excuse to deflect any oddities or slips ups regarding his disguise. Anything weird happens, it can be blamed on a poor diet of hunted demons. Oh, thank you, Kazuki, you shifty little worm you. 

“...yes,” he said, making sure to sound nervous and unsure in his confession. It wouldn’t do to say it with a happy smile, even if he was so very pleased about this get out of jail free card, “I may have eaten a few out of necessity.”

“Understandable,” Kazuki murmured, squinting at him, “Well, it doesn’t seem to have affected you much. Persona-users are seemingly resilient to the corrupting influence of demons.”

With that, Kazuki stood up. Goro eyed him warily. 

“And that’s the end of our questioning,” Kazuki said warmly, “Now let’s get you something to eat that isn’t canned or demon meat.”

Reluctantly, Goro let himself be hustled out of the interrogation room, fighting the urge to slip away from Kazuki to hunt Akira down. His patience was running thin in dealing with this ineffective human bureaucracy, chafing at him like a too-tight bridle. But patience, patience, he can be patient. 

Kazuki took him to what seemed like a small cafeteria within the bowels of the CDF bunker. There were only less than a dozen tables, half of them occupied by tired looking and exhausted feeling humans. None of them were Akira, but Goro perked up when he felt him approach their position. 

“Here’s the canteen,” Kazuki said, “Akira should join you in a bit. Go on, grab something to eat. It’ll be on CDF’s dime. Afterwards, Akira’ll take you to a bunk you can catch some rest in.”

“After which we will discuss my inevitable servitude in detail?” Goro asked dryly. 

Kazuki laughed, “You don’t mince words, do you? But yes, we’ll discuss your cooperation with us. I hope you agree to work with the CDF, Akechi-san.”

“Hm,” Goro said, and watched Kazuki depart with narrowed eyes. That one was going to be trouble, he could smell it. 

well, if he gets in the way of me and akira, i’ll simply eat him, Goro decided, and ambled over to the hotplate. It seemed to be self-serving, and it was all breakfast foods. Akira was close, close enough that he waited, until his other half’s presence was right behind him and- 

“I’d avoid the sausage,” Akira whispered right into his ear, “It’s mostly gristle.”

“Hello,” Goro said, and turned around. They almost bumped noises, and Akira straightened up with a pout, no doubt annoyed at Goro’s lack of surprise, “You’re not very stealthy.”

“Couldn’t you pretend to be startled?” Akira complained.

“No,” Goro said, and studied his other half. Akira was no longer in that strange armour; instead he was in grey-white-black military fatigues. It was a bizarre thing to see him dressed in. Goro wasn’t sure if he liked it.

“So, how was the interrogation?” Akira asked, gently pushing Goro to face the hot plate again, “Kazuki didn’t ask anything weird?”

“Not really,” Goro said blandly, taking the hint and picking up a plate. He wasn’t sure what to get. He wasn’t even sure if he could eat human food, if it would give him any energy at all - how it would even taste. He chose something safe and easy: bread, and stuck it in the toasting machine next to the hot plate. 

“That’s all you’re having?” Akira asked worriedly, “You said you were hungry.”

“I also haven’t had a proper meal in too long,” Goro said honestly, “It’s best not to… agitate my stomach by gorging myself.”

“At least have something to go with the toast,” Akira sighed, and picked up a small one-use tub of marmalade, “Here, it has sugar in it.”

“I hate marmalade,” Goro lied. 

“Shut up, you little brat, you love marmalade.”

well, i did, but now i don’t know, Goro mused, “Hm.”

Akira picked up an apple as well, and a yoghurt pot. Goro sighed but didn’t protest, and soon they were seated at one of the tables, Akira sitting opposite him and shamelessly staring at him. His soul was still a thorny tangle - hot, pulsing, twisting and twining, so many emotions- Goro focused extra hard on his toast. 

He ate it carefully. It tasted like… toast covered in marmalade. Nice. Tasty. He swallowed it with no issue, and after a pause, found he didn’t have the immediate urge to regurgitate it. Huh, maybe he could still eat human food after all. He ate with more gusto after that. 

“You’re… quiet,” Akira said after a long moment of silence, where Goro polished off his apple and was curiously poking at the yoghurt pot, “Is everything okay?”

“Aside from the world currently experiencing an apocalypse?” Goro asked dryly, deciding that yes, actually, he did like strawberry yoghurt, even if he wasn’t a fan of these mysterious lumps. Were they strawberries? Or poorly made yoghurt? It was unknown, “I’m fine.”

Akira fidgeted with his fringe. He still had that habit, huh?

“Why did you come here?” Akira asked, soft and vulnerable in a way that made Goro pause, spoon halfway to his mouth, “After spending so long away from everyone else…?”

He couldn’t make himself respond as flippantly as he did with Kazuki. Worse, Akira would believe him, where Kazuki hadn’t. Goro put the spoon back in the yoghurt pot, tapping a fingernail against the edge of the plastic rim. What can he say? What should he say? He knew he couldn’t keep his past vague and unknown for long - Akira will pick and pick and pick until he unearthed every bit of truth from him. 

“I was looking for you,” Goro said honestly. 

“For me,” Akira repeated, his tone utterly neutral, “And it took you five years-”

“I was trapped in the Metaverse,” he interrupted. 

Akira stopped - stared. 

“I was trapped in the Metaverse,” Goro repeated, playing with his yoghurt pot and keeping his gaze lowered, “For… I don’t know. Time moves differently there - it was only recently I found my way back out again and into a world that was - well. Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on, Akira. Not a damned clue. The demons and angels in Tokyo… it was a bit of a nasty, confusing shock.”

“You were…” Akira blinked, “But, the Metaverse was…”

“Yes, and no,” Goro aggressively ate a spoonful of yoghurt, taking the pause to marshall his thoughts, “It’s part of something called the ‘Expanse’, or the Atziluth, as the demons called it-”

“Wait, wait,” Akira leaned forwards slightly, “There were demons there? Not Shadows?”

“Demons,” Goro confirmed, “It’s a segmented place, and doesn’t obey the laws of reality like Tokyo does, but it’s still… a place? It’s an odd reflection of civilisation, actually, depending on where you go in there. It was created by humanity’s thoughts, after all.”

“So, it is the Metaverse, but… bigger?” Akira asked, his brow furrowing as he mulled over it, “But, then where did demons come from?”

Oh, what a question. What a question.

“Demons are abstract entities born from human Observation,” Goro said, “It’s a bit of a mindfuck trying to understand it, though.”

“Wait, they’re- how do you know this?”

“Did you think I spent my time in the Expanse sitting on my hands?” Goro asked dryly, “Of course I was going to understand where I was and what these strange creatures were. I thought they were Shadows, initially, but after having more than a few trying to eat me, I quickly understood what they were.”

He idly stirred his yoghurt, “Some demons are quite friendly, though. Or, lonely, I should say. If you have the patience, you can learn a lot from them, just by listening to them ramble on and on.”

Akira looked overwhelmed again. Goro tilted his head, a flash of worryconcernfearworry filtering through the dazzling, thorny twist that was akira - hmm, guilt, too? What was he feeling guilty over?

“You were in the Metaverse all this time…” Akira said after a long, heavy silence, “I didn’t even check-”

“You didn’t know,” Goro said, visibly puzzled. 

“But I should’ve- all this time I thought…” Akira laughed, but it was an unhappy noise, sad and sadunhappyiabandonedhim - no, that was stupid-

“Akira,” Goro abandoned his yoghurt pot and reached over the table. He grabbed Akira’s wrist, dug his fingernails into the thin skin where he could feel the throb of his pulse, “You didn’t know. It’s fine. Forget it. I survived and I’m here now. I won’t tolerate you being melodramatic over something so pointless.”

“Pointless,” Akira’s mouth was pinched, “Of course you’d call it ‘pointless’.”

Why were humans so - so- molten with their feelings? Goro stared at him helplessly, admittedly out of his depth as Akira’s emotions shifted like mercury, blistering and hot and seeping between his fingers. How did Goro ever deal with being human, when emotions were so volatile like this? That was one good thing about being a demon - it crystallised his feelings, steadied them, slow to change and even slower to ignite into something explosive.

But they still changed - that was still human. 

“Don’t feel guilty,” he said a bit awkwardly, “I don’t like it.”

Akira stared at him, but everything about him coolled, loosened - better. 

“Oh, I… sorry,” Akira looked down, at where Goro was still gripping his wrist. His frown was more thoughtful than angry now, “I didn’t mean to…”

Akira settled his hand over Goro’s. It was warm, very warm, with callouses on his fingers that felt rough against his knuckles. Goro loosened his grip on his wrist. 

“You haven’t spoken to people in a while, have you?” Akira murmured.

Did demons count as people? If they did, they were insane people, operating off an alien logic that no rational human could keep heads or tails of. In which case, no, Goro hadn’t… spoken to humans in a while. He barely remembered social etiquette, in all honesty. 

“Is it that obvious?” Goro asked. 

“You kinda talk… weird,” Akira smiled, but it was a little strained, “Like, you’re not sure how… words work. I mean, you always were awkward, but now you’re even more awkward.”

“Thanks,” Goro deadpanned. 

“At least your humour’s still intact,” Akira joked, his smile becoming more genuine. He patted Goro’s hand, and he let go of his wrist, reluctantly pulling his hand away, “You done with your food? You sure you don’t want more? You didn’t eat much…”

“I’m fine,” Goro said, “I’m full.”

“Uh huh…” Akira sounded doubtful, but didn’t push, “Well, okay, let’s find you a bed then, okay?”

i don’t need sleep, Goro thought, but that’d be stupid to admit, so he stood up, tossed his trash into the bin, and followed his other half out of the canteen and back into the hallways. After several turns and twists, they ended up in what appeared to be a dorm area. He could hear muffled music from one of the rooms. 

“You can bunk with me,” Akira said, stopping in front of a door and punching in a code. It opened with a soft click, “I have a spare bed.”

Something in Goro relaxed at that. Good. 

Akira’s room was… cramped. There were two beds in a narrow room, but Akira had made it his own. Posters he vaguely recalled back during his Phantom Thief days adorned the walls, the potted plant, his figurines and a TV set precariously balanced on a footstool. There was barely any room to move, but the room was akira and it smelled of akira, so Goro was content. 

“Sorry for the… mess…” Akira said sheepishly, “Damn it.”

“Where’s Morgana?” Goro asked, “Did he die of old age?”

“Damn,” Akira laughed at that, a shocked noise, “You’ve really forgotten how to talk to people- no, no, Mona’s alive. He’s with Futaba right now. He usually stays with her while I’m on shift, so he’s not stuck in this room all day.” 

Ah, that made sense. 

“Speaking of, I need to… collect him,” Akira said, rubbing the back of his neck, “And talk to Futaba so she doesn’t get a shock when she sees you out and about. Uh, no offence.”

“None taken,” Goro said, belatedly remembering one of the people he murdered was Futaba’s mother. 

“I’ll let you get settled- oh, the bathroom is just down the hall, fourth door on your left,” Akira said, “It’s communal so, uh, yeah.”

“I’ll manage,” Goro said, “Go collect your demon cat.”

“God,” Akira ran a hand through his hair, “Morgana’s going to freak.” 

But Akira left. Goro stared at the closed door, tracking that dazzling light of Akira’s soul through the bunker. Once it moved far away enough, Goro poked about Akira’s room out of curiosity, before exhaustion drove him to lie down on the spare bed. He may not need sleep, but sleep was sometimes nice to replenish energy when food was scarce.

note to self: human food only gives minimal energy when processed, he thought, better than nothing, i guess.

He may have to eat a lot in one sitting, but it was manageable. He can supplement it by devouring demons on the sly. He can’t be watched all the time, especially if he was going to feign cooperation with the CDF to remain at Akira’s side. He had to figure out a way to break his shackles to that organisation, though. The idea of Akira being coerced into their attack dog made something inside of him seethe and boil like a volcano about to blow. 

Goro growled, biting back the anger, and curled up into a ball, nuzzling his face into the pillow. It smelled of Akira. He must lie on this bed sometimes. 

He closed his eyes, breathed in, out, in, and… drifted into a light, tense sleep.

Chapter Text

Yet, for Goro, sleep didn’t necessarily mean rest.

He had closed his eyes to Akira’s room, surrounded by the faint impressions of his scent and presence - and opened them to a dimly lit sitting room arranged on an open stage. A fire crackled in the fireplace, blood-red and emitting a heat that was near searing, casting dark, strange shadows across the set. Goro was slouched in a squashy armchair made of stiff, dark leather, the arms scarred with pale claw marks. A cup of untouched tea sat before him on a low-sitting table made of dark, polished oak. 

He was not alone. 

“I see you made it back,” his companion said pleasantly, “Congratulations.” 

Goro’s gaze shifted from the many, many eyes that watched them from the peepholes overlooking the stage. His companion sat across from him, dressed in drab, form-fitting funeral clothes with a black veil hiding his face, dark curls visible from beneath the gossamer fabric. It should be thin enough to see through, but the face behind it was marred, a smudge like charcoal across a page. Only his mouth could be discerned, curved into a roguish grin - Joker’s smile. 

Goro’s fingers twitched, the tips of his claws cutting into leather. 

“What do you want?” he growled. 

The doppelganger sighed heavily, resting a hand against his cheek in mock-disappointment, “As brusque as ever. I have told you before - you catch far more flies with honey.”

Goro levelled him with a stony glare that spoke venomous volumes. The doppelganger smiled, leaning forwards in his seat with open interest. 

“History turns the wheel once more,” the doppelganger told him mildly, “You have seen the roads humanity takes when trapped beneath the heavy yoke of -̵̣̬̲̜̊̽͌͗̽͝-̷̬̲̥̉̽̓̕͜͝͝͝-̵̝̜̣̅-̵̧̡̣͔̒͊̈́̄̌͂̈́͜͝͝-̶̟̊̈́̅ͅ-̷͓̰̏͝-̴̝͓͊̈́̊, how quick they are to grovel before gods they have never seen. Yet, still, you continue this pointless quest. Are you that eager to condemn Akira to the same fate as those past incarnations?”

“Akira decides his own fate,” Goro reminded him - bitterly, “I do not choose for him.” 

“But you allow him to choose yours,” the doppelganger mused, his smile baring fangs, “You rest your warped heart within his fist and watch as he crushes it again and again. Is the pain of lovesick grief such a comfort to you now…?”

“...”

“I find human conflict most interesting,” the doppelganger continued, “It makes no concessions to time or place. You lay your fragile life and your desperate ambition on the scales, fighting to your very limits as your heart wavers between the two. It’s impressive.”

The doppelganger’s grin widened into something near inhuman, “And it is a show very much worth directing.”

Goro bared his teeth in a snarl, sunk his claws deep into the armrests as he spat: “I’m not doing it for you.”

“I am only putting into words the destiny you have carried since you were created,” the doppelganger said, unmoved by Goro’s hostility. He leaned back, tracing his finger along his bottom lip, “But, fear not. You are not completely powerless…”

The stage shuddered and the curtain began falling on this little scene, the gloom swallowing them up. Goro watched as the light faded beneath the slowly encroaching line of darkness - saw the last glimpse of the doppelganger’s grin. 

 

the stage plunged into nothingness 











and a thunderous applause rang out, like the roar of a collapsing world. 


“DO NOT ENTER,” said the sign on Futaba’s workshop door, “BUSY ADVANCING MANKIND TOWARDS ZOIDS: CHAOTIC CENTURY!”

Filtering through the door, Akira could hear sounds such as muffled anime music, indistinct hollering, heavy machinery and, oddly, something that sounded like a yodelling cat - if said cat was hooked up to a bass speaker. Akira squared his shoulders, braced himself - and plunged into the Futaba’s battlefield of science. 

He almost tripped over a thick tube two steps inside.

“Don’t touch that!” Futaba snapped at him, suspended above a large egg-shaped structure almost ten feet tall courtesy of Necronomicon. Her Persona had become more of a lab assistant than any sort of Palace navigator in recent years, the tentacled UFO docilely hovering in place as it suspended its user unsafely off the ground. 

“Sorry,” Akira said, toeing his way across the workshop. It was huge - a repurposed underground garage, apparently - but there was little floorspace to work with, thanks to a deathtrap of crisscrossing power cables, ethernet cables, other cables, string, dangling wires that sparked occasionally, a thick, see-through tubes that pulsed with a slurry of magnetite that Futaba siphoned off shackled demons ensnared by their Demon Summoning App. 

Said magnetite was being fed into the egg-shaped thing: Burroughs’ brain. 

Futaba didn’t acknowledge him further. She was elbow deep inside Burroughs’ brain, wrenching her arm sharply to the side. Necronomicon continued belting out the cheery lyrics to Featherman R: Rise From The Ashes!

Akira knew better than to interrupt her when she was like this. He perched himself carefully on a box, after making sure it wouldn’t explode or do anything else unusual on contact, and contented himself in watching the person he considered his sister in all but blood. In the past five years she had grown from the timid yet brilliant shut-in into the amazing pioneer of ‘Magitek’ that kept humanity on its feet after the arrival of the demons.  

She was still lanky and gangly, more knobbly knees and pointy elbows than anything, a little spitfire of a shrimp when properly motivated. But she had cut her hair into a short bob (“Ugh, it just keeps getting in my eyes when I’m working!") and the sharper edge of her jaw and cheekbones brought out her resemblance to her mother starkly. Not that Akira could see that right now, considering she was decked out in her workshop gear and had a welding mask strapped to her face. 

“You’re back early.”

Akira looked down to see Morgana at his feet. He grinned, bending down to scoop his old friend up, holding him like he was a baby against his chest. Morgana grumbled but still shamelessly made himself comfortable. 

“Something came up,” Akira said, and quickly added when Morgana looked worried; “Nothing bad! Actually, it’s something really good! Uh, sort of. Maybe, kind of?”

“Oh?” Morgana was frowning at him, prodding his chest with a paw, “What is it?”

And softly, like he was imparting a fact that would void out of existence if he said it too loudly; “Goro’s here.”

“... WHAT!?” Morgana screeched, “He’s alive?!”

“How’s a girl meant to work with you two yelling in here!” Futaba huffed, lifting her head from Burroughs’ brain and shoving her welding mask up, “What’s going on? Who died?”

“More like resurrected!” Morgana said before Akira could get a word in edgewise. Wriggling, the cat squirmed from Akira’s arm to perch on his shoulders, shouting at Futaba; “Crow’s back!”

“Huh,” Futaba said, then again, “ Huh?!”

“Let me explain…” Akira sighed. 

Fifteen minutes later, with all three of them sitting on upturned supply crates turned seats and coffee table, Akira filled Morgana and Futaba to the situation regarding Goro. Morgana looked troubled, and Futaba was frowning in that way that said she was chewing over a particularly difficult problem. 

“I know your feelings about him are complicated,” Akira said, guessing her misgivings, “But he is a really strong Persona-user - and he just… annihilated that Dominion like it was nothing. He single-handedly chased off the angel assault without breaking a sweat.”

“That’s what worries me,” Futaba said grimly, idly turning her mug in her hand. It was bright red with a small crack along the lip and the words “#1 FAN’, “Power like that doesn’t come from nowhere, and Loki’s not exactly a, uh, you know, stable Persona on a good day.” 

“Humans shouldn’t be able to survive for so long in the Metaverse either,” Morgana added, “I think. It’s too… it doesn’t have food, for one, and the air there is toxic to humans, even if they have Persona. He should be dead.”

“It’s Goro,” Akira defended weakly, “I don’t think he can die.” 

Futaba snorted quietly, but her frown was turning more contemplative than grim.

“Your Demonica should have a recording of the whole thing,” she mumbled, and she leaned over, digging into the nearest pile of junk until she retrieved some sort of tablet. Settling back in place, she put the tablet down on the table, and all three of them crowded round as she tapped through it, bringing up all of the Demonica recordings that are cached on Burroughs’ systems. 

“There,” Akira said, pointing out his ID, “There’s me.” 

“Mm,” Futaba tapped the video, and after zooming through the majority of it, got to the part with Goro. She watched the whole thing closely, her eyes intense behind the large lens of her wire-framed glasses, barely blinking as she observed and catalogued every second of Akira’s recorded interaction with Goro - up until Kazuki spirited him away to that interrogation. 

“He was interrogated…” Futaba muttered. 

“Yeah, I collected him from it not too long ago,” Akira said, “Kazuki seems to think he can twist Goro’s arm to join us.”

“More like Goro’ll make him think that,” Futaba said, “He wants something from us.”

“Futaba…” Akira sighed. 

“I think she’s right,” Morgana said, looking a little apologetic when Akira gave him a betrayed look, “I know you have this thing about Crow, Joker, but… he’s always got an ulterior motive or secret, even when it seems like he’s being honest. My gut says there’s something more to this.”

“Also,” Futaba tapped her tablet, drawing up a still from the recording and an old, old image of Goro during his Detective Prince days, “He hasn’t aged a day.”

The still was from when Akira and Goro paused to have their chat by the bench. He looked beautiful, even with the poor, pre-dawn lighting. His face was gentle and youthful, unblemished to the point where he almost looked airbrushed. With his longer hair framing his soft face, he looked almost like he just walked off the runway at a fashion show, his wine-coloured eyes accentuated with thick, dark eyelashes that gave them a smoky look to them. He looked both mature and gentle that was comically at odds with his viciously independent and forceful nature. 

But, Futaba was right: despite the longer hair, despite the prettied up eyes and the clothes, Goro looked identical to his younger self. He hadn’t aged at all.  

“Good genes?” Akira suggested, echoing Goro’s own excuse. 

“There’s good genes, then there’s just plain weird,” Futaba said, “And what’s with that sexy bodysuit? He’s not wearing underwear under that thing. Does he think he’s Catwoman or something?”

 Akira very carefully did not think about Goro in Catwoman’s outfit, “Maybe being stuck in the Metaverse did some weird… time shit? He did seem confused about it being five years.”

“Hm, maybe,” Futaba bit her thumb - then grimaced when she realised she was still wearing her thick work glove on that hand, “It is a higher dimension… least, that’s what Mom postulated in her research notes. When you interact with human cognition, it sort of enters a more abstract form of existence. So, if someone’s physical form was transposed into that abstract space, then their relationship to time might be affected…” 

“Uh?” Akira contributed, sharing an equally blank look with Morgana. 

“Let’s see what he said in Kazuki’s interrogation,” Futaba said, grinning a little wickedly as she brought up the interrogation room’s recordings, “Mweheheh, still haven’t locked me out, huh? Ya lil’ government toadie...”

“Boss is corrupting you,” Akira said with considerable humour. 

“Meh, Dad thinks he’s a goon too,” Futaba sniffed, and made a pleased noise when she accessed the file, “Oh ho, here we go. Let’s see…”

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Akechi-san.”

“It’s fine.”

Akira leaned in. The camera angle was positioned so Kazuki’s back was to it, and Goro’s face was in full view. Goro looked bored, his eyes heavy-lidded and shoulders relaxed - but his hands were splayed flat on the table, left index finger tapping a staccato beat against the table. His trigger finger. 

“You’re not in any trouble.” 

“Why would I think I was in trouble? Is it illegal to be a human survivor in demon territories?”

“His tone’s all weird,” Futaba mumbled, yanking her glove off so she could gnaw her ragged thumbnail to the quick. She pulled her feet up, resting her heels on the edge of her seat, resembling a gargoyle as she stared unblinkingly at the tablet. As Kazuki continued his spiel, her eyes narrowed into slits at Goro’s odd silence regarding his past crimes. 

“He looked surprised,” Morgana commented quietly, “Like he didn’t know he’d be tried for his crimes?”

“Or he forgot,” Futaba said, but she didn’t sound bitter or angry - contemplative. She was thinking. 

“Let’s start at the beginning. Where were you when the Pit of Naraku first appeared in 2016.”

“The Metaverse.”

“The Metaverse?”

“I was trapped there for years. It didn’t vanish, you see, it sort of… tumbled down lower, within the Expanse. Anyway, I couldn’t escape until I found this strange, fantastical path that took me through multiple alternative worlds and realities, each one a horrific mirror of Tokyo. After the world where all of Japan had been nuked off the face of the earth, I fought an entity called the Ancient of Days and-”

“Akechi-san. If you don’t want to answer, just tell me.”

“Like I said, a goon,” Futaba scoffed.

“Ancient of Days?” Akira muttered under his breath, “What’s that?”

“It sounds… familiar…” Morgana said, his whiskers twitching as he scrunched his muzzle up in thought, “It’s- oh, it’s Velvet Room familiar. It’s… argh, it’s on the tip of my tongue…!”

“Shhh!” Futaba hissed. 

“What’s your relationship with him?”

“That’s a little forward.”

“Akira was quick to vouch for you, and according to reports you two were… close.”

Something must’ve struck a nerve in Goro, because he shifted forwards in his seat - a fraction, but enough for his posture to go from bored to aggressively hostile in the blink of an eye. He was smiling though, that sharp, savage smile Akira had become intimately acquainted with when watching him shred his way through Maruki’s Palace with a howling fury better suited to a berserker. Goro looked like he wanted to lunge across the table and bite Kazuki’s throat out with his teeth.

“None~ of~ your~ business~”

“Wow,” Futaba said, “That’s- wow.”

Akira silently agreed. He didn’t know Goro could growl that deep. The audio even crackled with static from the depth of it.

“Touchy subject. Okay, last question and you’re free: have you ever eaten demons?”

Goro’s reaction was immediate. He went tense in his seat, a flicker of alarm and panic flitting lightning fast across his face. Akira barely caught it, Goro mastering himself quickly and adopting a neutral air like Kazuki had just asked him the weather. But it was too late - his reaction betrayed him. 

“I knew it!” Futaba crowed, as Kazuki led Goro into a reluctant, bitten out confession of consuming demon meat, “I thought something was weird- he’s a demoneater!” 

“That’s not good,” Morgana said. 

It really wasn’t. 

Futaba minimised the recording and began flicking through the tablet frantically, accessing hidden parts of the CDF network through Burroughs’ brain. With a small noise of triumph, Futaba brought up something that looked like a jumble of code to Akira, with a long ID tag he vaguely recognised as the file extension of Futaba’s patented Demon-Sniffer. 

“What’s that?” Akira asked. 

“Akechi’s Demon-Sniffer scan results,” Futaba said, flicking her fingers over the screen, “Looks like nonsense, huh? Well, unless I do this…”

A few taps and flicks, Akira and Morgana watching mesmerised, and Futaba fed the file through some homebrewed programme, and out spat a more coherent report from the mess of data. The Demon-Sniffer could detect so many things about a person: whether they were human or demon, and if they were human if they were a Persona-user or not, whether they could use magic, even if they had some underlying medical conditions. The Demon-Sniffer utilised some strange marriage of technology and magic, and Akira didn’t try to work out how the hell it worked. 

“According to this he’s not a demon,” Futaba said, “But he has ‘minor demonic corruption within acceptable threshold, non-toxic consumption suspected’. Basically that means he ate demons, but sporadically and only in small amounts to avoid starvation.”

Akira thought back to Goro. He was skinnier than Akira remembered, but he hardly looked starved, despite his insistence that he hadn’t eaten in a while. His thighs and hips had enough fat to them that implied a healthy body weight. 

“So… what does that mean?” Morgana asked, clearly lost. 

“Akechi doesn’t look starved. In fact, he looks very well fed,” Futaba brought up the image of Goro from Akira’s Demonica recording. With the report on one side of the screen, and Goro’s image on the other, she began to compare; “His body temp was almost exceeding 40C, his heart rate was below forty beats per minute - normally if it’s that low, your body temp is colder, and vice versa. When humans eat demons, they undergo bizarre changes on the cellular level - most of the time it’s to turn into freaky zombie ghouls, but sometimes when conditions are right you become the closest thing to a superhuman but not, ‘cuz you ate demons and now have their taint in you.” 

“Please don’t use ‘taint’ in that context,” Akira sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“In short,” Futaba continued like he hadn’t spoken, “We definitely need to keep an eye on him, in case he gets a sudden urge to eat Akira while he sleeps.”

“He’s a cannibal?” Morgana said, aghast. 

“Goro isn’t a cannibal,” Akira deadpanned. 

“He might be a cannibal,” Futaba said, “Maybe. He seems the type. I’ve heard stuff about the humans in Shibuya.”

“Oh my god…” Akira ran a hand through his hair, “He’s fine. Okay? Kind of weird and clearly hasn’t spoken to people in five years, but he was fine with eating toast and yoghurt and stuff. He didn’t even touch any meat.” 

“Probably wanted to save room for you,” Futaba whispered, and laughed when Akira leaned over to swipe at her, “I’m kidding! But, um…”

She sobered, her expression stern as she looked Akira right in the eye, “Akira, I know you… you have this thing with Akechi but, I’m just asking you to be careful. He always has an agenda, and… I just don’t want you to get hurt, okay? Because then I’ll have to talk to him to make him pay for it, and no one wants that.”

Akira’s shoulders slumped, unable to fight back against his sister’s open concern, “I’ll be careful, don’t worry. I’m… I’m already expecting him to have a ‘I’m back, but…’ thing going on.”

“Just so long as you’re prepared,” Futaba said, then frowned and waved her fingers at him, “Now go, go make googly eyes at Akechi. I have the whole of mankind to save with my Magitek!”

“I can’t believe you named your miracle stuff after Final Fantasy stuff,” Akira sighed, but let him be shooed out of Futaba’s workshop with Morgana draped over his shoulder. 

“I think you should listen to Futaba,” Morgana told him solemnly as they made their slow way back to Akira’s dorm, “I’m glad Crow’s alive, but… just be careful.”

“I know,” Akira sighed, “Just- let me be happy for a bit, okay? I can worry about whatever convoluted plan he has tomorrow.”

Morgana butted his head against the side of Akira’s apologetically and settled down. 

When Akira returned to his room, it was to find it empty. He almost panicked until he noticed Goro’s bomber jacket and bodysuit draped over the spare bed, his boots lined up neat just under the bed frame. One of Akira’s narrow closets were open, a spare towel gone, as well as his 2-in-1 shampoo and scentless bodywash. 

“He’s showering,” Akira said, sounding a little dazed at the thought. 

“If he’s been stuck in the Metaverse and then Shibuya,” Morgana said, hopping off Akira’s shoulder and onto his bed, “Then he probably stinks.” 

“He doesn’t,” Akira huffed - then paused when he realised; “He… actually doesn’t. He didn’t smell of anything except…” 

blood, he remembered, he smelled like fresh blood. 

That sharp, metal smell, with a hint of warmth to it. Akira had barely noticed it, but it made him wonder - what a strange scent to carry. There’d been no hint of musky sweat, or grime, or brick dust or soot - usual smells of haggard survivors crawling over Shibuya or Minato’s border. There’d been nothing but the scent of blood.

Akira pushed the uneasiness aside. There was probably a logical explanation for it. 

“Maybe he found some working showers in Shibuya,” Akira finished, ignoring Morgana’s curious look, “Anyway, let’s wait for him to come back.” 

It took a while. Akira had undressed into his sleepwear - he was off-shift now, finally - and spruced up Goro’s side of the room, changing the sheets and giving him an extra pillow beneath Morgana’s judgemental gaze. Not long after he finished that bit of fussing, his door opened with a soft hiss, and Akira perked up, turning to Goro and-

-almost swallowed his tongue at seeing Goro standing there, his hair damp and unbound, a damp towel bundled under his arm - and dressed in Akira’s clothes: a loose t-shirt that was large enough that the collar slid down his shoulder a little, and a pair of shorts. He was bare-footed. 

“Oh,” Goro looked drowsy and surprised, “You’re back early.”

“You’re- my clothes,” Akira said blankly, his gaze fixed on Goro’s exposed collarbone. 

“I didn’t have any spare,” Goro said, stepping inside so the door slid shut behind him. His gaze slid over to the wary looking Morgana, “I see you’re still alive, Morgana. Congratulations.”

“Uh, thanks?” Morgana said, like he wasn’t sure if that had been genuine or an insult. 

“Um- I can- take that,” Akira said stiltedly, taking the towel and shampoo and bodywash off of Goro, tossing them all without looking at the laundry basket. It missed, “You, uh, going back to sleep like that?”

“I’m still tired,” Goro said, either oblivious or ignoring Akira having a minor meltdown in front of him. Languidly, he stretched, pushing himself up on his toes as he raised his arms up high, something loudly popping and cracking somewhere in his spine. He eased himself back down with the same lazy hurriedness of a half-asleep big cat.

“You must be as well,” Goro observed, his eyes scanning Akira from the tip of his hair right down to his toes, “You’ve been awake for… far too long, Akira.” 

“I have?” Akira asked, wondering how on earth Goro knew that. Did he look that tired or- oh, right, him acting like a weirdo, “I mean, yeah, I have. I’ve been awake for almost twenty four hours.” 

“Sleep,” Goro ordered, pointing at the bed Morgana was occupying like a king delivering a solemn command to his loyal vassal, “Now.” 

“Uh, I need to wash up and stuff first,” Akira said, a little bewildered. 

“Do so quickly,” Goro said, side-stepping so he was out of his way. When Akira didn’t immediately move, his old rival raised an eyebrow, a hint of his old self shining through as he asked, mild as milk; “What? Do you need me to walk you through your bedtime routine, Joker? Have you regressed that much since we last saw each other?”

“Brat,” Akira huffed, but the insult helped him regain his footing, “Try not to catch a cold while going to sleep with wet hair.”

“I’m immune to colds,” Goro boasted.

“Sure.”

And, perhaps against his better judgement, Akira left Goro and Morgana alone without supervision. 


“I don’t trust you,” Morgana said. 

Goro was so utterly unsurprised by this declaration he didn’t even blink; “I’d think you a fool if you did.” 

Morgana scowled, looking a little unhappy and wary. Goro eyed him back just as cautiously. He was aware that Morgana was not a normal cat - he was an abstract entity adjacent to demons and Shadows, something born from human consciousness, a concept given a heart and soul and released unto the world to grow and learn. Goro could practically taste the newborn wisps of newlifesoulnew that had a refreshing edge to it. Too refreshing, like eating mint toothpaste straight. 

The fact was, Morgana wasn’t human. Morgana wasn’t a demon either. Morgana was something unique, like him, a one-of-a-kind creature that probably wouldn’t have existed if extraordinary circumstances hadn’t come to pass. Would like know like in this instance? Would Morgana be able to tell there was something off about him?

well, Goro amended to himself, more off than usual. 

“Just know I won’t forgive you if you hurt Joker again,” Morgana finally said five minutes into their impromptu staring contest, “He’s missed you so much these past five years - if you vanish again, I don’t think he’d take it well.”

Ah, this was an easy concern to address.

“I have no plans on abandoning Joker,” Goro said with utmost honesty, “I’m here to help him.”

“Help…?” Morgana repeated suspiciously, “You’d only help him if it was to help you.”

Goro smiled at him - fake, Detective Prince smile. Morgana cringed away from it. 

“That is the transactional nature of human relationships,” Goro told the naive cat, “I will help Akira, and Akira will help me. Both of us will be very content with this exchange.”

“And what do you want Akira to help you with?” Morgana pressed, failing to hide his intimidating beneath the weight of Goro’s polite, gentle smile, “What do you even want?

“What I want…” Goro repeated, thinking back to- the dark stage, Akira’s doppleganger with his gentle hand and punishing claws, to his saviour who pulled him from the muck but did so by planting a demon inside of him that hollowed out a chunk of his heart and nested there, to that endless expanse, where heartbreak and heartbreak and even more heartbreak crushed down on him, trying to smother this flickering candlelight of humanity out of him- 

Goro knew what he wanted, but it was impossible to achieve. It was pointless to even try - but still, he reached for it, again and again and again, with the same, self-destructive obstinance that humanity was known for. That jaw-clenching, furious stubbornness that had him clawing out of hell, intent on achieving his ambition - or dragging the world down with him, no matter the cost.

“What I want is…” Goro smiled brightly, “A warm bed to sleep in, three meals a day, and a roof over my head. I am a man of simple pleasures, Morgana.” 

“You’re lying,” Morgana said flatly, “You didn’t even try.”

Goro didn’t answer. Just sent him another smile and turned pointedly to the spare - now his - bed. Morgana can squint and huff and growl at him all he wants; so long as he was unaware of his true nature, Goro can follow through with his plans unhindered. 

For what he wanted… he will make it come to pass, one way or another, no matter its impossibility.

Chapter Text

The bunker was loud. 

Perhaps not to a normal human, with normal senses. The walls were thick, and several feet worth of concrete, steel and earth cushioned the boisterous sounds of human activity a great deal - but Goro wasn’t a normal human, and his keen senses went beyond mundane hearing, though that too was now near superhuman. 

He could hear: the gurgle of pipework and the low hum of electricity, he could hear the muted thumps of bass speakers from somewhere down the corridor, he could hear the whirr of ventilation, he could hear the occasional stomp of boots outside their door, as other CDF soldiers went on or off shift, he could hear Akira and Morgana breathe less than one metre away from him, he could hear their fucking heartbeats, soft flutters of thmpthmpthmp, slow, steady, calm, he could hear… 

Goro shifted and rolled onto his side, watching Akira from beneath his eyelashes. With the lights off, the room was pitch black, but he could see as if it was in day, albeit in shades of grey. Akira was lying on his back, his head turned away with Morgana nestled in the crook of his neck. 

Their souls were flickers - no, Akira’s was like a sun behind cloud cover, muted in his sleep. Morgana’s was a wisp, tiny, newborn, and beyond these walls…

Too many humans crammed into too small a space. He had managed to filter it out before with just Akira as his focus, but with him asleep and Goro desperately bored, all he could focus on was the overwhelming sensation of humans. So many, so close, a bubbling cauldron of hatefrustrationfeaexhaustionworryconcernhopehopeHOPE that suffused through every atom of this bunker. It was a craving whose itch was gaining claws, drawing blood and making his stomach clench and twist with nauseating hunger. 

food, something hissed in the back of his mind, i’m surrounded by food i can’t eat.

It was aggravating. 

Goro rolled onto his back, irritably kicking the duvet off and letting out a slow, frustrated growl. He could normally tamp down on that alien hunger with little issue, but right now it was like being seated before a banquet after fasting for a week - it was a unique kind of torture no demon would resist. Except, Goro wasn’t just a demon, he was still a human, and he refused to… he refused. 

He will not be ruled by base instincts. He didn’t need to eat to survive, really. Demons required no sustenance, immortal as they were, but they craved power, and the only way to reliably gain it was to devour humans, a prime source of magatsuhi. Their emotions were potent and vibrant, their souls a source of creation on their own. One human soul was the equivalent of a world’s concept - an irresistible temptation.

And demons were greedy and insatiable. They wanted and wanted and wanted, uncaring of limits. Goro had been the same, even before he plummeted into the Expanse. He had been greedy and blinded by it. In that respect, humans were little different from demons. 

but, humans created demons, Goro acknowledged, they birthed them, who in turn birthed humans…

A closed loop, their history. Goro didn’t bother trying to comprehend it. 

Goro rolled over again, tucking his arm under his head and watching Akira breathe. It was easier to forget his hunger, whenever he looked at him, even though he was who he wanted to devour most of all. Akira always had a way of soaking up his every bit of attention, his every thought, even when he was like this, even when Goro had been confused and frightened, trapped at the very bottom of Amala, only knowing to claw his way up towards the sunlight-

He exhaled roughly, pushing himself up from the bed. Silently, he rose to his feet, taking the short half-stride to stand at Akira’s bedside. Neither the human or the cat stirred as he studied Akira’s sleeping face. His eyelashes were long and dark against his cheeks, his lips slightly parted as he breathed, completely relaxed and defenceless despite the man-eating predator in the room.  

Goro pressed his knee against the edge of Akira’s bed, testing his weight. It squeaked, but neither Morgana or Akira stirred. Emboldened, he climbed onto the bed, kneeling beside the human and pressing his hand close to his shoulder, leaning over him. Still, he did not stir. 

He could kill him so easily like this. 

“You’re an idiot, Joker,” he murmured, his voice still rough and gravelly from lack of use - or maybe overuse, now? Today he had spoken more than he ever had in the past… however long it had been, “Trusting me so easily.” 

Goro lifted a hand, gently brushing away a lock of hair that had tumbled into Akira’s eyes - only to pause. He had claws. He had dropped his disguise without realising. 

He wondered, then, what would happen if Akira woke up. If he saw Goro leaning over him - in the dark, he wouldn’t see the claws, the fangs, but he would see his eyes, glowing like burning coals in the dark, inhuman and demonic. Would he reject Goro? Would he rationalise it away to himself? Would he ask why he was so close, looking at him with such open, pained hunger?

Goro reapplied his disguise and sat back, heaving a heavy sigh. 

Having a human heart made things so complicated.

“...mn…” Akira shifted slightly in his sleep, his eyelashes fluttering. Goro didn’t move, just watched him with a heavy-lidded gaze as Akira slowly roused, blinking up at him - and jerked with a startled, surprised; “Jesus Christ.”

Morgana grumbled where he’d been slightly dislodged, not even bothering to open his eyes as he muttered, “Stop movin’...”

“Hello,” Goro said mildly. 

“Uh, hi?” Akira said, still groggy but rapidly approaching full wakefulness as he realised it was Goro looming over him in the dark, “What- what’re you doing?”

“Watching you sleep.”

“...okay,” Akira said, when he realised Goro wasn’t going to elaborate. The tension in his body eased away, shifting slightly as he reached up to soothe a still grumbling Morgana, “Um, why?”

Why was he? Because Akira was the only thing worth anything in this bunker filled with food- people. Humans. Because otherwise, Goro would have to spend his time staring at the ceiling, or the floor, or wander about the place and risk being accosted by that Kazuki. Goro had no patience for him, or any human, right now. 

“I’m bored,” he admitted after a lengthy pause. 

“Um…” Akira’s eyelids were already drooping. He was still exhausted, “I have books? I don’t mind sleeping with a light on…” 

“I’m fine just watching you sleep,” Goro said. 

“Well,” Akira stopped, but it was clear he’d been about to say ‘I’m not’, “I can’t sleep with someone watching me.” 

Goro acquiesced to that. Akira, being a fragile human, did need his sleep.  

“Fine, I’ll read,” he said. 

He got up off the bed as silently as before, not making a single bit of noise as he slinked over to where Akira kept a small pile of books - next to the chair holding up his TV. He squatted down and rummaged through, frowning at the mixture of English, French and Chinese titles. What an eclectic combination. 

“Uh, Goro?” there was the sound of Akira shifting, the Morgana whining. Akira must’ve sat up, “Do you need me to turn the light on-?”

“No,” Goro chose his book and stood up, “I can-”

He stopped, because wait, humans couldn’t read in the dark, could they? He turned around to see: Akira sitting up, his hair mussed and expression groggy, all in tones of grey, his gaze fixed in Goro’s general direction but not at him, because it was so dark all he could see was Goro’s silhouette. 

“I can read outside, in the corridor,” he finished awkwardly, glimpsing the thin ray of light beneath the sliding door, “You sleep.”

“In the corridor?” Akira sounded a little dubious, “You sure? I can sleep with the light on-”

“It’s fine,” Goro said, “Sleep.”

And, before Akira could argue further, he strode out of the bedroom, squinting his eyes against the sudden glare of fluorescent light. His vision took a moment to adjust, blinking black spots out of his eyes as he sat down next to Akira’s now-shut door. The floor was hard, unyielding metal, and the bass speakers were louder - three doors down, to the left, Goro noted absently - but it was fine. It was doable. 

He turned the book over in his hands: Three Parts Dead, said the title. 

Goro hadn’t read this before. 

It was in English, a language he had a firm grasp on when he was human, but his demon status made it even easier now. Something about human language clicked easily, in a demon’s brain. So… straightforward? Simplistic? No, convenient. It wouldn’t do for a demon to miss out on subverting a human because of something as minor as a language barrier, after all. 

He let himself get pulled into the story - it was interesting, somewhat - half his focus on Akira in the room behind him, and the low, muted murmur of conversation. Morgana was complaining about him, calling him creepy and weird, while Akira brushed it off. Too trusting, far too trusting. He should listen to Mona more. 

Goro flipped a page, running the edge of his fingernail along the paper. Yes, Akira’s lack of self preservation… 

Eventually, Akira drifted off to sleep along with Morgana. Goro read the book in his hands, tried to block out the stirring of the human hive he was sitting in the heart off. It was approaching morning, where most people tended to wake up, but the CDF’s shift system was oddly staggered. The corridor was quiet and empty. 

Except, one hour after Goro had taken his vigil outside of Akira’s door. A clomp of boots that hesitated briefly when they rounded the corner - a human spotted him, no doubt - then they drew closer, steps light, a tinge of curiositywhoisthatoh nice -

Goro tilted his head at the flush of primitive instinct that blossomed in the space between the human’s emotions - attractionlust - and glanced up as a shadow fell over him. 

It was a human male, a little taller and broad-shouldered than Akira, but not as handsome (though still probably aesthetically pleasing to the human eye, he supposed). The human was also dressed in that same odd armour Akira had been (Demonica?) and carried scents of musk, sweat, carbon, demons and blood. Battle. Fresh off shift. Despite that, the human’s expression was open and friendly. 

But beneath that, Goro could taste that sunburst of attractionlust, a hindbrain emotion that ran beneath a human’s subconsciousness. It was a tempting itch - such emotions, a Succubus had told him before conversationally, added a bit of spice to them, when consumed, but Goro… did not like spicy food. 

He lifted his book up slightly, like a shield. 

“Hi,” the human said, “You new?”

“Yes,” Goro said simply. 

The human was not deterred by his clipped response, and nodded at the closed door, “You Kurusu’s newest roommate? Strange, they tend to let the Persona-users have their own space.” 

“Yes,” Goro said, narrowing his eyes a fraction. There was- jealousyenvy but not tinged with that streaked tar that crept on the heels of maliceanger. Unsatisfying. He lowered his book and fought back the urge to stand up. He didn’t like the human standing over him, “He’s sleeping.” 

“So you’re reading out here. That’s considerate of you,” the human said, then, probably picking up on Goro’s agitation, stepped back and squatted down, so they were on equal footing, “The name’s Shigeo. You?”

Rapidly losing patience, “Crow.” 

“Crow?” Shigeo looked amused, “Is that your secret codename?”

“It’s my name,” Goro said archly, “My parents loved birds.” 

“Right,” Shigeo let it slide, shaking his head, “Sure.”

“Is there something you wanted?” Goro asked very pointedly. 

“Was just curious,” Shigeo held his hands up, “It’s not everyday a cute newbie like you shows up, y’know? Have you been shown around yet? I’m guessing Kurusu would be too busy to…” 

he’s hitting on me, Goro despaired, in the middle of the corridor. why are humans like this. 

“And if you’re new to the CDF, I can give you a few pointers,” Shigeo continued as Goro blankly stared at him, not at all deterred by the lack of response. If anything he seemed to take it as encouragement. Was he lonely? “I mean, have you got your uniform yet?” 

Wait, he was lonely. Buried beneath everything - ah, there. Loneliness, long shifts, isolation, haven’tbeenlaidinweeks, touch starvation, a big thorny ball of negative human emotion ready to be stirred up like silt at the bottom of a muddy pond. Goro forced himself to turn away from it. 

“I’m fine,” he said to his open book. Could he get away with hitting the human with it? No, he shouldn’t rock the boat just yet. “All that’s been arranged already.”

“Oh,” Shigeo sighed, “Figures. Kazuki is pretty efficient.” 

“...”

“But, still,” Shigeo’s tone went a bit sly, “If you want some company, my door’s always open-”

Akira’s door opened. 

“God, can you take your flirting somewhere else,” Akira growled out as he leaned out of his room, bleary eyed and his everything clouded with the smokey heat of irritationpossessivebackoff that had Goro perking up like a dog with a treat. 

Shigeo hopped to his feet like he’d been stung, “Oh! Uh, sorry, Kurusu!”

“You’re in a mood,” Goro said, curiously eyeing Akira’s grumpy, grumpy face. Oh, why was he so sour? Was he really that aggravated over someone trying to seduce him? How cute, “What, did Mona piss on you? He is getting old for a cat.”

“I am not getting old!” Mona’s voice yowled out. 

“No, Mona didn’t piss on me,” Akira sighed, but his dark mood had softened considerably. He looked amused, “Are you seriously sitting out here to read. C’mon, you moron, get in here.” 

Goro languidly climbed to his feet, feeling twin pairs of eyes track his every movement. One was welcome, the other was not. Goro tugged his shirt back down from where it had hitched up slightly, and ducked under Akira’s arm back into the room, Shigeo already ejected from his mind. 

Morgana glowered at him from his place on the bed, “I don’t wet the bed.” 

“Oh, it’ll happen eventually,” Goro purred, finding plenty of entertainment in prodding Morgana into a hissing, huffy fury, “Elderly cats frequently suffer from incontinence, and you’re, hm, how old?” 

Morgana narrowed his eyes like he was seriously contemplating pissing in Goro’s bed, when Akira intervened in the brewing argument by shutting his door and flicking the lights on. 

“Children,” Akira said flatly, “Stop fighting.” 

“He started it!”

“You’re too thin-skinned,” Goro sniggered, “You make it hard to resist.” 

Morgana squawked indignantly, but Akira was giving him an unreadable look. It was sharp and scrutinising, like Goro’s carefree, easy laughter was something odd. He supposed it was - Goro recalled his human self being incredibly dour in the lead up to his fall into the Expanse. 

“You’re really…” Akira began slowly, “Laid-back.”

“Hmmm…” Goro accepted the comment, sitting down on the edge of Akira’s bed. Morgana hissed ineffectively at him, “I suppose. Being trapped in the Metaverse for years on end put things in perspective, you could say.”

“Perspective,” Akira repeated. 

“Life’s too short to get tied up over meaningless things,” Goro told him, nudging Morgana aside and taking his spot on Akira’s bed. It was still warm from his body heat, and smelled strongly of him. Goro had to tamp down on the urge to purr.

“And what’s meaningless to you?” Akira asked, moving to stand over him, casting a long shadow. He was frowning, “Also this is my bed.”

“There’s room for both of us,” Goro said, “And, well, Morgana too, I suppose.”

“Hey!”

“Uh, you want us to… share?” Akira squirmed in place. 

Goro said nothing. He pointedly opened his book to a random page and feigned reading, leaving a spot just wide enough for Akira to lie down on if he wanted. Morgana had exiled himself to somewhere at the foot of the bed, where he was waging war on Goro’s ankle, his kitten claws scratching at his skin. The pain was negligible. 

Eventually, Akira took the bait. He climbed into bed with him, lying stiff as a board next to him. Because of how narrow the bed was, Akira was almost half on top of him, his head resting on the pillow next to his, his breathing warm against Goro’s cheek. He could hear his heartbeat, strong and steady, and it was a soothing sound. 

“What’s meaningless to me,” Goro said after a comfortable pause lulled between them, and Morgana had given up trying to chase him out of bed, “Are the things from- before. Shido, my pride, my self-worth and anger. They are meaningless and no longer have power over me.”

He could sense Akira’s confusion and concern, “But, your self-worth is…”

“It’s not that I think I’m worthless, because I’m not,” Goro said, flipping a page of his book and running his fingernail along the edge of the paper, “It’s that- how do I…? The obsession with it, trying to adhere to some human- person’s standards of my self-worth - it’s meaningless.”

Akira was quiet. 

It was difficult to put into words the enlightenment that he had when his humanity had been torn right out of his chest. So many years wasted on something so petty and pointless, but it had shaped him, regardless, so it had worth in that respect. But the fact that he obsessed over how other people perceived him - how foolish. Humans - they were a fractious, contradictory species, despite the power of their Observation. Unless you were a demon or god courting their favour, their opinion was worth nothing. 

If only he had known that before. 

“It’s exhausting, caring about that,” Goro summarised - poorly, but it was the only thing he could think of, “So exhausting.”

Akira reached out and gently tugged the book out of Goro’s hands, tossing it somewhere off the bed. Goro curiously peered at him, their faces so close he could see the flecks of blue in Akira’s eyes. 

“You’re living for yourself now,” Akira said, because he always knew Goro inside and out, even when he had been turned inside out, “Without regrets, right?”

“Mhm,” Goro’s gaze went heavy-lidded, “Without regrets.” 

There was a pause, one heavy with meaning. Akira was looking at him, really looking, and Goro could sense the turn of his thoughts almost as if they were his own. That tingling spice, repulsive from any other human, but from Akira was... interesting. Except - no. He couldn’t risk it. 

Goro looked away from him and stared at the ceiling. 

Human hearts: complicated and troublesome. 

“What’re you two doing?” Morgana grumped, crawling into the scant space between them and setting himself up as a furry barrier. Goro was internally grateful for his intervention. 

“Mona…” Akira sighed frustratedly. 

“You should learn how to read a room,” Goro told the cat. 

“I can read a room,” Morgana sniffed, and promptly shoved his ass into Goro’s face as he ‘got comfortable’ in between them. Goro was half-tempted to bite his tail, “It’s telling me you’re being creepy again.”

“Mona,” Akira said again. 

“Creepy,” Goro repeated, and lifted a hand to delicately pinch Morgana’s tail, removing it from where it had been draped over his face, “You have gotten… catty in your old age, Morgana…”

“Stop calling me old.”

“I see silver in your fur,” Goro tutted, absolutely tickled at how irritated Morgana was getting, “You’re going grey. That’s positively ancient for a cat.”

“Goro,” Akira reached over and pinched his side, where his borrowed t-shirt hitched up to expose the bare skin of his belly, “Stop bullying Mona.”

“Thank you, Joker,” Morgana huffed. 

“Like you said… he’s thin-skinned,” Akira finished impishly, “He’ll bruise if you keep going.”

“You’re both terrible,” Morgana grumbled, “See if I help any of you from now on.” 

Goro chuckled, a soft, breathless sound, and just past Morgana, he could see Akira smile, his soul a warm thrum of simple happiness. Uncomplicated. It was like basking under a summer sun, with the scent of cut grass in the air. 

He took a mental snapshot of this moment and stowed it away into his heart. Precious memories like those fuelled tremendous power, at times. 

“Go to sleep, Joker,” Goro murmured, “You have a few hours yet before Kazuki summons us.”

“Mm, yeah, I’ve got time for a doze,” Akira murmured, muffling a yawn into the pillow and closing his eyes, “Too tired to turn off the lights, though.”

Goro said nothing, merely waited. Morgana had already dropped off into a light doze, and Akira was on the cusp of it, his brow slightly furrowed. Silently, Goro reached for his temple, his fingers barely brushing his hair as he used a small flare of magic to lull him into a deeper sleep. A Dormina but more precise, more subtle - would only ever work on a human whose guard was completely lowered. 

Akira dropped into a deep sleep almost instantly. Goro pulled his hand away. 

“You’ll need your rest,” Goro murmured, soft and barely audible, “If you’re going to survive what’s to come.” 

There was no answer, except the steady thmpthmpthmp of Akira’s heart. 


Akira’s ‘morning’ was just past noon. He woke up feeling unusually well-rested, and to Goro staring at him a mere inch from his face. Akira was beginning to wonder if this was going to be a common sight from now on. 

“I can’t be that interesting to watch,” Akira grumbled after overcoming his shock, scrubbing a hand through his messy hair as he got out of bed.

Goro didn’t move from his lazy sprawl, watching Akira prep for his morning routine with heavy-lidded eyes. He reminded Akira of a big cat, satiated and content to lounge around until something of interest stirred him into action. Every movement was slow and deliberate, pure feline grace - not quite… human. 

“You are,” Goro said, in that soft, husky tone of his that was new, like he was unused to speaking so much when before he never tired of the sound of his own voice, “Interesting.”

Stilted sentences, abrupt and cut-off, the almost alien way he would peer at Akira, phrase his words - Futaba would have a field day, and Morgana was giving him very pointed ‘there is something very off about Crow’ stares that Akira was pretending not to see. 

Did it really matter if Goro was ‘off’? It had been five years - Akira was certain that if his past self met his future self without witnessing the intervening events that shaped him, he would come across as ‘off’ too. 

“Are you getting up anytime soon?” Akira asked him, picking up his washbag and rubbing his jaw. He could feel the prickle of stubble against his fingers, “Do you have toiletries?”

“Yes,” Goro yawned, languidly stretching before rolling onto his belly, burying his face into his pillow. His next words were muffled, “Kazuki came round, when you were gone earlier.”

Ah, made sense. 

Akira cocked his head and leaned over the bed to playfully poke at Goro’s ear, “Do you even need to shave…?”

Goro turned his head enough to glare up at him with one eye, revealing that, no, he didn’t need to shave. His cheek was as smooth as ever, no hint or sign of stubble or even faint shadow. He had, Akira realised gleefully, no facial hair to speak of. 

“Smooth as a baby’s bottom~” Akira cooed, pinching that soft cheek and marvelling at how some puppy fat still lingered, “You’re like a kid, haha~” 

Goro bit his hand - hard. 

“Ow! You sonuva-!”

After prying his hand free and finding that Goro had very sharp teeth, Akira beat a hasty retreat to the bathroom while Morgana sat on Goro’s head and scolded him. Goro seemed utterly unapologetic and unconcerned about the whole thing. 

“Geeze, he didn’t hold back at all,” Akira hissed, rubbing his thumb over where Goro’s canine had broken the skin. He had a neat bite mark in a perfect ring over the side of his hand, between his wrist and thumb, bright red and oozing blood. You’d think he had tried to take a literal chunk out of him! 

“So much for being laidback,” Akira complained before putting the matter behind him. He had more important things to focus on today - like making sure Goro wasn’t completely fucked over by Kazuki and the rest of the ‘government stooges’, as Boss liked to call them. 

He had a feeling things would go bad if they tried to strongarm him into compliance…

Chapter Text

The Command Room was a bustling hub of activity, this close to noon. Compared to the skeleton crew of the night shift, there were plenty of technicians and on-call soldiers ready to react to any situation. Surprisingly, the demons and angels were more active during the day, more prone to assault their positions beneath the bright blue sky - night brought the moon, and with it a strange influence that made their supernatural invaders either too lethargic or too frenzied for coordinated attacks. 

The nighttime was relatively ‘safe’: daytime wasn’t. 

“Ah, you’re here,” Kazuki greeted warmly, loitering near the centre of the Command Room as per usual. He looked like he had slept poorly when Akira and Goro approached him, dark bruises under his eyes and a pallor that spoke of too little time under the sun. The supervisor’s gaze focused on Goro, a small crease of confusion flickering across his face. 

“You haven’t been issued new clothes?” Kazuki asked Goro, “I thought I told the QM to put together a package for you…” 

“The man gave me the clothes, but I’m more comfortable with these,” Goro said simply, resting a hand against the bare skin of his hip as he shifted his weight onto one leg. It was a provocative stance, one that naturally drew attention - Akira fought the urge to fidget when he felt the weight of the room’s not-too-subtle staring in their direction. 

Beneath the stark lighting of the Command Room’s fluorescent lighting, Goro’s bodysuit looked even sleeker. It reminded Akira of his ridiculous Black Mask outfit, yet somehow his bodysuit was subtly more… something. It drew the eye, coaxed you to trace the tempting curve of his hips and the small of his back and the well toned thighs, revealing a body taut with well-toned strength and flexibility. The short bomber jacket just emphasised everything to the point where Akira felt strangely compelled to offer Goro a coat just to cover up.

was he always this shameless? Akira thought exasperatedly, and recalled Goro’s howling, screaming psychoticness back in Maruki’s Palace, maybe a little.

“Hm,” Kazuki looked faintly constipated, clearly coming to the same conclusion of Akira as he tried to find the right words to say; “It’s… not appropriate for this environment.”

Goro just stared impassively at Kazuki, utterly unyielding. It was different from when he was younger, Akira noted. Back then, Goro would have been angry and defiant - jutting his chin out, tilting his jaw and narrowing his eyes, looking ready to bare his teeth and bite in stubborn opposition. Now, there was a predatory calm about him. His expression was emotionless, and his eyes glittered with an alien sort of amusement that all but dared Kazuki to push the issue. 

“...right, we’ll discuss that later,” Kazuki said, wisely yielding that battleground for now. He rubbed his stubbly jaw, glancing between Akira and Goro, before continuing, “Have you thought more about my proposition?”

“To join your group?” Goro asked, his tone unreadable, “I have.” 

Kazuki looked pleased, no doubt anticipating his easy agreement, “And?”

Goro didn’t immediately reply. Instead he looked directly at Akira, piercing and scrutinising. Bewildered, Akira stared back, wondering if Goro wanted him to answer, or if he was trying to silently convey something. 

He didn’t have a chance to ask. Goro blinked those vibrant eyes at him before turning back to a bemused Kazuki, and saying with a strange lilt to his voice; “I wish to help Akira.” 

“Excellent,” Kazuki was definitely pleased, a tinge of smugness to his smile, “You’re doing us an incredible favour by lending us your strength, Akechi.”

“Mhm,” Goro rumbled, his mouth curving into a smirk, like he knew a secret they didn’t, “I’m sure.” 

“With you lending your support, we will be able to keep Akira here, while you reinforce the border to Koto in preparation to retake-”

“What?” Akira hissed. Koto was a warzone. It was too dangerous to send anyone there, even if they were Goro fucking Akechi, “You can’t just send him away! Especially to Koto!”

“The needs of the many-” Kazuki began. 

“I’m staying with Akira,” Goro said, his voice and expression implacable.

Kazuki scrubbed a hand through his hair. He looked like he was sorely wishing to be elsewhere, “I understand the sentiment, I truly do, but duty overrides our personal preferences, if we wish to win this war. I’ve been pushing back orders to send you to Koto, Akira, but Akechi here already has experience in navigating demon territory and surviving. Out of the two of you, he’s the best choice.”

Goro looked at Kazuki, and Akira couldn’t parse his expression. He didn’t seem angry or insulted, but neither did he seem indifferent. There was something calculating in his gaze, something alien yet familiar, seen in the assessing glances of demons that always tried to sweet talk Akira into one-sided deals. It sent an uneasy thrill down his spine to witness on Goro’s face. 

“I think you’re misunderstanding something,” Goro said after a long, tense pause, “I’ve offered to help Akira, not you. I am not joining the CDF, and neither do I care about whatever duties you may have. Humans are… resilient. I’m sure they can survive having their numbers culled a little.” 

The silence that followed Goro's words felt frigid. Akira couldn’t recall a time where Kazuki looked so stunned.

“Besides,” Goro continued huskily, “Why protect pointless borders from endless attacks when you can ‘win the war’ by going for the source? Naraku is where you should be focusing your attention, not borders or territories.”

“We’ve tried that,” Kazuki said, swiftly recovering from his shock, “When the Pits of Naraku first appeared, we dropped a tactical nuke inside of it-”

Goro laughed; short, sharp, mocking.

“Nuked? Aw, that’s cute,” Goro purred, his eyes heavy-lidded and gleaming brightly beneath the fluorescent lighting, “And useless. Naraku doesn’t exist in this dimension, so how can it be harmed by anything from here? What we’re seeing is its shadow, after all. It’s several dimensions up, just adjacent to the Metaverse, with everything aligned just so to allow it to cast its shadow onto your world.” 

“Uh,” Kazuki said, bewildered. 

“Think of it like an eclipse,” Goro elaborated, waving his hand dismissively, “A long, nightmarish eclipse that won’t budge until the demons have what they want - or unless we force it to, and luckily for you, I know of a way to achieve that.” 

“The Metaverse?” Akira guessed carefully. 

“The Metaverse,” Goro confirmed, “It’s a subspace within the Expanse, sort of like a ‘step-up’ towards the dimension we need. As the Metaverse is still linked to this world, we can use it as a transit point.”

“But, how will we go in?” Akira asked carefully, shooting the frowning Kazuki a pointed look, “We don’t have the app anymore, and the Pit has that weird… plasma barrier or whatever that vaporises anything that touches it.” 

“Joker,” Goro sighed fondly, “How do you think I got out of the Metaverse?”

“...I don’t know,” Akira answered warily. 

Goro smiled at him. It was a strangely tender look on his face, at odds with those bright, calculating eyes. He glanced between Akira and Kazuki, his fond smile widening into a crafty grin that flashed sharp canines. 

“There’s an easy way to get in there,” he said after a pause, and Akira could practically see Goro’s thoughts churning, helping him spin this little… lie? Was it a lie? Akira knew Goro, even after evolving into this strange, foreign creature, and something about his words rang with insincerity - but why would he trick them about this? “Or, rather, there’s a simple way to enter Naraku if you’re not too fussed about fighting demons almost every step of the way.” 

Kazuki was quiet for a very long moment, his gaze shifting from Akira - who probably looked as confused as he felt - and Goro, whose expression was full of expectation. Everything about Goro was shrouded in mystery, a prolific criminal back from exile amongst the demons in another dimension, spouting plausible solutions to humanity’s biggest crisis with no way to truly confirm his knowledge… it was too good to be true, and highly suspicious. 

Kazuki was also desperate, the CDF were desperate, so his answer was obvious. 

“Go on,” he said cautiously.

“Inside Shibuya Station, the remnants of Mementos lingers very close to the surface,” Goro explained, “With a bit of… understanding, it takes little effort to peel back the layer and slip inside, app or no app. From there, you travel through the Metaverse until you reach Naraku.”

“That is still quite the trek,” Kazuki pointed out, “To walk from Shibuya to Tokyo Bay, even within this other dimension. I doubt we would have the logistical support for such an expedition.” 

“Distance is… different there,” Goro said, “Naraku and Mementos are adjacent to one another. You can travel between them within minutes, so long as you know where the path is.”

Kazuki mulled this over, nodding slowly, “But we would still need Shibuya Station…”

“That would be the hardest part,” Goro said, his voice lilting in a familiar way. Akira belatedly recognised it as his ‘Pleasant Boy’ voice back when he was firmly beneath the Detective Prince mask. Cajoling, trustworthy - scheming. “But you don’t need to retake all of Shibuya, just this one station.”

he’s up to something, Akira realised abruptly, but what?

Maybe it was uncharitable, to be so suspicious, but something about the lilt in Goro’s voice, the cadence and that little smile, reminded Akira of when he approached the Phantom Thieves all those years ago with an edge of blackmail and sweet talk. There was a trap somewhere in this plan of his, or something that he was twisting for his own benefit - something he wasn’t telling them. 

Goro glanced at him again, as if sensing his thoughts. He looked amused, untroubled by the suspicious frown Akira was aiming at him. It was that look that made Akira silent on his worries. He’ll pry an explanation from him later.  

“There is a catch, mind,” Goro continued as Kazuki mulled over this information, “Naraku will be filled to the brim with demons. It’s a direct link to the Atziluth, and they will fight to keep it open.” 

“But if Naraku is destroyed, the demons will be cut off from Tokyo,” Kazuki said slowly, visibly warming to this plan, “Is that true for the others?”

“The ‘pits’ across the world are the same one,” Goro explained, “Its shadow is cast in multiple locations on this world. We destroy our Naraku, then the ‘others’ will vanish too.”

“I will have to discuss this with higher command,” Kazuki said, but there was a glint to his eyes that told Akira that Goro’s plan was all but assured to go ahead. They were trapped in an endless war of attrition, and everyone knew it was only a matter of time until the demons or angels simply overran them. If there was a chance to destroy the Pits of Naraku and stem the supernatural flood… well, they were desperate enough to grasp it, even if the information came from someone as mysterious and unknown as Goro. He was a human at the end of the day, so there was a degree of trustworthiness to his words that demons or angels didn’t have. 

They left the briefing room not long after that, to go grab ‘breakfast’. They didn’t speak, Akira remaining silent and Goro thoughtful until they reached the canteen and sat down with their food. In a direct contrast to their last meal, Goro overloaded his plate with almost every single option from the hotplate. 

“Uh, you hungry?” Akira asked in disbelief. He had no idea how Goro was going to pack all of that away in one go. 

“Starving,” Goro said emphatically, and he really did look hungry. He was eyeing his plate like he was tempted to forgo cutlery and shove his face in there like a ravenous dog instead. Akira couldn’t help but feel amused - and worried. 

“About what you said in the briefing room,” Akira said, as Goro started inhaling his breakfast with impressive and frightening speed, “Was it true?”

“Mmngh?” Goro swallowed his mouthful. There were a few grains of rice sticking to his cheeks, “What?”

“To destroy Naraku.”

“Of course it’s true,” Goro gave him a puzzled look, “Why would I lie about that?”

“But it’s not the full truth,” Akira pressed, “Is it?”

Goro cocked his head at him, blinking those beautiful eyes at him. It was a vaguely predatory movement.

“Oh, well, of course it isn’t,” Goro said blithely, “I had to make sure he’d agree to it, so I… omitted a few unpleasant facts.”

“Goro,” Akira groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose, “What’re you hiding?”

“Nothing bad,” Goro wiped his face, clearing his cheeks of those rice grains. He licked them off his fingers, “In fact, what I’m ‘hiding’ is, in actuality, an advantage for humanity. The core of Naraku is not a simple core, after all.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you know what Naraku is?” Goro asked him, “I’m asking seriously. I’d assume Futaba would have had theories.”

“Uh,” Akira floundered a little. Admittedly most of what Futaba told him about Naraku and demons kind of flew over his head, “She theorised that it was a direct response to the Metaverse collapse. That it, like you said, fell deeper into the Expanse and weakened the barriers between worlds or… something.”

“Or something,” Goro said dryly, “Well, it’s a good attempt from someone on the outside looking in…”

There was a pause. Goro ate a bit more of his breakfast, clearly mulling over his next words. Akira waited him out, bewildered at how much Goro had polished off his plate already. He really had been starving. 

“Naraku is a direct response to human stagnation,” Goro finally said, “Humanity’s darkest emotions and desires poured in through the hole the Metaverse created, creating a sort of… abscess. Eventually, it ruptured, and then you had the Pit of Naraku. That’s an oversimplification of what happened, but you don’t need to know the details.” 

Akira vaguely got it, “So, even if we destroy Naraku, the abscess might come back again? Because of the Metaverse?”

Goro looked pleased, “Yes, exactly. Naraku is a symptom, not a source. You would have to repair the damage in the layers between this reality and the segments of the Expanse. No easy feat, and not done by simply destroying Naraku’s core.”

“How’s this meant to be an ‘advantage for humanity’, then?”

“I’m getting there,” Goro sighed, “When enough human thought and desires coalesce into one place, it generates… let’s say ‘energy’. This energy is very potent and powerful, and demons and gods alike covet it for their own ambitions. However, it’s useless in their hands. The powers of creation are denied to them. Only humans, with a ‘sponsor’ of sorts, are capable of wielding it to its fullest capacity.”

Several things were slotting into place now, “That’s the core.”

“Mhm,” Goro gave him a grin, “Exactly.”

“And, we can use this ‘power of creation’ to seal the ‘holes’ that would make other Narakus,” Akira continued, his shoulders relaxing, “Ah, I see why you kept it from Kazuki.”

“You tell a human that the powers of creation are within their grasp, and they’d go insane with power,” Goro said dryly, “But I trust you, Akira.” 

Akira’s heart warmed at that, but- “If you knew about this and were trapped there, then… why didn’t you use it?”

Goro lowered his gaze, his expression wry, “Ah, well… what would I use it for…? I doubt I even could, considering…” 

Considering what? Goro didn’t finish. 

“How do you know all this?” Akira finally asked the question that had been bugging him all day, “Did you really learn that much when you were trapped in the Metaverse?”

“Many demons attempted to sweet talk me into taking them as my sponsor,” Goro muttered, something dark and bitter in his eyes, “I assume the same is happening here. As I made my way towards the blockade, I overheard some angels discussing their plans to cut a deal with the humans. They would benefit from a human using the powers of creation to turn all of humanity into thralls of their God. The demons no doubt have their own goals.”

Akira felt ill at the thought. He knew some people whispered how it might be easier to take the angels up on their deal - at least, until the demons were defeated and then they could turn on the angels - but Akira had no idea such a plan was fermenting in the background. 

“Okay so…” Akira tapped his plate with his knife, “We reclaim Shibuya Station, we travel to Naraku, we get the core, use it to repair the damage between our world and the Expanse, destroy it, and be home in time for dinner?”

“Something like that.” 

It sounded reasonable. 

Akira stared at Goro who had returned to the rest of his meal, seemingly indifferent to the bombshell he had dropped. On the surface, his explanation was reasonable. Akira wouldn’t want to spread around that there was a way to wield the ‘powers of creation’ to any human brave enough to delve deep into Naraku - and being trapped in the Metaverse meant it was plausible Goro would learn such information. Still, still…

(“I know you have this thing about Crow, Joker, but… he’s always got an ulterior motive or secret, even when it seems like he’s being honest. My gut says there’s something more to this.”)

But what secret could Goro be hiding? He had his chance to claim these powers of creation for his own ends, but chose not to. In which case, Goro could be trusted not to trick them. And why would he trick them? He’d get nothing out of it. He was a human, and he had proven back in Maruki’s reality that he would prefer humanity’s destiny to be forged by their own hands, than under the rule of others.

Akira nodded to himself, a coil of tension easing out of his shoulders as he reassured himself. That’s right. Goro was human, so at least in this, Akira could trust him. 

He refocused on his meal, and missed the calculating look Goro gave him. 

Chapter Text

Dying was different as a demon. 

Goro remembered in that space of nothingness between worlds: a burning pain in his lungs, a cold lethargy and contemplative golden eyes gazing down at him. He remembered that nauseous, violating agony of the Magatama squirming its way through his eye socket, gnawing into grey matter and sinking its jaws into his brainstem, granting him an immortality that was as cruel as it was absolute. 

He died and came back. 

After that, he had experienced death from more mundane causes: stronger demons tearing him apart, landing in hostile dimensions when frantically leaping between worlds to search for his Tokyo, being yanked between powers higher than him like a half-blind dog on a leash - he had died, and died, and died and died and died and died-  

But he was immortal. 

Death’s edges were now blunt and tedious. How many times had he spasmed awake, watching his insides writhe as they put themselves back together? How many times had he drifted in a strange state of apathy, until his soul dipped low, low, low into the flow of Binah’s Sea and rebuilt its physical shell from scratch, starting again? How many times had he laid sprawled on his back, feeling his human heart seize and shudder as his Magatama forced it to beat? Too many. Too many. 

Too exhausting. 

It would be easier if he gave up this last little sliver of humanity he so tightly clung to. If he turned away from the pathetic scrap of Goro Akechi and fully embraced the monster that was born from his corpse - but he wouldn’t. So long as Akira walked the earth, Goro would endure this cruel fate of immortality until his impossible goal was realised. He can’t live, but he can’t die either - this was all he could do, a final act of rebellion in the face of the unyielding, omniscient Great Will. 

It was amusing to realise how he envied humans for their mortality now. They could never be trapped, not really. Eventually they would die, and their souls would join the grand flow of Magatsuhi that swept through Amala, reincarnated into a new shell with a clean slate. There were days where he loathed that demon for fishing him out of that quagmire before he could enter that cycle, no matter how viciously he had fought against his own inevitable death. But, sometimes… 

“Is something wrong?”

Sometimes, the side of him that was still human felt so pathetically grateful for this second chance. 

“I’m thinking,” Goro said.

“About?” Akira asked, leading him around a corner. They were heading to Futaba’s labs, something Akira felt anxious about for some reason - but it left Goro pensive, pondering over how delicate and fragile their lives were. He had murdered Futaba’s mother, and any sane person would want vengeance… though, Futaba had always been better than him in that respect. 

“Mm,” Goro picked up those thoughts and set them aside into the ‘unimportant box’, “I doubt Futaba would be pleased to see me.”

“Well,” Akira made a face, like he wasn’t sure whether to be honest or offer a white lie, “Maybe not. But she is… interested. I think she wants to grill you on how you survived in the Metaverse for years on end despite it being hostile to human habitation.”

Goro doubted Futaba would be pleased to hear that the answer to that was to allow a demonic parasite to embed itself in your body in a non-consensual symbiotic relationship. Not that he’ll tell her that.

In fact, it was curious how that wasn’t picked up by those ‘Demon Sniffers’ the CDF kept singing praises about. While Goro’s body was an unholy amalgamation of demonic and human flesh, the Magatama itself was pure demonic essence… and he was carrying it around in his skull. Surely such concentrated demonic energy would’ve been picked up by those sensors…?

“...unless that’s not something you want to talk about?” Akira continued gently. 

“What?” Goro startled out of his thoughts. “Do you honestly believe I would be shy about discussing my time trapped there?”

“Well, you keep spacing out with this big frown on your face,” Akira said mildly, boldly reaching out and poking Goro’s cheek. “See. You’re doing it now.”

Goro irritably swatted Akira’s hand away, “This is my resting bitch face.”

That startled a laugh out of Akira, “Your what?”

“You heard me.”

Akira shook his head, “You’ve changed a lot.”

“Is that bad?”

“No…” Akira said the word very slowly, “It’s just startling, I guess.”

Demons were static and unchanging, this was an absolute truth. Goro, however, used to shed his skin more frequently than a snake, twisting and contorting himself into different personalities and persona to suit his environment. He frowned contemplatively, realising he hadn’t done the same here - this persona of his was best suited for Amala, when dealing with demons and the trauma of dying and living and devouring his way back to this world. With humans?

Can he remember, how to even act? He thought he had, but maybe he was failing - too slow to change, a sign of his demonic corruption slowing an otherwise seamless process. 

“...” Goro dug deep for those memories of Before, when he was a vengeful idiot and so thoroughly and flawlessly human. It felt wrong, clumsy - he looked at who he had been and didn’t understand his thought process. Why did he say that? Why did he do that? It was like looking at an alien creature with his face, and it unnerved him, to lack an understanding of who he had been. 

This was the person who Akira expected him to be, though. Goro floundered. 

“I don’t…” he began awkwardly, and almost lost his nerve when Akira regarded him with those intelligent, grey eyes, “I don’t remember how to act like… the person I was before.”

Akira’s gaze softened, “You’re still the person you were before, just different. I’m happy so long as you’re comfortable.”

Goro blew out a short, unnecessary breath, “But you want me to be the same as before.”

Akira frowned at him, but Goro could taste it - the minnow-flash of guiltrightyesbutnotreally that was so contradictory and akira he couldn’t feel mad about it. Akira wanted human Goro, but instead he was making due with this… this piss-poor copy of a dead man. It was strange, to feel so inadequate to what should be an inferior version of himself - past-Goro had been a fool, but a human fool, and he was, now he was… what was he, really? What was he, if he couldn’t claim Goro Akechi as himself?

“I didn’t really survive,” he said, and elaborated when Akira gave him a puzzled look, “The Metaverse.”

“You mean in a metaphorical way or…?”

Literal. Magatama squirming through his eye-socket and through soft grey matter. Goro had died many times, enough for it to be boring, but that one, that death, from human to the abomination he was now, that one he remembered in hyper realistic detail, vivid, bright, the ghost of pain flitting across his nerves and a twitch of something inside his skull-

(‘crnnchhgkkktkt’ went the parasite burrowing through his eye)

-the jumble of emotion, that memory caught forever in amber - the Magatama fed off that, the pain and fear and nausea, and Goro endured that fossilised seed, the memory lurking on the edges of his thoughts, its spiked barbs hooked into his subconsciousness. The secret to a successful symbiotic relationship with a Magatama: finding a host capable of enduring their last moments forever, on repeat, until the universe itself died out. Cultivating that sunburst of animal terror and agony until it grew into a farm of morbid crops, the bounty plentiful enough to keep the Magatama fed and content and strong. 

It took a strong soul to survive this. It took a demon to endure the strain. It took someone like Goro Akechi to spitefully tolerate such a wretched existence.

“...yes,” Goro said, “Metaphorically.” 

In his periphery, Akira frowned.

“Goro,” his friend said in a slow, careful voice, “What happened there?”

“It’s vast, that place,” Goro told him with a sliver of honesty, “It places things into perspective. I told you this before.”

“You said it was meaningless,” Akira said quietly, “The things you cared about before.”

“In retrospect, my plan for Shido was ill-thought out and poorly executed,” Goro said candidly, and couldn’t help but smile at Akira’s guilty grimace - he agreed, but didn’t want to verbally admit it, “Though Shido’s actions contributed to my earlier misery and my mother’s death, the same could be said for a myriad of things. He was no more to blame than the clients my mother serviced. A multitude of factors converged to create that moment where she took that final choice… myself being one of them.”

It was mildly funny, how Akira looked a little startled and alarmed at the turn of conversation. If this had been the Akechi of Before, this conversation never would have happened - or at least, not so calmly. The Akechi of Before had loathed Shido, had heaped all of the blame at his feet for his circumstances and misery, because it was easier than acknowledging the reality. Goro understood that - some aspects of himself hadn’t completely escaped him - but he had enough distance from Akechi of Before to know he had been petty, and childish, and angry. 

Typically human. Short-sighted. Weak.  

Now, however… “I wasted precious time on a pointless revenge. I lied to myself about my motivations. I had craved acknowledgement almost as much as vengeance, and that doomed my plan from the start. I was a fool. That’s the perspective I gained.”

“That’s… some perspective,” Akira said faintly. He looked comically floored, sparks of bewilderment tinging the air. It almost made Goro laugh. “How did you… what, uh, gave you that?”

Goro thought. When was the moment he had realised that? He had spent a small eternity after his first death roaming the guts of Amala in a grief-stricken insanity. He had lashed out at everything, howled and screamed his despair at the new fate shackled to him, had frantically clawed for the surface, wishing desperately to escape the hell he’d been tossed into, his face turned towards the flashes of light that was tokyo and akira. The time after his rebirth was not spent in contemplation or self-reflection. He had been furious, and tragic, and destructive.

No. 

He had realised when...

It was when he had tumbled headfirst into the blasted tokyo. A world that could be, will be, once was. The date had been earlier than 2016 there - 2001, instead, an alternate divergence. A timeline severed short and left to rot on the edges of Amala. Goro had seen the destruction that humanity teetered towards in every reality, dimension, iteration, in that bombed out hellscape and...

The potential for that to happen here was just as high. Humanity was continuously one step away from being obliterated off the map, or subsumed, or enslaved - Akira was continuously one step away from that. A dog on a leash between the higher powers that peered down at humanity, in every world, in every dimension, in every diverging timeline. The petty squabbles between humans were meaningless in that context. The true enemy was above them, omniscient and cold and complacent. 

That was the perspective Goro had learned.  

He did not say this, however. 

“I had an interesting chat with Lucifer,” Goro said, utterly straight-faced, “He offered alternative perspectives that helped me in realising the pointlessness of my revenge.” 

Akira stared at him for a solid minute. 

“...haha, funny,” he finally snorted, his stilted laugher trailing off when Goro simply stared ahead, not saying anything, “Wait- you’re serious? You spoke to Lucifer? As in, King of hell?”

“He’s very good at making tea,” Goro said absently. 

It wasn’t even a joke, the tea had been good. Lucifer had been an impeccable host, was always so affably polite, and soft-spoken, his words as piercing as a knife sliding between your ribs. The tea was always sweet and lovely, but it did nothing to numb the sting of having your purpose stripped down to their bare, pointless bones. Lucifer was merciless, and could wound with a gentleness that made one weep.

“...and baking,” he continued, mentally brushing aside such meaningless thoughts, “He knew I liked custard creams. Though, thinking about it, he probably store-bought them…”

Akira made an interesting expression at imagining his idea of Lucifer shopping for custard creams. 

“Why were you… having tea with Lucifer?” he asked slowly, “How did that even happen?”

Goro couldn’t help it - there was something so sinfully tempting about winding Akira up, to crack his unflappable facade, that he said, without thinking; “It was a date. He thought I was pretty and I was curious.” 

“What-”

“Oh, is this Futaba’s lab?” Goro interrupted cheerfully, their walk ending at a set of large sliding doors. On the front was ‘BUSY - DO NOT DISTURB (unless Akira)’.

Akira was not deterred, “What do you mean Lucifer thought you were pretty?”

Goro ignored him and entered Futaba’s labs, a potently jealous Akira on his heels. 

“Goro.”

Futaba’s lab was - loud. In the visual and psychometric sense. It was cramped and crowded with various technological marvels and criss-crossing pipes and wires, the hot-flush of magatsuhi and raw magnetite buzzing in the air. Goro could taste/sense/smell human blood and demonic essence, so abrupt and intense he salivated a little, his stomach doing a sharp, agonising cramp of sheer hunger. It took effort to squash down the starvation into something more tolerable, blinking very slowly as he compartmentalised his thoughts into something a little less hungry.

Futaba and Morgana were both closeby. He could sense Morgana’s fresh toothpaste spirit cloistered with that small sunburst of - ambitionirritationsmugiamagenius lurking out of view, behind a stash of piled machinery. Music thrummed - Featherman, rusted old memories identified - and Goro slowly gravitated towards it, Akira huffing and puffing behind him. 

“You can’t just say you flirted with Satan and walk off,” Akira was saying, his voice bordering on a whine, “Did you go all the way? What?” 

“Why are you so interested in my sex life, Kurusu?” Goro asked mildly, his mouth curving into a little grin at the spike of jealousy that filtered through the air, followed by that raw, hot spice of long-buried attraction and lust. While Akira was Akira, he was still so thoroughly human. “Also I said Lucifer not Satan. Satan has too many heads for my tastes.”

“Wha- huh?”

They reached the pile of machinery Futaba was squatting behind, and Goro curiously leaned over it. Futaba was sitting on the floor, her back to them, headphones on with the music blaring through them - she’ll go deaf at that rate - with Morgana clearly asleep on her lap. Futaba was fiddling with the inside of one of the machines. Goro didn’t know what it was. 

“Hmm…” Goro tilted his head this way and that. Her back was to them, and she hadn’t noticed their presence, “Let’s scare the shit out of her.”

“No, don’t,” Akira said, “Trust me. Don’t. She’ll retaliate.”

Goro grumbled. He wanted to have a brief taste of fear to take the edge off his hunger. 

“Before we bother her,” Akira said, “Lucifer?”

Goro turned to him, blinking placidly as Akira frowned intently. He looked both curious yet agitated. Goro didn’t know why it was bothering him so much. 

“What about Lucifer?”

“You’re not normally this obtuse,” Akira huffed, crossing his arms over his chest, “Look, you said you were stuck in the Metaverse, right? With only demons for company, and… I guess you had to make alliances and deals to get by…”

Goro stared at him, utterly blank, before the meaning clocked him over the head. 

“Oh. Oh- you thought,” Goro leaned back on his heels, unsure whether to laugh in his face or play along. It would be amusing to see how far he could push the misunderstanding, and - the less human side of him craved a bit of negativity, just a little, to skim off the top. And Akira would be angry, angry for him, and nothing burned hotter than protective, jealous rage…

no, Goro told himself, stop that.

“...you misunderstand,” he said reluctantly, “It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t coerced into such… deals.” 

“Are you sure?” Akira said with a painful sort of gentleness, “I won’t judge or anything. I know people… have to do things to survive. I already learned from Kazuki that you, uh, ate demons, so...”

More like Futaba hacked into the logs of Goro’s interrogation and told him. 

“Hmm,” Goro tilted his head a fraction, “So, if I confessed to eating demons, and fucking demons, to ensure my survival, you will be… fine with it?”

Akira nodded, but internally - oh. Yes. Goro could taste it - protective jealous rage. It was just a tiny spark, ruthlessly squashed so it didn’t show on Akira’s face, but it was there. Goro couldn’t help but smile, pleased. 

“...” he sighed fondly, “Akira, you’re a dumbass.”

“Hey,” Akira’s solemn frown shifted into a pout, “I’m being very understanding here-”

“Can you guys talk about your sex lives somewhere else?” Futaba’s voice cut in, “I don’t wanna think about Akechi bumping uglies with demons.”

“I’m surprised. I thought such things would be right up your alley,” Goro drawled, shifting his attention from an embarrassed Akira to a very unimpressed Futaba. Her headphones were pushed down to hang around her neck, music still blasting, and she was still sitting on the floor. Despite her impressive poker face though, Goro could sense her… apprehension and uncertainty. 

She was uncomfortable around him. 

“It’s weird when it’s someone you know,” Futaba replied flatly, “Anyway, what do you want?”

“We, uh, came by to see how you are,” Akira took control of the conversation, giving Goro a look that screamed ‘behave’. Goro gave him an innocent ‘who, me?’ look. 

“Uh huh,” Futaba was still squinting suspiciously at Goro. 

“...I also offer myself as a guinea pig,” Goro said, “I heard you’re curious about my miraculous survival.”

“If you’re okay with it, Goro,” Akira quickly added. 

Futaba’s cold demeanor thawed considerably at that, “Guinea pig, huh…”

“I draw the line at vivisection,” Goro laid down his terms, “Or any other strange experiments that will result in drawing blood. I had enough of that shit with demons.”

“That’s… fair,” Futaba grumbled, looking disappointed at the ‘no bloodletting’ rule, “Okay, gimme a moment.” 

After rousing Morgana, they relocated to what passed as Futaba’s break room - a collection of crates surrounding a bigger crate, with an electric kettle and an assortment of instant coffee and snacks perched on top of the big crate. Goro sat delicately on the very edge of his ‘seat’, keenly observing the two humans plus the cat arranging themselves across from him. It felt like an interrogation. 

The kettle gurgled loudly as it boiled, filling the awkward, tense silence as Futaba all but dissected him with her stare alone. 

Itching to break the standoff, Goro said the first thing to cross his mind: “Why are your glasses still ugly as shit?”

Futaba blinked, her expression briefly dumbfounded. 

“Oh my god,” she said, and turned to Akira, “Did you hear that?”

“I heard,” Akira sighed.  

It served its purpose: the ice was thoroughly broken, and Goro relaxed when the tension ebbed out of the murky, writhing emotions bundled up tight inside Futaba. She turned back to him with a scowl, her gaze still shrewd and scrutinising - but not as piercing. Goro tried not to fidget under the scrutiny. 

“Well, why’re you dressed like an escaped supermodel?” Futaba asked him, pointing quite rudely at the exposed skin of his hip, “You’re not even wearing underwear.”

“...it chafes under the bodysuit,” Goro admitted awkwardly. 

Akira coughed loudly when Futaba opened her mouth to respond; “So! As you can see, Goro’s fine. He’s still sane and sassy, just the way we like him.”

“And apparently he picked up a fashion tip or two while slumming it with the demons,” Futaba finished, slouching into her oversized hoodie. Unlike Akira, who was dressed in those grey military fatigues, she was dressed more like a civilian, with a large, baggy hoodie that was more pouch pocket than clothes, and cosy looking tracksuit bottoms designed for long periods of lounging. She was also…

There wasn’t as much puppy fat clinging to her cheeks - she looked leaner and had hit a growth spurt to boot. She was still gangly, though, knobbly knees and elbows and scrawny limbs, her skin pale in a way most shut-in’s were. The biggest change was her hair - it was cut into a short bob, her bangs longer in the front, and it made her look so much like Wakaba that an uneasy feeling pitted in the bottom of Goro’s stomach. 

Akira’s differences had been minor. Futaba’s were… alarming. This stark evidence of passing time was more unsettling than witnessing a half-ruined Tokyo or Akira having morning shadow when he woke up. Futaba in his mind had always been this bug-eyed shrimp of a girl, not this… woman. 

“You grew up,” he told her without thinking. 

“Congratulations on observing the linear nature of time,” Futaba said blandly, “Yeah, it’s been five years, remember?”

“I keep forgetting,” Goro muttered, and he didn’t miss the concerned look Akira gave him, “Time moved strangely in the Expanse…”

“Is that why you look like that?” Morgana asked curiously, “You haven’t aged a day.”

“I... have good genes,” Goro deflected. 

“Hmmm, I’m not so sure,” Futaba said, holding up her phone. On the screen was a very, very old image of Goro back during his Detective Prince days, in the dorky argyle sweater and fake smile firmly in place. He looked like a different person - too plastic and stretched thin, the flaws disgustingly artificial. Goro wrinkled his nose at it. 

“I compared this old image of you to the mugshot the CDF took when your arrival into the facility was processed,” Futaba barrelled on, “And both images are identical. Akira said you were in the Metaverse, trapped there so - maybe there was a time dilation effect? It does exist in a higher dimension, right, so its relationship to time would be vastly different to us lowly 3D beings-”

“Futaba,” Akira interrupted, “Maybe ease into the interrogation about dimensional physics.”

Futaba vibrated in place, thrusting a dramatic finger at Goro, “Akira! Akechi is living proof that humans can move to a higher dimension and survive! Kind of. I might need to run some tests to see what physiological effects prolonged exposure to the Metaverse caused-”

The mention of ‘tests’ instantly put Goro on edge. He jerked in alarm; “I’m not a labrat for you to experiment on.” 

“It’s for your own good!” Futaba protested, crossing her arms over her chest, “Who knows what weird debuffs you picked up or- or what could be happening to you internally! I mean, what did you even eat in there - aside from demons? Did the Metaverse have a cognitive version of food? And if it did, what effect would eating it have on you-”

Desperate to derail her rant - because Akira was beginning to look like he was agreeing with her, and last thing he wanted was to fend off both of their attempts to strongarm him into a physical - Goro blurted a sharp; “I only ate demons.”

Futaba stopped, her mouth hanging open. Even Akira stared at him. 

“Only demons?!” Morgana yelled. 

“It was that or starve,” Goro said flatly. 

A strange tension fell on the room. All three of them were staring at Goro with varying levels of horror, and he wondered if he had made a mistake. Kazuki had such an underreaction to his confession that he thought admitting demons were his sole diet would be taken in stride, but instead… he could taste worryconcernagitation , emotions and thoughts zipping fear-minnow fast in the murky undergrowth of their souls. 

Akira broke the taut silence by abruptly standing from his crate, taking a short half-stride to Goro’s side. Wary and confused, Goro stayed perfectly still and docile when Akira gently cupped his chin and tilted his head from side to side, intensely staring at his eyes. The contact was warm, agonisingly warm, and Goro had a fluttering yet intense urge to turn his head and sink his teeth right into the meat of Akira’s forearm, to taste that warmthumpheat of blood and the give of muscle and- 

The urge quivered in him, yanked taut like a pulled bowstring, but he swallowed it down like a jagged, sharp-edged lump. 

Instead he raised his eyebrows questioningly, his expression flat with irritation.

“His eyes look normal,” Akira said.

“Yeah, and he’s not a mindless, slavering ghoul, either,” Futaba added, “That’s a big sign too.” 

“‘He’ can hear you and is sitting right here,” Goro said peevishly, roughly yanking his face from Akira’s too-gentle grip and baring his canines, “What the fuck are you two on about?”

“When humans eat demon meat in excess,” Morgana explained carefully, “They undergo transformations sometimes, or turn… weird.”

“Zombie weird,” Futaba elaborated, “Like, craving meat all the time, and it goes from craving demon meat to human meat, and then, well, yeah. They go crazy and start trying to gorge themselves on anything warm and living nearby.” 

It sounded like a horrifically failed demonification. Humans didn’t digest demon substances well, and they either died, mutated into starving ghouls, or… well, sometimes they succeeded in becoming actual demons, but Goro felt like it was a bit of a downgrade, in all honesty. Demons were weak, unchanging creatures - humans were also weak, but they possessed a bottomless potential, a brilliant molten well of worm’seyeviewambitionchange that made them simultaneously the weakest and most powerful entity in this fucked up universe.

Goro himself was...

“Well, I don’t want to eat you,” Goro lied through his teeth, turning his nose up into the air for good measure, “First of all, Morgana is all fur which is disgusting-”

“Hey!”

“Secondly, you’re just bone and gristle.”

“Wow,” Futaba deadpanned, “Rude.”

“And thirdly,” Goro slanted an unimpressed look Akira’s way, “You’ll be too chewy.”

“Chewy?” Akira looked like he wasn’t sure if that was an insult or not, “Chewy? What does that mean?”

“Fatty meat that wasn’t properly cooked down-”

“Oi, listen here, I’d make an amazing steak-”

“Can we stop talking about eating each other?” Futaba interrupted, “It’s weird.” 

Akira mumbled an apology and Goro relaxed. The strange tension was gone.

“Hm. I guess it is documented that Persona-users like us are resistant to the corrupting influence of demons,” Futaba mused, half to herself as she cupped her chin and resumed her ‘bug under the microscope’ scrutiny of Goro, “Your Persona were always on steroids, so maybe you were extra-resistant?”

Goro just gave her a bland smile, “Probably.”

“What forbidden secrets is your reality-defying body hiding…?” Futaba mumbled, wisps of curiosityconcerniwantto know coiling like faint smoke. It was ambition, raw human ambition, bubbling white hot and snarled with too many gordian knots of emotion. 

Goro wondered if Wakaba had felt like this, when Shido had handed her a living Persona-user as an asset to her resource. That hungry, overwhelming euphoria of finally yes a means to know twisted with but doesn’t this cross the line…?

He looked away from her. 

“My ‘forbidden secrets’ will remain as such for the time being, I’m afraid,” Goro said lightly, and his words were followed by the ‘clck!’ of the kettle finishing its boil, the contraption vibrating angrily as the water rumbled inside of it, “I’m not interested in playing labrat.” 

“Like that’s new,” Morgana commented, and flicked his tail when Goro gave him a questioning look, “You always have a secret, Crow.”

That was true. 

“Fine, your body’s forbidden secrets will stay safe. For now,” Futaba said firmly, “But you are gonna tell us what happened to you after Maruki, right?”

“Futaba…” Akira whispered. 

“Sure,” Goro said, “I can do that.”

He didn’t launch into his tale immediately though. They took a pause to make cheap instant coffee ( “man, I miss dad’s coffee,” Futaba lamented) and settled back down on their respective crates. Goro idly turned his warm mug in his hands, the acrid scent of burnt coffee dulling even his insatiable appetite. 

“After the collapse of Maruki’s reality,” he began, “The Metaverse crumbled with it. You are aware of the Expanse, yes?”

“The dimension where demons come from, yeah,” Futaba answered, “We’re aware the Metaverse is linked to it in some way.”

“Linked? It is the Expanse,” Goro said, “Or, part of it. It was Yaldabaoth’s domain, a big knock off copy of the Labyrinth of Amala that ended up bloating beyond its original purpose with its master out of the picture. I mentioned it to you before, Akira, the abscess it formed.”

“Yeah,” Akira said, and said as an aside to Futaba’s questioning frown; “I’ll tell you later.”

“In any case,” Goro continued, “The Metaverse crumbled and I was carried along its flow. I fell into the Expanse itself, where I clawed out my means of survival through sheer grit and determination. Eventually I managed to find my way back here, through the half-destroyed pathway that linked the Expanse to the Metaverse.”

“Sorry but…” Futaba shook her head, “How did you survive that? Being surrounded by demons 24/7 for five years? With only demons to eat? What did you drink? When did you sleep? Just… how?”

Goro kept turning his mug. 

“...to a certain point, the Expanse isn’t real,” he murmured, his words slow and careful, trying to phrase knowledge that came instinctive to demons, “The Metaverse was a physical manifestation of cognitive thought, biological computations fed into an abstract processor that could craft it into interactable constructs. The Expanse is the same way but… bigger. Far more complex. It draws upon the entirety of humanity, whereas the Metaverse drew only on Tokyo. You can consider it a mass data repository of human ideas and Observation, but beyond actual human conceptualisation. It’s too vast.”

“But, in that case, it is real,” Futaba pointed out, “It might be born of cognitive thought and exist beyond our means, but it still has a shape and form - ergo it’s real.”

“Do you get what they’re talking about?” Morgana whispered to Akira. 

“Kinda,” Akira muttered back. 

“It isn’t real,” Goro refuted, “but there is a point where the line between ‘not real’ and ‘real’ blur, and this distinction rests within the cognition of the observer.”

After all, Amala wasn’t ‘real’, but it was ‘real’. It existed beyond the boundary of human interaction, beyond their conceptualisation - cognition - but it existed for the demons, and Goro, and their minds ran the computations that ran on something higher than biological. The processor crafted these computations into interactable constructs, nudged and aligned to the administrator’s will. Where did the line blur here? Amala, Tokyo, Metaverse - they were simulations within simulations, running concurrently and within each other, a mobius strip that fed inwards and outwards. 

How to explain this to a human, to have them understand? Goro found it difficult to conceptualise it himself, and he had the luxury of instinctive knowledge from the Magatama. As one demon told him before, his thoughts were still too ‘human’ to fully comprehend.

“What do you mean?” Futaba asked.  

“Imagine a scientist were able to simulate pain by inducing only a few neurons to fire,” Goro said, “No physical harm occurs. ‘I am in pain!’ the subject says. ‘No, you only believe you are,’ says the scientist. To the scientist, the pain is not real, to the subject, it is real. Who is right?”

“The… subject?” Morgana said hesitantly.

“The scientist,” Futaba said decisively. 

“I’d say both?” Akira suggested. 

“There is no right answer,” Goro said, “There is no wrong answer, either. Simultaneously, all are true and false, depending upon the perspective and cognition of the person answering the question.”

“Okay…” Futaba said very slowly, “What’s this got to do with the Expanse being supposedly ‘not real’ and you surviving in it?”

“The Expanse exists outside of human conceptualisation,” Goro said, “Humans cannot perceive it in the way that it is in reality - therefore, it does not exist. Demons, however, can conceptualise it, and perceive it - therefore, it does exist. The subject says they are in pain. The scientist says they are not. Do you understand?”

“I… don’t get it,” Morgana said, sounding utterly stumped. 

“Yeah, I’m… confused too,” Akira admitted. 

“It obeys the laws of the demons whose cognition dictates its existence,” Goro sighed, “Demons are just raw information, you know. Their minds run the computations. This, in turn, crafts the laws and physics of the Expanse. The laws and physics I had to obey while trapped there, no matter my human origins.”

“So, you’re saying… you weren’t bound by the laws of human reality,” Futaba said, her voice rising as the revelation came to her, “You existed on demon rules!”

“Eh?” Morgana blurted. 

Impatiently, Futaba waved her hands and turned to the clueless duo, “It runs on its own rules and those supersede the ones Akechi would’ve followed in reality.”

“Ahhh…” Akira said in the exact tone one use when they are lost but unwilling to admit it. 

“So, you functioned as a demon in the Expanse,” Futaba said, turning back to Goro, “And demons don’t get corrupted by eating other demons. They get stronger.”

Goro felt like they were stepping into dangerous territory now, skirting the truth of his existence, but he boldly kept going. Futaba would, eventually, figure it out on her own - better to seem partly cooperative to the revelation to avoid unnecessary suspicion, and to shape her hypothesis into something less… damning. He needed Akira for his plans - Futaba was a threat to his trust because of her understandable dislike of him. He needed her on side. Or, at least, not actively hostile. 

“Mm, it’s a bit more complicated than that but… yes,” Goro shrugged carelessly, “Sleep wasn’t needed there. To be honest, I didn’t need to eat either - but you do gain a bit of a power boost from devouring demons, power which I needed to survive. As a human, you’re a shining beacon of ‘all you can eat!’ to any demon within range. Almost every moment was a fight for survival.” 

The silence that followed his words was sombre.

“So…” Futaba broke it first, “If you existed like that in the Expanse, what does that mean for you here? Do you… still need food and sleep and stuff?”

“The moment I stepped back into this world, I felt starved,” Goro said with absolute, emphatic honesty, “And exhausted. I exited out of Mementos’s old entrance in Shibuya station and I… think I crawled into the nearest bit of shelter and crashed for several days. The days were a bit of a blur, in all honesty.”

“The shock of transitioning from a higher dimension to a lower one?” Futaba mused, “Your body probably struggled to adjust to returning to a different set of ‘rules’ after obeying the demon ones for so long. You’re lucky you didn’t die on the spot.”

“Probably,” Goro said mildly.

“So, wait,” Morgana said, “Are you a demon now then? Or… not? I’m confused…”

“He’s not and he is,” Futaba answered before Goro could, “Isn’t that right? I thought it was weird, your readings from the Demon Sniffers. They said you were human with signs of low-stage demonification, but that’s because it couldn’t understand what they were reading. What are you, Akechi?”

The big question. 

Goro looked at Akira. Akira looked back at him, his gaze intense and inscrutable. He could sense the relief and acceptance inside of him though - relief that his suspicions were confirmed? Had Akira already harboured suspicions that Goro was no longer completely human?

He hummed. 

“I don’t know,” he admitted, “I still feel human. But I spent so long in the Expanse, I don’t know if I can trust that feeling anymore. I know I’m… not the Akechi of Before. I don’t feel the same, or think the same. I don’t…”

He looked at the mug in his hands. Somewhere inside his skull, he could feel the Magatama twitch.

“I don’t know,” he lied and admitted. 

“Crow…” Morgana said softly. 

“...we can find out,” Futaba said, “If you let me do tests-”

“No.”

“There’s no rush to find out,” Akira said firmly when Futaba looked ready to argue, “Goro’s fine right now, isn’t he? He’s eating normal food, he’s sleeping, and he hasn’t tried devouring anyone so… there’s no rush.”

“I suppose…” Futaba grumbled, and pinned Goro down with a stern look, “I know you’re hiding something, but for now… I guess I can trust you to not, like, go on a psycho rampage and kill everyone in here.”

“Thanks,” Goro said dryly. 

“Anyway, since you won’t let me cut you open…” Futaba hopped off her crate, leaving behind her untouched coffee, “You gotta show me your Persona! I want to see if it’s undergone any changes since your time in another dimension.”

Goro hesitated, but he supposed that would be fine. Loki was Loki, Robin Hood was Robin Hood and his other one… well, they didn’t need to know about that one. 

“Fine,” he sighed, and put his shitty coffee down, “But there’s nothing new to learn. You’ve seen Loki and Robin Hood before.” 

Akira frowned, his eyes worried and his mouth downturned. Goro gave him a curious look, but Akira said nothing and looked away from him, standing up to follow Futaba. Even his emotions were inscrutable, a complex knot of something tangled up in something, and it was… confusing. 

What was wrong?

The seeds were sown for Goro’s potential acceptance - any strangeness explained away by his consumption of demonic meat and his long stint in the Expanse. Even if his lack of humanity was discovered, this slight bit of dishonest honesty should ensure their trust in his good intentions remained. Why did Akira seem so… grim, then? Like he had caught Goro out in a lie and was disappointed in him?

humans, Goro mused, are so irrational.

“C’mon, hurry up, Akechi!”

He’ll worry about it later.