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A Butterfly's Dream

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“People come and they go,”

The boy seated alone at a table in Jazz Jin swirled the straw in his drink.  He was too young for alcohol, but he didn't mind.  The various syrups in sodas and types of coffee they offered for minors were enough, and getting lost in the atmosphere and the music floating in the air was easy when you had a lot on your mind.

"Some people may stay with you though,"

Goro Akechi had come here quite often.  The boy remembered that.  Goro came here with his 'rival', his 'confidant' Akira, and after he had introduced him to the club, Akira had brought several of his teammates here to chat when he hadn't been with Goro.  Perhaps, the boy speculated, the atmosphere had resonated with him and more than it had with Goro.

"I am all alone tonight and I,"

The boy had no company tonight, nor was he expecting any.  He had the ID of a dead man in his pocket, but no one had checked it yet.  Not that the death of Goro Akechi was publicly known.  His life wasn't publicly known, anymore either.  

After Goro Akechi had died inside Shido’s Palace, very nearly every person in Tokyo had forgotten about the "Second Coming of the Detective Prince," like he had never existed.  The news articles still existed, of course.  The interviews on all the variety shows, and even the one or two pieces of merchandise still existed, but the piece of the public imagination that he had once occupied was gone.  Just a curiosity, a fad that no one remembered, that had burned out in a single instant.

A rather fitting end, for a murderer like Goro Akechi.

"Keep on asking myself questions..."

Except, it wasn't the end.

On Christmas Eve, Goro Akechi had re-appeared in the middle of Shibuya Crossing.  He strode up to Sae Niijima and Akira Kurusu and claimed full responsibility for the mental shutdowns, and offered to testify against Masayoshi Shido.  It was wild, it was out of character, but it was also exactly what everyone involved needed.  Sae needed someone to testify.  Akira needed to not be arrested, and to know that Akechi had escaped his doom.  Goro needed closure for his crimes, he needed to help Akira, and he needed something to distract himself from the gap in his memory.  He'd been shot In Shido's Palace, leaning up against the watertight bulkhead, gripping his stomach as he had been bleeding out, talking about his duel and his promise with Akira, wishing on his life that there was some way, some other path to be taken...  Then he was standing in the center of Tokyo, just as the snow began to fall, with no bullets in his gut.

"I was so conceited,"

Goro had jumped at the chance to not think about that gap in his memory.  Even as Sae had booked and processed him, set him up in a holding cell at the police station, Goro's mind, now somehow sharper than before, had begun to work at the problem. Compared evidence, examined fact, extracted hints about what he had missed from Sae about the Metaverse and the Phantom Thieves.  He'd developed a hazy guess or two, but hadn't really had enough data to create a working theory.

"I never really doubted myself."

Until New Year's Day.  Goro Akechi had been released for lack of evidence, and furthermore lack of a crime.   It was absurd.   But walking out into the world had shown him that the world was now just as absurd as his release.  There were no issues in the world.  No problems.  No conflict.   He was living inside a feel-good saccharine nightmare of perpetual happiness.  Walking into Leblanc to try and get answers out of Akira had given Goro his biggest shock yet: Wakaba Isshiki, alive and spending the day with her daughter and her co-worker.

"But tonight's got me thinking 'bout it all,"

Goro had almost vividly recalled killing her Shadow when he'd seen her, but the memory had refused to come to mind.  He knew, on a conscious level what he had done, but when his mind had reached for the memory, it just... wasn't there.  His mind had started to construct a version where he had placed a bullet right between her Shadow's eyes as she pleaded for mercy... but he could tell it was a mere fabrication.  He'd put that curious lack of memory out of his mind, as he was reunited with Akira, and they investigated the cause of the state of the world with "Kasumi" Yoshizawa.

"If I am the fool or what not..."

That whole mess had unraveled when they had all stepped into Takuto Maruki's Palace, and witnessed his power to alter reality and how he had used to conjure up a world where everyone's trauma was healed.  Not their actual minds and hearts, but just whatever had troubled or scared them simply didn't exist.  Futaba Sakura and Haru Okamura's parents were alive again, Ann Takamaki's friend had not thrown herself off the Shujin roof, and Yusuke Kitagawa's mentor was not a completely duplicitous sack of shit, but the caring and kind mentor he had always presented himself as. 

It was a world that made no sense.

"I do not regret my choices,"

Exploring the world at Maruki's behest left him plenty of time to ponder exactly what it was that he had 'fixed' for Akira and Goro.  And his conclusions had led him down a very dark path.  At first, Akechi thought that he had been returned to life, or preserved somehow as his greatest wish to simply not die... but that ultimately made no sense.  He was dead when Maruki had gained his power, he was not wishing for anything.

Then, there was the matter of what Akira had wanted.  His greatest trauma and regret should have been being arrested at Shido’s behest, convicted and shipped off to Tokyo, but that was still all true in this new reality; some snooping around (which was now so much more natural to him) had revealed that all those events still transpired.  So what source of trauma had been corrected in his life?

"In fact I'm rather proud,"

He had found the answer was in the way Akira's gray eyes lit up with relief when Goro had walked into Leblanc.  The way he glanced at him when he spoke, and the soft smile Akira had let slip whenever they were alone together.

Akechi was Akira's greatest regret.  That their rivalry had been a sham, and that the 'charismatic detective prince' had been a lie had wounded Akira far more than he had ever let on.  Goro's sacrifice to save the Phantom Thieves had stuck in Akira's heart, and animated a trauma that Maruki's Persona had acted on, reviving Goro Akechi from the dead.

It was a horrifying revelation.  It was revolting and disturbing.  To be alive solely to fulfill another's fantasy; to be a lure, dangled in front of Akira by Maruki to try and get him to accept his 'perfect world.'  Goro didn't know who he hated more, Maruki for inflicting this on him and Akira, or Akira for getting hung up and a piece of trash like Goro.  Akira was supposed to be better than him, he was the leader of the Phantom Thieves, the "Trickster" (whatever that meant), yet he still wanted to save Akechi from his fate.  It baffled Goro that someone like him would waste any neurons keeping someone like him in their mind.

"Yet I know I won't change,"

Akechi was disappointed by what Akira's concern, and worry and advances represented, but he was not opposed to being with him... and that was an entire problem on its own, because previously Akechi had.

Before he had died, Akechi had not felt that way about Akira.  Or rather, he had not let himself feel that way.  He'd known, almost since he had shaken hands with Akira in the TV studio, that things wouldn't end well for them.  He had hoped they might be able to be friends, or maybe more… but it was only a hope.  Shido's plans for the Phantom Thieves were vague at that point, but 'befriending' their leader was a good preliminary step, and Akechi's instincts were proven right as the Phantom Thieves's reputation and use of the Metaverse meant Shido had woven them into his plans, just as Akechi had predicted.  The childish part of him, the one that he thought had died when he found his mother hanging from the rafters of their home, wanted to imagine that this sensitive, funny, roguish boy would find another path for Akechi.  That he would be the prince to save him from his fate.  But his revenge had always come first.

Being with Akira, playing billiards and darts with him, having coffee in Leblanc, their duel in Mementos... Akechi had felt thoughts and longing that he had immediately quashed.  He couldn't afford to fall for the person he was going to kill.  He had enough issues on his plate, thank you very much.  But now, in Maruki's world, with Shido imprisoned and his vengeance fulfilled, he could let those feelings grow, look at Akira the way the messy-haired boy had always looked at him...except for one issue.

Was he meant to do this?

"Anything because,"

Akechi was wary of the new reality.  The dead who had returned disappeared once those who had wished for their resurrections broke from Maruki’s control.  Indeed, he saw in Sakura and Okamura's eyes the pain of letting their parents go and returning to a life without them.  But Goro also noticed how... “supporting” their parents when they had been “alive.”  How thin their personalities were, outside of their interactions with their children.  They were like a simulacrum of the real person.  And then there was Kitagawa's mentor.  His real, duplicitous personality was completely overridden with the façade Kitagawa had known, and wished to be real.  Like he was a different person.

It all connected back to other inconsistencies Goro had noticed about his life, now that he was alive again.  For one, he was sharper now.  He had not been stupid by any measure, before, often placing top of his class in exams.  Indeed, his quick wit had served him well in his charade as a "detective," but now it was sharpened by a detective's methodology.  He analyzed facts now, constructed theories and hypotheses, and gathered evidence now.  This was not how he had operated before his death.  Before he'd just go question someone's Shadow and cause a breakdown, then pretend to have an elaborate method when questioned about it.  Now he acted like a real investigator.

"I can only be me,"

That was odd, but then there were Goro's missing memories.  He could recall certain things (his time with Akira, his last moment in Shido's Palace, his interviews on TV) with perfect clarity.  Then there were things that were hazy... or just missing any detail at all.  His mother's face and exactly how she had died... his missions for Shido and the Shadows he had killed... so many of his private hobbies, like bicycling around the city.  With the 'thinness' of Isshiki and Okamura's character, the replacement of Madarame's personality, it all painted a grim picture.

"So..."

He wasn't Goro Akechi at all.  He was Akira's conception of Goro Akechi, his hopes and dreams and idealization of Goro Akechi, spun out into a full person.

He had not come to this conclusion lightly.  He had experimented, and asked around.  Studied the public record.  Asked some very discreet questions of the other Phantom Thieves.  He had inspected his own form, somehow different from his body before he died... more svelte, if he had to guess.  

He'd even cut into his flesh, to make sure he was physically human... and to try and feel anything besides the omnipresent perfection of Maruki's reality. 

(Akechi had bled red.  Not that it had really proven anything.)

"How can I be so sure?"

Goro had been careful to try and not show his horror at his situation, while working with the Phantom Thieves.  He didn't want them to see how fragile his mental state was, knowing that he wasn't a real person.  He had to be careful to try and keep Akira at a distance, keeping his interest in him a secret.  The interest, he suspected, that had been programmed into him by Maruki, reading Akira's unspoken desires.  But still, the warmth, the affection from Akira felt so real...

Akechi had agonized over his dilemma for so long, as they had infiltrated Maruki's Palace.  Should he go along with the plan to take down Maruki, dissolve his 'ideal' reality along with himself, without even telling anyone else?  That was not just suicide?  He had thought about ending his life before, alone in his studio apartment, as they tried to bring Maruki down, so that Maruki could not use his existence as leverage against Akira.  But he could never go through with it.  The thought that Makuri might recreate him in a less self-aware form if he did kill himself haunted him.  The image of a dead-eye puppet of himself, living a romantic ideal with an oblivious Akira haunted Goro's dreams.

"At a crossroads I'm afraid too",

But, ultimately, Goro knew what he had to do.  His resolve was solid, an unintended gift from Akira.  He was the Akechi that Akira wanted to be with, with everything that Akira had admired and hoped for in the original imbued into him.  That meant his desire, his drive to be free of a world that would control him was what Akira had loved.  It was a gift that Akira had wanted the original Akechi to have, but had never had the chance to.  Trapped in a gilded cage, Akira's mental image of the perfect partner had created an Akechi who didn't want to live a life where everything was decided by a self-righteous madman, bent on complete 'happiness.'

"But I can't let fear get the best of me,"

Ultimately, Akira had almost never found out that Akechi wasn't real.  Until right before the end, when Maruki had confronted them in Leblanc, when the doctor himself had revealed the truth to Akira.  The look of pain in his eyes when he realized what defeating Maruki would mean still tore at the boy's heart, even now.

“I refuse to accept a reality concocted by someone else, stuck under their control for the rest of my days,” he had said.

Akira had looked at Goro like… Goro didn’t really know what that expression was.  He didn’t have a lot of experience with people looking at him like they actually wanted him to be there.  Was it… longing?  “Goro… If we defeat Maruki…”

Anger spiked in his chest.  Despite everything he had been through Akira was still so… naive.  So innocent.  “So what?  This is the path I’ve chosen.  You just have to stay the course and defeat Maruki.  Or are you really so spineless that you’d fold over some bullshit, trival threat on my life?”

“It’s not that simple,” Akira said, “This is… you finally have a chance to live the life that was taken from you… We have a chance…”

Goro could feel his resolve crumbling.  He knew… that if Akira looked him in the eye and asked him to stay… he wouldn’t be able to refuse.  So he looked away.

“Do you think I’d be happy with this?” he asked, refusing to meet Akira’s gray eyes. “Being shown mercy now, of all times?  You and I both know what I deserve.  I refuse to be pitied.  This is not up for debate!”

Goro finally looked up into Akira’s eyes, swimming with a maddening sympathy.  “Your indecision is a betrayal of my wishes and the first seed of defeat.  Don’t stumble on the finish line, when we’re so close.”

Akira wiped his eyes and looked back up to meet Goro’s eyes and asked him a question he could not lie about.  “Don’t you… want to be with me?  Don’t you want…” Akira trailed off, unable to finish his thought.

Akechi blinked away a tear.  He swallowed the lump in his throat and gathered all his strength.  “Of course I do.  But not in this world.  Not this life.”

Akechi set his shoulders.  “I want to hear you say it: what do you intend to do?  I can’t stop you if you accept his offer, but know that you’re betraying everything I want if you do.”

A grimace crossed Akira’s face, and he held on that question for a long moment.

Eventually, Goro had enough.  “I won’t wait a moment longer.  Answer me.”

Akira leaned back against the booth, exhaled loudly, removed his glasses and replied.  “We’re stopping Maruki.”

Both Akira and Goro had held fast, and he had fused the twin resolves in his heart, and had not let Akira betray the values he had dreamed of into Akechi.

"Someone once said,"

He'd faced his demise with all the dignity he could muster, and they had stolen Maruki's torch and finally collapsed the Metaverse.

"Burn my dread bae..."

But he hadn't died.  When the ‘ideal world had disappeared, he'd returned to his apartment, like he'd still been alive.  He's spent a few weeks in a haze, not sure who or what he was.  He’d finished out his last month and a half of high school anonymously.  He was still on the school roster, but now that he was an unknown, interest slid right off him.  Shido had paid for the apartment through the end of the year, so he at least had a place to stay and try and think.  

The strangest thing was that he had two sets of memories in his head.  Two sets of instincts that clashed.  Two sets of values that didn’t quite align.

On the one hand, he remembered being the charismatic detective prince, Goro Akechi.  Being a secret assassin and mental fixer for Masayoshi Shido, still driven by his mother's death, and searching for a way to exact his revenge on the man.  He remembered the way the handsome high schooler in the coffee shop had made his heart race, and how he had swiftly put an end to those thoughts.

And on the other hand, he remembered being Goro Akechi, Akira Kurusu's ideal boyfriend, animated by a mad Persona user as a reward for Akira.  He remembered his previously hazy memory for anything Akira had been unaware of, and how the thing that Akira had loved about him had led them apart, Akira back to the real world, and Goro to oblivion.

Two sets of memories.  Two sets of skills.  Two sets of longing, both of them stifled and suppressed.

He wasn't sure what he was anymore.  He had theories, of course.  The main one was that somehow, his memories and personality (he refused to use the term 'soul') had lingered in the cognitive world after his death in Shido's Palace, and after Maruki's reality had collapsed, those memories had found their way to the body and mind the doctor had constructed from Akira's desires, and together all of them had become 'real' enough to survived the dissolution of the cognitive world.  A wish come true, in a sense.

With the Metaverse gone, he might never learn what had happened.  He’d been careful to avoid Akira, unable to face the boy he liked, the boy he’d been literally made for, the boy who he still resented.

He’d waited until Akira had left Tokyo to return to the club.  He couldn’t articulate to himself why he felt the way he did, but this place had always calmed Goro’s nerves, so perhaps it would do the same for him.

Someone approached.  He looked up to see an unfamiliar face approach his table.  They were thin, with a triangular face, blue hair cut short under a deep blue newsboy cap, and dressed in a gray-blue double-breasted business blazer.

“Is this seat taken?” they asked, a drink in their hand.

“No, but I’m not looking for company tonight,” he responded.

“Oh, but I am,” the newcomer said, a grin on their face. “I’ve been waiting to talk to the famous Goro Akechi for some time.”