First to Give
The rain gave Goro the excuse.
The group that had been following him for around fifteen minutes now wasn’t here for anything nefarious, he knew; they were girls, they looked like high schoolers, they hadn’t made an attempt to directly talk to him. Yet. The only kind of demographic who acted like this around him in public was fans, and Goro had no problem with fans.
He was tired. It was the only reason their respectful distance felt more like the quietly disapproving stares he had gathered as he grew up. He hadn’t slept at all after Shido’s midnight call, because he had been too busy, because his ears had rung for hours in the silence of his room—he was just tired. Cold water hit his nose and dripped onto his mouth, and Goro took the excuse to shove himself into the nearest open store he could find. The stale taste of the rain lingered on his lips even after he rubbed it away.
Someone bumped into him from the side. “Sorry,” he said reflexively. The man only gave him a brief, dismissive glance before going his way.
It made the tightness in his chest, the one he hadn’t been able to rid himself of for hours, flare once more.
At least the inside of the store was warm. November hadn’t come kindly; Goro had found himself dreading the cold despite the clothes he could now afford to buy. Two years were not enough to fend off memories of a lifetime, and he still checked the temperature outside every morning before going out, still kept an eye on weather predictions for the week to come every night. He let himself relax in the entrance, making himself step further into the store under the gaze of its employees.
He hadn’t realized when he came in that it would be such a big one. Or that it sold clothes. A quick glance behind himself told him that his group of fans seemed to have abandoned the not-quite-stalking, though, which was more than enough. He just needed to kill some time before going back out. He wanted to be home before dark.
Still, he stood out. He was still wearing his uniform, he was alone—he didn’t look like any of the shoppers. Goro bowed his head to avoid meeting anyone’s eyes and looked for the least populated corner he could find. It wasn’t easy, considering how crowded the place was between where he stood and any corner at all. He made his way through the customers with faint apologies on his lips, eyes roaming around for anywhere he could just stand alone for a minute and breathe.
He found it at the very back of the women’s section, behind even the maternity aisle. The shoppers there barely looked at him at all. Goro pushed past a row of loose-waisted pants in horrid shades of beige, crouched the moment he was out of sight, and sighed.
Then he jumped, because something had made a small, choked noise behind his back.
His hands touched the ground to push himself around too-fast, the rest of him tense as a bow, mind running through the possibility that this might be it this time—he came to a stop at the hunched and familiar figure of Sakura Futaba, sitting at the very corner of two walls with her knees drawn against her chest.
“What are you doing here?” he breathed. Only years of habit and control made the words come out as polite rather than aggressive.
“What—what are you doing here?” she replied, and she didn’t bother with politeness.
“Well, I’m s-shopping too.”
He looked her over. She wasn’t carrying a bag, didn’t even seem to be carrying a wallet.
“I see,” he said. It took effort to quiet the energy that had crawled through his skin when she startled him, but he managed a kind-looking smile. “Forgive me for interrupting, Sakura. I’ll go and… check if what I’m looking for is somewhere else.”
“This is the maternity aisle,” she muttered, hands clenching around her bare calves. “Are you having a baby?”
He couldn’t help it; he snorted, unattractively, rudely.
Her head lifted, and she looked at him with wide eyes.
“I could ask the same thing to you,” he went on, staring at the back of the awful beige pants rather than her—he was tired. It was the only reason he’d allowed himself to do that. The blush crawling up his neck, warm and unstoppable, was only here because he hadn’t slept.
Goro cleared his throat and pushed himself to his feet. “I should go,” he said. “Have a good day—”
Sakura grabbed his leg with all the strength of her shaking arms, and Goro’s heartbeat sped in his throat, fast as a bird’s.
“You don’t have to go just yet,” she said quickly, trying and not managing to sound unaffected. He could feel her nails through the cotton of his uniform. “I’m, I’m actually waiting for Akira, maybe we could—”
“I really can’t stay,” he replied apologetically.
Allowing Kurusu to see him today was the last thing he wanted. They wouldn’t take another trip down Sae’s warped psyche for another few days at the least, and Goro needed those days away from the Phantom Thieves, especially their leader. His thoughts erred on confusing paths when he spent too much time with them. He needed to ground himself back to his own goals in peace.
Sakura in and of herself was bad enough.
She didn’t look well, he couldn’t help but notice. She was shivering, because her legs were bare in such a weather, or maybe from her anxiety alone. There were white trails down the skin of her calves from where her own fingers had scratched. It begged the question of why she was alone in such a place at all, but Goro didn’t want to ask it. He didn’t care.
She told him anyway. “Please,” she all but begged, “I have this, this thing running with him about how far I can push myself—I came here because it’s not far from home so I don’t have to take the train, but now I’m too scared to come out and he said he can’t get here for another thirty minutes and I really don’t want to be alone right now—”
“Okay,” he cut in. “Okay, fine, please breathe.”
She did, loudly.
He had to resist the urge to sigh out his irritation. “Can you stand?” he asked, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear nervously.
She nodded, thankfully, and didn’t try to grab him again as she pushed herself upright. He wouldn’t have known what to do if she had needed him to hold her.
“You look cold,” he commented.
“I am cold,” she replied, her teeth shaking. Even with the fur-lined jacket dwarfing her, she looked ridiculously frail. “I didn’t know it was gonna be freezing.”
He strained to keep his smile in place and gestured calmly to the end of the row, where the rest of the store opened. “Well, we’re here,” he said pleasantly. “You might as well get yourself something warmer to wear.”
“I don’t have any money on me.”
Of course she didn’t. “I’ll buy you something, then,” he replied.
She lifted her head, staring at him in wonder once more. “Really?” she asked.
He didn’t trust his voice for an answer, so he simply nodded. Sakura looked between him and the opening of the row for a second before smiling.
“Lead the way, Akechi,” she declared.
It wasn’t a metaphor. Sakura stayed so close to his back that he could practically feel her. It didn’t matter that no one was looking at him now that he was accompanied by someone his age; Goro felt every brush of her hands against his side as if she were clawing at him. He didn’t know if his shivers were the good or bad kind. He just knew they were too much.
Still, he led her to the women’s jeans, then to the children’s once she failed to find something her size there. He surprised himself with the smile he had to restrain at her groans of disappointment—surprised himself with the sharp tug of relief he experienced when she stepped into the changing room on her own without even needing to ask.
He had no name for what he felt when her fingers stopped hovering by his elbow.
He spent the brief minute that followed breathing quietly out of his nose. The other shoppers were starting to leave, now, the sky outside to darken. Somehow his unease from earlier was gone. The drag of sleeplessness on his face had lessened.
Sakura opened the curtain of the cubicle, dressed more appropriately now, with a winning grin that told him she had what she wanted.
It wasn’t until they were queueing for checkout that he realized the sight they must make together. The lady at the counter allowed Sakura to keep wearing the jeans, no doubt taking pity on her; as she scanned the label she had cleanly cut off of her waist, she told Goro, smiling, “It’s so nice of you to buy clothes for your sister.”
The words of thanks he had prepared for whatever nicety she would say died on his tongue.
“He’s not my brother,” Sakura said instead of him. Her tone was mild. It was the truth, after all.
“Oh, I apologize. Boyfriend, then?” The woman sounded faintly concerned.
Goro unclenched his fingers from around his wallet and took out the money he owed. “Thank you,” he told her—he didn’t look long enough to see the sort of face she was making, and this time Sakura didn’t bother correcting her either.
Sakura took the bag she had been given to put her shorts in and walked the rest of the way by his side. Not hiding behind him but not allowing more than a foot of distance between them. They stopped past the threshold of the store, once the familiar rushing sound of the weather reached them.
“It’s raining,” Sakura mumbled, holding her jacket closer.
“The rain was the reason I came here at all,” Goro admitted.
She look at him sideways.
“That, and I was being… followed, by a couple enthusiastic fans.” He winced at her snicker. “I usually don’t mind, but today I just wasn’t in the mood.”
It was more honesty than he should give her. Not that she would know if he were lying—nobody ever did. Everything he said sounded like the truth.
It had to, or he would not be where he was now.
“I guess even the detective prince gets tired of all the attention,” Sakura said with a smirk, gently elbowing his side. “Not quite as grateful and patient as you want them to think, are you?”
It made him smile; patience, he owned in spades. “You wound me, Sakura,” he replied playfully. “I did just spend money for you.”
“Whatever, I’ll get Akira to pay you back.”
“What a scary friend you are…”
They stood still under the damp fabric that stretched over the store’s entrance. The warm bursts of air that escaped at their back every time the doors slid open only seemed to worsen the cold at their front.
“Hey, Akechi,” Sakura said. He looked at her again; she was staring at the ground, her face more thoughtful than he had ever seen. “You can call me Futaba if you want. Everyone does.”
His breathing stilled in his chest. There was no trace of deceit on her face no matter how much he looked, and Goro was apt at perceiving deceit, had spent too much time reminding himself over and over again not to get sucked in by the current that Joker created with him—he couldn’t let his guard down around the Thieves, no matter how much part of him wanted to. No matter how much fun he had.
Futaba must have been how Isshiki Wakaba called her daughter before he had ended her life. The thought was at the front of his mind as he schooled his face into easy politeness. A reminder and a warning.
“I didn’t want to presume,” he replied.
Sakura shot him a grin before saying, “Well, I’m still cold. Let’s go get something warm to drink.”
“This is a hot chocolate kind of weather,” he agreed, rubbing his chin with one finger. “I think I know one good place for that nearby.”
“A man after my own heart.”
It was already too dark for him to make it home in time anyway. Futaba pressed closer under the umbrella he opened, her side touching his, and Goro let the shivers run their course this time. Let them run and acknowledged them for what they were.
He hadn’t had anyone touch him with genuine kindness in too long to remember.
He couldn’t let his guard down, but there was nothing to do about the fact that he wished he could. Sometimes he wished it more than anything else.