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The World Is Ours

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----4/9 SATURDAY, AFTERNOON, SHUJIN ACADEMY

 

Shujin Academy was hailed all over Tokyo as one of the best schools to attend. Any who graduate from here was almost guaranteed an accepted college application. The teachers were highly acclaimed, and even an accomplished olympic medalist as the gym teacher, heading the national winning volleyball team. Or so they all say.

It's April 9th, the first week of school in the new year. Kimisawa Airi was beginning to doubt this school was as dignified as they claimed.

Looking at the bruises and defeated demeanor of Mishima Yuuki from her seat, her wine colored eyes narrowed in suspicion and worry. Who gave him those bruises? Why did everyone on the volleyball team dread practice? Why did they have practice everyday? All these questions swam in her mind, distracting her from the lesson. It was a good thing Kawakami-sensei didn't really seem to care, though her occasional glances implied that she knew her top student wasn't paying attention.

'I don't remember the lesson, but it's all right.' She grimaced, fidgeting with her mechanical pencil. 'It's only the first week. More importantly, why hasn't any teacher done anything?'

The bell rung, signalling the end of classes for the day. Most of the students as well as the teacher left the class, swarming the halls as they got ready to go home.

Deciding to confront the situation, Airi stood up from her desk. Shouldering her bag, she walked up to her bruised classmate who didn't notice her approach, too distracted while packing his books away.

"Mishima-kun?" She called out gently.

His head shot up, a startled expression on his face.

The smile on her face dimmed slightly at the glint of fear in his brown eyes. 'Why is he so afraid..?'

"A-Ah yes, Kimisawa-senpai?" Mishima stammered quietly.

She tucked a strand of rose colored hair behind her ear. "May I ask how your day was? You seemed rather depressed during the last class."

He blinked. "Um, it was all right. I was just um, thinking...of future exams..?" His voice trailed off, as if he wasn't sure himself.

Airi tilted her head slightly, her braid falling over her shoulder. "Those are pretty far off, I don't think you need to worry about them now. Is something else bothering you?" She pressed further.

His breath hitched at the question, the fear in his eyes that dimmed at the start of the conversation coming back in full force.

Airi's brow furrowed in worry. 'Could this be more serious than it seems?' She fretted mentally. 'He's hiding something, something big.'

Mishima snapped up from his seat, his body rigid. His blue hair shadowed his eyes. "No, nothing's wrong!" He bit his lip. "Please excuse me, practice will start soon and I can't afford to be late again, he might..." He stopped himself. "Ah n-nevermind, see you tomorrow, senpai!" With that, he rushed out of the room.

She was glued to her spot, still standing where Mishima left her. '"He"? Did he mean Kamoshida-sensei? Is he...' She clenched her hands, and with a look of worry on her face, grabbed her bag and went down the same way.

The closer she got to the gym, the more Airi was starting to think her suspicions were correct. No other teacher or staff member was present near the gym, and thinking back on last year, they weren't here then either. They swarmed the other buildings though, practically at every corner.

She gripped her bag, and quietly made her way to the side entrance.Luckily, the door was unlocked. Already the sounds of practice could be heard, the squeaking of sneakers and volleyballs hitting the lacquered floor. From what she knew, the volleyball team had mandatory practices every day, even during breaks.

She slowly and quietly inched the door open. The bright lights inside the gymnasium blinded her for a moment in comparison to the orange overcast from the sunset sky.

When her vision returned, she froze. Her blood ran cold.

Some members were diligently hitting volleyballs at the wall, constantly smacking as hard as they could. It would have been perfectly innocuous if not for the bags under their eyes and the bruises around their wrists and knees. Others were standing with their back against their teammates who threw volleyballs at them with all of their strength.

Airi trembled, in fear or anger, she couldn't tell. Why was this happening?

She looked around a little further and gasped. There was Kamoshida-sensei near the back of the courts, and in front of him was a shivering Mishima, head down. She couldn't hear anything due to the distance, but her eyes couldn't deceive her. Her classmate had gotten a new bruise on his face since she last saw him a half hour ago. Kamoshida-sen-.

No. Her eyes hardened. Kamoshida stood there with his hands on his hips, looking down at him with a sneer on his face, clearly berating the downtrodden teen.

She clenched her fists, her eyes narrowed with fury. 'How dare he! I can't believe how he's gotten away with this for so long!' She dug into her bag, looking for her phone. She needed to photograph evidence to show to Principal Kobayakawa about this. There was no way she would let this go on any longer.

She groaned silently when she grasped nothing. 'I probably left it in my desk.' She thought sullenly. 'I should at least go tell the principal. He needs to know.'

With one last decisive look, she slowly closed the door and power walked across the courtyard. Passing by the occasional student who waved to her, she arrived at the intended office on the third floor. Straightening out her blazer and skirt, she took a deep breath and knocked, mentally scolding herself to calm down. "Yes, who is it?" She heard.

Sliding the door open, she walked into the office, and closed the door behind her. She walked up to the desk and bowed. "Principal Kobayakawa, I am Kimisawa Airi from class 2-D. I would like to speak to you about something."

The principal, a rather grotesquely rotund man in a mustard yellow suit that barely buttoned, looked up from his paper work and gleamed a blinding smile.
"Ah!" He exclaimed, "If it isn't one of the top students in the school! I saw your end of the year report earlier, and I must say, you definitely have what it takes to get into the best Universities!" He laughed jovially, his bald head shining from the window behind his chair.

Airi straightened from her bow and blinked. "Ah um. Yes thank you, Principal," She stammered. It was rather embarrassing to be praised like that.

He shuffled his papers. "Now what is it that you want to speak to me about? Is it about a future letter of recommendation?" Kobayakawa grinned. "I can certainly arrange for one next year, as long as your grades continue to be so wonderful!"

Airi shuffled her feet, "No sir, though I thank you for thinking so." She answered. "It's about Kamoshida-sensei."

His smile dimmed slightly at the mention of the gym teacher. "Oh? Did you want his autograph?" He joked. "I 'm sorry but you'll have to gather the courage to ask him yourself for one!"

"No, sir." She said firmly. She had to say it. She couldn't let him get away with this. "This may sound ridiculous, but... I think Kamoshida-sensei is abusing the volleyball team."

His smile disappeared in an instant. "Now why would you say that? Those are rather serious accusations there, Kimisawa-san." He frowned. "Kamoshida-sensei is an esteemed teacher, the best in this academy! I'm sure whatever you may think of him, it is unfounded." He brusquely waved her away. "I don't want to hear any more of this. Now please, school has ended for the day and I'm sure you have better things to do than to bother me with your nonsense!"

Airi stood there in shock. How could her principal say such things? She bit her lip and hurriedly walked out of the room, heading down the hall.

'He didn't even listen to me!' She sulked. 'If he just heard me out...!' Biting her lip, she clenched her eyes. The bruises on Mishima stood out in her mind, and a sharp tinge of guilt hit her. She couldn't even do something as little as this...

Arriving at her class, she walked in and grabbed her phone. Passing by all the other students, she started walking out of the building, face wiped of all emotion. She can't let anyone else know that there was a problem.

Walking a block away and into the empty vending machine alcove, she leaned on a wall and sighed in frustration. What could she do? She didn't want to see anyone hurt. 'I'm so sorry, Mishima-kun...' She thought sullenly, 'He's enduring all of this. The entire team is. Don't their parents notice?'

She stilled.

'Or they do notice...and aren't doing anything...' She covered her mouth in horror. Was that really it..? They couldn't bring themselves to care for their kids, even when they were coming home with bruises and split lips every day?

The hand that wasn't covering her mouth gripped her phone tightly. 'I have to do something...I need to protect them.' Airi thought resolutely. ‘No one else is doing anything...They don’t deserve this. No one does!’

-Beep!-

Startled at the noise, Airi looked down at her phone where the sound emanated from. On the screen was a bright red logo of an eyeball. She raised a brow, giving it a weird look.

Kind of creepy.

She hesitantly tapped it, and a search box appeared. "Please enter a name, a location, and a keyword." The app stated in a feminine tone.

She tilted her head in confusion. 'What is all this? Where did it come from?' She wondered. 'I know I never downloaded an app like this.' She tapped on the map function a couple of times, curious to what it would do. It has a map, so was it some sort of GPS?

Her thumb hit the school's location, and it updated with a ping. "There is a hit."

Chapter Text

-BA-BUMP-

Everything turned purple and...distorted?

Airi looked around, scrunching up her brow in distress as her surroundings warped. Her breath hitched. There was a weird nauseous feeling, and a split second where her feet wasn't touching anything. When she felt the ground appear underneath her feet, she stumbled, hitting the ground with her hands and knees.

'What just happened?!' She screamed in her mind. Looking around for clues as to what she had just went through, she noticed something else.

She gasped."Huh?!"

The surroundings completely changed. What was once an orange sunset sky was now a reddish purple hue that clouded the heavens. Everything was dark except for the building in front of her that glowed ominously. What was once Shujin Academy had turned into a large and looming stone castle, the stained windows glowing red like freshly spilled blood.

She turned her head from side to side. What was going on?! She looked down at her phone. On the marker stated, "Kamoshida's Palace." She furrowed her brow and looked up, seeing the telltale signs. There were banners with Kamoshida's face on it everywhere around this castle; on the walls, on flag poles, even statues of him on the high balconies. The only thing that stayed the same was the sign out front spelling out, "Shujin Academy."

This is the same place? Slowly putting one foot in front of the other, Airi walked in, cautious of her surroundings. Everywhere she looked, there were statues and signs dedicated to Kamoshida. What was this place exactly? Was this real? Did she hit her head...?

She slowed to a stop in the foyer, the red carpet plush underneath her oxfords. The marble floors were polished to a point that she could see her own reflection mirrored back. To her sides were double doors, leading to who knows where. There was no one around and not a sound was heard. The entire keep seemed empty of all life. The most noticeable thing in the room was the giant portrait of Kamoshida, fully dressed in armor in front of the grand staircase.

Airi shuddered. 'I can't unsee that.'

With a nervous gulp, she headed toward the only open door to the right. 'Wherever I am, hopefully I can find someone who can help.'

As she descended further into the deeper levels of the castle, her nerves began to fray more and more as she encountered not a single soul. Opening another door, her ears picked up a sound that wasn't her own echoing footsteps. 'Is that rushing water?'

Turning a corner, she was confronted with cells upon cells, a rapid river running right in the middle of the corridor.

She paled. Actual dungeons?!

Hesitantly, she continued down into the cells, looking inside each one to see if there were any people. There were none. She hit the end of the corridor and sighed. So much for that.

"Huh? H-hey! You there!"

Airi looked around, eyes darting from empty corridor to empty corridor. "Who said that?" She asked warily. Where was that voice coming from?

"Down here!"

She looked down and saw...a cat? inside the last cell. Eyebrows raised in bewilderment, she crouched down to speak to the cat thing.

It had a large round head and a smaller body, small cat ears twitching at her voice. Its large blue eyes looked up at her with an expression of surprise, the upper half of its face concealed with what seemed to be a black bandana and under its chin a yellow handkerchief. A black jumpsuit covered its body aside from its hands and feet, which were cat paws. It stood up on its hind legs with no problem, implying that it was a bipedal creature.

Airi whispered. "Hello? My name is Airi, can you help me?" There was no one else around. If it could understand her, maybe it could help...

The cat thing-what was it?- looked up at her with a mischievous smile on its face and exclaimed, "Oh beautiful lady! It is an honor to meet you! My name is Morgana!" It puffed up its chest with its paws on its hips.

She smiled. Whatever it was, it was still super cute. "Hello Morgana, it's a pleasure to meet you, although I'd rather it was somewhere more pleasant." She paused. "Um, I'm sorry if I offend, but what are you?"

It huffed. "I'm human!..." It slumped. "I think."

Airi blinked. A human? "I'm sorry but to me, you look more like a cat."

"Don't call me that!" Morgana exclaimed indignantly, glaring up at her with its big blue eyes. "I'm not a cat! I'm a human!"

Airi raised her hands placatingly. "OK, I'm sorry for upsetting you." She soothed.

It deflated. "Ah my apologies...I'm taking my frustrations out on you since I'm stuck in this cell." It perked up. "Oh! Do you think you can get me out of here, Lady Airi?"

She looked around to see if anything could break the lock. It was rusty enough that it could be broken, but it would've been easier if she could pick it. The one time she didn't have a lock pick on her...

Her eyes glimpsed at a small rock nearby and she reached to grab it. Throwing it a little in her hand, it seemed sturdy enough. 'Hopefully this works,' she thought as she raised her arm. With a deep breath, she struck down.

-CLANK-

The lock broke off and noisily fell to the stone floor. Standing up, she opened the door with a loud creak, and the feline waddled out.

"Ahh! At last, freedom!" It exclaimed in joy.

Airi smiled at the glee in its eyes. At least she could help one person today...

"Hey! Who's down there making that ruckus?!"

She stiffened, fear filling her limbs like a shock. Someone else was here?! Turning around, her eyes widened as three suits of armor rushed up to them, spears in hand. 'Are they hostile?!’ She thought apprehensively. What was going to happen to them? Those spears were awfully sharp...

Morgana turned around at the noise. Narrowing its eyes, It took a step forward, brandishing a scimitar from who knows where. "Hey! You're not going to capture her or me!"

The guards ran in front of them, blocking their only way out. "Tch! A prisoner escaped," One guard said.

"And an intruder?!" Another exclaimed. They raised their spears at the two.

She trembled, taking a step back. 'We’re going to die!' All she could hear was the blood pounding in her ears. Was this really how she was going to go..? After everything she went through?

Morgana shouted valiantly, crouching in front of its savior. "You'll have to get through me first!" It rushed to attack and took one of them down with a swing of its blade, before another guard swatted it away with its spear.

"Ack!" It yelped as it smacked against the cold stone wall, before falling into a slumped position on the ground. It winced, gritting its fangs in pain.

Airi turned to look at it, gripping her hands in front of her, knuckles white with the pressure. "Morgana!" She yelled. "Are you OK?!"

Morgana slowly sat up, flinching as its tail was crushed from the impact. "I'm OK! But...I won't be able to fend them off. I'm too weak from being captured earlier." Its ears fell. "Lady Airi...you're going to have to fight!"

She hugged herself, anxiety and fear creeping up her spine. "B-but how? I don't have any weapons or fighting ability..." She stammered, her eyes wet with unshed tears. She was such a coward. Another person was protecting her again, and she just stood here like some useless doll..!

"You probably have a Persona!" Morgana gritted. "You're in a Palace, after all. You have to summon it and fight!"

She furrowed her brow. "A Persona..? I don't know what that is!" She argued, her breath shaky now with her heart pounding so quickly.

It coughed. "You have to!"

One of the guards then grabbed Morgana by its neck and slammed it against the wall, holding it up with its grip. Raising its other hand, It aimed its spear at the feline. "Enough with your chit chatting!" The guard yelled. "Kamoshida-sama wants any and all intruders dead, including you!"

Morgana struggled against its grip. "You can try all you want!" It wheezed, paws scratching at the gauntlet. "I'll never...bow down...to the likes of him..!"

The other guard raised its spear at her, prepared to strike her down.

Standing there motionlessly, a tear slowly fell down her cheek as she watched with wide eyes. Why was she so useless?! She breathed shakily, feeling frustration and self hate well up inside her. All she wanted was to help, to protect the people who couldn't protect themselves. She just wanted to live up to her legacy...Why couldn't she do one thing right?!

-BA-BUMP-

Her eyes widened, mouth opened in a silent scream. She gripped her head, nails digging into her scalp. What was this..?! Within a second, her head began hurting. She gritted her teeth as the pain increased with each pulse.

‘You wanted to protect those who couldn't protect themselves...’

This voice...who is it? Airi wondered, even as her mind felt like it was being torn in half. She flailed her head from side to side, trying to ease the splitting pressure but to no avail. She choked on her saliva as the pain now overrode the rest of her body. She couldn't feel anything except the excruciating pain of her soul tearing in half.

‘You love so strongly...even those you barely know...your kindness knows no bounds, if only so they don't end up like her...’

She hunched into herself, nails starting to claw her skin off her scalp with the force she was gripping her head, staining the tips in red. 'Make it stop!' Airi screamed.

‘You stand here now, completely useless...What is it that you desire most? You have the choice to grasp it, but you don't!’

Tears streamed down her face, from the pain or the truth in those words, she couldn't tell. It was true. It was all true. She did nothing then, and she didn't do anything now. Even when someone who defended her was now in danger of dying. Nothing mattered anymore...Nothing except for the need to prove to herself that she can do this.

Just take a step forward...prove it to Morgana who depended on her. Prove it to the soldiers who were going to kill them. Prove it to herself that she could stand up and fight. Prove it to her...

‘Will you accept the contract? Doom your soul to uncertainty in the face of reaching for what you desire most?’

"YES!"

Chapter Text

Airi screamed, her head snapping up into the air.

The guards turned at her outburst, even Morgana who was still held up against the stone wall.

Blinking, she couldn't hear anything but the rushing of water from the river. Her brain registered that the pain had stopped a moment later, and something cold and bright was on her face. Slowly reaching up, her calloused fingertips felt metal instead of skin. What..?

She gripped at whatever it was, and flinched as her skin underneath moved with it, as if it was apart of her. Beginning to hyperventilate, she gripped the sides weakly, the sharp edges cutting into her fingers. It hurt, oh it hurt so much, but the itch..! With a screech, she pulled.

The mask tore off in a gush of blood, and a blaze of power surrounded her, hiding her from the rest of the world. White flames encased her body, changing her, making her stronger.

For the first time since the incident, she felt free, as if she finally realized what she was holding back. She took a deep breath, as if the air was from a crisp mountain range and not a moldy dungeon. Was this her real self..?

As she focused on the change inside of her, she didn't notice the change on the outside, nor the being that slowly gained corporeality behind her.

Swathed in white and purple silks was a woman, her skin so light that it seemed to glow. It almost hid the long tendrils of hair behind her, the strands so close to the same shade. A golden diadem was sat on top of the silver locks, holding back most of it to show off her cold expression. Her sleeveless gown flowed down below where her feet should be, layers upon layers of silk and chiffon fluttering around her, the pieces from her back acting as if they were wings. A corset made of what seemed to be gold laced her dress, showing off her impressive curves. Golden cuffs encircled the top of her arms, shackling her from unleashing her true power from her golden staff.

Gazing down with a look of disdain, she lifted her weapon in the air, chanting to herself. With a scream, the guards were destroyed by beams of light, penetrating through their armor and into their cores.

Morgana had hit the ground for the second time today, and looked up in awe. "A new Persona..!"

"I AM THOU, THOU ART I. THOU WHO DESIRE BEYOND HER STATION, WHO ART WILLING TO FORSAKE ALL SHE BELIEVES TO PROTECT WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO THINE OWN SELF."

"I AM JEANNE, COMTESSE OF RADIANCE, ONE WHO SHINES HER OWN JUSTICE. NONE SHALL DARKEN MY PATH."

As she faded from reality, Airi exhaled. So that was a Persona...She clenched her hands at the new power within her, feeling her nails bite through her gloves. Wait, gloves? Confused at the new sensation, she looked down at herself and gasped in shock.

Her clothes changed from her Shujin uniform into a sleeveless deep purple and silver embroidered vest coat that hugged her figure, leaving the chest open. Long dark purple gloves sheathed her arms up to her shoulders, covering a silver embroidered high collared blouse. Shifting her legs, she felt the skin tight leather pants move with her, black knee high boots encompassing her feet instead of her usual oxfords. A large silver pendant hung from her neck, nestled in her cleavage, with a gold belt, hanging on her hips. The last new addition was the silver embroidered scarf she had loosely wrapped around her neck, the ends fluttering like dainty wings.

She scrunched up her face in confusion, and felt it again. The mask was back. It wasn't itchy like before, when something inside screamed at her to tear it off. Now it felt like it really was a part of her.

Taking a few steps to the river, she looked down at her reflection. The mask was of opera-esque design, the silver sterling lacing around her eyes as well as her right cheek. Holding up a hand to brush her hair out of the mask's way, she blinked as she noticed her usual braided tail was held up in a bun.

"What is going on..." She wondered quietly.

"You awakened your Persona!" Morgana proclaimed, waddling up to her. Its eyes shined with amazement as it looked up at her.

"You keep saying Persona, but..." She hesitated. "I've never heard of it as a term for power before. Only with people and...masks..." Her eyes widened with realization. Was this what the term actually meant? Personas were a literal thing, and not just a part of a person's mental need to hide themselves?

"It's your inner self rebelling against the injustices done to you!" Morgana explained eagerly, its chest puffing up at its knowledge. "You rip off the mask that you wear in your heart to become your true self that breaks free and fights."

Airi's eyes widened in surprise. "My true self...? The me who wants to protect..." she muttered, looking down pensively. She did it then. She finally took that first step.

In a burst of white, her ostentatious clothes disappeared and in its place was her school uniform. "Whoa!" She uttered in surprise. "My new clothes disappeared! Is that supposed to happen...?" She looked down at her body, lifting her hands as she tried to see how it did that.

Morgana hummed. "You're probably still adjusting to your new powers, so it's a little unstable."

She nodded her head in understanding. "Oh, OK. That makes sense."

Morgana shook its head. "But never mind all that! We have to move, there may be more guards coming."

"I can take them!" Airi said confidently. "With this new power, my Persona, I can protect both of us!" She pumped her fist, a smirk on her face.

"Be that as it may," Morgana frowned reluctantly. "You're still new at this, we shouldn't provoke any more guards!"

It ran down the corridor and stopped near the stairs, the same one she took earlier. Turning around, it gestured at her. "C'mon, this way, Lady Airi! I'll show you a way out!" Morgana grinned.

Airi followed it, and both of them ended up going through the large foyer and down another corridor. They dodged into a room on the left and came to a stop.

Morgana then jumped onto the bookcase where there was a barred access way, and ripped the grate off. "Here!" It gestured. "You can leave the Palace through this and return to the real world!"

She held her hands out in a stop motion. "Wait. Before that, can you explain to me where exactly are we? What kind of world is this?" She pleaded. "This isn't a dream, right..?"

"This is a Palace, a place where one's distorted desires have taken shape." Morgana explained quickly. "A Palace is how a distorted person sees a location. To you, this is your school, but to the ruler, this is his castle."

Airi crossed her arms. "So this is all cognitive?" She wondered out loud. "This is how Kamoshida sees the school through his eyes?"

Morgana smiled. "Yes! You get it!" It said happily. "I knew you were intelligent, Lady Airi!"

A thought dawned on her. "Is Kamoshida here as well?" Airi questioned fervently. "Or another version of him? And does it affect him in the real world?"

"Yes, there is a Shadow version of him somewhere." It stated grimly, glancing at the door. "If you steal his Treasure, then you irrevocably change him and cleanse his desires. He turns into a new person and would confess his crimes."

Airi took a step back at its statement. "Wait, really? He’ll confess his crimes?" She asked faintly. Could she help the students this way? The principal wouldn't listen to her, and Kawakami-sensei wouldn't be able to help...

Morgana nodded, before shaking its head. "Anyway, you should get going before more guards come!"

"But wait," She interjected hurriedly, brows furrowing in worry. "What about you?"

Morgana grinned and gave her a thumbs up with its paw. "Don't worry about me!" It exclaimed. "And since you've come here once, you can probably do it again!"

 

"Who's there?!" Shouted someone from beyond the door.

 

Straightening its shoulder, Morgana walked to the door. "I'll provide a distraction while you escape, Lady Airi!" It stated determinedly, its back facing toward her.

Airi bit her lip, but acquiesced to its decision. "OK, be careful Morgana! I'll come back for you!"

Morgana flashed her a smile before running out the door. "Hey, numbskulls!" It taunted, running through another door. Metal clanked as soldiers ran after it.

Airi jumped up the bookcase, and started crawling through the vent. Behind her, she could hear Morgana yowl. A guard most likely caught up to it and was dragging it back to the dungeon. She closed her eyes in guilt. 'I'm sorry..!'

It took a couple moments, but when light shined through the tunnel, she picked up the pace and finally reached outside.

 

"You have returned to the real world." Her phone stated.

Airi blinked. What? She looked around. She was back in normal Aoyama-Itchome. There were even students walking toward the train station, chatting to each other, not knowing their fellow student just traveled through dimensions.

'I was just crawling through...' She furrowed her brow. Looking down at her phone, that red eye from before had turned into an app, now nestled between her music and her schedule. She shook her head slowly. 'That was real...That was really real!' She thought to herself hysterically. How could a person just travel into someone's mind like that? What was Morgana? Did Personas exist in everyone..?

All these questions swam in her mind, and she sighed tiredly. Putting her phone away, Airi headed toward the station and boarded a train to Shibuya. Gripping a safety rail, she looked out the window, the blackness of the tunnel speeding past in a blur.

There was no way she could do anything now, not with how exhausted she felt. Seemed like tearing one's soul in half to reveal its true self took a lot out of a person.

"This is Shibuya. I repeat, this is Shibuya. The time is now 5:48PM, the next stop is..."

Leaving the train through the crowd of people, she headed toward her transfer, intent on going home. Swiping her wallet at the turnstile, she left the Ginza line and headed toward the train when someone bumped into her. "Ow!" She squeaked in pain.

"Sorry!" The guy said.

That voice sounded familiar.

Airi turned around to look at the person who pushed her.

"Oh!" He uttered in surprise. "H-hey Senpai, sorry about that!"

It was Sakamoto Ryuji.

"Oh, Sakamoto-kun. It's alright." Airi smiled gently.

She had always had a soft spot for him ever since middle school, especially after what happened last year. It must have been hard for him to break his leg right before the track tournament, then the disbandment of the track team itself, replaced by the volleyball team. Kamoshida just couldn't help himself, she pursed her lips. While a nice young man in general, Ryuji was much too brash and loud for Airi to have ever talked to him for longer than a couple moments, with the exception of that school project they did together with another classmate.

“I thought I told you before, you don’t have to call me senpai. We're the same age.” She scolded.

Ryuji rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Ah, you goin’ home now?"

She nodded. "Yes, it's been...a long day." She grimaced. That was the understatement of the century.

Ryuji nodded in agreement. "Yeah I get ya. Thank god it's the weekend!" He groaned, stretching his arms up in the air. He slumped, exhaling a big sigh. "School is such a pain. Especially since I have to see Kamoshida's big ugly face."

Airi giggled, amused at his ire towards the gym teacher. "I can sympathize. Kamoshida is rather egotistical, huh?" She joked.

He looked up at her in surprise. "Uh, yeah...sorry," He blinked. "You're the first person I know who's agreed with me..." He trailed off.

Her face softened, understanding why. Kamoshida was such a respected figure in the school that no one said a bad thing about him. To the staff and other students, he was the ideal and most desirable teacher. No one ever went against him, even now. Except for Ryuji. Couple that with terrible grades and a somewhat rough demeanor, and it had him labeled as the school delinquent and outcast.

"I know, and I'm sorry it has taken so long for me to see." Airi answered, ducking her head in apology. "I should've asked sooner, especially after your leg..."

Ryuji furrowed his brows and looked away. "...Don't worry 'bout it." He grinned weakly. "It's all healed up now. Besides, lots of people can't see past his stupid act." He glanced at the time on a nearby pillar. "Shit, I gotta go! I'll see ya on Monday!" He waved as he ran past to his train.

Airi sighed. 'Still so overwhelming.' She thought, then smiled fondly.

It was a good look on him.

 

How I envision Jeanne as

Chapter Text

Arriving at Yongenjaya, Airi got off the train and walked out of the station, swiping her wallet at the turnstile. She walked down the familiar streets, turning the corner into the alleyways. Back here were small bars and shops, along with a supermarket and a closed down movie theater. This area of Yongenjaya never saw as many people as it deserved, but it was how the locals liked it. It was quiet compared to the bustling streets outside, making it a perfect place for a lot of elderly people.

She rubbed an eye, getting rid of the crust. There was no way she could finish her homework with how tired she was. Time for some coffee. Turning into the alley in front of the second hand shop, she headed into Cafe Leblanc.

Opening the french door, she closed her eyes, inhaled, and slowly exhaled. The smell of coffee and exquisite curry could always calmed her down, leaving her with a smile on her face. The decor of the cafe was rustic but warm, giving off a feeling of home.

Opening her eyes, Airi walked up to the bar where Sakura Sojiro, owner and barista of Cafe Leblanc, was slowly wiping the counter. This was her home away from home, a place where she could relax and re-energize after a tiring day, just like today.

Sojiro lazily looked up at her. "Oh, hey Airi. just got out of school, huh?"

Sitting down on one of the bar stools, she smiled tiredly. "Yeah, it's been a long day." She sat her bag down on the floor next to her.

"Hmph. Not easy being class president and working, it seems." He muttered, putting a cup away. "What would you like?"

She hummed, glancing at the shelves upon shelves of coffee beans behind him. She had been here often enough that she had tried almost every kind he had to offer, but decided to go simple today. "One cup of Colombian, please." She clapped her hands in front of her in anticipation. "And a plate of katsu Curry!"

"Comin' right up." Sojiro said, moving around to prepare the ordered items.

While he got the food ready, there were thumping sounds heard from above. She looked up curiously at the wooden ceiling, but put it out of her mind once her food arrived in front of her.

Taking one last bite of her curry, Airi washed it down with her coffee. She sighed contently. It was nice to be able to splurge on a good plate of curry and coffee once in a while. "Gochisousama deshita." She clapped her hands. "It was delicious as always."

Sojiro grunted in answer, not looking up from his newspaper.

She tilted her head, observing his tense posture. He seemed off today, as if something was bothering him. "Is something wrong?" Airi inquired softly.

He sighed heavily. "No, nothing's wrong per say. Just got someone new."

"Oh?" She voiced, curiosity winning over her. "Who is it?"

"It doesn't concern you." He answered gruffly, raising his newspaper above his eyes to block her from his view.

She exhaled. She couldn't help him if he didn't want it. Reaching down for her bag, she pulled out the appropriate amount of money to pay for the meal and left it on the counter. Getting up, she waved to Sojiro. "I'll be off now! Have a good night!"

"Night." He muttered, still not looking at her.

Leaving the cafe, the cool breeze of a spring evening chilled her. The school uniform blazer was not good for such cold temperatures. Rubbing her arms, she quickly walked a couple blocks down to a small house, sequestered away from the shops. Taking her keys out of her bag, she inserted and twisted it into the lock, opening the front door.

Her house was nothing special, a bit big for one person. There were small knick knacks and simple paintings lining the walls, filling in the empty spaces. Some were old family photos at the rink, recital, and other such memoirs of better times. Dark wooden floors lead from the cement foyer into the building, branching out into the different rooms. To her right was a tatami room, a kotatsu and a small wooden cabinet occupying the space. To her left was the staircase leading to the second floor where she spent most of her time.

The living room was modestly furnished, with two light beige chaises, a dark wooden coffee table, and a TV mounted on the wall. She had saved up so much just to buy it, and couldn't really afford cable to go along with it. At the very least, it came with the news channels and a select few other channels, making it a still worthy buy. Across from it was the first floor bathroom, with only a sink and a toilet inside.

The dining room was to her left behind the staircase, consisting of a dark wooden table with eight complimenting chairs surrounding it, a simple chandelier brightly lighting the room. Behind it was the kitchen, a partition separating the two. With its dark wooden cabinets and white limestone surfaces, she could still remember her mother cooking her favorite omurice at the stove...

Walking up the steps, Airi left her bag in front of the study and moved toward the bathroom to wash up. The second floor consisted of two rooms and a full bathroom. Only one was a bedroom, and the other used as a study. The furnishings were simple but tasteful, giving a lived in and warm vibe to the house. A lot of it was new, bought with her own finances, but some from her childhood still existed inside the house, giving her a sense of nostalgia.

After a relaxing bath to soothe her aching muscles, she grabbed her bag and brought it into the study. Flicking the light switch, she went and sat down in front of the desk. The room consisted of several bookcases, filled with now useless encyclopedias, as well as a dark wooden desk that housed her laptop. That piece of technology had cost her so many hours of work to pay for. She still had a couple months left before she completely paid it off from Yodobashi. The one thing she avoided in this room were all the photo albums, memories of better days hidden within.

After about two hours, Airi closed the last book and sighed in relief. "I'm done!" She groaned, stretching her arms.

She put her books back in her bag before leaving the study and entering her bedroom. She had work tomorrow, after all.

The room had all the necessary amenities; a large but low framed bed with a purple comforter, two dark wood armoires, and a dark wood vanity where all her accessories and makeup laid. The only thing out of place was a beautiful cello leaning against its stand, the cool rosewood still gleaming softly under a layer of dust.

Ignoring it with a sharp tug of guilt, she flung herself on top of her bed with an exhale. It's been a little over a year, but she still can't believe she had this house again...

'Let go! Leave us alone!'

'Give me all your money, bitch!'

'Hey! That's my wife and daughter! I'll call the police!'

'Mommy! Dad!!'

-BANG-BANG-

Airi clenched her eyes as the memories assaulted her once again, the gunshots still ringing in her ears. A tear slipped down her cheek, wetting the fabric of her pillow. Though this house was her's again, it felt all too empty without them.

The loneliness crept up, and she took a deep breath, trying to calm down. 'He's already behind bars, Airi. Let it go.' She rationalized. There was no point in agonizing over this again...

She could never regret her years in the orphanages, making sure the younger kids were healthy and happy. She met her best friend there, after all...Even if she regretted her parents' deaths at the hands of that man.

She sniffed, wiping her tears with the back of her hand."I have my home again." Airi whispered. "I just need to create my future, the way they wanted it for me..."

Eyelids growing heavy, she slowly descended into slumber, letting the quiet sounds of the neighborhood lull her to sleep.

 

 

----4/10, SUNDAY, DAYTIME, SHUJIN ACADEMY, PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE.

 

"To reiterate," The principal began, "Just so we're clear, you will immediately be expelled if you cause any problems. Honestly, I hesitated on accepting someone like you, but there were some circumstances on our side..." He paused. "You might have done a variety of things hiding in your hometown, but you WILL behave yourself here. If you are thrown out from our school, there will be no place for you to go." He warned the student. "Keep that in mind."

He gestured to his left, where a woman wearing a yellow striped shirt and jean skirt stood. "This is the teacher in charge of your class."

She stepped forward, an exasperated expression on her face. "I'm Kawakami Sadayo. Here's your student ID." She stated, placing the card on the table. "Be sure to read the school rules. Any violations will send you straight to the guidance office. And, if by chance you cause any problems, I won't be able to protect you at all." She paused, tucking a strand of short wavy brown hair behind an ear. "That is your promise, yes, Principal Kobayakawa?" She eyed her boss skeptically.

Kobayakawa nodded in agreement. "He is responsible for all his actions."

She sighed, clearly irritated. "But really though, why me...? There should've been better candidates." She complained sullenly.

"It was a sudden transfer," He answered flusteredly. "And your class was the only one that had an opening."

At this point, Sojiro interrupted. "If you're done explaining things, mind if we get going?" He asked tiredly. "I have a store to get back to."

The principal nodded. "Sakura-san, please keep a close eye on him. Don't let him cause any trouble outside..." He warned.

Sojiro rubbed his neck. "Well, I'll be sure to have a serious talk about the situation he's in."

Kawakami sighed and looked at her new student, a hint of fear and wariness in her dark brown eyes. "Come to the faculty office when you arrive at school tomorrow. I'll show you to your classroom."

The student who was the topic of the conversation nodded silently and took his new ID card. Examining it in his hand, it read, "Shujin Academy 2nd year, Kurusu Akira." Next to it was a portrait of himself, a blank expression on his face. 'This is my new school...' He thought emotionlessly.

Sojiro turned and walked out, his charge silently following him out.

 

 

Two people stood across from another in the walkway in the school courtyard. The woman clearly looked done with her life, while the male seemed befuddled.

"What a troublesome situation." Kamoshida remarked, crossing his arms. He was a tall man in his 20s, a mop of curly hair sitting atop of his rectangular face. Dressed in a white shirt and red pants, he was always ready for the gym.

Kawakami sighed heavily, putting a hand on one hip. "I can't believe they pushed someone with a record on ME." She whined. "A male teacher would be better suited for this..."

"Why in the world was someone like that admitted here?" He rested his hands on his hips.

"Who knows?" She retorted. "It was the principal's decision. I was told that it's for the school's reputation..." She trailed off.

"Hmph." He crossed his arms. "I would've thought that my volleyball team has contributed more than enough to cover that."

Kawakami nodded tiredly in agreement. "That's certainly true."

"Be careful, OK?" Kamoshida urged, doing some stretches with his arms. "Then again, if anything were to happen, I'd kick out a student like that right away."

Kawakami ran a hand through her hair. "I keep wishing that he'd just end up not coming to school. Still, that isn't something I should be saying as a teacher..." She trailed off, pursing her lips in exasperation. It wasn't that she didn't want to teach him, but...he has a criminal record. How could she not be scared?

"Well," Kamoshida began, interrupting her thoughts. "I should be returning to practice."

"Oh right." Kawakami blinked. "The tournament's coming up, isn't it?"

"Hehe." Kamoshita forcefully grinned, pumping his fist. "Having such high expectations placed on you by others is quite a problem in itself. We'll have to work hard to make up for the track team too." He ended smugly.

"Yes...that's true." She replied distractedly.

Kamoshida headed down the courtyard towards the gym, leaving Kawakami where she was standing.

She sighed heavily once again. "Why'd it have to be MY class..."

Chapter Text

----4/11, MONDAY, EARLY MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

 

Making sure the door was properly locked, Airi turned around and started walking down the road to the station. Being so early in the morning, many of the shops had yet to open aside from the supermarket. Looking up at the dark skies, the clouds a muddy gray, she hurried up a bit. The news had said it would rain today. Thankfully, she brought an umbrella in her bag.

Looking down at the time on her phone, she pursed her lips and began power-walking. It was getting a bit late, and no doubt the train was going to get crowded.

Once reaching the gates, she swiped her wallet on top of the ticket scanner before walking down the stairs toward the platform for her train. Already, she could hear the telltale rumbling that indicated one was about to pull up. Hitting the platform, she walked up to the indicated boarding markers. When the train pulled up and opened its doors, she walked in amidst the sea of people getting out, grabbing a seat.

As the doors started to close, a young man hurriedly ran in, just making it through the gap. He slumped at his spot and sighed in relief.

Airi tilted her head at the scene. 'He's wearing a Shujin uniform,' She observed. 'I've never seen him around though. I could have sworn I was the only Shujin student from Yongenjaya...' Deciding that it wasn't her business, she pulled a book out of her bag to read. The train ride was going to take a while, after all...

After reading a couple of chapters, the announcement finally spoke out the desired destination. "This is Shibuya Station. I repeat, this is Shibuya Station. Transfers are available for..." It continued to list several connecting lines while the train pulled to a stop.

Airi put her book away and got up to the doors. Walking out as soon as they slid open, she leisurely strolled toward the Ginza Line.

He got off the train and looked around. 'The next train to take is the Ginza Line...' He repeated to himself. A little unsure of where to go, he started walking off the platform and up the escalator. Once he was at the Underground Walkway however, he was a little overwhelmed with all the bright colors and multitude of signs.

An older man bumped into him from behind. "Hey, don't just stand there and block the way!" He said angrily, before power walking away to his destination.

He hurriedly moved to the side, flusteredly ruffling his black hair. Leaning against the wall, he crossed both his arms and legs. 'People are so unfriendly here..." He somberly thought, frowning a little.

Adjusting his blocky glasses, he swerved his head left and right, trying to find an indicator of where to go. A familiar pattern caught his eye. A girl wearing what seemed to be the Shujin Academy uniform was walking towards the stairs leading out of the station.

'Yes! If I follow her, she can lead me to school.' He thought determinedly. Uncrossing his legs, he hurriedly followed after her up the stairs. Not really paying attention to anything else, he tracked the girl to another station platform, one that read 'Ginza Line'.

He exhaled, glad that his idea worked, and waited for the approaching train. As soon as the doors opened, he walked in to take a spot. It was packed with more students from Shujin, as well as businessmen and women on their way to work.

'Why is it so crowded...' He sulked to himself, hugging his bag close to him to avoid taking up more space. There was barely any room to move what with how packed the train car was. Thankfully the school was only a few stops away. He wouldn't be able to take this for much longer.

"This is Aoyama-Itchome, I repeat, this is Aoyama-Itchome, the time is now 7:24AM. The next stop is..."

He perked up. He can finally get out of here! He along with many other students pushed out of the train. He sighed in relief from getting out of such a tight space. It took some time, but he finally made it.

Walking toward the exit, he overheard two other Shujin students talking in an alcove near the staircase. "There was another one of those strange accidents..." One girl said. "This time, it happened on a subway. If it weren't a Sunday, I might have been on it." She griped.

"That's really scary..." Her friend answered her. "How much longer do you think this sort of thing will happen?"

'Accidents, huh...' He pondered. Putting it out of his mind, he walked up the stairs, passed the gates, and out of the station. He stopped just outside, closing his eyes, and taking a deep breath of fresh air.

Drip.

Water hit his nose. He flinched, opening his eyes to look at the gloomy sky. It was beginning to rain. He grimaced and rushed to the nearest awning, a shop named "Jeunesse et Beaute", to wait it out. He idly looked down at his phone, unsure of what to do.

BEEP.

His phone rang out. That strange creepy app was back again. He sighed. How many times did he have to delete it for it to go away? 'I might have to reboot my phone...'

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another pair of shoes walking up next to him to also take shelter from the rain. He turned his head to see who it was, and his breath hitched.

It was the girl he followed. He hadn't gotten a good look at her earlier, what with how determined he was to get to the right train, but now with her so close, he studied her person. His hands started to feel a little clammy.

She sighed. Of course it rained once she took a few steps out of the station.

'At least I didn't have to deal with a wet train ride.' She thought, a little thankful about that. It's gross to be packed in like sardines on a wet train, the heat blasting the humidity to ridiculous heights.

She walked over to an awning of the store "Jeunesse et Beaute," for a dry place to dig for her umbrella. Another person was already taking shelter, a boy in the Shujin Academy uniform. While she sighed in relief from being out of the rain, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed him looking at her. She turned to meet his gaze.

He was rather tall with a slim build, fluffy black hair almost hindering his dark gray eyes that were accentuated with the most beautiful lashes she had ever seen on a male. She almost felt jealous, though the large glasses he wore hid them from the world. He continued to stare at her with his mouth slightly open.

Airi gave him a smile. "What a terrible day to start the week, huh?" She joked. It was a little weird how he kept staring at her...

He blinked, closing his mouth. "Uh, yeah...I didn't bring an umbrella..." He replied, looking away from her.

'His voice is really smooth.' She reflected, smiling at him sympathetically. "I'd offer to share, but unfortunately my umbrella can barely fit me as it is." Airi apologized sheepishly, idly caressing her braid that was pulled to the left.

He stiffened at her statement, a slight flush appearing in his cheeks. "It's alright." He replied quietly, giving her a shy smile.

She wondered why he was blushing, but then it hit her.

In Japan, only couples shared umbrellas.

Now it was her turn to blush at her faux pas. She looked down at her oxfords, her cheeks heating up.

They both stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to say to each other. Splattering footsteps interrupted their awkward moment, and they both looked up when another person joined them under the awning.

The girl, and it was clearly a girl with how short her skirt was, pulled down her white hoodie, freeing her bundles of blonde hair. She looked toward the sky, seeming to wonder when the rain will lighten up.

Airi blinked. It was Takamaki Ann.

Half Japanese and half Finnish, the blonde haired girl was regarded with both envy and suspicion as the only foreigner in the school. She was a gorgeous yet rather closed off individual, most likely due to people judging her as aforementioned. Airi never had a problem with her at middle school, except maybe her grades. She was quick witted, but school didn't seem to hold the amateur model's attention. It was honestly a shock when she heard that both Ann and Ryuji made it into Shujin.

"Takamaki-chan, good morning." Airi spoke, a friendly smile on her face.

Ann turned in surprise, seeming to forget there were other people within the vicinity next to her. "Oh! Senpai! Good morning." Ann answered, giving her a small smile.

The black haired boy looked on, observing the two beautiful girls next to him.

BEEP BEEP

A honk interrupted any sort of conversation they could have had, and all three looked out at the road. A white car had pulled up in front of them, the window pulling down revealing Kamoshida. He looked out the car window toward Ann, a smile on his rectangular face. "Good morning! You want me to give you a ride to school? You're gonna be late." He asked jovially.

Ann smiled a little. "Um, sure. Thank you." She answered quietly, walking towards the car.

He looked over to the other two still standing. "How about you two?" He offered, still smiling. "Kimisawa?"

Both Airi and the black haired boy waved their hands with a polite smile on their faces, rejecting the offer.

Once Ann got in the car, she pulled her seat belt on. As the window rolled up though, her expression turned into one of trepidation and slight fear before disappearing under the tinted glass, and the car drove away.

A silence took over, and Airi decided it had been a long enough delay and pulled out her umbrella. Opening it up, she turned to the boy and offered him a small smile. "See you at school." She said, bowing slightly, before walking towards Shujin.

The boy was now alone, staring after the girl. What to do now, he wondered, with the rain still pouring.

"Dammit! Screw that pervy teacher."

Turning his gaze away from the small back of the retreating girl, he saw a blond boy with his hands on his knees, panting. His bleached hair was styled into a short mullet, face pulled into a sneer. He wore what should be the Shujin academy uniform, but had a yellow graphic t-shirt instead of the usual white turtleneck. His pants were rolled up to show off his ankles, and wore converse sneakers at his feet. His suspenders were left to hang around his legs as he straightened up with a sigh.

"Pervy teacher...?" He wondered out loud, staring curiously.

The blond boy turned and looked over at him with a sneer on his face.

Chapter Text

----4/11, MONDAY, AFTERNOON, SHUJIN ACADEMY, CLASS 2-D

 

It was only fourth period, but Kawakami-sensei seemed to get moodier and moodier. Airi wondered what could be troubling her like this. Hopefully it wasn't anything serious. She leaned her head against her palm, idly looking at the board, inspecting for anything she missed. She was sat at the second row closest to the window, and one desk before the back of the room. It wasn't an ideal seat, but it honestly didn't matter in the long run. The teachers spoke more than they wrote on the board anyway.

The bell rang then, signaling break had begun. "Alright class, it's lunch time. I'll be off in the staff room." Kawakami stated languidly, her face pulled into a worried frown. She promptly left the class without a look back.

Airi sat up and started organizing her notes. Since the desk next to her wasn't occupied, she used it as another surface for her books when eating lunch. Most of her classmates left for the cafeteria, with only a few lingering in the room to chat.

She pulled out her meal, a simple spicy chicken mayo onigiri and a green tea bottle, and started munching away while scrolling through her phone.

"Hmm..." She muttered. The only thing on the news were reports of the accidents. All of them had the perpetrators suddenly having a mental breakdown while at work, harming dozens of passengers. Airi frowned. Mental breakdowns...why did that strike her so oddly?

Her eyes widen.

The Palace! She covered her mouth in horror. 'I forgot about Morgana!' She thought guiltily. Biting her lip, Airi promised to go to the palace today after school to help it out.

"I heard there's a new student transferring," She overheard a classmate saying to their friend. "And they have a criminal record!"

"Oh my god, why would the principal allow a criminal in the school?!" The classmate's friend yelped. "What if he pulls a weapon on us? Or, or...kills someone!" They paled.

Airi furrowed her brows. A new student? And one with a criminal record? 'No one told me anything about this.' She thought pensively. 'But...Takase was a juvenile and he was still a great older brother...'

Back at the orphanage that she moved to, most of the staff were too busy to really care for the children, so it fell to the eldest kids to take care of the younger ones. She tried her best to help out, especially when the older kids would go out to forage. She was in charge of making lock picks and distributing food to the kids, making sure everyone was fed and clothed properly. It was what she would want her to do. She wasn't the only one though.

With short spiky brown hair and a loud personality, Takase was the older brother who brought back toys and knick knacks for the others from his little joints out in the city. There wasn't a single person who hated him because he was the one who would comfort them in the middle of the night, patting their backs as they cried from their nightmares. He was the real kind one.

A year later however, he was taken out of the orphanage by his relatives. Airi heard one of the caretakers whisper about how "that unruly one was already causing trouble for his new family." They were clearly referring to him. 'But he's not a bad person.' She thought back then, ten years old. ‘He’s just trying his best..’

To then attend this school and hear from Kawakami-sensei what had happened to him...it hurt. It hurt to know she was left behind again.

Returning to the present, she blinked and shook her head. She shouldn't remind herself too often of that. The new transfer student was probably misunderstood as well. She'd reserve her judgement.

She cleaned up her mess and decided to go to the restroom. Quickly relieving herself, she washed her hands and left. Walking back to the classroom, passing by other students, she saw Kawakami-sensei was talking with someone. She couldn't get a good look at them, but shrugged. Did it really matter? Deciding it wasn't her business, she kept her head down until she got back to her class.

As class president, it was her duty to get the board ready for the next teacher, as well as help out with any of her classmates' concerns regarding schoolwork and the like. Walking up to the front of the board, she erased the previous lecture.

The bell rang, signalling that the lunch period was over, and she clapped her hands free of chalk. Taking a seat at her desk, she took back her books from the other table and opened her notes.

Kawakami-sensei walked in. Airi furrowed her brows at her expression. 'She seems even more done.'

Just after finishing that thought, another person followed the teacher in.

It was the boy from this morning.

Airi blinked in surprise. He was the transfer student? 'No wonder I didn't recognize him earlier. He's new.' A thought struck her then. 'Wait, if he's the transfer, then he's the one with the criminal record?' Looking him over, she really couldn't see him as someone who would commit a crime. She would just have to get to know him first.

Kawakami clapped her hands, gaining the attention of the class. Immediately, the classroom broke out into loud whispers, recognizing the new student for who he was.

"Being super late on his first day? He really is insane..."

"He looks normal though..."

"But he might slug us if we look him in the eye..."

Clearing her throat, the teacher persuaded the class to focus. "Settle down." She scolded, shifting a bit. "...Well, I'd like to introduce a transfer student: Kurusu Akira. Today, we..." Kawakami glanced away. "Had him attend from the afternoon on since he wasn't feeling well." She turned to the new student. "All right, please say something to the class."

He nodded and turned back to look at his new fellow classmates. Bowing, he looked ahead with a steady gaze. "My name is Kurusu Akira. Nice to meet all of you." An appropriate and average introduction.

"He seems quiet...but I bet when he loses it..."

"I mean, he was arrested for assault, right...?"

Kawakami fidgeted apprehensively. "Uhh...So..." Her eyes darted around at the awkward tension in the room. "Your seat will be...hmm." Looking around the room, her eyes landed on the empty desk, right next to Airi. "There." She pointed. "The open seat. Sorry, but can the people nearby please share your textbooks with him for today?" The teacher asked awkwardly.

"This sucks..." Someone from behind Airi's seat muttered irritatedly.

"Also," Kawakami interjected, looking at Akira. "While I am your homeroom teacher, I'll be far too busy to take care of any concerns. If you have questions, you can direct them to the class president."

Akira nodded again in understanding, but tilted his head at the mention of the latter.

Kawakami then directed her gaze at Airi. "Kimisawa-chan, please stand up."

Airi perked up, and did as she was told. She clasped her hands in front of her politely, looking toward the new student.

"This is the class president of 2-D, Kimisawa Airi. Please come to her if you're unsure of anything." Kawakami introduced, her lips twitching into a frown. A glimpse of worry flashed in her eyes at the thought of them sitting so close together.

Airi bowed. "I'm Kimisawa Airi, pleased to meet you, Kurusu-san. I hope you have a good time here at our school." She said with a pleasant smile.

Akira blinked in surprise. It was the girl from earlier, under the awning. He realized he was staring and quickly bowed, then maneuvered toward his new desk. Walking down the aisle, he noticed that the other girl from the awning was in his class too.

She looked at him with an accusing look. "Lies." Ann whispered.

He looked at her questioningly, but she avoided his gaze and stared out the window. Settling in his seat, he unpacked his bag before putting it down, and got a notebook ready.

"Did you catch that?" A brown haired girl sitting further away whispered. "Do those two know each other? Does that mean he hit on her before transferring here?"

"That means she's cheating on him with Kamoshida-sensei." Her friend gossiped. "Then again, this is Takamaki-san we're talking about..."

"For real." The brunette snipped. "That side of the room is totally awful."

Airi grimaced. It seems the gossip never ended for them. 'Poor Takamaki-chan.' She thought, glancing at the model sympathetically. She could try to address this to the class, but Ann might not appreciate even more attention. It would count as favoritism as well, and might backfire horribly.

"Oh right!" Kawakami clapped her hands. " The volleyball rally is in two days. Everyone's just changed classes so make sure you use that time to get to know each other." She subtly rolled her eyes. "Well then, let's get class started."

At that, Airi took out the textbook for the next class and offered it to Akira with a smile.

He blinked, slowly reaching out to accept it. Their fingers brushed ever so slightly, bringing a small blush to both their cheeks. Airi gave him another quick smile before averting her attention to the front of the classroom, where the teacher began writing the new material on the board.

The girl who was whispering earlier began turned to her desk mate. "Kimisawa-senpai is too kind.."

Her desk mate nodded in agreement. "Un. She even smiled at him! He might target her first..."

"Who's on duty today?" Kawakami asked the class, turning back with a piece of chalk in hand.

Mishima grimaced and stood up. It was him. "Everyone...please rise..." He said dejectedly.

 

 

School finally ended.

Airi sighed, organizing her notes. She was so tired of listening to Chouno-sensei drone on and on about how the rain messed with her hair. A shadow loomed over her, and she looked up.

It was Akira. He was holding out the textbook that she had lent to him earlier.

She took it back and shot him a smile, thanking him. "So, how was your first day, Kurusu-san?"

Akira shifted his glasses with one hand, the other in his pocket. "It was fine. Thank you for lending me your textbook. You're..." He quietly started then paused. "You're the first person to be kind to me in a long while." He gave her a small smile.

Her eyes widened slightly. The first person to be kind to him? Studying his eyes, she could see a glimmer of pain swimming in his gray orbs. It looked old. It made him look wearier than he was supposed to be at this age. She frowned. 'He must have gone through something horrible...'

"I'm glad that I could help." She replied after a moment. Standing up from her seat, she grabbed her bag, flashing him another smile. "So!" She chirped. "Any questions so far? Do you think you'll be all right adjusting?"

He tapped a finger on his chin, shouldering his bag as they started walking out of the class together. "I think so. Aside from all the rumors about me, I should be fine..." He grimaced, looking away.

Airi furrowed her brows in worry, sympathizing with his situation. "I'm sorry you have to go through that. The school is just scared. They don't know you yet."

They both stopped in the hallway right after exiting the classroom. He looked down and met her eyes, keeping her glued to her spot. "And you?" He tentatively whispered.

“Huh?” She voiced, confused, tilting her head to one side. “What do you mean?”

He glanced away for a moment, before refocusing his gaze on her. “What do you think of me?” Akira questioned, a little apprehensive.

Airi looked down, gripping the handle of her bag with both hands. His stare was rather intense, and heavy as well. “I think...you did something that you thought was right, and was punished for it.” She answered quietly. "At least...I hope that's the case. "

His eyes widened at her bold statement, and he gazed down at her in astonishment. No one else had stood up for him. Not his friends, not his family. Yet this girl who barely knew him, treated him like...a normal person.

Lips twitching, Akira let out a small laugh, the sound slightly bittersweet. “An accurate guess.” He regarded her coolly. “Thank you again, Kimisawa-senpai. I’ll be going now.” He waved goodbye at her, and turned to walk away.

She sweatdropped. "You don't have to call me Senpai..."

Taking a few steps, he flinched, gripping his head that had suddenly started hurting. The corridor seemed to waver in front of his eyes, turning into a stone hall with red carpeting, before changing back to normal.

Noticing that he stopped, Airi walked up to him. “Is something wrong, Kurusu-san?” She asked concernedly.

He loosened his grip on his head, straightening his back. “Is this...a castle?” He muttered to himself, shaking his head. He didn’t notice Airi standing right next to him, who heard what he said and looked at him inquisitively.

“Kurusu-kun!”

They both turned toward the voice. Kawakami walked up to the both of them, crossing her arms with a frown. “Are you sure you’re okay?” She inquired. “Also...it seems like people are already talking about you, but I wasn’t the one who told them.” She tousled her messy brown hair aggravatedly.

Akira looked down resignedly, but nodded to acknowledge the teacher’s statement.

“I can’t even catch a break, why do I have to deal with this?” She scowled, before looking up at the black haired student. “You should head straight home without stopping by anywhere. Sakura-san sounded pretty angry.” She stated. She looked down for a moment, before snapping her head up, a thought hitting her just then. “Oh,” She continued. “About Sakamoto-kun, don’t get involved-”

The boy in question walked up, cutting her off. “Speak of the devil.” She muttered, crossing her arms. “What do you want?” She snapped tiredly. “ I heard the police caught you cutting classes today.”

“Ugh...it was nothin’.” Ryuji grunted, gazing at her with a challenging stare.

Kawakami sighed exasperatedly. “And you haven’t even dyed your hair back to black either…”

“Sorry.” He replied curtly, before turning to Akira. Leaning close, he whispered. “I’ll be waitin’ on the rooftop.” Leaning back, he gave Airi a quick smile and walked away.

The homeroom teacher observed this with a tired frown on her face. “See? That’s why I don’t want you getting involved. Understood?” She said, before also walking away.

Closing his eyes, Akira let out a heavy sigh.

Airi gazed timidly up at him from the corner of her eyes. It seemed there will be no end to the prejudice against him. Ryuji wasn't a bad person either, but her teacher still treated them like this. She gently placed a hand on his arm, trying to comfort him.

He opened his eyes and tried to smile at her, half succeeding, soundlessly thanking her for the support. They turned around, about to leave but stopped.

Kamoshida and Principal Kobayakawa stepped off the stairwell, chatting all the while. They hadn't noticed the two students standing behind them.

“Why did you allow a student like him to transfer here? He’s already started associating with Sakamoto.” Kamoshida complained. “A student with a criminal record, and a culprit of an assault case.” He sighed. “At this rate, it’d be pointless how much I contribute to the school.” Kamoshida placed his hands on his hips.

Kobayakawa held his hands up placatingly. “Now don’t be like that…” He consoled. “This school counts on you, Kamoshida-kun. You are our star.” He smiled, pride shining on his pudgy face. He shook his head. “Still, a steady build-up is necessary behind such brilliance as well.”

Kamoshida sighed, closing his eyes in displeasure. “Your troubles never seem to end, do they, Principal Kobayakawa?” He forcefully grinned. “All right, I understand. I’ll continue to do my best to answer your expectations of me.”

They both turned and walked toward the faculty offices.

Airi frowned, watching the two staff members. ‘No wonder all the students were already talking about Kurusu-san if the teachers just walked around talking about it so loudly...’ She thought angrily.

“I guess I’ll head to the roof to see what Sakamoto-san wants.” Akira began, watching the two staff leave with a blank expression. It wasn't as if he could stop them. “...How do I get there?”

She pointed at the stairs next to them. “Just go up these stairs and you’ll see the door. Be careful though, no one’s supposed to be allowed.” She winked, a playful smile on her face. “I won’t ask why Sakamoto-kun wanted you, but please stay out of trouble, both of you.” Airi said, smile softening. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Good day, Kurusu-san.” With that, she headed down the corridor.

Akira watched her leave, a slight smile on his face, before walking up the stairs to the roof.

As Airi headed toward her locker, she saw Mishima standing around morosely, his back hunched over.

‘Shit!’ She scolded herself. ‘I forgot to ask Mishima-kun about Kamoshida.’ With a frown, she walked up behind him and tapped his shoulder. “Mishima-kun?” She softly called out.

Mishima jumped, turning quickly to look at her, fear prominent in his eyes. “O-Oh, Senpai.” He exhaled. The relief emanating from him was palpable.

Her eyes however, were focused on his right elbow where a new bruise was turning purple. Airi stared icily at it, now knowing Kamoshida had place it on him. “Are you alright, Mishima-kun?” She quietly asked, concern shining through her eyes. “Do you need to go to the nurse? I’m sure she’ll still be there right now.” Hopefully he’d accept, and the nurse will question his injuries.

His eyes darted around and he shook his head. With stiff shoulders, he bypassed her and quickly walked away, avoiding her attempts to call him back.

Airi gazed sadly after his retreat. ‘I'm so sorry, Mishima-kun...' She clenched her hands around the straps of her bag. She had to do something. At this rate, he would...

With a sharp exhale, she walked out of the building and to the empty vending machine alcove from a few days ago. Pulling her phone out, she quickly looked around, making sure no one would see her next trick. Her thumb tapped on the app, activating the power.

As the air distorted around her, Airi disappeared from reality, leaving no trace of her presence.

Chapter Text

-AKIRA POV-

Walking up the stairs, he opened the door to the roof, ignoring the “DO NOT ENTER” sign. First day of school and he was already breaking rules.

Ryuji was already there waiting for him, sitting on a discarded folding chair. He looked up at the sound of the door opening, and regarded him with a heavy stare. “...There you are.” He stated the obvious. “Sorry for callin’ you up like this, especially since you were chattin’ with Senpai.” He apologized. “I bet Kawakami already told you stuff like “don’t get involved with him,” huh?” Ryuji snorted.

“She said you were trouble.” Akira replied quietly. He knew though, that the person in front of him was a good guy. His actions back in that castle proved it when Ryuji distracted the ruler away from him, taking a couple hits to the abdomen. Did that really happen to them...?

“Heh,” Ryuji snickered. “We’re pretty much in the same boat.” He crossed a leg over another. “I heard you got a criminal record. Everyone’s talkin’ about it.” He paused. “No wonder you were so gutsy.”

Akira rolled his eyes, exasperated at the constant mentions about his offense, and went to lean on one of the desks. He was so sick and tired of people automatically labeling him negatively once they heard he had a record. He clenched a hand inside a pocket. He knew he didn't do anything wrong. Even if...even if everyone told him he was.

A silence came over both of them, each wanting to ask the same question, but not wanting to acknowledge it.

Ryuji sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “...What was all that that happened? You know, how we almost got killed in a castle...” He quietly asked. “It wasn’t a dream...right? You remember it too, right?” He asked, almost desperately.

He nodded, a grim expression on his face. “Yeah, it happened.” He had no idea how, but they met some weird version of that ugly gym teacher who proceeded to kick the shit out of them. He felt so much pain from that voice that called out to him, that once he took off his mask, it was like he was breathing for the first time in his life. 'Arsene...right?'

He felt an answering pulse in his chest, and he gasped silently. So it was real. It wasn't some horrific nightmare.

The blond looked away, gazing at the skyline. “Well, just cause we both remember doesn’t mean much though...” He quietly stated. Sitting back, he crossed his arms and legs, looking over at him with a troubled expression. “I mean, even if it was a dream, you still saved me from Kamoshida...” Ryuji grinned. “So yeah...thanks, Akira.”

Akira’s lips quirked. “You’re welcome.”

The punk replaced his smile with an angry frown. “But man, that Kamoshida we saw there...” He fidgeted. “You prolly don’t know about it, but there are some rumors about him.”

“Kamoshida…” Akira muttered, furrowing his brow. So that's his name.

“Yeah.” Ryuji nodded. “That ripped mophead.” He sneered. “That asshole who was all full of himself at the castle. No one says anything to him ‘cause he’s some medalist who took the volleyball team to Nationals.” He ranted frustratedly. “The way Kamoshida was king of that castle felt crazy real ‘cause of that...”

They both leaned back, exhaling heavy sighs.

“...I wonder if we can go back to that castle again.” Ryuji thought out loud, scrunching up his face. With a loud grunt, he shot up from his seat. “Ugh, forget it. Must’ve been all a dream! It has to be!” He rubbed his head hysterically.

Akira looked on silently, unsure of what to say at the moment. Honestly, he didn’t know what to believe either. That response from within him confirmed that it happened, but could they go back? What was that place really? What was going on?! ‘It felt so real, but...’

Ryuji turned to look at him apologetically. “Sorry to drag you out here like this. That’s all I had to say.” He paused. “You know, we might be pretty similar. I feel like we’re gonna get along just fine as “troublemakers.”” He grinned. “I’m Sakamoto Ryuji. I’ll come talk if I see you around. Don’t ignore me, all right?”

Akira nodded, smiling slightly. "Kurusu Akira. It's nice to officially meet you."

Ryuji beamed. “Seeya!” With that, he walked off, leaving the roof.

The ebony haired boy sighed. What a long day. ‘It’ll be even longer when I get back to the cafe.’ He thought sullenly, knowing Sakura-san was going to give him an earful. He began his walk toward the station.

Hopefully he took the right trains, since last time it was Kimisawa-senpai unknowingly showing him the way.

With one last scream, the shadow dissipated into thin air. Airi relaxed the grip she had on her weapon, panting.

‘It’s a bit weird, I’ve never held a scythe before.’ She pondered, examining the weapon closely. It was finely detailed, with elegant vine-like detailing swirling up the silver staff, and a purple clothed grip. The blade itself was a gleaming silver, with a razor fine edge on both ends. A sharp tip erupted at the top where the blade and staff met, allowing her to stab forward if need be. All in all, it was a graceful weapon to be used in battle.

‘I’ll have to practice, but it feels really natural so far.’ She complimented herself. It felt good to be able to fight. For the first time in her life, she was standing up on her own two feet, fighting for herself.

Looking around, she noticed she ended up passed the kitchens. Examining the empty room, she wondered where Morgana was. ‘I hope it’s okay…’ She thought worriedly. The only thing she could hear was the crackling of fire from the oven pit.

Airi bit her lip. The castle was huge, and she was all alone. Was it a good idea to keep going? ‘I am pretty tired...maybe I should go back.’ She bleakly thought to herself.

Allowing the weapon to disappear, she walked toward the way she came from. There weren’t any new guards, so she safely made it all the way out.

“You have returned to the real world from Kamoshida's Palace. Thank you for your hard work.” Her phone stated.

Thank you for your hard work? Her brows furrowed. Maybe this app was as insidious as it looked. She bit her lip. Was it a good idea to keep using it when she didn't even know why she had it? Who downloaded this into her phone? She would check, but she had never had much experience with technology, so she can't trace it... Sighing, she pocketed her phone and headed home.

She laid down on her bed, bringing the covers up to her chin. ‘I’m so exhausted…’ She thought tiredly, her eyes boring into her ceiling. ‘Summoning my Persona and infiltrating a castle really takes the energy out of me...’ As she slipped into slumber, one last thought floated through her mind.

‘I should get some coffee tomorrow in the morning..’
……..


-BEEP BEEP BEEP-

Her eyes snapped open. Airi lazily sat up in bed and turned to shut her alarm off. She yawned, stretching her arms up in the air. She hooded her bloodshot eyes, bags prominent under her wine colored irises. Even after sleeping a full nine hours, she still felt exhausted.

‘Definitely need that coffee.’ She thought grimly.

Slowly getting out of bed, wincing from the way her body screamed at her in pain, she made her way to the bathroom to get ready for the day. After an extremely hot shower to loosen her aching muscles, she changed into her school uniform, grabbed her bag, and left the house.

Lethargically, she walked down the backstreets of Yongenjaya. It was a gloomy and rainy day today, and it only made her feel more tired. Gripping her umbrella tightly, Airi finally made it to Cafe Leblanc. Checking the time on her phone, she still had a good half hour before she fell behind schedule.

The bell on the door rang as she walked in, signalling a new customer, and after closing her umbrella, she collapsed onto the nearest bar stool, leaning on the counter.

Sojiro, who was stirring a pot of curry in the kitchen, looked up and raised an eyebrow. It was rare to see Airi so exhausted. “What can I get ya?” He inquired.

Airi held up one finger. “Your strongest brew, please.” She requested, voice muffled from resting her head on her arms. “And a sandwich.”

“Sure thing.” He replied, getting what she requested.

The clinking of the coffee jars and pots lulled her into a state of calm relaxation. ‘I could fall asleep right now...’

The wood creaked underneath feet as someone came down the stairs from the attic, breaking her zen, and she looked up in curiosity. Sojiro was the cafe’s only inhabitant, she recalled.

Her eyes locked with gray ones, concealed behind a giant pair of glasses.

Airi blinked.

It was Akira.

Akira, who stared back at her with a surprised expression on his face. He wasn’t expecting to see her here.

Airi gave him a tired smile. “Good morning, Kurusu-san.” She greeted warmly.

He walked up to the bar stool next to her’s, taking a seat. “Good morning, Kimisawa-senpai.” He replied with a small smile.

“You two know each other?” Sojiro asked brusquely, raising his eyebrows as he placed both her order as well as a plate of curry down in front of the two students.

“Yes, we’re in the same class.” Airi replied, picking up her sandwich. “You know, you don’t have to call me Senpai, we're the same age.” She said, looking at the ebony haired boy next to her.

He shrugged in response, picking up his spoon. “Itadakimasu.” They both said quietly, and started eating.

After finishing her sandwich, she grasped the handle of her cup. Swirling the coffee, Airi took a long swig. The heat hit her first, followed by a rich bitter taste that coated her throat as she swallowed. Downing her drink, she placed the cup down on its saucer before dabbing her mouth with a napkin. Already she could feel the effects of the caffeine, which means she’ll have enough energy to get through the day. “The coffee was a godsend. Thank you, Sojiro-san.” She complimented.

“You’re welcome.” Sojiro answered with a slightly fond smile, before taking the dirty dishes to wash.

Airi let out a sigh of content before turning to Akira. “So, you live here then?” She chirped.

He nodded. “Sakura-san is my new guardian until I’m off probation.” He replied calmly. "I'll be living here for the next year."

The older man grunted in agreement, washing the dishes.

She giggled at their somewhat rough interaction.“I’m glad that out of all the potential candidates, you got Sojiro-san.” She said, fondness bleeding into her voice. “Hey may seem rough, but he's a genuinely good man.”

They both could see Sojiro hunch his back from the statement, as if not wanting to accept the compliment.

Akira observed his guardian with a thoughtful look. He didn’t treat him badly, he supposed. He turned back to the class president. “So you live in Yongenjaya, Senpai?” He politely inquired.

Airi nodded. “Yes, for the past year now, and in my childhood.” Her smile dimmed, eyes darkened as she was lost in her memories.

Akira observed her curiously. What was she remembering? His thought was interrupted when he heard his companion get up, and he blinked questioningly.

Shouldering her bag, Airi offered him a smile. “We should get going or we’ll be late.” She stated.

He nodded in agreement, getting up. They both walked out of the cafe and opened their umbrellas. It was really terrible weather, he admitted. A lot of the older generation in Yongenjaya that usually walked around at this hour were nowhere to be seen.

The two students strolled peacefully down to the station, not feeling the need to speak. The rain filled the silence, after all. They swiped their wallets at the scanner, and headed down toward the train platform.

While riding the train, they both chatted quietly to each other about nothing in particular. “No way!” Airi laughed, covering her mouth with one hand. “You’re really from Mishima? We have a classmate named Mishima.”

Akira nodded with a smile. “Yeah, I met him yesterday when he bumped into me.” He frowned. “I don’t think he’s OK...He was covered in bruises and bandages.”

Airi nodded sadly in agreement. “Yeah.” She whispered. “I noticed too. I-I tried to ask him yesterday, and before then as well, but he kept avoiding me.” She looked down dejectedly. "I want to help him, but..."

He looked at her, frowning softly. He didn’t like seeing her so down, especially since she’s treated him so well. He placed his hand on her shoulder. “We’ll look into it together.” He reassured.

Airi looked up at him, surprised at his offer. She then smiled sadly at him. “Thank you, but you’ve just transferred. I don’t think I should be bothering you with this...”

Akira shook his head. “No, I’m already involved. You remember Sakamoto-san asking to meet with me yesterday?”

Airi nodded at his question.

“We had met Kamoshida earlier yesterday because we were..." He glanced away. He couldn't mention they were in some weird castle. "Delayed in getting to school. He threatened me with expulsion if I got in his way.”

Her eyes widened. “Already?” She whispered.

He looked at her questioningly.

She pursed her lips. “I was looking into the volleyball team and their various injuries because of Mishima-kun.” She said reluctantly. “They’re required to have practice every day, which is insane if you ask me. I got suspicious, so I sneaked into the gym after school to observe.” Looking away, she continued quietly. “He’s been physically abusing the team, driving them like slaves. The entire school is enamored with him though, and even the principal didn’t believe me when I told him.” She sighed heavily. "No one would say anything..."

Silence took over, both of them trying to figure out what the best course of action was.

“This is Shibuya. I repeat, this is Shibuya. The time is now 7:15AM...,” The announcement blared.

The train doors slid open, and they both got off the train, heading toward their transfer. They chatted amicably the whole way to school, unaware of the other Shujin students traveling along with them, their eyes glued to the two with avid attention.

“Hey, isn’t that the transfer with the criminal record?” One girl whispered to her friend.

“Yeah that’s him...don’t talk to him or he might kill you.” She whispered back fearfully.

“Who’s the chick with him?” A male student questioned rudely.

“That’s the class president of 2-D, Kimisawa. I hear she’s super nice.” Another murmured.

“Tch, trying to leech off success, I see. Didn’t I hear that he and Sakamoto already started hanging out?” A guy remarked offhandedly.

“Hey, don’t say that about her! She’s my class president. She’s probably taking pity on him, fat load of good that’ll do though...”

Chapter Text

----4/12, TUESDAY, MORNING, SHUJIN ACADEMY, CLASS 2-D

 

The teacher in front of the classroom sneered, age lines wrinkling at the action. He was a tall, older man with graying hair and a pair of square glasses in front of his stern eyes. His suspenders highlighted his stocky build as he adjusted his belt. “I’m the social studies teacher, Ushimaru. I’ll be teaching you the rules of society this year.” He stated. “Hmph...you all look like you’ve been spoiled growing up.”

Airi grimaced at how he was addressing the class. It wasn't proper for teachers to be insulting their students, but it was his first class with them. Perhaps it'll be fine later on.

Most of the students weren’t paying attention though, either distracted by the rain outside, or passing notes to each other discreetly. Akira was one of the former, lost in thought, leaning his head on his palm, watching the droplets slide down the glass.

“Before we learn society’s rules,” Ushimaru-sensei continued. “Maybe I should start with the rules of being a decent human being.” He frowned. Looking around the room and the faces of the students, his eyes stopped on one person. “Hey, new kid.” He called out.

Akira snapped out of his daydream, turning to pay attention. Clearly he was calling him.

“The greek philosopher Plato divided the human soul into three parts. A soul is composed of appetite, spirit, and what else?” Ushimaru-sensei asked, crossing his arms expectantly.

Akira furrowed his brows slightly at the off-topic question. “Logic.” He answered with certainty. It was a good thing he was reading that tidbit off a website.

The teacher’s eyebrow raised. “Correct.” Ushimaru replied. “So you knew that, huh?” He remarked before returning his attention to the entire class. “Plato’s teacher, Socrates, said that evil is born from ignorance. People who’ve been babied, taught that evil is due to individuality, can only become society’s scum.”

The class erupted into furious whispers.

“Wow, he got it right...is he really a delinquent?”

“He seems like a punk, but maybe he’s actually serious about studying?”

Airi beamed with pride, turning to Akira to give him a thumbs up.

Akira smiled back, rubbing his neck bashfully, before they turned their attention to the teacher who continued his lecture. “Bizarre incidents have been occurring frequently. Those are but the action of scum. We don’t need crude people like that in this school. Understand?” He stated grimly, before starting the lesson.

 

----4/12, TUESDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, SHUJIN ACADEMY

 

The classroom was already empty by the time they packed their bags, and both Akira and Airi started walking out of the class, chatting about the material they learned. Just passing through the door, they saw Takamaki Ann in front of them, checking her phone.

Airi was about to say hi to her old middle school classmate when she saw a certain teacher walk up the stairs and stop in front of the amateur model.

Kamoshida called out a greeting with a grin on his face, not knowing he had an audience. “Hey there, Takamaki! You looking for a ride home? Things have been pretty dangerous lately with all those accidents.” He offered.

Ann turned to look at him, giving him a polite smile. “Sorry, I have a photoshoot today. It’s for the summer issue, so I can’t afford to miss it…” She said, rejecting his offer.

A frown now replacing his smile, Kamoshida sighed. “Hey, now...being a model’s fine and dandy, but don’t work your pretty little self to the bone.” He lectured, placing his hands on his hips. “You mentioned you weren’t feeling well, right? Something about appendicitis?”

Ann nodded, confirming what he said. “Yes. I keep planning to go to the hospital, but I’ve been too busy...sorry to worry you.” She voiced meekly, eyes downcast.

He shifted in place. “You must feel lonely too. I feel bad for keeping your best friend at practice so often. That’s why I asked you out in the first place,” He paused, a thought hitting him. “Oh, and...be careful around that transfer student. He’s got a criminal record after all, if something were to happen to you…” He warned. "Watch out for your class president too. She's forced to deal with him, after all.

“...Right. Thank you.” Ann replied, still not looking at him directly. “Please excuse me.” She said quietly, before walking away.

Kamoshida stared at her retreating backside, drinking in the curvaceous girl with desire in his eyes, before his face twisted into an ugly sneer. “Tch.” He angrily muttered, before walking off too.

 

Airi watched what happened, worry painting her face. She bit her lip. Sexual harassment as well? To a minor at that. The list of crimes just kept getting longer. Why didn't she look into this sooner?

Akira nudged her, trying to get her attention. She snapped out of it, and gave him a reassuring smile. The two then started walking out of the building.

Just passing the gate, they were stopped by Ryuji. “Yo.” The punk greeted Akira, giving Airi a nod in her direction.

She smiled back, waving a hand in greeting.

Akira raised an eyebrow. “What’s up?”

Ryuji looked at the class president with hesitation, before walking up to Akira. “I wanna talk about that castle from yesterday.” He whispered, covering his mouth. “I tried tellin’ myself that it was just a dream...but I couldn’t do it.” He leaned back. “I can’t act like nothing happened. It’s all connected to that bastard Kamoshida, after all.” He said, crossing his arms, a frown marring his lips.

Airi looked on at their conversation, curious to what they were discussing.

Akira shoved his hands into his pockets, a thoughtful frown on his face. "Right..."

“I wanna find out what’s up with that place, no matter what.” Ryuji stated in a normal volume, his eyes silently pleading with him. “And, y’know, you’re the only person I can rely on for this stuff. So, you in?”

He looked down pensively, thinking of his options. He did want to know what was up with the Palace, and his Persona. He pursed his lips. ‘And that jail room in my dreams.’

Looking up at the punk, he nodded in agreement. “Sure, I’m in. What next?”

Ryuji pumped his fist in excitement. “Yes! I knew I could talk some sense into you.” He grinned. “I think we should just try retracing our steps from yesterday. In the meantime, you’re walkin’ to the station, right? We’ll go together.” He offered. “Lemme know if you see any other weird buildings on the way.”

Akira observed the punk, adjusting his glasses. ‘I should probably just go along with this. Maybe they could go back to that place...’

Airi, a little frustrated at being ignored for so long, interrupted. “Um, what are you two talking about?” She asked, crossing her arms.

Ryuji looked at her in surprise, as if he forgot she was there the entire time. “Senpai!” He yelped. “Uh nothin’, nothin’. Just uh...guy stuff. Yeah.” He said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.

She raised an eyebrow. Did he think she was going to believe that? “Guy stuff, huh?” She repeated. “What’s this about Kamoshida and thinking it was a dream?” Airi inquired. ‘Did they also appear at Kamoshida’s Palace..?’

Ryuji broke out in a cold sweat. “Uhhh...” He stammered. “We uh, saw him yesterday at this weird place! So...We wanted to see if he was gonna be there again!” He finished, fidgeting in place and his eyes looking everywhere but her.

Airi lifted her eyebrows. “Well, if that’s true, you won’t mind me tagging along, will you? I also need dirt on Kamoshida to officially report him.” She stated calmly, testing her old middle school classmate.

His nerves getting the best of him, Ryuji’s teeth chattered. “Uh, it’s in a really dangerous place! A girl like you shouldn’t be going anywhere near it!” He yelled, desperately trying to get her to drop it.

Airi deadpanned. She opened her mouth to retort when a hand fell on her shoulder, interrupting her. She looked up at Akira, who shook his head. She pouted but conceded. “Fine. I’ll just leave now then since I’m in the way. See you tomorrow, Kurusu-san. Sakamoto-kun.” She said curtly, before turning on her heel and walking away.

Ryuji and Akira stared after her retreating back, the former slumping down and letting out a big sigh. “Jeez, I thought she was never gonna leave.” He groaned, rolling his shoulders as if he just went through a huge ordeal.

Akira sweatdropped, and began walking toward the station, Ryuji following after him. “How do you know Kimisawa-senpai?” he inquired after walking for a couple of minutes, curious at their relationship. For all their interactions these past two days, he barely knew anything about his class president. All he could really tell was that she was kind to everyone.

Ryuji hummed. “I knew her since middle school. We used to be in the same class. I didn’t really talk to her too much...” He replied, trying to recall. “Even back then, she was class president. She’s really responsible, y’know? Always tryin’ to take care of people.” Ryuji smiled faintly. “I remember this one time,” He began with a grin. “A kid in our class got a pair of scissors super glued to his hand and started freakin’ out. I thought it was hilarious, like who does that?" He snickered. "But she walked right up to him and calmed him down, and escorted him to the nurse’s office. Senpai is just...super nice like that.”

They both stopped in front of the train station. Akira looked on thoughtfully, the new information swimming in his mind. It certainly cemented the first impression he had of her as a kind and beautiful individual. ‘A rarity in this world.’ he thought bitterly.

Ryuji spoke up. “Alright, if a huge castle like that really exists, I’m sure we’ll find it in no time.” He paused. “...When’d they build something like that, though?” The delinquent looked around, trying to figure out where to go. “We walked that way from here, right?” He pointed at an alley.

Akira shrugged halfheartedly. “Maybe.”

His face fell. “When you put it that way, I’m not so sure anymore...” Ryuji pursed his lips. Straightening up, he squared his shoulders. “All right, this way. Lemme know if you see something.” He said, heading down the alley way.

Akira turned to follow him, disappearing behind the corner.


Airi looked out from behind a nearby building, narrowing her eyes at the two, overhearing their entire conversation.

“What are you two hiding?” She whispered to herself. Are they trying to get into the Palace? Her mouth tightened and she moved to follow them, making sure they wouldn't see her.

‘I’m glad that Sakamoto-kun views me in such a positive light though.’ She thought fondly as she dodged behind another corner, observing their journey.

That story was pretty old, after all.


“Huh?” Ryuji uttered bewilderedly. They were in front of the school gates, the occasional student walking out. "We’re at school...There wasn’t anything out of place on the way, right? I didn’t see no castle either...” Ruffling his hair, he turned to face Akira. “We must’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. Let’s try again.” He stated.

The ebony haired boy looked at his companion with an expression of exasperation. “Again..?” He asked, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Don’t worry.” Ryuji reassured. “I won’t mess up this time. Let’s go.”

With that, he turned around to try a different route, the bespectacled boy trailing after him silently.

Airi watched on as the two walked away, unimpressed. They had been circling back and forth from the station to the school over and over. Straightening up from her crouch, she leaned against the wall.

‘Are they looking for the Palace? I can’t even tell anymore.’ She thought tiredly. She would just have to wait here for them. If they really are trying to access the Palace, sooner or later, they’ll end up back here. Again. ‘I just have to be patient and wait for them to catch up. Don't they have the app..?’

“For real?...” Ryuji groaned. They were back at the school again. He leaned against the gate. “Is it smaller than we think it is? What do you think?” He asked, looking over at his companion.

Akira put his hands in his pockets, trying to remember what had happened exactly. ‘I was holding my phone when we arrived...’ He thought pensively. He then looked at Ryuji, “Check on your phone.”

He sighed. “I already did that. I didn’t see anything like that around here...” His voice trailed off. ”Phone, huh..." An idea hit him then. “Hey, that reminds me-didn’t you have a navigation app thingy on, back then?” He straightened up from the wall.

Akira blinked. “Navigation app…?” He murmured, adjusting his glasses.

Ryuji kicked his shoe against the pavement. “I dunno if it was or not, but I heard stuff that sounded like one comin’ from your phone.” He stated, furrowing his eyebrows. “Y’know, didn’t it say stuff like “returned to the real world” or something like that? Lemme see your phone for a bit.” He demanded, making grabby gestures with his hands.

He hesitated, but slowly took out his phone. Ryuji snapped it up and started searching, while Akira looked at him with an unimpressed face, hand still outstretched.

“What’s this eyeball lookin’ thing?” Ryuji asked curiously, pointing at a certain app.

“Not sure.” Akira shrugged. “I can’t delete it, it just keeps coming back…”

He looked up at him with disbelief. “Wait, what?” Looking back down at the phone, he frowned. “What a weird app...Oh wait! This is it!” Ryuji exclaimed, turning the phone over to show to his companion. “This IS a navigation app! There’s even your search history! Oh man, I’m such a genius!” He praised himself, a smirk on his face.

Akira squinted his eyes at the screen, suspicious of what was dwelling in his phone. He didn’t remember typing anything. The app showed the map of their location (he didn't turn on location tracker though.) as well as the search bar. To the side was his search history and preferences.

“Let’s try it out.” Ryuji suggested excitedly. "I'm so sick of walkin' back and forth to the school."

His companion looked at him skeptically. “I dunno about this.” He said flatly. Were they going to tamper with something that couldn't be deleted?

“I’ll do it.” The punk offered, already tinkering with the app.

“Kamoshida...Shujin Academy...Pervert...Castle...” The automated voice listed. “Beginning navigation.”

“There we go!” Ryuji pumped excitedly. “Then, we just go in a certain direction, and-”

-BA-BUMP-

Chapter Text

The air around them turned purple and wavered.

Startled, Akira looked up. What was going on? Had this happened the first time around..?

Ryuji saw him move in the corner of his vision and looked up from the phone, not noticing anything else. “Hey, what’re you-huh?” He stopped, as reality around them warped. “What the hell?!” He yelped, looking back down at the phone.

The red eye on the screen wavered, sending out pulses of energy. The scenery changed from Shujin Academy to a castle that loomed over them menacingly. The usual cement building was now a stone built castle, looking as if it belonged in old European movies. The sky changed from orange to a purple-ish red, the clouds glowing ominously. A drawbridge was in front of them, inviting them in as kind as a Venus flytrap.

They stared at the building, completely mystified before Ryuji whooped. “Look! It’s the castle from yesterday!”

He ran a couple feet forward, the darkly clad boy following right behind him. He came to a stop right outside the front door, observing his surroundings. “We made it back...That means what happened yesterday was for real too...” He said, turning to look at his friend, before taking a step back in shock. “Yeargh! Those clothes..!”

Akira looked at him questioningly, then directed his gaze down on himself. Letting out a sound of surprise, he brought his right hand, clothed in a red glove, out of his pocket and examined his outfit. His clothes changed again, and he didn’t even notice.

Like the last time they were here, he was clad in a black trench coat that split into three tails, red gloves, and a turtleneck with line details. Enshrouding his legs were a pair of black cargo pants that tucked into his pointed boots.

“That happened last time too, huh?!” Ryuji asked, freaked out. “What’s with that outfit?!”

Akira shook his head. “I don’t know.” He replied hesitantly, putting his hand back in his pocket. “You jelly?” He nudged jokingly.

He sputtered in indignation. “I-I aint jealous!” Ryuji yelled. “What’s goin’ on here?! This makes no fuckin’ sense at all...”

“Hey!”

Caught off guard, the two males turned to look at who had called out at them.

A small bipedal feline with a yellow scarf on came out from behind the corner, waving at them. It waddled up to the duo, looking at them with an unimpressed expression. “Stop making a commotion.” It scolded sternly.

Ryuji took a step back. “A-ah...You?!” He sputtered.

The feline shook its head in exasperation. “The shadows started acting up, so I came here wondering what it could be. To think you guys would come back to the entrance when you barely managed to escape.” It tutted in its boyish voice, scouting the perimeter with its large blue eyes.

“What is this place? Is this the school?” Ryuji questioned, scrunching up his face in confusion.

The cat, Morgana, nodded. “That’s right.” He confirmed.

“But it’s a castle!” He shouted, stomping one foot in front of him.

“This castle IS the school.” It lectured. “But only to the castle’s ruler.”

“The castle’s ruler..?” Ryuji repeated hesitantly.

“I think you called him Kamoshida?” The cat asked, not waiting for an answer. “It’s how his distorted heart views the school.”

Akira leaned on one foot, trying to make sense of the situation with all the information their new companion gave them. Honestly, he had forgotten all about the feline in the midst of their escape. They had busted it out of a cell and it showed them the way out, so they were at least thankful for that.

“Kamoshida...distorted?” Ryuji muttered. He rubbed his head, not comprehending the situation. “Explain it in a way that makes sense!”

Morgana sighed irritatedly. “I shouldn’t have expected a moron to get it...” It said, aiming an unimpressed look toward the punk.

“What’d you say?!” Ryuji shouted angrily, sneering down at the cat burglar.

“AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

Their heads shot up, turning their gaze to the direction of the sound. Akira bent his knees, prepared for any approaching enemies. He didn't have much experience in fighting, but with Arsene at his side, he could at least stand a chance.

“W-what was that?” Ryuji questioned softly, his eyes wide from the pain heard from that outburst.

Morgana looked at them grimly. “It must be the slaves captured here.”

“For real?!” He yelped. “Oh shit...it’s for real!” He muttered to himself, taking a shaky breath. “We saw other guys captive here yesterday...I’m pretty sure they’re from our school.”

Akira looked on grimly. The news wasn’t surprising, but not welcomed. That Mishima guy from his class was probably one of them.

“Most likely on Kamoshida’s orders.” The feline stated firmly. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary; it’s like that every day here.” It turned to look at Akira. “What’s more, you two escaped yesterday. He must have lost his temper quite a bit.” It remarked grimly.

“That son of a bitch..!” Ryuji growled, his hands balling into fists. He looked downward away from the other two, his face twisted in anguish.

“Ryuji..?” Morgana questioned quietly.

Tightening his fists, the punk exploded. “This is bullshit!” Ryuji snarled. He sprinted toward the front door and slammed his shoulder into it, trying to break in. “You hear me, Kamoshida?!” He yelled out.

Morgana looked at the punk sadly. “Doing that isn’t going to open it, y’know...Still, it seems you have your reasons.”

Ryuji turned to look at the cat. “Hey, Monamona!” He said loudly.

The feline bristled, glaring at him. “It’s Morgana!” It corrected angrily.

“Do you know where those voices are comin’ from?” He questioned impatiently.

Morgana looked at him apprehensively. “You want me to take you to them?” It looked over to Akira who nodded. Kamoshida will pay for what he’s doing. “Well...I guess I could guide you there. But only if he comes with us.” It gestured to the darkly clad male.

“Let’s go.” Akira commanded.

Morgana jumped up excitedly. “It’s settled then!”

“For real?!” Ryuji grinned at the fellow teenager. “...Thanks, man.”

Morgana focused on the two of them, and gave them a smirk. “All right, let’s do this. Follow me!”

The three ran off, infiltrating the castle.

A figure walked up to where the three were just standing, placing a hand on one hip, and the other holding a scythe.

“Knew it.” Airi said smugly, her scarf fluttering a bit.

She quickly followed after them, making sure they didn’t see or hear her. ‘I’m glad Morgana is alright. I’ll have to apologize to it later for not coming back sooner.’ She thought to herself, crawling through the vent.

Hiding behind chairs, corners, and walls, she silently tailed them. She wouldn’t have lost them anyway, all she had to do was following the trail of dissipating Shadows that Morgana and Akira killed.

‘Ryuji doesn’t have a Persona?’ She questioned, still observing them from a distance. It was strange that he was here if he couldn't fight back. Could the app be messing with them? Following them further, they ended up in the dungeons where the slaves were kept.

Airi grimaced. She hated this place so much. ‘I bet a shadow version of Mishima-kun is here as well...'

She watched as the trio made their way to the Safe Room to hide from the oncoming guards. Bypassing the door, they continued on...straight to where she was.

‘Shit.’ She cursed, dodging back a hallway. When a Shadow came close, she ambushed and killed it. Walking back to the Safe Room, she heard the door open and their foot steps getting farther, and she quickened her pace.

They finally reached the training hall, she mused sadly. Ryuji’s going to be heartbroken. He had endured just like them, but he got out of it at the price of being ostracized at school.

Observing from behind a corner, she watched as Akira shot a imitation gun, knocking a Shadow onto the ground.

She hummed in amazement. ‘I should get a gun...’

Airi frowned morosely as Ryuji tried to free the slaves, but Morgana scolded him and told him that nothing here is real, and they’re all apart of Kamoshida’s cognition. Akira listened with a grim face, not saying anything. They couldn’t do anything anyway. There was no point in freeing the sports slaves, but she could see Ryuji was having a tough time admitting it himself.

 

Deciding that they were fine, Airi turned back and made her way to the foyer to wait for them. ‘I want to see the look on their faces when they realize another thief is here.’ She thought impishly, wearing a mischievous smile.

Finding a good hiding spot on the second floor on top of a bookcase, she sat and waited to make her entrance.

Instead of soft footsteps however, she heard the familiar but unwelcome sound of armor clanking. Looking down, Airi sees some shadow soldiers marching in the foyer, in the direction of the dungeon. Furrowing her brows in worry, she slowly got up.

‘Did they get caught?’ She wondered, gnawing on her bottom lip.

Chapter Text

-AKIRA POV-

“The watch post near the training hall has ceased reporting! Chances of intruder activity is extremely high! All personnel, increase security measures!”

He silently groaned. So much for sneaking out.

He readied his dagger next to Morgana, who also readied its scimitar as they waited for opposition.

Ryuji cursed, completely weaponless at this point. “Dammit!”

They snuck their way back to the entrance way, only fighting one Shadow in the process. Opening up the door, they ran up the winding staircase. “The exit’s this way! Let’s hurry!” Morgana urged, quickening their pace.

As they ran out into the foyer, they were suddenly stopped by the appearance of Kamoshida and a contingent of soldiers.

Kamoshida, clad in a giant gold crown, a white fur trimmed red cape decorated with hearts, and a neon green speedo, frowned at them. “You knaves again?” He sneered. “To think you’d make the same mistake again. You’re hopeless!”

Ryuji stepped forward. “The school aint your castle!” He exclaimed boldly. “I’ve memorized their faces real good. You’re goin’ down!”

Kamoshida smirked evilly. “It seems it’s true when they say “barking dogs seldom bite.” How far the star runner of the track team has fallen.”

“The hell are you gettin’ at?!” Ryuji glared.

The evil king started chuckling. “I speak of the “Track Traitor” who acted in violence, ending his teammates’ dreams.” He purred. “Oh, I can only imagine the pain of the others who were dragged under with your...selfish act.”

Flinching, he took a step back. “Tch..!” He grunted, frustrated that his guilt ridden memories were being brought up. Of course this piece of shit would mention that.

Akira glared at the Palace ruler. “Violence?” He asked his companion. It must’ve been due to the unfair treatment. Ryuji was a brash guy, he’d seen it plenty of times today, but he’d never pull a fist on someone unless they deserved it.

Kamoshida tsk'ed. “What a surprise. So you’re accompanying him without knowing anything at all?” He questioned smugly. “He betrayed his teammates and crushed their hopes, yet he still carries on as carefree as ever.”

“That’s not true!” Ryuji argued, anger lighting his eyes.

“You’ve come a long way with this fool and are now going to end up dead...How unlucky of you.” Kamoshida said mockingly. He gestured to the soldiers behind him. “Go. Kill them all. Don’t sully my castle with garbage.”

The shadows stepped forward in their suits of metal, before transforming into their real forms as Demon Horses. They slowly circled them in.

Ryuji narrowed his eyes in frustration. “Goddammit.” He spat, clenching his fists. He had nothing to fight with. Like always, he had to rely on others to help him. He gritted his teeth. If only he had a Persona too.

Morgana and Akira moved to shield him. “Ryuji, move!” The feline commanded, readying its weapon.

Akira dove straight in, slicing his opponent before back flipping out of an incoming attack. He stumbled back though, when he saw his attack had done little to no damage on the enemy. Another shadow sneaked up behind him and knocked him down with its horns.

He gritted his teeth, struggling to get up. Move, dammit! He yelled at his body.

“Agh!” Morgana yelped, landing in front of him in a painful heap. Kamoshida then stomped on its back, holding it in place. “Rgh...you piece of-”

Leaning on his elbows, Akira tried to get up when a soldier came up and stepped on his back, holding him down. “Ugh!” He grunted out, his face now pressed against the lush carpeting. What could he do?!

Ryuji sat where he stood, hopeless, his companions being beaten so easily in front of him. He stared defeatedly. Even with two Persona users, they couldn't beat him...

“I bet you simply came here on a whim and ended up like this, am I right?” Kamoshida sneered at the ex-track member.

“No...” Ryuji whispered, not having the strength to deny harder.

He shook his head in amusement. “What a worthless piece of trash, getting emotional so quickly.” Kamoshida smirked. “How dare you raise your hand at me. Though it was only temporary, have you forgotten my kindness in supervising the track team?”

With a twisted expression on his face, Ryuji beat the floor with his fist, the carpet absorbing the blow without a sound. “Wasn’t no practice- it was physical abuse! You just didn’t like our team!” He gritted his teeth.

Kamoshida sneered. “It was only an eyesore! The only one who needs to achieve results is me!” He declared, holding a fist up. “That coach who got fired was hopeless too. Had he not opposed me with a sound argument, I would’ve settled it with only breaking his star’s leg.” He gloated, smirking down at the punk who looked at him in shock.

Up above on one of the chandeliers, Airi looked on in disgust. ‘I can’t believe that’s what Kamoshida is wearing in his heart. Ugh...’ She cringed. Hearing him talk about what he did to the track team made her grimace, fueling her determination to help her friends.

She looked sadly down at Ryuji, who was standing there, stunned in silence. ‘So that’s what happened...’ She thought morosely. She had wondered what had exactly gone down with the track team, but had been too distracted by her own problems. Now that she knew what at happened though, maybe she could do something about it...

Snapping out of her thoughts, she stood up from her crouched position. Furrowing her brows, she readied her scythe to intervene.

Kamoshida laughed. “Do you need me to deal with your other leg too? The school will call it self-defense anyway!”

Ryuji clenched his eyes. “Dammit...Am I going to lose again?” He whispered to himself. ‘Not only can I not run anymore...the track team is gone too ‘cause of this asshole!’ He berated himself angrily. 'He broke my leg just so he could get the position! He..!'

Morgana looked at the punk sadly. “So that’s why...” It murmured.

Shifting his foot on the feline’s back, Kamoshida gestured to a soldier. “Once I’ve dealt with these two, you’re next.” He stated, looking directly at Ryuji. His expression twisted, madness seeping into his eyes as he laughed in triumph.

“Ryuji!” Morgana struggled underneath the foot.

“Stand up for yourself!” Akira yelled, still pinned underneath a suit of armor. "You're just gonna let him get away with this?!"

“...You’re right.” Ryuji whispered, getting up from his position on the floor. “Everything that was important to me was taken by him...I’ll never get ‘em back..!”

Ignoring the delinquent’s words, Kamoshida straightened. “Stay there and watch.” He smirked. “Look on as these hopeless scum die for nothing because they sided with trash like you.”

Standing up, Ryuji matched his steely gaze with acid yellow ones. “No...That’s what you are.” He declared. “All you think about is using people...You’re the real scumbag, Kamoshida!” Shakily, he took a couple of steps forward.

Unsettled, the ruler yelled out, “What are you doing? Silence him!”

Stopping, he pointed his finger at the distorted king, glaring hatefully at the reason why his dreams were stolen from him. “Stop lookin’ down on me with that stupid smile on your face!”

‘You made me wait quite a while.’

-BA-BUMP-

Eyes widening, Ryuji gripped his scalp as immense pain tore at him. Shaking from side to side, he trembled, trying to contain the pressure in his head. Something was pulsing, the beats coming faster. He couldn't tell if it was inside or outside of his body.

‘You seek power, correct? Then let us form a pact.’

He choked, saliva spitting from his mouth. Now on all fours, he violently convulsed on the carpet. Even though his eyes were wide open, he couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t feel anything except for the soul wrenching pain.

‘Since your name has been disgraced already, why not hoist the flag and wreak havoc?’

He gritted his teeth, his blunt nails digging into his scalp.

‘The “other you” who exists within desires it thus…’

Trembling now, he panted. What was breathing, what was thinking, whatwasbeing.

‘I AM THOU...THOU ART I…’

Ryuji screamed, feeling like his head was being split open.

‘There is no turning back...The skull of rebellion is your flag henceforth!’

With one final screech, Ryuji stilled. Silence reigned as everyone stared at him with bated breath.

Snapping his head up, a metal mask in the shape of a skull, appeared in a flash of blue fire, covering the whole upper half of his face. Gripping the sides as he shakily stood up, he pulled with all his might.

“ARRGHHHH!” He screamed, the mask coming off in a burst of blood.

Airi was worried. She didn’t know whether or not Ryuji was going to discover his Persona, especially in this hopeless situation, but, with great reluctance, she decided to wait it out even though Morgana and Akira were being threatened at sword point. It was difficult to stand back and watch, but she knew first hand that a person needed to confront themselves to take off that mask.

Seeing Ryuji begin to convulse on the ground though, she perked up. ‘Yes! It’s happening!’ Bending her knees, she was ready at any moment to jump down and intervene.

Airi was excited. With four Persona users, they could easily storm the castle.

In a blazing stream of blue fire, Ryuji’s power erupted, blowing away the guards and Kamoshida.

Seeing as they were now unpinned, Morgana and Akira quickly got up, readying their weapons while looking on at the power in awe.

The initial burst died down, revealing Ryuji who was now covered head to toe in a new outfit, complimenting the skull on his face. His black leather jacket fit snug around his torso, the metal spines on his back giving him extra protection from sneak attacks. Black belts crisscrossed over his black pants, elbow and knee pads at his joints. His steel toed boots stomped onto the carpet, the force leaving a lasting print. Clenching his yellow gloved hands, he grinned viciously.

A being floated behind him, using an old ship with a war head face painted on as a skateboard. With two swords crossed on its chest, a golden canon grafted on its right hand, and an eyepatch, the pirate cackled, its teeth making a clacking sound. Its blue admiral coat hugged its skeletal frame, enhancing its ribs and hip bones. Its black and red cape billowed behind it, the flames fanning the damaged fabric. Adjusting its admiral hat, it aimed the cannon toward the enemies.

Lifting his head, Ryuji gave an animalistic grin, eyes red from his awakened power.

Kamoshida shielded his face from the fierce winds. “Ugh, this one as well?!”

The newly awakened Persona user looked down at his hands, admiring his new abilities. “Right on...wassup, Persona.” He grinned gleefully. “Now that I’ve got this power...it’s time for some payback.” Cracking his knuckles, he stared down at Kamoshida. “Yo, I’m ready…”

“BRING IT!” All three Persona users got into position, ready to fight again. The guards stepped forward, transforming into Demon Horses and one Bereth, a suit of armor sitting atop of a horse.

Ryuji called out, “Captain Kidd!!” His Persona appearing behind him in a sea of blue flame. “Let’s light em up!” He said, calling down a lightning strike at his opponent.

Akira went and took out one of the minions with a stroke of his blade.

Morgana followed up with a strike, dealing more damage to the Berith. They quickly took down the enemies.
Holding himself up on his knees, Ryuji panted. “How ‘bout that?!” He yelled, snarling at Kamoshida.

Morgana gazed at him in awe. “Woah...so Ryuji had potential too..” It murmured.

Slashing his hand out, the pirate gestured at the corrupted gym teacher. “Even if you apologize now...I ain’t forgiving you!”

Kamoshida looked at him in amusement as he took a few steps forward, his heart decorated cape fluttering. “I told you, this is my castle. It seems you still don’t understand…” Snapping his fingers, more soldiers appeared, and a lieutenant at that.

Just then, a woman calmly walked up to Kamoshida, turning to look at the enemies.

“Wha-” Ryuji sputtered. “Takamaki?!”

Chapter Text

Indeed, it was Takamaki Ann. However, she was dressed in a purple leopard print bikini, wearing cat ears on the top of her head.

Morgana sighed dreamily. “Oh...what a meow-velous and beautiful girl..!” It purred, infatuated with the newest person in the room.

The woman in question wrapped her arms around Kamoshida’s, cuddling him.

Shocked, Ryuji could barely comprehend what was happening in front of his eyes. “What’s goin’ on…?!”

Akira watched the scene with a confused frown. Though he had little interaction with the model, Takamaki did not seem like she was one to do something so sickeningly submissive. “Something seems off.” He declared.

Ryuji turned his head toward him. “Yeah, now that you mention it...But why is she even here?!” He shouted incredulously.

Kamoshida then caressed the Not-Ann’s jaw lustfully.

He flinched. “Hey! Let go of her, you perv!” He shouted.

Turning his head to look at him, the evil lord smirked. “How many times must I tell you until you understand? This is MY castle- a place where I can do whatever I want. Everyone wishes to be loved by me.” He gloated. He turned to face the three thieves directly, letting go of the girl’s face. “That is, everyone besides slow-witted thieves like you.”

Ryuji turned to Not-Ann. “Takamaki! Say somethin’!” He begged.

Morgana rolled its eyes exasperatedly. “Calm down, Ryuji! It seems that girl isn’t the real one. She’s the same as those slaves- a being from Kamoshida’s cognition of her!”

Kamoshida smirked. “Are you jealous?” He asked smugly. “Well I’m not surprised. Women aren’t drawn to problematic punks like you. Not Takamaki, not Kimisawa, none of them.”

Akira furrowed his brows, frowning when Airi’s name was mentioned. He didn’t like that this disgusting pig thought of his class president like that.

“Now,” Kamoshida started. “Clean them up this instant!” He declared, walking away with Not-Ann attached to his side.
The guards that had been standing idle since summoned started approaching them, swords raised.

Morgana took a step back. “We’re outnumbered!” It shouted, trembling in exhaustion.

“Dammit, what do we do…?!” Ryuji angrily panted, gripping his bat tighter.

Akira gritted his teeth. At this rate, it seemed there was only one way out. Taking a deep breath, he readjusted his dagger. If he was going to die here, he wasn’t going down without a fight!

“It seems this is where I make my entrance.” A voice called out.

Everyone stopped and looked around, not knowing where that voice came from.

A figure suddenly fell from above, landing in front of the thieves in a stretched out position, before straightening up, their back facing them. The woman-and it was clearly a woman with those curves, turned her head to the left, looking at the three behind her.

‘Those eyes look familiar...’ Akira thought, watching avidly.

With a wink and a quirk of the lips, she turned to face the front, giving the enemies a serene smile.

“Another intruder!” A guard shouted. “Kill them all! For Kamoshida-sama!” They shouted in unison. They convulsed, turning into Demon Horses.

She smirked. With a wave of her hand, caressing her mask, a regal figure bathed in light appeared behind her. Its excess fabric billowed behind it, imitating wings, covering the exhausted group from the Shadows' eyes.

“No way! Another Persona user!?” Ryuji shouted in shock.

With a twist of her heels, the newcomer spun in place and snapped her fingers, unleashing an all out attack. The shadows screamed in agony as white light pierced their bodies, dissipating into nothing. Seeing that the threat was gone, she relaxed her stance.

The elegant lady then turned to look at her new companions with a warm smile. “Sorry I took so long.” She apologized softly. “Let’s hurry and leave.”

Taken aback after that display, Ryuji sputtered. “Wait, who the hell are you?!”

Morgana ran up to the elegantly dressed lady, eyes shining with infatuation. “My lady! You came back for me!” It purred excitedly.

Akira tilted his head. “You know her?” He asked, questions running through his mind.

The woman in question shook her head. “C’mon, before more guards come!” And with that, she ran off, heading toward the escape route.

The skull adorned punk furiously rubbed his head. “Man…!”

The three Persona users then followed after the newcomer.

Once outside, they all came to a stop, safe for the time being. Ryuji had his hands on his knees, panting. Morgana kneeled on the ground, tired, thankful to be out of the castle for the first time in a while. Akira breathed in deeply, and with his hands resting on his hips, turned to look at the woman who saved them. He didn’t get a good look earlier, but she was dressed rather richly.

She had on a long sleeveless purple and silver embroidered vest coat, a silver embroidered blouse underneath, and long deep plum silk gloves reaching up to her shoulders. Her rose colored hair was twisted into an elegant and complicated braided bun, her mask a lacy silver that gleamed in the torchlight. With black leather pants, a silver embroidered scarf, and a large diamond pendant resting on her bosom, she made an impressive vision.

“Anyways,” Ryuji panted out. “I don’t remember changin’ into this!” He gestured at his outfit.

Akira looked him over and smirked. “It looks good on you.”

He looked away, slightly embarrassed at being complimented. “Well, it ain’t as bad as your’s!”

The ebony haired male gave him an unimpressed look, offended.

Remembering they had an extra member, the pirate turned toward the mysterious woman. “And just who exactly are you?!” He interrogated, pointing a finger at the lady.

Said female raised her eyebrows. “You don’t recognize me?” She asked.

Furrowing his eyebrows, Ryuji let out a “huh?!” and turned to look at Akira, silently asking him if he knew who it was.

He shook his head. He had never seen her before, but there was something about her that was familiar.

The woman sighed, exasperated at her companions’ inattentiveness. “Watch.” She commanded

The two males stared at her questioningly.

Slowly reaching up, the woman cupped the right side of her mask and pushed it upward, exposing the left side of her face. Her wine colored eyes stared at them expectantly, waiting for them to get it.

Ryuji squinted his eyes. “Um...you DO look familiar.”

Akira blinked, examining her face closer. ‘She does seem familiar,’ He thought to himself. ‘Where have I seen eyes like those before?’

A memory flashed in his mind. A beautiful girl turned to look at him in the rain, and gave him a smile. The same girl who silently offered her textbook to him. The same girl who he talked to for hours this morning on the train ride to school. The same girl who Ryuji tried to ditch earlier.

His breath hitched. “Senpai..?” He asked softly, surprise written all over his expression.

Chapter Text

Airi gave him a warm smile, happy that he finally got it. “Yep! Took you long enough, Kurusu-san.” She said teasingly, sliding her mask back down in its rightful place.

“HUH?!” Ryuji exclaimed. He walked closer, looking at her up and down, trying to correlate the person in front of him with his usually uniform clad acquaintance. “Airi-senpai? Is that really you?” He questioned hesitantly.

She nodded happily, holding a finger in front of her lips in a secretive manner, winking at him.

Ryuji blushed at the motion, awkwardly rubbing the back of his head.

Morgana ran up to her and jumped, trusting her to catch it. "Lady Airi, you kept your promise!" The feline then nuzzled its face into her neck.

She reciprocated happily, rubbing her cheek on top of its head. "Of course, Morgana!"

Looking at the two snuggling in front of him, Akira frowned slightly. What was going on anymore. His class president and neighbor was also a Persona user? And she knew the feline?


“Did you find them?!”


The four persona users snapped to attention, looking in the direction the voice was coming from.


“No. Search that way!”


The sound of the soldiers faded away, searching elsewhere from their current location. “Soo...” Ryuji began, rubbing the back of his head. “What just happened..?”

Morgana jumped back down onto the ground and crossed its arms. “I told you before. When a Persona-user opposes a palace’s ruler and becomes a threat to them, this happens." It lectured." It’s to prevent you from being affected by distortions.”

Holding up his hands to touch his new mask, Ryuji brushed his fingertips against the cool metal. “Is this...a skull?”

“Your appearance reflects your inner self. It’s the rebel that slumbers within...Not that you’ll get it.” Morgana ribbed, a smirk on its face.

The pirate let out a big sigh, slumping his shoulders. “Nope..” He said, closing his eyes.

It jumped up, a serious expression on its face. “Then stop asking questions and accept what you see for what it is.”

Ryuji huffed. “Easy for you to say.” He retorted, then jumped as a thought hit him. “Wait, we’re in deep shit!!” He yelled out.

“Be quiet!” Airi shushed him, holding up a finger in front of her lips.

“We might’ve gotten away here, but we’re still screwed with Kamoshida at the real school...” Ryuji panicked, scrunching up his face at the thought of punishment.

“That’s quite sharp of you!...For being an idiot.” Morgana commended mockingly. “Relax. The Kamoshida in reality can’t possibly know what happens here.” It reassured. “A shadow is the true self that’s repressed-a side of one’s personality they don’t want to see.”

“So...we’re OK?” Ryuji asked slowly.

Morgana rolled its eyes. “Did the real Kamoshida remember about the execution?”

The pirate blinked and shook his head no, realization slowly dawning on him.

“There you have it.” The cat said smugly.

Slowly, a grin spread across Ryuji’s face. “Alright, now that we know that, all we gotta do is-” “Wait.” Morgana interrupted the punk. “I guided you as promised. It’s your turn to cooperate with me.”

Airi looked at it, confused. Cooperate? “Morgana?” She softly said. The two boys next to her looked at the feline with questioning looks, not expecting anything else.

“That’s why I was being super nice about teaching you idiots everything.“ It said, looking irritated, then quickly turning to Airi. “Not you though, Lady Airi! I’m glad to help you!” It interjected, smiling at her dreamily.

Sweatdropping, she smiled back.

Ryuji scratched his head. “Uh, cooperate?”

Morgana looked out to the courtyard with a serious expression. “Don’t you remember? I originally came here for an investigation.” It stated. “I told you before, Lady Airi. I’m human! I need to erase the distortion from my body and regain my real form!” It exclaimed. “That’s why we must delve into Mementos and-” “Whoa, hold up. What’re you goin’ on and on about?” Ryuji interrupted, scratching his head. “We never said anything about helpin’ you out.” He looked over at Akira, who nodded in agreement.

The feline looked at them, shocked. “Huh? Don’t tell me...Are you not going to repay the hospitality I showed you?” It turned to focus its eyes on Akira. “Especially you! You’re going to up and leave, even though you’re already part of my master plan?!”

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Akira looked at the feline questioningly. “I never promised. What plan are you talking about?” He asked.

Narrowing its eyes, Morgana exploded. “Is it because I’m not human..? Because I’m like a cat..? Is that why you’re making a fool of me?!” It then shifted its gaze at the only female, silently pleading.

Airi crouched down, gently placing a hand on its giant head. “Of course I’ll help you, Morgana.” She consoled. “You helped me out too.” She said, giving it an affectionate smile.

It gave her a hopeful look, before turning to the two males with a frown, challenging them to say something.

Ryuji rubbed his face tiredly. “We’re busy!” He complained, then walked up in front of Morgana and crouched, patting its head patronizingly. “Thanks for everything, cat. You’ve got guts, bein’ a cat and all!” He grinned. “See you around!” With that, he got up and started jogging out.

Hesitantly looking at the cat, Akira followed after him, leaving Morgana standing there with its mouth hanging open in shock.

“Hey! What the hell?! Ugh, seriously!” It shouted indignantly. “Why’re you wrapping this up like everything’s all hunky-dory?!” It narrowed its eyes in anger. Pursing its lips, the feline made to follow them. “Oh hell no! Get back here! GRAHHH!” It roared after them, leaving Airi the last person standing in the courtyard.

Holding a hand to her temple, she shook her head and sighed. ‘Boys.’ She thought exasperatedly, calmly walking after them.

 

 

“You have returned to the real world. Welcome back.” The phone stated.

Ryuji panted, straightening his back. “...Thank god. We’re back.” He sighed in relief.

Akira, who was breathing deeply with his hands resting on his hips, nodded in agreement. They breathed silently, the sounds of students leaving school filling in the background.

The punk looked up at his fellow Persona user. “I dragged you around a lot, huh?...Sorry, man.” He apologized quietly, a somber look in his eyes. He groaned, stretching his arms into the air. “Ugh, I’m dead tired. How are you holdin’ up?”

Akira shrugged. “I’m exhausted.” He replied quietly, remembering that he got his ass handed to him at the Palace. Good thing Kimisawa-senpai intervened, he thought absentmindedly, before stiffening.

Kimisawa-senpai! He hurriedly turned his head side to side, looking for the compassionate class president. 'She didn’t follow after us.' He thought, stricken.

Ryuji, not noticing his companion panicking, nodded. “Me too...Man, I’m gonna sleep like a rock when I get home.” He groaned, then grinned, looking up at the bespectacled boy. “But damn, if what we saw was for real, this is gonna get good! I totally remember the faces of the guys Kamoshida was treatin’ like slaves. Once we make ‘em fess up to any physical abuse, Kamoshida will be done.” He declared triumphantly. His expression turned into one of confusion when he saw the ebony haired student looking around frantically. “Wassup?”

Akira focused at his companion, eyes wide. “We left Kimisawa-senpai back at the Palace.” He stated bleakly.

Ryuji blanched. “Shit!” He yelped.

The two delinquents squirmed in place, unsure of what to do next.

Chapter Text

“It warms my heart that you’re both so worried for my well being.” A voice called out.

They turned to look at who it was. Walking out of the shadows was Airi, smiling at them.

Akira breathed out in relief, glad that his classmate made it out safely.

Groaning out in relief, Ryuji slumped. “You scared us, yo.”

“Sorry.” She apologized sheepishly. “But you do remember it wasn’t my first time there, right?”

The two averted their eyes, not wanting to admit they actually had forgotten.

Airi looked on at the two of them, amused at their avoidance. “Anyway, you said you remembered their faces, Sakamoto-kun?” She inquired after a moment.

Said blond nodded with a frown. “Yep. They were all members of the volleyball team. One of them’s in my class.” He replied grimly. “And it’s Ryuji, Senpai.” He added as an afterthought.

She rolled her eyes. “And it’s Airi to you. You don't have to call me Senpai.” She retorted, before turning to Akira. “You too, Kurusu-san. Please just call me Airi.” She added, looking at him hopefully.

The ebony haired student gave a small smile back, adjusting his glasses with one hand. “Then it’s Akira, Airi-chan.” He conceded. “I’ll help as well.”

She blushed a bit at the more familiar suffix.

Ryuji pumped his fist. “Yeah! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ bout!”

A thought hit her, and Airi looked up at the ebony haired teen with a worried expression. “Akira-san, if you wanted the rumors about you to dissipate, I don’t think this will help...” On one hand, having an extra person help their investigation would help move it along faster, but on the other hand, this will undoubtedly blow up in the end. If they were caught, there was no doubt he would be sent away...

Ryuji turned to his fellow male and nodded, agreeing with the class president. “Yeah, everyone already knows about you. They’ve got you pegged as a criminal...” He crossed his arms pensively.

Akira smirked slightly, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Don’t worry about me.” He stated confidently, reassuring her. It was kind of fun to skirt around authority, especially one where they were clearly abusing their power. “How did that happen though? Kawakami-sensei and Principal Kobayakawa assured me that it was going to kept from the other students.” He asked, shoving his hands in his pockets, frowning slightly.

“Kamoshida opened his damn mouth, that’s how!” Ryuji scowled, crossing his arms angrily.

“Seriously? A teacher did that?” Akira asked, raising an eyebrow.

Airi nodded. “No one else but a teacher could have known, and we already know he doesn’t like you.” She frowned.

Balling his fists, Ryuji turned and kicked the brick wall behind him. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a student or a club; that asshole just wrecks things he doesn’t agree with.” He growled. “Just like he did with me…! No one’ll take anything I say seriously.”

Airi looked at the punk sympathetically. She straightened her shoulders, a look of determination replacing her previous expression. “Still, we need to talk with the volleyball team, maybe get them to confess. After seeing Kamoshida’s heart, there’s no way we can just ignore this.”

Akira looked at her pensively for a moment, then nodded. “Of course.” Guess he'll have to talk to the other students at some point...

Ryuji whooped and pumped his fist in excitement. “I’m countin’ on you guys! Don’t worry; I’m hyped about this too!” A loud growl suddenly erupted, emanating from his stomach. He slumped. “Oh right I forgot, I haven’t eaten anything since lunch...” He muttered. “It’d be weird to split off now, so why don’t we all grab a bite somewhere?”

The Yongenjaya residents looked at each other, silently questioning their counterpart, before nodding in acquiescence.

“All right! Follow me!” He declared excitedly, grabbing his bag. “I mean, I gotta hear all about your past, dude!”

Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Akira moved to follow him, Airi falling into step next to him as they walked to the station.

“WHAT?!” Ryuji sputtered, rice splattering out of his mouth.

All three Shujin students were sat at the counter of a gyudon restaurant on Central Street. It wasn't too crowded considering the late afternoon hour, but it was enough that they were huddled together in the corner. The one employee rushed to and from the back, doling out the meals to the patrons. Other than a few quick glances from other customers, they were mostly ignored.

Akira nodded while taking another bite of his beef bowl, confirming what he just said was all true.

“The hell, man! How much shittier can that asshole get?!” Ryuji yelled, scrunching up his face in disgust.

Sitting to the left of the bespectacled boy, Airi held a hand up, covering her mouth in horror. “I’m so sorry, Akira-san...” She said quietly, her heart breaking from hearing his story. She dolefully pushed her empty bowl away. ‘He really did try to do the right thing. By saving that woman, the would-be rapist sued him for injuring him.’ What a terrible world they lived in, where doing what was considered the right thing can be punished under the law.

She frowned bitterly. It honestly wasn't that surprising these days...

Akira waved his chopsticks dismissively. “Calm down, Sakamoto-san. It’s all in the past...”

The punk tch'ed. “It’s Ryuji. And for real? If it was me, I wouldn’t calm down until I punched that dick in the face.” He declared, angry on his friend’s behalf. He continued to stuff his face with his beef bowl. “So...you left your hometown, and...you’re livin’ here now, huh?” Ryuji asked rhetorically, voice slightly muffled by all the food he was chewing. Swallowing, he paused. “We might be more alike than I originally thought.”

The bespectacled student raised a brow. “You may be right.” Akira replied, slightly quirking his lips. They both weren't well liked, either in school or in public in general.

Ryuji looked at him in surprise. “You’re the first guy who made me think that.” He grinned. His face fell, a frown marring his lips. “ I guess it’s how we’re treated like a pain in the ass by the people around us, like we don’t belong. I did something stupid at school before, too.” He finished dejectedly, continuing digging into his meal.

“Hey,” Airi interjected softly. Both boys turned to look at her questioningly. “Not anymore, OK? I fully support you two.” She stated firmly, smiling assuredly at them. "I heard earlier in the Palace what had happened, Ryuji-kun..." She looked down at her lap. "I'm really sorry I never asked how you broke your leg..."

Akira gave her a small but warm smile. “Thank you, Airi-chan.” He said quietly.

Ryuji waved her away. "Don't worry about it, it's all healed up now!" He grinned weakly. “But you know...” He looked away nostalgically, pursing his lips. “ I always thought you were too good for me, y’know? Like, you were super kind, and smart, and pretty. Everyone liked you in middle school, and they like you here at Shujin!” Ryuji explained, smile slightly bitter.

Airi’s eyes widened at his explanation.

“You worked harder than anyone else. Why should a "troublemaker" like me come up to steal your time?” He shrugged his shoulders as if it wasn’t a big deal.

The self deprecating look in his eyes gave him away though. How long did he think like this? Him not being worth her time? She pursed her lips. “As someone who I care greatly about, you can come to me anytime. I’m not worth more than anyone else, including you.” Airi stated sharply, before softening her frown. “We’re friends, right?” She asked, a smile slowly curling her lips.

Ryuji stared at her, before giving her a bright grin. “Right! Friends.” He answered, slightly tearing up. Wiping his eyes with a sleeve, he turned to Akira. “You both live in...Yongen, right?”

He nodded.

“It’s rush hour on the subways right now. I suggest you kill some time before headin’ home.” Ryuji shrugged. He looked down at the table, noticing his neighbor’s bowl. “What the hell, man. You barely touched your food.” he scolded, grabbing more ginger from the nearby container and placing it in his companion’s bowl.

Akira gave him an odd look. “What are you doing?”

He nudged him, giving him a grin. “Just lemme do it. I gotta thank you for helpin’ me.” He answered, grabbing more ginger. “Anyways, I got your back like you got mine from tomorrow on.” The punk promised, giving him a smirk.

Airi looked at the beef bowl in front of Akira with a revolted face. ‘That’s a lot of ginger..,’ She sweatdropped.

“As long as we do something about Kamoshida, I’m sure we’ll both feel better at school.” Ryuji declared. “Oh yeah! Tell me your number and chat ID. You too, Airi!”

The three Persona users pulled out their respective phones, exchanging contact information with each other.

Putting his phone away, Ryuji muttered darkly. “Just you wait, Kamoshida…”

“We should start tomorrow then. The sooner the better.” Akira proposed, checking his schedule on his mobile.

Airi nodded in agreement. “Right. First, we should find and question the people who were kept as slaves.”

“The volleyball rally’s tomorrow, huh? Shit’s recommended by Kamoshida. Makes me wanna gag.” Ryuji complained, wrinkling his nose. “But thanks to that, we got no classes in the afternoon, and we can walk around unnoticed.” He finished, a serious expression on his face.

The other two nodded in understanding.

A grin overtaking his face, Ruji grabbed the tongs and piled on more ginger on Akira’s beef bowl. “C’mon, you gotta eat more. There’s tons of ginger here.”

Sweat dropping, he slowly pushed the other boy’s arm away from his bowl, which was now completely covered in ginger.

Airi stretched and got up from her bar stool, grabbing her bag. “You two enjoy yourselves, now.” She patted her black thigh highs. “Unfortunately, I have work to get to, so I have to cut this short.” She said apologetically. “I’ll see you tomorrow!”

Akira blinked. “Where do you work?”

“I work at the flower shop down in the Underground Mall here.” She smiled. “You should come visit if you need any flowers! I work there four days a week.”

Ryuji’s eyes widened. “Whoa, you work that much? Talk about spending money.” He sighed jealously.

Airi giggled. “No, silly, it’s so I can afford groceries. Food isn’t cheap, you know.” She jokingly lectured. "How else would I eat?"

He furrowed his brows.. “Don’t your parents buy the groceries?”

At that, she averted her eyes, smile dimming slightly. “No. Just me.” She answered softly. Giving them a halfhearted wave, Airi turned and left the restaurant.

Akira stared after her retreating back, wondering what had triggered the change in her mood, before reluctantly digging into his -now mostly ginger- beef bowl.

Chapter Text

----4/12, TUESDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, SHUJIN ACADEMY

 

Two girls sat next to each other in the vending machine alcove that was out in the school courtyard, idly talking about their day. “How are you doing, Shiho? You look really tired.” Ann asked, worry shining in her eyes.

The black haired girl sighed shakily. “...I haven’t been sleeping very well.” Shiho admitted reluctantly. “Every time I close my eyes, I keep thinking about too many things.” Her dark brown eyes stared blanky at the ground. “Nationals are coming up soon, so I keep thinking...” She paused, closing her eyes. “Should someone like me really be on the starting lineup..?”

She stared at her friend with a look of sadness. “Shiho...” Ann murmured. Forcing a grin on, she pumped her arm. “Don’t worry. Just be confident in yourself!” She reassured. “Your skills have been recognized. It’s all because you work harder than anyone else!”

Shiho slowly turned to look at her best friend, face still blank. “Yeah...Volleyball’s all I have, after all...” She answered bleakly, dark eyes looking away.

Coughing awkwardly, the model switched the subject. “More importantly, was that injury OK? It looked really swollen.” Ann inquired. Her eyes slid down to the bruise on the volleyball player's elbow, just barely in view underneath her sleeve. She hadn't seen that yesterday, which meant it was new...

Shiho shook her head. “No, it’s nothing. It’s normal...Especially since a meet is coming up...”

Ann looked pensively at her, not knowing how to respond. Why was it normal for them to have so many bruises? Back in middle school, Shiho had attended the volleyball meets then too, and never got this many injuries. A bruised wrist here and a scraped knee there was all she ever got. Since the middle of last year when she had joined their high school's team, her injuries had more than tripled in less than a year...

Just then, a blue haired student came up to them, eyes downtrodden. “Sorry to interrupt, Suzui.” Mishima apologized quietly. “Um...Kamoshida-sensei told me to get you.”

"Huh?" Shiho gasped, her head shooting up with wide eyes. “ What does he want..?” She asked, fear slowly creeping into her dark irises.

He looked away. “He didn’t say...” He answered meekly, rubbing a bruised arm.

She looked down, gripping the end of her plaid skirt in trepidation. “Ann, I...”

Ann grimaced. “It’ll be fine! I bet it’s a meeting about the starting lineup or something.” She assured, trying to cheer her friend up. She knew she was lying, but what could she do? As long as she held Kamoshida's attention, Shiho wouldn't be hurt. Even if it sickened her to her core to let that man even come near her.

Shiho looked up at the half foreigner, debating with herself, before smiling. “..Yeah.” She answered softly, before getting up. “Well...I better go...” She stated bleakly, following Mishima to the sports office.

“Good luck!” Ann called out after her, pumping a fist. Once the two volleyball team members left her sight, her smile dropped. “Hang in there, Shiho..!” She muttered fiercely, running a hand through a ponytail in agitation.

 

----4/12, TUESDAY, EVENING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS, CAFE LEBLANC.

 

Arriving back at the cafe early in the evening, Akira walked in to see Sojiro sitting on one of the bar stools, reading a newspaper.

The cafe owner looked up once he heard the bell on the door ring. “...You’re home.” Sojiro stated after a moment. “I take it you actually went to school today since Airi personally escorted you?” He asked sarcastically, raising an eyebrow at the youth.

Akira frowned slightly, resigned to the fact that his guardian would be so skeptical of him. “Of course.” He answered quietly.

The older man hmphed. “I guess you learned your lesson from yesterday. Eh, as long as you aren’t getting into any trouble, it’s fine by me.” He stated apathetically, before narrowing his eyes at the student. “I don’t know what you’ve been up to, but trust me, you’ll be gone if you start causing problems.” Sojiro warned. “In case you forget, your life is not a free one right now.”

Akira nodded with a blank expression. ‘Just be patient.’ He told himself. It was something he had repeated in his mind for months since the court decision.

His phone rang, the noise penetrating the quiet calm of the cafe.

Taking it out of his pocket, he wondered who it was. On the screen, it read, “Sakamoto Ryuji,” and it was a group text message. It read, R: Hey! I decided to message you guys.
R: Can you see this?

Akira mentally rolled his eyes. Of course he could see it. He dexterously typed in “Yep” and sent it. He got a reply within a few seconds.

R: I’m counting on you tomorrow, OK?
Ak: Got it.
R: You’re a bro, man…
R: Airi, you gonna be at the rally? Wanna meet up with us?
Ai: -typing-
Ai: Yes and yes. I’ll walk with Akira-kun.
R: Gotcha. Seeya guys tomorrow!
R: Let’s save those guys who’ve been getting abused. All three of us.

He blinked. Akira-kun? Slightly blushing at the more affectionate term, he typed in a confirmation before putting his phone back in his pocket.

“Sheesh, are you even listening to me?” Sojiro grumbled, unimpressed at seeing his ward fiddle with his mobile. “Just stay away from bad influences, OK?”

Akira nodded. ‘Too late.’ He thought, bemused, before walking toward the stairs.

Setting his newspaper down, Sojiro got up and called out. “Hey, I’m gonna head home for the night.”

Akira nodded.

“I’ll lock the store up. Don’t go wandering out.”

Nodding again, the ebony haired student ventured up the stairs and put his bag down on the table. Hearing his guardian leave via the bell ringing, he let out a sigh and collapsed on the couch, closing his eyes in exhaustion. What a long and exhausting day.

Opening his eyes, he examined his room. There were still cobwebs hanging on the ceiling in front of him, trailing down and encompassing the jam packed bookcase, an old dusty blue fan sitting haphazardly at the top just threatening to fall off. To his left was a stacked work desk covered with a transparent white sheet, the tools buried under more books.

‘I should clear that soon so I can use it for work...’ He thought absentmindedly.

On his right was an empty table, and next to that was his “closet”, which consisted of a large cardboard box sent from home. It was shifted into another rack, one which held bags of coffee beans he didn’t dare to touch. His bed, the only good thing about this room, was pushed to a corner right against the windows, a beige comforter carelessly pushed to one side of the mattress.

Reluctantly getting up, he took his school books out of his bag and began his homework.

The room still wasn’t clean enough to go without shoes, making it really awkward when he finally got up to change and get into bed. Laying down on the box spring, his phone rang. Quietly grumbling, he checked to see who messaged him. It was Ryuji again.

R: That thingy on your phone was some red eyeball icon, right?
Ak: Right..?
R: We ended up at that weird place when we used this nav app, right?
R: I found it on my phone too…
R: I don’t even remember installing it!
Ak: That’s creepy. You probably can’t delete it either.
R: For real. What is this thing..?
R: Think it’s being downloaded on its own somehow?
Ai: When you’re a Persona user, your powers automatically change your phone, making it into a doorway to the Metaverse.
Ai: Or that’s how I think it is.
Ai: Sorry for the late reply btw, just got off work.
Ak: So late? It’s almost 23:00.
R: Whoa, really? So you have it too, Airi?
Ai: Yep. It’s kind of creepy.
R: It’s dangerous to use something without knowing what it is...
R:But with it, we can go to that weird place, right?
Ak: Seems like it.
Ai: We’ll have to use it cautiously. There might be more to it than just as a portal.
R: I’m counting on you two, alright? Akira, don’t go ditching school on me!
Ai: Of course! Let’s do our best and help the students!
Ai: I gtg, It’s the last train and it’s packed.
Ak: Right. Get home safely.

Flopping his arm down on the bed after holding it up for several minutes, he placed the phone on the window ledge. Putting one arm underneath his head, Akira looked through the window at the night sky, the quiet neighborhood sounds slowly lulling him to sleep.

Pulling his comforter to cover him, his last thoughts were of his new friends. ‘I wonder which house is Airi-chan’s…’ before his eyes slid shut.

Drip. Drip.

His eyes shot open and looked around.

He was back in the cell.

He sat up, holding a hand to his head, getting on his feet. The chains dragged behind him as he walked to the bars, clutching them as he stared out. The two young parole officers wearing identical outfits, Justine and Caroline, stood at attention next to his door. Their yellow eye looked straight ahead, their silver hair hidden by law enforcement caps.

“Welcome to the velvet room.” The beak nosed man greeted with a large grin, his bloodshot pupils the size of pinpricks.

“To reiterate, I am Igor.”

Chapter Text

----4/13, WEDNESDAY, EARLY MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS.

 

Like the day prior, both Airi and Akira met up at Cafe Leblanc to travel to school together. Chatting amicably on the train, they agreed to do this every school day to keep each other company on the long journey. Leaving the train station at Aoyama-Itchome, the two walked toward school, surrounded by other journeying students.

“How annoying- we’ve barely started high school, and already they’re making us play at a volleyball rally?” A first year student complained. “And why are they pitching us against the teacher team? Kamoshida’s gonna crush us.”

“We get to see his technique live and in person, though. We should totally get spiked on!” His friend exclaimed excitedly.

“Yeah, okay. You’re gonna get your face smashed in.” The first year replied irritably. “Just look at how banged up the volleyball team is. What the hell goes on in practices?”

Walking behind them were Akira and Airi, who frowned at each other. People knew that the volleyball team was in bad shape and no one was doing anything.

They walked silently the rest of the way.


“OK, listen up, everyone.” Kawakami-sensei announced. It was during what would have been considered first period. Standing in front of the class was the homeroom teacher, wearing a bored expression. “As you all know, the volleyball rally is today. Head to the gymnasium once you’ve changed. Got it?” With that, she left the room.

The room broke out in excited murmurs.

“I can’t wait to see Kamoshida-sensei! Sometimes, I still can’t believe we got an Olympic medalist as our gym teacher!” A female student gushed.

“I know right! I’m so jealous of Takamaki-san. It’s clear that she hogs him.” Another quipped.

The students congregated and left, heading to the locker rooms to change. The Yongenjaya residents waited for the class to empty before getting up, shouldering their bags, and headed toward the gym.

“How should we do this?” Airi whispered with a vague smile.

“We’ll have to wait until after some of the matches.” Akira replied with an even expression.

To anyone else looking, they would have appeared as normal students that weren’t trying to sniff out the biggest scandal of the school.

The bespectacled student separated from the class president and entered the boy’s locker room. He changed into the mandatory gym uniform for Shujin, a bright red track suit with white trim and arrow marks on the side. Leaving the jacket unzipped, showing the white t-shirt underneath, he left and headed into the gymnasium.

It was packed with students clamoring to see the medalist in action. Trying to squeeze past a couple of girls, Akira spotted Ryuji, his sleeves rolled up to his shoulders, sitting on the side near the stage. No one else sat around him, staying as far as they could from the delinquent.

Akira made his way over, giving him a nod in greeting.

“Yo.” Ryuji greeted. “Where’s Airi?”

He sat down next to his friend. “Still in the locker room, I think.” Akira replied, looking at the court, disinterested.

The two then watched boredly as Kamoshida and the staff beat every team of students that went up against them.

Yawning, Ryuji stretched his arms up. “Pretty boring, right?” He grinned.

Akira smirked in amusement. It was pretty dull to keep watching the gym teacher annihilate his students, the other teachers not really participating.

“Sorry I took so long!”

Airi jogged over and stopped, slightly out of breath. Her regular low ponytail was put up into a braided bun, similar to the one she had as a thief. Her red shorts showed off her pale skin, enhancing her long slim legs. She left her jacket unzipped with a white shirt on display, hugging her shapely curves.

Evening her breath, she sat down next to the boys. “I was held up in the locker room because I was talking to one of the girls on the volleyball team.” She whispered with an apologetic smile, hugging her knees.

Akira stared.

Why would he do anything else at this moment, he wondered distractedly, as his eyes drank in the sight in front of him. He knew that his class president was beautiful, but seeing her now out of her regular uniform and in more conforming clothes really cemented the fact in his mind.

“Did you get anything out of her?” Ryuji questioned, not noticing his companion’s silence.

Airi shook her head sadly. “No, she barely said anything.” She replied, softly frowning. “But I know abuse when I see it...”

A whistle blew, signalling that someone had scored. Looking around the gym, Airi saw Ann sitting by herself, not really paying attention to the game.

Ryuji, following where her eyes were looking, snorted. “Still sticks out...She hasn’t changed a bit.”

An idea hit her. “I’m going to go over to Takamaki-chan. She’s friends with the girl I cornered. Hopefully she knows something.” Airi informed the two, before straightening up and walking over to Ann.

The ebony haired boy continued to stare after her, mouth slightly open, his gray orbs glued to her backside. Damn. He watched the class president sit next to the model, giving her a greeting. The two chatted for a bit.

The crowd gasped, and Airi turned to see what had happened. One of the students participating in the game was on the floor, the volleyball rolling away from his face. She covered her mouth in horror.

it was Mishima.

Kamoshida stood there for a moment, staring down at the blue haired student with a frown, before crossing the court. “Hey! Are you all right?” He called out, kneeling next to the boy, pulling him up into a sitting position. He looked out towards the students. “Someone! Take him to the nurse’s office!”

Another student came up and dragged Mishima’s unconscious body away, out of the building. The students whispered to each other, uncertain of what to do.

“All right, let’s keep playing!” Kamoshida grinned, continuing the game.

Airi watched as her teammate was taken out of the building, a stab of guilt in her gut. Again, he was hurt right in front of her and she couldn't do anything. How many injuries did this make..?

Glaring at the gym teacher who brushed it off without a care in the world, she turned back to Ann with a guilty expression. “Sorry Takamaki-chan, but...I have to go make sure Mishima-kun is OK.” She apologized, getting up from her seat.

The model gave the class president a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about me. I understand!”

Airi shot her a grateful smile, before running out of the building.

Akira watched as she sprinted out of the building after Mishima. He frowned slightly. A student gets seriously injured and the teacher responsible for it just brushed it off. ‘Isn’t there anyone else in the room other than us who thought that was messed up?’ He wondered darkly.

“Hey.” Ryuji nudged him. “Let’s go.” He gestured to the doors.

He nodded and stood up, the two delinquents leaving the gym and headed to the vending machine alcove. Most of the students were still at the rally, leaving the courtyard mostly empty with only a few stragglers here and there.

Arriving at the corner, Ryuji turned to look at his friend. “That asshole’s actin’ like a king over here too...” He frowned. “Get to know each other better, my ass. It’s just a one-man show to stroke his ego." He ranted angrily. "And how he acted like he was worried over Mishima? What an abusive douche bag!”

Akira nodded in agreement, a grim look on his face. “It was messed up.” He replied, putting his hands in his pockets. The man seemed to think it wasn't a big deal that he smashed the ball right into the student's face, and none of the students other than Airi had went to help.

Ryuji sighed, slumping from his outburst. “...Anyway, now’s our chance to go look for the guys we saw were slaves yesterday. Let’s look for the faces we saw at the castle.” Curling his fists, the faux blond looked at his friend with a determined face. “I’ll be sure to find to spill about Kamoshida’s physical abuse. Just you wait, asshole...” He muttered to himself.

“Where are you searching?” Akira asked, leaning against a vending machine.

He scratched his head thoughtfully. “Hmm...The first one that popped out in my mind was a guy from Class D, so let’s start from there.” He suggested. “That’s your class. Hopefully, you can get him to talk without any issues. People have been avoidin’ me lately, so...” He paused awkwardly. “Oh wait, you’re in the same boat, huh...”

Adjusting his glasses, he nodded. “I’m probably not the best person to, yeah. The entire class except for Airi-chan avoids me.” He stated, pursing his lips. “We should probably ask her to go in with us...She’d be able to get it out of them.” Akira suggested, knowing that their chances of success were low.

“Sure, OK. She’s at the nurse’s office, yeah?” Ryuji questioned, the two of them heading off.

Chapter Text

Airi sat stiffly next to the still figure on the bed, worried out of her mind.

Mishima was still knocked out cold. His nose had bled earlier due to the force of the volleyball hitting his face, though thankfully it had just stopped. The nurse had examined him as soon as he was brought in, and she declared that he would be fine in a few hours, before leaving. The student who carried him here had also left, his job done.

She reached out and softly clasped a limp hand, mentally praying that he would wake up soon. She couldn't do anything, or rather...didn't do anything. How many injuries did this make now? She didn't even know how long this has been going on...

The office door slid open, interrupting her thoughts. She looked up and blinked in surprise when she saw it was her two fellow Persona users. She tried to give them a smile as a greeting, but ended up grimacing.

They walked up to the bed, giving Mishima pitying looks. “How is he?” Ryuji asked quietly.

Airi shook her head. “The nurse said he’ll be fine in a couple of hours, but I’m worried...” She replied, biting her lip. “Mishima-kun has been part of the volleyball team since last year. He might not last much longer like this...” She gazed down sadly, taking her hand back and placing them on her lap.

Clenching his fists, he gritted his teeth. “Fucking Kamoshida.” He spat. He turned on his heel and headed to the door.

She blinked. "Where are you going..?"

“I’m gonna go find those guys. I’ll text you when I got one.” He stated, before sliding the door open and walking out, sealing the room behind him.

The two classmates were now alone, barring Mishima who was still unconscious.

The bespectacled student turned back to his class president. “Are you OK?” Akira asked quietly.

Biting her lip, Airi shrugged halfheartedly. “I don’t know. I wish I could do more for him...” She trailed off. "I feel so guilty..."

Dragging another stool up, Akira sat down next to her, offering his company. “Do you know him well?” He inquired curiously.

“Not exactly...”She replied uncertainly. “This might sound kind of patronizing, but he's pretty innocent for a teenager, and undeserving of this. Seeing him injured is like seeing someone kick a puppy for fun.” She explained, her face scrunching up in disgust at the thought.

Akira chuckled at the explanation, amusement dancing across his features.

They sat in silence for a brief moment.

Slowly lifting his hand, he placed his on top of her's.

Blinking in surprise, she looked up at him quizzically.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Akira reassured, giving her a soft smile.

She stared at him for a moment, before relaxing. Giving him a watery smile, she uttered a soft “thank you”, before averting her gaze, lost in her thoughts.

They sat together in silence, him never removing his hand from her’s.

“Ngh…”

Snapping their heads up, two pairs of eyes focused on the bedridden patient, who was starting to twitch. With a groan, dark brown eyes slid open, gradually regaining clarity. Mishima Yuuki regained consciousness.

Airi breathed out a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad you’re alright, Mishima-kun.”

The blue haired boy slowly turned his head to look at her. “Kimisawa-senpai..?” He breathed out, taking a long blink.

She smiled and nodded, eyes moist with relief. "How are you feeling? Does anything hurt? I can get you some ice..."

Shakily pushing his arms, Mishima sat up on the bed. “What happened?...” He asked, holding a hand to his head, wincing as it throbbed painfully under his palm.

“You were knocked out by Kamoshida.” Akira answered, retrieving his hand and standing up. He put his hands in his pockets, observing his classmate for any more signs of injury.

Mishima jumped. “Kurusu! You’re here too...?!” He shouted, looking at him with wide eyes before groaning, holding his head in pain.

Airi grabbed the painkillers and the cup of water from the side table, offering them to the bedridden teen. “Here, this will help.” She offered gently.

He took the items gingerly, before washing down the pills. He exhaled, placing the empty cup back onto the side table.

She glanced at Akira, silently questioning if she should continue. He nodded. Turning back to their bedridden classmate, Airi softly called for his attention. “Mishima-kun, please be honest with me.” She requested firmly. He looked up at her questioningly. “Is Kamoshida abusing you and the volleyball team?”

Dark brown eyes widened at the question, and he waved his hands frantically in objection. “No! No. N-Nothing’s wrong. I got hurt because I wasn’t paying attention, and...” Mishima stammered, then stopped. He clenched his eyes, gritting his teeth. "He isn't..."

Airi grasped his hand with her own, brow furrowed. “Please, Mishima-kun.” She pleaded. “We can help.”

Gripping the bed sheets with the other hand, he bit his lip, and jerkily nodded. “OK.” He whispered.

Letting out a sigh in relief, she gave him a grateful smile. “Thank you. I'm sorry if we're making you uncomfortable...Does anyone else outside of the volleyball team know about this?”

He nodded. “All the parents and faculty know.” He answered curtly, his eyes staring ahead blankly.

Her eyes widened. “All of them..?” She asked shakily.

He nodded again. “Mine does. They don’t care.” He added quietly.

Airi let out a trembling sigh, unsettled by what he confessed. So it was true. The parents all knew. Why haven't they done anything? Did they not care at all..?

A hand landed on her shoulder. She looked up at Akira, who’s hardened gaze bore into their bedridden classmate. “Is there anything you could tell us that could definitely incriminate him?”

Mishima slumped, a scowl marring his lips. “What would it matter? Everyone sees us with these injuries and brushes it off. They don’t care. He can’t get caught.” He answered defeatedly. "We'll be stuck like this until we graduate..."

Just then, a phone rang out, the shrill noise penetrating the tense atmosphere in the room. Taking it out of his pocket, Akira answered. “Yeah?” He said into it.“Yo. I found the guy, he’s in your classroom. Hurry up here!” Ryuji replied. “Got it.” He answered, before ending the call. He moved to leave the room, Airi getting up to go with him.

“Wait!” Mishima called out. The two Persona users turned to look at him. “Please...don’t tell anyone that I told you all of this.” He pleaded, his shoulders trembling in fear.

Airi softened her eyes and gave him a warm smile. “Don’t worry,” She reassured him. “He’ll pay for this.” Akira nodded in agreement.

The two then left, sliding the door behind them. Dark brown eyes stared after them, a small glimmer of hope flashing before disappearing behind the smog of despair. "How can you be so sure..?" He asked the empty room.

The school outcast and the class president quickly made their way back to their classroom, crossing through the courtyard and up a flight of stairs. Ryuji was leaning against the wall next to the entrance, tapping his feet impatiently. Straightening up, he pointed into the room at a heavily bandaged up student. “Him. He was the first one we saw.” He stated quietly.

The three entered the room and made a beeline to the specified person.

Hearing footsteps coming up to him, the volleyball team member turned around to see who it was. He jumped in shock. “Ack! A-Are you skipping out on the volleyball rally? I guess I expected it from you, Transfer, Sakamoto.” He remarked rudely, looking at the two outcasts.

Said transfer looked back with slightly narrowed eyes, annoyed at the minor slur.

The injured student then turned to Airi and looked at her in shock. “You too, Senpai?” br />

She directed a polite smile at him. “Please don’t tell on us, Tsukishima-kun."

Said male looked back at them, suspicious clouding his eyes. “What do you guys want..?” He asked slowly, inching backwards.

Taking a step forward, Akira’s eyes focused on his bandaged head. “How did you get injured?” He inquired.

Tsukishima scrunched up his face. “It’s from practice! What does that have to do with anything?” He asked defensively, eyes starting to dart around nervously.

“Kamoshida did that to you, right?” Ryuji interjected, also taking a step forward. “Look, we ain’t gonna tell anyone you squealed.” He reassured. “Just tell us about how Kamoshida’s abusin’ you.”

The brown haired student took a step back, away from the intimidating delinquents. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about!” He exclaimed shakily, a bead of sweat rolling down his face and hitting his bandages.

Airi stepped forward, clasping her hands in front of her. “Please, Tsukishima-san. We need you to testify.” She pleaded softly. "We know."

“You...you know? You have proof?” Tsukishima squawked, face slacken at the information. He shook his head furiously, glaring at them. “This is ridiculous. Please, leave me alone. You’re really bothering me!” The volleyball member snapped, clearly done with the interrogation. He turned away, letting them see his back.

Rubbing his head in frustration, Ryuji turned to his friends. “Alright, let’s just go.”

The three walked out into the hallway. “Crap. If we keep goin’ at this pace, the ball game’s gonna end.” Ryuji cursed.

Adjusting his glasses, Akira shifted in place. “Let’s split up.” He offered. “It’ll be faster.”

The punk grinned. “Right. I’ll check the Practice Building for people before clubs start. You handle the Classroom Building.” He declared.

“I’ll check the courtyard as well as the girl’s bathrooms and locker room.” Airi added with a determined look.

The three nodded to each other and split up.

Heading toward the courtyard, Airi walked down the flight of stairs to the first floor. Turning the corner, she quickly took a step back, seeing Ann with the girl she questioned earlier, Suzui Shiho, standing near some lockers.

It wasn't an unusual sight to see the two together since they were best friends. The model clung to the volleyball player like a safety net, always sticking close to her one and only companion in the school. While Airi and her were on good terms, the class president had been much too busy to really reconnect with her old middle school classmate, leaving the half foreigner with only one real friend to talk to. She felt bad about it, but hopefully once this Kamoshida issue was solved, they could hang out once in a while.

Peeking out from the corner, Airi watched as the two conversed to each other.

“Everyone’s saying a lot of bad stuff about that transfer in your class, Ann...” Shiho remarked, tucking a few black strands behind her ear.

Her companion grunted in agreement. “I know. I hate rumors already, but they’re only getting more and more complex as time goes on.” Ann replied, twirling her ponytail agitatedly.

“I wonder if he’s alright...I hope he’s not letting it get to him too much.” The volleyball member murmured, lips pursed in worry.

She sighed. “That’s just like you, Shiho. Always worrying about others before yourself.” Ann shook her head exasperatedly before grinning. “Don’t worry, I’ve seen him around with Airi-senpai. She’ll make sure he’s OK.”

Shiho blinked. “"Airi-senpai"? You mean Kimisawa-san, right?”

She nodded. “Yep. Don’t you remember her?” Ann asked curiously, tilting her head to the side.

Hesitantly, the black haired girl nodded. “Yeah. She asked me how I was when we were both changing in the locker room...She said she was worried about me.”

Ann giggled. “That’s just like Senpai. She probably saw you looking down and thought, "I have to cheer her up!"”

Shiho looked at her in surprise. “But she doesn’t even know me! We weren’t in the same class in middle school..!” She exclaimed. "Why would she care so much..?"

“Well...” Ann drawled. “It’s a lot like how you were for me, remember?” She grinned warmly.

Smiling fondly, Airi continued on her way out the courtyard, taking another route. ‘Takamaki-chan still thinks so highly of me...’ She thought happily. ‘And Suzui-san, now..! She’s just like…’ She shook her head. ‘Don’t think about it.’

Chapter Text

“Attention...Attention...All matches have concluded. Please get ready to go home for today...”

Akira bit back a curse. He had only just started questioning a first year volleyball member when the announcement rang out.

The first year ran away down the hall, , taking the opportunity to escape from the scary transfer student.

His phone buzzed. Turning around the corner, he leaned against a wall next to the stairwell and unlocked his phone.

R: Dammit, we’re outta time. How’d it go?
Ak: No good.
R: So you didn’t have any luck, either…
Ai: Sorry. I almost got something, but the girl ran away.
R: Let’s regroup for now. See you in the courtyard?
Ak: Sure.
Ai: Already here.

He put his phone away and pushed himself off the wall. Yet another failure.

Walking down the stairs, he crossed the courtyard into the vending machine alcove. He saw Airi sitting on one of the benches with a drink in hand, looking morose with herself. 'She changed back into the regular uniform.' He thought, slightly disappointed.

He walked up next to her and sat down, taking a breather after their wild goose chase. They had spent the rest of the day trying to corner their fellow students, and it all ended in failure. How was it that no one wanted to bust the teacher that was physically and verbally abusing people?

They sat in silence for a bit, but it was broken by the arrival of Takamaki Ann who walked up to them, still in her gym uniform. “Hey. Can I talk to you guys for a sec..?” She asked hesitantly.

Akira tilted his head, looking at her. “What is it?”

Airi looked at her curiously.

The model crossed her arms. “It’ll be quick.” She assured them. “What was up with you? Like, how you were late the other day and all.” Ann grilled. “We both saw you in the morning, on the way to school.” She gestured to Airi and herself. “So you should’ve gotten here on time...And there’s that rumor about you, too.”

“Whaddya want with him?” A voice snapped. The three members of Class 2-D turned around to see Ryuji stomping up to them, glaring at the blonde.

Ann glared back at him, irritated at the interruption. “Right back at you. You’re not even in our class.”

Ryuji looked away. “...We just happened to get to know each other.” He answered awkwardly.

Putting her drink down, Airi walked up to the two with her hands out. “Please, let’s not fight.” She soothed the two. She had had enough of this back in middle school, especially during that project. That argument had went on for hours...

Ann looked at her guiltily, but held her stance, crossing her arms. “What are you guys planning on doing to Kamoshida-sensei?”

“Oh I see, I getcha.” Ryuji narrowed his eyes, glaring at her. “You’re all buddy-buddy with Kamoshida after all.”

“This has nothing to do with you, Sakamoto!” She scowled/

He hmphed. “If you found out what he’s been doing behind your back, you’d dump him right away.” Ryuji declared, clenching his fists.

Taken aback, Ann flinched. “Behind my back..? What’s that supposed to mean?” She asked, looking at the three curiously.

The two boys glanced at each other, silently questioning each other. Akira shook his head. They shouldn't involve anyone else.

Ryuji nodded before turning back to the half foreigner. “You wouldn’t get it.” He said shortly.

Airi closed her eyes and sighed. Boys.

“Well, whatever.” Ann retorted. “I don’t know what you guys are trying to pull, but no one is gonna help you." She looked down dejectedly. "I’m warning you, just in case.” She finished quietly, before turning to leave.


Furrowing her eyebrows, Airi followed after her, calling out her name. “Takamaki-chan! Wait!”

Ann turned around, blinking in surprise. “Senpai?”

Biting her lip, Airi leaned in close while covering her mouth from any onlookers. “Please, keep a close eye on Suzui-chan...I saw several bruises on her earlier in the locker room.”

She flinched back. “What?”

Airi nodded. “The one on her lower back looked suspiciously like a hand print... A large male one.” She bit her lip, her eyes pleading at Ann to understand.

The blonde took a step back, staring at her with wide eyes before nodding faintly. "Right..."

Airi sighed in relief. “And it’s just Airi, Takamaki-chan. We’ve known each other for four years, after all.” She added, shooting her a fond smile.

The model pursed her lip and shook her head. “I don’t know if I believe you, but I’ll keep a closer eye on her." She smiled impishly. "And it’s Ann to you then, Airi-senpai.”

They both giggled.

“Well, I’m off then. I have a shoot to get to.” She stated apologetically.

Airi waved her off. “Don’t worry about it. Good luck.” And with that, they parted.

Airi walked back to the alcove where Akira and Ryuji were waiting, shooting them a sheepish look, before sitting down and grabbing her drink.

Gray eyes darting between the two, his brow furrowed. “How do you know her?” Akira asked them both.

With a roll of his eyes, Ryuji opened his mouth. “We all went to the same middle school.” He replied curtly, taking a seat next to the class president. Akira made to sit down as well, the three occupying the bench. Now that school was over, not a lot of people stuck around, so only one or two students wandered the courtyard.

“Anyway, I had no luck.” Ryuji began, leaning back against the seat. “Did anythin' like someone’s name turn up?”

He nodded. “A first year mentioned that Mishima was getting special coaching from Kamoshida.” Akira stated.

Airi grasped her chin thoughtfully. “So what he said earlier was true...”

Ryuji looked at her questioningly. "Who?"

“After you left the nurse’s office, Mishima-kun woke up.” Airi explained, taking a swig of her drink. “I begged him to tell me what was going on, and he told us that all the parents and faculty know about this.” She finished, eyes darkened. "They aren't doing anything..."

He stared at her incredulously. “Are you fucking serious?!” He growled, clenching his fists.

Akira looked at him sharply. “Hey!” He admonished the punk.

Ryuji flinched. “Right... Sorry, Airi.” He apologized, rubbing the back of his head guiltily. "Didn't mean ta curse at ya."

Shaking her head, she gave him an understanding smile. “Don’t worry about it. I’m angry as well.” Airi replied. Getting up, she threw away her finished drink and turned to the two males. “We should go see if Mishima-kun is OK. He’s our only lead right now.”

The two delinquents nodded in agreement, and the three walked around searching for their bruised classmate.

They finally found him near the snack store, preparing to leave school. He seemed downtrodden, his head held down as he dejectedly walked toward the entrance. There was the occasional student leaving as well, the school building slowly emptying out.

“Mishima-kun!” Airi called out, running up to him, the two outcasts following behind her.

The blue haired boy turned to look at her. “Oh, senpai.” He greeted quietly, giving her a minuscule smile.

“Are you feeling better?” She inquired softly, her concern for the injured classmate welling up. He didn't look any better, in fact, there were now bags under his eyes from being knocked out earlier.

“Did Kamoshida give you all those other injuries?” Ryuji asked brusquely, looking him up and down.

Eyes darting around, looking at all the people still in the building, Mishima shook his head. “They’re from practice..! I’m just not very good at volleyball.”

The three looked at him disbelievingly. They didn't believe a single word he said, especially when he had already confessed in the nurse's office. Why was he still denying it?

“What’s going on here?”

The four students stiffened, turning to the new voice.

Kamoshida walked up to them, looking down at Mishima disapprovingly. “Mishima, isn’t it time for practice?”

Said boy took a step back, looking away. “I-I’m not feeling well today...” He answered meekly, his hands trembling around the handle of his bag.

Resting his hands on his hips, Kamoshida frowned. “What? Maybe you’re better off quitting then. You’re never going to improve that crappy form unless you show up to practice.” He remarked callously.

Ryuji glared at the teacher, walking up to him with clenched fists. “Didn’t ya hear? He ain’t feelin’ well!”

Kamoshida ignored him. “Well, Mishima? Are you coming to practice or not?”

“...I’ll go.” He reluctantly acquiesced, hanging is head defeatedly.

Airi looked at him worriedly. “Mishima-kun, are you sure?” She whispered to him. Was he really going to willingly walk back into that hellish nightmare?

He didn’t respond, his dark eyes staring blankly at the floor.

“As for you.” Kamoshida began, looming over the punk. “Any more trouble and you’ll be gone from this school for sure.” He threatened, glaring down at him past his nose.

“Tch, bastard...”Ryuji muttered angrily, reluctantly taking a step back.

The gym teacher’s eyes zeroed down at Akira. "Same goes for you. Didn’t the principal tell you to keep in line?”

Said male placed his hands in his pockets, face unreadable. ”I was just leaving.” He replied shortly.

He sneered. “Well, just don’t get in the way of my practice. All these unsettling rumors are making the students anxious, after all.”

The punk narrowed his eyes at the remark. “That’s your own goddamn fault.” Ryuji muttered.

Turning to face the only girl in the group, Kamoshida gave her a grin. “Kimisawa, you shouldn’t be hanging around these delinquents.”

She blinked, taken aback by the 180 in his attitude. Was he...flirting with her?

“If you want, you can come watch the practice!” He offered, grinning down at her in a playful manner.

She glanced over at her friends, unsure of how to respond. How do you reject a teacher who could technically be sexually harassing you..?

Ryuji looked at the teacher disgustedly. Akira furrowed his brows, anger flashing in his dark stormy eyes.

“Um...” Airi began, eyes darting around. “Thank you for the offer, Sensei, but my shift starts soon.” She replied apologetically, giving him a polite smile. There, that should be fine, right..?

“Another time then.” Kamoshida sighed, leaning back. “Let’s go, Mishima.” He turned to walk away, but paused. “Shujin Academy is a place where those with aspirations come to learn. Unworthy students like you, don’t have any right to be here. Get with the program!” Kamoshida declared, glaring at the three males.

“Yes, sir.” Mishima replied quietly, keeping his head down.

Narrowing his eyes, the teacher left, walking back to the gym.

Ryuji clenched his fists. “That asshole’s gonna pay for this..!” He declared quietly.

“It’s no use...” Mishima interjected. “Proving that he’s physically abusing us...is meaningless. Everybody knows. The principal, our parents...They all know, and they all keep quiet about it,” He finished quietly.

“But Mishima-kun, if we can get more people to prove he’s doing this, we can go to the authorities.” Airi protested, furrowing her brow. "Don't you want this to stop?"

He clenched his bag tighter, glaring at the three in front of him. “...Don’t be a pain. You don’t understand what I’m going through.” Mishima argued, locking his eyes with Ryuji’s. “Shouldn’t you of all people know that nothing’s going to help..!?”

Taken aback, the punk flinched.

Taking the opportunity, Mishima fled, running toward the gym. A drop splashed against the wooden floors, a tear streaming down his face as he furiously rubbed his eye.

Biting his lip, Ryuji lifted his hands in a strangling motion, before letting it go limp. “Dammit...” He muttered, watching the volleyball player run away.

Akira turned to look sympathetically at him. "What now..?"

Slumping, the punk looked down. “...I’ll try one more time to persuade the other guys. That’s...all I can do.” Ryuji replied quietly.

The three Persona users stood in the hall silently, each trying to figure out a way to help the situation.

How could the adults, the ones children were supposed to trust, allow this to happen?

Chapter Text

----4/13, WEDNESDAY, EVENING, CAFE LEBLANC.

After finishing his school work for the day, Akira changed into his sleepwear and got into bed. Shujin Academy was a lot tougher than his old high school, most likely because it's in Tokyo and that it was an elite institution. Why did this place accept him? All the rumors about him would only drag their reputation down...

Just as he closed his eyes, his phone rang. His eyes snapped open, laying there for a moment with a blank face, before he reluctantly reached out and grabbed his mobile. This was going to happen everyday, wasn't it...

R: This doesn’t make sense.
R: The principal and even the parents know about the abuse.
R: But why ain’t anybody speaking up?!
Ak: They don’t care that it’s happening.
Ai: I don’t like thinking like that, but it’s most likely true...
R: That can’t be true!
R: It’s basically because Kamoshida made the volleyball team famous, yeah?
R: Even so, that don’t give him the right to do what he wants!
R: He’s beating kids up, and all they’re allowed to do is endure!
R: And that follower of his doesn’t give a single shit...
Ak: Who are you talking about?
Ai: Are you referring to Ann-chan?
R: Yeah.
R: Wait, you call her Ann now?
R: When did this happen?
Ai: Today, but Ryuji-kun, I think you’ve got it all wrong.
Ai: Akira-kun, do you remember when you first met her?
Ak: Yeah, under the awning. Kamoshida picked her up.
R: See? She’s just so in love, she can’t see the real him.
Ai:No. She isn’t. If she was really in love, she wouldn’t have looked scared about getting in the car with him.
R: ...Whatever. I’m gonna try to find someone who knows about what’s going on with Kamoshida during break tomorrow.
R: Just you watch, I ain’t giving up!
Ai: Good luck, Ryuji-kun.
Ak: Tell us how it goes.

Flopping his arm on the bed, he stared tiredly at the wooden ceiling, his eyes burning for relief. He felt like he had seen too much today, like a gym teacher spiking a student right in the face and no one but them cared.

Pulling up his comforter, he laid on his side. ‘I still don’t know where Airi-chan lives…’ He thought absentmindedly, drifting off to sleep.

 

 

----4/14, THURSDAY, EARLY MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

 

 

Akira waited outside the cafe, fiddling with his phone. It was a little earlier than they had scheduled, so he wasn’t surprised to see that Airi hadn’t arrived yet. The early morning sunlight shined gently onto the streets, reflecting off his glasses. The older folk who lived in Yongenjaya were strolling about, basking in it.

Following their example, he lifted his head up and closed his eyes. Feeling the warm rays on his face, he let out a content sigh. It was nice to feel the sun since they were stuck in a classroom for hours. At least one thing stayed constant.

“Good morning, Akira-kun! You look well today.”

Opening his eyes, he turned his head to smile at the arrival of his classmate and friend. "Good morning."

Airi smiled back, walking up to him. The two then headed toward the station to go on their way to school.

Walking on the streets of Aoyama-Itchome, they overheard two students who were ahead of them.

“Did you see Kamoshida-sensei play yesterday? He was so awesome!” A female student gushed. “I think I might ask for his autograph after school.”

“I dunno if that’s such a good idea...I hear you shouldn’t go near the P.E. office.” Her friend replied nervously. “People say you can hear weird sounds, like screaming, even though no one’s there…”

“What? That’s probably just a rumor spread by fans to scare the competition.” The female student dismissed.

Akira and Airi glanced at each other, stunned from what they were hearing.

The entire school really did know then, they just hadn't realized it.

 

During Ushimaru-sensei’s lecture, two phones buzzed. Discreetly taking them out, the two Yongenjaya residents looked at their screens.

R: So about witnesses…
Ai: Pay attention to class, Ryuji-kun.
R: I can’t, OK. All I can think about is socking Kamoshida in the jaw.
R: Did you get anything out of Takamaki yesterday?
Ai: No, she was busy. Why?
R: I was wondering if we can get something out of her.
Ak: Because she’s with Kamoshida?
AI: Is it because she’s friends with Suzui-san?
R: Yes to both!
R: Since she’s best friends with someone on the volleyball team, she probably knows something.
R: I tried to talk to that girl during break, but got nothing.
Ai: She doesn’t really…
Ak: How so?
Ai: The girl who I was talking to in the locker room yesterday was Suzui-san.
Ai: I had to tell Ann-chan that she had a giant bruise in the shape of a hand on her back.
Ai: She almost didn’t believe me. So I don’t think she knows anything.
R: A giant bruise?...
R: Maybe we could ask Takamaki to ask her?
Ak: It’s certainly possible.
R: Then again, I guess it’d be hard getting her to help us.
Ai: Should I try?
R: Not yet, lemme try finding something else.

The two put their phones away, locking eyes for a moment, before turning back to the lesson. What could they do?

 

 

----4/14, THURSDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, SHUJIN ACADEMY COURTYARD.

 

 

“Shouldn’t you be heading to volleyball?” Ann inquired, looking at her friend. They were in the courtyard again, sitting on a bench in the vending machine alcove. ‘If what Airi-senpai said is true, then...I don’t know what to do.’ She thought despondently.

She didn't want to face it. It would mean that her friend had been suffering for over half a year, and hadn't told her about it. Even worse was that she hadn't done anything to help other than to try to distract the gym teacher with the thought of her body. Just thinking about it sent a shiver down her spine. She hated him so much...

The volleyball member nodded dispiritedly. “Uh-huh...”

Blue eyes narrowed, observing the black haired girl closely. “That bruise above your eye...Is that from practice, too?” Ann asked hesitantly. It was definitely new.

Dark eyes darting around, Shiho nodded jerkily. “Y-yeah...”

Ann's eyes widened and looked at her friend in worry. “Are you sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard?” She pressed further. Please, just say it. Let me help.

“I’m OK...Volleyball’s the only thing I can do right...” Shiho stated defeatedly.

Just then, Ann’s phone rang out. Glancing at her pocket, she ignored it, knowing exactly who it was. She had assigned a specific ringtone to his number so that she could ignore it.

“Shouldn’t you answer that?” Shiho asked confusedly.

“It’s probably just my part-time job...I think.” Ann dismissed.

They sat there quietly for a bit. “I...should get going.” The black haired girl said reluctantly.

Her friend stared at her worriedly. “Shiho...” Ann whispered. Say it. Just say it. “...Are you sure you’re OK?”

The volleyball member nodded. “Uh-huh.” Shiho replied blankly, before getting up and walking away.

Ann stared at her retreating back, concern shining in her eyes. “She lied to me...” She whispered to herself. She wasn't going to tell her...

Her phone rang again. With a groan, she picked up the call. “Hello?” She said. “Today won’t work...I’m...I’m not feeling so good. “ She replied bleakly. “Sorry...bye.” Hanging up, she gripped her phone. She was so sick of this. How long did she have to play the bimbo...

Taking a deep breath, she typed in a text message.

An: I believe you.
Ai: Did something happen to Suzui-san?
An: No...Yes. I don’t know anymore.
Ai: Can we meet up soon?
An: Sure.

 

 

Walking toward the courtyard to meet up with Ryuji and Airi, he spotted a lone girl in Shujin gym clothes. ‘That looks like Volleyball gear.’ He contemplated, before walking up to her.

She was staring at her phone blankly, not moving from her spot in front of the doors. She seemed to be contemplating something.

He stood nearby with his hands in his pockets, waiting for her to notice him.

Blank eyes glanced up. “...What?” She said quietly. “Oh...I’m in the way, aren’t I? Sorry...”

Gray eyes narrowed slightly behind glass, focused on the large purple bruise on her eyebrow. “Are you hurt?” Akira asked softly. Was she also being abused? Or was it even worse...

Flinching, the girl hugged herself. “Um, well...” She stammered, looking away, before looking back at him. “Hm? You don’t look familiar...” She tilted her head. “Could you be that transfer student from 2-D?”

He nodded, noticing the subject change but had let it slide.

“Um, this might not be any of my business, but don’t let the rumors get to you, OK..?” She quietly bolstered. "I know you're friends with Kimisawa-senpai, so hopefully they'll die down soon..."

Giving her a small smile, he nodded again. “Yeah. They don’t bother me."

The girl nervously tucked her hair behind an ear. “I’ve helped with this situation before...My best friend is often misunderstood too, because of her looks.” She paused. “Ah. Sorry, I didn’t mean to drag on like that. Anyway, I have to go to practice...I’ll see you around.” Giving him a slight bow, she sidestepped him and walked away.

He stared after her pensively, before resuming his walk out. She seemed OK for someone who seemed beaten down, but he shouldn't think that. He didn't really know her, but he appreciated her kind words. They were a rarity in this school.

Arriving at the alcove, he saw that Ryuji was already there, furiously pacing back and forth.

“Dammit. What the hell...” He muttered, scrunching up his face in frustration.

Already knowing the answer, Akira walked up to him. “Did you find someone?”

He sighed. “Is that what it looks like?” Ryuji retorted sarcastically. Slamming his fist into the vending machine, he ducked his head, glaring at the ground. “All of them kept sayin’ the same shit that Mishima talked about..!” He gritted his teeth. “Kamoshida had to have told ‘em something!”

Slumping, he looked over at the transfer student. “At this rate… it looks like we’ll have to go to him directly.” Ryuji stated grimly.

Akira gave him a pitying look. They wouldn't be able to win. “There’s no point.”

“I know...” He replied softly, furrowing his brows in frustration. “But isn’t there something we could do? No way am I gonna leave it like this!” He declared desperately. “Can you think of anything?”

Tapping his chin, the bespectacled student thought of what they could do now. “Have we asked Airi-chan?”

He perked up. “Oh yeah! Where is she, anyway?” Ryuji asked, looking around to try to find the class president.

Shrugging, Akira checked his phone to see if he had any new messages from her. He did. Opening up the text, he read it out loud.

Ai: I’m really sorry but I’m going to be late.
Ai: Kawakami-sensei had to talk to me.

“What?” Ryuji sputtered. “Well,let’s just wait for her. Any other ideas?”

He bit his lip. Should they? Nothing else was working. Akira looked up at his friend with a serious expression. “Let’s punish the king.” He declared.

“The king..? You mean that other world’s Kamoshida?” Ryuji questioned, eyes wide with shock. “I didn’t think of that...” He trailed off. “Is there any meaning to-”

“I finally found you...”

Chapter Text

Confused, the two outcasts looked around.

“Uh, did you say something?” Ryuji questioned. Akira shook his head.

A black and white cat, wearing a yellow collar, walked up and jumped on the table in front of them. “Don’t think you can get away without paying me back for helping you.” It declared, slowly waving its tail.

Staring wide-eyed at the strange scene in front of them, they took a step back in shock.

“That voice...Is that you, Morgana?!” Ryuji yelped, gazing at it incredulously.

The cat shook its head at them disapprovingly. “How dare you, up and leaving me the other day!” It chastised, glaring up at the two boys.

“The cat’s talkin’!” Ryuji exclaimed hysterically.

Akira just stared, his mouth slightly open. He was kind of speechless.

“I am NOT a cat!” Morgana yelled. “This is just what happened when I came to this world!” Settling down, the feline twitched its whiskers. “It was a lot of trouble to find you two.”

Yep, definitely not a cat, Akira thought slightly sarcastically, sweatdropping.

“Wait...” Ryuji began. “You came to our world?! Does that mean you’ve got a phone?” He asked curiously, taking a few steps closer to examine the feline.

Morgana hmphed, grooming itself. “You don’t need one when you’re at my level.” It said cockily. “Though I did get pretty lost making my escape...” It trailed off.

Shaking his head, Ryuji raised his fist. “That aside, how can you talk?! You’re a cat!” He argued.

Scratching its ear with its hind leg, Morgana glared. “How should I know?!” It snapped.

The faux blond looked up at his companion, eyes slightly neurotic. “You hearin’ this, too..?” He asked faintly, barely coping.

Smirking, Akira turned to his friend. “Meow?” He said jokingly.

“Arrgh!” Ryuji growled, furiously rubbing his head. “Don’t do that! This is no time to be jokin’ around!”

Morgana looked on in amusement. “You guys are having a rough time of this, hm? I heard you mention something about witnesses.” It said haughtily.

“Oh shuddup.” Ryuji retorted irritatedly.

The feline slowly grinned. “You know,” It began. “I could tell you a thing or two about what to do with Kamoshida.” Morgana offered to the two. It looked up at the bespectacled boy. “You were pretty close just a moment ago.” It complimented, slightly impressed.

Rolling his eyes, Ryuji crossed his arms. “God, that condescendin’ attitude! This thing’s gotta be Morgana!” He proclaimed, scowling.

Said cat looked up at him, affronted. “You were still doubting me?!” It yelled, its voice reverberating through the alcove.

Panicking, Ryuji shushed it. “Quiet down!” He hissed.


“We really have to be looking for a cat in a busy time like this..?”


The three Persona users looked out. Two teachers walking side by side were complaining to each other.


“I just heard a meow somewhere near here. Didn’t you hear it?” One teacher said.

“Make sure you check every nook and cranny around.” The other ordered.

They walked away.


Ryuji furrowed his brows. “Meow..?” He murmured. “Does that mean only us three can understand what you’re sayin’?” He questioned.

Said cat licked its paw. “Looks like it.” It stated calmly.

Grabbing his head, the punk let out a sigh. “What the hell’s goin’ on..?” He complained exasperatedly. “Anyways, what you were talkin’ about earlier...Is it for real?” Ryuji asked quietly, wary of eavesdroppers.

Akira moved in closer as well. They didn’t need anyone coming up to them and seeing them talk to a cat.

“You’re quite the skeptic for being an idiot.” Morgana replied, giving the punk an exasperated look.

“This probably isn’t the best place to continue this.” Akira interjected quietly. “We should go somewhere else, and tell Airi-chan about this.”

Its eyes glowed when he mentioned her name. “Oh yes! Lady Airi is here somewhere, right?” It asked excitedly.

At that moment, Ryuji grabbed Morgana by the scruff, holding it out to his ebony haired friend. “Here, stick it in your bag for now! It should be just small enough to fit!” He exclaimed.

“Hey!” Morgana yelped. “How dare you treat me like-”

 

 

Quickly sending a text to Airi informing her where they were, Akira put his wriggling bag down and unzipped it.

A black blur escaped the confines, shaking its body. “Don’t be so rough with me!” Morgana yowled.

“Enough of that!” Ryuji exclaimed irritatedly. “You said you know how we can do something about Kamoshida, right?”

Giving them a smile, it nodded. “It has to do with what this guy was talking about earlier.” It gestured at Akira, who put his hands in his pockets. “You’ll need to attack his castle.”

The punk scratched his head in confusion. “What do you mean?”

Morgana sat down, prepared to give them a lecture. “That castle is how Kamoshida views this school.” It began, lazily waving its tail. “He doesn’t realize what happens in there, but it’s deeply connected to the depths of his heart. Thus, if the castle disappears, it would naturally impact the real Kamoshida.” It finished, flicking its ears.

Ryuji crossed his arms. “What’d happen?” He asked contemplatively. It sounded good so far.

“A Palace is a manifestation of a person’s distorted desires. So, if that castle were no more…” Morgana trailed off with a smile.

“His desires would be no more.” Akira finished, frowning thoughtfully.

It purred happily. “Precisely! You sure pick up things fast!”

“For real?! H-He’s gonna turn good?!” Ryuji sputtered, then paused. “But...is that really gettin’ back at him?” He questioned quietly, face drawn.

Morgana flicked its ears. “Erasing a Palace essentially means forcing the owner to have a change of heart.” It lectured. “However, even though their warped wants disappear, the crimes they committed remain. Kamoshida will become unable to bear the weight of those crimes, and he’ll confess them himself!” Morgana proclaimed, grinning at its own intelligence.

Ryuji exhaled, giddy. “You for real?! That’s possible?!” He asked excitedly.

Morgana nodded its head. “And since the palace will no longer exist, he’ll forget what we did there as well.” It purred smugly. “Not only will we be able to bring Kamoshida down, but there won’t even be a trace of our involvement.”

Ryuji let out a laugh, smiling for the first time today. “That’s amazing! You are one incredible cat!”

“True, except for the cat part!” Morgana snapped, but its expression showed that it was joking.

“So?” He asked excitedly. “How do we get rid of a Palace?!”

“You have to steal its Treasure.” Airi stated, closing the rooftop door behind her. She gave them a sheepish smile. “Sorry I’m so late, I had to call my boss after I finished my duties.” She apologized, before looking down at Morgana with a happy smile. “Morgana! I’m so glad you’re OK.”

Blue eyes shining, the feline jumped at the class president. “Lady Airi!” It purred happily, rubbing its head against her jaw.

Airi giggled at the affection, scratching behind its ears.

Akira looked at the scene before him, slightly smiling, even though part of him silently wished that the cat would stop.

Ryuji scratched his head. “Steal the treasure..?” He questioned, confused.

Morgana, still nestled in the her arms, turned its head at him. “I’ll tell you more once you agree to go ahead with this. It’s my most valuable, secret plan, after all.” It stated coolly. “If you want to help me out. I’ll gladly teach you. What’s your call?”

The punk turned to his fellow male. “Our luck’s runnin’ dry lookin’ for witnesses. Guess we have no choice but to go along...” He trailed off.

The bespectacled student looked over to the only female. She was silently pleading at him with her dark red eyes.

He nodded. “You’re right.” Akira answered.

Airi awarded him a grateful smile in response.

“...Good.” Morgana purred. “Oh, there’s one more thing I should tell you three.” It said, jumping out of the class president's arms and sat down on the floor. “If we erase a Palace, there is no doubt that the person’s distorted desires will be erased as well.” It lectured. “But desires are what we all need in order to survive. The will to sleep, eat, fall in love--those sorts of things.”

Airi furrowed her brows. “Are you saying...If we do this, Kamoshida will lose his will to live?” She asked quietly, biting her lip.

Ryuji looked at her questioningly. “What does that mean?” He asked.

Flicking its ears, Morgana licked a paw. “If all those yearnings were to vanish, they’d be no different than someone who has shut down entirely. They may even die if they’re not given proper care. So…” It trailed off, glancing away.

Taken aback, Ryuji stiffened. “They might die..?!”

It gave him an irritated look. “Will you listen to everything I have to say first?”

The punk looked around hesitantly at his companions. “Would their death be our fault..?” He asked quietly.

“Aren’t you determined enough to face those kinds of risks?” Morgana inquired, giving him a sharp glare.

Ryuji turned to his fellow students. “Hey...What do you guys think?” He asked morosely.

The bespectacled male pursed his lips. He didn’t want to commit murder, but... “We’ll have to risk it.” He replied with a grave expression. They had to help their fellow students.

Ryuji turned to look at Airi. The class president gnawed on her lip. “I...have to agree with Akira-kun. There’s nothing we can do on this side.” She began hesitantly. “No one else is going to do anything. This is our only chance.” She finished, closing her eyes sorrowfully.

“Sheesh,” Morgana groaned. “I come all this way, and this is what I get. It’s not like anyone will ever find out.” It remarked, flicking its tail.

Facepalming, Ryuji glared down at it. “That’s not the point! If we just go around secretly doin’ whatever we want, we’d be no better than that fucking Kamoshida..,” He finished cynically.

The feline rolled its eyes. “Isn’t this your only option?” It retorted. Morgana got up and walked over to the door before looking back at them. “I’ll come back later. Make sure you’ve made your decision by then.” With that, the cat left.

The three humans sighed. Airi made her way over to a nearby chair and sat down. Akira moved close by, leaning against a desk.

Ryuji crouched in place, putting his head in his arms. “What do we do?” He asked morosely, his voice muffled by fabric.

The other two didn’t respond. Airi bit her lip, looking down at her lap guiltily. She hadn’t even done anything yet but she still felt terrible. Was she going to kill someone..? Did this make her better or worse than him?

“I’ll try and see if I can figure out another way...” Ryuji stated defeatedly. “C’mon, let’s get outta here.”

They walked down the stairs and split, Ryuji going one way and the two from class 2-D going another.

Chapter Text

Taking the train at Aoyama-Itchome, the two didn’t say anything, too lost in thought.

Phone buzzing, Akira took it out of his pocket. It was from Ryuji, and it was a direct message. Glancing over at Airi who stared ahead blankly, not paying attention, he opened the message.

R: Hey, I heard something that got my attention.
Ak: ?
R: About that Suzui girl...Looks like rumors are going around about her and Kamoshida.
R: If they’re true, it’s no wonder I couldn’t get her to talk.
R: Still, something doesn’t seem right…
Ak: What do you mean?
R: It’s just impossible.
R: Me and Airi have known Takamaki and Suzui since middle school.
R: There’s just no way Kamoshida’s their type, y’know?
R: So I gotta wonder where those rumors came from.
R: I’m starting to think Airi was right…
Ak: You think he’s a sexual predator?
R: It’s not impossible. We did see him hit on Airi like, yesterday.

He gripped his phone a little tighter.

Ak: Right.
R: Hope she’s not gonna end up his next victim…
R: Anyway, I’m gonna keep asking around. Don’t tell Airi about this, K?
R: I don’t want her to worry even more.

He put his phone away, and pursed his lips. Not telling the rosette seemed wrong, but...

He glanced at her depressed expression. He shouldn't burden her with this.


Getting off at Shibuya station, the two walked up the stairs to the station square. Walking through the throngs of people, they overheard shouting.

“Will you please give it a rest?! I told you, I’m not feeling up to it…”

They turned their heads curiously.

There was Ann, glaring angrily at the air while talking on her phone. “Wait, what?!” She gasped. “That’s not what you promised! And you call yourself a teacher?!” The blonde model remarked indignantly. “This has nothing to do with Shiho!” Flinching, she moved her phone away. “Ah...he hung up on me.” She crouched, hiding her face in her arms. “Shiho’s...starting position..” Ann quietly sobbed.

Covering her mouth, Airi looked at the girl with concern. She walked up to the female curled up in a fetal position. “Ann-chan, are you OK?” She asked quietly, Akira standing behind her.

Flinching, Ann quickly stood up and looked at the two with wide eyes. “Wait...Were you two listening?”

Putting his hands in his pockets, the bespectacled student shook his head. “Not on purpose.” Akira replied.

Ann looked at them indignantly. “Haven’t you heard of privacy?” She snapped, before slumping. “...No, I was out of line. Sorry.” She muttered apologetically, wiping her eyes.

Airi moved to comfort her, putting her arms around the downtrodden female. “C’mon, Ann-chan, let’s go somewhere more quiet.” She consoled softly, subtly guiding her toward Central street.


Sitting in a booth at Big Bang Burger, the three Shujin students silently drank their waters. There weren’t too many customers around, so they were left alone.

Staring blankly at the table, Ann twirled her straw absentmindedly. “I shouldn’t tell you guys anything...It was just an argument.” She declared sullenly.

“...With Kamoshida?” Akira asked quietly, sitting across from the two females.

She sighed heavily and slumped. Resting her head on her palm, she idly fidgeted with her napkin. “You’ve heard the rumors, haven’t you? About Kamoshida-sensei.” Ann began, avoiding both their gazes. “Everyone says we’re getting it on but...That’s so not true!” She exclaimed frustratedly.

Airi scooted closer, wrapping an arm around her classmate.

Ann rested her head on the rosette’s shoulder, a tear falling. “That was him on the other line.” She muttered quietly.

Airi stroked her arm silently, trying to give her some comfort.

“I avoided giving him my number...for the longest time...” Ann paused, taking a deep breath. “He told me to go to his place after this.” She gritted her teeth. “You know what that means.” She spat. “If I turn him down, he said he’d take Shiho off as a regular on the team.”

She clenched her eyes, tears slowly spilling down her face. “I’ve been telling myself this is all for Shiho’s sake...But I can’t take it anymore.” Ann whispered, voice cracking. “I’ve had enough of this...I hate him!!” Breaking down, she pushed her face into Airi’s neck, sobbing quietly.

The class president wrapped her arms tighter, leaning her cheek on top of Ann’s head, letting her cry.

Akira averted his eyes, slightly uncomfortable. He was never good at dealing with crying women.

Leaning back, Ann wiped her eyes. “But still...Shiho’s my best friend. She’s all I have left at that sorry excuse of a school!” She cried out, fresh tears spilling from her blue orbs. “What should I do..?” She asked quietly, sniffling.

Akira gripped his knees, clenching his jaw. He had no good answers for her.

Sighing defeatedly, the model looked away. “Sorry...I shouldn’t have asked. It’s not your problem.” Ann stated forlornly. “What am I saying..? I’ve barely even talked to you before...” She muttered sullenly, before turning to her neighbor. "Sorry, senpai..." She sniffed.

Airi shook her head and hugged her tighter. "Don't worry about it."

“Yeah, It’s fine.” Akira declared. “Maybe that’s why? Since I don’t know you very well.”

Blue eyes stared at him incredulously, before scoffing. “...You’re so weird. Usually everyone just ignores me except for Senpai.” Ann stated. “Are you really a bad person as the rumor says..? You just don’t seem like it...” She asked hesitantly.

He crossed his arms, leaning back against his chair. “I’m bad to the bone.” He joked, a faint smirk on his face, quickly dropping it when he noticed her glaring. “What do the rumors say about me?”

“I kinda had a feeling they were all just exaggerations.” She replied. “You seemed lonely. It was almost like you didn’t belong anywhere until Airi-senpai talked to you...” She locked gazes with Akira’s. “We’re the same in that regard. Maybe that’s why it was so easy for me to talk to you.” She observed. “Is there really no way for me to help Shiho..?” Ann whispered, looking down at the table.

“Don’t go.” Airi said firmly. “Don’t...Don’t let him touch you unless you want it.” She tightened her jaw.

She sighed. “I know...I just wish he would forget me, forget everything...” She pursed her lips. “As if something like that would ever happen.”

Akira and Airi looked at each other, communicating with their eyes silently. He nodded slightly. “It could happen.”

Airi glanced away for a second, trying to fight a smile.

Ann giggled. “I wasn’t looking for a serious response.” She sighed. “But I do feel a bit better now...Thanks, guys.” She smiled gratefully. “...I’m going home.” She declared. “Don’t tell anyone else what we talked about, OK? I’ll try and think of a way to persuade Kamoshida.”

Airi looked at her classmate fondly.“Ann-chan, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you before. I should have noticed sooner." She looked down guiltily. "If you need anything, you can always come to me, OK?” She smiled gently. “Don’t let that scumbag win.”

Smiling back, Ann stood up and grabbed her bag. “Thanks, you two.” She said quietly, before leaving.

The two Yongenjaya residents watched her leave, before looking worriedly to each other. Airi sighed. “I hope everything will turn out OK.” She looked down at her phone dejectedly. “I have to buy something before I go to work. I’ll see you tomorrow, Akira-kun?”

He nodded. “Don’t work too hard.” He smiled slightly.

 

----4/14, THURSDAY, EVENING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS.

 

-AIRI- POV

Sitting alone in a dark empty house with the lights turned off, her eyes bore into the dusty instrument. She felt the brushes of strings against her slightly calloused fingertips, the phantom whispers of practice from years ago. Biting her lip, she reached out to grab it.

“That was beautiful, honey!”

“Thanks mom!”

“How about we get some cake to celebrate your recital?”

“Really, dad?!”

“Let’s go, my little hime-sama!”*

“Hey, be careful with our daughter!”

"You don't deserve to play the Lord's instrument!"

The memories flashed relentlessly before her eyes. She flinched, her hand faltering mid-air. Sighing, she hugged her knees. She still couldn’t do it. Every time she felt the itch and gathered the courage to play the cello, her mind couldn’t help but flashback to when her parents were still alive. Her mother and father would smile so gently at her...then it flashed to that matron's face, glaring coldly. She wished she could avoid it, but it held so many fond memories.

Flopping back on her bed, she let out a bone weary sigh. ‘When can this cycle of reach-and-fail end?’ She asked herself bitterly. At least she got her gun today. Luckily her boss didn’t notice it. Her phone rang.

R: What do you think about what Morgana told us?
R: I dunno if I get all that stuff about stealing desires…
R: And Kamoshida’s gonna turn like, brain dead if we mess up, right?
R: I mean, sure I’m pissed at him…
R: But I dunno if I really wanna kill the guy.
Ak: Yeah that’s a bit too much.

Frowning sympathetically, she typed in a reply.

Ai: Basically, you steal his heart.
Ai: It consists of his twisted desires and thoughts.
Ak: So if you take out the bad from a person, they’re no longer bad.
Ai: Yep, although it doesn’t excuse their actions when they WERE bad.
R: I’m probably just freaking out, but I don’t wanna end up a murderer because of this shit.
R: Oh well…
R: I’ll try and see if I can come up with some other way tonight.
Ai: We might not be able to. Kamoshida sexually threatened Ann-chan today.
R: Whoa, what?!
Ak: She said that he’d kick Suzui out of the team if she doesn’t sleep with him.
Ai: He better keep his filthy hands away from either of them…
R: That motherfucker. I’ll keep an eye on Suzui.
Ai: You’re in the same class, right? Thank you, Ryuji-kun.
R: np.

Placing her phone under her pillow, she snuggled under her blankets.

Her eyes snapped open. ‘I forgot to tell them my birthday is this Saturday.’ She thought frantically. I’ll tell them tomorrow, she promised herself, closing her eyes again.

Chapter Text

----4/15, FRIDAY, MORNING, AOYAMA-ITCHOME

 

“I can’t believe Suzui-senpai missed such an important meeting. I wonder what happened.” A first year volleyball member mentioned.

“Kamoshida-sensei asked to see her...” Her fellow volleyball player added. “You know, I’ve been hearing rumors about how Kamoshida-sensei and Suzui-senpai stay late...She always shows up to meetings though. It’s weird she wasn’t at the one yesterday...”

Airi blinked in surprise. ‘Suzui-san didn’t go?’ She mused. ‘Hopefully Ann-chan told her to stay away from him.’ She frowned softly to herself. ‘I don’t want her to end up broken too…’

----

“So, I assume all of you know about the separation of powers? There are three branches in our government.” Ushimaru-sensei lectured. “The National Diet is legislative, the Cabinet is executive, and the Supreme Court is judiciary. This division of power provides checks and balances, which ensures no one branch becomes unstoppable.”

Airi raised her hand.

“Yes, Kimisawa?” Ushimaru raised a brow.

She lowered her arm, taking a deep breath. “Is there a possibility of all three becoming corrupt from the inside of each branch?" She questioned, curiosity burning in her eyes. "If they were all corrupt, then no one would stop them from passing unfair laws or running this country into the ground simultaneously.”

The class broke into whispers.

“Whoa, I never thought of that...”

“Kimisawa-senpai is so smart!”

“Ugh, politicians don’t do anything right.”

Ushimaru-sensei raised his eyebrows. “Good question, Kimisawa.” He remarked. “Unfortunately, that is a real possibility within our country. If the citizens are lazy about voting and don’t pay attention to the lawmakers, several politicians would slack off and forget that they serve the people.”

Airi nodded in understanding, a faint frown on her face.

Ushimaru went back to his lecture.

Akira raised his eyebrows. That was a question he had thought about as well, especially when...he was incarcerated. His eyes darkened at the memory.

“Have you made up your mind?” A voice whispered.

Startled, Akira looked down at his desk. A cat popped its head out of his desk, giving him a lazy smile. “No matter how much thinking you do, there’s only one option. You’d be better off just listening to me.” Morgana stated, licking a paw.

Akira glanced over to Airi, who was staring at his desk with wide eyes before quickly turning back to the lesson. She leaned closer though to hear the conversation.

The bespectacled student glanced back down at the cat in his desk. “Why are you in there?” He whispered.

“Hm? Did I hear a cat just now?” Ushimaru thought out loud, scrutinizing around the room with narrowed eyes. Some of the students started looking around as well, curious if there actually is a cat.

Akira and Airi tensed in their seats, grimacing. Airi made quick tiny motions with her hand under her desk, trying to signal to Morgana.

Frantically, the feline hid back inside. “M-Meow!” It let out.

Akira glanced down at it incredulously. That’s not going to help!

“Could that rumored cat be somewhere nearby…?” Ushimaru muttered, suspicious. He looked around the room again, trying to find his intended target. “Settle down! We’re in the middle of an important lecture!” He yelled out to wherever the meowing was coming from.

Akira and Airi sweatdropped. Their phones buzzed. Discreetly, they took them out.

R: It’s no use...I can’t think of any other way…
Ai: Concentrate on class, please.
R: I can’t deal with that shit right now. I mean, what’re we gonna do about Kamoshida?
Ak: Honestly, I would rather do that than let Kamoshida walk free.
R: Do we just gotta go along with what that cat says?
R: Urgh, that damn furball…

“If he only knew I’m reading this too.” Morgana whispered, slightly hurt.


A chair skidded harshly.

Everyone turned to look at the student who had stood up suddenly, looking out the hallway window. “Hey...What’s that..?” He asked.

“Enough! This is a classroom!” Ushimaru scolded, glaring at the disruptive student.

“Wait...She’s going to jump..!” A girl screamed, getting up from her seat as well. The class broke out into fervent chatter.

Mishima stood up, getting a glimpse through the windows. “Suzui..?” He whispered, eyes wide.

Hearing that, Ann snapped her head up. “Shiho?” She whispered fearfully, before running out of the classroom, pressing against the hallway windows.

Akira slowly got up, tense, and walked out behind Ann. Some of the other students followed their example, noisily getting out of their spots.

“Hey! Stay in your seats! Do not step foot outside of this room!” Ushimaru yelled, but it was no use. The entire class moved out into the hallway, along with every other class. The hallways were packed with students, all looking through the windows, wondering what was going to happen.


Airi stood frozen, her eyes wide with horror, before bolting. She ran out of the class and up the stairs, passing the hordes of students clammering in the hallway. No one noticed as she sprinted all the way to the rooftop, taking two steps at a time.

Slamming the door open, she saw Shiho standing at the ledge limply with her head down. Her entire posture screamed defeat.

“Suzui-chan...” Airi began softly. “Please step away from the edge. It’s dangerous.” She pleaded, quietly and slowly taking a step closer. Please don't...

Shiho didn’t answer her, but inched her feet closer to the drop.

“Suzui-chan...no. Shiho-chan.” Airi paused, licking her lips nervously. Her heart was pounding as she took another step closer to the edge. “Please, Shiho-chan... Don’t do this.”

“...I can’t take it anymore.” The black haired girl whispered, still not looking at the class president. “He...took it from me.” Tears streamed down her face, hitting the ground far away.

Airi took another step closer. “What did he take from you?” She asked softly, slowly reaching out with her hands.

Beginning to tremble, the volleyball member hugged herself, her nails digging through her sleeves and into her arms. “Kamoshida-sensei... touched me...he h-hit me...he r-r-raped me!” Shiho bit out, sobbing. “All I had left was volleyball!” She screamed. “And he took it from me!”

Now standing behind her, Airi slowly reached out with her arms, encircling the poor girl who was wailing her heart out.

“I can’t -hic- take it anymore...No one cares that -hic- he’s hurting us, hurting me...” Shiho blubbered hysterically.

“That’s not true,” Airi soothed, staring at the broken girl in anguish. How could this happen and no one stopped it? “We do care. I care. Ann-chan cares so much for you.” She consoled, rubbing the black haired girl’s back comfortingly. “You know, Akira-kun and I bumped into Ann-chan yesterday at Shibuya. She told me how much she loved you. How all she wanted was for you, her best friend, to be happy. She was trying so hard for Kamoshida to focus on her and not you.” Airi proclaimed quietly, fibbing a little. Anything to help her state of mind right now, she reasoned.

Sniffling, Shiho looked up at her with tear filled eyes. “Really?” She whimpered.

Airi nodded, giving her a warm smile. “That’s right. Ann only wanted to protect you.”

Shiho looked down again, covering her face with her palms. “And I wanted to protect her.” She whispered, her voice muffled against her skin.

Lowering her hands from her embrace, Airi placed her hands lightly on the other girl’s arms. “I won’t let Kamoshida get away with this.” She swore. “You’ll have to tell what you went through to the authorities, but he’ll be put behind bars for this.”

Her trembling which had subsided a bit, came back in full force. “N-No...” Shiho whispered shakily, eyes dilated with fear. “No more...I can’t...” Her breath hitched as the hands on her arms felt larger, more stronger, more entrapping. “Don’t make me remember...He..!” Her breathing quickened, Shiho started hyperventilating. It was too much. She didn't want to remember. She didn't want to be tainted anymore/

She struggled against the class president, breaking free from her grip, and leaped off the building.

“No!” Airi screamed, quickly leaning over the edge and reached out. Her hand snatched the suicidal girl’s wrist, leaving both of them hanging over the ledge.

“Shiho-chan, please!” Airi gritted, tears glossing her eyes. “Please don’t!” She yelled, trying hard to pull the other girl up, her other hand balancing her upper body on the rim. Give me the strength to save her...

Shiho struggled against the grip on her wrist. “Just let me die!!!” She wailed, sobbing hysterically. Her tears fell and splashed onto the grass far below them.

Her violent movements caused Airi’s grip to slip a little. “Shit.” She spat, trying to tighten her grip, sweat dripping from her forehead. Their damp skin didn’t help, as the other girl started to slip more.

Clenching her jaw, Airi used her other hand, the one she used to balance herself so she didn’t fall over, to grip over her clenched hand. She then secured her knees under the railing to balance herself and began pulling the panic-stricken student up slowly, her muscles straining. Please...!

“No!” Shiho screamed, distraught, and used her other hand to lash out. Her nails cut deep into flesh, ribbons of blood flying in the air.

Airi cried out in pain, accidentally releasing her grip. The black haired girl fell three stories, her body rebounding up from the impact, before laying brokenly on the ground, unmoving.

Frozen, red eyes stared widely at the still body below her, arms still reached out. “No…Not again…” Airi whispered, trembling. “SHIHO!” She screamed down, tears spilling down her cheeks.

There were a large gathering of students shrieking in the courtyard, surrounding the body, while teachers tried to herd them away. None of them moved closer to the body, not even trying to help.

“Someone!” She screamed frantically down at the mass. “Check her pulse! Call an ambulance!”

Feeling faint, her body gave out on her, and she slowly leaned back from the edge, sliding down onto the floor defeatedly. Her eyes stared blankly at her bleeding hands, tears still running down her face. She couldn't do it. She couldn't save her. She couldn't save her again.

NotAgainNotAgainNotAgainNotAgain.

Suddenly, arms wrapped around her, pulling her into a warm chest. It felt so comforting.

Trembling, Airi pushed her face into their shirt, and broke down.

Chapter Text

 

The hallway was packed with students from all the classes, staring out the windows with wide eyes, whispering to each other.

“Shiho...” Ann whispered, clasping her hands tightly in a praying motion, her nails digging into her skin. “Don’t do it...”

Gray eyes observed the scene tensely, and Akira clenched his fists. ‘This is because of Kamoshida, isn’t it.’ He thought to himself, narrowing his eyes. He’s going to pay.

“What the fuck is goin’ on?!” He heard being yelled from behind him and he turned around.

Ryuji ran up to them, eyes wide. "Is that Suzui...?" He asked. Akira nodded solemnly. "What the fuck..." The punk furiously rubbed his head, exhaling sharply. "What the fuck can we do?"

“Hey, she’s moving back!” Someone remarked.

He looked up through the window. Shiho had taken a step back, away from the edge. A hand was outstretched to her. Narrowing his eyes, he tried to make out who it was, but all he knew was that it was another student based on the blazer sleeve. After a moment, they both disappeared from view.

“Thank god! How scary was that!”

“Is someone up there talking to her?”

“She’s gonna be in so much trouble.”

“I wonder why she wanted to jump?”

Ann sighed out in relief. “Shiho...” She whispered, slumping her shoulders. She gripped her hands near her chest. "Why would you even think of...?"

Ryuji exhaled, slumping beside him. "Thank god...Can't believe Suzui even felt like that, though..." He muttered.

Akira nodded in agreement. Someone almost killed herself because of a teacher. He looked around the hall, noting that none of the teachers were absent. 'Not one staff went up to check..?' He scowled. At least it didn't happen.

He turned away, about to head back to his desk. “Get back to your classes!” The teachers yelled, trying to direct the students’ attentions away from the windows.

“Hey wait...”

“She jumped!”

“Holy shit!”

“Someone grabbed her!”

“Is that senpai?!”

“Ah, I can’t look! This is so scary!!”

Quickly turning back to the window, his breath hitched. It was Airi. Airi, who was struggling to pull up the suicidal girl.

After a tense moment, everyone saw the dangling girl claw at the grip on her wrist. She fell and hit the ground, body stilling.

Ann cried out, “Shiho!” before frantically running down the stairs, as did Ryuji and the majority of students.

Akira however, ran up. Pushing past the crowd of students all clamoring for the stairs leading down, he was the only one to go up. No one noticed as they rushed to the scene. Making it up to the now empty third floor, he heard a voice shout, “Someone! Check her pulse! Call an ambulance!”

He sprinted up the last steps up to the roof, opening the door. Looking out across the roof, he spotted a crumpled figure on the floor.

‘She’s OK.’ He thought, relieved. Slowly, he walked over, stopping behind her. She hadn't noticed. Frowning sorrowfully at her back, he crouched on his knees and gently wrapped his arms around the rosette, pulling her into his chest.

She pushed her face into his jacket. He felt her shoulders tremble underneath his palms, and a blossoming wetness in the front of his blazer.

‘Her hands are bleeding.’ He observed worriedly. ‘And her tights are ripped.’ Akira rocked back and forth slowly, trying to comfort the sobbing girl. He wished he could help more than this.

“Why...” he heard. He looked down, and locked with red rimmed eyes, still flowing with tears.

“Why did she have to do that?” Airi whispered. “Why couldn’t I save her too…”

He furrowed his brows, embracing her tighter. “It wasn’t your fault.” He replied firmly. “This is all because of Kamoshida.”

She slumped tiredly, resting her head on his chest. “We’ll make him pay.” She whispered. "We have to, no matter what...Please, I'll need your help. I'll repay you..."

He nodded solemnly. "I promise, we will." ‘I sense a strong urge to protect…’ He leaned his cheek on top of her head, slowly stroking her hair, and they sat together in silence.

 

Pushing past the crowds, Ann and Ryuji made it out to the courtyard where Shiho fell. The ambulance had already arrived, the paramedics gingerly placing the unmoving student on top of a stretcher.

“Shiho...” Ann teared, her breath shaking from the force of her tremors.

Ryuji grimaced in anguish and looked away. Around him were fellow students out in the courtyard with their phones out, taking pictures and recording the scene before them. “What the hell is wrong with these people?!” He muttered angrily.

“Class is still in session!” A teacher yelled out to no avail.

A paramedic got up and walked over to the crowd. “We need someone to go with her...Are there any teachers around?” He asked.

None of the teachers present stepped forward. “I-I’m not in charge of her class...” One teacher panicked.

“We should leave this to Principal Kobayakawa...” Another teacher stated hesitantly.

Ann looked at the teachers frustratedly, before turning back to the paramedic. “I’ll go!” She insisted.

“Please hurry!” The paramedic urged, turning back to create a pathway for the other personnel.

She ran up and knelt next to the near unconscious girl. “Shiho...why?” Ann whispered, tears clouding her vision.

The injured girl slowly tilted her head to look at her. “Ann..? I’m sorry...I-I can’t take this...anymore.” Shiho whispered, wincing in pain. “Please...t-tell Airi-senpai...I’m sorry...Kamoshida made me do..this...ngh.” She breathed, before falling unconscious.

Ann cried out in panic, gripping onto the stretcher. The paramedics moved to carry the stretcher out of the school, Ann following closely behind.

Mishima stood frozen in the same spot, his eyes not moving from where Shiho fell. Trembling, he clenched his fists. “Hah...ah...” He uttered, terrified. He ran away inside the building.

Dark brown eyes followed him. “He knows something.” Ryuji muttered.

The students around him gossiped to each other, still on their phones with the recorded evidence. “Return to your classrooms at once!” A teacher yelled.

Ryuji stood still in his spot, clenching his fists. “Volleyball team...” He muttered. He stared up pensively at the spot where Shiho fell from. “Wasn’t there someone else up there?” He wondered to himself, and decided to head up to check. Running into the building, he passed the principal.

“Teachers, return to your classrooms for the time being! Please do not let any students go home yet!” Kobayakawa announced, slightly sweating. Grumbling, the students started walking back to their respective rooms, the school staff that were present herding them into the buildings.

 

Sniffling, she leaned back from Akira’s embrace. Wiping her tears away, she gave him a watery smile. “Thank you, Akira-kun.” Airi bit her lip. “I’m sorry I got your jacket wet.”

Akira shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. Your well being is more important.” He reassured, giving her a sympathetic smile.

Blinking, she stared him, stunned.

No one had been there for her since Takase and her. At the orphanage, she had to stay strong for herself and the younger kids, as well as in school for her classmates. At this moment, Akira had been the first person since to really care about her. Blushing slightly, she looked away in embarrassment.

Her gaze fell on the roof ledge, and she stared at it despiritedly. “I hope Shiho-chan is OK...”

“Don’t worry.” Akira placed his hand on her shoulder, comforting her more. “She’ll be fine. The ambulance got here by the time I arrived.” He consoled.

She nodded automatically, not really listening to his words of comfort. It won't change the fact that she failed.

The door slammed open and Ryuji walked out, looking around. His eyes landed on the two. “Hey!” He greeted. “Uh...am I interrupting something?” He asked, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly.

Confused, Airi looked over at her classmate and noticed how close he was, their faces only inches apart. Blushing brightly, she scooted back a bit.

Akira noticed as well and glanced away uncomfortably, a slight rosy hue in his cheeks.

“So it was you who tried to stop Suzui, Airi?” Ryuji asked, walking up to the two.

“Yeah, not that it made any difference...” Airi answered bitterly. “She told me why before...before she...” She trailed off, biting her lip. It hurt to even think of it. She couldn't imagine the pain Shiho went through.

“What did she say?” Ryuji asked quietly. Akira tilted his head, curious as well.

Her hands trembling, she took a deep breath. “She told me...that Kamoshida had raped her.” Airi whispered, tears filling her eyes again.

The two boys flinched at the news, looking at her with wide eyes. “That...That fucking bastard!” Ryuji spat, angrily making strangling motions in the air with his hands.

Airi flinched a little at the action.

Akira glared sharply ahead, clenching his knees. “We’re going to make him pay.” He promised darkly. His two fellow Persona users nodded grimly.

“Oh yeah.” Ryuji perked up. “I saw Mishima at the courtyard a few minutes ago. He looked like he definitely knew something.” 

Grasping his chin, Akira hummed thoughtfully. “We should corner him then.” 

“I’ll come with.” Airi added, wiping her crusted eyes with the back of her hand.

He shook his head. “No. You should go to the nurse’s office and get your hands and legs checked.” He admonished softly.

Blinking, She looked down at herself. Her hands and knees were scraped, bleeding, and raw, the tights ripped. “I don’t even feel it...” She murmured blankly.

The two boys glanced at each other with worry, before escorting her to the medical office.

The two delinquents then went back to their classrooms to grab their bags (and Morgana, who scolded them for leaving it behind) and set off to find Mishima.

Looking all over the school, the only place they hadn’t checked was the boy’s locker room.

Chapter Text

The two boys entered the locker room, looking around. It was empty, save for a small corner. Morgana darted out of Akira’s bag and jumped on a locker nearby, watching the proceedings.

Quickly stomping over, Ryuji pushed the meek student into the corner. “Ow! That hurts!” Mishima exclaimed, wincing.

“Why’d you run like that earlier?! Huh?!” Ryuji interrogated with a scowl.

Akira rested his hands in his pockets, grimly gazing at the volleyball player.

“I didn’t run...” Mishima muttered, eyes darting away.

“She jumped and tried to kill herself!” Ryuji exploded, clenching his fist at the downtrodden male.

He cowered away from the punk. “L-Leave me alone...” He whimpered.

Akira put his hand in front of his friend, stopping him in place. Cool eyes gazed at the pitiful sight in front of him. “You know something, don’t you? We’re not going to hurt you.” He asked quietly but firmly.

Behind him, Ryuji nodded in agreement. “He’s right! We ain’t tryin’ to get you busted. We won’t say you talked either!” He added.

Looking down at the floor, the Mishima slumped. “Suzui...”

Akira took a step forward. “I just had to help Airi-chan who tried her best to save Suzui. She’s injured now. You owe them this much.” He stated forcefully. "If you want to help, then tell us what you know."

Dark eyes widened. “Senpai did that…? She...” Mishima asked despairingly and grabbed his head. They glared at him as he fought with himself. “She was called out by Kamoshida-sensei!!” He confessed.

Shocked, they stared at him with wide eyes. “Wait, what?” Ryuji uttered.

Sighing heavily, he continued. “I was called by him a number of times too...to the teacher’s room.” He uttered defeatedly. “It wasn’t just me or Suzui either. He’d nominate someone when he was in a bad mood...and hit them.” He looked down darkly.

“So the physical punishment thing was for real...” Ryuji muttered, clenching his jaw.

“But yesterday, he called Suzui out of the blue. She didn’t make any mistakes or anything...” Mishima lamented, eyes downcast. “Kamoshida-sensei seemed really irritated that day, so it must’ve been...worse than usual...” He trailed off.

Ryuji started. “So that’s when he...That son of a bitch!” He gritted, running out of the room.

The two boys (and one cat) stared after him in surprise. Looking at each other, Akira ran after him, Morgana stealthily jumping onto his bag. Clenching his fists, Mishima followed.

They ran passed a bandaged Airi who looked up in surprise. “Don’t follow us!” Akira shouted at her. He had an inkling they were going to see Kamoshida, and he didn’t want her anywhere near him.

“I bet...Sakamoto’s going to find Kamoshida-sensei...” Mishima panted. “He’ll probably be in the P.E Faculty office on the second floor.” They ran down the hallway, flying up the stairs. Turning the corner, they just caught Ryuji slamming the office door open. Hurrying, they entered the office to see the punk confront the gym teacher.

Kamoshida sat at his desk, idly doing paperwork. “Huh?” He muttered distractedly.

Ryuji brazenly pointed his finger at him. “You bastard! How dare you do that to Suzui!” He shouted angrily.

Akira stood slightly behind him, ready to help his friend. Mishima stayed in the background, trembling.

Turning around, Kamoshida turned to look at them irritatedly. “What are you talking about?” He questioned, idly stretching his arms, turning back to his desk.

“Don’t play dumb with me!” Ryuji snapped, kicking a nearby chair over.

It fell noisily, setting the gym teacher off. “That is enough!” Kamoshida yelled, glaring at the punk.

With trembling shoulders, Mishima stepped forward. “What you did...wasn’t coaching..!” He uttered, eyes downcast.

Slowly turning his head, Kamoshida glared harshly in their direction. “What did you say?” He questioned ominously, clenching his teeth.

Mishima gripped his head, distraught. “You...You ordered me to call Suzui here...I can only imagine what you did to her!” He exclaimed, nervously swallowing.

Getting up from his chair, He crossed his arms. “You’re going on and on about things you have no proof of...” He sneered at them. “Basically, you’re simply making these claims up because you can’t be a regular on the team, right?” He spat.

Lifting his head to glare at the coach, Mishima glared at him defiantly. “That’s not what this is about!”

The tall man hmphed, resting his hands on his hips. “Even if it is exactly as you imagine it to be, hypothetically speaking...what can you do?” Kamoshida taunted. “We just received a call from the hospital. Suzui’s in a coma, and her chances of recovery are slim. How would someone like that make a statement?” He finished smugly.

The three students looked at him in with wide eyes, shocked that even a terrible teacher that he is, would say such a callous thing. Akira glared at him darkly, hiding his clenched fists in his pockets.

Dramatically placing the back of his hand on his forehead, Kamoshida mockingly lamented. “There’s no chance of her getting better, I hear...The poor girl.”

Mishima took a step back. “No...That can’t be..." He despaired.

His arms trembling with the force he clenched his fists with, Ryuji took a step forward threateningly. “You goddamn..!” He spat.

Kamoshida scowled down at the punk. “This again? Does this mean we need to have yet another case of “self-defense”?”

“You shut your mouth, you son of a bitch!” Ryuji growled, his dark brown eyes burning with rage. He moved to throw a punch, but Akira grabbed his wrist, stopping him. He looked back at his friend. “Why’re you stoppin’ me?!”

Akira looked at him coolly, trying to communicate with his eyes. “Calm down. Don’t let him get to you.” He replied. We can get him later at the Palace.

Yanking his arm out of the bespectacled student’s hand, Ryuji stomped his feet. “But still..!” He gritted.

Feinting surprise, Kamoshida turned to look at the ebony haired student. “Oh? You’re stopping him? What a surprise.” He remarked, laughing out loud. “There’s no need to hold back. Why not attack me?” He grinned maliciously. “Ohh but you can’t. Hahaha, but of course you can’t!” Turning back to his desk, the gym teacher sat down in his chair. “Everyone present right now...Will be expelled." Kamoshida stated coldly. "I’m reporting all of you at the next board meeting.”

Taken aback, the two students of class 2-D stared at him in shock. This is how it was going to end? “Wha-” Ryuji flinched.

Mishima stepped forward, more confident in himself since he was with like minded company. “You can’t make a decision like that!” He argued firmly.

Scoffing, the coach turned back to them. “Who would seriously consider what scum like you say?” He remarked ruthlessly. “You threatened me too, Mishima, so you’re equally responsible.”

Stepping back, Mishima let out a confused sound.

“To think you didn’t know why I kept someone as talentless as you on the team. You act like you’re a victim, but you leaked his criminal records, didn’t you?” Kamoshida taunted, jutting his square chin at Akira. “It’s all over the internet, correct? How terrible.”

The two delinquents turned to look at their companion. “Mishima..?” Ryuji whispered, silently hoping it wasn’t true.

Akira stared at the volleyball member, resigned. Getting upset now would be pointless.

Trembling, the bruised teen got on his hands and knees, begging forgiveness. “He told me to do it...I had no choice.”

Kamoshida turned away disinterestedly. “Now, are we finished here? You’re all expelled!” He announced. “You’re done for; your futures are mine to take. Now get out of my sight.”

Clenching his jaw, Ryuji turned to his fellow students. “Dammit...” He muttered angrily.

“We’ve got another way to deal with him.” Akira replied emotionlessly.

Hearing the outcasts still in his office, Kamoshida turned to scowl at them. “I don’t know what you’re planning, but go ahead and try. All you can do is wait for your disposal though...” the gym teacher stated coldly.

Glaring darkly at the gym teacher, the three students and cat left the office.

Airi was waiting outside, worried out of her mind. She gripped her bandaged hands together, splotches of red blooming on the cotton. Today had been too much and her mind was starting to fray. Seeing them leave the room, she walked up to them. “Thank goodness! Are you guys OK? Did he...” She trailed off uncomfortably.

Ryuji stomped over and slammed his fist against the wall. “I can’t believe that asshole’s gettin’ away with this..!” He gritted, glaring down.

Blinking, she looked at them with concern. “What happened in there?"

Behind Akira, Mishima quietly answered her with blank eyes. “We’re being expelled.”

“What?” She gasped, looking over at Akira for confirmation.

He nodded, frowning. “He said he’ll expel us by the next board meeting.” Akira stated, adjusting his glasses irritatedly.

“The next board meeting? That’s on May 2nd.” Airi murmured. “What are we going to do?” She asked worriedly.

He casually placed a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Airi-chan.” He reassured. “He’ll eat his words.” He remarked, a dark smirk on his lips.

She stared at him, slightly blushing at this new side of him, before perking up with realization. “You mean...” Airi trailed off, looking at him hopefully.

He nodded, still smirking.

“What’re you two talkin’ about?” Ryuji asked, coming up to them with his hands resting behind his head.

Shaking his head, Akira eyed Mishima. “You should go back to class, Mishima-san. We’ll take care of this.” He reassured calmly.

Still in shock, the blunet nodded blankly and slowly walked away, a slight limp in his steps.

The bespectacled student signaled to the other two to move to the courtyard.

Chapter Text

“We gotta hurry up and go to that world and beat the shit outta that asshole!” Ryuji yelled, slamming his fist against the vending machine. Now that it was after school, most of the building had emptied, students going back home to text about what happened earlier. The group of thieves sat at the alcove in the courtyard, no other students in sight.

Morgana got up from its spot on the table. “We’re not beating him up. We’re simply stealing his distorted desires.” It corrected.

“And beating him up if he gets in our way.” Airi smiled serenely. The boys and cat turned to look at her in surprise. “What? I can’t wish violence on someone as terrible as Kamoshida?” She asked, blinking.

“U-Uh no, I mean yes! I mean no-yes!” Ryuji sputtered.

Giving the rosette one last odd look, the feline continued. “Can I assume that you’ve made up your minds about this- about how he might suffer a mental shutdown?” It asked seriously.

Ryuji turned to look at it. “...I have.” He replied firmly, a grim expression on his face. “Someone almost died because of him! I don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to him anymore!” Morgana nodded and turned to look at the other two. “And you guys?” It asked, a firm expression on its feline features.

Akira nodded. “I agree. There’s no other way.” He replied coldly.

Airi nodded as well. “He’s going to pay for what he’s done.” She replied resolutely.

Purring, the feline swished its tail. “Then it’s settled.” Morgana stated, smiling.

“By the way, is gettin’ rid of a Palace hard..?” Ryuji inquired curiously. “You’ve tried it before, right?” He scratched the back of his head.

Morgana looked at the blond in amusement. “When did I ever say that?” It asked, smiling innocently.

Airi tilted her head. “You’ve never done it then?” She asked curiously.

“WHAT?! Were you just pretendin’ to know?!” Ryuji bellowed in disbelief. Akira shushed him, glaring slightly.


“Is it true that you’re both getting expelled?”


The four Persona users turned in surprise.

Ann walked up to them slowly, her slumped posture exuding depression. “Everyone’s talking about it...” She muttered.

Ryuji rolled his eyes. “That asshole’s at it again with the rumors..!” He exclaimed irritatedly.

Airi slowly got up from her seat, and went up to the model’s side. “Ann-chan...I’m so sorry.” She teared, looking down at herself guiltily. “I...I couldn’t save Shiho-chan, even though I was right there!” The rosette confessed, tears spilling down her cheeks.

“It’s OK...” The half foreigner attempted to smile. “I saw, you know...You did your best. Shiho even told me...to tell you she was sorry. She’s stabilized now but...” Ann trailed off, shoulders weighed down. “At least she’s still alive. Thank you...for trying.” With that, she pulled the other girl into a hug, both of them letting tears slip from their eyes.

The boys looked away, uncomfortable at seeing such vulnerable expressions on the two strong females.

Sniffling, the girls let go and wiped their eyes. “If you’re going to deal with Kamoshida...let me in on it too.” Ann stated determinedly.

Taken aback, the three thieves looked at her in shock.

“I can’t just sit back and do nothing after what happened to Shiho! I’m her best friend, but I wasn’t even the one who was trying to stop her from j-jumping earlier!” The blonde model confessed, anger and self-loathing swirling in her red rimmed irises.

“Ann-chan...” Airi whispered, watching her worriedly. She had no idea what she was asking.

“This has nothing to do with you...Don’t butt your head into this...” Ryuji said gruffly, looking away.

“But it does! It has everything to do with me!” Ann argued, stomping her foot forward.

“I said don’t get in our way!” Ryuji yelled, glaring harshly at her.

Flinching, the model glowered, before running away.

A moment of silence passed as Ryuji let out a heavy sigh. “That was harsh.” Morgana remarked, staring sadly at where Ann had stood.

Airi looked down, clenching her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She whispered, guilt lacing into her voice.

Akira wrapped an arm around her shoulders, comforting her for the third time today. She leaned into his half embrace somberly.

“We can’t take her somewhere like that...” Ryuji muttered, looking away guiltily.

Sighing, the feline sat down. “I hope that she doesn’t torment herself over this.” Morgana stated sadly. “When it comes down to it, women don’t hesitate.”

Airi nodded in agreement. “She might do something drastic…” She fretted.

“Let’s go to the Palace.” Akira suggested, straightening his lips. “And get this over with.”

The other three nodded. “We just gotta hurry up and deal with Kamoshida.” Ryuji remarked firmly.

They walked back to the alley where they first transitioned to the Metaverse. Glancing outward to the school gate, where some students were still going home, Ryuji turned to the others. “Ready?” He asked. The three other Persona users nodded firmly.

“The moment we cross over, we’ll treat each other like phantom thieves, so I hope you’re ready.” Morgana informed them.

Turning to look at the cat, they tilted their heads in confusion. “Huh? Phantom thieves?” Ryuji questioned.

The feline snickered mischievously. “Those who covertly sneak in and stylishly steal Treasure-that is what we become!” Morgana proclaimed happily.

Akira smirked faintly. “Not bad.” He said, idly tweaking a strand of hair.

Airi giggled. “Sounds like fun, like we're secret agents.” Airi remarked amusedly.

“Yeah, that sounds kinda cool!” Ryuji said exuberantly. “So we just gotta say the school, Kamoshida’s name, and...castle? Then we end up in bizarro world.” He checked with the others excitedly, pulling his phone out. A thought hit him then. “...How the hell’s all this work? Someone make it?” He questioned out loud, looking at the app confusedly.

Shrugging, the ebony haired male shook his head. “I dunno. Does it matter right now?” Akira said nonchalantly.

Ryuji looked at him weirdly, putting his phone in his pocket. “That’s kinda creepy, but eh,” He shrugged.” It seems useful enough. We’ll show that fucking Kamoshida!” He exclaimed, rolling his shoulder in preparation.

“Let's make him pay!” Airi declared determinedly.

Akira pulled out his phone, ready to tap on the marker “Kamoshida’s Palace”.

Morgana jumped up, ready to pounce. “Let’s go!” It declared confidently.


“They really are going to do something..,” Ann whispered, looking at the group from behind the corner. She squinted, trying to see closer but not wanting them to notice.

“They’re doing something on their phone? A name..School..?” She muttered. She watched as Akira tapped on his phone.

“Huh?!” She gasped, looking around in disbelief.

She felt something pulse around her. The air turned purple and wavered, TV static filling her eardrums. Her skin tingled as some unknown energy filled the air, a floating sensation in the pit of her stomach.

What was going on?!

Chapter Text

The four observed the castle closely, checking to see if the coast was clear. The skull wearing blond turned to his friends. “All right! Time to bust on through!” Ryuji declared, pumping a fist excitedly.

“What is this?!”

The Persona users turned in surprise. Ann walked up to them, completely bewildered.

Taking a step back, Ryuji looked at her incredulously. “T-Takamaki?!” He sputtered.

Covering her mouth, Airi looked away awkwardly. “Oh no...” She cringed. How were they going to explain this.

“That voice...Sakamoto?!” Ann screeched, blue eyes wide, darting to examine the other two. “And Airi-senpai...and Kurusu-kun?!”

Furiously rubbing his head, Ryuji tried to contain his shock. “W-Why are you here?!” He gritted, looking at the blonde suspiciously.

“How should I know?!” She snapped back. She turned around to observe their surroundings. “What’s going on? Hey, where are we…?! Isn’t this the school?!” She remarked, disbelief written all over her face.

Morgana looked at the blonde dreamily, hearts floating above its head.

Akira saw this and sweatdropped, giving the feline an unimpressed look.

The cat shook itself from its stupor and turned to its fellow thieves. “I see. Perhaps she was dragged in because of that app thing.” Morgana contemplated. “If multiple people can enter with the person who uses it, it stands to reason it’ll pull anyone nearby.” It reasoned.

“For real..?” Ryuji commented, rattled at the revelation.

Airi tilted her head. “Would that mean that Ann-chan has the potential as a Persona user as well?” She inquired softly.

“Maybe. We’d have to see.” Morgana answered vaguely, shrugging.

Ann, finished with looking around the surroundings, snapped her head to look at them. “Wait, so THIS is related to Kamoshida?!” She squeaked, still completely lost.

Biting her lip, Airi stepped forward, her embroidered scarf fluttering behind her. “Ann-chan, you should leave. This place is dangerous.” The rosette warned softly, trying to convince the other girl.

“No!” Ann refused vehemently.

“The Shadows are going to find us if you make a scene.” Morgana scolded slightly.

Ann flinched, taking a step back. “No way! It talked!? Oh my god, it’s a monster cat..!” She babbled hysterically.

Taken aback, Morgana gawked at her. “Monster..?” It murmured, slightly hurt. Airi winced, and patted the cat’s head comfortingly.

Frustrated, Ann marched up to the group. “You better explain what’s going on! I won’t leave until you do!” She demanded, glaring at them.

They looked at each other at a loss at what to do.

“Looks like we gotta force her.” Ryuji remarked, frowning softly. “But...how’re we supposed to do that?” He questioned, looking at Morgana expectantly.

“Just take her back to where we came in. That’s how it worked last time, right?” The cat shrugged.

Taken aback, Ryuji blinked confusedly. “O-Oh, yeah.” He uttered, surprised that the solution was so simple.

He looked over at Akira. “Can you lend me a hand?”

Glancing at their female teammate, who shrugged back at him, the black haired thief looked back at the skull adorned companion. “I feel bad...but yeah, got it.” He answered resignedly.

“We can’t deal with Kamoshida if she’s here.” Ryuji mentioned.

The two males turned to look at the blonde model.

Noticing them staring at her, Ann took a step back. “What’re you-” “We’ll explain after everything’s over!” Ryuji interrupted her, pushing her back.

“Hey! And just where are you touching?!” Ann yelled out indignantly.

“Whoa, sorry, I didn’t mean-” Ryuji sweated, then interrupted himself. “That’s not important!” They dragged her toward the other end of the bridge.

“You guys seriously- Ugh, Airi-senpai, say something!” She screamed at the other female.

“I’m really sorry, Ann-chan!” Airi yelled after her, waving a gloved hand sheepishly.

“Ah?!” Ann squawked, tripping out of the Metaverse.

 
 

Walking back to the entrance of the castle, the four stopped to organize. “We better be careful from now on when we use that app,” Ryuji winced, his arms aching from Ann’s struggling.

Morgana squinted at the punk. “You should’ve checked the tools you used!” It yelled, clearly defending the blonde female. “Why do I-the one who was just watching-know more about it than you three?!” It groaned, glaring at the boys.

Akira looked down at it, unimpressed. As if they were supposed to know. They weren't the ones with enhanced hearing like a certain animal's.

“Sh-Shuddup!” Ryuji sputtered, awkwardly looking away.

Airi held her hands up placatingly. She seemed to do a lot of that. “Let’s focus on the Palace.” She reminded.

The faux blond let out an irritated sigh. “Geez, Takamaki found out right when we were startin’ off...We gotta deal with this fast!” Ryuji declared.

Letting out little purrs, Morgana looked back at where they entered. “That girl’s name is Takamaki Ann, right?” It asked, eyes shining. “Lady Ann...” The cat sighed dreamily.

Sweatdropping, Airi herded them closer to the castle, where they staked it out.

 

Turning back from its observation, Morgana looked at the three humans firmly in the eye. “The Shadows have noticed us. You better brace yourselves, got it?” It asked intensely.

The three nodded.

The feline turned to Akira. “We’re counting on you, Joker!” It proclaimed, jumping in the air.

Ryuji frowned in confusion. “Joker? That a nickname?” He asked.

“Don’t refer to it in such a lame way. It’s a code name.” Morgana chided. “What kind of stupid phantom thief would use their real name?! I’m not down for that!” It complained, shaking its head. “And there’s no telling what kind of effect yelling our real names will have on the Palace. It’s just a precaution.” It crossed its arms.

Airi nodded in understanding. “So why is he Joker?” She inquired curiously.

Morgana turned to the ebony haired boy with a sly smile. “Because he’s our trump card when it comes to fighting strength.” It declared.

Akira smirked confidently. “Nice. I’m game for it.” He remarked.

Ryuji grinned at him. “It ain’t too bad, yeah? What should I be?” He asked excitedly.

Morgana crossed its arms, analyzing the punk’s appearance. “You’ll be...Let’s see...”It hummed. “Thug.”

The delinquent stomped his foot. “Are you pickin’ a fight with me?! I’ll choose it myself!” Ryuji huffed. Resting his hands on his hips, he hummed. “Hm...When it comes to me, it’s gotta be this mask. Honestly, I actually kinda like it. What if we named me after this?” He suggested eagerly.

Airi nodded in agreement. “You’ll be Skull then!” She declared happily.

“Ooh! That sounds awesome! I’m Skull!” Ryuji, now Skull, proclaimed.

Akira, now Joker, nodded, agreeing with the blond.

Skull gestured at the cat with his foot. “What do we do about this one’s code name?” He asked.

Tapping his chin, Joker shrugged. “What do you think?” He rebuked.

“How ‘bout “Mona”?” Ryuji suggested with a grin.

It nodded. “Well, if Joker thinks it’s easier to call me that, then I’ll go with it.” Morgana, now Mona, stated firmly.

The three then turned to look at the only female, humming thoughtfully.

Airi grimaced, slightly uncomfortable at how their eyes roamed her body up and down.

“She’s super regal lookin’. How about Empress?” Skull suggested, looking at the other two.

“No, that’s too cold.” Mona replied, looking at her with dreamy eyes. “How about Princess?” It countered, hopping up and down. “That’s way too girly!” Skull argued.

Airi sweatdropped. 'Is this going to be a regular thing..?' She sighed.

 

Joker observed the girl closely. She was more woman than girl, if he was being honest. The way she acted made it seem like she was of high status, but how she treated everyone made her come off as motherly. Her clothes were rich looking, with its embroidered silks and lace mask, so perhaps Princess would have worked, but her full figure complemented it by seeming more mature and dignified. It all came together really-”Elegantly.” He murmured, his mouth dry.

The three looked at him curiously, not hearing what he said.

Taking a deep breath, he repeated himself. “Elegant. That should be your name.” Joker stated, heart beating a bit faster.

Humming, Skull nodded his head. “I like it! Works for our class prez!” He remarked, grinning widely.

Mona jumped in agreement. “That works perfectly!” It purred.

Airi blinked in surprise, and blushed. Hearing her friends, her mostly male friends, call her elegant was flattering, if a bit embarrassing. “Well...if it’s fine with you guys. I’ll be called Elegant.” Airi, now Elegant, stated, smiling cheerfully.

Mona looked at the three seriously. “All right. From here on out, we’re Joker, Skull, Elegant, and Mona. We need to be absolutely thorough about using those code names from now on!” It declared firmly.

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“All right! Let’s go nab this Treasure thing!” Skull exclaimed, grinning viciously.

They set off into the Palace.

 

So I wanted to let you guys really visualize how I see Airi, and I drew her! The caricatures are based off of the P5 artwork faces. I haven't drawn in years so I tried my best, and fixed them up in photoshop orz The second photo is her thief outfit! I took the base outfit from FF13 Lightning Returns (I love FF hehe) the weapon is from FFTYPE-0, and the mask is just something I found on google that fit my image of it. I have another photo of her various outfits later on but I'll hold onto those for a future chapter!

Chapter Text

They crawled through the vent, emerging into the infiltration point. Jumping down from the bookcases, they cautiously opened the door leading out into the short hallway. Looking around the coast, they turned to open the door across when they heard clanking. They turned their heads in the direction of the sounds.

 

“Praise be to King Kamoshida! Death to the intruders!”

 

“W-What the hell?!” Skull sputtered, looking down the hallway out into the foyer.

There was a contingent of soldiers gathered in the main hall. At the top of the stairs, was Shadow Kamoshida.

“Those intruders the other day were quite entertaining.” Kamoshida began. “However, I can’t allow that trash to ransack my castle!” He declared, striking out in the air. “Strengthen the security! KIll them on sight! I’ll reward whoever brings me their heads.” He commanded.

“Praise be to King Kamoshida! Death to the intruders!” The soldiers shouted in unison.

Hiding behind the doors were the thieves, listening in on the announcement with a frown. “Hey, Mona. Can’t we just beat the crap outta him and call it a day?” Skull grilled, sneering toward the warped king.

“Look at all those soldiers, idiot! It’d be suicide. And I’m sure you don’t want a repeat of last time.” Mona snapped quietly. “Besides, don’t you want him to confess his sins?”

Elegant nodded. “We need him to pay, for Shiho-chan, and everyone on the volleyball team.” She stated coldly. “The Treasure is more important.”

Skull rolled his eyes. “Fiiiine. So, where is it?” He questioned the feline.

“It has to be somewhere in the depths of this castle. Let’s infiltrate further in while he’s out here!” It suggested, moving back from the open doorway.

They opened a door further down the hall, revealing a guard standing with its back against them. Quickly retreating, they hid behind the corners.

“Dammit, there’s a guard over here too...” Skull gritted his teeth. “Whaddya wanna do? Should we kick its ass?” He asked Joker.

The black haired thief nodded. “We have to, this is the only way forward.” He stated, readying his dagger.

“Hold on.” Mona interrupted, stopping them. “This might be a good opportunity to teach you something. All right, let’s go!”

They snuck up on the guard, Joker jumping on its back and tearing off its mask. "Show me your true form!" He yelled. It convulsed, turning into a fairy. The four stood ready with their weapons.

“Remember how I taught you Hold Ups and All-Out Attacks? I’ll teach you their practical use now.” Mona explained. “There’s another use for Hold Ups besides simply defeating enemies. Shadows are beings born from people’s hearts, so naturally, they can talk too. In other words, you can communicate with them. Get it?” It lectured the others. “If you talk to them when they’re cornered, they might offer money or items since they don’t want to die. In fact, talking has a better chance of scoring something great, as opposed to just offing them.”

“Wait.” Elegant interrupted. “They can give you money? Legitimate Japanese yen? I thought they were fake.” She asked, befuddled at the concept.

“Yep! Well then, let’s do the first step: Knock all enemies down, and do a Hold Up!” Mona declared.

Joker reached into his belt, pulling out his 9mm and shot one bullet, knocking the fairy down onto the floor. They rushed in to surround it, pointing their firearms at the vulnerable enemy.

“Seriously?! You guys are the intruders that king Kamoshida was talking about..?” The fairy complained, leaning on her hands. “It can’t get worse than this...What’re you going to do with me?!”

Joker cocked his gun, glaring at the Shadow. “Give me some money.” He demanded.

“For real?! You’ll let me live if I give you something?” The shadow sputtered, looking at him hopefully.

Mona shrugged. “Well, something along those lines...Now let it be money or items. Just cough it up!” It demanded, pointing its slingshot at the enemy.

The fairy sweated. “But, this happened so suddenly...I actually don’t have anything on me...” It stammered. “I-I usually do though, you know?!”

Taken aback, Mona looked at it bewilderedly. “W-Wait, what? Oh...This isn’t how I was planning this to go.” It sweatdropped. “Uh...Anyway, it can’t be helped if that’s the case. Time for you to go to hell.” It declared.

“W-Wait!” The fairy shouted frantically.

“Sorry, but we’re in a hurry.” Elegant stated apologetically, readying her sniper rifle.

“Can’t we work something out? Don’t kill me, please! Won’t you let me go?” The Shadow begged.

Joker shook his head. “You chose the wrong enemy.” He affirmed.

“Wow...You’re really confident. But I’m the same way. In any other situation, we’d get along really well.” The Pixie reminisced, before glowing. “Whoa, I feel different! Something’s happening!” It exclaimed confusedly.

“What the..?! What’s going on?!” Mona yelped, watching with wide eyes.

The fairy flew up in the air, a sheen of light surrounding it. “Oh yeah, I remember now! I don’t belong just to King Kamoshida...I’m an existence that drifts about in the sea of humanity’s souls...My real name is “Pixie”!” It proclaimed. “I am thou, thou art I. From now on, I’ll live on inside your heart!” It finished, before bright blue light enveloped it. In its place was a mask, a perfect replica of Joker’s. It flew to Joker and merged with his own in a sea of shimmer.

He smirked triumphantly, feeling the new power within him.

The rest of the group ran up to him in awe. “What was that just now..? What happened?!” Mona questioned quickly.

Skull turned to look at his feline companion. “Wh-What the hell was that about? The enemy got sucked into Joker’s mask!” He asked, completely shocked.

Elegant moved a little closer to the ebony haired teammate, examining his mask. “That was amazing.” She breathed, looking at him in awe.

He smirked at faintly for the compliment.

“I-I have no idea!” Mona stammered. “I wasn’t expecting that either.”

 

“Intruders?! Halt!”

 

A guard appeared in the doorway. The four thieves turned around quickly.

“Shit, they noticed us!” Skull gritted.

The guard convulsed, darkness spilling out of its armor, before turning into two Demon Horses.

‘I sense a new possibility within me stemming from the previous battle....’ Joker thought, slicing three times with his dagger, backflipping away, and brought up a hand to clench his mask. He spun in place, summoning Pixie, and struck out with a Zio. It shocked one Demon Horse, knocking it down on its feet.

Mona looked at him in shock. “Is that the Shadow from earlier?! Don’t tell me...Did you take in the Shadow’s appearance and powers as a Persona?!” It sputtered.

“Hey!” Elegant called out. “Want me to finish it off?”

Joker looked at the female and nodded in acquiesce.

The richly dressed thief rushed up to the demon and spun in an arch with her scythe, slicing into the Demon Horse several times, before jumping into the air and stabbing down with the sharp tip. It halved the Shadow, screaming out in pain as it dissipated.

Skull yelled out, “Captain Kidd!”, summoning his Persona, and sending out a bolt of lightning to the other Shadow. They rushed up to surround the enemy.

“Ow, ow, ow...Whaddya think yer doin?!” It groaned.

“Lend me your power.” Joker commanded, pointing his gun. The horse cocked its head. “So that’s yer move?...Then I guess I’ll talk first. I’ll decide if I’m gonna help you after. I was just passin’ by, and you roughed me up real bad. Hey, what’s yer deal? Somethin’ bad happen in yer life or somethin’, sonny?” It asked gruffly.

The ebony haired thief glared at it. “You’re getting on my nerves.” Joker warned.

“Y’know, let’s just drop all this dangerous stuff and go fer a drink. Whaddya say?” The horse suggested nervously. “Humans talk over drinks, right? How ‘bout it? Hell, let me buy you a round, sonny.” It offered.

“Quit messing around.” Joker threatened it.

“Heh, you don’t like jokes, huh? Reminds me of when-Oh!” The Shadow got up on its hooves, standing confidently. “I remember now. My name is Demon Horse. I’ll go with ya.” It stated, before turning into a mask and flying to merge with Joker’s.

He smirked. Another Persona acquired!

Mona gazed up at its leader in awe. “No way...Does that mean you can wield multiple Personas?!” It gawked.

Skull looked around confusedly. “H-Hey, Mona! What was that about?! What did Joker do?” He asked.

The feline circled their current team leader, observing him. “He sealed the enemy’s appearance and powers into his mask, and made it his new Persona.” It rationalized. “I’ve never seen anyone do that before...didn’t even know it was possible!” It exclaimed, amazed at what it just witnessed.

Elegant hummed. “Perhaps it’s purely unique to Joker then? We don’t seem to have the same ability.” She remarked, tapping her chin. “So a person can only have one Persona each. Joker now has three, which means that he could absorb different Personas with different strengths and weaknesses, making it so he can always have the advantage!” The rosette cheered. “Really living up to your name as the wild card!”

Joker smirked, pleased at hearing so many compliments. “Sounds useful.” He remarked, clenching and unclenching his hand experimentally, feeling the power humming beneath his skin. “Let’s keep going.” He ordered.

Mona’s eyes shined with excitement. “Hehe, I like you even more now! I really do have someone special on my hands!” It snickered, a grin on its cartoonish face.

They moved through the next door, passing through the guard armory and fighting Shadows along the way. Joker acquired two new Personas in the meantime, a Jack-O-Lantern and a Mandrake.

“Oh!” Elegant gasped. “A treasure chest! Let’s check it out!” She suggested excitedly to her companions, gesturing to the box that was at a corner. The ebony haired thief walked up to the chest, opening it. They all peered curiously over his shoulder. He pulled out a silver dagger.

“Nice! It looks stronger than your current one, you should use that.” Mona suggested.

Nodding, Joker switched out his rebel knife with the silver dagger, testing the grip. ‘It does seem a little sturdier.’ He observed.

Advancing through the next corridor, they passed by a gated hallway and detected a door that was different from the others. It slightly wavered the closer they got to it.

“Oooh, it’s another hazy-lookin’ door! This that thing! Uhh, what was it called..?” Skull exclaimed, scratching his head.

“A safe room, perfect.” Elegant sighed in relief.

“We can discuss our strategy inside. There are a lot of places even I don’t know about in here.” Mona added, pushing the door open. The room shuddered, turning into an empty classroom, before fluctuating back into an abandoned armory.

 

The blonde model walked up to the castle, looking around cautiously. “This is that place from earlier..!” She muttered. She gazed around the empty courtyard, not seeing her fellow students. 'Why were they dressed so weirdly..?' Pulling out her phone, she looked at it perplexedly. “...What’s up with this app? I just said the words Sakamoto said, and I ended up-”

“Princess?!”
Taken offguard by the shouting, she shot her head up. “Huh?” She uttered. She took a step back in bewilderment when she saw some three suits of armor run up to her. "Princess, you must come with us!" A guard demanded. Another picked her up, carrying her on their shoulder.

“Aaaaaaaah!” She screamed fearfully as she was forcefully taken into the castle.

‘Someone help me!’ She prayed fervently.


Super thank you to LadyMiittens for the fantastic fanart!! I'm so honored and happy to receive this, thank you so much for your love and support!!!

Chapter Text

Sitting on one of the chairs in the safe room, Skull sighed. “Aren’t there even more Shadows here than before?” He remarked. “Just gettin’ this far’s been a real pain in my ass!” He groaned, stretching his arms in the air.

“It’s all because you guys provoked Kamoshida, you know.” Mona chided, waving its paws. “Still...he seems to be awfully on guard.” It remarked solemnly, glaring at the door in suspicion.

“The entire castle must be mobilized right now.” Elegant added, sitting calmly in her chair, her hands placed on her leather clad lap. “We need to be as careful as possible.”

“So how are we supposed to steal the Treasure then?” Skull questioned, looking at their feline teammate.

Mona glanced at him warningly. “Don’t be so hasty.” It chided. “First, we’ll need to secure an infiltration route.”

The male in question crossed his arms. “The what..?” Skull asked, confused.

“Basically, we need to find a safe way to get to the Treasure quickly. I doubt we can defeat the Palace in one day, which means we have to come back.” Elegant explained clearly, making sure Skull can follow. “So we need to find a clear passage from the starting point to the end.” The rosette finished.

The blond punk oohed and nodded his head in understanding.

“Since we have four members, I think we can definitely accomplish this!” Mona proclaimed confidently, jumping onto the table.

A thought hitting the pirate, Skull turned to look at it. “Hey, you say you don’t have your memories and all, but somehow you still know about that kinda stuff?” He asked, slightly perplexed, turning to his ebony haired companion. “Do you think this thing’s really got amnesia?” Skull whispered.

“I believe in Mona.” Joker replied evenly. “He hasn’t led us wrong yet.”

Mona smiled happily up at its leader. “At least you’re a step above that moron.” It cheerfully commented, ignoring Skull’s shout of indignation.

“You sure talk big, but what if it turns out you’re just some stray cat in the end?” Skull frowned suspiciously.

Mona shook its head. “That can’t be...” It muttered morosely.


“Still, why was the princess in such an odd place..?”


Turning toward the door, the four pressed against it, listening in on the passing conversation.

“Princess?” Elegant murmured, frowning in confusion.

The other three shrugged, also confused. They could have sworn it was only Kamoshida around.

“I could have sworn we were pursuing the readings of an intruder…”

“It doesn’t matter now. We must take her back to King Kamoshida!”

Hearing the clanking of metal getting farther away from their room, they relaxed their guards.

“Who’s this princess they’re talkin’ about..?” Skull asked, trying to remember if someone else was supposed to be here.

Joker shrugged, not knowing either.

Furrowing her brows at a thought, Elegant turned to the others. “Could they mean Ann-chan? She was the only other female around...” She frowned worryingly. “But we sent her home, didn’t we?” The thieves looked at each other, confused.

Mona pushed the door ajar, peeking out. “I should probably look into this!” It declared, sprinting down the hallway. The three Shujin students looked at each other exasperatedly.

“And yet another question goes unanswered...” Skull remarked sullenly. “Stuff like the castle and that navigation app are mysterious...but Morgana’s got ‘em both beat.”

“Mona.” Joker corrected him.

“Crap, sorry!” Skull winced. “Who am I again?...Oh yeah, Skull!”

Elegant frowned. "Mona's taught us a lot about this world. We can trust them enough. Even if they haven't told us their origins..." She trailed off uncomfortably. "I'm sure they'll tell us when they're ready."

They stood there awkwardly for a moment, before it was interrupted by Mona’s reappearance. “Guys, this is bad!” It exclaimed, blue eyes wide. “It’s Lady Ann! She’s been taken by the Shadows...!” It yelled out.

Alarmed, the three humans looked at each other apprehensively.

“I hate when I’m right.” Elegant commented, wincing. “She must have the app on her phone now.”

Skull furiously rubbed his head. “Dammit! We let her out for her own safety, and she just came back in by herself..!” He gritted. “Dammit, we don’t got time to be takin’ a break! We gotta go save her ass!”

They exited the room and ran down the hallway. Going back the way they came, they noticed the barred corridor was now open, the carpet slightly scuffled as if someone had dragged their feet. It was decorated with red walls and hearts, two rows of armor lining the entire corridor. Rose petals spread all over the ground dramatically.


“Get off!”


“Let’s hurry!” Elegant urged, running down the hallway toward the closed black doors. They followed her, passing a knocked down suit of metal.


“Look, I’ll apologize for touching the armor without permission!”


“She totally doesn’t get what’s goin’ on...” Skull groaned, arriving at the doors.

“Let’s hurry and save her!” Mona exclaimed.

They pushed the doors open, the sight that greeted them had them all biting back a swear.



Ann was shackled to an “X” shaped cross, two guards standing in front of her. The room was showered with flower petals and candles, a horrific portrait of a shirtless Kamoshida hung right in the center.

“What’s all this about?! Seriously, I’m gonna call the cops!” Ann yelled, frantically trying to break free.

“So, this is the intruder.” A sinister voice announced. Kamoshida walked up to observe the blonde model with his glowing yellow eyes.

“Kamoshida?!” Ann yelped in surprise, her blue eyes staring at the cape-clad teacher incredulously. A perfect copy of her walked up next to him, clad in a purple leopard print bikini and cat ears.

“Who is that..?” Ann whispered, her eyes not leaving her copycat. “More importantly, what is this place?! Why’s the school turned into something like this?!” She demanded, wanting an answer.

Smirking amusedly, the Shadow king turned to his soldiers. “I can’t believe you mistook my Ann for someone like her.” He chuckled. “Are you afraid?” He asked, looking menacingly at the student.

She looked back at him warily. “What is that outfit..? Have you lost your mind?” She asked skeptically, fear starting to creep in.

The king flared his arms out, showcasing the room. He gave her a large grin, madness in his eyes. “I do as I please here. After all, this is my castle...The world of my desires.” He declared loudly.

Ann stared at him in disbelief, her eyes darting around the room. “What the-?! Is this some kind of red light district?!” She screeched, struggling against the cross.

Kamoshida frowned. “What a lively slave.” He remarked.

“This isn’t funny! Enough of the bullshit, Kamoshida!” Ann yelled, angry at her situation.

The evil king’s eyes narrowed at the insult. He turned to Not-Ann. “The girl’s decided to tell me off. What do you think of that?” He asked amusedly.

She smiled back at him seductively. “Talking back is, like...totally unforgivable...” Not-Ann replied back slowly, as if drugged.

He turned back to the school girl. “In that case...she should be executed.” He declared, sneering at his prisoner. “Now then, how should I play with you? Shall I tear you into little pieces?” Kamoshida taunted, a mad grin spreading across his rectangular face.

Ann looked at the approaching soldier, fear slowly creeping into her expression. “Are you kidding me..?” She whispered, scrunching up her face.

“This is fucked up.” Skull spat out. “Is that what he thinks of the girls on the volleyball team?!”

In front of the phantom thieves were topless girls, mewling and sprawled out seductively on the carpet. They all wore the volleyball team underwear.

Joker tch’ed in disgust, looking away from the indecent females. To think a male teacher would go this far.

Staring at the sexualized girls in horror, Elegant clenched her fists. ‘That’s Watanabe...Nakamura...Harada....and Tanaka.’ She listed to herself coldly, remembering their names and faces for later.

“Hey, that’s..!” Mona yelped, staring off to the right of the room.

The three humans looked in the same direction, seeing Ann strapped down on a cross and surrounded by Shadows, including Kamoshida and Not-Ann. The four rushed forward.

“Takamaki!” Skull shouted, clenching his fists.

“Just when I was about to start enjoying myself...” Kamoshida scowled, turning to look at the new arrivals.

Struggling against her bonds, Ann looked incredulously at her school mates. “What’s the deal with this guy?!” She cried out.

“You little..!” Skull growled, glaring at the distorted king.

“...How many times are you gonna come back?” Kamoshida asked, sneering at them, when his eyes landed on Elegant. “Oh? What a beautiful young woman you have there.” He licked his lips salaciously, yellow eyes roaming up and down her body. “I wouldn’t mind having a taste…”

Disgusted, Elegant took a step back. Her three teammates moved in front of her, shielding her from the king’s roaming gaze. They glared at him hatefully.

Shrugging, the distorted teacher turned back to his prisoner. “I bet you’re just like those thieves. You came because you’re pissed at me, huh?” Kamoshida asked mockingly. “But ah...I forget that chick’s name, but it’s your fault she jumped, you know.”

“Huh?” Ann breathed, looking at him with wide eyes.

He chuckled. “You were so reluctant to throw yourself onto me that I had her take your place.” Kamoshida stated to the room.

Narrowing her light blue eyes in anger, Ann struggled harder. “You bastard!” She roared at him. She gasped when a guard moved closer.

“No!” Skull shouted, taking a step to intercept the guard but was stopped when Kamoshida raised his hand. “Take one more step and I’ll kill her on the spot.” He threatened, sneering at the intruders.

The blond punk flinched. “Dammit..!” He gritted his teeth in frustration.

The king chuckled darkly. “Just sit back and enjoy the dismantlement show.”

Ann gasped and pulled at her cuffs. “No! Don’t!” She objected profusely.

“Maybe I’ll start with her clothes.” Kamoshida giggled pervertedly, nostrils flaring. Not-Ann giggled, shaking her bikini-clad breasts. “You’re such a perv!” She purred.


“Dammit, what are we gonna do?!” Skull gritted his teeth. They stood there, uncertain of what they can do to get out of this situation.

Joker bit back a curse. What could they do? Guns? His eyes darted from his own, to his teammates’. It won’t kill all the enemies. But...His eyes landed on Elegant. That might work.

He made a small gesture with his chin, trying to signal the female thief.

Her tense eyes darted to him, awaiting orders.

Joker put his pointer and middle finger together, mimicking a gun.

Her eyes lit up with realization and nodded, discreetly readying her rifle.


“Is this...my punishment for what happened to Shiho..?” Ann whispered, looking down defeatedly as the soldiers moved closer.

The shadow king chuckled in amusement. “That’s more like it. You should’ve looked like this from the start.” He remarked darkly.

Light blue eyes teared, staring blankly at nothing. “Shiho...I’m so sorry..” Ann whispered, clenching her eyes.

“You’re just going to listen?” Joker questioned his classmate, a serious look on his face. “Don’t give in!”

Lifting her head, Ann looked at the ebony haired teen. “Huh..?” She breathed, surprise written on her face.

“Ann-chan, this is the man who raped Shiho.” Elegant stated grimly. “Are you going to let this disgusting piece of shit get away with it?!”

Biting her lip, the model nodded. “...You’re right.” She replied resolutely, a determined expression overcoming her moment of weakness. “Letting this piece of shit toy with me..,” Ann struggled in her bindings. “What was I thinking..?!” She yelled at herself, her anger rising.

Kamoshida frowned. “It’s like I always say. Slaves should just behave and-” “Shut up!” Ann interrupted. “I’ve had enough of this...” She declared, glaring at the teacher. “You’ve pissed me off, you son of a bitch!”

‘My...it’s taken far too long.’

Chapter Text

Gasping, Ann convulsed in her chains, pain wracking through her body. She felt something pulse, something within her. Deep inside, it has awakened from its slumber.

‘Tell me...who is going to avenge her if you don’t?’

Clenching her eyes, she let out little gasps of pain. ‘My body feels like it’s on fire!’ She jerked around, trembling.

‘Forgiving him was never the option…Such is the scream of the other you that dwells within...’

Sweat drenching her forehead, hair sticking to her face, she screamed out in anguish. She tensed, her upper body thrust in the air, before slumping down, exhausted.

‘We can finally forge a contract…’

Head down, tears streaming down her face with saliva dribbling from the side of her mouth, she answered. “I hear you...Carmen.” Ann whispered.

She flung her head back, revealing a red feline mask covering the entire upper half of her face, her eyes glowing yellow with untapped power. “You’re right. No more holding back..!” She declared loudly.

Kamoshida gasped at the mask, taking a step back.

‘There you go...Nothing can be solved by restraining yourself.’

Body flaring with blue flames, Ann broke through her shackles in bursts of shrapnel. Taking her right hand, she clenched her mask.

‘Understand? Then I’ll gladly lend you my strength.’

Ripping it off with a splatter of blood, she screamed, a funnel of power enshrouding her from everyone else.

When the energy dispersed a little, it revealed a slim young woman with two curly pigtails, clad in a layered red dress, roses and thorns encircling her torso. In one hand she held a doll resembling a lovesick man, another beneath her stiletto clad foot. Staring predatorily through her feline mask, Carmen floated behind Ann.

Ann, whose school uniform was replaced with a red leather catsuit with zippers, clinging to her every curve. It left open a large window of her cleavage, showing satin smooth skin and the top curves of her breasts. A leather whip-like tail was attached to her backside, simulating a feline predator. Her hands were encased in pink leather gloves, and her darker red boots encircling her upper thighs.

Opening her eyes, she stared defiantly at the enemies around her. Rushing up to one, she launched an upper kick to its hand, making it release its sword into the air. Jumping up, she grabbed it by the handle, and with a loud cry, swung down at the Not-Ann. The fake screamed, dissipating into nothing.

Kamoshida stared wide eyed at the red clad woman. A shot rang out, hitting in front of him, and he frantically scooted back. A soldier moved to shield him, but another bullet shot it into a wisp.

Done with her job, Elegant put her rifle away, taking her scythe out.

Sweating bullets now, the distorted ruler moved away even more, tripping and landing on his backside.

“You know what?” Ann began, standing up from her landing crouch. She glared at the disgusting man in front of her. “I’m not some cheap girl you can toy with, you scumbag.” She declared.

Gritting his teeth, Kamoshida glared up at her. “Bitch..!” He muttered angrily.

The new Persona user took a step forward, her comrades backing her up. They all glared down at him. “You stole everything from Shiho...You destroyed her...Now it’s your turn!” Ann yelled. Pointing a finger at the despicable teacher, an inferno lighting her eyes. “I will rob you of everything!” She declared. A whip appeared in her hand, and she cracked it experimentally.

“How dare you!” A lieutenant shouted, more soldiers backing him up. “Enough of your insolence!” They convulsed, and merged into one being. The black shadows creeped back, showing a horrid looking demon with large horns and a beard, sitting on a toilet.

Ann glared at it. “No. I’ve had enough of you!” She retorted, clenching her fist at it. “No one’s gonna stop me now!” The blonde crouched into a feline battle position. “Let’s go, Carmen!”

“How dare you deny King Kamoshida’s love, you selfish lass?! Pay for this insolence with your life!” The demon exclaimed angrily.

Ann snorted derisively. “That dirtbag just sees women as sexual outlets! Don’t make me laugh with that “love” bullshit!” She rebuked. Holding a hand to her face, her red feline mask appeared in a flash of flames. “C’mon, Carmen! Let’s give ‘em hell!” Cracking her whip, the red clad woman moved in and whipped the Shadow several times.

Joker moved in after, slicing it with his dagger.

Skull sent a Zio at their opponent, paralyzing it. He ran back to Elegant, high-fiving her.

“Jeanne!” She yelled out, the finely clad Persona in purple and white appearing behind her. “Kouha!” She snapped her fingers, sending a beaming white light into the opponent, knocking it down. The four rushed in to attack it all at once. Moving back, they observed the heavily injured Shadow.

Ann called out, “Carmen!” The fiery woman appeared behind her, dragging her boytoy around callously. “Agi!” Ann commanded. A burst of fire encased the enemy, burning it into nothing.


The red clad female panted, body hunched over. The thieves stood protectively in front of her, glaring at their only opponent.

“Oh shit..!” Kamoshida cursed, sweat dripping down his face. He moved to dash out of the room, running away from the five thieves.

Elegant quickly held up her sniper rifle and aimed, pulling the trigger. Just at the last second, he turned the corner, the bullet lodging into the wall.

“Wait!” Ann called out, moving to go after him, but collapsed onto her knees in exhaustion.

The rosette quickly moved to kneel beside her, handing her a Recov-R. “Here, this will help.” The rosette advised.

The blonde swallowed it, instantly feeling better.

The others relaxed now that there were no enemies around, and Skull walked up to the newest Persona user. “Why’d you come here, man?! And more importantly, how?!” He shouted.

Mona glared up at the punk. “Hey! Is that how you speak to a woman?!” It chided firmly, before turning back to the half foreigner. “Are you alright, Lady Ann?” It asked softly.

Ann looked up at the cat in confusion. “Lady Ann..? Wait, what is this thing? Is it alive..? How can it talk?” She shot off, wondering what was standing in front of her.

Mona flinched, rejected.

“And...where in the world are we?!” Ann yelled.

“J-Just calm down.” Mona pleaded, panicking at her distress. “Everything’s going to be OK; don’t worry.”

Ann swiped her hand on its giant head, making it wobble in place. “How am I supposed to calm down?!” She yelled, before stiffening with surprise. “Huh?!” She looked down at her pink leather clad hands, and the body suit she was wearing, with disbelief. “Why am I dressed like this?! When did I-” She covered her body with her arms, face red with embarrassment.

Sweatdropping, Elegant interrupted. “Let’s move to a safe room so we can explain it to her. Kamoshida might send more guards.” She suggested, looking at Joker for confirmation.

He nodded, agreeing with what she said. “Let’s go.” He commanded, gesturing with a red clad hand. The others followed after him, Elegant gently guiding Ann who was still in shock. Joker opened the safe room, letting his teammates enter, before closing the door behind him.


“What is going on?! Can someone explain to me?” Ann pleaded, brows furrowed in confusion.

The thieves looked at each other, wondering who should explain, before three pairs of eyes landed on the other female in the room.

Noticing their silent volunteering, Elegant sighed and stepped forward. “All right, I’ll explain.”

Chapter Text

She spun their tale that began with her on April 9th, to meeting the three behind her earlier this week, until the moment they barged into the chamber where she was held. “And then you gained your Persona. Meaning, you now also have the power to take down this Palace.” Elegant finished, wetting her dry lips after talking so much.

“So...I have a Persona I can fight with? And it’s only in this “Metaverse” which I can access with the red eyeball app on my phone?” Ann repeated hesitantly, getting a nod from the four in front of her.

“Yep! Cool shit, huh?” Skull grinned, lacing his hands behind his head.

She nodded. “And I’m a fire user..?”

“Which means you’re weak to ice.” Elegant informed.

Ann scrunched up her face. “OK..? I’m a fire user, so I’m weak to ice...What about you guys?”

Skull leaned back in his seat. “I’m a lightning user, and I hate wind attacks. Mona there’s a wind user, and he’s weak to lightning. Got that?”

Joker leaned against the table. “I’m weak to bless and ice right now, but I can change with other Personas.”

Ann looked at him in surprise. “Wait, you can have multiple Personas? Do I have to go through that pain again?!” She grimaced.

Mona shook its head. “Not at all! Joker here is the only phantom thief who can hold more than one. Elegant there is null to bless and weak to curse, so we all balance out pretty well.”

Ann nodded in understanding. “OK, I think I get it.”

Skull gestured to the black haired male next to him. “If you need any help, you can always ask Joker.”

“Joker..Elegant? Are those some kind of nicknames?” Ann inquired curiously.

Mona shook its head. “They’re codenames because we’re phantom thieves, Lady Ann! Plus, who knows what would happen if we said our real names in a Palace.” It replied, smiling at her. “I’m Mona! He’s Skull, and she’s Elegant!” It stated, pointing to them respectively.

Ann looked down at her leather clad legs pensively. “So if we get Kamoshida’s Treasure, he’ll have a change of heart and confess his crimes?” She whispered.

Joker nodded. “That’s the plan.” He replied evenly.

“If guys like us try and complain at school, they’re just gonna shoot us down. Goin’ all in on this plan is the only choice we got.” Skull growled, clenching his fists.

Elegant idly grasped her arm. "No one else is going to do anything. The volleyball team is too scared to act, and the school looks the other way..." She frowned.

Biting her lip, she looked up at the four thieves. “Let me join you!” Ann declared. “I need to make him pay for what he did to Shiho!” She held up a clenched fist, determination roaring in her eyes.

“Wait, what?” Skull sputtered. “Did I just hear you say “Let me join you”? As in you want us to take you along?”

Ann glared at him, slightly hurt. “Don’t act like I’m going to drag you down. Weren’t you watching? I can fight too.” She argued.

Joker watched her contemplatively. “Are you sure? It’s dangerous work.” He asked his classmate, raising an eyebrow. “No one can know we did this either. Suzui-san will never know.” He stated quietly.

“That doesn’t matter!” Ann argued. “Shiho...Shiho might never wake up again. He just keeps going like nothing happened, even after what he did to her...I’ll never forgive him!”

Elegant nodded approvingly at her speech, scowling darkly at the mention of the teacher.

The ebony haired leader stared at her, before smirking. “Welcome aboard.” He awarded.

Skull turned to him in disbelief. “You serious, man..?” He whispered.

He nodded affirmingly.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect her.” Mona stated firmly, jumping on the table.

“Even if you say no, I’m just gonna go alone.” Ann added, crossing her arms.

Huffing, the punk relented. “Alright, fine. You better keep up, Takamaki!” He snarked, looking at the blonde with a frown.

Ann stuck her tongue out at him in response. “Then it’s decided. Well, I hope we get along!” She stated determinedly. “I’m going to make Kamoshida atone for what he did. Not just for Shiho’s sake...but for everything he’s done. I won’t let any more people suffer because of him. I’ll do whatever it takes!”

Joker nodded. ‘I sense a strong will from her…’

Mona stared at her with glimmering eyes, infatuated. “What a kind girl...Such admirable consideration for others.” It commented dreamily. “She cares about her friends, and she’s beautiful to boot...What a girl! She’s captured my heart...”

Elegant crossed her arms. “Since she’s our new member, what should her codename be?” She asked the room. “We can’t keep calling her her name in this realm.”

They turned to the other female in the room, scrutinizing her. “But daaamn…” Skull whistled in appreciation.

Ann, not realizing his ogling, looked at the others. “Hm? What’s up?” She asked confusingly, playing with one ponytail.

“N-nothing. I mean, she’s got that tail and stuff, so...how about Sexy Cat?” Skull grinned pervertedly.

Recoiling, she looked at him in disgust. “Wait! Is that what you’re going to call me from now on?! I am SO not down with this!” She rebuked harshly, cringing at the suggestion.

“What do you wanna be called then?” He asked.

She placed a hand under her chin. “Um, something better than just a little cat...” She replied sullenly. “Maybe…”Panther”?” She suggested, looking at the others hopefully. “That sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?”

Skull scratched his head. “Huh? Why?” He asked, befuddled.

“‘Cause it sounds more...ferocious?” Ann replied, sounding it more like a question as if she wasn’t sure herself.

They nodded in agreement. Mona smiled dreamily. “She’s a cougar..!” It murmured happily at its fellow feline.

Ann stomped her foot. “Don’t call me that!” She yelled, blushing slightly in embarrassment. She turned to her fellow classmates. “More importantly, Kamoshida..!”

“Oh, right.” Skull sputtered, before glaring determinedly. “Let’s go!” He pumped his fist.


They set out into the den of monsters. They made their way through the various hallways, checking rooms and corners for hidden treasures and enemies. Walking into a large room, they noticed a glowing chest.

“Huh, it’s locked.” Mona remarked. “It needs a lockpick to open. Do we have any?” It asked the others. They shook their heads.

“Oh!” Elegant perked up. “I have a bobby pin on me. Give me a second.” She said, fishing out said bobby pin from her braided bun, letting it fall down in tails. She twisted the thin metal, inserting it into the lock and fidgeting for a second, before they heard a “click” sound. The lock snapped off, and she opened the lid, taking out a plate of gold and a piece of onyx. She turned back to her friends, putting her bun up again, and stopped.

They all looked at her with wide eyes. “Dude, where’d you learn to pick a lock?” Skull whistled, impressed at her skill.

“Uh...places.” Elegant replied, eyes darting away uncomfortably. “Let’s just keep going.” She insisted, walking down the hall.

Joker stared at her contemplatively before following. ‘I’ll ask her later.’ He noted.

Chapter Text

Making it through the maze of hallways, they arrived on the second floor of the foyer. They looked down from the railing, noticing the main hall was filled with enemies.

“This way!” Joker whispered, gesturing at the nearby bookcase. He jumped up on it, before walking down an arch.

They followed him, jumping from chandelier to chandelier, until they made it to the other side of the main hall. Opening up the nearest door, they ran up the spiraling staircase to the third floor. Sneaking and attacking Shadows along the way, the thieves acquired a lot of money and items. Stopping at the next safe room, some of them changed their weapons to better ones, keeping the old ones to sell later.

Hopping back out, they snuck around a grand dining hall, filled with patrolling guards. The next room seemed to be a cellar, with no way out.

Looking around, Joker noticed a vent that they could go through. Heading into it, they emerged into the adjacent room, heading out from its door. The intruders went up to the next floor, arriving at a new hallway. Opening a nearby door, they noticed that it was a study.

Walking in, a particular book caught the leader’s eyes, and he took it with him.

“The Slave Book, huh..? That sounds kind of important..” Mona remarked.

They moved on, facing a gated door. Next to it was a black ram’s head, in its mouth a handle.

“Hey,” Skull began. “This is just like the one we saw before! If I’m rememberin’ right, we just gotta pull this...” He gestured to the handle, before pulling it. Nothing happened.

“There’s a round indentation underneath.” Elegant pointed. “It looks like it won’t activate unless we fill that.”

“So we need a key...I wonder where it could be.” Panther mused.

“Most likely with an enemy.” Joker sighed, turning back to look for more soldiers to kill.

They turned down a hallway with large white arches separating the corridor, two guards patrolling. They snuck up on one and killed it, before dodging into the room it was blocking. It was another library.

“Whoa, it’s so musty...” Panther coughed, trying to disperse all the dust particles in the air.

“A library, huh? This definitely seems fishy.” Mona remarked, before perusing the room.

“Whaddya mean?” Skull asked.

“Come on, it’s a library in a castle. There has to be some kind of secret mechanism in here.” Mona snarked.

The others followed its example, looking around the bookcases and tables.

One book caught Joker’s eyes. He picked it up, examining it. “It looks familiar...” He mused, taking out the other two he grabbed in earlier rooms.

Skull walked up, looking over his shoulder at the open book, before recoiling. “These’re the names of the volleyball team members!” He shouted. He looked at the other books still on the bookcases. “Wait, what the hell?! All of the titles are boys from our school!” He exclaimed.

“”Sakamoto Ryuji: The Vulgar Ape.” There’s one here for Skull.” Mona commented, peering at the book.

The punk gritted his teeth, “That bastard! Who the hell does he think he is?!” Skull growled.

“What about the book from earlier? Are they connected?” Elegant asked, frowning at the shelves.

“Maybe I should put it on the shelf.” Joker mused, pursing his lips.

“Yeah,” Panther agreed. “Maybe something will change.”

The leader inserted “The Slaves Book” into the slot, hearing a click.

Skull peered closer at a nearby bookcase. “”Tracing Kamoshida’s Steps”...”Kamoshida’s Heroisms”...”Kamoshida’s Law”..?” He squinted. “What the hell?! All these goddamn books are about Kamoshida!” He exclaimed incredulously.

Joker placed “The King’s Book” in the empty spot on the shelf. It clicked.

They moved onto a new shelf. “There are all sorts of books here. “Panther remarked, perusing the spines. “The titles don’t have any rhyme or reason to them.”

“Wait.” Elegant interjected, eyes wide. “That book has Shiho-chan’s name on it...and my name...All of the books on this shelf are about female students..!” She stated, looking at it in horror.

“Takamaki Ann: The Charming Doll.”... “Kimisawa Airi: The Lovely Rose.”..holy shit.” Skull winced, backing away from both the books and the women they talked about.

“What the heck is this?!” Ann yelled, glaring disgustedly at the bookcase.

Joker inserted “The Queen’s Book” in, hearing an answering click.

Hearing a rumbling, they turned to look. A wall separated and slid back, revealing another altar room similar to the one Panther was held in.

“Whoa, it opened up!” Skull gaped.

Mona jumped up in glee. “Yes! Let’s take a look around.” It suggested. They slowly walked in and looked around with wide eyes.

Next to the cross shaped shackle were two stocks, handcuffs dangling. The floor was lit by candles, illuminating the rose petals on the carpet. Plastered all over the walls were pictures of Shiho in various poses and locations, focusing on her face, breasts, and posterior.

“Ugh...The hell is this room? There’re only pictures of Suzui in here!” Skull exclaimed, cringing while he looked around.

Panther looked at them in despair, not saying anything.

Elegant silently placed a hand on the other female’s shoulder, comforting her. This was hard for her too. To think Kamoshida would create an altar for the girl he abused...Her lips tightened. Disgusting.

“We’ll make him pay for this.” Joker growled.

“Yeah...Definitely.” Panther replied determinedly. “I feel even more motivated to do this now.” She clenched her leather clad hand.

Mona looked at her sympathetically. “I’m sure it’ll feel awful, but we should search this room. There has to be something in here if he was hiding it with such an elaborate trick.” It suggested. They spread out to investigate, looking around the room in its corners and surfaces.

“Hm?” Elegant hummed, inspecting a small bookcase. Her eyes lit up when she spied a golden round medal. “Guys, I found the insignia for the door!” She called the others. She handed it over to her leader, who pocketed it.

“Hey, there’s a piece of paper there.” Panther pointed out, grabbing it. It was a map.

“Oh! It’s a different map from the one we have!” Mona remarked happily. “This is lucky...Let’s take it with us!”

Joker took out their old map and pieced them together, making one large map of the castle.

“Aha! Our map’s complete now!” Mona grinned.

“So is it gonna tell us where the Treasure is?” Skull asked.

Mona nodded, pointing to a far away point on the map. “Yeah, look. It has to be here.” It replied, frowning faintly.

“It’s a rather unique shape for a building.” Elegant remarked thoughtfully. “Is it a tower?”

“Considering our current position...I’d say we’re about halfway there.” Mona declared, crossing its arms satisfactorily.

“All right! Let’s hurry over there!” Skull proclaimed, pumping a fist in excitement.

“No. Now that we know how much we have left, we can calculate the best way to pace ourselves.” Mona shook its head.

“Let’s keep exploring.” Elegant suggested. “But if anyone is tired, speak up so we can take a break. Time doesn’t really pass in this world, after all.” The others nodded, hope blooming in them with the knowledge that they were getting close.

They sped back to the barred door. Joker placed the medal into the indentation, and with a click, the ram head lowered. He pulled the handle, and the bars slid into the floor, opening a new path.

“Sweet! Looks like it worked.” Skull grinned.

“Now we can keep going!” Panther cheered.

They went through the door, walking down a short set of stairs.

“Hm?” Mona peered at the nearby door. “It’s a safe room!” It announced.

They went in to take a short breather. Elegant did her rounds to check for any injuries that needed treatment.

Panther sighed heavily.

“Wassup?” Skull asked the red clad female.

“My mind just keeps coming back to what Shiho must have been through..” She whispered.

Elegant frowned. “Panther…” She looked down guiltily.

The punk sat back in his seat. “We’re ‘bout halfway, so we just gotta go the other half and then we can get revenge for her!” He reassured.

Panther looked at him, and nodded. “Yeah...You’re right. Sorry for being such a downer. I’ll do my best from now on!” She declared determinedly. Refreshed, they left and continued on.

The next room was a grandiose chapel, rose petals falling and disappearing from the air. The archways were covered in rose bushes, in a parody of wedding halls. At the very end of the chapel stood a large statue of Kamoshida with his arms held out benevolently, light shining on it from the glass stained windows.

As they walked in, the entire church wavered, turning into the Shujin Academy gym, before changing back.

“Wait, was that...the gym?” Panther gasped.

“I get it...The gym’s some kinda holy place for him. He’s a god there.” Skull grunted, glaring at the statue disdainfully.

“How disgusting of an ego can he have?” Elegant murmured.

Joker didn’t say anything, gray orbs darting around to check for enemies and escape routes. They walked up closer to the statue, peering up at it with animosity.

“I can’t believe he can think like that...especially after what he did to Shiho...” Panther gritted her teeth angrily.

Skull nodded in agreement. “God, that bastard makes me so freakin’ sick! Just you wait, Kamoshida..!” He swore, clenching a fist.

“I see...So you’re the ones who tampered with the library. It seems my time waiting here has paid off...”

Chapter Text

The five thieves turned their heads, looking for whoever said that.

In a splatter of black and red, a golden suit of armor appeared in front of them. “Just as that ape there said,” the guard captain gestured to Skull. “This place is a holy ground for our great King Kamoshida. It is preposterous for miscreants like yourselves to come waltzing in like this.” It declared sternly.

“There’s nothing holy about this place! He’s a perverted rapist who should rot in hell!” Elegant retorted, twirling her scythe in her hand.

Convulsing, the Shadow changed into a Heavenly Punisher. “How dare you...You will pay for foolishly defying King Kamoshida...with your lives!” It shouted, as it raised its sword, striking at them.

They dodged the attack, and readied their weapons. “I knew this would happen! Well, we don’t have a choice! Let’s take it down!” Mona ordered.

The feline rushed in and sliced the Shadow with its scimitar, before backing away for Joker to add a few slashes.The Shadow shook them away, before charging up.

“Watch out! Make sure you guard!” Mona advised.

The infiltrators guarded themselves in preparation. The Heavenly Punisher sent a Cleave at Skull, tearing his arms up a bit, but otherwise he was fine.

“Persona!” Panther called out, Carmen appearing behind her. “Agi!” She sent a burst of flames, only slightly damaging the suit of armor. Elegant pulled out her sniper rifle, and shot it, knocking it down.

“Let’s rush it!” They surrounded it and performed an All-Out Attack, everyone taking a strike.

“Arsene!” Joker called out, the gentleman thief appearing. “Eiga!” He sent a curse attack at the enemy, knocking it down once more, and the thieves rushed in. Landing from his attack, Joker adjusted his gloves before smirking, as the Shadow behind him dissipated into nothing.

They lowered their weapons. “Didn’t realize those things could be that tough...” Skull panted, coughing a bit from the exhaustion.

“Yeah,” Mona nodded. “It looks like he’s making a concerted effort to stop us now.” It turned to its leader. “Joker, I’ve helped you learn a few different things so far, but there’s no more time for lessons.” It stated. “We’ll have to do our best from here on out!”

Joker nodded in understanding.

Suddenly, four guards appeared in a burst of meta energy, and began patrolling the chapel.

Alarmed, the thieves hid. “Crap, more of ‘em...” Skull grunted.

“What should we do? Head back?” Panther asked worriedly.

“No.” Elegant shook her head, observing the Shadows. “The Treasure is up ahead, and there’s most likely a path to it somewhere. We just need to be smart about this.” She stated, looking over at Joker. He looked around, his eyes catching a balcony close by. Gesturing to the others to follow him, he ran and jumped, flipping onto the next platform.They followed, making sure the guards didn’t notice them. They tried entering the nearby door, but to no avail.

“There has to be another way.” Elegant insisted, biting her lip, looking around the room. “There!” She pointed to a nearby balcony with a treasure chest. “If the layout is correct, there should be another balcony on the other side of the room.” She stated, pointing to the metal walkway filled with Kamoshida statues. “We can get across by walking on that.”

Joker nodded. “Good eye.” He complimented.

They jumped on the pillars, platforming to the chest. Grabbing whatever was inside, they made their way over the grate, crossing the room. There was one guard patrolling the balcony, and they ambushed it. Brushing themselves off, they headed toward the door, swinging it open.

Sneaking through the hallway, the checked the rooms for treasure and whatnot. Opening one, they realize it was the locked door they couldn’t open in the chapel.

“Now we have a quicker way.” Joker mused, before continuing on.

Walking up the spiraling stairs, they opened the door, revealing a rooftop.

“Hey, take a look at that!” Skull pointed. Next to the rooftop was a large circular tower, piercing high into the dark red sky.

“Oh! That matches up with the map. There’s no doubt that’s the tower we’re headed for.” Mona proclaimed.

“So the Treasure’s up there!” Panther cheered, their goal fast approaching.

“Hell yeah, we did it! So...where’s the entrance?” Skull asked, looking around. They noticed a door on the other side of the roof. “All the way there?” He muttered.

As soon as he said that, four guards spawned, an aura of intimidation surrounding them.

They slipped back into the doorway. “Dammit...” Skull groaned, glaring out at the patrol unit.

“It’s no surprise that security would be tight around here.” Mona remarked, observing the enemies. “But as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained! Let’s go, Joker!”

They snuck around the guards, ambushing them one by one. Clearing the rooftop of any enemies, they walked up to the door and tried to open it. Tried.

“Are you fucking serious..?” Skull groaned irritatedly.

“Maybe we can go up on the ledges?” Panther suggested, pointing up.

They jumped up on the stacked boxes before flipping onto the ledge, running toward the looming point. They circled the platform, up around the tower, and into an open window. They jumped down into the empty room, and opened the door cautiously. The room had a purple tint to the atmosphere, the checkered floors jutted at different heights haphazardly.

“Wh-What’s going on?!” Panther asked, looking around with wide eyes.

“The distortion is getting stronger...The Treasure has got to be nearby!” Mona stated firmly.

They cautiously crossed the room, jumping back when parts of the floor would rise up unexpectedly. Joker slammed his shoulder against the door, but it didn’t open. The five sighed, crossing to the other door. The hallway was lined with female upper body mannequins, their breasts jutting out of the wall. Walking through slowly, they avoided touching the statues, grimacing. The next room they came across had much larger upper body female statues, acting as pillars. Cringing, they opened the door closest. It revealed a platform with four female statues.

“Huh...What’s this?” Panther inquired, looking at it curiously.

“It looks like some kind of elevator.” Elegant mused, walking up to the control.

The four got on after her, and she pulled the mechanism. With a start, the platform descended all the way to the bottom, stopping. They got off and looked around. Down the hallway was a large portrait of Kamoshida topless, grinning “handsomely”, and down the other path was another elevator.

Joker narrowed his eyes at the portrait. Why would it be here? He walked up to the large frame and pushed, revealing the foyer.

“Hm, this place looks familiar.” Skull commented.

Mona looked at him incredulously.“It’s the entrance hall! Have you already forgotten?!”

“I didn’t realize we would end up here...” Panther mused, looking amazed at the castle’s design.

“Hey, look!” Skull pointed out. “There used to be tons of soldiers wanderin’ around, but I don’t see any of ‘em now...”

“The other elevator probably leads to the dungeons then.” Elegant concluded.

Walking to the second elevator, they pressed the button, but a Shadow appeared instead. Killing it, they took the items from the treasure chest it was guarding, and left back up into the tower. The next door opened into another cavernous room, a single guard patrolling. They quickly took it out, and walked into the safe room for a breather.

Standing next to the table, Joker looked at his teammates. “How’s our progress?” He asked.

Skull sighed, stretching his arms out. “We finally got in the tower...It’s startin’ to feel like we’re closin’ in on the end...” He commented.

Mona nodded. “Yeah, the distortion in here is particularly strong. We should be getting close to the Treasure.” It explained to its fellow thieves.

“But that means the enemies will be stronger too, right..? We better be prepared for that.” Panther warned, pursing her lips worriedly.

Joker nodded. “How is everyone, then?” He asked.

“I’m good to go!” Skull replied, grinning.

“Me, too! I want to finish this.” Panther nodded determinedly.

“I’m feeling pretty good!” Mona added, jumping on the table.

“I’m a little sore but I can continue.” Elegant smiled.

“Alright then, let’s go.” Joker commanded.

“Hold on.” Mona interrupted, holding out a paw. “We have five members now, and it’ll be hard to sneak around with so many people. Joker should decide who should be in the advance group, while the last one should stay as backup.”

Panther tilted her head. “So we should have four people in the advance group?”

Mona nodded. “That’s right. We should have four people as the first line of attack. I’ll volunteer as support for now, since you’ll need my guidance.” The teenagers nodded in understanding.

They left the safe room, immediately darting behind a pillar to ambush a nearby Shadow. After taking care of it, they went up to the locked treasure chest. Joker gestured to Elegant, who stepped forward and unlocked it, taking out a new accessory and handed it to him. Looking around, they noticed what should have been stairs, but most of the steps were laying on the stone floor. Hesitantly taking a step, the pieces flew up, completing the stairs underneath their feet.

They walked up to the next floor. It was filled with naked female statues, obstructing most of the rotund room. The spaces that were open had Shadows patrolling back and forth. Hiding behind one of the statues, they ambushed the Shadows, killing them. There were two staircases leading up to an upper platform, but one was barred with golden spikes. Taking the other way, the thieves moved up to another staircase.

Opening the door, they traveled up the stairway that circled, leading to a flat hallway, a red carpet covering the stone floor. To their left was a large open room, missing a floor. Instead, there were metal grates held up with chains from the ceiling. To the side of the entrance was a large bust of Kamoshida, grinning widely.

“Ugh, seein’ this face pisses me off every time...” Skull grumbled.

Joker started walking into the room, the others moved to follow him. He suddenly jumped back, a giant blade swinging down at where he just was.

“Whoa, that was close..!” Panther gasped, taking a couple more steps back.

“Are you OK, Joker?!” Elegant asked worriedly.

He nodded ”Yeah, I’m fine.” Joker breathed, heart pounding at the close call.

The entire walkway now had axes blocking the path, swinging ominously above the grates. There was no way they could go through here.

“It’s a classic security measure.” Mona explained. “My tail might be in danger if we try to force our way through.” It shook its head dejectedly.

“Oh yeah, same for Panther’s. So...what do we do? No way we’re gettin’ through here as is.” Skull questioned, furrowing his brows at the new obstacle.

“What about down the hall?” Elegant suggested. They tried walking, but a few feet away from the trap corridor, the ground erupted, too high for them to climb over. Sighing, the phantom thieves walked back to the entrance of the trap room. Joker tapped his chin, his eyes observing the giant bust.

“Oh, you think that thing’s controllin’ it?” Skull asked, resting his thumbs in his pockets.

He nodded, walking up to the statue and tugging on the jaw handle a couple of times. ‘There’s no reaction..’ He thought, frowning faintly.

“I didn’t think it would be that easy.” Mona crossed its arms. “We’ll probably need some kind of key for it...”

"We gotta look for a key again? What a pain in the ass...” Skull groaned, slumping.

“Where would it be though? There weren’t any suspicious rooms on the way here.” Panther mused, trying to think.

“Probably a special enemy.” Elegant suggested, peering at the statue with a frown. “Let’s go back down and take a look?”

Joker nodded, crossing his arms. “Agreed. If there aren’t any special rooms, then it has to be an enemy that has it.”

“Then we just need to look for Shadows like that and defeat them!” Panther replied cheerfully.

They all nodded and went down the stairs again, arriving on one of the lower floors. The room was filled again with more soldiers, with one of them dressed in gold. Killing all of them, they found a gem that was named “The Randy Right Eye”.

“H-Hey, that Shadow did have something...But what the hell is this? An eye?” Skull scrutinized the object in Joker’s hand.

“That’s it!” Elegant exclaimed, snapping her fingers in realization. “The bust was missing its eyes! If we put them in, it’ll activate the mechanism and we can cross the bridge!” She said hopefully.

“You’re right! Now that I think about it, it didn’t have eyes…” Panther agreed.

Skull scowled. “Ugh, how much grosser can he get? So this is gonna stop those things, huh?” He commented exasperatedly.

“Well, we’ll need one more.” Mona stated. “Another guard captain probably has it. Let’s try checking the other floors, Joker!”

Going down one more flight, they noticed from the top of the stairs, there were three golden suits of armor patrolling.

“Crap...They all look like high-rankin’ soldiers! Are we gonna have to beat all of ‘em?!” Skull whispered fervently.

“That would work, but there should only be one actual guard captain among them.” Mona replied quietly, observing the enemies. “Do you have any way to tell them apart, Joker?”

He nodded. His “third eye” sense could see one was much stronger than the other two. “That one.” Joker pointed. “The one that’s patrolling through the door and back.”

They snuck around the other two, ignoring them, and ambushed the guard captain. Killing it, it dropped a “Lusty Left Eye.”

“That’s it!” Skull whispered. “Let’s go stop those scythes!”

Rushing back to the trap corridor, Joker inserted the gems into the empty eye holes in the bust. The gems glowed, powering up the mechanism, and he pulled down the jaw. After a couple of swings, the scythes slowed to a stop, sheathing into the ceiling.

“All right! We can get across!” Skull pumped his fist in victory.

They ran down the metal grates, grabbing the treasure on the side, before continuing up another staircase. They entered a hall that was filled with Kamoshida busts lining the dividers, parts of the floor having eroded away due to the distortion. Looking around, they spotted the same floating stairs mechanism and walked up to it. The stairs didn’t appear.

“Huh?” Skull uttered, scratching the back of his head.

“Hmph. You are gravely mistaken if you think stairs will appear for you whenever you’d like.”

Chapter Text

Startled, the five thieves looked behind them. A guard captain had spawned, glaring directly at them.

“So this guy’s stopping them.” Mona remarked, smirking slightly.

The captained turned to Elegant. “Oh..? Aren’t you the new princess?” He remarked.

She furrowed her brow in confusion. “Excuse me? I’m not anyone’s princess, least of all Kamoshida’s.” She refuted coldly.

He hmphed. “So it seems. It was foolish of me to think you were her. This majestic tower penetrating the sky represents the admirable King Kamoshida’s most sacred place.” The Shadow droned. “It is nowhere for children like yourselves! Prepare for your punishment!”

“What kind of selfish reasoning is that?!” Panther argued, glaring at the enemy. “The only one who needs to be punished is-” She didn’t finish, for the enemy had convulsed and turned into a green horrific phallus shaped monster. “A-Ahhhhhhhh!” She screamed in disgust.

Cringing, Elegant looked away from the vulgar sight in front of her. “It’s coming!” Mona warned, jumping back.

The Shadow, Torn King of Desire, stared at Panther. Disgusted, Panther shrieked. “Carmen!” The beauticious Persona appearing. “Agi!” It damaged the enemy slightly, but didn’t affect it much.

Skull ran up and attacked it with his bat. “W-What the?! I missed!” He gritted his teeth.

“Let me!” Elegant shouted, summoning her Persona. “Kouha!” She snapped her fingers, sending a ray of light at the enemy, damaging it greatly.

Joker followed up with a couple of slashes with his dagger, knocking it down. They rushed in and killed it.

“OK! We can keep movin’ now!” Skull grinned, running for the stairs.

“I-I’m so done with this place...” Panther cringed.

“Same.” Elegant agreed fervently, equally rattled. “That was gross...Who did he think he was, calling me “princess”?” She grimaced.

“Hang in there, Panther, Elegant. We’re almost at the Treasure.” Mona reassured the females.

The thieves continued on, running upwards. At the very top of the tower, next to the stairs, was a large ornate door, guarded with two female statues. Joker tried opening it, but it was locked. Shrugging, they continued on to the end of the hallway where a Safe Room was.

Entering, they sat down tiredly. “Aren’t we gettin’ pretty close to the top of the tower?” Skull asked excitedly.

Mona nodded. “Yeah, the Treasure’s presence is very near now. We should be just about there!” It proclaimed.

“It’s almost time...My heart’s starting to beat a little faster.” Panther murmured, clenching her fists on her lap.

“We’ve gotten close, but...” Elegant paused. “I doubt we can just steal the Treasure without Kamoshida noticing. It’s his most valuable object, there’s no way he wouldn’t know.” She looked at Mona, who nodded in confirmation. ”We should prepare as much as we can.” She stated grimly.

The others nodded, frowning determinedly. “How is everyone?” Joker asked.

“I overestimated myself, but we’re close enough I can push on.” Mona replied awkwardly.

Skull leaned back in his seat, propping his feet on the table. "I'm good to go!"

Panther nodded. "I'm a little tired, but I can keep going!"

“...My hands are starting to hurt again.” Elegant grimaced, experimentally clenching her fingers.

“From earlier?” Joker asked worriedly.

She nodded. “...I don’t regret it, though. We should keep going.” She replied resolutely.

“Elegant...” Panther whispered, staring at her with gratitude. “Thank you again, for trying to save Shiho. Let’s keep going, Joker!” She looked at their leader determinedly.

He nodded, smirking slightly. Elegant flinched, looking away.

They left the safe room, and observed the giant doors once more for a way in. A glimmer of light caught his eye, and Joker looked up to the left. There was a windowless square above one of the statues. Jumping on the female statue, he gripped the next platform and flipped himself up, then flipped through the opening. The thieves jumped down on the balcony, now inside the large hall at the top of the tower.

“All right, we’re in!” Skull grinned.

“Quiet down, you idiot!” Mona shushed him.

They peered over the railing, seeing the distorted king at his throne, a contingent of soldiers lined up before him.

“Oh shit, it’s Kamoshida..!” Skull exclaimed quietly. “And a ton of soldiers...” Panther added, biting her lips worryingly.

“How have you not captured the intruders yet?!” Kamoshida yelled, angrily glaring at his guards.

“I apologize, my liege!” A soldier got on his hands and knees, bowing for forgiveness.

He turned to the other guards, who also quickly got on their knees.

“I bet he’d never imagine we’re in the same room as him. Come on, let’s keep moving.” Mona urged.

They snuck around the balcony, all the way into the two doors at the very end of the hall. They emerged into a dark stone hall, another large door at the end.

“This sturdy-lookin’ door’s pretty promisin’. Let’s head inside!” Skull insisted, opening the door.

It revealed a large room that was filled to the brim with gold. The floor wasn’t even visible under all the shine and glimmer of wealth. In the very middle of the room floated a glowing white ball of energy, wavering in place.

“Whoa, what is this place?! Holy shit!” Skull exclaimed, looking at all the treasure with wide eyes. “That Treasure thing’s gotta be in here!” He grinned, making grabby motions with his hands.

Elegant eyed the glowing ball curiously. “What is that?” She asked.

They all walked up to examine it. “It’s...floating in the air.” Panther observed.

Mona jumped up on a golden grail, grinning happily. “Hehe...That’s the Treasure. We finally found it!” It cheered.

“Are you sure?” Joker questioned, looking at it dubiously. “That cloudy thing..?”

Mona turned to the humans. “Just hold on a second. I was planning on telling you more once we made it this far.” It stated, twitching its ears. “Simply finding the Treasure isn’t enough. We’ll need to make it materialize before we can steal it.” .

The looked at it curiously. “Whaddya mean?” Skull asked, leaning against a large chalice.

Mona crossed its arms. “Desires have no physical form by nature. Hence, we’ll first need to make the real person aware that their desires are in fact a Treasure. Once they’re conscious that their desires might be stolen, the Treasure will finally show itself.” It finished.

Panther crossed her arms and tilted her head. “But how do we do that?” She asked.

Mona let out a purring grin. “We warn them. Tell them, “We’re going to steal your heart.””

“So we’re gonna send a calling card?! That’s totally what a phantom thief would do!” Skull exclaimed excitedly, pumping a fist.

Mona nodded its head, equally excited. “Once we do that, the Treasure will appear for certain!” It proclaimed. “..I think.”

Skull looked at the cat, unimpressed. “That again..?” He muttered, shaking his head. “Either way, sounds like it’s worth givin’ it a shot!”

The feline jumped in place and looked over at their leader. “Our infiltration route is secure. All that’s left now is to pump out a calling card in reality, then come back to take the Treasure!” It announced.

“This is it, then.” Elegant stated, a determined expression on her covered face.

“It took so long, but we’re finally here. Let’s do this.” Joker declared, looking at his teammates. They all nodded.

“Once we send out the calling card, there will be no turning back.” Mona mentioned. “Just let me know when you’re ready. We’ll head back to the roof and send out that calling card!” It pumped its paw.

“We should leave now that we’ve gotten here. We’re all pretty tired, and we need to prepare.” Elegant stated, idly grasping her arm.

“Let’s head back.” Joker commanded.

They snuck out of the throne room and into the safe room, taking the app to transport them back to the entrance of the castle via the app. “So the app remembers the Safe Rooms and we can move back and forth between them? That’s pretty neat.” Panther marveled.

“Yeah, saves us time and energy when we come back.” Mona grinned. They walked out of the courtyard and passed the bridge.


“You have returned from Kamoshida’s Palace. Thank you for your hard work.”

The four humans and one cat appeared back in the real world, still in the same alley they disappeared from. Looking at each other, Ryuji gestured up to the top of the school. They silently moved up to the rooftop. Sitting down, they suddenly felt all the exhaustion piling on them.

“I didn’t know we could still come up here.” Ann remarked, looking around.

“All we gotta do now is steal the Treasure that shows up, yeah?” Ryuji sighed.

“But we need to send the calling card first. When should we do it?” Ann twirled a ponytail, looking at their leader.

Akira shook his head. “Not yet. First, we need to prepare ourselves. Like Airi-chan said before, we might have to fight the Shadow version of Kamoshida if we can’t move the Treasure.” He idly twisted a lock of hair .

Airi nodded. “First, we’ll need to find better firearms for all of us. What we have is all right for now, but our basic guns won’t do much against stronger enemies.” She bit her lip worriedly.

Ryuji perked up. “Oh, you talkin’ about guns? I know a kick-ass place!” He exclaimed, grinning at the others.

“In that case, you can handle that side of things.” Mona announced approvingly. “The only other thing would be stocking up on medicine. Fatigue is unavoidable in a Palace.”

Airi nodded in agreement. “You’re right. We also used up all our medication today, so we have nothing left.” She stated grimly.

“Where can we get medicine, then?” Ann asked worriedly.

“Don’t worry, I know just the place. Dr. Takemi has a clinic in Yongenjaya.” She smiled. “I’ll take you today, Akira-kun.”

He nodded in acquiesce, satisfied. “Then it’s settled.” Akira announced. “I’ll let you guys know when we should send the calling card.”

Ryuji rubbed his chin. “What should it look like?” He asked. “I’ll make it something cool!” He rubbed his hands excitedly.

“You can all come over to my house to plan this.” Airi offered. “I...actually forgot to ask, would you guys be free tomorrow after school?” She asked a little shyly, a slight blush on her cheeks.

The three humans and cat looked at each other questioningly. “Yeah, of course. Wassup?” Ryuji asked, lacing his hands behind his head.

Biting her lip embarrassedly, she looked away. “It’s my birthday tomorrow.” Airi blushed.

“Huh?!” They all gasped, staring at her in shock.

Ryuji quickly stood up, knocking his chair back. “Shit! You’re right! I can’t believe I forgot…!” He gaped. “Of course I’m gonna come!” He pumped his fist excitedly.

Airi smiled at him happily.

“Oh wow, with all that happened, it completely slipped my mind.” Ann covered her mouth in surprise. “I remember back in middle school, I gave you a dress as a present. Do you still have that?” She grinned teasingly, her eyes slightly nostalgic.

“Of course I do, Ann-chan!” Airi exclaimed. “It’s still in perfect condition.” She grinned. "Not that I can fit it anymore..."

She looked over at Akira. “Would you be free, Akira-kun?” She asked hesitantly, smiling hopefully at him.

He smiled back. “Of course. It’s your birthday, after all.” Akira replied lightheartedly.

The class president clapped her bandaged hands together in bliss. “Then it’s settled!” She cheered. “My house, tomorrow after school!”

“Should we bring anything, Lady Airi?” Morgana purred, looking at her adoringly.

She shook her head. “Nope. Just your appetites.” She winked.

Its ears perked up. “Are you cooking for us?” It asked excitedly, swishing its tail back and forth.

She nodded happily. “Let me know if any of you have allergies!”

Ann blinked. “But wait, it’s your birthday. Why are you cooking for us?” She asked confusedly.

“I just want to, OK?” Airi answered softly. “It would be a great present from you guys if you would enjoy my cooking.” She finished, blushing a bit from that confession.

“Don’t mind if I do, then!” Ryuji grinned excitedly. “I can’t wait to try your food!” The others nodded in agreement.

Morgana jumped on one of the tables, sitting down. “Since we've decided for tomorrow, I should let you know I can’t contact you guys from inside a Palace, so I’ll stay in this world.” It announced to its human teammates. “That being said, I’ll need someone to take care of me. I’m personally nominating Lady Ann!” It purred happily.

“Wait, what?!” Ann yelped in surprise. “There’s no way I can house you, I’m never home!”

The feline’s ears drooped. “Then...Lady Airi?” It looked over to her hopefully.

She smiled sadly. “I would, Morgana. Unfortunately, I’m also never home for half the week. It wouldn’t be fair to you.” Airi stated reluctantly.

The cat sighed. “Then fine, I’ll stay with Akira. You should feel honored.”

Stiffening in surprise, Akira looked at the cat hesitantly. “Me?” He sputtered, glancing over at Ryuji.

Said punk shrugged. “This’s all you. There’s no way I can have him at my place.” He stated, giving him a look of pity.

Akira sweatdropped and sighed. “All right, fine.” He muttered. “Let’s all exchange contact info with Takamaki-san.” He suggested.

They all took out their phones and sent each other their numbers. “See you two tomorrow, then?” Akira asked, putting his hands in his pockets.

“Yep! Tomorrow after school.” Ryuji confirmed.

“See you guys then!” Ann waved.

Chapter Text

----4/15, FRIDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS.

 

“Dr. Takemi’s office is actually a couple meters away from Leblanc.” Airi explained to Akira, the two students walking out of the station. “A lot of people in the neighborhood say that she doesn’t really do her job, and that she sells illegal drugs, but that’s not true.” She shook her head irritatedly. “She’s a competent doctor and takes her job seriously, even if it doesn’t seem so. I’ve volunteered there once.”

Akira tilted his head, his hand in his pockets. “How was it, working for her?”

“It was very interesting.” Airi smiled nostalgically. “I learned a lot from her in just one day, like dressing cuts and burns. She's pretty no nonsense.”

They arrived at the entrance of the building, the clinic being on the third floor. “Should I go in with you?” Airi asked.

Akira nodded. “If you don’t mind.” He replied, adjusting his glasses nervously.

Morgana popped its head out of his bag. “Now, how can we get her to give us some medicine..?” It asked quietly.

“We’ll have to make something up.” Akira pursed his lips.

They called the elevator and went up to the third floor. Getting out into the dim hallway, there were two doors on either side. One listed, “Takemi Medical Clinic” and the other was blank. Opening the clinic door, they entered a small brightly lit waiting room, a small bathroom at the end. Next to the door was the receptionist window, where a blue haired lady in a lab coat sat. She was decorated in a spiked collar with several hanging chains, a short dress, and black high stiletto heels.

The doctor languidly dragged her eyes away from the monitor in front of her. “..Is this your first visit?” She asked Akira boredly.

He nodded.

“Hello, Dr. Takemi.” Airi greeted the older woman.

“Oh, Kimisawa-chan. It’s been a while.” Takemi’s face softened. “Have you come to volunteer again?”

Airi shook her head. “I’m here just for him, if you don’t mind.” She gestured at her classmate.

The doctor lifted an eyebrow. “Oh? Just for him, huh.” She repeated, making the class president blush a bit at the wording. “So, what are you here for today?” The woman asked, looking at Akira.

He adjusted his glasses awkwardly. “My body feels lethargic.”

She stared at him with hooded eyes. “...Fine. Please head to the exam room.” She relented, getting out of her chair.

The three sat in the examination room, Akira describing his symptoms, and Takemi occasionally writing on her clipboard. Airi stared concernedly at a poster on the wall, showing a happy teddy bear stabbed with vaccines.

“...In a case like your’s, it’s usually just due to stress. I’m going to prescribe you some pain relievers, OK?” Takemi theorized, looking at her patient.

Akira nodded, relieved that he can get supplies so easily. That took care of their medicine in the Metaverse.

The doctor paused, glancing at her screen. “Actually, I still need to restock those...” She mused. “So let’s go with sleeping pills instead. Sleep is the best medicine anyway.” She turned to the male student. “Which type of pill do you want, a sweet-tasting one or a bitter one?”

He pursed his lips. “I want painkillers.” He stated firmly.

Airi fidgeted slightly.

Takemi looked at the two, unimpressed. “All right, why don’t we stop beating around the bush. You’re not sick at all, are you? I’m not as dumb as I look, you know.” She commented, slightly narrowing her brown eyes at them.

Taken aback, the bespectacled boy frantically searched his mind for an excuse.

The doctor sighed. “...I’m guessing you’re here because you heard the rumors about me, huh?” She closed her eyes tiredly.

He blinked. “...Are the rumors true?” He asked quietly.

“Yep. I’m the quack.” She replied flatly. “I have so many new patients with ulterior motives, so I knew you had one, too.”

He looked away, slightly embarrassed at being caught.

“I guess high school kids have it tough nowadays too, huh?” Takemi sighed. “Fine. I’ll prescribe you some medication.”

Blinking, Akira looked at the woman in surprise.

“But only medication that will help you recover your health.” She added, scribbling something on her clipboard. “I guess it’s fine. You seem pretty earnest, and you don’t look like you’ll be any trouble.” The doctor shrugged. “This is my private practice. All the medicine I dispense is original.”

“Her medicine is the best.” Airi butted in. “They’re more effective than the mass produced drugs at pharmacies, and they work almost instantly.” She grinned proudly.

Takemi gave her a smirk in response, pleased at the compliments. “Yes, I have a license to make my own formulas. You’ve likely seen them being sold at various hospitals.” The doctor paused and gave the male a stern look. “It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself. So,” She softened. “If that’s OK with you, stop by anytime.”

“That’ll really help.” Akira nodded, smiling slightly.

“Great. It’s nice that you’re so quick on the uptake...Saves me the hassle.” Takemi commented, waving her clipboard around. She peered closer at the two students. “You’re a pretty weird kid, you know?” She mused. “I wonder what you’re going to use the medicine for.” She looked at them suspiciously.

Akira sweatdropped, squirming slightly in his seat.

“Make meth, of course.” Airi stated with a straight face.

He turned to look at her incredulously.

Noticing his look, she grinned sheepishly. “I’m joking.”

Raising an eyebrow at her old volunteer, Takemi shrugged. “Well, as long as you don’t cause me any trouble, it’s not my problem...Here,” She handed him a list. “This is all I’ve got right now. Come back in a week once I’ve restocked.”

Gray eyes roamed the list, not really knowing what any of the medications were.

Airi scooted closer, peering over his shoulder. “I’d recommend the 100mg of Recov-R, it speeds up recovery better than the 50mg.” She advised, pointing to the specific medication.

Akira nodded, letting her take over. They pooled their designated team budget together, and bought as many of each as they could, mostly Recov-R's and Revivadrins.

Takemi nodded, handing them the plastic bag full of drugs. “...Take care.” She murmured languidly.

Airi waved bye, and the two students walked out. Standing in the waiting room was a middle aged man in a suit, tapping his feet impatiently. They moved out of the way, and he pushed the door open and closed it behind him.

The two Persona users glanced at each other, not really knowing how to respond to what just happened. “...What’s the reason for your visit?” They heard through the door. “Do you have a cold? Stomachache? Athlete’s foot? Whatever it is, you’ll need to take a number…” Takemi droned on.

“Enough of this!” The man shouted.

They stared wide-eyed at the door. After a moment, they leaned in closer to eavesdrop. “You’re the only one who could have developed that type of medicine.” The male exclaimed forcefully.

“I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about...” The doctor responded boredly.

“Don’t play dumb with me. Rumor has it, it’s a drug so potent it can give a person unlimited power.” The man stated.


Airi raised her eyebrows. Unlimited power? What kind of video games has this guy been playing?

“Really? That’s news to me.” Takemi retorted.

They pressed closer to the door. “Developing experimental drugs, medicine, and herbal remedies violates all health regulations. Are you attempting to create a super-stimulant? A drug like that will only become a social issue.” The man taunted.

“You’re really persistent, you know that? I’m just a quack…” Takemi replied quietly.

“The police may not be taking action, but I imagine the media will soon pick up on it. You intend to ruin my reputation again, huh? You’re a disgrace to the medical community.” The male yelled condescendingly.


Wide eyed, the two students looked at each other.

“What’s with the look? That was your mistake, was it not?” The man asked mockingly. “I won’t be responsible for your criminal actions. Dispose of that “medicine” immediately and resign.” He stated resolutely.


Airi glared at the door. How dare he! Coming in here to threaten a doctor who's just trying to do her job.


“The name “Takemi Tae” will never-Hey, is somebody there?!” The man yelled toward the door, the handle turning.

Panicking, the two young adults quickly left the office, running to the elevator. They stopped once they were outside the building, sighing in relief. “Geez, they almost caught us.” Morgana sweatdropped. “Sounded like they were talking about something dangerous. Could that woman be hiding some extra strong medicine?”

Akira adjusted his glasses. “We should use that.” If it could help them take Kamoshida's Treasure, then it'd be useful to have.

“I agree. If it’s that strong, it might come in handy at the Palace.” Morgana cheered, tail swishing back and forth.

“We don’t have access to that medicine yet, remember?” Airi chided. As if the good doctor was going to let them buy it from her, when she barely let them buy pain killers. “I hope Dr. Takemi is OK...That man seemed really aggressive.” She pursed her lips worriedly. “What did he mean, though? About her ruining his reputation “again”? I only know she makes her own medicine...”

Shrugging, Akira placed his hands in his pockets. “Let’s ask the next time we visit.” He suggested. His phone rang. Taking it out, he saw it was from Ryuji.

R: You know there’s a shop in Shibuya that sells model guns.
R: I’d be glad to take you if you want!
Ak: Now?
R: Yeah! If you’re busy, we can go Sunday or something.
R: Not tomorrow since it’s Airi’s bday.
R: You gonna bring a present?
Ak: All right, I’ll meet you at in front of the station.
Ak: I hope so.
R: Let’s try to find something while we’re out in Shibuya!

Putting his phone away, he gave the her an apologetic smile. “Ryuji just asked to meet me at Shibuya, so I’ll be going now.” He explained.

“OK then, I’ll see you tomorrow!” Airi smiled, waving his apology. “I need to do some shopping, anyway. Is there anything you would like to eat?” She tilted her head curiously.

He grasped his chin, humming thoughtfully. His eyes slid to the side, looking away. “Maybe...something you enjoy a lot?” He smiled a bit shyly, shrugging.

“Oh.” Airi breathed, blinking in surprise. “W-Well, OK! I’ll be sure to make it extra special for you, then.” She smiled, a slight hue in her cheeks.

“I want fatty tuna!” Morgana exclaimed loudly, breaking the slight awkwardness in the air.

Airi blinked, then laughed. “OK then, quality sashimi for Morgana!” She gave the feline some scritches behind its ears. “I’ll do my best to live up to expectations.” She smiled softly.

Morgana purred, happy to get some attention, before going back into the bag.

Akira smiled back, giving her a wave of goodbye, before turning to walk back to the station.

Chapter Text

Airi stared after his back as he walked further away, before clapping her hands together. “Well, let’s get ingredients.” She told herself determinedly, walking over to the supermarket.

Grabbing a basket, she perused the vegetable section first. “Hmm...maybe some string beans?” She murmured, inspecting some greens. Selecting a large bunch, she moved on to the baking aisle, grabbing packets of flour, cream, and icing sugar. She walked to the meat section, grabbing several packets of thinly sliced beef.

“Oh!” She blinked, remembering the earlier conversation. “Fatty tuna for Morgana, right right right.”

She moved over to the fish section, looking for choice fishes. “Excuse me!” She called out to one of the fish market employees. “Four black throat sea perches and this one chunk of tuna, please.” She requested politely, pointing at the fishes she wanted.

“Sure!” The employee replied jovially. “The best way to cook sea perches is with some salt and grilling it!” They advised, wrapping up the fish and putting them into styrofoam boxes to keep fresh, before handing it over to her.

“Thank you!” Airi gave them the appropriate amount of money, about ¥2500, and got in line at the cash register.

“¥3450, please.” The cashier stated.

She winced. There goes yesterday’s paycheck. Resigned, Airi handed it over, and grabbed her groceries.

“Thank you very much! Have a nice day!” The cashier called out as she walked out of the supermarket.

Getting to her front door, she struggled to get her keys out while holding so many bags. After a couple of minutes, she finally gained entry into her house. Quickly taking off her shoes, Airi hurriedly walked to the kitchen counter and dropped her bags next to her herb plants.

“Phew.” She sighed heavily, rotating her shoulders.

Rustling through her bags, she took all the meat and fish products and stored them in her stainless steel fridge. Putting on an apron and washing her hands, she started preparing some of the ingredients for tomorrow’s meal. She whipped the cream, soaked the beef in a sugar sesame oil marinade, and cleaned the guts from the fishes, before storing them all back in the fridge.

Taking out a couple of eggs, she quickly whipped herself an omurice for dinner, hungry after such a long day. The only sounds heard were from the clinking of her chopsticks against the bowl, echoing through the empty home.

After taking a long hot shower, she completed her homework in the study before reluctantly turning her laptop on. She stared bleakly at the new bills emailed to her from the electricity and water companies.

She clenched her hands, her nails starting to cut into the bandages. ‘There’s no end to them.’ She thought resignedly. Entering her credit information from a special account, she paid them off for another month.

Sighing heavily, she leaned back into her chair, closing her eyes. ‘My body feels like lead…’

Getting up to move to her bedroom, she took a recov-R gel from her dresser. Sitting down on the bed, she unwrapped her hands and knees gingerly, showing scabbed cuts and bruises from when she had scraped them on the school roof. They had healed inside the Palace, but not out here.

Slowly rubbing the medicine into her injuries, they quickly dissipated, the skin knitting together, leaving it slightly red and sensitive.

“I can’t -hic- take it anymore...No one cares that -hic- he’s hurting us, hurting me...”

She flinched at the memory of earlier, her hands gripping the sides of her head. "No..." She whispered. "I'm sorry..." Her nails dug into her scalp. She clenched her eyes, trying to stop the tears, but all she could see behind her eyelids were Shiho's terrified face, her eyes filled with hysteria. Her cries for death rung in Airi's ears, her need to get rid of herself because someone they were supposed to trust violated her in the worst ways possible.

When Shiho's shirt had ridden up from dangling at the wrist, Airi had glimpsed at the lingering bruises of hand prints at the waistband of her skirt. Her heart felt heavy at the memory. It wasn't supposed to end like this...Not again.

"Just let me die!!!"

Shiho's cries were slowly replaced with the sound of wood cracking. The matron yelled at her, holding a hammer in one hand.

"You deserve this! The Lord will not accept a sinner like you!"

Flesh met flesh as he backhanded her, anger and hurt in his eyes, tears spilling down his chubby cheeks.

"Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up shut up! God will choose me! He'll come back for me!"

His screams of rage melted into blissful silence as the brunette knelt next to her, holding out an ice pack.

"Hey...Are you OK?"

The sound of hitting the floor assaulted her ears, her shoulder bruising from the impact.

"You dumb bitch! I’m going to kill you!"

A spray of crimson spewed out like a water fountain, her chokes sounding louder than the blood pounding in her ears.

"Airi! RUN!"

Tears slipped down her face, wetting the discarded bandages in her lap. Of course those memories would come back too. The police had told her it wasn't her fault, but wasn't it?

Takase had told her it wasn't during those nights when she woke up screaming, comforting her while she cried on his old baseball shirt. It had helped, but...

She had to remind herself that he wasn't here to do that anymore. Never again. “I’m sorry, Shiho-chan...” Airi cried. “I’m sorry, Takase....I'm sorry, Rui…I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry...” Her quiet sobs echoed throughout the dark and empty house, with nobody around to come and comfort her.



Stepping off the train, Akira walked up the stairs, swiping his card at the gates. He looked around, searching for blond in a sea of black and brown. He checked his phone to see if he had any new messages from his friend, but got nothing.

“Looks like you made it.”

He looked up and saw Ryuji walking up, waving a greeting. He had changed out of his uniform and into a 777 sweater, a graphic tee, and some dark jeans. The punk grinned at him. “Mmkay, let’s get goin’. The shop’s over this way!” He gestured toward Central Street.

Nodding, Akira followed him. The two chatted a bit while walking out of the station.


“Everyone, wake up! This country is twisted! Strange incidents are occurring. What is the cause of them all? The runaway-train incident, the mysterious psychotic breakdown phenomenon. These are all signs of the end of our once peaceful days. Now is the time for our politicians to show their strength, and yet...”


The two students turned to look. An older man in a suit with a politician’s sash shouted from atop his podium box. People of all ages walked past, not bothering to listen to his message.

Morgana popped its head out of his bag. “This politician’s actually saying some decent things, but not many people are stopping to listen.” It remarked, looking around curiously.

“Eh, people give speeches all the time. Plus, politics are pretty boring, anyways.” Ryuji shrugged. “We’re almost there. Just don’t get lost in the crowd.”

Listening to the politician for a little longer, Akira turned back to his friend. ‘What he was saying sounded right...I should come back and listen sometime.’ He thought idly, squeezing past crowds of people. Walking into central street, his eyes roamed the shops, curious to what can be bought here.

“This way.” Ryuji gestured with a hand. “The shop can be pretty confusin’ to find sometimes.”

They walked into the alley next to the crepe shop, a man staring after them fearfully. Turning the corner, he saw a shop that had heavily barred windows, camouflage coats on display. The awning read “Untouchable.” There were no other stores in the alley aside from this one, the road barred with multiple bicycles parked haphazardly.

“This is it! Pretty legit, huh?” Ryuji grinned. “Oh yeah, now that we’re here...you know anything about military stuff?” He asked, scratching his head sheepishly.

“Not really...” Akira replied hesitantly, adjusting his glasses.

“I guess worst comes to worst we can just ask the shopkeep what they recommend. C’mon, let’s go.” Ryuji shrugged, opening the door.

Walking in, the first thing to greet them was the cool air conditioning. The second thing was that the entire store was crammed with militia-esque clothing, supplies, and models. There were different cleaning and polishing products in the glass counter, as well as a selection of blades and bludgeons. Behind the stand was a model of a rifle, amidst several ropes and straps.

The third thing they saw was who they assumed to be the owner, an older man in a moss green jacket, with a gecko tattoo on his neck, lounging in a chair and reading a hunting magazine.

His eyes glanced over at the new arrivals from under his bucket hat, a dangerous glint shining for a second, before turning back to his read, ignoring them.

Hesitant, they walked up to the counter in front of the manager. Ryuji perused the bat selection excitedly.

Aged gray eyes looked up at them. “You know what you want yet?” The manager gruffed, chewing a toothpick.

“Not sure.” Akira replied, still looking around the mysterious shop.

“...You lookin’ for recommendations?” The man asked, raising a brow at the two teenagers.

He nodded silently, not trusting himself to not say the wrong thing.

The manager turned back to his magazine. “..I dunno, just buy whatever looks interestin’ to you.” He shrugged dismissively.

Ryuji rolled his eyes. “Ugh, some customer service...”

The man turned to look at him with a look of irritation. “Fine, whaddya want? An automatic? A revolver?” He relented.

The two students looked at each other questioningly. “Uh, automatic..?” Ryuji replied, phrasing it more like a question in his confusion, scrunching up his face. “Dude, why’re you talkin’ about cars now?!”

He narrowed his eyes. “Listen, this here’s an enthusiast shop." He explained slowly. "My regulars’ll be mad if I let a casual like you hang around.”

Ryuji scowled, stomping his foot. “I’m not a freakin’ casual! I bought shit from here like, last week!”

The manager hmphed. “Can’t remember you.” He retorted.

The delinquent sighed, slumping his shoulders. “You bastard...” Ryuji muttered.

The owner turned to look at Akira. “And you? Lookin’ for somethin’?” He asked.

He rested his hands in his pockets. “Something that looks real.” He answered coolly.

Gray eyes narrowed at his answer. “...Oh? You guys plannin’ a nice big bank robbery or somethin’?” He interrogated.

Panicking, Ryuji frantically waved his hands. “Th-That ain’t it! We just like how they look, is all!”

The manager stared at them for a moment before shaking his head exasperatedly. “You shoulda said before you two’re enthusiasts. I’m always up for helpin’ fresh faces.” He stated, closing his magazine and throwing it on the table.

Straightening up in his chair, he gave them a stern glare. “Some precautions first though.” He began. “Don’t go ‘round pointing ‘em at other people. Keep’em in a bag or somethin’ if you’re outside. Oh, and don’t let the fuzz catch wind of you having ‘em. I don’t need them comin’ around here.”.

“We’ll be careful, promise.” Akira swore, adjusting his glasses, Ryuji nodding behind him.

“You damn well better be.” The manager snapped, before pointing into the glass counter. “Now, if you look close, you’ll be able to tell these’re models. Real guns feel...different.” He explained. “Maybe someday I’ll show you the real good stuff though...if you got the guts for it, of course.” He challenged the two teens with a smirk, before getting up from his seat. “...But for now, you get the beginner selection. Just sit tight, I’ll bring ‘em out.” With that, he walked toward the back storage.

Akira and Ryuji looked at each other, full of relief.

“We did it, dude.” Ryuji grinned, giving his friend a thumbs up. “We totally gotta go for some fancy shit, right? I want ‘em to shine!” He exclaimed excitedly. He dug into his pocket, pulling out a wad of cash. “Oh, and here’s the cash for mine. Pick me out something good!”

Hesitant, Akira took the money and added it in his wallet. “Are you sure?”

He nodded with a grin. “I trust you, bro!” Ryuji stated.

He stood still, stunned at his teammate’s declaration. ‘We’ve only known each other for a week, and yet…’ He adjusted his glasses, the glare reflected from the light hiding his moist eyes.

None of his so-called friends back in Mishima stayed once they heard he was arrested. No one had wanted to even be associated with him. His parents couldn’t have sent him away fast enough. Yet here he was, surrounded by two new friends who knew what really happened that night, and two more friends who supported him without knowing about it.

His lips twitched, fighting back a full blown smile. Life was just getting good.

“Here’s all the basics I got available. Let me know if you wanna buy any.” The owner came back, placing a large case on the counter and showing off a selection of different firearm models.

Blinking the moisture away, Akira moved closer to examine the multiple kinds of weapons. Interestingly, they even had a slingshot available. Picking up the 9mm pistol, he noticed that the trigger pulled a little easier than his current one, and was more balanced as well.

“Huh, they’ve got all sorts of shit here, don’t they?” Ryuji commented, looking around the shop.

Akira nodded, eyeing the ad stand next to him. ‘This looks like an ad for a model gun. There are all these terms that I don’t recognize...I should study up on them.’

“You interested in that revolver?” The surly man asked from his chair. “It’s equipped with a full barrel shroud, and the effect of the stabilizer is outstanding. The spring is stainless steel. If you’re just collecting, I can put in a dummy cartridge.” He offered, chewing his toothpick.

Darting his eyes from side to side awkwardly, Akira shrugged. “OK, sure.” He replied hesitantly, not really understanding all the technicalities the manager listed.

The older man eyed him for a moment. “...Izzat right? Guess you must be the careful type.” He remarked nonchalantly, returning to his magazine.

Shrugging, Akira bought one of each firearm for him and his team mates, including Airi’s rather large sniper rifle, leaving their budget ¥12,910 less. He switched out their current gear and sold it off. The manager lifted an eyebrow at him for it, but didn’t say anything. Wincing slightly at his much lighter wallet, he took the large disguised bag.

The two phantom thieves left the store, idly walking down the alley. “So, now that we’ve got our team shit done, should we look for presents?” Ryuji questioned, lacing his hands behind his head.

Akira hummed. “Yeah, this is the best time. Where is a good place to shop, though?”

The ex-runner grinned, and pointed a thumb toward a subway station entrance. “The underground mall is the perfect place! It’s got all sorts of things for sale.” Ryuji exclaimed, taking his arm and dragging him.

Chapter Text

As soon as they arrived at the underground mall which was one floor above the train tracks, Ryuji let go of his elbow. Stumbling for a second, Akira righted himself, glaring slightly at the punk, before looking around. There were a bunch of different shops, such as a music store, jewelry stores, several clothing stores, and even a supermarket.

A memory hit him then. “Didn’t Airi-chan mention that she worked in the flower shop here?” Akira pondered.

Ryuji perked up. “You’re right! She did! Back at the gyudon restaurant a couple days ago. I don’t think we should buy her flowers, though... She works around those all the time.” Ryuji remarked sheepishly.

“How about we split up?” He suggested, already eyeing some of the products.

The two teens separated, doing their own perusing. Walking around, Akira looked for things that would make an appropriate gift. "What are you going to buy?" Morgana whispered. He shrugged. ‘What does she like?’ He wondered, a bit distressed at finding something so last minute. ‘Clothes? No, I don’t know her size or preference. CDs? Don’t know what kind of music she likes. Skin care? Maybe...’

Sighing, he stopped. Was there anything that he could buy for her with so little time?

“Excuse me, sir?”

Surprised, he turned around. A female employee from one of the shops was giving him a polite smile. “Do you need any help?” She asked, her hands held formally in front of her.

“Uh...” He stammered, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I need a gift for a friend. It’s her birthday tomorrow...” He trailed off.

She nodded. “Alright, a female friend. Is she someone special to you?” She inquired politely.

He grasped his chin, thinking deeply for a moment, before nodding hesitantly.

She gave him a smile. “Then how about some accessories? Every girl needs an accessory to compliment them.” She suggested, directing him to the jewelry shop she worked for.

Pursing his lips, he shrugged and followed her. Gray eyes scanned the jewelry, ranging from rings, to bracelets, to watches. Since this was one of the lower tier jewelry shops, the prices weren’t so outrageous that he couldn’t afford anything, but he’d definitely need a part time job after this.

“So! Can you describe this lady friend of yours to me?” The attendant chirped. “Maybe if I know her physical features, I can help you choose the perfect gift!”

Akira rested his hands in his pockets. “She has long light pink hair and eyes that are red, kinda like wine. She’s about this tall.” He held his hand out around his chin.

The employee hummed, raising an eyebrow. “And what is she like? Is she nice?” She asked.

“Very.” He answered instantly. “She does her best to be there for everyone. She was also the first one in a long while to be kind to me...I want to repay her for that.” He admitted quietly, not really knowing why he was exposing himself to a complete stranger.

She blinked, slightly overwhelmed by all the information her customer provided, but gave him a warm smile. “She must be really special to you then.” She winked, before moving behind the counter.

He adjusted his glasses, a slight red hue coloring his cheeks in embarrassment. “I’ve only known her for a week…” He argued weakly.

She looked at him knowingly. “Don’t worry, I think I have the perfect gift for her then.” The employee declared, unlocking the drawer and taking out a hair barrette.

His breath hitched. The barrette had a looping silver base, resembling branches. Beige and pink porcelain flowers embellished the clip, giving off a mature but sweet image. It fit his impression of Airi perfectly. “I’ll take it.” He declared. “How much?” He took out his wallet.

The salesperson watched him for several moments, her face unreadable. “The original price is ¥18,000.” She announced evenly.

He winced. That was almost his entire wallet, leaving him with only a couple of yen. Pursing his lips, he relented, taking out the exact amount.

She held up her hand, palm outward, stopping him.

He blinked, looking at her confusedly.

She gave him an understanding smile. “For you, sir,” She began. “I’ll give you a discount. Your total will be ¥10,000.”

Akira stared at her with wide eyes. That was almost 50%! “A-Are you sure?” He stammered. “I have the money...” He argued quietly, furrowing his brows warily, wondering if this was a joke.

The employee shook her head amusedly. “I can’t in good conscience charge you so much when I can see how much you care about this.” She gave him an understanding look. “I also had someone I cared about, but I left him to fend for himself..." She glanced away for a second. "Plus, it’s been sitting in the store for months. Go on,” She gestured to the barrette. “It’s now ¥10,000. Would you like to buy it?”

Scrutinizing her, he nodded, taking out ¥10,000 from his wallet.

She then placed the item into a black velvet box, wrapping it in purple tissue paper, and placing it gently into a white paper bag. She gave him the receipt and handed the gift bag with a warm smile.

Akira smiled back, gratefulness shining in his eyes. Grabbing the bag, he turned and left the store. "Wow..." Morgana mewled. "You spent a lot on your present for her." He tilted his head at the bag. "Are you getting anything for her? I'll buy it for you." The feline shook its head, ears slumping. "It's OK, I don't want my gift to have come from you. I'll figure something out..."

Walking back to the entrance of the mall, he spotted Ryuji already waiting for him, a large gift bag hung around his wrist while he played on his phone. “I’m finished.” Akira announced, walking up to his friend.

The punk looked up from his phone, giving him a grin. “Hey! You found somethin’?” He asked, looking at the white bag curiously.

He nodded, smiling slightly. “I think she’ll really like it.” He replied earnestly. ‘I hope.’

Ryuji held up his own bag. “I got her somethin’ from the toy store. I saw somethin' in there that would be perfect.” He grinned mischievously. “Plus…” His face fell. “I got Suzui a plush too. It’s small but…” He shrugged helplessly. “Maybe It’ll help her out a bit, y’know. Cheer her up when she wakes up.”

Akira blinked. With a wince, he realized he had forgotten about the volleyball player, being swamped with infiltrating the Palace and whatnot. She had been the third person to be kind to him at school, so he should probably get her a get well gift too. Maybe flowers..?

Lowering his arm, Ryuji looked at the time on his phone. “It’s gettin’ pretty late, I’m gonna head home then.” He stated. “I’ll see you tomorrow after school?”

Akira nodded, adjusting his grip on the bags. They separated again, each heading home.

 

Arriving back at Leblanc, he was about to open the cafe door when Morgana popped out of his bag. “So this is where you live? In a cafe?” It asked, looking around the store front.

Akira nodded, sweatdropping. ‘How to explain this to Boss…’

The feline sat hidden in his bag, and he opened the door, bell ringing.

Sojiro looked up from the sink. “The store’s still open. Go upstairs.” He stated shortly.

Akira nodded silently, noticing there was a customer.

She looked up with hooded eyes, crossing her legs clad in ripped jeans. “Oh, you’re that kid from earlier...Kurusu, right?” Takemi commented, sipping her mostly finished coffee.

He slightly bowed in greeting.

“Hey.” Sojiro called out. “Lay off the customers.” The guardian looked at him warningly. “Sorry if he was rude, Doctor.”

She waved her hand. “...I don’t mind.” Takemi replied, sitting languidly in the booth.

Sojiro gestured with his hands. “Come on, you’re getting in the way. Go upstairs.” He stated, exasperated at his ward.

Akira nodded obediently, walking toward the stairs. Behind him, he heard the doctor get up from her seat. “...Thanks. I’ll see you later.” He heard her say to his guardian.

“Come back again.” Sojiro replied nonchalantly, the bell ringing a moment later, signalling that she left the shop. “Phew, that’s it for today.” He sighed, grabbing a wet rag and moving to clean the booth.

Akira turned around, hands resting in his pockets, waiting patiently for the cafe owner to notice him.

“Hm?” He looked up from cleaning. “Oh, right. You seemed to know each other. How’d that happen?” Sojiro inquired, idly moving about.

“Airi-chan got hurt today." He answered evenly, adjusting his glasses with one hand. "We went to Dr. Takemi’s clinic to get her injuries checked out.”

The older man’s head shot up. “What?” He uttered, turning to look at his ward incredulously. “You mean Airi got injured? How? And hold up," He raised a brow. "You call her “Airi-chan” now?”

Akira held his hands placatingly. “There was an incident and she got her hands and knees scraped. She’s fine now.” He paused. “And...since yesterday, I guess.” He looked away awkwardly. This wasn't something he wanted to talk to his guardian about.

“Hey, are we there yet?” Morgana whispered, muffled by the fabric.

Akira stiffened, tilting himself so that his bag was out of his guardian’s line of sight.

Sojiro eyed him for a moment, not saying anything. “Well,” He began. “I’ve got to get home and start making dinner...” He stated slowly, narrowing his eyes slightly behind his round glasses.

Sweating a bit, Akira nodded and went up the stairs. He placed his bag on his bed and unzipped it.

Morgana jumped out, shaking its body, before settling down. It observed the dusty and crammed surroundings with wide eyes. “What the?! What is this place?!” It yelped incredulously. “Is this some kind of abandoned house?!”

Akira gave the cat a flat expression. He opened his mouth to reply but snapped it shut when he heard approaching footsteps. Calmly placing his hands in his pockets, he turned around, Morgana trying to hide by shrinking into itself on the bed.

Sojiro walked up to the two, frowning slightly. “Hey, are you-” He began, then stopped once he caught sight of the cat. He sighed, rubbing the back of his head aggravatingly. “I was wondering why I heard meowing. What did you bring it here for?!” He demanded, glaring at the teen.

Lowering his head slightly, Akira looked at the guardian pleadingly. “It was abandoned.” He replied quietly. ‘You owe me, Morgana.’

“That’s…” Sojiro deflated. “That’s a shame.” He sighed heavily, shoulders slumping. “Look, this place is a restaurant. Animals are a no-go...Though I guess you might stay on good behavior if you’ve got a pet to take care of...” The older man crossed his arms and thought for a moment before sighing again. “Fine.” He relented. “But keep it quiet when we’re open for business. And don’t let it roam downstairs, or I’ll toss it out. Oh, and I’m not gonna take care of it. That’s all on you.”

Akira nodded, relieved.

The cafe owner turned and left, going back downstairs.

“Was that the ruler of this place?” Morgana asked, licking a paw.

He nodded again.

The feline sat down. “He seemed pretty understanding for someone who keeps you cramped up in this dump.” Morgana remarked merrily. “Then again, I suppose to normal people I just sound like a meowing cat.”

Footsteps interrupted their conversation, and they turned.

Sojiro came back up to the attic, holding a plate of boiled chicken. “Seriously,” He sighed disheartenedly. “It had to keep calling out in that cute little voice...” He placed the plate down in front of the cat. He then turned to Akira. “Make sure you wash that dish.” He warned, then paused. “By the way...have you decided on a name?”

Akira nodded, running a hand through his mop of slight curls. “It’s name is Morgana.”

“Morgana? Huh...I was hoping I’d get to name it...” Sojiro sighed wistfully, hands resting on his waist, before turning away to leave.

As soon as they heard the front door close, Morgana purred. “Looks like the chief likes me better than you.” It stated teasingly, swishing its tail.

Sighing, Akira twisted a strand of hair, exasperated with the whole situation.

“And to be honest, this place is heaven compared to Kamoshida’s cells.” It continued, taking a few steps closer to the offered meal. Turning to its fellow thief, its ears drooped. “...Remember how you guys asked me before about what I am?” Morgana asked quietly. “To be honest...I don’t remember anything about my birth.” It reluctantly confessed, looking away morosely. “I think the Metaverse’s distortions made me lose both my memories and my true form.”

Akira looked at his teammate sympathetically. “Is that form a human..?” He asked hesitantly.

“It has to be!” Morgana shouted, almost desperately. “I mean, why else would a cat be able to talk like this? There’s no other possible explanation.” Slumping, the feline sat down dejectedly. “There’s no doubt that the distortions were what caused me to lose my real self. I’m sure that once they’re purged, I’ll finally be able to get that self back." It explained. "And I have a pretty good idea on how to do it too. That’s why I was in the castle in the first place.”

The bespectacled student pursed his lips and sighed silently. What a complicated situation, but...His eyes landed on the cat and quirked his lips. ‘I owe him that much.’

Morgana sniffed curiously at the boiled chicken. “Come to think of it, I didn’t get hungry over in that world.” It mused, before digging into its meal. After a few minutes, the plate was completely empty of even crumbs, and Morgana licked its paw satisfactorily.

Grooming its ear, it turned to the teen. “Let me make myself clear: Your taking care of me won’t be for nothing. It’ll be give and take.” It proclaimed, giving him a smile. “Due to my knowledgeable and dexterous nature, I have a lot of intel on infiltration tools.”

Fine dark eyebrows shot up. “Really?” Akira asked dubiously. How does a cat make tools with no thumbs?

The feline took a seat, observing him. “I can’t tell you more unless we settle on a deal. In exchange for you keeping me here, I’ll teach you about these tools. How does that sound?” Morgana asked, languidly swishing its tail back and forth.

“Let’s do this.” Akira answered, a slight smirk on his face. This will be useful in the future, as Airi had shown in the Palace.

The feline purred. “I like that answer.” Morgana jumped up cheerfully. “Hehehe...Then it’s a deal.” It declared.

He nodded. ‘Morgana seems rather happy...’ Akira observed.

“I’ll lecture you about the infiltration tools over time. I assume that Lady Airi can also teach you some basics as well, since she had picked all the locks today.” Morgana paused. “By the way, the power you used in the Palace was seriously amazing. The stronger that power gets, the more reliable it’ll be as a trump card.” It scratched its ears with a hind leg. “All right, I’m gonna stick with you wherever you go from today on!” It announced, not noticing Akira’s slightly crestfallen expression.

‘There goes any privacy.’ He mourned silently.

“Personas are the strength born from one’s heart.” Morgana lectured. “Depending on what kind of life experience you gain, I bet it’ll affect that power as well!” It remarked cheerfully.

Akira blinked in surprise. His powers depended on his life experience?

“And if you become acquainted with capable people, you might learn various, useful skills too. This is all part of our deal, got it?” Morgana smiled at him expectantly.

Sweatdropping at the unbalanced terms, he nodded resignedly.

“I expect great things from you. Don’t let me down, OK?” The feline grinned.

He nodded again, taking the dirty dish to wash before doing his nightly schedule.

 

While doing his homework, Morgana jumped up next to him on the couch. “Also, I’ll accompany you when you go out. Don’t worry, it’s free of charge. Getting around in cat form sounds pretty inconvenient, though...Well, it is what it is. I’ll just have to deal with being carried in that bag of your’s.” It stated stubbornly. A phone rang out.
Taking it out of his pocket, Akira noticed that it was from Ann and it was directed to both him and Airi.

An: Thanks for everything today.
An: You guys saved me, and I didn’t even thank you properly.
Ak: It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
An: I can’t not worry about it.
An: What happened today really opened my eyes.
An: I really can’t thank you enough, Airi-chan.
An: For explaining this to me, for guiding me.
An: And especially for trying to save Shiho.
An: Airi-chan?
Ak: Maybe she’s asleep.
An: I hope so...
An: Anyway, I wanted to let you know at least.
An: See you tomorrow.

Closing his phone, Akira frowned softly. It was weird that Airi hadn’t responded at all. ‘Hopefully she’s just asleep and didn’t hear her phone.’

“You guys send messages to each other with that thing, right?” Morgana meowed. “I want in too, so I’m gonna have to ask you to type for me.” It requested, before taking another look around the room. “At any rate...is this really a place for someone to live in?” It cringed, eyeing the spider webs.

“Nope.” Akira replied, popping his lips at the “p”. “I’ll clean it on Sunday.” He sighed, putting his books away.

“I’m all for teaching you how to make infiltration tools, but you really need to clean your room first…” Morgana sweatdropped. “Let’s just call it a day and go to sleep.”

Now that he wasn’t the only one in the room, he went down into the bathroom to change into his sleepwear before going back up and getting into his bed.

Morgana jumped up on top of his comforter. “Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day. Keep it together, all right?” It laid down to sleep at the corner of the mattress.

Closing the lights, Akira snuggled into his bed, falling asleep.

 

At some point during the night, Morgana had migrated from the corner of the bed to right on top of him, a heavy weight pinning him down.

Akira struggled in place, still dreaming. ‘I feel a strange weight pressing down on my body…’ He clawed at the blanket, turning his head side to side, unconsciously scrunching up his face. ‘Is this the stress of Kamoshida’s threat weighing on me…?’

He had a restless sleep that night.

Chapter Text

----4/16, EARLY MORNING, SATURDAY, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

Sighing at the loud alarm blaring in her ears, Airi reached over for her phone, turning it off. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, feeling the puffy bags underneath. She had a fitful sleep last night. Images of Shiho crying, her matron's cold face, that man, Takase giving her a sunny grin, and Rui's kind smile...

Covering her mouth as she yawned, she left the bed to get ready for school. She shouldn't dwell on the past any longer, or else the whole day would be ruined.

Rinsing her mouth of any toothpaste, she put on her school uniform and went downstairs into the tatami room, phantom strings at her fingertips.

She usually avoided this part of the house, but it wouldn't feel right today of all days. Kneeling down onto the soft straws, she opened a small cabinet, a portrait of her parents smiling back at her.

Her father was a typical salary man, thinning auburn hair at the top of his head, a slight pot belly from company parties, and a jolly expression always present. Her mother was a beautiful light brown, almost blonde, haired woman, standing much shorter than her husband. Her face always had a kind smile ready as she reached out with calloused fingers.

In her arms was a two year old Airi, grinning at the camera in a sundress, one knee bandaged up. The sun shone down on her light pink hair, which baffled her family for years. The only person who had hair like her's had been her great great grandmother on her mother's side, and she was the only one to receive it.

Her heart ached as she gazed at the portrait. If only they could have stayed. If only they hadn't left her by herself...

But. She shook her head. It wasn't their faults. "Hi Mom, Dad..." She whispered, lighting some incense and placing it in the holder. "Today's my birthday...I'm sixteen now." She smiled slightly. "Time flies, huh...I wish you were here. So badly..." Her lips tightened. "My friend tried to commit suicide yesterday...I'm so glad she's alive and that she didn't join you..." She bit her lip as her eyes clouded with moisture. "I love you..." She sniffed, clapping her hands twice in a prayer motion.

Wiping a tear away, she smiled to herself. "All right, let's dance."

Grabbing her bag and keys, she put on her oxfords and left the house to Leblanc.

With a gasp, his eyes snapped open. Slowly, he sat up on his elbows, rubbing his shadowed lids. ‘I could barely sleep.’ Akira thought sullenly. He glared tiredly at the reason why.

Morgana breathed softly on top of his abdomen, occasional purrs escaping it. The additional weight had pinned him into the bed, barely letting him move or breathe.

Yawning, he lifted the cat off of him, waking it in the process with a yowl, and flipped back the comforter to get ready for the day. He brushed his teeth, washed his face, and changed into his uniform.

Hearing Sojiro’s movements at the bar, Akira grabbed his bag and placed the present within. ‘I hope she likes it.’ He prayed. Making sure Morgana won’t crush it when it sits inside, he gestured to the feline who was grooming itself awake.

“Morning, Akira.” It yawned, jumping into the bag.

Shouldering the bag, he put on his glasses and went downstairs, where a plate of fresh curry awaited him at the bar counter. Sitting down, he greeted his guardian with a quiet “good morning”, grabbing a can of cat food on the side for Morgana to eat.

Quickly finishing his food, he clapped his hands and muttered, “gochisousama deshita.” before getting up to wash his dishes. “Thank you for the food.” He expressed to the older man, who grunted in response.

“You better get going or you’ll be late.” Sojiro stated nonchalantly, shaking his newspaper.

Nodding, Akira dried his hands, grabbed his bag, and left the shop.

Just arriving at the cafe was Airi, idly brushing out her bangs with one hand. She perked up once she saw her bespectacled classmate. “Good morning, Akira-kun!” She called out, giving him a smile.

Akira smiled back. “Good morning, Airi-chan. Happy Birthday.” He congratulated.

“Happy Birthday, Lady Airi!” Morgana meowed loudly, jumping out of his bag and into her arms.

Airi blushed, hugging the feline. “Thank you.” She murmured graciously, giving it a kiss on top of its head.

It purred at the affectionate gesture, before jumping back into Akira's bag.

The two then went on their journey to school, walking to the station. In a rare occurrence, they both got seats on the train. Airi covered her mouth as she yawned, tears clouding her eyes.

“Did you not sleep well?” Akira asked quietly.

Wiping the moisture away, she shook her head. “Not really. After what happened yesterday, I...couldn’t.” She whispered, looking down morosely.

He stared at her concernedly, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure Suzui-san will be fine. Takamaki-san had said she was stable.” He reassured. “Maybe you can go visit with her?”

A little flushed from the close contact, she nodded. “Yeah, I can do that…” She smiled hopefully. “Thank you, Akira-kun. You always know what to say.”

He blushed slightly at the compliment. “You didn’t answer your phone last night.” He reminded.

Blinking, she checked her phone. “Oh! I’m so sorry.” She apologized. “Let me text Ann-chan now.”

While she was engrossed into her phone, Morgana subtly popped its head out of his bag. “Even though it’s so crowded, looks like you can still grab a seat if you’re lucky enough...” It remarked quietly over the roaring sounds of the train tracks. “While we’re riding the train, we’ve got some downtime. I wonder if we could put it to good use...” It mused, shifting back inside.

Akira hummed. Maybe he could read a book?

 

 

Walking into class, Airi was greeted with several wishes of happy birthday from her classmates. She happily accepted them, along with small gifts of chocolates and snacks, thanking them for their kindness. With a blush, Mishima handed over a gift wrapped book, stammering a “Happy Birthday” to her.

Touched, she drew him into a gentle hug, making sure not to aggravate his injuries. "Thank you so much, Mishima-kun!"

With a feverish face, he bowed shakily. "You-You're welcome, Senpai..." He looked down shyly, and went back to his desk.

An idea came to her, and she took out a new tube of Recov-R Gel, placing it in front of him.

He looked up at her quizzically.

She smiled. "It's for the bruises...I hope it helps, at least a little..." She looked down. She wished she could do more, but until they sent the calling card, this will have to do.

He stared at the tube blankly, his lips tightening. "Thank you, Senpai...You're so kind." He subtly wiped a tear away. "I'll make sure to use it." He gave her a watery smile.

She smiled back and walked up to the board to prepare it for the first class.

Coming into the room, Kawakami-sensei gave her a pat on her shoulder, congratulating her. “You’re getting closer to not needing me…” She smiled wistfully.

Airi shook her head. “No, Sensei. I wouldn’t be here without you.” She beamed gratefully. "Thank you again...you really saved me."

The teacher snorted. “I only signed my name because of him, I didn’t really do anything worthy of your praise…” She shrugged nonchalantly. “But I don’t regret it, OK?” She put her books down on a stand.

The students took their seats and the school day began.


Phones buzzed in the midst of Ushimaru-sensei’s lecture about Japanese law and three students discreetly pulled them out.

R: Hey, we’re meeting up at the hideout after school, right?
An: Don’t text now. We’re in class.
R: Whoa! You mean you’re actually listening to all this crap?
Ai: Yes, please pay attention to class, Ryuji-kun.
Ai: You need to improve your grades.
R: Ugh, you had to say that.
An: Nothing’s really sticking though.
An: I’m too excited for later.
R: Hell yeah! Anyways, hideout after school?
R: Or straight to Airi’s house?
Ai:My house!
Ai: I’m sure we’re all hungry now since lunch was about two hours ago.
R: Shit, you’re right.
Ak: Got it.

“Hey, Kurusu!”

Startled, said student’s head shot up with wide eyes, putting his phone away.

“Pay attention! Is that how you listen to someone who’s talking to you?!” Ushimaru sneered.

Akira paled. ‘I feel a murderous intent..!’

With a large sweep of his arm, the teacher threw his piece of chalk at the student, hitting him square in the forehead.

Head snapping back at the force, Akira rubbed the spot gingerly and hunched over himself, sweatdropping at his slow reflexes.

Ann covered her mouth incredulously, turning away.

Airi winced; that had to hurt. Discreetly, she took out a small tube of Recov-R gel from her bag and handed it out to the injured male.

He took it, giving her a grateful smile.

“Ooh..That looked like it hurt.”

“He hit him right in the forehead...”

“That’s what you get for daydreaming!” Ushimaru-sensei hmphed, before turning back to the board. “Kids these days have no respect for their elders.” He grumbled, taking out a new piece of chalk and continuing the lesson.

Morgana popped its head out of Akira’s desk and looked at him pityingly. “Good grief...Looks like you need more proficiency to completely dodge that.” It remarked.

He grimaced in response.

“Man, I am so excited!” Ryuji grinned, rubbing his stomach. The four (five if you count Morgana) walked out of the station and into the backstreets. “Lunch was forever ago! I can’t wait to eat your food, Airi!” The punk proclaimed, walking backwards with his hands behind his head.

She laughed as they walked past the closed movie theater. “I’ll make sure not to disappoint.” She smiled. The group arrived at a small but well maintained house, some vines climbing up the side.

“Well...This is my place.” Airi stated awkwardly, unlocking the door. They walked in, the non-residents looking around curiously.

“It’s so nice and clean.” Ann marveled while taking off her shoes and placing them on the shoe rack.

“Hehe, I try.” Airi smiled sheepishly, before leading them to the living room. “Anyway, make yourselves at home! You can watch TV if you’d like, or maybe do your homework...” She suggested, looking at the delinquent specifically. “...Ryuji-kun.”

“Hey!” He pouted indignantly. “We’re not here to torture ourselves, we’re here to celebrate!” He flopped down on one of the chaises, grabbing the remote and turning the TV on.

“In other news, we have yet to figure out what is triggering the mental breakdowns. The cause is still unknown. However, many citizens still take public transportation while citing they are in fear of future incidents. Reporting live from-” “Boring.” Ryuji groaned, changing the channel.

Akira sat down as well, unzipping his bag for Morgana. The cat jumped out of the bag and landed on the coffee table, looking around curiously. “Wow, Lady Airi. Your place is so nice! Way nicer than Akira’s room.” It purred cheerfully, before jumping down on the floor and exploring the room.

“Yeah, Airi-chan.” Ann sat down on the other chaise. “My house is bigger, but your’s has such a nice atmosphere. I’m kind of jealous.” She confessed with a smile.

Airi smiled. “Thanks, guys.” She took off her blazer, draping it on one of the couches. “I’m going to start cooking, OK?” With that, she moved to the kitchen to begin.

Once she walked out of the living room, the four guests huddled together. “All right, did you guys get presents for her?” Ann whispered fervently.

“Hell yeah I did!” Ryuji grinned, giving her a thumbs up.

Morgana took out some lockpicks from its scarf. "I can't buy anything since I don't have money, so I made some lockpicks."

Akira gave him an odd look. "When?"

It purred. "When you were sleeping, of course. It was cold when I was done so I slept on top of you."

He deadpanned. He almost died last night from suffocation. He shook his head. “When should we give them to her?”

Ryuji rubbed his chin pensively. “How about after dinner?”

They nodded in agreement. “Sooo...What did you guys get?” Ann inquired, taking her’s out. “I got her a all day coupon at the spa!” She grinned happily, showing them the envelope.

Ryuji looked at her incredulously. “Are you serious?!” He groaned, leaning back on the chaise. “I just got her a giant plush.” He sighed defeatedly, then perked up. “Oh yeah, I didn’t ask yesterday, but what did you buy?” He turned to Akira.

He shrugged. “You’ll see later.” He replied shortly, a bit nervous. He flexed his hands, heart beating quicker with anticipation.

Off in the distance, they heard the ventilation hood in the kitchen turn on. Curious, the four quietly snuck over to the dining room. Beyond the dining table was the kitchen, where Airi was currently cooking. She expertly tossed the beef with her spatula, adding a bit of mirin to it, making the wok explode in flames.

“Whoa!” Ryuji gaped, gawking at the fire show.

The four looked on in amazement as the class president moved from the stove, to the grill, to the fridge, and back to the stove. “She’s amazing.” Morgana purred, eyes shining with awe.

Taking out several plates and bowls, Airi killed the heat on the stove. Piling rice from the cooker, she set them on the table before bringing over the main courses. She divided the portions for four individuals, placing them on separate plates. Dowsing the dirty dishes in the sink, she wiped her forehead, sighing in relief.

‘Just gotta make sure the cake is decorated.’ She reminded herself.

Taking the finished cake out of the fridge, Airi shook some icing sugar on top, before going to the mint plant and slicing off several leaves, decorating the top.

She placed the cake back into the fridge and took off her apron. “Food is ready!” She called out.

Getting up from their crouched positions behind the doorway, the four walked into the dining room, gazing at the food with admiration. There was finely grilled black perch, korean marinated beef, and spiced legumes. A simple miso soup was served for each seat except for Morgana’s, who had a wide selection of tuna cuts.

Slowly taking their seats, they inhaled the aromas of the freshly cooked meal. “This smells so good!” Ryuji sighed in appreciation, mouth watering at the scents.

“I can’t wait to dig in!” Ann cheered, taking a photo of her meal.

Looking at his set, Akira noticed his perch was a bit bigger than the other’s. He blinked and looked over at Airi questioningly.

She smiled mysteriously in response. “I want to thank you guys again for coming over.” Airi began, giving them all a grateful look. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to cook for someone else other than myself. ” She laughed sheepishly. "I hope it all tastes OK. Maybe I've gotten too used to my own cooking..."

“Airi-chan…” Ann bit her lip, looking at their host. “...Can I ask where your parents are? It-It’s just that...I haven’t heard you mention them ever, even in middle school.”

“Yeah, plus you haven’t cooked for someone in a long time? Where are they?” Ryuji piped, looking around the room, not noticing the class president’s face grimacing.

Akira stared at her with concern, not saying anything.

Airi took a deep breath. “...They’re gone.” She whispered, not looking up. The room fell silent at the news. “They’ve been gone for years, almost a decade now.” She smiled wryly.

Ann covered her mouth in horror. “Oh...Airi-chan...” She whispered, tears clouding her eyes. "I'm sorry for asking..."

She sighed. “It’s all right, Ann-chan. It’s old news.”

Clenching his fists, Ryuji bowed his head. “Sorry, Airi. I...didn’t know...”

Gray eyes glanced at her sorrowfully. “Airi-chan…” Akira whispered.

Shaking her head, tearful eyes looked up at her guests. “Thank you.” She closed her eyes. “I’m happy that I have such good friends who care so much...” Wiping the moisture from her eyes, she clapped her hands together. “Enough talking about sad stuff, It’s my birthday! The meal’s getting cold and I worked hard on it, so you guys better eat up!”

Swishing its tail back and forth, Morgana gazed at her affectionately. “Thank you, Lady Airi!”

“Itadakimasu!” The group dug into their meals. “Oh man, this is sooo good!” Ryuji moaned in appreciation, chewing on the korean beef. “It’s so sweet and juicy!”

Ann chewed happily. “The fish is so soft, it's falling off my chopsticks! You have to teach me how to cook.” She proclaimed, pointing her utensils at Airi.

Morgana devoured the sashimi on its plate. “Meeoooow!” It sang blissfully. "Real fooood!"

Savoring the meal, Akira closed his eyes in pleasure. He hadn’t had a real meal like this since he left home, and even then, his mother's cooking couldn't compare. All he had lately was curry and ramen.

‘I could get used to this.’ He thought blissfully. Taking another bite of the black perch, he blinked, tasting a new flavor. He looked closer at the fish, and saw it had garlic and mushrooms stuffed inside. He quirked his lips. ‘Something she enjoys a lot, huh.’ He thought fondly to himself.

Finishing their meals in a matter of minutes, the teenagers and one cat sighed in bliss. “That,” Ryuji began, pointing at his empty dishes. “Was the best meal of my life.” He declared dramatically, leaning back in his seat. "My Ma ain't ever cook this good."

“Agreed!” Ann stretched in her chair languidly with a smile.

Morgana was laid on its back, stomach distended from all the food.

Wiping his mouth with a napkin, Akira muttered a “gochisousama deshita,” before getting up from his seat and gathering the dirty dishes.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Akira-kun!” Airi piped, hurriedly getting up from her seat to help.

He shook his head. “You did all the work, this is the least I can do.” He smiled.

Deflating, She smiled and acquiesced, heading into the kitchen. “You can just leave them in the sink, I’ll do them later.” She ordered, opening the fridge. “I hope you guys aren’t too full because I also made cake.” She pulled it out and laid it on the dining table.

It was a light matcha cheesecake, sprinkled with icing sugar and topped with a few buds of mint. She also grabbed a carton of vanilla ice cream. “Shall we eat?” Airi asked, brandishing a knife.

“Wait!” Ryuji stopped, holding a hand out. “You gotta make a wish! It’s your birthday!”

“Oh, right right!” Airi laughed sheepishly, sweatdropping at her forgetfulness. Taking candles out from a drawer, she inserted them into the cake, lighting them with a match. Closing her eyes, she clasped her hands together. Several moments later, she blew the candles, extinguishing the flames.

“Happy Birthday, Airi!” The guests cheered, clapping their hands in celebration. “Alright, cake time!” Ann cheered, jumping in place happily.

Cutting the cake into several pieces, Airi handed them out on porcelain plates, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

They dug into the dessert with relish. “Oh my god, this is amazing!” Ann marveled, eyes sparkling at the cake in front of her.

“Thank you, Ann-chan!” Airi smiled. Her cheeks were stained red, blushing from all the compliments. "I wasn't sure since I'm the only one who usually eats my cooking..."

After the meal by the birthday girl, they relocated back to the living room. Airi had went and prepared tea for everyone, and now they sat in peaceful silence, nursing a steaming cup.

“Sooo…” Ryuji began, the others looking at him curiously. “Present time?” He suggested to his fellow guests, wiggling his eyebrows. They nodded.

“Wait- presents?” Airi repeated. “You guys didn’t have to! I only told you yesterday...” She blubbered flusteredly, waving her hands in front of her.

“Of course we had to!” Ann argued, sitting across. “You’ve done a lot for us, for me especially.” She looked down at her lap. “You told me earlier in our texts that you’re sorry for not being able to save Shiho, and you’ve kept on saying that. But,” Ann looked up resolutely. “...You tried. That’s more than anyone else had done, more than...what I had done. So thank you, Airi-chan.” She smiled gently. “She's probably alive right now because you went up there, so stop blaming yourself! We’ll go visit her tomorrow.”

Airi stared at her with wide eyes, before looking down at her lap, her bangs shadowing her face. Tiny droplets hit the back of her clenched hands. “...Every time I close my eyes,” She began quietly. “All I see is Shiho-chan’s face. When I went to bed last night, I...kept hearing her body hit the ground.” She covered her face with her hands. “I know, I did all I could...but it wasn’t enough, though, was it? I didn’t make any difference...” She sobbed quietly. “I had her! If I was stronger, I could have pulled her up...”

Akira scooted closer and put an arm around her shoulders. Ann flinched at the description, reaching out and placing a comforting hand on Airi’s leg, Ryuji reaching over Akira’s arm to also half hug her. Morgana jumped and curled up on her lap. They comforted the crying girl for however long she needed.

Sniffing, Airi wiped the tears from her face, embarrassed from crying so much over these past two days. “Sorry...” She bit her lip, blushing. “I keep ruining the mood with all my crying...”

“Don’t apologize, Lady Airi.” Mona shook its head, ears twitching. “It’s OK to cry.” It gave her an understanding smile, jumping onto the table.

She gave a watery smile back. She was so fortunate to have such good friends, even if she didn't deserve them.

“Alright, enough with the crying!” Ryuji persuaded, taking out his shoddily wrapped present. “We gotta think on the bright side! It’s your birthday, we’re gonna bag Kamoshida’s Treasure! Suzui’s stable!” He listed off, grinning excitedly, doing his best to lift the mood.

“Yeah!” Ann chimed in, pumping a fist. “Everything’s gonna be fine! You have to open our presents now!” She took her’s out and shoved it into Airi's hands.

Startled, she looked down curiously. She slowly unwrapped the envelope, the paper giving way to an all expenses paid coupon at the local spa. She laughed delightedly. “Thank you, Ann-chan! I need this so bad after this week.” She smiled gratefully. “Maybe we can go together sometime?”

Ann nodded gleefully.

Ryuji shoved his large wrapped package at her as well. “Open mine next!” He demanded happily, bouncing in his seat.

With a laugh, she did as she was told, unwrapping all the newspaper covering the object. “Oh!” She blinked, taking out a large plush of a cat. It was mostly black with white tips, easily resembling a certain dexterous feline.

“Is that supposed to be me?!” Morgana yelled incredulously, glaring at the punk.

“It’s way better than you!” Ryuji glared back.

She burst into laughter, hugging the plush close to her. “I love it!” She brightened up. “I’m gonna call it Mona!”

Morgana turned and gave her a look of betrayal. “Lady Airi..,” It teared up. “Aren’t I good enough?!” Airi gave the feline a gentle smile, rubbing its ears. “Of course you are, Morgana.” She reassured softly. “But you’re always going to be with Akira-kun. I just get my own Mona to hug and snuggle with.” She grinned.

Morgana stopped mid-purr. ”Snuggle with…?” It breathed, blushing heavily at the thought, before shaking itself. “OK, fine.” It relented, trying to sound nonchalant, but the blush still present on its face gave it away. "Here's my present." It handed a couple of lockpicks with its mouth. "I can't really wrap them..."

She accepted the gift, placing it next to her on the couch. "Thank you! Now I won't have to use my bobby pin each time."

Akira smiled amusedly at the feline’s dramatic actions, before resigning himself. ‘My turn.’ He thought with trepidation. He pulled the still wrapped box out of his bag, and silently handed it over.

Airi blinked, before accepting the bundle of tissue paper. She slowly unwrapped it layer by layer, unveiling a black velvet box. Her eyes widened, and looked at him in astonishment. “Did you...get me jewelry?” She breathed, her fingers slightly caressing the box.

He smiled a tad nervously. “Open it.” He instructed quietly. He glanced away for a moment, and met wide light blue eyes.

Ann stared at him in disbelief, before smirking knowingly at him.

He gave her a confused frown, not understanding why she was giving him that look.

Airi slowly opened the velvet box, gasping at what was inside. She gently took out the silver barrette, the delicate pink petals gleaming in the light, and placed it in her palm, admiring it. “Akira-kun.” She breathed. “This must have been expensive. You didn’t have to.” She objected quietly, frowning guiltily at the gift.

He shook his head. “I wanted to.” He corrected, smiling softly.

She looked at him, searching his face, before acquiescing with a shy curl of her lips. She untied her braid, letting her peachy locks fall freely. Braiding the tendrils in a different pattern, she pulled it up into a bun, clipping her new gift in. She pulled out her phone and used the front camera as a mirror, appreciating how the flowers complimented her hair.

Airi turned back to Akira, who watched her with his mouth slightly open just like when they had met. “Thank you, Akira-kun. This is wonderful!” She smiled warmly.

He swallowed, wetting his dry throat. His eyes rested on the visage in front of him, not wanting to blink or look away. She looked...really beautiful with his gift.

Unconsciously wetting his lips, he looked away, feeling his face heat up. “You’re welcome. You deserve it.” He replied shortly, not trusting himself to not stutter with how fast his heart was beating. ‘Calm down.’ He scolded himself silently. ‘But...I can feel her appreciation…’

Whistling, Ryuji admired the barrette in her hair. “Damn, bro. How much did you spend?”

Akira pursed his lips. “I’m not telling.” He dramatically coiffed his hair.

They burst into laughter at the display.

“Thank you all for the gifts.” Airi spoke, a shy smile decorating her lips. “It means so much to me coming from you guys.” She hugged the Mona plush close to her, holding the spa coupon in one hand.

“Well,” Morgana began, jumping onto the coffee table. “Since we’re done with celebrations, we should hold our meeting about the calling card.” It suggested, laying down, tucking its legs underneath itself.

Akira nodded. “Right. Let’s begin then.”

The five huddled together above the coffee table. “Since we’ve got an infiltration route, we can send a calling card, right?” He asked the cat, who nodded in response.

“Why couldn’t we send it in the first place..?” Ryuji asked confusedly.

“It’s not that easy.” Morgana frowned. “A Treasure won’t stay materialized forever. Once the impression is gone, the Treasure will disappear. I think it’ll last around a day, at most.”

“The hell..? That’s like no time at all...” He groaned, ruffling his hair.

“When should we send it?” Akira asked the group.

“As soon as possible. We’ve waited too long.” Ann replied instantly, frowning. “We’re going to pull this off, no matter what!” She clenched her fists angrily.

Airi nodded firmly. “He needs to pay for what he did. I’ll never forgive him.” She stated coldly.

“I’m with ya.” Ryuji frowned, sitting forward. “Plus, we don’t wanna get expelled. The earlier the better.”

“Alright then, Monday it is.” Akira declared.

Everyone nodded in agreement. “Once we send the card, we have to infiltrate the Palace immediately for the Treasure.” Morgana advised, ears twitching in anticipation.

“So we send the calling card in the morning...and carry out the plan by the end of the day, right?” Ann inquired.

“We’ll have to do this quickly then.” Airi mediated.

Akira nodded in understanding. “So, who’s going to write the card?” He crossed his arms, leaning back on the chaise.

“Oh! Oh!” Ryuji perked up. “Leave it to me!”

Ann gave him an odd look. “Why?” She asked dubiously.

“Why..? Why wouldn’t it be me?!” He asked, offended.

The model tutted. “This is important. Are you sure you can handle the pressure?” She pressed, furrowing her brows at him.

“I must agree.” Morgana added, scratching an ear.

“I really wanna get him good!” Ryuji exclaimed, holding up a fist. “Lemme write it...C’mon, please?” He pleaded at their leader.

Pursing his lips, Akira nodded. “All right.” He relented.

He pumped a fist. “Yeah, I got this!” Ryuji grinned.

Ann cringed. “Hey, are you sure about this..? If they find out our identities, all this work will be for nothing..."

“I know, I know!” Ryuji waved away her concerns.

Morgana stood up. “All right! Monday it is! You’d better not slack off on this.”

Yawning, Ryuji stretched his arms and got up. “It’s gettin’ late. We should go.” He noted, looking at the clock on the wall which read “7 P.M.”

Ann got up as well, straightening her skirt. “Yeah, same here. Gotta get up early to visit Shiho tomorrow. Want to meet me at Shibuya station, Airi-chan?” She asked the birthday girl.

Said girl nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She replied with a calm smile.

“I’ll walk wit’ ya.” Ryuji offered the model, grabbing their bags and heading toward the front door. “Thanks so much for the food, Airi! It was awesome!”

“Happy Birthday!” Ann congratulated once more, putting on her boots.

“Thanks for coming over! You’ll always be welcome.” Airi grinned at the two blonds. “Get home safely!”

With a wave, the two left, leaving Airi, Akira, and Morgana in the house.

Airi turned to her classmate. “You can stay as long as you’d like, Akira-kun, Morgana. You live around the corner anyway.” She smiled jokingly.

He inclined his head. “If you don’t mind. Maybe we can do our homework together?” He suggested, lips quirking.

She agreed, and they moved their bags into the tatami room to study.

He blinked, noticing the small shrine in the corner, incense lit in front of a family portrait.

Coming back into the room with two cups of hot tea, Airi stilled, noticing Akira bowing his head in front of her parents' shrine, his hands clapped together in a prayer motion. She quietly placed the cups on the table and sat down, waiting for him to finish. With an exhale, he opened his eyes, letting his arms fall to his lap.

"Thank you." She said quietly, smiling softly at him. She was so touched that he bothered to give her parents a prayer, especially since he had never known them. He was so thoughtful.

He shook his head. "It's the least I could do. I'm sure they were amazing people." He smiled, moving back to the table. They spent a quiet evening together, mostly her correcting his answers, while Morgana napped under the kotatsu.

Two hours later, Airi waved farewell to the two Persona users as they left for Cafe Leblanc. Closing the door, she went about cleaning the mess left behind from the party, humming happily.

Today had been a good day. Better than good, it was great. Her friends enjoyed her cooking, her classmates wished her happy birthday, and even got presents! Not that she didn't appreciate the chocolates and snacks, but they didn't really mean anything. Her team of thieves had thought out their presents, and she was going to cherish them.

After her bath, she unclasped her new barrette and admired it. ‘I can’t believe Akira-kun really bought me something so beautiful and expensive.’ She thought, still in disbelief at the gorgeous clip. They had only known each other for a week, less than a week actually. Did he really think of her so kindly to buy her something like this?

She placed it gently on her vanity, swearing to wear it only on special occasions, before getting up. Going to her school bag, she took out all the gifts she received from her fellow classmates, including the book from Mishima.

Unwrapping it, she blinked. It was a book on Psychology. ‘How thoughtful of him, and just what I need, too.’ She smiled fondly.

Turning around, she gazed at the dusty instrument with trepidation. She was at war with herself. On one hand, the cello only reminded her of her of that time.

“Stupid child! This is what you deserve!”

Her eyes darkened at the memories. She could still hear the wood creaking in her ears. But...on the other hand, it also contained happy memories with her mother and father, and the itch to play was getting unbearable. Her hands would twitch every so often, steel strings under her fingertips.

“Aw, honey you look so cute and tiny next to it!”

“You play really nicely, Airi!”

“Let’s get you a cello so you can play for your big bro!”

Clenching her now uninjured hands, she nodded to herself, coming to a decision. Reaching out with a trembling hand, her heart pounding in her ears, she dusted off the instrument.

"I wish...for my parents to be in peace, watching over me. I wish they could tell me they were proud of me, that they love me. I wish Takase and Rui were here, smiling happily at my side. I wish I can help more people. I wish that our team would stay together even after we take Kamoshida's Treasure. I wish..."

Chapter Text

----4/17, SUNDAY, MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

Picking out a long sleeve lavender colored blouse and a short black skirt with sheer gray tights, Airi got changed and readied her bag. She placed a stack of colorful paper inside along with her keys. Putting on a pair of black heels, she set off for the train. Her phone rang and she stopped, taking it out.

Ak: You're going to the hospital today, right?
Ak: Can you meet me at Leblanc for a second?
Ai: Sure.

She turned the corner instead, seeing Akira stand in front of the cafe. He was dressed in a black sports jacket, white shirt, and blue jeans, holding a small bouquet in his hand.

She blinked. Those were daisies. Was he..? "Hey." She greeted quietly, walking up to him.

He turned to her with a small smile. "Hey. Sorry for calling you out here so suddenly." He held up the bouquet up to her. "I wanted to ask if you were willing to give these to Suzui-san for me."

Her eyes widened. She was right. Daisies were gifted to wish a person to get well, after all. "Eh..? Why don't you give them yourself? I think she'd be happy to know you cared enough to give flowers." She tilted her head.

He shook his head. "I don't really know her, so it wouldn't be appropriate for me to visit...But." He paused, looking away. "She talked to me once a couple days ago, telling me not to worry about the rumors....I want to thank her for that, at the very least."

Smiling softly, she accepted the bouquet. "Got it...Shiho-chan sure is a nice girl, isn't she?"

He nodded. "She didn't even know me but she supported me anyway. I guess it's because Takamaki-san goes through the same thing with rumors..." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Anyway, thanks for doing this for me. I'll see you tomorrow?"

Airi smiled. "Of course. See ya." She waved as she walked past him to the station.

 

She traveled to Shibuya in silence, gazing ahead somberly, gripping the bouquet carefully in her hands. It was really kind of Akira to get a gift for Shiho, even though he didn't really know her. A passing comment like that had impacted him enough to wish her a speedy recovery. Her eyes darkened. What had she done? Nothing. It all only ended in failure with her. She didn't even deserve to be visiting her in the hospital like this.

"This is Shibuya. I repeat, this is Shibuya. The time is now 11:12AM, the next stop is..."

Getting out of the station, she called Ann. After a couple of rings, the call went through. “Ann-chan? It’s Airi. I’m here in the station square. Where are you?”

“Here!” She heard from behind her.

Turning around, she saw the model walk up to her. She was wearing a red and white sports jacket on top of a lavender button up and a white skirt. Her long legs were clad in black tights, ending with red converses. She had a small plastic bag around her wrist, holding something round.

“Ready to go?” Ann asked quietly, a depressed expression painting her features.

Airi nodded, putting her phone away, and the two walked in silence through the bustling crowds of Tokyo.

A few minutes later, they arrived at Ito Hospital. Walking through the automatic doors, the smell of antiseptic burned their noses. “Welcome to Ito Hospital. How may I help you?” The receptionist asked monotonously, looking at the two through her round glasses with blank eyes.

“We’re here for Suzui Shiho.” Ann answered quietly, looking uncomfortably around at the waiting room filled with sick patients. Nurses walked around mechanically, writing on their clipboards and hooking some on IVs. Not a single person other than the receptionist spoke.

Typing on her computer, the receptionist nodded. “She is in room 203. Visiting hours end at 8 P.M.” She droned, directing them to the nearby elevators lethargically.

“Thank you.” Airi nodded politely, and the two students rode the elevator up to the second floor.

Slowly walking out into the somewhat bare hallways, she felt the dread creeping up her back. She didn’t want to see the results of her failure. To see with her own eyes, that she couldn’t save her. She might as well have pushed Shiho off herself, she thought grimly.

They stopped in front of the door of 203. Taking a deep breath, Ann turned to her companion. “Are you ready?” She asked quietly.

Airi tightened her grip around the strap of her bag. Was she ready? No. She would never be ready to see the broken body of another friend. “Yes.” She lied, sliding the door open.

The sunlight shone through the open window, white curtains fluttering from the cool breeze. A slow consistent beep echoed throughout the room, emanating from the ECG monitor. A faint hiss could be heard from the ventilator, hooked up through a series of tubes connected to the patient tucked in the bed. Silently, they walked up to the cot where Suzui Shiho laid, unable to wake up.

Biting her lip, Ann grasped a limp hand, the only appendage that wasn’t bandaged, and sat next to the comatose girl. Airi stayed near the foot of the bed, refusing to gaze further than the report on the bed frame. She placed Akira's flowers in a nearby vase, already filled with water.

“Hi, Shiho.” Ann breathed, voice shaky.

The black haired girl remained silent, the only sound she made came from her faint breaths, her chest rising up and down slowly. Most of her face was wrapped in white gauze, some having splotches of red.

Gulping, Ann trembled as she drank in the array of bruises and bandages. A drop fell, then another, as tears streamed down her face, hitting the back of her hand. She cried silently, never letting go of her grip on her friend, afraid that if she did, she would slip away.

Her heart wrenched at the sobs emitted from her friend, and Airi closed her eyes, trying to keep tears at bay. Tightening her grip on the clipboard, crinkling the paper, she inhaled shakily. Opening her eyes, she blinked away the moisture, and reread the report again. Broken femur, fractured ulna, a fractured clavicle, and three cracked ribs. Her left shoulder had dislocated, however the hospital already took care of it. Her spine was a little more worrying. The report said two discs had been pushed out of alignment, and was fixed in surgery. All injuries have been set and bandaged, and the only thing left was to wait.

“Is she going to be OK..?” Ann asked hesitantly, turning her tear filled eyes at her.

Airi sighed heavily. “Physically, someday. Mentally...I don’t know.” She shook her head, guilt marring her features. No one can tell when a coma patient would wake up, if they ever would wake...

She let out a shaky sigh, closing her eyes in anguish. “Why won’t she wake up…?” Ann whispered, a scowl growing on her lips. “Why didn’t she tell me?!” She shouted, a fresh wave of tears dripping onto the linoleum floor. “Shiho, you idiot!” Ann spat venomously. “You didn’t have to take your life over that asshole! You selfish bitch! You...” She choked, shoulders trembling. “...Don’t leave me.” Her voice hitched, face twisted in agony.

Taking a shaky breath, Airi turned to look, and her heart broke. She mourned for the unresponsive person who laid brokenly in bed, she mourned for the sound mind of a beautiful girl, she mourned for the shattered soul who continued to stay silent. She mourned for another friend.

Her strength left her, and she collapsed on her knees. Clenching the cold sheets with her hands, she buried her face in them to hide her sobs. ‘She’s still alive she’s still alive she’s still alive...’ She repeated to herself. The two girls cried, praying for their friend’s health, and more importantly, her regaining consciousness

 

Sighing heavily, Airi collapsed on a chaise, an arm shielding her eyes from the light of the chandelier.

Today had been a long day. Too long. After crying their hearts out, Ann had taken out a small duck plush from the plastic bag. She told her that it was from Ryuji, who gave it to her last night when they went home. That he hoped it would brighten Shiho's day when she would wake up. Placing it on the night stand, she clapped her hands twice. She then spoke of how this all started last year, when Shiho got onto the volleyball team. She was so happy that Ann would go and watch her play. That was how Kamoshida had noticed her.

Airi had told the model about what had happened up on the rooftop, and the reasoning for it. She told her how Shiho had broke down, confessing that the teacher had been touching her, beating her, and finally raped her. How Shiho endured all that for Ann, until that last act finally broke her.

Ann had been so angry that a nurse had come in to warn them about the noise level, or else they’d be kicked out. Quieting down after being reprimanded by the staff, Airi silently pulled out a stack of colorful paper, and began to fold. Seeing what she was doing, Ann joined in, and the two folded paper cranes together for several hours, keeping Shiho company. They hoped to finish a thousand of them soon.

They finally parted an hour later, unable to stand being in the room, and Airi went straight to work. Her boss noticed her bloodshot eyes, but didn’t say anything, only handing over a bouquet of daisies and peonies with an understanding smile at the end of the shift. Tearing up from the gesture, she thanked her boss profusely, quickly walking back to the hospital to put them by Shiho’s bedside. Her boss had given her a way to apologize, even if it was such a small gesture.

Her mother was there when she entered the room, and Airi was overcome with shame and guilt. This woman in front of her had almost lost her daughter because of her. Placing the flowers into the vase, she got on her knees and prostrated on the floor, asking for forgiveness for not being able to save her daughter. More tears dripped as she explained how she had Shiho in her hands and she was too weak to pull her up, too weak to handle the scratches her daughter put on her wrists and palms. If she was stronger, her daughter wouldn't be here right now, unresponsive.

Suzui-san looked at her silently, her face unreadable, before she got on her hands and knees as well. She asked for forgiveness, for not saying anything when her daughter became more depressed, for when she saw the bruises but didn’t ask, and when she saw the light extinguish in her eyes. The older woman broke down, saying she may as well have killed her daughter herself. She didn't deserve to be called a mother when she couldn't even help her baby.

Airi looked at her in shock. It was the exact same thing she accused herself of. She realized that everyone that had looked on at Shiho’s deterioration without doing anything, had really thought of themselves as the noose around her neck. Her lips trembled, and she hugged the sobbing woman. In the end, she comforted the mother with her reasoning, and that instead crying about it, they should instead do their best to make sure Shiho was comfortable, healthy, and happy, even if the black haired girl herself might never reach the latter. They owed her that much.

With one final bow, the class president left the mother and daughter, and headed home. Though many people had looked on curiously at her red puffy eyes, no one cared enough to ask. She made it home alone. Crying so much in a span of a few hours had thrown her emotions on a roller coaster, going up and down over and over again.

She sighed tiredly, her head throbbing from the excess hormones, eyes burning from all the tears shed earlier. ‘School’s tomorrow, as well as Kamoshida’s Treasure.’ She reminded herself, groaning.

Reluctantly, she got up to take a bath, her muscles screaming at her. Turning off the faucet, she submerged herself in the hot water, sighing in relief as her migraine dissipated.

After her bath, she put on her pajamas, and with a hesitant hand, picked up the dark cherry wood cello. Taking a deep breath, she slid the bow against the strings shakily, her fingers now unused to the grips.

“You used to play? Why don’t you play now?”

“Why would they do that?! They’re so mean to you, Airi…”

She softly played G. Faure’s Elegie, releasing her anger and sorrow through the deep melody, one shaky note at a time.

It was all she could do to not break down again.

 
 

Outfit reference

Chapter Text

Getting back home after his first shift at the convenience store, Akira entered Cafe Leblanc. There was only one customer, an older brown haired male sitting in one of the booths, talking to the cafe owner.

“Boss, did you hear?” The haughty regular asked. “Apparently that subway driver from the accident was acting really odd during his testimony hearing.” He gossiped smugly, taking a sip from his cup, one pinky sticking out.

Akira looked on silently from the entrance, interested at the information.

Sojiro crossed his arms. “You talking about that psychotic whatever thing people’re going on about?” He asked reluctantly.

“Yeah, I heard it completely alters your personality. The news is saying the driver couldn’t even speak when they tried asking him questions.” The customer prattled on.

He sighed exasperatedly. “There’s no way a preposterous story like that could be true.” Sojiro commented shortly. “Oh, and sorry, but we’re closing soon.”

The haughty regular, offended, cleared his throat. “Hmph, how rude. This must be why you don’t get many customers.” He remarked, looking down at his cup. “Your coffee’s actually not half bad. The beans must be lamenting the sorry state of this store..."

Glaring at the customer now, Sojiro gestured to the door. “Thanks for stopping in. Please come again.” He gritted.

“Hmph. I only say this out of politeness, but...thanks for the coffee.” The man pursed his lips, before leaving some bills on the table, and walking out of the store.

Akira looked on uncomfortably at the blatant rudeness of the customer.

Sojiro rubbed the back of his head. “Sheesh, what a pain...” He groaned, going over to pick up the dirty dish and cash. He looked up at his charge. “Oh...What do you want? If you’re bored, go wash some dishes or something.”

Akira blinked. “How’s business?” He asked lightly, not wanting to set the other man off.

“Doesn’t concern you.” Sojiro replied curtly before sighing. “It’s all good as long as the shop doesn’t fail. I’m not gonna go wearing a fake smile.” He explained, his tone a bit softer than before.

“But what if it does fail?” Akira asked, furrowing his brows slightly in concern.

He shrugged. “As long as I’m here, the world leaves me be. No annoyances or troublesome people to deal with. It’s like my own personal hideaway. I’d be kinda screwed if I lost it, but I guess you would be too.” He stated nonchalantly. “So, you better at least try and be useful around here.” He sighed, taking off his apron. “Anyway, I’m leaving now. Don’t cause any trouble.” He warned halfheartedly before eyeing the student. “You seem different...Have you always had a scowl on your face? Nothing goes your way in life. You’ll end up failing if you tense up like that.”

Akira nodded, and walked up the stairs to his room. Putting his bag down, Morgana jumped out and began grooming itself. Sitting down on the couch, his phone rang.

An: So, I went to see Shiho today at the hospital with Airi…
Ak: How was she?
An: Her condition is still stable.
An: They don’t know when she’ll regain consciousness though…
Ak: I’m sure she’ll be OK.
An: Yeah.
An: Airi and I began making paper cranes for her.
Ak: That’s really thoughtful.
An: She’ll get better, I know it.
An: We just need to believe in her.
An: But...I’ll never forgive Kamoshida. He’s going to pay for what he did, no matter what.

He put his phone away and sighed. So much had happened, and he’d barely been here a week.

Morgana jumped up next to him, sitting down on the couch. “We’re going into the Palace tomorrow.” It stated firmly. “We should assemble some infiltration tools. Clean off that desk back there so we can use it.” It gestured to the covered work desk, languidly waving its tail.

Nodding, Akira got up, putting on a face mask, and began cleaning. An explosion of dust flew in the air as he took off the transparent sheet, and cleared the stacks of books covering the counter.

With a final wipe of the rag, he took off his mask with a sigh.

“Great! Now you can make things whenever you want!” Morgana cheered, sneezing a bit from all the dust particles.

Exhaling softly, he looked around the rest of the dirty room. Pursing his lips at the conditions, he put his mask back on and cleaned the rest, dusting off the cramped bookcase and moving the bicycle and bags behind the stairs, leaving the barely alive plant next to the case. Walking back into his room, he smacked his hands satisfactorily.

“OK, let’s make something!” Morgana suggested, jumping onto the desk and relaxing on its back.

Akira went over and sat down, looking to the cat for guidance.

“I’ll provide the materials this time. Shadows in the Metaverse usually drop them when you kill them. Try making a lockpick.” The feline dropped a tin clasp and some silk yarn in front of the bespectacled student.

He looked down at the materials blankly. ‘How do I even…?’ He furrowed his brows in confusion.

“Don’t think too hard on it. You’ll get the hang of it.” Morgana reassured, grooming a paw. “Everyone starts off a little clumsy. Don’t be sad if it doesn’t turn out well, OK?”

Akira glanced at the cat incredulously behind his glasses, hesitantly grabbing the metal and pliers. A couple minutes of fumbling and silent cursing at the new cuts on his fingers, he held up one lockpick victoriously.

“Did you finish?” The feline looked curiously at the finished product in the teenager’s hand.

He held out the newly created object closer to the cat.

Morgana hummed, scrutinizing the lockpick. “Great! We should be able to use this.” It complimented, giving the boy an impressed look.

“All right!” He pumped his fist with a smirk, feeling confident. Taking some materials from his own pocket, he made two more, clumsily shaping the metal. By the end of it, his hands were covered in small scratches and cuts, the injuries mild but annoying.

Morgana stood up on its paws and looked at him sternly. “We’re heading into the Palace tomorrow. Let’s get some sleep.” It jumped dexterously to the bed.

Changing into his sleepwear in the bathroom, Akira snuggled into his bed, this time making sure Morgana would stay on the edge instead of on top of him. He breathed out, staring intently at the wooden beams that were lit with the midnight moon.

‘Tomorrow’s the day.’ He thought pensively. He was going to steal someone's heart. If they were caught, there was no doubt that he would be taken away, and his friends would be with him. They would be stuck in juvenile hall before being transferred to prison, and they wouldn't be able to get out. They would be released after a while, but him? With his existing record? Freedom would be snatched away from his fingertips.

His phone rang. Groaning softly, he reached over for his mobile.

R: Man, there’s so much I wanna write on the calling card. It’s kinda tough figuring out what to say.
An: Are you sure you’re really capable of this?!
R: Don’t worry, I got it. I even made a logo for us.
An: ...A logo?
R: Yep, you’ll get to see it tomorrow.
An: Well that’s worrying…
R: Anyway, you guys should rest up.
R: If we screw up tomorrow, we’re totally done for.
Ai: You should get some rest too, Ryuji-kun.
Ai: We need to be in tip top shape.
Ai: Let’s go in right after school?
Ak: Sounds good.
Ak: I’m counting on you guys.
An: Yep. I’m sure we can do this.
R: Just remember, we can’t trust any shitty adults.
R: That’s why we gotta do this ourselves.
R: Anyways, let’s pull this off and surprise everyone!

 

----4/18, MONDAY, EARLY MORNING, SHUJIN ACADEMY

 

“Good morning!” Kamoshida greeted, standing in front of the school gates, grinning at the students. “C’mon, hurry up and get to class!” He laughed lightheartedly.

Slowly walking up to the entrance, Akira and Airi glanced at each other in apprehension. He seemed more and more enthusiastic the closer it got to the board meeting. No doubt he was looking forward to expelling both outcasts from the school.

The gym teacher then turned and smiled at the class president. “Good morning, Kimisawa! You better get your cute self going or you’ll be late!” He winked.

Airi gave him a polite bow in return, not saying anything at the inappropriate comment, and walked past.

Watching her back side with a lazy smile, he turned to the bespectacled student, face smoothing out into a blank canvas. “Good morning.” Kamoshida greeted flatly, looking at Akira with barely concealed contempt.

Composed gray eyes stared back evenly. “Good morning.” He replied smoothly, not a hint of emotion seeping through. He moved to walk past the taller man, but stopped when he spoke again.

“...That admirable behavior won’t do you any good once you’re expelled.” Kamoshida rested his hands on his hips, peering at the student derisively.

Akira turned his head slightly, glancing at the gym teacher from the corner of his eye, before his gaze slid away and he continued walking into the school, hands in his pockets.


Entering the building, he spotted Airi next to the trophy cases with her back turned in his direction, talking to a couple of their classmates. Their worried expressions turned into one of fear as they saw him walk up behind her, and they hurried away with a bow.

“What was that about?” He blinked.

Startled, she turned around with wide eyes. “Oh! Akira-kun.” She sighed in relief, relaxing her shoulders. “It was nothing. They had seen us talk everyday and they were worried.”

“Yeah?” He commented, lips quirking. “And what did you say?”

“I told them there’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re like a harmless puppy.” She cracked a grin, before breaking out into laughter, smothering it with one hand.

He gave her a flat expression, but the twitching of his lips gave him away. “Yep. I’m the very picture of innocence.” He smirked, casually combing his hair with a hand.

Airi giggled at the action. “But to be serious, I did tell them they didn’t have to worry. I’m perfectly safe with you.” She smiled gently. “Hopefully, they'll stop feeding the rumors about you to the rest of the school.”

Taken aback by the casual statement, Akira looked away. He swallowed, wetting his dry lips, as he felt the heat rise up in his face.

He made her feel safe? When had anyone felt safe near him? For so long, people had treated him as someone dangerous, and before that, a nuisance. His classmates avoided him, the school avoided him, his parents...

After so many insults and derogatory remarks thrown at him...he started to believe it. He accepted that no one should come near him, or else he’ll hurt them just like he had hurt that man. His eyes hardened at the hazy memory. Now that he had the power of Personas, he really was dangerous. But...

His eyes slid back to his class president. Not to his teammates. Not to his friends. Not to her.

Turning back to her, his lips quirked, before transforming into a full blown grin. “Yeah.” Akira whispered, his grin softening to a tender smile. “I’ll make sure you never think otherwise.” He promised softly. ‘I can feel her trust in me…’ It was too early to tell, but...


Ruby eyes widened at the heartfelt grin directed at her, and she felt her cheeks flush. Airi had never seen him smile fully before. Every one of his expressions in the past week had been mild at best. He really was very handsome when he let his guard down. ‘Not that he wasn’t handsome before...’ She thought distractedly, before realizing what she thought and shook her head.

“A-Anyway, we should head to class.” She stammered, looking away shyly.


The two walked in further past the trophy cases when they saw a crowd of students surrounding the announcement boards. Curious, they stopped a little a ways near the practice building entrance to listen in. Ryuji was already there, gesturing them over with a grin. They walked over, observing the spectacle just as Ann walked into the school. The boards were covered in red cards, stating “The Phantom Thieves Of Hearts.” A bunch of students were standing near, reading the cards and whispering to each other.

“A calling card..?” A student muttered.

“I heard it was already posted by the time everyone got here this morning.” Another student gossiped excitedly.

Walking up to the board, Ann examined a card. “Sir Kamoshida Suguru, the utter bastard of lust.” She read, furrowing her brows. “We know how shitty you are, and that you put your twisted desires on students that can’t fight back. That’s why we have decided to steal away those desires and make you confess your sins. This will be done tomorrow, so we hope you will be ready. From, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts...” She trailed off, squinting at it incredulously. “...Wow.” She turned around to leave, but noticed the gang of Persona users standing a couple feet away. She joined them in the corner.

Ryuji grinned at her. “Not bad, eh?” He nudged eagerly. “I looked up a bunch of similar stuff online for reference.” He stated proudly, leaning against a desk.

Airi smiled sheepishly, sweatdropping. The message sounded rather...unrefined.

“Um...Yeah...” Ann glanced away awkwardly. “I know what you wanted to say, but it sounded like an idiot trying to be an adult.” She confessed flatly.

Sneaking its head out, Morgana agreed. “Your logo’s a little lacking, too.” It added disappointedly, glancing over at the swamped hallway.

Taken aback by the criticism, Ryuji’s brown eyes darted around uncomfortably. “OK, y’know what? Th-That ain’t true!” He argued weakly.

Nodding slightly, Airi joined in. “It’s fine as long as it does its job, right?"

The group quieted down when a couple of students passed by. “Did Kamoshida-sensei do something wrong..?” A shy girl whispered. “Does this mean the rumors are true?!” Her friend gasped.

Scrutinizing the board, a junior turned to his classmate. “Wait a sec...Is someone gonna take something from Kamoshida-sensei…?” He asked apprehensively.

“What’s with this weird logo?” Another student commented, looking at the cards with an unimpressed face. “And who’re these Phantom Thieves of Hearts people..?”

Tapping a foot, Ryuji fidgeted at the comments. “...It got everyone excited, so it’s all good, yeah?” He said timidly, looking up at the bespectacled student with hopeful eyes.

Akira nodded, giving him a reassuring look.

The group turned when they noticed Kamoshida stomping angrily toward the announcement boards. The students crowding around backed away slowly from the gym teacher.

“Who’s responsible for this..?!” Kamoshida gritted, glaring at the messages.

Morgana purred in delight, watching the medalist snap. “...Look at that. A predictable reaction for someone who knows what we mean by distorted desires.”

“I think it’s hittin’ him pretty hard.” Ryuji commented, grinning viciously.

Airi exhaled sharply. “Let’s see if it works.”

A couple of feet away from them, Kamoshida turned sharply at a nearby student. “Did you do this?! Or was it you?!” He yelled, turning to another student. The crowd of students quickly dispersed, running away in fear.

Turning around, the older man’s eyes landed on the group, specifically the two males. “...Was it you two?!” He gritted, marching up to them threateningly. The girls looked away, not acknowledging the towering figure. Subtly, the Ryuji and Akira moved to cover them, staring at the teacher challengingly.

Akira rested his hands in his pockets. “What’re you talking about?” He blinked his eyes innocently.

Dark eyes narrowed at the question. “So, you’re playing dumb..?” Kamoshida whispered threateningly. He snorted. “Eh, it’s not a problem. You’ll soon be expelled soon enough anyway.”

The air fizzed, flashing purple. The students snapped their heads in his direction. Where Kamoshida was now stood the Shadow version from the Metaverse. “Come...Steal it, if you can!” The corrupt king goaded, yellow eyes glowing madly. The Shadow turned back to the real Kamoshida, who pivoted and walked away.

“This is it.” Airi whispered firmly. “Once classes end, we’re going straight to the top.” She looked at her companions, determination burning in her eyes.

The group of thieves nodded, before going about their classes.

Getting through the periods were stressful, all five of them waiting anxiously for the last bell to ring. Fidgeting in her chair, Ann glared at the clock, mentally shouting for time to pass faster. During lunch, the group congregated in their class, Ryuji joining them, and they discussed quietly about what their plan of attack was, and what they should do if Plan A failed.

The bell rang, signalling the end of the day. At this point, they were so tense that they were relaxed, calmly walking out of class and up to the rooftop.

Standing ready, Akira swiped his phone and activated the app, transporting them to the Metaverse.

Holding it in his hand, Joker walked forward, his company of thieves following him steadfastly.

Chapter Text

The air pulsed red around them, as if the very Palace itself was boiling over with anger.

“Let’s go! Don’t let your guards down!” Mona advised, readying its scimitar.

Joker accessed the app and teleported them to the throne hall’s Safe Room. They exited and headed down the corridor, looking around cautiously. Arriving back at the throne room, they noticed it was bare of any life. Not a single soldier was around, nor was Kamoshida's Shadow.

“What the hell’s goin’ on here?” Skull muttered, looking around suspiciously. “The door’s just sittin’ open, and there aren’t any soldiers around…”

They walked in cautiously. “This place is probably undermanned now that they all got assigned elsewhere.” Mona explained, purring happily. “Either way, we win as long as we can steal the Treasure! Let’s keep going!” It declared firmly.

Carefully, they crossed the hall, swatting away the raining rose petals. Going through the large double doors, they opened the treasure room. What used to be a wavering ball of light was now a comically large gem encrusted crown, gleaming in its own light. They stopped in front of it, looking at Treasure with wide eyes.

“Aww yeeeaaaaah!” Mona cheered, jumping gleefully. “The Treasure has appeared!” Its eyes shined, reflecting the crown in its eyes.

“Man, it’s huge!” Skull yelped, staring at it incredulously.

“What do you think?! It’s just as I said! Now we can steal it!” The feline stated smugly.

“How...do we move it?” Elegant asked hesitantly, holding her arm.

“Ahh...this shine brings tears to my eyes…” The cat breathed dreamily, not hearing the question.

Crossing her arms, Panther frowned. “...It kinda pisses me off.” She spoke shortly. “Why’s it so pretty..? Isn’t this Kamoshida’s desires?”

Mona stared hypnotized with a dopey grin. “T-Treasure…” It drooled.

The humans looked down at the feline with odd looks. “Uh, the cat’s actin’ awfully excited.” Skull remarked uneasily, scratching his head.

Panther tilted her head, observing their non-human teammate. “What’s wrong? Is something-?”

She was cut off when the black and white cat jumped high in the air, and landed on the giant crown, nuzzling it. “Meeeeeoooooow!” It purred ecstatically, oblivious to the others.

Covering her cheeks, Elegant blushed at the sight. ‘Mona is so cute !’ She squealed internally.

“Mrrrrrowoooow!” Mona rumbled, the purring kicking up a notch.

The other three looked at each other awkwardly. “That’s not catnip…” Joker sweatdropped.

It turned to look at its leader, eyes still glazed with infatuation. “...Meow, meow! Mewwww!” It replied, mewling animatedly.

Rubbing his head frustratedly, Skull snapped. “Alright, that’s enough, you stupid cat!”

It froze, quickly detaching itself and walking back to the group with its head down. “Oh, um, yeah…” Mona started, rubbing its arm embarrassingly. “Forgive me for displaying such an insolent sight in front of the ladies..,” It mumbled apologetically, looking to the side.

“You were completely out of character too. What was that about?” Panther asked, looking at it curiously.

Mona cringed and shook its head. “I couldn’t stop it either...To think I’d be drawn to human desires this much…” It frowned, but then perked up. “Doesn’t that prove that I’m human?!”

Skull looked at it disbelievingly. “How should we know?!”

Elegant held up her hands in a placating manner. “Guys, c’mon.” She began, a little peeved with them just standing around arguing. Who knows when the Shadows would emerge. “We should grab it and get moving before we get caught.”

Mona quickly nodded, agreeing with her. “A-Anyway, you guys need to carry it!” It stammered, looking at the four expectantly.

Rolling his eyes, Skull moved to grasp the Treasure. “All you do is bark orders...” He muttered, then grinned lightheartedly. “Still, that was easier than I thought! I thought for sure there’d be some insane trap or something.”

“Don’t jinx it.” Joker replied exasperatedly.

Panther walked closer as well. “His Palace will disappear if we take this back, right?” She asked.” And Kamoshida will change too…”

“That should be the case...” Mona replied, oval eyes darting around.

Skull rolled his shoulders. “Good. Now’s our chance then.”

The four humans reached out to grasp the edge of the crown. Once their fingers touched the cool metal, it fell into their grasps, weighing down their arms. They grunted, muscles straining, and slowly crab walked out, one step at a time.

“It’s heavy…!” Panther winced.

“We gotta keep moving.” Elegant groaned, inhaling sharply.

Mona looked at the group with pride, watching as they slowly left the Treasure room. “To think it’d go so well...I’ve even found four Persona users in the process...” It whispered gleefully, jumping in place. “My judgement was correct. I made the right choice in making a deal with you!” It announced enthusiastically toward Joker.

Grimacing, he gestured with his head for the cat to move.

“Nyahaha!” It laughed triumphantly, opening the door for them. Making sweeping motions with its stubby arms, It directed them on where to keep going. Slowly, they made their way down the steps, and halfway through the throne room.

“Go, go! Let’s go! Ka-mo-shida!”

They craned their necks to see who had said that, trying to see over the blindingly bright Treasure.

“Nngh!” With a grunt, the corrupted king appeared and jumped, spiking a volleyball at the crown. It knocked it out of their hands and tumbled noisily onto the carpet.

“Uwa-!” Skull yelped, moving back.

Majestically sailing through the air, Kamoshida landed smoothly in front of his throne. Straightening up from his crouch, he stretched out one hand, palm facing outward. The large crown on the floor slowly began to roll in his direction, before flying into his palm, now much smaller than it was originally. Not-Ann in her purple leopard print bikini ran up and hugged him enthusiastically, rubbing her barely covered breasts on his arm as she smirked lazily at them.

“I won’t let anyone take this!” Kamoshida declared, casually tossing the crown in his hand, glaring down at the thieves. He held the Treasure out toward the Persona users. “This proves that I am the king of this castle; it is the core of this world!”

Clenching her gloved hands, Panther glared at him darkly. “That rat bastard...” She whispered. Her eyes slid from the king to his princess. “That’s how he sees me, isn’t it?!”

“That’s how he sees all us girls.” Elegant glared coldly.

Skull took a step forward menacingly. “Yo, pervert.” He greeted. “Were you waitin’ to ambush us?”

“As if our king would need to. You fools fell into our trap.”

They turned their heads to where the voice came from. Slowly walking down the steps in high heels, was Airi.

“Huh?!” Elegant gasped.

The group stared with wide eyes as Not-Airi descended to the throne. Adorning a curly messy bun was a diadem, draped over the top of her head. Hugging her curvaceous figure was a peach and lavender ruffle corset, laced so tightly that the boning pushed the tops of her breasts out in full view. Her long slim legs were left bare, showing off the lacy underwear. Icey eyes stared at them impassively, latching onto Kamoshida’s other arm. Not-Ann purred seductively, reaching out a clawed hand to stroke the other princess' arm. Together, they created the perfect perverted fantasy as they pressed their breasts against their king's arms, his hands kneading the soft flesh of their scantily clad butts.

“...Daaamnnn.” Skull whistled, eyes roaming up and down the fake’s body. “...Y’know, I was kinda wonderin’ if there was a fake Elegant too, since that bastard up there’s been pervin’ on her lately, but...wow.”

Panther smacked him on the back of the head, huffing at his chauvinism.

Opening her mouth, then closing it, Elegant pursed her lips. “...I don’t even know what to say.” She stated flatly, glaring darkly at her copy that stared blankly back. This was how Kamoshida saw her. Anger coursing through her veins, she clenched her hand around her scythe. ‘Another disgusting man...’

Gray eyes stared unblinkingly at the new addition of the room. He drank in the figure, eyes roaming up and down as he digested the lingerie, the exposed top of her breasts, the panties. ‘Damn, indeed.’ Joker thought distractedly, feeling his face heat up. Clearing his throat awkwardly, he tore his eyes away, trying to dispel those thoughts about his teammate.

His eyes met Skull’s, who grinned at him pervertedly, raising his eyebrows up and down behind his mask. Joker gave him an incredulous look. Now was not the time to be perverts!

Huffing, Kamoshida wrapped an arm around each girl’s shoulders with a smirk. “Meet my newest princess. She’s a little more uppity than my Ann here. I haven’t had the chance to taste her yet…” He licked his lips salaciously, Not-Airi leaning into his embrace.

"Whenever you like, my king." She murmured, resting her head on his shoulder. "I was so blind to not notice your growing affections for me. I thought you only had eyes for Ann..." She pouted shyly. "I'm so glad you chose me too."

Not-Ann giggled. “You’re such a perv!” She said playfully, lightly tracing her finger on his abdomen. "Don't worry, Ai-Ai. We'll have lots of fun..."

Elegant recoiled at the dialogue, glaring disgustedly at the teacher. A shiver crawled up her spine, seeing her double just submit to that. That could have really been her if Joker had never transferred to their school. This man would've had his pick of the students, and no one would've said anything...

“I just made it easier to find you. I’ll dispose of you myself, right here, right now.” He declared flippantly, his hands stroking his dolls' hips.

“That’s our line, you sexually-harassin’ douche bag!” Skull retorted angrily, stomping a foot. "You're so fuckin' gross!"

Shaking his head in amusement, Kamoshida stared down at them pityingly. “What a selfish misunderstanding.”

Glaring at him, Panther stepped forward. “How is it a misunderstanding?! You were doing things that you kept in secret from others!”

Tossing his crown again, he smirked. “The people around me were the ones who kept it secret.” Kamoshida corrected. “Adults who want to share in my accomplishments, students who have the drive to become winners...They willingly protect me so that we all may profit from it.”

Taken back, Skull looked at his teammates. “Profit?!” He yelped, uncertain at what he meant.

“That’s not true at all! All you’ve done with your “success” is abuse people who trusted you!” Elegant argued, staring at him coldly. “No one asked to be hit. No one asked to be sexually harassed...” Her eyes narrowed. “And no one asked to be raped!”

The corrupt ruler sneered. “There are too many imbeciles who don’t understand! Including naive brats like you and that girl who tried to kill herself!”

Letting her arms fall limp, Panther bowed her head. “True, she’s a total idiot...” She began. “Letting you manipulate her, trying to commit suicide..”

Elegant stared at her in shock. What was she saying?

The dominatrix clenched her hands, glaring up at the king. “And I’m even more of a dumbass for not realizing that..!” She crouched, readying her whip. “But no matter what kind of fool someone might be...They don’t need your permission to live their lives!” She declared firmly.

“Drop the attitude, you mediocre peasant! There’s no wrong in using my gifts for my gain!” Kamoshida scowled, looking down at them condescendingly. “I’m a cut above all other humans!”

Panther glared. “Above..?” She whispered, her voice raising in volume with each word. “You mean beneath. You’re a goddamn demon obsessed with your sick desires!”

Chuckling, he lowered his head, the fake girls moving to the side. A red aura began to envelop him, and he swept his arms wide open with a large grin on his square jaw. “That’s right. I’m not like you…” Kamoshida grabbed the girls under his arms, staring at his crown lustfully. “I am a demon who rules this world!”

Black ooze swallowed the three up, merging them together, growing larger. Large drops of saliva fell from his gaping mouth, a permanent demented grin on his maw.

The group took a step back, Mona stumbling. “Wh-What the hell..?!” Skull sputtered, staring wide eyed at the transformation.

What used to be Kamoshida was now a looming demonic being with four arms, each holding onto a wine glass, a knife, a crop whip, and a fork. Its purple tongue hung out grotesquely, saliva dripping from the appendage. His yellow eyes rolled around their sockets aimlessly, not focusing on any one subject. Sitting in front of the fuchsia skinned demon was a chalice, filled with the naked lower bodies of females. In the wine glass, they spotted both Not-Ann and Not-Airi swimming motionlessly in the liquid.

“Gahahahaha!” Kamoshida laughed, his voice distorted in its new form. “I’m allowed to do whatever the hell I want!” He declared, swiping his drenched tongue at them.

Gray eyes glared behind a white mask. “You’re wrong.” Joker stated, pointing a red finger at it rebelliously, signalling his team. “We're not gonna let you do this any longer. For us, for the students you abused, and for Suzui-san.” He twirled his dagger in his hand. "Let's finish this."

The demon roared, spitting globs of saliva around them. “You goddamn, no-good, shitty brats! Haven’t you been taught not to point at people?! Huh?!”

Mona pointed a paw out. “Look! The Treasure’s over there on his head!” It gestured to the crown on top of the demon’s head. “We should catch him off guard and steal it! Let’s attack him and wait for that opportunity!”

Glaring at the distorted teacher in abhorrence, Elegant took out her sniper rifle and aimed straight at him.

“Nnnnnngh! I need healin’!” Kamoshida shouted in pain, his tongue wrapping around one of the legs inside the grail. Its legs spread open submissively, offering him its most private region. Sucking it into his mouth, his adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed, his wounds disappearing as if he was never hit.

Furrowing his brows at that, Joker cried out, “Silky!” The green milk maid appearing behind him. He sent out a Bufula, the ice stabbing through the demon.

Again, Kamoshida devoured a pair of legs, and the injury dissipated, the skin healing in a flash of white sparks. “Come at me, you pieces of shit! I ain’t lettin’ you sleep tonight!” He roared at the thieves.

“He healed himself..?” Mona whispered. “Is it because he ate those inside there..?”

Kamoshida raised his crop whip, the chained slaves spiking volleyballs at them. Skull got hit, but was hardly fazed. Elegant yelped as a ball hit her in the cheek, but she shook it off, not minding the small bruise forming.

“Attack the cup!” Joker commanded, slicing the grail a couple of times. He backflipped away as their enemy swiped at him.

“Hey!” The demon gasped, moving his arms to shield it. “You don’t know what this is worth, so stop touching it! Don’t do it again anymore, got it? I’ve warned you!”

“Captain Kidd!” Skull shouted, the ghostly pirate hovering on its ship. He sent a Zio at the chalice, damaging it.

“Carmen!” Panther called out, sending an Agi.

“Let me!” Elegant joined in, pirouetting with her scythe held out, slashing it several times until it exploded.

“Ack!” The demon flinched, slumping down. “No way...This was from when I won the national...” It cried out. The thieves rushed in for a hold up. “You think you can get away with doing such a thing? Do you realize who I am?!” Kamoshida yelled, glaring at them as his eyeballs spun wildly in their bulging sockets. “...I am Kamoshida! Don’t you get it?!”

Joker cocked his pistol at the demon. “So what?” He asked boredly.

“Like I keep saying! I am Kamoshida! I’m the king!” The distorted gym teacher argued.

“You look down on everyone...but you’re seriously lame right now.” Skull commented, cocking his shotgun.

“There’s a reason why democracy exists and monarchies fell.” Elegant knelt with her rifle.

“We came all this way to steal that!” Panther gestured at the crown with her TMP. “Will you just give it up and hand it over?!”

“Silence!” The demon flailed, the items held in his arms coming close to their persons. “I won’t let the likes of you have this!”

“You still have the energy to say things like that?!” Mona yelled exasperatedly, standing behind the team on a partition.“Then we’re going to up our game as well!”

The four teenagers jumped back and launched their all out attack, damaging the Palace Ruler several times with their weapons.

Flinching back, the demon stared at them, uncomprehending their reasoning. “I’m the king..! If I’m not, then who is?!”

Mona hummed, scrutinizing their surroundings. “We won’t get anywhere with brute force...” It whispered to its teammates.

Joker glanced up, the shine of the crown drawing his eye. An idea came to his mind. “Let’s go for the crown.”

The cat looked at him in surprise. “I see...In that case, time for Plan B!” Mona declared. “Look over at that terrace!” It gestured to the second floor landing. “While the others are drawing Kamoshida’s attention, have someone go there! Let’s steal the Treasure without him noticing!”

Swirling his cup, the demon drank the wine, letting the fake girls hit his tongue. Salivating, he violated the dolls with the appendage before spitting them back out into the glass.

“Ugh.” Elegant cringed, the disgust and anger at being treated like that building up within her. Even if it wasn't exactly her, it was her image that was being defiled. That man's face peered down at her, lips spread in a grin. Clenching her teeth, she took up her rifle again, and shot a bullet.

Flying through the air, it broke the champagne glass, shattering it into a million pieces. The shards rained down onto the carpet, the wine spilling over the volleyball slaves in a fountain of red. Falling to the ground, the dolls laid there motionlessly, their usefulness ruined.

The demon roared in anger, swiping at them with his sword. "My princesses...!"

Dodging the swing, Panther ran up to the dolls and in a fit of righteous fury, smashed the point of her heel into them. "Die, dammit!" Straightening her whip, she flogged the fakes until they dissipated into nothing. Jumping back, she dusted off her outfit with a satisfied exhale. "I wanted to do that since I saw them."

Elegant smirked, cold pleasure in her eyes. "Ditto. Thanks, Panther."

Looking at each teammate speculatively, gray eyes zeroed in on the finely dressed thief. “Elegant, go steal the crown.” Joker ordered, spinning the knife in his hand idly as he went in for another attack, jumping away from the giant red hand that reached out to grab him.

She nodded. “Cover me.” She winked, before dodging back behind her team, and moving toward a nearby pillar.

Kamoshida, not noticing that he had one less enemy now in the midst of his rage, launched another volleyball assault at Skull.

While the team launched their attacks, distracting their enemy, Elegant dexterously climbed the pillar and swung herself over the railing. Running down the terrace, she stood up on one of the platforms, ready to jump at the signal.


“Now listen up.” Kamoshida began. “This school exists because I’m around. You’re the only ones who don’t respect me, you know!” He scowled his jagged oral cavity at them. “You’re misunderstanding it all! I haven’t sexually harassed anyone! They came on to me because they wanted to get on my good side!”


Glaring coldly, Elegant jumped into the air, curling her body before aiming down. With one leg outstretched, she kicked the crown off the corrupted king. Landing near her comrades, she straightened up and twirled her scythe, ready to fight once more.

The distorted Shadow flailed his arms, desperately reaching for his now missing crown, items dropping from his open palms. “Nooo! My...my precious…!” He wailed. He slumped at his loss, his posture now nowhere as confident.

“Good, Kamoshida’s shaken up!” Mona grinned.

Pointing her TMP at the demon, Panther smiled hopefully. “I think we can do this..!”

With renewed confidence, they rushed up, slashing and attacking him several times, knowing the battle would be over soon.

The demon tried to defend himself, but without his most precious possession, his actions were halfhearted at best. With one last incision, Elegant twirled and mockingly blew him a kiss, two fingers outstretched. “Rest in peace.” She murmured with a serene smile.

With a cry, Kamoshida toppled over to the ground, changing back into his human form. He dropped ¥8000 in the process, which Joker picked up with a satisfied smirk. Now that the battle was over, Skull made his way to pick up the Treasure, when the defeated king launched himself at it, rolling across the carpet and running away.

“Hey!” The pirate yelled, the group chasing after him. Taking out her sniper rifle, Elegant knelt on the carpet and aimed. The shot rang out and hit the pillar next to him, causing him to stumble back toward the open balcony.

“Nngh...” He gulped, frantically trying to find another escape route.

“What’s wrong? Not running away?” Panther asked mockingly, fingering her whip. “Why don’t you run? Aren’t you a great athlete?”

Shaking, he glared. “It’s always been like this...” He began, teeth chattering under the nerves. “All those goddamn hyenas forcing their expectations on me..! I’m doing this all for them! What’s wrong about demanding a reward for that?!” He shouted hysterically, his hands clenching the crown.

Scrunching his face in disgust, Skull shook his head. “Now you’re makin’ excuses..?” He scoffed. “We’ll do something about that distorted heart of yours.”

Elegant stepped forward, a stony expression set on her features. “Even if you think your actions were justified, that doesn’t mean it was for everyone that you had hurt.” She stated matter a factly. “Instead of doing what was right, you went and forced your expectations on others.” She glared darkly. “...You’re disgusting.”

Rooted in his spot, the gym teacher grunted in frustration.

“Scared?” Panther asked flippantly, brushing a ponytail. “Right now, you’re seeing the same view that Shiho did.” She slowly stepped closer. “I’m sure she was scared too...except she had no choice but to jump...” She continued quietly as she advanced threateningly on the volleyball medalist, who grew more panicked by the moment.
She stopped, a couple feet away from the sweating man. “What will you do?” She whispered, her hardened gaze drilling into the pathetic sight in front of her. “Will you jump?...Or would you rather die here?” She took off her mask, Carmen hovering behind her, fireballs in her hands.

Kamoshida took a step back, hugging his crown closely, watching them with fear.

Elegant reloaded her rifle, handling it casually. “...I wonder if you even have the courage to take your life to salvage your non-existent honor." She whispered ominously. "Shiho-chan felt that she had to...after you had violated her body and her mind with your disgusting dick." Her eyes slid to him. "...Maybe I should shoot it off before the next bullet enters your head."

Behind them, their teammates winced at the threat. Slightly adjusting their stances, Skull and Joker instinctively moved their hands to shield the front of their crotches.

Sweating profusely, the defeated king begged. “No, please wait! I beg you...Just forgive meee!”

“Shut up.” Ann whispered, glaring at the man hatefully. “I bet everyone told you the same. But you…” She clenched her eyes painfully, before snapping them open. “You took everything from them!” She exclaimed, sending a fireball in his direction. "You took everything from her!...From me! I'll never forgive you!"

He shrieked and cowered, covering himself. The fire hit the awning next to him, charring the stone. Trembling, the corrupt king got on his knees. “I accept defeat...You want this? Take it.” He bowed his head defeatedly, and threw the crown.

Joker reached out and caught it with one hand, examining the crown. This wasn't how they thought the outcome would turn out, but as long as they got their goal in one piece, he was fine with it.

“Go ahead and finish me off...” Kamoshida whispered, closing his eyes, a tear rolling down a cheek. “You do that...and my real self will go down too...” He bowed his head.

Skull rubbed the back of his head uncomfortably, while Joker looked on silently. Mona crossed its arms, staring pensively at the defeated Ruler. They didn't have as much of a say as the girls in front of them.

Pursing her lips, Elegant took a step behind Ann, silently supporting her decision. It wasn't her that he wronged the most.

“You have that right since you’ve won…” The king whispered.

Exhaling sharply, Ann clenched her hands, glaring at him murderously. Arching a hand, she sent a large ball of fire at the man. Startled, the others cried out in surprise. It exploded next to the kneeling man, blowing back his cape. He looked up at her slowly, eyes wide, surprised that he was still alive and in one piece.

With a flash of blue, her feline mask appeared, concealing her face once again. “If his mind shuts down, he can’t admit his crimes.” Panther stated resolutely.

Sighing, Elegant smiled at her back, pride shining in her eyes. Death was never a good solution, after all. It was too easy of an escape.

“You’re kind, Lady Ann...” Mona smirked, scratching its cheek.

Kamoshida bent his neck. “I’ve lost.” He shook his head. “You’re through when you lose...” He despaired. “What am I- What am I supposed to do now..?” He asked hesitantly, tears streaming down his face.

Joker stepped forward. “Atone for your sins.” He commanded, staring at the pathetic man calmly.

After a moment, the king nodded. “All right...” He whispered, looking up at them with a hopeful smile. “I will leave now and return to my real self...” His body began to glow in a white light. “I’ll make certain that I-” With a flash, he disappeared.

They felt their shoulders slump once he left, feeling the stress of the week leave them. They did it. They actually did it!


As soon as the Ruler left though, the castle began to rumble. The teenagers looked around, alarmed at the sudden movement.

“Hey, just so you know, we don’t have time to waste.” Mona warned idly. “This place is about to collapse!” It sat on the floor, languidly grooming a paw.

The ceiling began to crumble, stone smashing against the carpet. With a start, the thieves began their escape. They desperately ran through the hallways, dodging the falling debris that dogged their trail.

“We’re gonna die! We’re so gonna die!” Panther cried, looking behind her at the rubble fearfully.

“Don’t look back!” Elegant shouted, a piece of rubble cutting her cheek.

Mona, now in its real cat form, jumped up onto Panther’s head. “Hey, what the-?!” She started, as it then jumped onto Skull’s head, then finally onto Joker’s shoulder.

“No fair, you jerk!” Skull grunted, trying to keep up the grueling pace.

“Mroowww!” Mona replied, looking back at them innocently.

Elegant stared. Mona changed back?

With a wince, Skull gripped his thigh, before tripping onto the floor. “Gah!” He flinched, holding his knee as jolts of pain laced up his leg.

The others stopped and turned at his collapse. “Ryuji!” Panther shouted in worry.

He waved her away. “Heh...It’s been a while, so I just tripped, is all!” He grinned reassuringly, eye twitching as his leg spasmed underneath.

Elegant ran back to him, pulling on his arm. “Get up or we’ll get crushed!” She cried.

"Ryuji!" Joker urged, furrowing his brow at their situation.

The ceiling began to collapse above them, and they scrambled to keep moving. They ran and ran until they made it to the end, transported back to the school.

Chapter Text

They panted in exhaustion. They were back in the alley, facing the open gates of the school. The sun set against the buildings, casting an orange flame upon the cement and concrete. It was late enough that there weren't any other students walking around, fortunately leaving them alone.

“That sucked...” Ann winced, taking a deep breath.

Resting his hands on his hips, Akira nodded in agreement, getting his breath back.

Exhaling softly, Airi straightened up and stretched, wincing at her sore muscles. Her face stung for some reason, but it didn't really matter in the long run.

“Look at the Nav!” Ryuji shouted, phone in hand. They all pulled out their phones. “The destination has been deleted.”

“...It’s true. We can’t go there anymore.” Ann whispered, staring wide eyed at the screen.

“So we succeeded..?” Airi asked hesitantly, looking at the others with uncertainty.

“What about the Treasure?!” Morgana yowled, dodging between their legs in anticipation.

Akira pulled it out of his pocket, showing it to the group.

They looked at it curiously. It was an Olympic gold medal, the date listed it was from almost a decade ago. The shine reflecting off of the metal showed that it was well cared for, the lanyard in pristine condition. “What the..?” Ryuji scratched the back of his head.

Ann crossed her arms, tapping her chin. “..A medal? Wait, where’d that crown go?”

“What is goin’ on..?” Ryuji asked quietly.

“It means, that was the source of Kamoshida’s desires.” Morgana explained, looking at the medal pensively. “To him, this medal is worth as much as that crown we saw in the Palace.”

Ryuji moved closer, scrutinizing the object in the ebony haired student’s hand. “An Olympic medal...” He whispered, grimacing. “So that perv kept clingin’ to his past glory and couldn’t let it go…"

She tightened her lips. "So he wanted to feel important and loved again by asserting himself..." Airi frowned and shook her head, disillusioned by the thought. ""How the mighty have fallen...""

The group looked at each other uncomfortably. “But...this means that Kamoshida’s heart might have changed, right?” Ann questioned hesitantly.

Shaking its fur, Morgana stood up on its four legs. “...Probably.” It shrugged.

Ryuji looked at it incredulously. “Our expulsion’s on the line here!”

“This is the first successful example for me too.” The feline argued weakly, looking away. “However, there’s no doubt that this has affected Kamoshida’s personality quite a lot. The entire Palace disappeared, after all.”

He rubbed his hair furiously. “Ugh, I feel all antsy! Ain’t there a way to check now?”

Putting the medal back, Akira rested his hands in his pockets. “We’ll know soon enough.” He shrugged helplessly.

“Right...” Ann whispered, fidgeting with her hair.

Sighing, Airi shouldered her bag. “We’ll know by tomorrow at the earliest.” She added, nervously fiddling with the hem of her skirt.

Looking back and forth between the humans, Morgana snapped. “Come on, why the gloomy faces? Be happy! We completed this with great success, you know.” It proclaimed, trying to reassure the students.

Ryuji slumped. “We just don’t know if everything’s OK yet…”

Stretching its body out, It sighed. “I’m pretty sure it’ll be fine.” It smiled. “Remember how Kamoshida’s Shadow said that he’s returning to his self in reality?” It reminded, sitting down. “Kamoshida Suguru was a scum. Still...He did seem to regain his conscience somewhat at the end.”

“It seemed so...” Akira remarked, adjusting his glasses.

“There are definitely those who have been saved thanks to what you’ve done.” Morgana smiled at them.

Ann nodded, a smile growing on her lips. “Yeah…"

Crossing his arms, Ryuji leaned against the brick wall. “Anyways, I guess we gotta wait. It all boils down to what’s gonna happen to Kamoshida..." He frowned awkwardly. "Or if we’re gettin’ expelled for real...”

“Let’s just go home for now.” Akira suggested, picking up his bag. “We’ll have to be patient...” He pursed his lips slightly.

Huffing, the punk slumped his shoulders. “..Right. C’mon, let’s go home.” Ryuji relented.

The teens and one cat traveled to Shibuya, where they went their separate ways. Covering her mouth as she yawned, Airi leaned back in her seat on the train, rubbing her eyelids.

Akira glanced over at her. “Is everything all right?” He asked quietly, the roaring of the train tracks muffling him to other passengers. His eyes narrowed slightly at the red line marring her cheek. He reached out, stopping just before his fingers touched her skin. “You have a cut.” He stated concernedly.

Reaching up to prod the injury, Airi tried to give him a reassuring smile. “I’m OK...Just...really tired...” She blinked slowly, trying to stay awake.

Furrowing his brows, he contemplated with himself before hesitantly reaching out and tugging her into his chest. “Sleep. It’ll be a while until we’re h-home.” He stated clumsily, feeling his face flush against the cool plastic of his glasses. ‘Maybe this is too forward..?’ He glanced away, feeling insecure in his actions.

Her eyes widened at the intimate contact. ‘This is really close..!’ She screamed in her mind, a blush staining her cheeks. “A-Are you sure, Akira-kun?” Airi whispered anxiously, biting her lip. “I don’t want to be a bothe-” She covered her mouth as she yawned again.

She wiped the tears from her eyes, pouting a bit.

Chuckling slightly at the sight, he nodded. “I’m sure.” Akira replied reassuringly.

“OK...” She breathed out, eyelids already heavy with sleep. She rested her head on his chest, letting his heartbeat and steady breathing lull her. After a few moments, her breathing evened out, her body relaxed against his.

Biting his lip nervously, he wrapped his arm tighter, and hesitantly rested his cheek on top of her head. ‘This feels nice…’ He thought shyly. His heart pounded in his chest, his breathing just a little faster than normal.

He was lucky that Morgana was napping in his bag. He didn't need any comments about how he was touching Its "Lady Airi." Had he ever held a girl like this..? No one back in Mishima had touched him on purpose, usually just bumping into him or brushing past. Maybe when he was younger, his mother used to hug him, though he could barely remember...

He breathed, his nose smelling a calm scent that reminded him of mint but better. 'What is that?...' He idly thought, feeling himself relax, the scent carrying away his worries and troubles, if only for a little bit. Adjusting his grip on her slim shoulder, he closed his eyes, feeling the dream world call for him as well. They spent the rest of the train ride like this, close together....
...
...

“The next stop is Yongenjaya. I repeat, the next stop is Yongenjaya. The time is now 6:25PM….”

Startled from his trance, Akira straightened up in his seat. A heavy weight rested against his chest and he looked down, observing the peaceful expression on the class president’s face with a slight tug on his lips. He gently shook her. “Airi-chan, we’re almost home.”

Groaning in her sleep, she snuggled deeper into his chest, not wanting to wake up.

He blushed feverishly, stiffening from the very intimate contact in a public area. Gulping, he shook her again. “Airi-chan.” He called out a little louder.

Scrunching her face in displeasure, she looked up at him in sleepy confusion, eyes open half lid.

“We’re almost home.” He repeated, the blush still apparent against his milky skin tone.

“Oh.” She whispered, rubbing her eyes. Yawning, she stretched her arms up in the air.

His eyes zoomed in at the sight, resting on her chest where the white Shujin Academy turtleneck conformed to the round shapes, before quickly looking away, embarrassed and slightly ashamed of himself. ‘Stop being a pervert..!’

His mind flashbacked to earlier when the fake walked down in that outfit...He clenched his eyes shut, his face heating up again.

“This is Yongenjaya. I repeat, this is Yongenjaya. The time is now 6:28PM…”

Getting up from their seats, the two students got off the train and left the station. Walking down road, Airi yawned again, trying to wake herself up. “I’m going to follow you to Leblanc, if you don’t mind... I need a coffee.” She spoke quietly, blinking rapidly.

Akira nodded. “Sure. We can do our homework together?” He offered.

“OK.” She smiled. “You need all the help.” She winked playfully.

He deadpanned, and she burst into laughter.

The bell rung when they walked into the cafe, and Sojiro looked up from his washing. “...You sure look satisfied...Something good happen?” He asked nonchalantly.

Airi waved from behind Akira. “Hello, Sojiro-san! One house blend and katsu curry, please.” She requested, holding up a finger.

The older man blinked in surprise. “Oh, Airi. I heard from this guy,” He gestured to the ebony haired student. “That you got injured. You all right?” He asked, a bit of concern shining through his usual apathetic gaze.

“Yep, I’m all healed up.” She reassured, taking a seat at a booth, Akira sitting across from her.

Feeling the bag stop moving, Morgana nestled its face through the opening, yawning from its nap. There weren't any other customers, so there was no need for it to hide inside.

Sojiro came up and placed two plates of curry in front of them, along with a cup of steaming hot coffee. “Doesn’t look like it.” He gestured to the cut on her cheek with a jerk of a thumb, the lines on his face deepening into a frown.

She blinked and covered her cheek. “Don’t worry, it’s not even bleeding!” Airi smiled.

Eyeing her for a moment, he nodded and went back to the counter, opening his newspaper.

The two students dug into their meal, hungry after a long day’s worth of exercise. The blend of intricate spices invigorated them, and they spent a while doing their homework together. While Airi was correcting one of Akira’s math problems, their phones rang out.

An: Thanks. I finally got to avenge Shiho because of you guys…
An: I’m pretty sure there was no way I’d have been able to do anything on my own.
Ai: That’s not true. You would have found a way.
An: Still, thank you. I owe you two so much.
Ak: No need to thank me. Both you and Ryuji helped as well.
An: You think? I’m glad to hear that…
An: Anyway, that cognitive world sure was crazy, huh?
An: What a mysterious place. I can’t believe we actually stole someone’s heart...
An: Speaking of mysterious, there’s also the matter of Morgana’s transformation.
An: When we were escaping, didn’t he turn back into a cat even though we were still in the Palace?

“Oh yeah!” Airi gasped, looking at the yawning feline. “I noticed when we were running that Morgana changed back into a cat..."

Akira blinked, remembering when the cat had jumped onto his shoulder. He looked down at it, the question in his eyes.

Ears twitching, Morgana smiled. “Lady Ann and Lady Airi sure are sharp! I’m impressed.” It purred. “Basically, the Treasure changes the shape of things. Once that’s gone, that power no longer works. Though the real reason I changed quickly back then was because I’m so incredibly skilled!” It puffed up its chest. “How’s that? Isn’t that amazing?!”

Covering her amused smile, she nodded. “So you changed back because there was no longer a distortion?” She whispered, making sure Sojiro didn’t hear her.

Morgana nodded, purring. Akira typed in a reply.

Ak: He said he’s amazing.
An: Oh yeah, I forgot Morgana is reading these messages too.
An: I think I feel a little better after talking to you. Thanks.
An: We still haven’t seen any results but it feels like a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders.
Ai: At the very least, we know we did something right.
An: Yeah.
An: I hope you don’t mind talking to me too much.
An: Well, see you two tomorrow.

Akira put his phone away and continued his homework, trying out the new method that Airi demonstrated on a particular math problem. Keeping her phone out, Airi started a chat with only Ann, her cup of coffee slowly cooling down.

Ai: Would you like to go visit Shiho tomorrow?
Ai: We can make more paper cranes.
An: Yeah. After classes end?
Ai: Sure.
An: I heard from Shiho’s mom last night.
An: She said you came in with flowers and asked for her forgiveness.
An: Airi-chan…
Ai: ...Yeah. I did.
Ai: She bowed back to me, saying she was also guilty.
Ai: Don’t worry.
Ai: I know it wasn’t just my fault...
Ai: We all failed Shiho in our own ways.
An: Yeah...we did.
An: But we’re going to make up for it.

Sighing, she put her phone away. Could they ever make up for it? Shiho had almost died...

Twirling his pencil, the bespectacled teen looked at her curiously. “What’s up?”

Airi shook her head. “I’ll be going to the hospital again with Ann-chan tomorrow.” She smiled wryly. “She scolded me for crying so much.” She grasped the handle of the now lukewarm coffee, finishing it in one go.

Pursing his lips, he locked eyes with her. “It wasn’t your fault.” He stated firmly.

Huffing, she avoided his steely gaze. “You all say that...” She whispered.

“Because it’s true.” He replied calmly. “You can’t control someone else’s actions. Suzui-san jumped. You didn’t force her to.” His eyes hardened. “Kamoshida did.”

Biting her lip, she nodded. “It was Kamoshida’s fault.” She repeated hesitantly. "Not mine..."

“Right.” He nodded, giving her a small encouraging smile.

She gave him a wistful smile. “You’re always trying to make me feel better. I should be the one comforting you, Mr. Transfer.”

He smirked. “I’m just that good.” He bragged, dramatically combing his hair.

She burst into giggles. "So cool!" She mocked, grinning playfully at the action.

“He’s really not.” Morgana piped in, jumping out of the bag. “You should hear him at night. Definitely not cool.” It smiled mischievously.

She gasped, covering her mouth and looking at her classmate with wide eyes.

Panicked, Akira quickly shoved the cat back into the bag, muffling its mouth. “Err…” He sputtered, sweating slightly. "That's not..."

Airi gave him a look of amusement. “I don’t want to know.” She spoke, packing her books back into her bag.

He held out a hand, some of his notes scattering. “W-Wait, it’s not what you think!”

Placing some bills on the table, she shouldered her bag and covered her ears. “Don’t need to hear it!” She sang. “Good night, Akira-kun, Sojiro-san!” and left the cafe.

Letting his arm fall limp, he rested his forehead against his notes and sighed.

“I only meant that you snored.” Morgana snickered, pushing the hand away with a paw.

Lifting his head, he glared tiredly at the feline. It made it sound like all he did at night was fool around. Now she would think he was a weirdo...

“I’m surprised that your first friend here is a girl.” Sojiro remarked casually from the counter, straightening his newspaper. “But I’m not surprised that it’s Airi. You better not do anything to hurt her...” He warned, eyeing the teenager. “She’s a good girl and doesn’t need any more trouble.”

Sitting up in his seat, Akira nodded in understanding. "I wouldn't." He already swore to himself that he would never hurt her or any of his friends.

He packed his books up as well, and did the dirty dishes. It was the least he could do since he ate for free.

He spent the rest of the night making more lockpicks, Morgana giving him advice at times, and then went to bed.

He breathed deeply. ‘Tomorrow, we’ll see if it worked.’

Chapter Text

----4/19, TUESDAY, EARLY MORNING, AOYAMA-ITCHOME

 

Today, Akira was walking by himself. Airi was called in to the school early to help with something which she informed him of via text.

Sighing silently, he walked along the other students on the road to school. It was a little lonely without her, even with Morgana. Come to think of it, he hadn’t been alone since the first day of school. He had been surrounded by other people who were in terrible situations as well. He snorted silently. How did that even happen? It’s as if they were meant to know one another...

“I skipped breakfast, so now I’m hungry...”

He turned his head. There were two girls talking loudly to each other at the vending machines. Other students walked passed him without a glance. Morgana stuck its ear out, listening in as well.

“Have you ever tried the Nostalgic Steak at the diner in Shibuya?” The hungry girl asked her friend.

Her friend nodded. “Yeah, it’s good! It kinda makes me think of my childhood.” She sighed dreamily. “I get this warm feeling inside whenever I eat it that reminds me of my mom...”

The hungry girl perked up. “Yeah, if comfort had a taste, that’d be it! Just thinking about it is making me hungrier...” She drooled.

Not wanting to be late, Akira continued on, pondering on the information he gleamed from the conversation.

“A comforting flavor, huh...” Morgana mused, sticking its face out. “Hey, what does the chief’s curry taste like?”

He hummed. “It’s good. The spices are perfect.”

Morgana sighed in yearning. “I’m jealous. I can always smell a faint hint of it on you.” It confessed. “When I’m human again, I’m going to eat so much of that curry...” It started wriggling in excitement, the bag shuffling against his shoulder. “Then I’ll decide which is better: the curry or the Nostalgic Steak! Or even Lady Airi's cooking!”

He smiled slightly at its enthusiasm, and continued to school. It was nice to hear what his pseudo-roommate liked. Morgana was still much of a mystery to him and the others.

 

“I was reading the essays you turned in the other day, and everyone’s writing is so sloppy!” Kawakami-sensei bemoaned. “”I could care less” indicates that you still have some cares left to give! It’s “I COULDN’T care less”!” She corrected, writing it on the board.

Resting his cheek against his palm, Akira glanced over at Airi who was diligently writing notes. There were bags under her eyes today, and her brows were furrowed in concentration. She hadn’t told them why she was called in so early, but it must be because of Kamoshida.

“I’ve seen this a lot these days, where people are using a phrase differently from its real meaning.” Kawakami-sensei continued. “One word I often hear misused is the phrase, “kakushinhan,” used now to mean a crime done in cold blood. Like the word “literally,” the real meaning of kakushinhan is pretty much the opposite of how it’s used.” Her brown eyes roamed the room, checking to see if the students were listening. Her eyes landed on Akira. “Do you know what it is, Kurusu-kun?” She called out.

Startled, he sat up in his seat and blinked.

Airi glanced over, gnawing her lip in worry. She didn’t know if he knew the answer. It was a tough question to be asked, especially when the meaning of words constantly shifted.

Morgana stuck its head out of his desk, just enough for Akira to notice. “The true meaning of kakushinhan, huh...This seems tough.” It remarked quietly. “I’ll help you out, so let’s think this through.” It yawned.

The ebony haired student nodded slightly.

“What’s the common usage of kakushinhan again, regarding an action you take?” Morgana asked.

“Knowing your actions are wrong.” Akira answered.

The cat nodded. “Right. When people say something’s a kakushinhan, they usually mean the culprit did it knowing it was wrong. But the real kakushinhan is the opposite, right? So the opposite means…” It trailed off.

“Conviction that you’re right.” Akira answered loudly.

The teacher clapped her hands. “That’s right.” Kawakami-sensei approved. “A kakushinhan is when someone takes an action, believing that it’s right. So if someone “raised their hand against another in kakushinhan,” they thought it was right to do so.” She explained to the class.

“He’s pretty smart!” A classmate whispered.

“I didn’t expect that.”

"He might not be too bad...”

“You’re on a roll today!” Morgana cheered, purring quietly.

Airi sent him a tired but approving smile, discreetly giving him a thumbs up.

He rubbed the back of his neck bashfully, a little proud of answering it correctly.

Kawakami-sensei cleared her throat. “Kakushinhan was originally a term that referred to a crime driven by moral or political conviction. These days it seems like the wrong usage is becoming more commonly accepted though.” She lectured.

Morgana swished its tail. “Taking action with a conviction that what you’re doing is right, huh...Think that applies to us too?” It asked.

Akira pursed his lips. It was pretty accurate.

The lesson continued on.

 

When lunchtime hit, the class emptied except for Ann, Akira, and Airi.

Peeking in through the door, Ryuji stalked in, walking straight to their desks. “Have you seen Kamoshida?” He whispered.

The ebony haired male shook his head.

He hummed at the answer. “You really think he changed?” He asked, uncertainty coloring his words.

“I hope so.” Akira confessed, pursing his lips.

“He has.” Airi sighed, crossing her arms and leaning back in her chair. “It’s why me and every other class representative was called in.” She stated quietly, closing her eyes tiredly.

Ann blinked. “Really? Wait, called in? What for?” She asked curiously.

She opened her mouth to reply but was cut off by Kawakami-sensei coming up to them. “Oh, perfect timing.” She sighed in relief. “Study hall will be held instead of PE today. I’m letting you know just in case you haven’t heard.” She announced to the four students. “Kamoshida-sensei has taken the day off.”

Airi nodded. “That’s why.” She whispered.

The others stared in surprise. “He ain’t here..?” Ryuji breathed, eyebrows raised in surprise.

The older woman crossed her arms, gripping her yellow striped sleeves. “Don’t tell anyone that you heard this from me...” She whispered. “But we received word that Kamoshida-sensei is placing himself under suspension.” She chewed on her lip. “It’s such an important time before the tournament too…Principal Kobayakawa went to talk to him about it, but he supposedly wasn’t making any sense...” She trailed off.

Ryuji jerked back. “Wait, a suspension?!” He yelped, staring at the teacher in shock.

Kawakami-sensei shushed him, holding a finger in front of her lips. “Not so loud!” She hissed. “The talks about your expulsions may be put on hold too...I don’t know too much about it though...” She looked away uncomfortably. “Anyway, I’ve relayed what’s going on to you.”

Exhaling softly, Airi nodded. “Thank you for letting us know, Sensei.” She smiled thankfully.

She gave her a fond smile. "Of course, Airi. I'll talk to you about that thing some other time." She stated before walking away.

Slumping against her chair, Ann slapped the table. “I can’t believe it…” She breathed, eyes staring blankly ahead.

Ryuji crossed his arms and leaned against Akira’s desk. “Looks like something happened...At least it sounds different from a mental shutdown.” He frowned contemplatively. “I guess all we can do is wait...”

Jumping out of the desk, Morgana stretched, letting out a yawn. “We did all we can. Now we wait.”

Ann nodded dejectedly. “Yeah…Oh!” She perked up, looking over at Airi. “What did you have to do earlier?” She inquired, turning in her chair to face the group.

“Well...” Airi tilted her head back, her braid falling off her shoulder. “Niijima-senpai, the student council president,” She looked over at Akira, who nodded in understanding. “...called us all in to help delegate the gym period. Today, all the classes will have Study Hall in their rooms, but for as long as Kamoshida is out, we’ll have to rotate the use of the gymnasium." She explained quietly. "I’ll be overseeing our class during our regular gym periods.”

The others blinked in surprise. “Soo...you’re our gym teacher now?” Ryuji asked, scratching the back of his head.

Airi smirked. “That’s right. You better listen to me, or I’ll give you detention.” She joked, snapping her fingers.

Akira chuckled. “We won’t disappoint you then, coach.” He joked right back, adjusting his glasses.

Since it was still lunch period, they all took out their food to eat. Akira was about to get up with his usual cup noodles when a box was placed on his desk. Blinking, he looked over at the class president who had her own box.

“I noticed you don’t eat anything except curry and ramen.” Airi looked at him in amusement. “So I made you a bento. It’s really not healthy to be eating only carbs like that, so...”

He slowly looked down at his new lunch, and moved to open it. It was a simple chicken omurice with lots of vegetables, complete with a Morgana face drawn on with ketchup. He laughed at the doodle. “Thank you.” He smiled gratefully. No one but his mother had ever made him a bento, and he hated his mother's cooking. "You didn't have to..."

She smiled back. “I wanted to. I know what it's like to be eating on a budget." She took out a small box and opening it in front of Morgana. "And here’s some tuna. I had some left over from the party so I hope you don't mind.”

The feline looked at the meal with shining eyes. “Thank you, Lady Airi!” It meowed as it dug into its meal.

“You’re welcome, Morgana." She grinned. "I hope Akira-kun is feeding you.” She lifted an eyebrow at the bespectacled male.

He looked away awkwardly, not answering. Technically, he has been.

Ryuji looked over jealously, munching on his convenience store bought salmon onigiri. “I wish I could get a bento...” He pouted, giving the rosette puppy dog eyes.

Airi laughed, mixing her egg and rice. “I’ll make one for you too, Ryuji-kun.” She promised. “In fact, why don’t I just make us lunch every day? You too, Ann-chan.” She looked over at the model.

Ann blinked in surprise. “Oh, it’s OK! I already paid for lunch in the cafeteria for this year.” She waved her hands in front of her.

“Oh, OK.” Airi shrugged, before eating her lunch. “Let me know if you do want one.”

They spent the rest of the period chatting before the bell rang.

 

How I envision Jeanne de Valoi Saint Remy to be. To be honest, not my first choice, but I couldn't find any artworks that fit all the criteria, so this is the closest we'd get lol Please add in more fabric flying behind her back with your imagination! I know it may seem confusing because I had described her much differently the first time, but I've revised a lot of things to how I want them to be. Really sorry for the confusion!

Chapter Text

Once the last bell rang, both his female friends waved to him before leaving together, most likely to the hospital.

Sighing silently, Akira packed his bag, subtly urging Morgana to jump in. Guess it was just him today. About to head out, he felt his phone buzz in his pocket.

R: Hey, where are you right now?
Ak: I’m still in the classroom.
R: I’m still at school too. I’m by the staircase next to your classroom.

“So what do you plan on doing? Want to hang out with Ryuji?” Morgana asked, reading the messages on the screen.

Shrugging, he walked out of the class and up to the bleached blond lounging next to the stairs.

“Yo.” Ryuji greeted. “Let’s do some warm ups behind the gym then.”

Nodding, Akira followed him to the locker room where they both changed into their gym uniforms.

Walking out into the courtyard, Ryuji stretched his arms in the air. “Man, this place brings back memories...” He grinned nostalgically, recalling past memories. “This is my secret trainin’ spot. Er,” He grimaced. “Was. Back when I was on the track team.”

Akira looked at him curiously, resting his hands in his pockets. Was?

“Actually, I’ve been thinkin’ about tryin’ to run again.” Ryuji admitted quietly, rolling a shoulder.

The ebony haired student blinked. “Again?” He asked, adjusting his glasses.

“Fightin’ in that other world was a total shock. I couldn’t move like I used to. It just felt...lame.” Ryuji frowned dispassionately. “Especially when I fell during our escape. That was...embarrassing.” He looked away uncomfortably.

Looking back at him, he grinned. “So I started thinkin’, maybe I need to build up my muscles again. Anything’s gotta be better than this flimsy body, right?” He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Plus, maybe then I’ll be able to help out a little more."

Akira smiled. “You seem pretty excited.” He remarked casually. “I’m counting on you.”

Rubbing his nose, Ryuji beamed. “Heheh. I’m totally gonna wreck your expectations!” He promised.

The ebony haired male raised a brow at that. That sounded wrong in so many ways.

“...U-Uh, I mean that in a good way!” Ryuji stammered sheepishly before wiping his expression. “Anyways, you act like it’s only me who’s gonna be doin’ this, but you’re gettin’ in on it too.” He pointed out.

Akira stared at him incredulously. Him too? Didn’t they do enough running in the Palace?

Ryuji frowned at him. “Whoa, don’t look so surprised! Why’d you think I had you go and change into that?” He jerked his chin at the gym uniform. “It’d be pointless if I was the only one gettin’ super fast, right?” He sighed before pumping a fist. “All right, I’m gonna do some knee lift sprints. You’re stuck with the normal ones!”

Exhaling through his nostrils, Akira nodded, and the two set off, running for as long as they could.

They did a couple of laps around the school grounds before winding up back at the courtyard. They slowed to a stop, Ryuji resting his hands on his knees as he panted. Inhaling then exhaling, Akira rested his hands in his pockets, looking at the blond with some concern.

“Ughhh…” Ryuji groaned. “Damn, my legs’re all tight…” He grimaced, bending down on one knee and massaging his other leg. He frowned, looking down morosely, as if he was debating with himself.

Sighing, he straightened up and turned to his friend. “Before Kamoshida came along, the track team was the biggest thing this school had goin’ for it.” He began, a dark look in his eyes. “But it all changed after he got our coach fired and took over as the sub.” He clenched his jaw.

Akira listened closely, brows furrowed at the story.

“That bastard..." Ryuji crossed his arms, a dark look in his eyes. “Right from the very start he was tryin’ to get rid of us. He’d give us crazy workouts, then when we couldn’t do ‘em, he’d add even more on top of that...” He clenched his eyes painfully. “Day after day was nothing but that bullshit...He was goin’ after me especially.”

He slumped. “He knew...He knew I was the kinda guy who’d fight back.” He kicked the dirt. “If my time dropped even a little, he’d cuss me out. Then on top of that, he brought up my parents…”

“And then you punched him?” Akira asked quietly.

The delinquent rubbed his head furiously, looking away. “Truth is, my mom’s the only one I got.” He confessed. “All my dad did when he was still around was drink. Sometimes he’d even beat me, or my mom.” His eyes darkened at the memories. “I dunno how that bastard Kamoshida found out, but he told the whole goddamn team…”

He sighed, shaking his head. “And as you can guess, I lost it and hit him.” He glowered. “It was like he wanted me to do it though. He called it an “act of violence,” and shut the team down…” He slumped. “Thanks to that, the other guys on the team treat me like some kinda traitor…”

Akira frowned. Teammates who knew about his terrible home life just condemned him like that? Sounded too familiar.

Ryuji stared up at the orange sky morosely. “And they ain’t wrong. ‘Cause of me, they all lost their shot at the championship.” He murmured. "I feel bad, but..."

Hesitantly, Akira reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Do you want to go back?” He asked calmly.

Looking at his friend, he shook his head. “To the track team? Nah...How could I after that?” He furrowed his brows, glaring awkwardly at the black haired boy. “C’mon, don’t ask me tough questions like that. I’m not very smart, y’know!” He pouted. “Anyways, it doesn’t matter now. That’s all in the past!” He exclaimed. “I’m only thinkin’ about the future now! That’s what we’re gonna do-build the future!” He grinned excitedly. “We gotta think positive thoughts, brother!” He raised his hand, palm out.

Sweatdropping, Akira gave him a lopsided smirk and held up his hand. They high fived, him stumbling from the force. ‘I feel like my bond with Ryuji is growing deeper…’

Rolling his shoulder, Ryuji gave him a lighthearted smirk. “C’mon, we’re all warmed up, right? How ‘bout another run?” He challenged. “By the way, you’re actually pretty good at runnin’. Not as good as me though!”

Akira snorted. “You couldn’t tell when we were in the Palace?” He asked rhetorically.

They ran another couple of laps, except this time they were already exhausted and was about to fall on the ground.

“Holy...crap...” Ryuji panted, gasping for air. “My legs’re shakin’...Don’t collapse on your way home, man...Later.” He waved weakly as they parted ways in their regular uniforms.

Walking unsteadily toward the station, Morgana popped out of his bag. “So how was your run?” It asked innocently. Akira only groaned in response.

 

 

Walking through the now familiar doors, the two Shujin students walked past the blank faced receptionist and into the elevator. Silently, they made their way back to room 203, and slid open the door. The room was still quiet with the exception of the ECG monitor. The nurses had removed the ventilator from the patient, letting her breathe on her own.

They walked in, closing the door behind them, and took their seats next to the bed.

Airi observed the unconscious girl. There were less bandages on her face, and most of the bruises had faded into a dark yellow. Her leg and arm was still in a cast, and would stay that way for some time.

Silently, she took out a bundle of colorful paper, handed half of them to Ann, and began folding. Their phones rang out then. Sighing, they took them out.

R: Man, all this waiting’s got me so antsy.
R: We should go on a trip or something, Whaddya think?
An: Sorry, I’m going to have to pass.
R: You busy?
Ai: Same. We’re at the hospital right now.
An: I’m going to be visiting Shiho after school for the next few days.
An: I can’t do much to help her, but it’ll be nice to at least see her face.
R: Gotcha...I hope she wakes up soon.
Ak: I’m sure she’ll be OK.
Ak: Go cheer her up.
An: Yeah, thanks.
R: You also gonna keep visiting, Airi?
Ai: After today, only for a short while.
Ai: I have a full week of work.
R: Yikes…
An: I’m totally down to go somewhere once things have calmed down though.
Ai: Same. Hopefully it’ll be soon.
Ak: Be safe.

Ann exhaled and put away her phone. “Hey, Shiho.” She whispered, grasping a limp hand, the pulse underneath her fingers slow but steady. “How are you? Your face looks better... Too bad they took off the bandages, it hid your ugly mug.” She joked weakly.

She took a deep breath. “We went into Kamoshida’s Palace yesterday. His mind. We stole his Treasure to change him. He didn’t show up to school today, and Kawakami-sensei told us he put himself under suspension.”

She bit her lip, a tear sliding down her cheek. “We did it, Shiho... We avenged you. I fought for you.” She choked. “You would laugh if you could see me in my thief outfit...of course it had to be leather, right?” She sniffed. “And I use a whip...you would totally just call me a wannabe dominatrix.” She chuckled, wiping her eyes.

Airi smiled softly at the two. It was good to see Ann trying her best to be strong for Shiho. She continued folding, putting another crane on top of the pile. So far, they had made 140 in total, and they needed 860 more to make a wish.

Sighing, she reached out and gently combed the unconscious girl’s hair, making sure she was comfortable. Whether or not Shiho was awake to notice, she would do her best to accommodate her. It was the least she could do.

The door slid open, and they both turned. Closing the door behind her was Shiho’s mother, her face burdened with new stress lines. “Oh.” She uttered, dark eyes widening slightly. “Hello, girls.” She smiled tiredly.

“It’s nice to see you again, Suzui-san.” Airi bowed her head.

Ann waved. “Hi, Suzui-kaachan.” She greeted halfheartedly, a small smile growing on her lips.

The older woman walked over, grabbing a stool and sitting next to the model. “What are you kids doing?” She asked curiously, brushing her long black hair.

“We’re making paper cranes to make a wish for Shiho-chan’s recovery.” Airi smiled shyly, holding up the half finished crane in her hand.

The mother covered her mouth. “Oh...” She teared up. “How sweet of you two...Would you mind if I joined as well?” She asked quietly, gazing wistfully at her injured daughter.

Ann handed over some paper from her bundle, and the three quietly folded until visiting hours were over.

When the nurse came in to ask them to leave, they had made 419 cranes.

 

----4/19, TUESDAY, EVENING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

 

Dragging the bow against the chords once more, Airi winced. It still sounded off. Exhaling softly, she sat down and tuned the cello again.

Today had been such a long day. She had to wake up early to attend an hour long council session with Niijima-senpai, then figure out her schedule, and finally visiting Shiho. Even though her body protested, her mind wouldn’t let her sleep, and so here she was, fiddling with the instrument that still made her heart pound in apprehension. It was a strange sensation, to be so mind numbingly tired but energetic at the same time.

Her phone pinged with a new e-mail, and she picked it up to read it. Her shoulders slumped. It was a warning from her credit card, saying she had to pay soon or else she'd suffer the late fee. Was this really what being an adult was like? Making enough money just to meet deadlines? With a heavy heart, she paid it off with her special account.

Clenching her teeth, she threw the phone on the bed. She sighed frustratedly, leaning back in her seat. What she would give to be a normal teenager who didn't have to care about these things. She was so sick of paying bills, of barely meeting her quota because she could only work part time, of living.

She stilled. No, don't say that. You have to live you have to live youhavetolive- 'You have to live, Airi! RUN!'

She clenched her eyes, hugging the cello between her legs. She had to live.

Flicking a C major, she listened deeply and nodded. This week was going to be long, but at least she could vent her frustrations.

Swallowing nervously, she took a deep breath and played. She poured her heart out into the notes, letting the music fly into the air. Each note represented a tear she had shed this week. Every note would be a symbol of herself, leaving its own imprint in the minds of her nonexistent listeners. ‘Mom, Dad...Shiho-chan…Takase...Rui…’

She didn’t notice her phone buzzing on the bed, too withdrawn inside the mess that was her mind.

Chapter Text

Arriving back at the cafe in the evening after training with Ryuji, Akira's phone rang out.

An: I told Shiho we settled things with Kamoshida.
An: She still hasn’t regained consciousness...but I had to go make amends.
R: Whaddya mean? You didn’t do anything wrong, Ann.
R: Right, Akira?
Ak: It’s not your fault, Takamaki-san.
Ak: This is Kamoshida’s doing.
An: It’s Ann.
Ak: Then it’s Akira, Ann-san.
An: I wasn’t there when she needed help. I’m a failure as a friend…
An: Airi, who barely even talked to Shiho, did more than me.
An: I just stood there like an idiot…
An: I have to do all I can to make up for that, starting now.
An: Otherwise I don’t think I’ll be able to move on.
R: Man, I didn’t know you were so passionate.
R: I totally didn’t notice that back in middle school.
An: I think it’s because of you guys, Airi especially. I’m a little embarrassed though…
An: Anyway, Ryuji, Akira, Airi...I hope we can keep helping each other from now on too.
An: Airi’s not answering..?
An: I guess she must have crashed...she’s been really tired lately.
R: Yeah. I noticed today she wasn’t as energetic.
Ak: She’s working herself too hard.
An: Yeah, she barely said a thing today at the hospital.
An: I hope she’ll be OK.

Putting his phone away, he bowed slightly to his caretaker. Sojiro stared at him for a moment. “Just ‘cause you seem to be takin’ school seriously don’t mean I’m not keepin’ an eye on you, got it?” He warned. “I’ll know what’s what as soon as I see your grades. Wanna prove you’re turnin’ over a new leaf? Make studying a habit as second nature as breathing." He narrowed his eyes. "You can’t always count on Airi tutorin’ you forever. If you’re going to study, you can use the booth. Just remember to clean it afterward, OK?” The older man sighed heavily and left the cafe, locking the door behind him.

Akira stared after him for a bit, before turning and going up to his room. He already knew that. There was always a stab of guilt whenever she had to help him with a problem, as if he wasn't smart enough to get it. He had never put much effort into school, always distracted with other things. His parents had always admonished him for it, wanting him to aim higher, but the pressure really only discouraged him even further. He stayed right below average back home, and he was even lower here at Shujin.

He put his bag down, letting Morgana jump out to groom itself.

Sitting down on the couch, he began his homework. The work seemed a little easier after yesterday’s study session with Airi. At least that proved he could be smart too. Maybe he could score higher here so the other students wouldn't be so afraid of him. Knowing he was too busy studying would help his terrible image, right..?

He sighed in relief when he was finished, and changed for bed.

 

The next few days passed by quickly, each of the Persona users using the time to take care of their duties. Ann spent every day after school visiting Shiho, diligently folding paper cranes, hoping that her best friend would wake up soon. She had even canceled any upcoming shoots to spend more time with the comatose girl.

Ryuji spent the time working on his stamina again, feeling the strain in his legs beginning to lessen little by little. When he wasn’t running, he was at the arcade, playing games to pass the time.

Airi was practically swarmed with work, having to oversee the gym period for her class, visiting Shiho with paper cranes, and working right after at the flower shop. The credit card company continued to send her e-mails to warn her about late fees, even when she had already paid, and she was stressed out of her mind trying to solve this. The customer support agent had confirmed that she had paid for her monthly statement, but because she wasn't of age, she had to get an adult to verify.

Reluctantly, she called Kawakami-sensei to help her out of this situation. The teacher grumbled about it, but offered her assistance as soon as possible as it would reflect badly on her record. Once that was resolved, the plumbing in the kitchen malfunctioned. With a cry of frustration, Airi spent thousands of yen on a Plumber to come fix it, and took more shifts to cover the loss of funds. She barely had time to eat and sleep, and was exhausted.

The only time Akira saw her outside of school was in the morning at Leblanc, downing shots of espresso, bags under her blank eyes. He asked if he could help, but she just shook her head and smiled tiredly at him.

Akira himself spent the time juggling his studies both at the diner and at the cafe, exploring Shibuya, and running with Ryuji. Morgana accompanied him everywhere he went, not really doing much other than observing him and providing commentary.

On Sunday, he ended up going to the clinic again, and asking about the strong drug. Now he had to participate in under-the-table clinical trials for it. He sighed. At least the team had access to stronger medicine now. Plus, he still wanted to know why that man was there...Leaving the clinic, he stopped in front of the second hand store.

Brushing his black sports jacket, he walked in. “Welcome...” The elderly owner greeted, sitting near the front of the store.

Akira bowed and looked around. There were a bunch of old antiques lying around, and some beaten up electronics. The old CRTV caught his eye. ‘I could get that...’ He thought to himself, taking out his wallet. His room was pretty boring, and the only TV in the building was on the first floor where customers came and went. It wouldn't be appropriate if he watched his own channels or wanted to play games, especially when the boss would definitely yell at him for disturbing the customers. “Excuse me, I’ll take the old TV.” He requested politely.

The old man looked at him in surprise. “That old thing? Sure...tell you what, I’ll throw in a VCR player as well.” He slowly moved to box it up, knees creaking from the action. “You live at Leblanc, right? I’ll have it delivered soon.”

Thanking the elderly man, Akira handed over ¥3800 and left the store. He had a form of entertainment now. This was one of the rare times he missed his own flat screen TV back in his old room. He sighed. Even though his living situation right now wasn't as stellar, the company he kept more than made up for it. Besides, why miss expensive electronics when he had actual friends here? His phone buzzed in his pocket.

R: You heard anything about stuff happening to Kamoshida?
R: Except what Airi told us.
Ak: Nope.
R: I see.
Ak: Did something happen?
R: I dunno. I’m just feeling kinda anxious.
R: I keep thinking about how even with all you did...we might still end up getting expelled.
R: My mom’s totally gonna suffer if that happens…
R: Plus, if we couldn’t even help Ann or Suzui…
Ak: We have to believe.
Ak: If it happens, we’ll deal if we need to.
R: Sorry, I guess now’s not really the time to be getting all down in the dumps.
R: Anyways, I’m feeling a little better now that I’ve talked to you about this. Thanks, man.
Ak: Anytime.
R: Oh, and don’t tell Ann or Airi I was doubting us, mkay?
R: I don’t want them to not rely on us if we’re getting all worried about this shit.
R: Well, seeya!

He slipped his phone back in his jeans, and headed back to the cafe. Walking in through the door, he blinked.

Airi was there, a cold cup of coffee in front of her. Out of her regular school uniform, she wore a peach blouse and a black skirt, her beige trench coat folded to the side in the booth. She was asleep against the table, head on her arms and his comforter on her back.

“She’s been working herself to the bone this past week.” Sojiro murmured wistfully, cleaning a cup. He gave the slumbering teenager a look of barely concealed concern, before sighing heavily.

Akira walked closer and looked at her.

Her makeup was fading after a long day, revealing heavy purple bruising underneath her eyes. Rose strands were braided into a bun, messily pinned on the top of her head, half of it falling out. Her mouth was tilted downward, frowning even in her sleep from what seemed to be a stressful week.

He slowly reached out with a hand, gently smoothing out her creased brow. He sighed silently, moving the comforter to cover her shoulders. He didn't know why she had to work so hard, but was it worth it when her health was clearly suffering? She could let them help out too. They were friends, right?

He sat across from her, and quietly began his homework.

Unzipping his bag fully, Morgana jumped out onto the table, looking closely at the slumbering girl with concern in its eyes. “Poor Lady Airi...” It mewled sadly, ears flat against its scalp. It jumped onto the seat, and slowly crawled onto her lap, curling up with her.

Smiling slightly at the sight, Akira started on his homework, letting the quiet sounds of clinking cups and utensils help his concentration. The ceiling fan turned lazily, a barely there wind slightly blowing his curly hair.

From behind the counter, Sojiro sighed, placing the cup down. “...So. Gettin’ used to the city?” He asked leisurely, making sure his voice was kept at a low volume.

Turning his head slightly in his direction, Akira nodded. “A little.” He confessed. It was very different to his hometown. There weren’t so many buses or trains, and no where near the massive amounts of people who power walked everywhere. It was true about what they say about the city; there’s never a moment of peace the closer you are to the metropolis.

The older man inspected him. “...I see.” He said after a moment. “You’re the only one here at night, so I’m not gonna bother setting a curfew or anything like that. So long as you’re taking school seriously, I don’t mind if you stroll the streets at night.” He declared quietly, rubbing his chin. “But only around these parts, got it? You go back on your word, I’ll kick you right out.” He warned, pointing a finger menacingly. “If you’re gonna stay over at Airi’s, you tell me beforehand. “He narrowed his eyes. ”...and keep your hands to yourself.”

Blinking in surprise, Akira nodded, giving the older man a grateful look, blushing slightly at the last part. He’d been driving himself crazy at nights, especially since Morgana never let him stay up late. Anytime he wanted to do anything, it was “Let’s not do that today,” or “Aren’t you tired?”

He grumbled to himself silently. There wasn’t even any time or privacy to do...other things.

Like bathing.

A whimper broke him from his train of thought, and he looked over at the sleeping girl.

Face scrunching up, her eyes slowly cracked open. “Mmgh...” She groaned, slowly sitting up and rubbing her eyes.

“Good morning.” Akira cracked a small grin.

She looked at him blankly, eyes still blurry with sleep, before his greeting registered in her exhausted brain. “Huh?!” She gasped, scrambling for her phone in her trench coat.

Morgana yowled at the sudden movement, but stayed where it was.

Grasping the thin plastic, she quickly pulled it out and looked at the time, which read, “8:12PM SUNDAY.” She sagged, exhaling heavily, and laid her head in her arms again. “Don’t do that.” She complained, voice muffled in her sleeves.

“Sorry.” He smiled apologetically.

Sighing, she sat up in her seat, the comforter falling off her shoulders. “Huh? Oh...” She grasped the blanket, pulling it in front of her and folded it. “I must have fallen asleep...” She murmured. “Did you put this blanket on me?”

He shook his head. “No, it was boss.” He gestured over to the older man.

She blinked in surprise and gave the barista with a gentle smile. “Thank you, Sojiro-san.”

He waved her away. “Don’t worry about it. More importantly, how are you feelin’?” He asked her, a tinge of concern in his voice. “You’ve been asleep for five hours.”

“Five hours..?” She breathed, closing her eyes tiredly. How much time had she wasted just sleeping away here? Had she inconvenienced the older man who was like an uncle to her, by driving away his customers? Why wasn't there more time...

Akira looked at her worriedly. “Airi-chan...” He began. “You need to stop and take a break... I’ve barely talked to you this whole week." He pleaded quietly. "Ryuji and Ann are worried as well.”

She looked at him, struggling with herself, before she acquiesced. “Yeah.” She agreed, loosening her bun and running a hand through her limp hair. “I pushed myself too hard. I need to work, but I also want to be there for Shiho-chan...” She whispered morosely. “I’m just so tired…”

Contemplating with himself, he took a deep breath. “...Why do you need to work so much?” He asked hesitantly, brow furrowed in concern.

She locked eyes with him, staring deeply, before tilting her head away, boring into the ceiling. Should she tell him? How she was only a few bucks away from poverty? How she worked as many shifts as she could because otherwise she would be starving...

He waited patiently, not wanting to rush or pressure her. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea for him to ask this. They’ve only known each other for less than a month. He opened his mouth to apologize, but stopped when he noticed her lips moving.

“...You know my parents are dead.” She began quietly, dark eyes idly counting the wooden beams. “I didn’t have any other family, so...after the funeral, I was sent to an orphanage...” She clenched her jaw. “It...wasn’t a great place to be. I had a really tough time there that they transferred me to another one.” She took a deep breath, swallowing restlessly.

“Long story short, I applied for emancipation last year to claim my parents’ inheritance and property. I was denied of course...it’s just not possible to be an emancipated minor in Japan." She smiled bitterly, ducking her head. "The only way I could move back home was to have an adult sign on as my guardian..."

He furrowed his brow. "But you're clearly living in your house now, so someone did sign off?"

She nodded. “The only adults I knew were the teachers, so...Kawakami-sensei signed on."

His eyebrows raised up. Their teacher hadn't seemed like someone who would take on such a responsibility, especially for someone who wasn't related to her. "Really?"

Airi smiled slightly. "Only on paper. I don’t have any relatives, and she knew what I was going through because we had a friend in common, so... I finally went home after so many years...” Idly petting the feline on her lap, she stared off into space, her eyes focused on nothing in particular. “...I have enough money to pay property tax and the bills, but for anything else like groceries and clothes, I have to pay out of pocket.” She stated matter of factly, shrugging. “At the very least, because I’m an orphan, I’m exempted from paying taxes in my paychecks…”

“Airi…” He breathed, gazing at her with worry. His friend was literally an adult in all but age. She was class president, a part time employee, a phantom thief, and a good friend. She was practically stretched thin in every direction. He pursed his lips. It was admirable and a little unsettling. He saw how exhausted she was, and that was from just one week. Was this what they had to look forward to when they became adults...?

She gave him a small smile. “It’s all right...I don’t regret this. I have my home, I have a good job, and I have good friends.” She said tenderly, scratching Morgana behind its ears.

It purred, turning into goo in her lap. “You’re so strong, Lady Airi…” The cat meowed, looking up at her with large blue eyes.

She chuckled. “I try my best. If I give it my all, maybe..." She bit her lip, looking away. " Maybe I can live with no regrets.”

His lips twitched, growing into a delicate smile. “I really admire you, Airi.” Akira spoke softly. "You're such a hard worker. I'm kind of jealous of how tenacious you are."

She blushed. “I-I...” Airi stammered. "It's not because I want to work so much..."

He packed his books back into his bag and stood up.

Blinking, she looked up at him curiously.

“It’s late. I’ll walk you home.” He stated shyly.

“Oh! Ok.” She gently patted Morgana to get off, who then ran upstairs. Taking out her wallet, she was about to place some bills on the table when Sojiro interrupted her. “Don’t worry about it.” He called out, lazily looking up from his newspaper.

She hesitated. “But…”

He shook his head. “It’s on the house.” He gave her an exasperated smile.

Biting her lip, she nodded, putting her wallet back in her bag. “Thank you, boss.” She smiled gratefully.

Waving goodbye, the two teenagers left the cafe and into the chilly streets. Shivering a bit, she buttoned up her trench coat and stepped closer to Akira. The two walked together in comfortable silence, traveling down the slightly deserted roads.

Arriving at the Kimisawa residence after a few minutes, Airi turned to Akira with a smile. “Thank you, Akira-kun. I would invite you in for tea, but I’m still really tired...” She bowed her head apologetically.

He waved her away. “Don’t worry about it, just get some proper rest. I’ll see you tomorrow?” He asked, resting his hands in his pockets.

She nodded with a smile, opening her front door. Walking in, she turned and waved as he left.

Chapter Text

----4/30, SATURDAY, EARLY MORNING, SHIBUYA STATION

Her boss had noticed how tired she had been a week ago, and told her not to come to work for at least a couple days.

Biting her lip, Airi forced herself to nod. She would lose money, but pushing herself any further could land her in the hospital for exhaustion, and there was no way she could afford that.

The next couple of days passed by slower now that she had less things to do, and she visited Shiho all the more often to fold paper cranes, whether or not Ann was with her. She wanted to do her best for her. It was still partly her fault for letting go. If she could've held on just a little longer, Shiho wouldn't be comatose in the hospital.

Now that it was Saturday morning, Akira and her had been waiting for the Ginza line when Ann walked up to them. “Morning.” She greeted, the two of them waving back. “The board meeting is the day after tomorrow.” She furrowed her brows in worry. “...I wonder if Kamoshida really had a change of heart?” She whispered. “What if we failed? That’s all I’ve been able to think about…”

“We have to believe.” Akira replied, adjusting his glasses.

Airi nodded in agreement. “Yeah. We didn’t do all that for nothing.”

The model tucked her hair behind an ear. “We did what we could.” She relented. “I guess all I can do now is believe…” She blinked. “But how strange...I feel a bit better now. Maybe it’s because of your composure?” She looked at the two strangely, but smiled. “We’ll be able to avenge Shiho, and you won’t get expelled! After break, we’ll all be able to laugh together!” She smirked slightly “That’s what I’ll believe.”

Airi smiled. “Yes, that’s right!” She pumped a fist. “We’ll finally be able to relax. Maybe we can go to the spa then?”

Ann nodded. “Yes! I need it so bad.” She groaned dramatically. "I can't wait for the massage, the sauna, the hot springs..."

Akira looked on at his friends with a small smile, content to listen.

Hi everyone!” Chouno-sensei greeted in English. She was a tanned woman with curly black hair and sultry eyes. Her usual outfit consisted of a purple dress and a red beaded necklace. One thing everyone noticed and quietly made fun of her for is how heavily she applied her makeup, but no one had let it slip back to her.

“These days, it’s expected that you know colloquial English- even idioms based in other languages.” She lectured, dramatically flipping her permed hair. “I want you to forget that you’re Japanese during this class and make yourself believe you’re a foreigner. What’s important is becoming someone else.” Her brown eyes surveyed the class. “In this day and age, being able to swap your mask depending on the situation is a critical talent.” Her eyes landed on the rosette. “How will you fare, Class President? Here’s a question.”

Airi blinked, but straightened up in her seat to show she was listening intently. English was one of her best subjects. Can't target tourists if you didn't know the language, after all.

The teacher smirked. “Are you a wunderkind? See if you can work out the answer based on what you know.”

Her eyes sharpened. “The word is originally German, it means child prodigy.” Airi answered diligently.

Chouno-sensei clapped. “That’s right!” She cheered. “I was asking you if you were a wonder child-in other words, a youth of uncommon talent. But I suppose if you were able to think and adapt so quickly, that proves you certainly must be!” She shifted in place. “Oh, the word “talent” comes from the Greek “talanton,” a sum of money referenced in the Bible. The more skilled a servant was, the more coins they would receive from God-their talent led to worth.”

“As expected of our class president!”

"Kimisawa-senpai is so smart!”

“I wonder if she has time to tutor us, exams are next week...:”

Airi ducked her head, embarrassed from all the compliments. It wasn't that big of a deal to be able to answer that. It was taught in last year's English class.

Her eyes met gray ones, and Akira smiled and gave her a thumbs up. She blushed and covered her face with her notebook.

“The English word “talent” didn’t originally have anything to do with our modern concept of celebrity.” Chouno-sensei explained. “It’s not too far off calling people who can react to things on the spot on TV “talents.””

“The talent of changing masks...” Morgana mused quietly from within its usual seat inside Akira's desk. “Does that make us all “wunderthieves”?” It giggled.

He sweatdropped, writing it down in his notes.

Blowing the whistle, Airi signalled her class to gather up. “All right, guys!” She called out. She grimaced. This was really awkward. Having so much authority over her fellow classmates felt really uncomfortable.

Luckily, no one had protested or complained...so far. In fact, they all seemed to pay attention.

Akira and Ann were near the back, watching her with amused smiles on their faces.

She coughed, fidgeting with the ends of her gym uniform jacket. “We’ll be running laps today. I’ll be timing you guys and writing it on the clipboard.” She waved it out for the class to see. “Please do your best!” She smiled politely.

“Yes, senpai!” The class replied in unison.

Sweatdropping, she cleared her throat. “You guys don’t have to call me senpai…” She began, but no one seemed to listen and began running.

Sighing resignedly, she observed her classmates, noting who was faring better and those who were lagging behind. Of course, Ann and Akira were one of the few who were in the front. After all that running in Kamoshida’s Palace, all of the thieves had to have excellent stamina.

Her eyes roamed over the rest who strayed far behind them. ‘Tsukishima-kun is stopping, might still be injured from Kamoshida’s “training.”’ She frowned, writing the time on her clipboard. She should really ask him and Mishima if their injuries were healing well.

‘Takeda-kun is better...Otani-chan stopped...Namikawa-chan is slowing down…’ She continued writing down their scores until her phone buzzed, signalling that it was time for a break.

Taking a deep breath, she blew her whistle. “Break time!” She announced.

The students slowed to a crawl, panting. Some collapsed on the floor, laying right where they stopped. Even though they were exhausted, they kept a good distance away from the two class outcasts.

Resting his hands in his pockets, Akira walked up to her, Ann following. “So, how did we do?” Ann asked curiously, idly twirling a ponytail.

Airi smiled at the two. “Pretty good! Of course, how could I expect any less from my teammates?” She winked.

Akira smirked. “We are the best, after all.” He bragged, running his hand through his hair.

Ann choked, covering her mouth as she silently trembled.

Airi burst out into giggles, looking at the ebony haired classmate, mirth dancing in her eyes.

He frowned, narrowing his eyes at the two in confusion.

“W-Was,” Ann gasped for air. “Was that supposed to be cool?” She snickered.

“He does that a lot.” Airi commented, smiling gleefully.

He gave them an unimpressed look, causing them to break out into more laughter.

Her phone buzzed, letting Airi know it was time for the class to run again, and she gave her friends an apologetic look. Blowing her whistle, she clapped her hands loudly. “All right, guys! Let’s run again!”

----5/1, SUNDAY, EARLY AFTERNOON, ITO HOSPITAL

“And...done!” Airi sighed in relief, placing the last paper crane on top of the pile. It had taken the three females two weeks to complete this, but they did it. They folded 1000 paper cranes.

Suzui-san burst into tears, covering her face. “Th-Thank you,” She sniffed. “For doing this for my daughter...She’s so lucky to have the two of you...” She gave them a watery smile, wiping away her tears.

“No,” Ann interjected. “We’re the ones lucky to have her...Shiho’s the best thing to ever happen to me. I love her like a sister.” She smiled softly at the still unconscious girl, gently grasping a limp hand.

“It’s true, Suzui-san.” Airi smiled gently at the older woman. “Shiho-chan is such a nice girl, always doing her best for others.” She looked away wistfully. “...I was never close with her, but... hearing about her through Ann, I know that she’s a strong person.” She placed a hand on top of Shiho’s forehead, brushing her hair out of her face.

She moved to get up, gathering all the paper cranes into one pile. Taking some strings and bead out of her bag, they slowly strung the cranes together. “I hope this will work...” Ann bit her lip worryingly, tying a knot.

“It has to...” Suzui-san affirmed quietly, frowning deeply.

Airi didn’t say anything, focused on tying them all together.

By the end of visiting hours, they had the hospital’s permission to hang up the cranes above Shiho’s bed, her own curtain of colors watching over her as she slept. For some reason, just seeing the splash of colorful paper really brightened up the stale whiteness of the room. It brought a certain sense of hope that it would help.

Clapping her hands twice, Airi closed her eyes and prayed. Ann and Suzui-san both followed her example, all three of them wishing for Shiho’s recovery. It was unorthodox for three people to wish at the same time, but hopefully it worked.

She gripped her hands together. It had to.

Walking out of the hospital and into the brightly lit streets of Shibuya, the two teenagers bid the mother farewell before heading toward the train station. Biting her lip, Ann texted on her phone.

An: The board meeting’s tomorrow, right?
R: We’re gonna get expelled if Kamoshida doesn’t have a change of heart by then…
Ai: I’m sure he did. He's never taken a day off.
R: Yeah and he's been gone for over a week.
Ak: We did all we could.
An: It would be a real problem for us if he didn’t.
R: It’s a little too early to give up now.
R: Guess we’ll find out one way or the other tomorrow.
R: We just gotta brace ourselves for all the possibilities.
Ai: Try to get some sleep, guys.
Ai: We’ll need it.

Putting away her phone, the model turned to her friend. “I love how Akira only ever responds like once.” She rolled her eyes. “Yet, somehow... it’s all we need.” She breathed out, looking up at all the neon signs.

Airi smiled in amusement. “I know, right? There’s something very comforting about it, like he’s a rock in a hurricane of this mess.” She replied, gazing ahead fondly, thinking of the transfer. He had changed their lives...

Ann smirked, the two swiping their wallets at the station gates. “Do you...like him?” She moved closer, lacing their arms together.

“Huh?!” Airi gasped, looking at her with wide eyes. Like him? “He’s just...a really nice person. He’s been through a lot, so I...” She mumbled, ducking her head. "I can relate."

Ann scoffed. “So nice that he got you expensive jewelry for your birthday, after only knowing you for a week.” She commented sarcastically, giving the class president a knowing smirk.

Blushing furiously, Airi pushed her away with a pout. They were just friends. Boys and girls could be friends without feelings, right?....Right?

Bursting out into laughter, Ann waved and walked to her train. "Don't deny it forever!"

Sighing exasperatedly, Airi walked to her line and went home.

Turning on the lights, she sat down on a chaise, flicking on the TV. “It’s been three weeks since the tragic subway disaster. In the course of addressing the accident, the Minister of Transport ended up resigning." The newscaster spoke. "Many questions, however, still remain unanswered, as police struggle in their investigation.”

She frowned. Resigning without addressing the problem? Not a single word from the Minister, either.

‘How suspicious.’ She laced her hands together. Well, it’s not like it can be solved right away. She wouldn’t be able to do anything as a high school student, though she wanted to. Everyone in Tokyo depended on the railway system, and the amount of accidents were only slowly increasing.

If she or any of her friends got injured, she wouldn’t know what to do...

Chapter Text

----5/2, MONDAY, EARLY MORNING, AOYAMA ITCHOME

 

They walked in silence, shoulders tense with apprehension. Today was the day. Either Kamoshida was going to confess his crimes or...Airi glanced over at her companion. Akira and Ryuji get expelled. She gnawed on her lower lip, unable to keep the anxiety at bay.

Akira himself walked silently, a pensive frown on his face. He spent most of the night tossing and turning in his bed. Morgana even yelled at him to sleep. His nerves were shot.

“Mondays are such a drag…” A male student yawned. “Why couldn’t they give us today off, too? We have the rest of the week off starting tomorrow…”

His friend nodded. “Yeah, it’s ridiculous. Speaking of, what’s up with that calling card? The one sent to Kamoshida.” He asked. “Didn’t it say something about “stealing his distorted desires” or something weird like that?”

“Yeah, something like that…” The male student yawned again.

Hearing her phone ring in her pocket, Airi pulled it out. Answering the call, she listened intently. “Right...Yes...”

Akira looked over curiously, tilting his head.

Hanging up, she gave him with an apologetic look. “Sorry, Akira-kun, I’ll have to rush ahead. Kawakami-sensei called me in to help.”

He nodded, and she ran off, sprinting the rest of the way.

“Please head toward the gymnasium in an orderly fashion!” Airi announced, ushering students in the hallways.

She and every other class president were called in a bit early to redirect the classes to the gym. Supposedly, it was for a school wide announcement...but those could have been made with the intercom.

She bit her lip. It must have to do with Shiho and Kamoshida.

“There is a morning assembly in the gymnasium, please do not go to your classes!” Another class president shouted.

Once all the students gathered in the gym, the class presidents walked in last, lining up on the sides. Airi stood at attention near the front of the stage, right next to an exit. Exhaling softly, she scanned the crowd of students, picking out Akira, Ann, and Ryuji.

“What’s with the sudden morning assembly..?”

“I bet it’s about that girl that jumped the other day.”

“They don’t have to tell us not to commit suicide.”

“There was that weird calling card too, so I guess the teachers are freaking out?”

Hearing all the callous comments, Airi furrowed her brow slightly. Why were they so insensitive? A fellow student tried to kill herself. Her lips twitched downward.

She stood at attention when she noticed Principal Kobayakawa getting on the stage. The grossly rotund man cleared his throat. “Let’s begin this school-wide morning assembly.” He spoke into the mic.

The students stood around, seemingly bored. No one really cared about announcements as they usually pertained the school, its budget, and clubs. Nothing important was really told to the students during these.

“As you all know, a tragic event took place the other day. Thankfully, we have been informed that she has pulled through, but it will take time until she recovers.” He paused, looking out into the audience.

Ann furrowed her brows at the statement. ‘Way to simplify it.’ She seethed.

Adjusting his collar, Principal Kobayakawa continued. “Everyone here has a bright future ahead. I implore that you rethink the importance of life and-” The door Airi was next to slammed open. The entire student body turned to look at who interrupted. She stared with wide eyes as the reason for the interruption walked through the doors, slamming it behind him. ‘Is this it..?’

Ann gasped, staring wide-eyed at the downtrodden Kamoshida. He looked absolutely dreadful compared to a week ago.

His shoulders were slumped as if the weight of the world was crushing him. His usually defined biceps were skinnier, having atrophied in his week long sabbatical. The biggest difference was the look in his eyes. Constantly exuding confidence and arrogance, it was now absent, replaced with despair and self loathing.

“Kamoshida-sensei.” Principal Kobayakawa greeted hesitantly, looking at the gym teacher with uncertainty. “What’s the-” “I...” Kamoshida interrupted, exhaustion seeping into his voice. “...Have been reborn.” He hunched his shoulders. “That is why I will confess everything to you all…”

The crowd burst into chatter as the former olympic medalist slowly made his way to the front, and up onto the stage.

“..Huh?” Ann breathed, her eyes never leaving the man. Knowing he was going to have a change of heart was one thing, but actually witnessing it…

She clenched her fists. No matter what he was going to say, she would never forgive him for what he had done. To her, to Airi, to everyone on the volleyball team...to Shiho.

“What’s going on?”

“Is he going to talk about the volleyball team?”

“Are those rumors true?”

“I have repeatedly done things that were...” Kamoshida paused, taking a deep breath. “Unbecoming of a teacher. Verbally abusing students...physically abusing my team, and…” He sighed heavily. “Sexually harassing female students.” He clenched his eyes. “I am the reason why Suzui Shiho tried to kill herself!” He fell to his knees defeatedly, sobbing with the weight of his sins.

“Sexual harassment..?”

“What?!”

“Wow, the rumors were true?!”

“He is the worst!”

He looked up at the students, eyes blurry with tears. “I thought of this school as my own castle...There were even students that I sentenced to expulsion, simply because I didn’t like them...” He bowed his head. “I will, of course, rescind those…”

Principal Kobayakawa looked on in shock, eyes rapidly going from Kamoshida to the students. He held his pudgy hands up, trying to stop the teacher but to avail.

“I am truly sorry for putting innocent youths through such horrible acts...” Kamoshida gritted his teeth in anguish. “I am an arrogant, shallow...and shameful person. No, I’m worse than that…” He got on his hands and knees, forehead touching the wooden floors. “I will take responsibility and kill myself for it..!”

“What?!”

“Did he just say that..?”

“He’s going to kill himself?!”

The room was filled with loud complaints and comments, the students all staring at the stage incredulously.

The principal rushed up to the still prostrated teacher. “Kamoshida-sensei! Please get off the stage for now!” He pleaded.

Staff began to approach the crowd of students, recognizing that this was something only faculty should see. “Everyone, return to your classes!” A teacher yelled.

Kamoshida sobbed. “I-” “Don’t run, you bastard!” Ann screamed angrily, glaring at the pathetic man in front of her.

The students near her backed away, staring at the model. “Shiho’s still alive even after all the things that made her want to die! You have no right to run from this!” She spat.

Trembling, he nodded. “You’re right...” He sobbed. “You’re absolutely right...I should be punished under the law and atone for my crimes...” He slowly straightened up into a seiza position. “I did horrible things to Takamaki-san, as well.” He admitted. “In return for giving Suzui-san a position on the team...” He shuddered. “I tried to force her into having relations.”

“Ugh.”

“Disgusting!”

“That’s horrible…”

“So the rumors are true.”

“As of today,” He continued. “I will resign from my position as an instructor and turn myself in.” He looked around frantically. “Someone, please call the police!”

The students and teachers stood around, unsure of what to do. Silently taking out her phone, Airi dialled 110*. Covering her mouth, she reported the situation, and the police was dispatched immediately.

“Wow..,” Ryuji uttered, staring wide eyed at the stage. It worked. It was over. They weren’t being expelled.

Akira rested his hands in his pockets, gazing pensively at the changed teacher. It actually worked. The difference in personality and morals was like a 180.

“This morning’s assembly is over! Return to your classes immediately!” A teacher yelled out, walking past the two.

They looked around, listening in to what the other students were saying.

“Isn’t this just like what that calling card said..?”

Does this mean the Phantom Thieves thing was for real?!”

“Was something done to Kamoshida?!”

“C’mon, there’s no way you could steal someone’s heart!”

“But why else would he start saying things like he’ll kill himself or turn himself in?”

“Maybe because it almost got leaked? Don’t they go easier on you if you turn yourself in?”

“I wonder what happened…”

“Who knows? But man, Kamoshida turned out to be one sick bastard.”

"Right? Hearing that he sexually harassed the girls...and Takamaki too!"

"Hey, didn't he start trying to flirt with Kimisawa before that weird calling card?"

"Ugh, hitting on minors and cheating. He's so gross! I can't believe he was really our gym teacher..."

They looked on in shock. The rapid change in opinion was almost dizzying. One minute they were praising the man, and now they’re condemning him remorselessly. Akira frowned slightly.

“Return to your classrooms at once!” The teacher shouted. Slowly, the students were ushered out of the gym, along with most of the staff. The police arrived in a prompt manner and took Kamoshida into custody, cuffing him into the car. An officer called Airi over, the remaining staff already being questioned by the rest of the force. "Ma'am, we traced the call back to you. Can you explain to us what exactly happened?"

Now standing in the empty gymnasium, the three Persona users gazed at the stage, still stunned at what happened. “His heart really did change..,” Ann whispered, shoulders slumping in relief. It was over. She didn't have to feel threatened to sell her body.

Ryuji fidgeted a leg. “Seems like it.” He commented hesitantly. “But, was this really for the best?” He looked over at Akira uncertainly.

Akira nodded. “I think so.” He pursed his lips. “But what Kamoshida said…”

Bowing to the officers that began to leave, Airi turned and walked up to her friends. “He’ll be detained for now.” She informed them quietly. “They said it’s quite unusual for a criminal to confess his crimes, so they’ll be conducting an interrogation soon...” She looked away uncomfortably, rubbing an arm.

Ryuji sighed. “Things’re happenin’ way too fast..."

Hearing footsteps behind her, Airi turned and blinked in surprise. It was Mishima and two of their female classmates, Namikawa and Matsumoto. “Yes?” She asked politely.

The thieves turned as well, surprised to see them.

Taking a deep breath, Mishima bowed to his waist. “Takamaki-san...I’m sorry!” He blurted out.

Taken aback, Ann looked at him with wide eyes. “Huh..?”

Straightening up from his bow, but still hunched over, he ducked his head. “We all knew...but we pretended we didn’t.”

Matsumoto stepped forward. “Takamaki-san, I had you all wrong…” She bowed slightly, still towering over the blonde. “I’m sorry that I spread rumors about you!”

Namikawa walked up behind Matsumoto. “I didn’t know at all…” She added quietly, shyly looking at the group. “Kamoshida was forcefully pushing himself on you...It must’ve been so hard for you..!” She wrung her hands nervously, looking at Ann apologetically.

Matsumoto nodded in agreement. “I’m sure there’s a ton of people who want to apologize to you.” She added, biting her lip. “We’re so sorry..!”

Airi smiled fondly at the three. It was nice to see their classmates being kind toward each other.

After a pause, Ann shook her head. “No, it’s OK.” She dipped her head solemnly “The same goes for me too…Besides, that’s all in the past now.” She gave them a small smile.

“Hey, you there! Return to class at once!” A teacher shouted, passing by them with a stern frown.

Obeying, Matsumoto bowed slightly to the model. “W-Well, see you around...” She spoke hesitantly, Namikawa following her head. They started walking back to class when Airi called out. “Wait!” She ran up to the two.

Stopping at the doors, they turned around. “S-Senpai..?” Namikawa whispered shyly.

Airi smiled gratefully at them. “I want to thank you two for apologizing to Ann-chan.” She stated softly. “I’m proud of you guys, and honored to be your class president.” She beamed. “Please don’t spread any more rumors though, OK?”

Blushing, Matsumoto held up her hands. “No, Senpai! Thank you!” She replied quickly. “A-And we wont...I’m happy that you’re our class president too!” She declared loudly, bowing to her, Namikawa timidly followed her example.

Sweatdropping, Airi placed her hands on their shoulders. “You don’t have to call me Senpai, we’re the same age.” She smiled exasperatedly.

Namikawa shook her head. “No...we all look up to you. You stayed by Takamaki-san even when we spread those awful rumors about her...and now you’re thanking us.” She stated quietly. “That’s why you’re our Senpai.” They both bowed again, and with a wave, they left.

Slumping, she smiled fondly at their retreating backs, before turning to her group. It was nice to hear her classmates pushing past their mistakes and owning up to them. They didn't even need to have their Treasures stolen.

Mishima was still there, speaking closely to Akira and Ryuji. “I can’t apologize enough for what I did to you.” He looked down sullenly. “...I swear I’ll make it up to you someday.” He gazed at the bespectacled student determinedly, before walking away, bowing at Airi when he passed her.

“Looks like Kamoshida ain’t the only one that had a change of heart.” Ryuji remarked, eyebrows raised in surprise as he stared after the ex-volleyball student’s departure. He turned to Ann, resting his thumbs at the edge of his pockets. “Man, I’m glad for you. Looks like those weird rumors are gonna go away.”

Ann shook her head. “My thing doesn’t really matter.” She inhaled deeply. “We made Kamoshida apologize about Shiho...That’s more than enough for me.” She stated quietly.

Airi nodded in agreement. “I wish he also apologized to Ryuji-kun and Mishima-kun, as well as everyone else he treated unfairly…” She murmured, pursing her lips in displeasure. “Like Watanabe-san, Nakamura-san, Harada-san, and Tanaka-san…”

Ryuji looked at her questioningly. “Why them?”

“You remember the half naked volleyball girls in the Palace?” Airi reminded grimly.

His eyes widened. “Shit! Well, they were huddlin' around each other earlier during Kamoshida’s confession. I think they’ll be OK." He shrugged awkwardly. He had noticed they were crying quietly, and were the first to leave the gymnasium. "Besides, we’re not the ones in the hospital. You two should hurry and tell Suzui about it.” He smirked faintly.

Ann looked at him in surprise, before nodding. “...Yeah.” She replied resolutely.

They headed back to class, and even though no one really paid attention to the lessons, too busy gossiping about Kamoshida, the day couldn’t end fast enough.

Once the bell rang, Ann and Airi left for the hospital immediately, and Akira, Morgana, and Ryuji went up to the rooftop to wait for them.

Chapter Text

Quickly walking into the hospital, they power-walked to the elevators and up to Shiho’s room. Quietly, they slid open the door, the breeze gently blowing the hundreds of colorful cranes hung up, and moved to sit next to the bed on opposite sides. It was still a bit early, so Suzui-san wouldn’t be here for a while.

Clasping an unmoving hand, Ann exhaled. “Shiho...we did it..!” She grinned, trying to contain her excitement. “Kamoshida confessed everything...He apologized for what he did to you...and to me. I’m so glad that everything worked out well.” She stared at her sleeping face wistfully. “I wish you will, too…”

Airi scooted closer, brushing some loose strands out of Shiho’s face. “Hello, Shiho-chan.” She greeted softly, voice barely higher than a whisper. “We made that piece of shit apologize to you... He’ll be punished for his crimes.” She smiled faintly.

Ann looked over at her in amusement.

Coughing, she looked away, embarrassed. “A-Anyway, I hope you will wake up soon. Don’t keep us waiting forever...” Shouldn't they have their happy ending now? Didn't they deserve it? The rapist and long time tormentor was finally behind bars, because of them. What if she never wakes up though? Shiho didn't deserve to be trapped in a coma forever...

Just then, the door slid open and they turned to look at the newcomer, not noticing the minuscule twitch of black eyebrows.

“Hello, girls.” Suzui-san whispered, smiling slightly at them. The continued visits with no progress seemed to be wearing on the older woman. There were more lines in her forehead, and the occasional white strand in her sea of black hair.

Sliding the door closed, the older woman moved to sit down next to Ann, face falling when she noted Shiho’s unchanged state. “You two look happier than usual. Did something happen?”

Ann nodded eagerly with a big grin. “Kamoshida’s been arrested!” She announced loudly, quickly covering her mouth and wincing apologetically.

Stunned, Suzui-san held her hand over her chest. “What..?” She breathed, looking between the two with wide eyes.

Airi nodded in confirmation, smiling tearfully.

Dark eyes slowly blurred with tears. “My baby is safe from that-that monster...” Suzui-san sobbed, crying in relief.

Ann placed an arm around her shoulders, comforting her.

A quiet groan broke through their conversation, and Airi slowly turned to look, eyes wide. No one else could've made that groan, unless...

Facial muscles twitching, Shiho’s eyes moved rapidly beneath her eyelids. The ECG monitor sped up, the beeping noises coming in faster.

The three females looked on with bated breaths, not blinking even for a second. With a weak cough, black eyes slowly slid open, dazedly looking up toward the ceiling.

Suzui Shiho was awake.

“Shiho!” Suzui-san cried, breaking the tension, and they rushed to the bedside. She gently held the conscious girl’s face, lips whimpering.

Ann gripped a weak hand, crying against the soft flesh. “Shiho…!” She sobbed in relief.

Clasping her hands in front of her face, Airi slowly fell to her knees, tears streaming down her grinning face.

“M-Mom…?” Shiho breathed, her eyes gradually slid from the colorful blurs to the woman next to her.

“Yes, yes it’s me, honey…” Suzui-san gave her daughter a watery smile, moving down to kiss her forehead, brushing her hair out of her face. "I'm so glad...you woke up..." Her voice hitched as tears dripped down, splattering against the thin linen sheets.

“Shiho...everything will be OK now.” Ann grinned, eyes bright with tears. "Kamoshida's in jail. He admitted everything he did..!"

With a wince, the black haired girl turned her head at the model’s direction. “Ann...” She whispered slowly, voice still raspy from disuse. “I’m...sorry...for making you...go to him...” She coughed. “I don’t...want to go..back...”

Quickly getting up from the floor, Airi poured a cup of water from the bedside table and held it out in front of the injured student. “Here, Shiho-chan.” She murmured, supporting the back of her head.

Cracking open her mouth, her lips practically sealed together during the few weeks, Shiho let the class president tilt the water in, gradually draining the cup until it was empty.

Swallowing the last drop of liquid, she gazed at her with wide eyes. “Kimi...sawa-senpai..” She breathed, the ECG monitor slowing down. “...I’m so...sorry…” A tear slid down her cheek. “Thank...you…for saving...me...” She breathed out, closing her eyes.

Halting, Airi looked at her blankly. “Shiho-chan..?” She whispered. What...Please don't. Please don't please don'tpleasedon't-

Slamming her hand on the Emergency button next to the cot, Suzui-san cried out. “Nurse!” Stumbling from her bent over position, she ran to the door and opened it to the hallway. “Nurse!”

A staff member ran up to her. “Is there something you need?” They panted, looking around for an emergency. "You pressed the emergency button, right?"

She wrung her hands in front of her. “My daughter woke up from her coma but she’s-she’s unconscious again!”

The nurse walked in, checking Shiho’s vitals and the monitors. Opening an eyelid, they shined a flashlight into it before letting her be. They sighed. “It’s all right, she’s only asleep now. Her pupils are dilating normally, meaning she should be fine.” They assured before leaving the room.

The three sighed in relief. "Thank god..." Suzui-san whimpered, collapsing on a chair. "I thought..."

Airi grimaced, holding a hand to her racing heart. "Yeah, me too..." They sat down on their seats, letting the steady heartbeat lull them into a calm.

"Shiho will be fine now.” Ann reassured, wrapping an arm around the mother.

Biting her lip, Suzui-san nodded and ushered them out of the room with a grateful smile. “I know this is sudden but...I want to transfer Shiho to a different school once she recovers.” She stated quietly. “I hope you’ll understand why...”

Staring at her in shock, they slowly nodded with crestfallen expressions. "...We'll let the administration know." Airi informed the older woman.

The two students traveled back to school, heading to the stairs. They were slightly sad that Shiho wouldn't ever go to school here again, but they understood. There was no way she would be able to function in the same building where she was...

“I heard Kurusu and Sakamoto threatened Kamoshida…”

“You think they used violence to make him confess?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised…”

“That calling card was a prank then?”

They glanced at each other worriedly as the gossiping students walked past them. The rumors were already running rampant through the school.

They walked up the stairs, passing the second floor landings. “-we were lucky his mind didn’t get messed up either! This was an A+ job!” they heard from a floor down.

Airi deadpanned. Did they have to be so loud? What if someone heard? Thankfully, the school was mostly empty at this time, most of the students left would be in the Practice Building on the other side of the campus.

“Does this mean that they won’t have a mental shutdown even if their Palace disappears..?” They heard Morgana ask, voice muffled from the door. “I see...So we need to persuade the Shadow without killing it, and then send it back to its real self. Our targets won’t undergo a cognitive collapse if we do that.”

“So we can get ‘em to confess with no bad stuff?” Ryuji asked excitedly, voice much clearer than the feline's. “Hey, that works for me!”

Rolling her eyes, Ann opened the door to the roof, the class president closing it behind them with a squeak. “Do you have to be so loud?” She complained, looking at Ryuji with an annoyed expression.

“We could hear you from the 3rd floor…” Airi added sheepishly, taking a seat next to Akira.

“So...” Ryuji began hesitantly. “How’d it go? With Shiho, I mean…”

Pursing her lips, Ann grinned excitedly. “She’s regained consciousness..!”

Akira and Ryuji looked at her in shock. “For real?!"

Wiping her eyes, she crouched, hiding her face in her arms. “It was only for a little bit, but I got to talk to her..!” She sniffed. “I was able to tell her that Kamoshida admitted to what he did..!”

Airi moved to hug her, rubbing a hand on her back as she sobbed in relief. “Shiho-chan’s mother was there as well, and we were all crying in joy.” She continued softly. “She..told us she was sorry…”

Sniffing, Ann got up, pulling the class president’s arms off and holding them in her hands. “Looks like she found out that I was flirting with Kamoshida for her sake..." She chuckled weakly. "And here I was, wanting to apologize to her.

Jumping on top of the desk, Morgana looked at the two females with a stern frown. “Kamoshida’s at fault for all this."

Wiping her eyes, She nodded. “I know…” She whispered. “Shiho’s mom wants to transfer her to a different school after she recovers…”

Taking a seat again, Airi idly grasped her arm. “With the truth about Kamoshida sexually harassing students and her...attempted suicide,” She flinched. “People will label her after that.”

Akira gently bumped shoulders with her. "As long as she's safe, right?"

“Shiho said she didn’t “want to go back,” so it sounded like she had the same idea.” Ann added sullenly.

Ryuji leaned back in his seat. “It’s gonna get lonely...” He commented quietly.

Ann shook her head. “I think it’s for the best...I’m sure it’ll be hard if she stays here.” She answered solemnly.

“She’s alive. You can see her anytime.” Ryuji reassured, lacing his hands behind his head.

She looked up at the sky, the clouds streaked orange from the setting sun. “...I need to change too.”

“That aside,” He began. “I was surprised you could hold yourself back against Kamoshida’s Shadow. You too, Airi.” He looked over at the class president. “Especially since he had that other you show up.” He snickered.

Airi grimaced. “Don’t remind me of that.” She complained, clenching her eyes. That was going to scar her forever. It didn't help that the colors of the fake's corset was basically her entire wardrobe.

Lips twitching, Akira looked away from her, blushing slightly at the memory.

Ann shook her head. “It wasn’t like that...I just wanted Kamoshida to apologize himself.”

Morgana looked up at her with shining eyes. “You’re so kind, Lady Ann.” It remarked dreamily.

Ryuji grimaced. “No matter how much of a shit bag he was, finishing him off woulda left a bad aftertaste, huh?”

Airi rolled her eyes. “As if.” She smiled serenely. “Killing him would’ve been too easy. It’s better if we make him repent for his crimes.”

Ann nodded. “Realizing what he’s done, he’ll grovel for forgiveness the rest of his life, you know?” She spoke darkly, grim satisfaction shining in her baby blue eyes. “I just believe there are fates worse than death. He'll have a great time rotting in prison.”

Looking at the two females in shock and slight fear, Ryuji slowly turned to look at Akira. “Holy shit...” He breathed, jaw hanging open.

Akira nodded slightly, paling at the dark comments from the ladies. He honestly didn't think they were those kind of people, but he supposed the circumstances called for it.

“A-Anyways, that’s all settled….” Ryuji stammered awkwardly, uncrossing his legs. “But you know, there was one more thing I was wonderin’ about that castle.” He looked over at Morgana, who swished its tail languidly. “Why was Kamoshida the only one who had that Metaverse thing?”

The feline moved closer. “It isn’t necessarily limited to him. It’s something anyone could have if their heart became warped from their desires.”

Ann furrowed her brow. “Anyone...”

“Wanna check it out?”

Ryuji shook his head. “N-Not right now. We better lay low for a while. People are still gonna be talkin’ about Kamoshida.” He crossed leg nervously. “Then again, it’s totally impossible for someone to find out what we did at his Palace.”

Ann gave him an unimpressed look. “Yeah, about that...Weird rumors about you guys are already going around. Stuff like, you got together and threatened Kamoshida with something close to physical violence…"

“I asked Matsumoto-chan and Namikawa-chan to stop spreading rumors but,” Airi bit her lip. “I can’t control the other classes. I’m pretty sure it’s because they heard you were being expelled, and then Kamoshida confessed..." She shrugged. "It must seem connected.”

Ryuji looked at them incredulously. “The hell?!” He yelped, smacking the table.

Ann rolled her eyes. “People aren’t going to easily believe that phantom thieves really exist." She rested a hand on her hip. "The calling card’s being treated like it was a prank by someone who knew what Kamoshida was doing.”

Sighing heavily, Ryuji slumped in his seat. “Makes sense...” He muttered. “We’re the ones who did it, and I still don’t completely believe it myself.”

Airi shifted in her seat. “Let’s wait for things to settle down.” She suggested. “If we do anything conspicuous, someone might report us and then we'd be in real trouble.”

The punk leaned back in his seat, taking out his phone. “Sure...Let’s check how much this medal can be sold for.” He grinned. “It’d be better if we pawned it off ASAP.” He tapped the screen, searching online for auction prices.

“Ooh, got a hit!” He quickly sat up, staring intently. His face fell and he groaned. “...Wait, ¥30,000?! That’s all a gold medal’s worth?!”

Airi gave him an amused smile. “Well, it’s only plated gold. The inside is just silver.”

“Still…” He argued weakly. “It’s an Olympic medal, shouldn’t it sell for more?”

Ann gasped and turned to him. “Remember that time in middle school? I lent you some money.” She gave him a fake smile.

Gaping, Ryuji stood up. “There’s no way I borrowed ¥30,000 from you!” He shouted indignantly.

Crossing her arms, she smirked. “Wouldn’t it be around that much with compounded interest?”

He took a step back. “Interest my ass!”

“I’m not saying that I’m taking all of it.” Ann rolled her eyes. “I mean, it’s your fault for not paying me back all these years! It’s just common sense!”

He flinched, resting his thumbs in his pockets. “Dammit...” He cursed, slumping his shoulders.

Airi held up her hands placatingly. “Why don’t we use the money for a group celebration? That way, we all benefit from it.” She suggested, rolling her eyes. “Ann-chan, lay off of Ryuji-kun.”

The model scrunched up her face in displeasure. “Fine, mom.

Airi raised her eyebrows, surprised at the comment. Mom? What?

Akira huffed in amusement, shaking his head at them. "Yeah, don't fight."

Grooming an ear, Morgana sat down. “I agree on laying low and keeping an eye on the situation.” It scratched itself, looking at the humans. “However, you dragged me into this. It would be nonsense not to celebrate a successful mission.”

Rolling a shoulder, Ryuji grinned. “I guess we could blow this dirty money on something fun.”

The feline nodded, a smile growing on its muzzle. “Discussions among phantom thieves are to take place over luxurious food. How about it?” It suggested merrily.

The three nodded in agreement. “Hey, wait-” Ann paused. “...Nah, I guess it’s fine. There’s somewhere I want to go then.”

Airi looked at her curiously. “Where is it?” She narrowed her eyes. "...Is it expensive?"

“It’s a place Shiho and I have been wanting to go for a while.” Ann replied, looking cheerier. "And don't worry about it. ¥30,000 will cover for all of us."

Ryuji kicked the floor. “I owe money, so I can’t complain...” He remarked sullenly. He looked over at the transfer. “You good with that?”

Akira nodded, smiling faintly. “Fine by me.” It would be nice to eat something delicious and expensive again.

“I’ll leave it to your discretion as well, Lady Ann.” Morgana meowed, waving its tail happily.

Ann nodded. “I’ll call and check the prices later then.” She stated confidently.

“When should we go? Wanna do it soon, like tomorrow?” Ryuji grinned excitedly.

Airi winced. “I have work tomorrow...Can we do another day? Like last day of break?"

Ann nodded in agreement. “It’ll help energize us when school life starts up again the day after.”

Ryuji crossed his arms, a satisfied look on his face. “Then...the 5th, on Children’s day.” He confirmed.

“So, who’s going to sell this?” Ann gestured to the gold medal that was sitting innocently on the desk.

“Leave that to us.” Morgana purred. “We know a store that’ll buy anything. Don’t we, Akira?” It looked over at the bespectacled student.

He nodded, sweatdropping. Back to the airsoft shop for them.

Ann grinned. “OK, I’ll leave that to you guys.”

“Don’t get caught, OK? Someone might ask questions as to why you’re selling an Olympic gold medal.” Airi advised, biting her lip in worry.

“I’ll be careful.” Akira replied, smiling softly at her before getting up. “It’s getting late. We should go home.”

Everyone nodded and Morgana jumped into his bag. Opening the rusted door, they left the roof.

“Oh, I forgot.” Airi gasped. “Kawakami-sensei wanted to talk to me last week and it completely left my mind. Sorry Akira-kun,” She looked at him apologetically. “I won’t be able to travel with you.”

He blinked. “It’s OK. I can wait..?”

She shook her head. “No, it’s all right. It might take a while. I have to tell her about Shiho's decision too. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” She waved as she split off from the staircase, walking over to the teacher’s lounge instead.

“See ya!” Ryuji waved as he hopped down the steps.

“Tell us if it’s important!” Ann requested, following the punk.

“See you.” Akira smiled with a small wave, slightly disappointed.

Chapter Text

Knocking on the door to the teacher’s lounge, she slid it open. Most teachers had already left, though thankfully Kawakami had stayed behind for once. Her face was stressed out as she wrote into her report. It most likely was about the incident with Kamoshida earlier.

She looked up at the knock. “Oh, Airi-chan.” She flipped her paper, concealing it from the class president. “What is it?”

Airi smiled slightly, walking up to her desk. “Hi, Kawakami-sensei. I remember you told me you wanted to talk to me like a week ago?”

The teacher blinked in realization. “Oh, right. Way to remember after a week.” She gave her pseudo-daughter an amused look. “I just wanted to ask how you were, did you pay the bills, stuff like that. I have to give in that report soon.”

She pursed her lips. “Right...Sorry again.” She ducked her head in guilt. “I just give you more work…”

Kawakami rolled her eyes exasperatedly. “It’s fine. It was for Takase, remember?” Her eyes darkened. “It’ll be the fifth anniversary soon…”

Airi flinched. “Is it..? When..?”

She sighed. “...It’s July 9th. I...remember it very clearly.”

She bit her lip. “Um...would it be all right if I go with this year? I-I didn’t get a chance to last year…”

Blinking, Kawakami huffed wryly. “Because I blew up at you, yeah.” She ran a hand through her messy brown hair. “Sorry again...I didn’t really believe you when you said you knew him. He always mentioned a little sister with the weirdest hair color but to think it was really you...”

Airi grimaced, lightly tugging at her braid. “Is it really that weird? It’s just a mix of blonde and red.”

Kawakami snorted. “We get a complaint each month about a certain class president who dyes her hair.” She smirked at the blush on the embarrassed student’s face. “But yeah...we should go together this year. You don’t even know where it is, huh?”

She shook her head. “No, you never told me.” She glanced away. “You never even told me how he died…”

Kawakami sighed heavily. “...Maybe one day. Anyway,” She stuffed her papers into her folder. “I need to go before I’m late. I’ll see you next week.”

"Ah, wait." Airi stopped her, holding out a hand. "I just came back from the hospital. Suzui Shiho's mother told me she's going to transfer her to a different school once she's recovered."

She sighed. "I expected that. I'll be sure to let her homeroom teacher know."

Nodding, Airi left the teacher’s lounge and headed out of the building. Why wouldn't she tell her how he went? It was the first question she had about him last year, but her guardian refused to even touch upon the subject. Was it really that bad..?

White vans caught her eye and she looked up to the left of the school gate. Seemed the news stations didn’t waste any time at all. There were three different companies present at the moment, each reporter trying to catch a student about the situation.

“-touch me and stuff all the time…” Blinking, she turned to the closest interview, just outside the gates. It was Watanabe, one of the sexualized girls in Kamoshida’s castle. “I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that sexual harassment anymore...” She sniffed, looking to the world as if she was about to break down any second.

The reporter didn't seem to care, and was prepared to ask another question judging by their shoving the microphone into her face.

Furrowing her brow, Airi walked up and wrapped her arms around Watanabe's shoulders. “There, there. It’s all over now..." She soothed before turning to the Journalist. "If you don’t mind, we’ll be going.”

She then guided the victim away from the sputtering reporter and into a secluded corner a couple buildings away, out of view from the news vans. “Watanabe-chan?” She whispered concernedly. “Are you all right?”

Sniffing, the brown haired girl looked up. “Oh, Kimisawa-chan...Thanks.” She wiped some stray tears with the sleeve of her blazer. “I...didn’t really want to talk about it, but he caught me alone from the other’s, so…”

Rummaging through her bag, Airi took out some tissues and offered it to her year mate. “Here.”

She took it and blew her nose with a loud trumpet-like noise. “Sorry...It’s been a long day.” Watanabe sighed. “I can’t believe he’s really going to jail. I’m so happy but...I’m also really mad at myself for never speaking up.” She looked away guiltily. “Maybe it could’ve stopped a long time ago...then me and the other girls wouldn’t have had to go through all...that.” She clenched her eyes as a new wave of tears hit, trailing down her cheeks.

Exhaling, Airi gathered up the girl in her arms again, rubbing her back. “There, there…” She whispered. “It’s all over now. You and everyone on the volleyball team are safe.” Taking one arm off, she took out her phone from her pocket to search up recommended clinics. “If you’d like, I’m willing to escort you to the train station. I think...it would be best if you girls go see a...private counselor.” She worded carefully, not wanting to trigger the volleyball member into a traumatic flashback. Once with Shiho was enough. “I don’t think the one in the school can properly handle this, and I really think it’ll help you guys.”

Watanabe grimaced and took a step back, looking at the screen. “Yeah...I thought so, too. I mean, I don't want his ugly face flashing behind my eyes forever. I’m gonna let them know and…” She wiped her eyes with the tissue. “We’ll probably go together to support each other.”

Airi brightened. “That’s good! I really admire your strength, you know.” Placing a hand on the volleyball member’s shoulder, she guided her toward the station. ”You went through so much and you’re still fighting.”

Watanabe blushed prettily as they walked down the road, opposite of the news vans. “T-Thank you...Senpai.”

She gave her an incredulous look. Her too?!

----5/2, MONDAY, EVENING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS.

 

Walking into the cafe, Akira bowed slightly to the owner who only grumbled quietly to himself.

Making his way to his room, his phone rang out when he just passed the TV. Morgana stuck its head out, peering over his shoulder.

An: Is that gold medal real? When did it get inside his Palace..?

“No, that one is a fake. It’s just a by-product of his cognition.” Morgana answered. “The real medal should still be in his possession.”

Akira nodded, typing it into the chat.

Ak: This one’s a fake.
R: What..? You’re telling me Kamoshida still has the medal?
An: Who cares? What matters is that we changed his heart.
An: And anyway, if we had taken the real thing, that’d be stealing!
An: I don’t think he’ll be proud of that medal regardless.
Ai: OK, so...I wanted to say this earlier but I kept forgetting.
R: Wassup?
Ai: We brought items and this medal from the cognitive world into the real world.
Ai: So it technically doesn’t exist..?
R: Uhhh...I don’t understand.
Ai: Basically, we made something from nothing.
Ai: We made a thought, an ideal, into a physical object.
Ai: I’m...you know what, don’t mind me.

Akira stared blankly at the screen, mind blown from Airi’s theory. He’d been traipsing in the mind of another without really putting thought into it, more focused on just getting the Treasure.

“Wow, Lady Airi sure is smart.” Morgana remarked quietly, impressed at the discovery. “She really thought about the connection between the Metaverse and the real world. Unfortunately, I can’t answer that..." It shrugged helplessly. "It’s probably due to the Meta-App.”

Ak: I never even thought about that.
Ak: Morgana says it’s due to the app.
Ai: Well...that sort of answers the question.
An: As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s fine, right?
R:It's like our jobs. We're being paid to beat up Shadows.
R: And since we got money, Ann....
R: You let go of stuff pretty easy, wanna forget about my debt?
An: That’s different. ¥500 is a lot of money for a middle schooler, you know.
An: Do you even still have that dolphin anyway?
Ai: Oh! I remember that!
Ak: Dolphin?
R: Stop digging that up!
Ai: Back in middle school, we went on a school trip to an aquarium.
An: Ryuji spent all his money on a souvenir, so I lent him some money for the train fare.
Ai: It was really cute!
R: I said I was sorry...It was for my mom.
An: Well I guess I can call it even after all we’ve been through.
R:...Thank you.
Ai: Did Sakamoto-san like it?
R: Yeah, she still got it.
R: Anyways, we don’t gotta worry about selling that medal off if it’s a fake!
R: End of story!

“Kamoshida will never be proud of that once-in-a-lifetime gold medal ever again.” Morgana stated firmly. “Depending on how you look at it, that punishment might be even worse than death for him.”

Akira nodded slightly. What a depressing end.

Turning around to look at his ward, Sojiro sighed. “Must be nice to have so much time off starting tomorrow…” He closed his eyes tiredly. “For me, it just means more customers and even more work. No matter where you go during Golden Week, it’s packed with office workers on vacation. Why does everyone have to take a break at the same time..?”

Akira gave him a sympathetic look. As far as he knew, the older man was the only one who worked in the cafe. “I can help out, if you’d like.” He offered quietly.

He eyed him for a moment. “...All right. I’ll take you up on that.” He answered, before turning back to the TV, clearly dismissing the younger male.

Shrugging, Akira walked up to his room, letting Morgana out of the bag. At this point, he didn’t really care whether or not the cat saw him near naked, and he changed into his sleepwear and went straight to bed.

He stared tiredly at the ceiling. Today was such a roller coaster of emotions. With the confirmation of Kamoshida’s crimes, there was no doubt he’d be seeing three certain persons soon. He still had no idea who or what they were. All he knew was that out of the whole team, they only contacted him. No one else seemed to notice the glowing blue barred door at the castle, and they hadn't mentioned ever seeing a long nosed man in their dreams.

Resigned, he closed his eyes.


----5/3, TUESDAY, EARLY MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

Putting on a casual outfit consisting of a black sports jacket, white shirt, and some jeans, Akira sat down on his bed, looking at Morgana in front of him. “Come on, we’re going to pawn that medal today.” It chimed.

He nodded, opening his mouth to reply.

“Hey, you can hear me, right?” Sojiro shouted from downstairs. “You don’t have plans, do you? Come help me out, instead of sleeping your life away.”

Closing his mouth, he grimaced. Now?

“We do owe it to him..,” Morgana stated reluctantly. “...We’ll just have to wait. Hurry down and help him out.”

Sighing silently, Akira changed into a more comfortable shirt and went downstairs. Putting on a spare apron, he helped out by bringing the coffee and curry to the customers.

By the time 3PM rolled by, the cafe was thankfully empty, and he washed the dirty dishes in the sink.

Sitting down on one of the bar stools, Sojiro sighed. “Heh, sorry I kinda pressured you into doing this.”

Akira shook his head. “It’s fine.” He replied quietly.

“And now to our next topic...” The newscaster on the TV stated. Sojiro turned his attention to it. “Fall from Grace: The story of a dishonored Olympic medalist. Just recently, a high school coach admitted to his school that he had been perpetually abusing students. Given his prior Olympic achievements, this has caused quite a stir." The reporter informed. "What caused this habitual offender to suddenly confess these heinous crimes to his entire school? The police are hoping that the upcoming interrogations will bring light to this question.”

Sojiro narrowed his eyes at the school shown in the broadcast, crossing his legs. “Hm? Isn’t this..?”

The recording changed from the school to an anonymous student in the Shujin Academy uniform. “My friends would come back from practice with bruises all the time…It was scary, but I’m relieved that the abuse is finally going to end now.”

The screen then switched to a recording of a female student, head cut from the frame. “He would touch me and stuff all the time...I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that sexual harassment anymore...” She sniffed. Another girl stepped up to comfort her, wrapping her arms around her. “There, there…” A familiar voice soothed. “It’s all over now...If you don’t mind, we’ll be going.” She then guided the sniffling victim away.

Switching again to another female student, the view stopping right before her chin. “There were always rumors, sure. Not many people believed them though. Like...I’m totally shocked they were actually true." She stated casually "At least now I can go to school without worrying.”

Sojiro straightened. “I knew it. This is your school, isn’t it?” He turned to the teen, a stern glare on his face. “I heard Airi’s voice in that second interview.”

Akira looked up at the TV. “Seems like it.” He replied calmly, shutting off the water. He wasn’t surprised to know the class president had been there to comfort some of them.

The older man sighed deeply. “Things might be getting turbulent at school, but you need to just keep your head down, all right?” He warned. “...More importantly, keep those hands moving. I’ve got some more stuff I need you to do.”

Exhaling softly, Akira nodded his head, and obediently did what he was told.

Soon enough, it was evening, and the shop was now empty. He rolled his neck, the joints popping under the pressure. He leaned on the counter, exhausted after the long day of work. The bell rang, signalling another customer, and he reluctantly turned to look.

His gray irises met red ones, and he blinked.

Chapter Text

“Thank you, please come again!” She spoke sweetly, bowing to the customer. She sighed in relief when they walked away. It was finally the end of the shift.

“Good job today as always, Airi-chan!” Hanasaki cheered. She was her boss, a slightly older lady with light brown hair in a bun. She had a kind face, perfect for someone who owned a flower shop.

Airi bowed. “Thank you, Hanasaki-san.” She smiled, taking off her apron, leaving her in a dusty pink blouse and black skirt.

Accepting her wages for the day, she bowed again before leaving, putting on her beige trench coat. The underground mall was pretty empty due to it being Golden Week. Most of the shops were closed as well, many of the owners having taken vacations.

Taking the stairs down to the train, she felt them again. Phantom strings brushed against her fingertips, making her hands twitch. She smiled, slightly bitter. It was nice to play again, after so many years. Even if the image of her parents and the matron kept flashing in her mind.

Since she had the next couple of days off, why not visit Leblanc and enjoy a cuppa? Taking the train to Yongenjaya, she got off and started walking to the cafe. It was a nice day, and the streets were packed with adults going to bars, clubs, or on their way out of the city. Brushing past a couple of drunken men with an “excuse me,” she finally made it to the backstreets, still as empty as ever.

She walked into the cafe, bell ringing. Akira was leaning against the counter in a green apron, tiredly turning his head to look at her. “Hi, Akira-kun.” She greeted, taking off her jacket and sitting at the bar.

He straightened up, resting his hands in his pockets. “Good evening, Airi.” He smiled softly.

She blinked. Just Airi? Blushing at the familiarity, she looked away. “No -chan?” She replied, joking weakly.

He stiffened, covering his mouth. “Sorry...I...” He looked away. “If it’s OK…” He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

Biting her lip, she nodded, face burning up. “It’s fine...Akira.” She mumbled, her heart pounding rapidly in her chest. His face heated up and gave her a small smile. They stared at each other, not looking away....

“Are you ordering anything?” Sojiro butted in, looking at the two with an unimpressed look.

Jolted out of her trance, she blushed furiously and covered her face with her hands. “Blue mountain, please.” She squeaked, voice muffled.

Stiffening, Akira coughed, nervously adjusting his glasses.

Grumbling at the two, the cafe owner went about making her a cup. “Teenagers…” He muttered.

They both blushed, and refused to look at each other. A silence persisted, only the clinking of porcelain and glass could be heard.

“S-So,” Airi began. “You’re helping out now?” She wrung her hands nervously.

Akira nodded. “Yeah. A lot of people came in today...” He idly tweaked a strand of hair.

Sojiro placed the steaming cup in front of the rosette. “On the house.” He announced, taking a seat at an empty booth.

Airi blinked, turning on the stool to look at the older man. “Are you sure, Sojiro-san…? I can pay.” She bit her lip guiltily. He waved her away, opening his newspaper.

She smiled fondly at him and took a long swig of her coffee. The taste was mild and almost creamy, despite having no milk. She drained the whole cup, licking her lips of any drops. Putting the cup down, she looked up at Akira, about to say something, but paused.

He was staring unblinkingly at her, dilated pupils focused on her lower face.

Blushing again, she stammered. “U-Um.” She took a deep breath. They were friends, right? He wouldn’t mind listening to her...“Wouldyoubefreerightnow?”

He blinked, looking up from her lips. “What?” He asked.

She mentally cursed. “Would...you be free...right now?” She asked hesitantly, gripping the empty cup tightly.

He looked over at Sojiro for permission. “Yeah, just go. Here.” The older man threw him something.

Catching it, the ebony haired teen looked at the object in his hands. It was a pair of keys. “I can’t wait all night for you. I hope I can trust you with this.” Sojiro stated, giving him a warning look.

Nodding, Akira gave him a grateful smile. Taking off his apron, he went upstairs to grab his bag.

Morgana ran up to him. “The chief really worked us hard…” It winced.

Akira gave him an unimpressed look. Us? More like just him. Sighing, he changed into his casual outfit and grabbed his bag, gesturing for Morgana to get in. It looked at him questioningly, but obeyed. Shouldering it, he went back downstairs, where Airi waited for him near the door, jacket on.

“Ready?” She asked. He nodded.

They left the cafe, and walked down the back alleys. “Where are we going, Lady Airi?” Morgana asked, popping out of the bag and stepping on Akira’s shoulder.

“My house.” She replied shortly, brows furrowed. “I...would like to ask a favor.” She requested quietly. She was really doing this then.

They arrived at the Kimisawa residence, the owner opening the door. Taking off their shoes and jacket, she gestured them up the stairs.

Arriving on the second floor, she opened the door to the study, ushering the two in. “Make yourselves comfortable. I need to go get something.” She announced, leaving the room.

Akira put his bag down, letting Morgana out, and slowly looked around. It was a medium sized room, filled with bookcases and a dark wooden desk with a laptop on it. Hesitantly taking a seat on the computer chair, he waited.

“Whoa, it smells really nice in here.” Morgana remarked, padding around the room. It jumped on top of one of the bookcases. “Oh that’s why, there’s an incense holder here.” It gestured to a clay bowl.

Inhaling, Akira agreed. The scent was like peppermint but better. ‘It’s her fragrance...’ He thought, thinking back to that time she fell asleep on him on the train ride.

The door opened again and Airi walked in, shouldering a large case. She had changed from her skirt into a pair of black leggings. Dragging a folding chair in, she sat down and unclasped the case, taking out a cello. “So…” She took a deep breath. “I haven’t played in front of someone in a very long time.” She bit her lip nervously. “Would you two be my first audience…?” She looked at them hopefully, heart pounding in trepidation.

Akira stared in surprise. He had no idea that she played the cello. His eyes examined the instrument curiously. He’d never seen one in person before. It was large, about one and a half meters tall. Made of dark red colored wood, the shine of its lacquer was impeccable. ‘Haven’t played in front of someone in a very long time..?’ He noted.

Putting it aside, he gave her an encouraging smile, lacing his hands in front of him to show his full attention. “I’d love to.” He stated softly.

Morgana jumped down from the bookcase, and sat down on the floor, staring avidly at the musician. “I didn’t know you played, Lady Airi!” It mewled, eyes shining in excitement. “I bet it’ll be magical!” Its tail swished behind it back and forth, ears flickering in anticipation.

Airi gave them a nervous smile and began to prep. She extended the end pin and gently placed the large instrument between her legs. She tightened the hairs on the bow until they were all straight and taut. Fiddling with the pegs, she made sure the cello was properly tuned. Straightening her back, she placed the bow before the strings, right above the bridge.

She took a deep breath, heart beating rapidly, and began playing. The first couple of notes were shaky, screeching a bit, but as time wore on, she felt herself relaxing. Tensing her legs at certain notes, she dragged the bow across the chords, fingers dancing on the neck. The cello sang out the familiar tune of Joe Hisaishi’s One Summer Day, filling the room with its deep tones.

Akira gazed with his mouth slightly open, entranced by the vision in front of him. He watched avidly as she gazed downward, eyes unfocused in concentration. Her slightly furrowed brow, tense shoulders, and the graceful motions of her arms, manipulating the instrument to sing out the melody she wanted.

The music vibrated in his chest, extending to the rest of his body, conveying joy, loss, and finally acceptance. Listening deeply, he felt himself become attuned to the sounds, unconsciously swaying to the notes. It had been a long time since he'd watch a Studio Ghibli movie, and this piece brought back fond childhood memories.

Letting the last string fade, she exhaled. Sliding her eyes away from the ground to her two guests, Airi bit her lip, wanting and not wanting to hear their reactions at the same time.

‘I hope that was OK, it sounded right to me..’ She sweated a little. It had been so long since she had played in front of anyone else, and the last time she did still haunted her nightmares. Was she even good..?

His mouth dry, Akira swallowed, wetting his throat. “That was-” “That was beautiful, Lady Airi!” Morgana interrupted, holding a paw in the air. “I felt the music deep in my bones, as if it was purring for me!” It grinned ecstatically.

She let out a sigh of relief, shoulders relaxing. “Thank you, Morgana.” She rejoiced, smiling happily at the cat. She turned her gaze to her other friend, looking at him apprehensively.

Akira took off his glasses, and lowered his head, resting his face in his palm. He breathed deeply, still feeling the emotions the music welled up inside of him. He'd never been a huge music fan, but...

Airi stared at him in anticipation, feeling a little hurt at the reaction. ‘Is he going to criticize me..?’ She bit her lip, hunching her shoulders. She didn't think she could take it. Her main flaw as a cellist was never being able to take criticism.

Taking a deep breath, he lifted his head to look at her, letting his hand fall. His eyes were wide open, droplets caught in his thick lashes. His gray irises were filled with awe and dismay, freezing her in place. “...I think it might’ve been too good.” He blinked rapidly, wiping his unshed tears. “I’m actually crying…” He chuckled weakly, looking at his now wet hand.

Alarmed, Airi quickly grabbed a tissue from a nearby bookcase and held it out to him. He cried from her playing..?

He reached out, and enveloped the tissue as well as her hand. His thumb rubbed her skin gently, not entirely sure what he was doing.

Blushing at the intimate contact, Airi looked at him hesitantly. “A-Akira..?” She stuttered. Blinking, he let go and took the tissue, wiping his eyes.

Morgana watched on amusedly, blue eyes flickering back and forth.

Exhaling, Akira looked at her with a tender expression. “It was beautiful, Airi.” He stated quietly. “...I really enjoyed it.” He smiled gratefully. It made him remember when his parents had spent time with him, watching old ghibli films in the living room. That would never happen now, but the memory still made him feel warm inside.

Embarrassed, she looked away. “Th-Thank you...I’m glad you liked it.” She replied softly, joyously smiling to herself. They liked it! It was OK. Everything was fine.

She began packing the cello away, making sure to be gentle when she strapped it in. It wasn’t originally her’s, after all.

Akira watched her curiously. Her actions were precise yet still hesitant, as if she wasn’t quite sure she should be doing this. Contemplating himself, he opened his mouth to ask why she hasn’t played for another person when their phones rang. Morgana jumped up on his shoulder, giving him a knowing look, before gazing down at the screen.

R: Did you see?! It was on the news!
R: No way the school’s gonna be able to play dumb after that.
An: I saw it too.
An: You were on it, Airi.
An: They cut your head off from the screen though.
Ai: Small blessings. I don’t need Principal Kobayakawa giving me grief over it.
An: Shiho’s name didn’t come up, right?
R: Not that I saw. I’d bet they wanted to keep that quiet.
An: I’m so glad…
Ai: That’s good...I don’t want any more trouble for her.
R: It’s finally over then…
R: All we gotta do is eat some tasty shit and put all this crap behind us.
R: I’m totally looking forward to this celebration party.
An: I’ll try not to let you guys down!

“All right, we need to go sell the gold medal tomorrow.” Morgana declared firmly. “Even if the chief wants your help, make sure you turn him down, OK?”

Akira nodded. “Right.” He replied, putting his phone back in his pocket.

“Ah, it’s getting late.” Airi announced, putting her phone away. “You should probably go home now.” She suggested, standing up from her chair. Akira nodded, putting Morgana back in his bag, and they both walked downstairs together, arriving at the doorstep.

“I want to thank you two again for coming.” Airi began, watching him put on his shoes. “It means a lot to me that you willingly sat through my rusty playing.” She smiled sheepishly.

Akira shook his head incredulously, getting up from the step. “That’s rusty? I can’t imagine how lovely it would sound when you’re more confident.” He smirked lightly, running a hand through his hair.

She giggled at the action, blushing at the compliment. “Well, I’ll let you listen again when I’m better. I’m going to need your help, after all...” She fiddled with her ponytail timidly.

“What do you mean, Lady Airi?” Morgana questioned, standing on Akira’s shoulder.

She hesitated. “Well...I want to be able to play in front of a lot of people someday.” She bit her lip. The last time was...“I used to be able to, but...Well, I can’t now.” She looked up at her unofficial leader hopefully. “I’d really appreciate it if you could come with me sometime.”

Akira nodded. “Where?” He asked, shifting on one foot.

“A public place with lots of people...Maybe Inokashira Park?” She tapped her chin thoughtfully.

“All right, let me know when and I’ll go with you.” He smiled softly. “We’ll have to go together though...I don’t know how to get there.” He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

Airi nodded, smiling happily. “Thank you, Akira, Morgana... Have a good night.” She waved as he opened the door.

Waving back, he closed it behind him and headed back to the cafe. ‘I feel like our bond is getting stronger…’ He smiled to himself.

 

Sighing softly, she went back upstairs to put her cello back in its stand. Taking out a cloth, she slowly polished the instrument, making sure the surface was pristine. Her finger brushed against a scratch. Her mother’s smiling face as her fingers danced across the neck flashed in her mind.

Stilling, she sighed. Could she ever play without the memories acting up? She smiled to herself, thinking back to Morgana and Akira’s reaction to her playing. Her heart fluttered.

Dropping the cloth, she held her hands over her warm cheeks. ‘Does he…’ She bit her lip. She’ll just have to see where this is going.

Getting up from the floor, she walked over to her study, picking up the book Mishima gave her. ‘I should give this a read...Maybe it can help me understand the Metaverse better?’ She tilted her head, opening the book. “Cognitive psychology studies cognition, the mental processes underlying mental activity. Perception, attention, reasoning, thinking, problem solving, memory, learning, language, and emotion are areas of research. Classical cognitive psychology is associated with a school of thought known as cognitivism, whose adherents argue for an information processing model of mental function, informed by functionalism and experimental psychology.” She hummed, reading a couple of chapters before closing the book with a sigh.

Psychology was so fascinating, it was no wonder that there existed a world created from people’s cognition. Did it always exist though? Before Man came about, or after they gained intelligence?

Stretching her arms in the air, she decided to go to bed. It was pretty early still, but after working and then playing the instrument that still created conflict in her heart, she felt more than ready to sleep.

Her eyelids grew heavy, and she fell asleep, cuddling the Mona plush.

“Hey, are you OK..?” Big brown eyes looked down at her concernedly.

“...Why do you care?” Airi asked quietly, holding her purple cheek with a cold towel.

“Because it’s wrong that they do this!” She argued, pouting her childish lips.

She looked up at the new girl. “...What’s your name?” She asked timidly. She got a sunny grin in response, one front tooth gone. “I’m Rui. Let’s be friends, OK?”

Rui held out her hand with a smile. Staring at the outstretched hand with trepidation, she clasped her hand with her’s.

 

“Airi, run! Get away from her!” Rui screamed loudly.

“You fucking bitch! I was gonna go easy on you ‘cause you’re kids but now, I’ll definitely make it as painful as possible!” He growled, encircling his hands. “I’ll kill you!”

“Airi...Go…” She whispered.

Ruby eyes stared in horror, frozen in her spot. “N-No...No...No!!!”

With a gasp, she woke up. Sitting up in the bed, she controlled her breathing, feeling her heart pound loudly in her chest. Raising a hand up, she wiped away the tears that were streaming down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry, Rui…I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry...”

 

(Forgot to upload this when I posted the chapter whoops) 

Drawn and colored by me. I'm really proud of the cello!

Chapter Text

----5/4, WEDNESDAY, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS.

Walking down the stairs, he tried to move past the older man. “Make sure to do the dishes.” Sojiro reminded.

Stopping in place, he looked over at his guardian. “I can’t right now...When I get back.” He promised quietly, idly tweaking a strand of hair.

Sojiro glared at him. “Just do it.” He commanded shortly, placing a hand on a hip. “Don’t get cocky with me.”

The bell on the door rang, and they both looked. A woman wearing a fashionable black suit entered the store, eyeing the rustic surroundings. “Welcome.” Sojiro greeted.

She looked between the two males with a crimson gaze. “Am I interrupting something?” She asked coolly. The older man grunted. “Not at all.” He replied shortly. She took a seat on a bar stool, perusing the shelves of coffee beans.

Akira looked at her, curious to who she was. Her long dark gray hair framed the left side of her face, the other side held back with a few bobby pins. Her black suit had golden scalloped trim on the edge of her blazer, looking fashionable yet also professional. Her few accessories including her sterling silver drop earrings and a sterling silver necklace shined brightly against the dark backdrops of her suit and hair. Her red eyes were darker and colder than Airi's, every glance seemingly taking apart whatever it looked at.

The TV behind him was broadcasting the news. “The cause of the runaway-train incident in the subway the other day still has not been found.”

They all turned to watch.

“Police are hurrying to solve the matter as it may relate to the rise in psychotic breakdown incidents.” The newscaster droned. "Onto other news..."

“Oh, is that the thing everyone’s been talking about?” Sojiro raised an eyebrow.

“Doesn’t it make you curious?” The woman asked lowly, eyes narrowed in concentration. “People who were living normal lives suddenly went mad or deranged out of the blue...Not to mention that it’s happening one after another...Could they really be coincidental?” She questioned, frowning solemnly.

Akira looked at her from the corner of his eyes without moving his head. She made a good point. He himself had the power to steal people’s hearts. Maybe there were other powers in this world that could harm people.

“Hmm...” Sojiro hummed, looking at her speculatively. “Leaving that aside...What’ll you have?”

Pursing her lips slightly, she turned away from the TV. “...I’ll have the house blend please.” She requested. She turned to Akira. “Are you a part-timer? I’m surprised this place can afford one.”

Sojiro glanced over at them. “Uh, that’s exactly the case…” He answered slowly.

She scrutinized the teen. “Are you a high school student? Where do you attend?”

Resting his hands in his pockets, he observed the older woman. “Shujin Academy.” He decided to answer honestly.

The woman raised a fine eyebrow. “Oh..? Someone I know goes there as well. I’ve heard that things are rough right now.” She turned back, leaning her elbows on the counter, lacing her hands in front of her chin. “A teacher named Kamoshida confessed his crimes like he was a completely different person, supposedly. And it happened “all of a sudden” one day..." She mused. "Can a person’s mental state change so easily?”

Crossing his arms, Sojiro gave her a thoughtful look. “Huh…” He exhaled.

She glanced at him. “Is my drink ready yet?” She asked shortly.

Smirking faintly, he moved to grab a cup. “..Coming right up.” He answered breezily.

Taking the opportunity, Akira walked out quietly, no one stopping him.

“All right, today’s the day we turn in that medal for cash.” Morgana spoke from inside his bag. “You know some place that’ll buy it off you, right?” It looked at Akira questioningly.

Tapping his chin thoughtfully, he nodded. “Yeah.” He walked to the station, taking the train to Shibuya.

Walking down the crowded Central Street, a menacing man stopped him near the VHS rental store. “Hey, you a student?” He asked gruffly, his voice rough from years of cigarette smoke. “You want a job where you can make stacks without lots of work?” He offered with a smirk.

Giving him an odd look, Akira shook his head. Was this one of the dangers of the city that his parents always complained about? “That sounds shady…” He narrowed his eyes.

Huffing, the man backed off and turned away. “Well, whatever…”

Walking past the man, he noticed there were billboards advertising a new art exhibit nearby. Putting it out of his mind, he made his way down the alley, turning at the crepe store.

Turning the corner, he noticed two older men in suits standing outside of the airsoft shop. “So this is the place…” The black suit commented.

“Looks like it. Let’s just take care of this.” The beige suit replied, crossing his arms.

“Wait! We don’t have a search warrant yet.” The black suit argued. “Just be patient. I’m sure we’ll get one soon enough. And they’d never think about running off down this narrow alley.”

Narrowing his eyes at the two men, he walked past them calmly and entered the shop, feeling their eyes glued to his back.

Walking up to the counter, the same manager from last time looked up from his magazine. “...Huh? You again? What do you want?” He raised an eyebrow.

Akira took out the gold medal from his bag. “I want you to buy this.” He replied shortly.

He furrowed his brows. “Huh? A gold medal? Why do you have this?” He looked at him suspiciously. “We don’t buy any fake or stolen goods here, kid.” He paused, looking him up and down. “...Hold on a sec. Lemme see it.” He requested, throwing his magazine down on the table.

Akira handed it over silently, watching the older man closely. This had to work.

Scrutinizing the object, the owner turned to him. “I’m just...not gonna ask where you got this. How’s ¥30,000 sound for it though?” He offered, chewing his toothpick.

Akira quirked his lips. “Works for me.” He accepted, taking the bills and adding it into his wallet.

Sharp eyes glanced outside the door. “It’s almost time…” The manager muttered. Taking a packed paper bag out from under the counter, he handed it to the bespectacled student. “Here, take this with you. It’s a thanks for sellin’ me that medal.” He announced quickly. Akira grabbed it hesitantly, feeling the hefty weight. “But, uh...best not to open it. Just bring it with you next time you come back here.” The man advised, keeping his voice at a low volume.

Akira narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “This is a little weird.” He remarked. “...But fine, got it.”

The manager smirked. “Glad you’re so quick to understand.” His eyes darted to the door again. “...They’re here.”

The two men from outside the shop entered, crossing their arms intimidatingly, glaring at the shopkeeper. “Munehisa Iwai, yes? There are some matters we’d like to discuss with you today.”

The manager, Iwai, hmphed. “...Go, kid.” He whispered.

Akira glanced at him questioningly, but moved aside and headed toward the door, the two men moving past him and up to the counter.

“Do you know why we’re here?” The beige suit questioned dispassionately.

Akira turned to watch, observing the showdown. Iwai smirked lightly. “I dunno, lookin’ for evidence? You tell me, Tantei-san.*” He shrugged.

The black suit slammed his hand against the counter. “Watch your attitude!” He growled.

Sharp eyes narrowed at the threat. “Well, you guys gonna search me? Go on, do what you gotta do.” Iwai acquiesced, holding his arms out invitingly.

Taken aback, the black suit looked at him suspiciously. “...What was that?” He interrogated.

Crossing his arms, the manager looked at the intruders coolly. “An upstandin’ citizen’s supposed to cooperate with the cops, right?” He asked lightheartedly.

The beige suit gave him an odd look, turning to his co-worker. “Hey, you sure that lead was legitimate?” He whispered uncertainly.

Hesitant, the black suit looked at him. “I could’ve sworn it was…” He murmured, furrowing his brow in confusion.

Iwai sighed. “Can you two hurry it up? I got a business to run here.” He requested, giving them an unimpressed look.

“You bastard…” The black suit cursed, eyes darting around the store, landing on the bespectacled teen. “...Hey, you!”

Akira gave them a questioning look, slightly tightening his grip on the bag.

“What’s in the bag, huh? Show me!” The black suit demanded.

His lips twitched downward, and Iwai intercepted them. “...The kid’s just a regular ol’ customer. You can check the tapes if that’ll convince you.” He offered. “They’ll show everything that’s gone down here today.”

Akira pursed his lips. ‘I don’t want to be here when the detectives see the footage of me with that gold medal...I should leave.’ He inched back, one hand behind him on the door handle. Just a little closer...

The black suit glared at him, crossing his arms. “I won’t let you get away that easy! Show us what’s in the bag!” He demanded roughly.

He narrowed his eyes at the detective. “It’s none of your business.” Akira stated evenly. His heart was pounding in his ears. ‘If I get arrested again…’ He tightened his lips.

Facepalming, Iwai shook his head and huffed in amusement.

“I said, show it to me!” The black suit repeated, getting angrier.

The beige suit turned to his co-worker, giving him a disapproving frown. “Hey, you’re talking to a kid, remember? Besides, he’s not the one we’re here to see.”

“Urgh…” The black suit grunted in frustration.

Iwai shook his head in disappointment. “That’s right, Tantei-san. Maybe next time try not harassin’ my customers, see how that goes.” He warned.

The black suit scrunched up his face. “Grrr…” He growled, backing down.

The manager turned to Akira. “Safe trip home, kid.” He smirked.

Akira nodded, and left the store, exhaling heavily. He just barely dodged a bullet there. Police were a lot more aggressive in the city than in his hometown.

Morgana shoved its face through the small opening in his bag. “What were those detectives doing there..?” It furrowed its brow. “More importantly...aren’t you curious about what’s in the bag?” It looked up at him, smiling expectantly.

Akira quirked his lips. “Maybe a little…” He drawled. It was certainly tempting and it was in his custody now...

The feline grinned, jumping onto his shoulder. “Well?” It asked enthusiastically. “Come on, let’s open it up.”

He unfurled the bag and peeked inside. His eyes widened at what he saw, nestled in some newspaper.

Morgana leaned closer. “A real gun?! Wait…” It narrowed its eyes. “I think it’s just a model. It’s incredible though! Miles ahead of the one Ryuji had.” It remarked, looking at it with an impressed expression. “There’s something weird about that place…”

Akira examined the gun. It was a black 9mm pistol, equipped with a rubber grip. It was a lot better than the one he had now.

“Hey Akira, I just had a great idea...We should totally buy this gun from him later!” Morgana piped up. The ebony haired teen looked at the cat in surprise. “I mean, it’s perfect. Something this real-looking would work wonders in the Metaverse." It suggested cheerfully. "Anyway, he told you to bring it back the next time you came, right? You should try striking a deal with him when we go to return it!”

Humming thoughtfully, Akira nodded. It would be a good way to get stronger guns.

He put the paper bag underneath Morgana inside his purse, and left back to Yongenjaya. By the time he got back to the cafe, it was getting late. Hurriedly putting his bag down, he put on an apron and worked on the pile of dishes in the sink while Sojiro left and closed the shop.

Drying his hands, he sighed tiredly and walked up to his room.

Sitting down on the sofa, his phone rang. Looking at the caller ID, he noticed it was Ann.

He picked it up. “Hello?” He answered.

“Hey, it’s me. I saw the news. You know, about Kamoshida. It’s getting a lot of coverage…” She spoke uncertainly.

“Yeah, I saw. It’s a little scary. How do you feel?” He asked quietly.

“I don’t know...The reaction’s been bigger than what I was expecting...I guess I’m just...surprised.” She sighed. “I don’t think we did anything wrong though. I wonder if we helped those people speak up about it…”

“I’m sure we did. None of them wanted to say anything while he was still in charge. Now that he’s in jail, they have the courage to come forth.” He reassured.

“That’s pretty amazing, huh? I didn’t think we’d actually be able to do it!” She laughed. “And yet look at us now! This calls for a celebration! Let’s meet in front of Shibuya Station at noon tomorrow. Don’t be late!” Ann informed him.

“Right.” He nodded. “I’ll tell Airi.”

“I already told Ryuji. Oh, and did you pawn off that medal? You didn’t forget, right?” She asked.

“I remembered.” He told her.

“Good to hear! I already made reservations!” She cheered. He sweatdropped. That was fast. “You should be really excited about the place I chose, by the way. I’m sure everyone’s gonna love it! Well, see you guys tomorrow!” She hung up.

Taking the phone away from his ear, he sent a text to Airi telling her where and when to meet up. He got a confirmation a few seconds later.

Putting his phone back in his pocket, he looked over at Morgana who was grooming itself next to him. “Ah, a restaurant of Lady Ann’s choosing. Finally, a decent meal! I haven’t eaten anything tasty since Lady Airi’s lunches.” It scratched its ear with a hind leg. “Hey, what do you think we’re gonna be eating?”

Akira hummed, tapping his chin. “Maybe sushi?” He shrugged. It didn’t really matter to him.

The feline’s eyes shined. “O-Oooooooh! Tuna, sea urchin, and maybe even...salmon roe!” It spoke dreamily. “In any case, I’m surely looking forward to it! Mwehehehe!” It laughed gleefully. Morgana circled around its spot, before lying down. “Big celebration tomorrow, so let’s get some sleep!” It closed its eyes contently.

Smiling slightly, Akira gave it a few scritches behind its ear and changed for bed.

Chapter Text

She walked to the door dressed in a beige and black dress and gray leggings. Leaving her beige trench coat open, she slowly put on a pair of black heels.

She felt tired. Ever since she played in front of Akira, she had been plagued with memories of that time. Yesterday went by in a flash with her just ambling about in a daze. She was so out of it that the kettle almost boiled over and set the house on fire. Then when she went to bed, she dreamed of Rui again, with her scolding why she shouldn’t take this. She woke up with tears soaking her pillowcase.

She smiled, albeit bitterly. Now wasn’t the time to think of the past, it was time to celebrate. Hopefully her concealer covered the dark circles that were coming back. She didn't need her friends worrying over her when it was supposed to be a happy day.

Making sure her hair was in a braided bun, held in place with Akira’s gift, Airi closed her door and walked over to the cafe, where said male was waiting outside.

Looking up from his phone, he smiled at her approach. “Hey.” His eyes slid to her hair. “You’re wearing it.” He remarked softly, a slight blush in his cheeks.

She smiled shyly. “It’s a nice occasion, right?” She swept some hair behind her ear.

Morgana popped out of the bag, giving her a smile. “Good morning, Lady Airi! Are you excited to eat?!” Its eyes shined in anticipation.

She laughed. “Yeah! I hope the food is good considering how much it costs.” They walked to the train station, taking the subway to Shibuya.

 

Walking up to ground level, they saw Ann and Ryuji already waiting for them, dressed in their usual outfits. “Hey!” Ann called out, waving them over. “All right, now that everyone’s here, let’s go!” She cheered.

With her leading the group, they chatted on their way, talking excitedly about eating and what their favorites were.

After a few minutes, they arrived at the Wilton Hotel, a 5 star hotel that was famous for its buffet. Walking in, they looked on in awe at the extravagant building, carved pillars and walls decorating the lobby. The floor was tiled in white marble, polished to the point where it reflected them like mirrors.

“We’re eating here..?” Airi breathed, looking around in astonishment. She could never have afforded this.

“Y-Yep!” Ann smiled awkwardly, walking over to the elevators.

Everyone around them were adults, dressed in expensive suits and gowns. Akira looked on uncomfortably. They were the only teenagers here, dressed in casual clothes. They didn’t fit in at all. His eyes slid to Airi. Well, most of them.

“Are we blowin’ everythin’ in our budget..?” Ryuji raised his brows, eyes darting around.

The doors slid open, and they hesitantly entered the elevator, adults packing them in after. Getting off on the correct floor, they walked up to the host.

He looked at them with a raised brow, looking them up and down. “Welcome to the Wilton Buffet. Do you have a reservation?” He asked politely.

“Yes, under Takamaki Ann.” The model answered, nervously twirling her hair.

He checked the logs in front of him. “Hm, yes, there you are. Right this way.” He gestured into the buffet hall, guiding them to a large table surrounded by a plush loveseat and single seaters. “The time limit is one hour. Please enjoy yourselves to the fullest.” He bowed, and left.

They took their seats and put down their bags. Ryuji and Ann sat across from one another on single seaters, while Akira and Airi shared the loveseat. “Wow…” Airi examined the golden embroidering on the couch fabric.

“OK, let’s get food!” Ryuji whooped, getting up from his seat and dashing to the amenities.

“Hey, wait!” Ann yelped, following him right after.

Looking at each other exasperatedly, the two Yongenjaya residents also got up to grab a plate.

 

“So good!” Ryuji moaned, digging into his meat filled plate. The table was laid out with meat, pies, and cakes. Most of the meat being at Ryuji’s end, and cake at Ann’s.

Airi sweatdropped, cutting a piece of her lamb, her knife easily slicing through the succulent meat.

Akira discreetly took some sashimi and held it out with his chopsticks for Morgana to eat. “No wonder Lady Ann chose this place..!” It marveled, chowing down.

“Of course it’s good. This is a famous hotel after all.” Ann pointed her fork at them, grinning happily. Her face fell. “Oh yeah, I heard that the police are coming to interview some people at school.”

Airi nodded in confirmation. “We already had the media come do interviews." She took a bite. "With the interrogation against Kamoshida going on, I’m sure they want to gather as much evidence as possible to verify.”

“That’s troublesome.” Morgana remarked sullenly, ears close against its scalp.

Ryuji tsk’ed, taking another bite of his pork with a frown. “Our names are gonna come up for sure. People’re spreadin’ all sorts of rumors about us and Kamoshida…” A smile grew on his lips. “But we got ‘em pumped up! I keep hearin’ stuff like, “The Phantom Thieves really stole his heart!”” He grinned ecstatically. “I think most people don’t believe it, but some of them actually seem grateful.”

He then took out his phone and held it out for the table to see. “Look at this.” The four leaned in.

The screen showed a red website, and in bold letters up top, stated “The Phantom Aficionado Website”. “The Phantom Aficionado Website..?” Ann read out loud, staring with wide eyes. “”Well done, Phantom Thieves”...“Now I can keep going too”...”Thank you for giving us hope”...” She trailed off.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Ryuji grinned.

The model leaned her elbow against the table. “I was just desperate to deal with my own problems, but seeing people saying all this feels...strange.” Ann smiled, embarrassed at all the praise.

Airi opened the site on her own phone. “I wonder who made it…” She furrowed her eyebrows, reading the forum posts. The site format seemed familiar somehow, but she couldn't place her finger on it. “I’m glad though, that we helped in some way.” She smiled.

Akira smiled slightly, content at their results.

Ryuji straightened up in his seat. “Yeah...Hey, what do we do now?” He looked at the others uncertainly.

Akira raised a brow at him. “You planning on eating?” He asked coolly, digging into his fruit creme brulee.

“Well of course I’m gonna eat, but…” Ryuji trailed off, looking at him with a timid expression.

With a gasp, Ann shot up from her seat. “This place has a time limit!”

He looked at her with wide eyes, jumping up from his seat. “Oh crap, we only got an hour to eat!”

She looked at the clock. “Just fifty minutes left!” She corrected, panicking.

Ryuji furiously rubbed his head. “I’m not gonna finish all the beef dishes at this pace!” He complained to himself.

“I need to eat my way through the entire dessert menu..!” She declared.

Akira looked at the two with an exasperated expression. Couldn't they calm down a little?

“Look after our stuff! We’ll snag something for you guys too, don’t worry!” Ryuji stated quickly, the two blonds rushing off to the food servers.

“Don’t get too much or you won’t be able to finish!” Airi shouted after them. She sighed and turned back to her plate, polishing off the lamb and starting on the kobe steak.

Akira observed the table. “We already have a lot of food…” He remarked quietly.

“Right?” Airi huffed in amusement, taking a bite and moaning at the soft and buttery texture. Akira blushed, and looked away. “Well, we did spend almost ¥30,000 to eat here. I’ll let them learn a lesson about overconsumption.” She smiled serenely.

He sweatdropped, taking another spoonful of his stew. “...You got a lot of meat, too.” He remarked. “Is that healthy?”

She pouted. “Meat like this is expensive, OK. I didn’t think I would ever be able to afford kobe beef in my lifetime.” She held out her fork, a piece of kobe steak on it. “Try it.”

He blushed. Wasn’t this an indirect kiss?

Glasses fogging up from his heated face, he opened his mouth, his lips enveloping around the utensil. Moving back, he chewed absentmindedly, his mind consumed with the thought that they technically just shared a kiss.

Not realizing her faux pas, Airi looked down at the cat curiously. “Morgana, can you eat anything?”

Chewing on the tuna, it nodded. “Yep! I can handle chocolate, rice, and anything this guy makes me eat.” It gave the bespectacled teenager a sullen look.

Akira shrugged, snapping out of his thoughts. “I barely eat better than you, OK.” He argued quietly.

Giggling, Airi held out a piece to the feline as well. “Here, this will definitely taste delicious! It’s the best beef in Japan!”

Sniffing it curiously, Morgana chomped down in one bite. “Mmmmm!” Its eyes glistened, the meat melting in its mouth. “Meoooowww!” It purred blissfully.

Airi quickly covered its mouth, looking around to see if anyone heard. “Shh, there aren’t any cats allowed.” She whispered sheepishly.

A bowl slammed on the table, and the three looked up. Ryuji and Ann were back, and they brought a lot.

Taking their seats, they dug into the food. “Aw man, it melts in my mouth!” Ryuji proclaimed, voice muffled from all the meat.

Morgana looked up at him incredulously. “Seriously? Only meat?”

“Now, where should I start?” Ann drooled, looking at all the desserts in front of her.

Morgana turned to look at the model. “And she’s all about the cake.” It cringed.

Airi sweatdropped. “Guys…” She murmured exasperatedly. There was no doubt in her mind someone was going to throw up.

“So happy…” Ann sang, digging into her strawberry cake.

Ryuji grinned. “Hey. Calories.” He reminded teasingly.

She glared at him. “Shuddup!” She yelled indignantly. “How much do you think one of these costs?! I’ll never get the chance to do this again!” She took another bite. “Mmm, the Wilton Hotel cake buffet...I’d heard rumors, but I never thought it’d be so amazing!” She marveled happily.

Morgana looked around the table. “And...where’s our share?” It inquired awkwardly.

Ryuji pushed a mountain of slop in their direction, and the feline took a few steps back, staring at it with wide eyes. “I didn’t really know what you’d want...So I just grabbed you some beans.” He grinned innocently.

“B-Beans?” Morgana stuttered.

Ann nodded. “There were some pretty bizarre things there too, so we got you guys a variety of those. Fried bananas, preserved eggs, and...some kind of beans.” She beamed, unaware of their incredulous gazes.

“That looks disgusting…” Airi leaned away, putting her hands in front of her.

Akira grimaced, he didn’t want to touch it either.

“M-More beans…?” Morgana sputtered, looking at the model in horror.

“We put so much on the plate that it got all mixed up, but it should probably still taste good.” Ann chirped, savoring another bite of tiramisu.

It cringed. “This is just plain grotesque…” It looked up at Akira. “Let’s go, Akira.” It commanded sternly. “These two just don’t know what fine dining means! We’ll show them!”

Staring at the cat with an amused expression, he nodded. “Leave it to me.” He replied confidently, running a hand through his messy hair.

Morgana grinned. “That’s reassuring!” It then looked over at Airi. “Want to join us, Lady Airi?” It swished its tail excitedly.

She shook her head. “I have plenty here. Plus, I’ll have to help Ann-chan finish her cakes.” She looked fretfully at the other female who was enjoying her cakes, none the wiser.

It nodded. “You guys watch our things while we’re gone! Wait patiently for our return!” It commanded, jumping back into Akira’s bag.

“Ahh, it’s like a meaty explosion in my mouth..!” Ryuji moaned.

“Ooh, this part’s cream cheese!” Ann sang out in joy.

“They’re not even listening…” The feline sweatdropped.

Laughing silently, Airi waved them away. “Go, I’ll watch over everything.” She assured, taking another bite of kobe steak.

Akira smiled and nodded, getting up from his seat and shouldering his bag. Standing up, he surveyed the buffet line.

“As I’d expect from the top buffet at a top-class hotel.” Morgana commented quietly. “The ingredients and variety of dishes are crazy good. There’s a reason it costs ¥7,000.” Akira walked around, inspecting the different variety of food. “They have a lot here...but fish should come first!” Morgana urged. “Let’s fill our plate with all sorts of fish. Which table do you think they’re at..?”

Taking a plate, Akira perused the tables, making sure to not bump into anyone, and stopped at the seafood. “Oooh, look! There’s the fish!” Morgana cheered. “I’d prefer it raw, but grilled is great too!”

He made his way to the table. Grabbing a pair of tongs, he overheard a nearby woman dressed in riches. “Have you heard, my dear? The news about that Kamoshida fellow was absolutely dreadful.” She drawled.

“Ah, right. That teacher at Shujin Academy, caught doing such indecent acts. Shameful, really.” Her friend rolled her eyes.

“Hold on a sec…” Morgana whispered.

“And they still haven’t managed to solve those horrible psychotic breakdown episodes, have they? I wish they wouldn’t let themselves be distracted by such a tawdry scandal.” The woman complained callously.

Akira narrowed his eyes, making sure not to look at the two women.

“Perhaps it’s a sign of how peaceful this country is. I honestly pity those poor Shujin students though.” The woman’s friend swooned.

“Huh. It sounds like the Kamoshida incident is the talk of the town.” Morgana remarked.

“Hm?” The woman hummed, turning to look at them.

“Shoot, they noticed you! Just grab some food and act natural!” Morgana advised, panicking. Akira quickly looked down, grabbing some grilled fish fillets and crab legs. “On the plus side, we’ll get to eat the food later.” Morgana whispered.

Out of the corner of his eye, Akira saw the woman give him a dirty look. “Tsk, how did a child like this end up in here?” She murmured. “I certainly hope he didn’t bring friends. I prefer my meals to remain hooligan-free, thank you very much.”

Her friend sneered. “Come, let us go.” They walked away haughtily, turning up their noses at him.

“What’s so bad about kids coming to enjoy a buffet…?” Morgana whispered angrily.

Akira grimaced. Adults will be adults. ‘Always looking down on the younger generation,’ he thought bitterly.

“Hm, I wonder how the other people here are reacting to the news. Let’s get some more food and listen in.” Morgana suggested.

Akira nodded slightly. He moved to the dessert table, where there were three giant fountains of chocolate rushing.

“Up close, it looks even bigger and more delicious.” Morgana whispered in awe. “This giant, sweet- Ah, I got distracted.”

A man nearby wearing an IT company’s tag, signifying him as president, spoke to his companion. “News travels quick. It’s already all over the internet.” He began. “You know, the story about how Kamoshida got his ass kicked by some word-reforming heroes…”

The woman with him hummed. “It doesn’t sound like a serious story to me. Some of the details are pretty far-fetched.”

“Don’t worry about it. We just have to do what they tell us to do.” The IT company president shrugged. “It’s all rumors made up by school kids, anyway. If it’s gripping news, who cares if it’s not true?”

Akira furrowed his brows, making sure his back was turned to the two gossiping adults. Do what they tell us to do? Who is telling them to spread stories about them? “So they don’t believe themselves, but they’re making up stories to make the Phantom Thieves seem real…” Morgana commented quietly, grinning to itself. “And they’re doing this in front of the actual Phantom Thieves.”

“Hm?” The IT company president furrowed his brow, looking over at the ebony haired teen.

“Whoa! Act fast, and get some food! And make sure it’s got a lot of whipped cream.” Morgana urged. Akira grabbed a few cannoli and chocolate dipped strawberries, making sure to cover it in whipped cream as he was instructed.

“What’s wrong?” The woman asked. “Ah, nothing. I thought some weird kid was looking at us, that’s all. Why don’t we go? It’s almost time for the meeting.” The IT company president waved, and the two left.

“Well, that was rude. Did you hear him? He said you were weird.” Morgana bristled.

Akira sighed. It wasn’t exactly news to him. He was never considered cool or handsome back home, it wasn’t surprising that he wasn’t considered them here. Although...

He shook his head, banishing the thought.

Moving on to another table, he stopped at the meat section. “Ah, meat!” Morgana sighed contently. “I’m not Ryuji, but a meal is just not the same if you don’t have any-” “When you really look at it, he’s just an ex-athlete who overestimated himself. He should have just accepted his lot in life and quietly done his job as a teacher.” A man in a brown suit grumbled.

“It’s not even an incident we can take seriously. The whole story is pretty ridiculous.” The younger man agreed. “We should probably look into it, but we can also just let the low-ranking scrubs handle it.”

“Look into…?” Morgana whispered, narrowing its eyes in suspicion. “I guess they’re investigating Kamoshida? They don’t sound very enthusiastic about though.”

Akira nodded slightly, agreeing with the feline. ‘It’s as if female students being sexually harassed and the volleyball team being physically and verbally abused isn’t a big deal,’ he thought grimly.

“Hm?” The man hummed, looking in their direction.

“Gah, grab some food! Ah, get the part that’s not too fatty!” Morgana urged, cleaning its whiskers. Akira reached over and took some grilled honey pork and buttery steak pieces.

The man turned away. “He’s going to be arriving soon. We don’t want to keep him waiting, so we better get going too.”

“What is he going to discuss with the higher-ups? Well, I’m sure it’s more important than lunch.” The man in the brown suit rolled his eyes, the two leaving the buffet hall.

‘“He”?’ Akira narrowed his eyes in suspicion, before putting it out of his mind and moving onto the rice dishes. “Rice is incredible! It’s the cornerstone of every great meal!” Morgana cheered. “...Sorry. I got a bit carried away there.”

A girl behind him wearing a fancy dress stood near an older gentleman. “So the ratings for the news were really that good?” She asked. “It was because it was about that teacher who sexually harassed his student, huh? Was it Kamoshida?”

The older man nodded, wearing a pin that signified him as a TV station president. “It’s all about how you frame it. You’ve got to cater to the idiotic public.” He rolled his eyes. “Ratings go up when you show them crude, sensational news, and make it easy for them to understand.”

“How can he be so insensitive? A student almost killed herself because of that Kamoshida…” Morgana whispered sullenly.

Akira pursed his lips. Suzui’s incident wasn’t publicized, but still. To be so callous over it was just a new kind of low.

“By the way, do you think these “sudden changes of heart” might be real?” The fancy girl asked.

The TV station president cleared his throat. “Well, that’s-Hmm?” He turned to look at them.

“Quick, grab some food! Oh, and don’t forget the cirspy bits!” Morgana whispered. Akira scooped up some fried rice, placing it on his now full plate.

“So because he had a sudden change of heart, he just confessed to all his crimes?” The girl asked, confused.

“Haha, who knows?” The man laughed her off. “Sorry, but it’s time. I have to go. I’ll call you again after the meeting.” They left the buffet hall as well.

“A sudden change of heart, huh? I suppose I can’t blame him for seeing it that way.” Morgana commented. “I don’t think there’s anyone else we can listen in on.” It paused. “But it’s shocking...So many of the adults here don’t seem like nice people.”

Akira nodded in agreement. “It’s not so surprising. The more power an adult has, the more heartless they become.” He whispered.

It nodded. “Now, according to what we heard...It seems most adults aren’t very interested in the news about Kamoshida. Well, now that we’ve got a nice variety of food on our plates, let’s head back to the others.”

 

Taking his now full plate back to the table, he sat down.

“..Ooh, you brought a ton back.” Ryuji remarked with a grin. “Whaddya think about comin’ up against such ritzy food?” He nudged.

Akira huffed in amusement. “I’m so happy to eat something that isn’t curry and ramen.”

Airi pouted. “Hey, what about the bentos I make for you every school day?” She asked teasingly.

“They’re great, but that’s one meal out of three per day.” He grimaced. "I would just pay you to make me food at this point..."

Ryuji leaned back in his seat. “It’s cute hearin’ that from someone like you. Just don’t get too excited, got it?”

Morgana stuck its head out. “You’re the last person I want giving advice about that, Ryuji.” It sweatdropped, chewing on a piece of fish.

Ryuji frowned. “Don’t you think you’re eatin’ too much, Mona?”

It waved its tail. “There’s no knowing when we’ll get to come here again.” Morgana reasoned, happily eating another piece of fish.

Akira took a bite of his honey park, savoring the flavor.

“Sure, but you guys brought back loads of food...It’d be a shame to let it all go to waste.” Ann remarked, digging into another piece of cake. “Why don’t you help them out, Ryuji?” She looked over at the punk expectantly.

He rubbed the back of his head. “We should all help.” He argued.

“Oh, me? I’m wayyy too stuffed! I couldn’t possibly help!” Ann reasoned, smiling fakely.

He sweatdropped. “Yeah...stuffin’ your face with cake…” He sighed. “Whatever. Akira, Morgana!” He pumped his fist. “Let’s deal with this ourselves!” He declared confidently.

They nodded and dug in.

Airi rolled her eyes exasperatedly. “All right, I’m telling you guys now so you’ll know I tried. Don’t overeat or you’re going to throw up.” She warned, finishing her platter and starting on her clam chowder.

They waved away her concerns.

 

After a while of nonstop eating, the boys and cat stopped and looked down at their still full plates, sweatdropping. ‘It feels like no matter how much we eat, the amount of food we have stays the same…’ Akira grimaced, discreetly loosening his belt.

Morgana gazed out at the food decorating their side of the table. “There’s still more…?” It despaired quietly, whimpering.

“Don’t give up! Let’s keep at it!” Ryuji encouraged, starting to look like he'd slow down.

Airi sighed and shook her head, grabbing one of their plates and eating.

Akira gave her a grateful look. They ate and ate until all the food was gone.

 

They all slumped in their seats. Ann was smiling blissfully to herself, leaning back in her chair. Airi looked slightly uncomfortable, propping herself against one of the pillows. Ryuji held his stomach, a nauseous expression on his face.

“W-We did it…” Morgana groaned, swaying in its seat.

Akira leaned his elbows against the table, resting his forehead against his laced hands in front of him. ‘My belt feels multiple sizes too small…’ He grimaced, focusing on his breathing.

“Y-yeah…” Ryuji breathed out. “This is a victory...for all of us…” He groaned, closing his eyes in pain.

Akira gave him an unimpressed look. “That was tough.” He countered.

He shook his head slowly. “We won...because we did it together…” He burped.

Airi rolled her eyes. “I told you so.” She stated smugly, looking at them with pity.

“Good job, you guys. How about one last dish to cleanse your palates?” Ann smiled cheerfully. “I recommend the seasonal tart! The grapefruit has both alluring sweetness and tangy sourness!”

Ryuji pulled a face. “Stop...I don’t wanna hear about sour stuff…” He groaned, burping into his hand. “This isn’t good...I gotta go to the bathroom..” He wheezed.

“M-Me too...Please...carry me gently…” Morgana pleaded weakly to Akira.

Airi gave them a sympathetic glance.

A rich couple swathed in luxurious brands passed by their table, looking at them disapprovingly. “My, look at that table…” The woman murmured.

The man hmphed. “They must not normally have the opportunity to each such exquisite food.” He remarked.

The teens tilted their heads in their direction, frowning slightly.

“I can only imagine what their parents must be like.” The woman laughed. “Perhaps the well dressed young lady is their guardian.” She remarked, the two walking away.

“What was that?!” Ryuji shot up from his seat angrily, before covering his mouth. “..Urp.” He uttered. “We don’t got time for that...C’mon, let’s go…” He heaved.

Akira got up, gently shouldering his bag, and the two left for the bathrooms.

 

outfit references

Chapter Text

Rushing to an upper level for the bathrooms, Ryuji spent several minutes uncomfortably retching into his porcelain goddess.

Akira stood by in the stall, turning away from Morgana’s business. He grimaced at the disgusting sounds, feeling queasy himself now. This wasn't how he wanted to blow ¥30,000...

Tiredly washing their hands, they left the bathrooms and headed down the hall. “Ughh, I’m stuffed…” Morgana groaned quietly.

Ryuji sighed heavily. “I totally panicked when I saw the “Closed For Cleaning” sign at the bathrooms…” He rested his thumbs inside his pockets as they stopped in front of the elevators.

“You were talking big about eating until you puked, but you really did puke…” Morgana cringed. “Are you some kind of moron?”

Ryuji crossed his arms, glaring at the feline. “Hey, same goes for you!” He argued, before turning to the elevator panel. “What floor was that restaurant on..?” He muttered as other people walked up behind them, also waiting for the elevators.

“We came up to get here, so it has to be on a lower floor, right?” Morgana blinked.

Ryuji pressed the down button, and they waited.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Akira saw a black suit before being roughly pushed to the side. Ryuji gasped in surprise, staring incredulously at the men in suits who stood intimidatingly in front. Akira narrowed his eyes at them. One man stood out, wearing a pair of designer glasses, the light from above shining against his bald head.

“What the-” Ryuji shook his head indignantly.

The distinguished man turned to one of his subordinates. “There’s still no update on the case?” He asked coldly.

“N-Not yet…” A subordinate bowed his head. “Excuse me, but why are you so involved? It’s not something you should be concerned with…”

The distinguished man turned to glare ruthlessly at his subordinate. “I don’t care about your opinion, you incompetent buffoon! When I say pick up the pace, you do it!” He spat.

Ryuji stepped forward. “Hey, you’re cuttin’ in line!” He yelled, glaring at the group of men.

The subordinate turned to look at him, unimpressed. “What do you want?” He questioned aggressively.

Akira rested his hands in his pockets. “Apologize to Ryuji.” He demanded quietly, gray eyes staring darkly at the adult.

The subordinate sneered. “We’re in a hurry.”

Ryuji rolled his eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry.” He spoke sarcastically. “So you can butt in front of other people if you’re in a hurry?”

The distinguished man glanced at the two teens from the corner of his eye. “Hmph. It seems the customer base has changed since I was here last. Have they started a daycare?” He remarked dispassionately.

Ryuji narrowed his eyes at the statement. “What?” He growled.

The subordinate turned back to his boss. “Sir, we don’t have time for this.” He reasoned lowly.

The bald man nodded. “I know.”

The elevators dinged, the doors sliding open. Ryuji took a step forward, but one of the bodyguards turned and roughly pushed him away. Akira clenched his hands, lips tightening at the treatment.

“Don’t bother with them!” The distinguished man commanded, and he and his group walked into the elevator, closing the doors behind them.

Akira stared at the closed doors. ‘That voice just now…’ He gripped his head with one hand, clenching his eyes. Images flashed inside his mind, too fast for him to comprehend. He shook his head.

“The hell was with that bossy guy?” Ryuji scowled, glaring at the spot where the men stood.

“Shouldn’t we head back down?” Morgana asked quietly, looking at the two with uncertainty.

“Yeah, but…” Ryuji pursed his lips, pressing the down button again. “That dick really pissed me off. He wasn’t even hidin’ the fact that he looks down on everyone!”

“Don’t lose your temper over this.” Morgana advised, looking at him sympathetically.

He turned around with a frustrated expression. “I just can’t forgive shitty adults like that..!”

Akira tightened his grip on his forehead, the voices of his friends sounding farther away than they were. ‘That man’s voice...It sounded almost like the one from back then…’ He grimaced. He broke into a cold sweat as that man’s steely gaze flashed in his mind.

He exhaled shakily. Don’t think about that time. That sense of wrongness at the situation, that sense of being scared at his arrest, the crippling loneliness. Never again.

Ryuji blinked, noticing his friend's pained face, and walked closer. “...What’s wrong?” He asked worriedly.

Akira shook his head. “I’m OK. Just a bit lightheaded.” He assured, putting his hands back in his pockets.

He furrowed his brows. “You not feelin’ good?” He asked sympathetically.

Morgana rested its chin on Akira’s shoulder. “He almost never eats well, after all. Lady Airi’s lunches are the most nutrition he gets." It stated sullenly. "Plus I’m always stuck eating canned cat food…”

Ryuji pursed his lips, turning back to the elevator. “Ugh, that “sir” bullshit makes me sick..!” He muttered, gritting his teeth. “...Dammit!” He shook his head.

The elevator arrived, its doors sliding open, and they walked in and pressed a lower floor.

She watched as the two males and cat walked out of the buffet unsteadily.

“Ahh, so good…” Ann sang, eating the last slice of cake on the table. “I have to go get more!” She grinned, getting up from her seat.

Sweatdropping, Airi decided to follow her. She didn’t even have to help eat any of the cakes. It’s amazing how Ann has kept her figure so well. ‘I should get some drinks for the guys when they come back…’ She told herself, looking at the desserts.

“Ow!” Ann yelped, the sound of porcelain crashing behind her.

Alarmed, Airi turned around.

An older woman was glaring angrily at the model, a dropped plate of food all over the carpet at their feet. “Watch where you’re going, you hussy!” The woman shouted loudly, gaining the attention of the people nearby. “How dare you make me drop my plate!”

Taken aback, Ann gave her an odd look. “What? You bumped into me. I was standing right here.” She argued, furrowing her brows at the accusations.

“Don’t lie! You purposely walked into me!” The woman attacked her verbally.

Airi frowned. She was just like her old matron. She walked up to the two. “Ann-chan.” She whispered, placing a hand on the model’s shoulder and tugging her behind herself. “Ma’am, please calm down.” She requested, politely smiling. Time to put on her persona. “I’m sure this is all just a misunderstanding.”

The woman glared at her. “And just who do you think you are? Do you even know who I am?!”

. “My apologies, but I do not.” Airi inclined her head, smiling thinly. She eyed the glimmering jewels adorning the woman’s neck and wrists. An attention seeker then. “Why don’t we put this past us? There is more food for all of us to enjoy, after all.” She suggested calmly. “The staff will clean this up. I’m sure you don’t want to cause even more of a scene, who knows what people will say…” Her eyes deliberately slid to their whispering audience, before looking back at the woman.

The woman scrunched up her face, panicking eyes darting around at all the people who were watching intently. “Hmph. I suppose.” She replied, trying to look composed, and walked away.

Seeing that the drama was over, the people nearby turned back to their business. A staff came up to clean the mess, looking at the two disapprovingly.

Airi smiled politely, thanking them.

She exhaled, turning around to look at Ann. “What a bitch...Are you OK?” She asked worriedly.

The model scrunched up her face, glaring at the retreating woman. “Yeah.” She bit out. Grabbing a plate and piling as many desserts as she could, she stomped back to their table.

Airi watched her devour a cake, an angry expression clouding her features. Sighing, she went and grabbed a couple of cups of coffee, as well as a bowl of matcha ice cream and some cannoli, and walked back to the table.

The two ate in silence, mood ruined by the terrible attitude of that older woman.

The boys walked back to the table, exhausted from their ordeal. Ann glared up at them from her empty plate of cake. “What took you so long?!”

Taken aback by the aggression, Ryuji placed his hands out in front of him. “Why’re you all pissy…?” He yelped, staring at her with wide eyes.

She sighed, slumping in her seat. “Sorry...I had a run-in with some woman a second ago." She scowled. "She bumped into me, but then said it was all my fault when she dropped her plate…”

Ryuji frowned. “Sounds like a real bitch…”

“Yeah.” Ann rolled her eyes. “Thanks though. It’s a good thing Airi came up to us, or else I might have started yelling...” She pursed her lips, looking over at the class president. “I’m amazed you didn’t lose your temper at her too.”

Airi shook her head, frowning lightly. “You have to use diplomacy with adults like those, otherwise they’ll think of you as nothing but a nuisance...” Her eyes darkened, biting a cannoli. “People like her make me sick…”

The two males sat down, and Akira opened his bag fully for Morgana.

“The restaurant workers all looked at us with this disapproving expression…” Ann murmured consciously. “I wonder if we’re out of place here…” She leaned back in her chair.

Akira sighed. “I want to say no, but...It always feels like this.” He stated grimly, resting his hands in his lap.

Airi bit her lip, looking down at her clasped hands. No surprise there. Adults never like when "children" are in their restaurants, as if they were all nuisances to be dealt with away from public.

Ryuji sighed heavily, crossing his leg, and looked at their feline companion. “Hey, Morgana.” He called out.

It looked at him curiously. “What is it?”

“...Anyone could have a Palace, yeah?” He questioned.

The cat nodded. “Anyone with a strong, distorted desire.”

Uncrossing his leg, he leaned forward. “Same for them havin’ a change of heart if their Treasure gets stolen?” He pressed.

Morgana nodded again. “That would be the case.”

Ann tilted her head. “Why are you bringing this up all of a sudden?”

He looked out at the table. “We had trouble earlier too. These selfish shitheads who just looked down on everyone else..." He shrugged. "I was just wonderin’ if we’d be able to change those kindsa people too.”

Blinking, Airi looked at the punk in realization. “Ryuji-kun…” She trailed off.

Akira looked at him in surprise. Was he saying what he thought he was gonna say?

“You mean...you want to continue as the Phantom Thieves?” Ann asked hesitantly with wide eyes.

Ryuji lowered his head. “I’ve been thinkin’...We put a lot of work into changin’ Kamoshida’s heart, but nobody believes in the Phantom Thieves.” He explained. “Plus...those guys who had no other choice but to just deal with it are thankin’ us." He exclaimed. "Us, of all people.”

“You mean on the Phan-site? It’s pretty unexpected.” Akira remarked.

Airi nodded. “There were a lot of victims..." She bit her lip. "And most likely, lots more out there.”

“I...I agree.” Ann replied quietly. “If we ignore people who are in trouble, I’d go back to being the same as I was before..!” She scrunched up her face.

Morgana looked up at her. “Well...that’s true.” It replied hesitantly. It looked around at the conflicted teens. “You’re under my tutelage. There’s nothing we can’t accomplish as phantom thieves!” It stated confidently.

“Shouldn’t we be able to help ‘em out?” Ryuji asked, gazing at them with uncertain eyes.

Akira blinked. ‘I didn’t even think of such a possibility…But it’s true that with that power, we may be able to help people out…’ He grasped his chin thoughtfully.

“But…” Ann hesitated. “That means we’ll have to fight Shadows again, doesn’t it…?”

Morgana nodded. “Indeed. That can’t be avoided.”

Ryuji grinned lightheartedly. “Eh, I’m sure we’ll manage. Right?” He looked over at Akira hopefully.

“Yeah." Airi looked pleadingly "If we have the power to help those in need...We should.”

Exhaling, Akira nodded, smirking faintly. “Fine by me. I want to help people too.” He declared.

Everyone nodded determinedly. It was official now.

“Heh…” Morgana smiled. “Even if you guys are still just fledglings, this means we’re an actual organization now.”

Ann uncrossed her leg, leaning back in her seat. “Fledglings…? Haha, that’s actually pretty fitting for us.”

Ryuji straightened up in his seat. “All right, it’s settled!” He grinned excitedly. “We’re gonna catch all these shitty adults by surprise, and make ourselves known to the world!”

Smiling happily, Airi looked over to her neighbor. “Are you OK officially being our leader? We’ve been looking to you for guidance, after all.” She asked shyly.

Akira smirked, running a hand through his hair. “Of course.”

“No objections here! I can’t handle all that responsibility stuff.” Ryuji added.

The two females looked at him amusedly. “We know.” They said in unison.

“Where’s my say in this…?" Morgana complained cheekily. "But Lady Airi made the recommendation, so I’ll allow it.”

Ryuji leaned forward. “Well, should we decide on a name for our group?” He asked, eagerly looking at Akira. “I just went with Phantom Thieves of Hearts last time, but don’t you think a real name would be cooler?”

Humming, Akira leaned back on the couch, placing a hand behind their seats.

“Ooh, I’ve got it!” Ann chirped. “I want it to be something both cute and luxurious sounding...Let me see…” She tapped her chin thoughtfully before perking up. “How about “The Diamonds”?”

Ryuji gave her an odd look. “...I’m gettin’ a real little league baseball feel from it.”

Morgana sat up in the bag. “Well then, here’s my suggestion." It beamed. "How about “Tilefish Poele”?”

“Tile...what?” Ryuji scratched his head in confusion.

“That’s what I ate earlier. It’s commemorative, no?” It grinned ecstatically.

“Hell no, you idiot!” Ryuji deadpanned.

Airi sweatdropped. “I don’t think that’s very phantom thieve-ish…” She murmured awkwardly. “Maybe...Regalia?”

“Ooh, that’s nice.” Ann marveled, clapping her hands.

“Uh...Regalia? What’s that?” Ryuji looked at her curiously.

“It’s an emblem of royalty. For example, a crown for a king is a regalia.” Airi explained.

“Aren’t we tryin’ to take down shitty adults though? It sounds more like we’re protectin’ ‘em with that name.” He frowned.

Shrugging, she looked over at Akira. “Why don’t you give us a name?”

He sweatdropped. ‘I am the leader…’ He shrugged, pulling out his notebook. Writing down a couple of different names, he crossed them all out. “Let’s just go with “The Phantom Thieves.”” He suggested. He wasn't creative enough...

Twirling her hair, Ann nodded. “That’s not bad. It is our original name.”

Airi nodded in agreement. “I’m fine with that.” She smiled.

“A good name, for a rookie.” Morgana added.

“The Phantom Thieves. We goin’ with that?” Ryuji asked.

Akira nodded in confirmation. “If that’s OK.” He put his book away.

Ann leaned forward, lacing her hands together. “Well now that the name’s set, who’s our next target?”

Ryuji hummed, rubbing his nose. “There are tons of rotten adults and all...Why not just stick to targeting big names?”

Akira tilted his head. “Like a CEO?” He inquired, crossing his legs and grabbing a cup of coffee.

He nodded. “Yeah, something along those lines. We go after some bigwig, it’s gotta get on the news, right?" He grinned excitedly. "Don’t you think more people would believe in us if we did that?”

Airi crossed her arms and tapped her chin. “While that’s true, we should also take the time to browse the Phan-site forums." She proposed. "People on there are already supporting us. We should show them that we appreciate it.”

Morgana nodded. “That’s not a bad idea.” It remarked.

Ann straightened up. “True. If we become better known...we might be able to give courage to a lot more people, like the comments on the site.” She paused. “I don’t really like the idea of just picking someone out of the blue though.”

“Let’s narrow it down to someone we can all agree on then.” Ryuji suggested, leaning on the chair arm.

Morgana hummed. “Hm, so we need a bigwig we decide on unanimously.” It commented thoughtfully, hanging its paws out of the bag.

Ann nodded excitedly. “I like that unanimous decision part! It’s like we’re making some kind of pact!” She grinned.

Airi nodded in agreement. “Let’s make that official. We all have to agree for every target we take.”

Morgana raised a paw.” Now then, this is the official formation of the Phantom Thieves organization!” It declared.

Ann looked over at the clock on the wall. “Oh no! Our time for the buffet ran out…” She despaired.

Ryuji snorted. “I guess we’ll just have to talk more tomorrow.” He acquiesced, ignoring the model.

They all nodded, and got up to pay their bill.

Chapter Text

----5/5, THURSDAY, EVENING, YONGENJAYA STREETS.

“Well,” Morgana began as they walked out of Yongenjaya station and into the cool dark streets. “We spent all our money on the buffet, but...We officially established the Phantom Thieves, so it was totally worth it.”

Airi smiled. “Yeah, it was." A teasing smirk grew on her lips. "We didn’t throw up ¥7,000 though.”

Morgana pouted, ears flat against its scalp. Akira smiled, reaching over his shoulder to give the cat some scritches. Their phones rang out, the loud noise a contrast to the quiet streets.

R: The Phantom Thieves, huh...I’m liking the sound of that!
An: I hope we can really help people.
An: I’m curious about that phantom aficionado website too.
An: I wonder who made it…
R: No clue.
Ai: I have a feeling I know who, but I’ll ask for sure tomorrow at school.
R: Wait, they’re at our school?
R: More importantly, you see the survey on there?
R: I dunno how I feel about it.
An: Yeah, there was this approval rating thing, but it was only at like six percent…
Ak: That’s better than I expected.
An: I guess when you put it that way…
Ai: Well, we were treated like a prank, right?
R: But don’t you just wanna get it higher than that?
R: I bet it’ll go up tons if we keep taking down big targets.
R: It’s pretty damn exciting if you try and think about it like that.
An: You know, you’re actually right.
Ai: One thing at a time, guys.
Ai: You have to keep up your grades too.
R: Yes, mom...
An: Well then, let’s keep working hard from this point on!

“Why do they keep calling me “mom”?” Airi sweatdropped, staring at her phone weirdly.

Akira huffed in amusement, putting his back in his pocket. “Because you keep telling them to study hard, sleep early, eat their vegetables...”

She pushed him lightly. “I do not! I just want you guys to be healthy and do well in school like…” She trailed off. “...A mom, OK.”

He chuckled, covering his mouth. “Yes, mom.” He joked.

She cringed. “Please don’t call me that, it’s weird coming from you…” She pouted. “Only the kids can call me mom.”

Morgana jumped out of the bag and onto Airi’s shoulder. “I could definitely see Lady Airi as a good mother!”

Laughing, she encircled her hands around the cat, lifting it up and putting it in her arms, idly petting its head. “Maybe...” She answered quietly.

It purred, turning into jelly. Akira smiled slightly at the sight.

“Speaking of being a mom,” Airi began. “Akira, did you do your homework?”

He froze. “What…?”

She gave him a confused look. “The homework we were assigned three days ago…?” She asked slowly. "It's due tomorrow."

Rubbing his head sheepishly, he let out a curse.

Sighing exasperatedly, she gently stroked the cat’s spine. “OK, why don’t you grab your books and come downstairs? I’ll help you out.” She offered, giving him a pitying smile.

Giving her a grateful smile, they entered Cafe Leblanc where Sojiro was cleaning up. Giving them a passing greeting, the older man left the cafe to them, going home for the night.

Akira went up to his room and grabbed his schoolbag from the counter. Coming back downstairs, he quickly made some tea for them and they sat at a booth, taking their jackets off.

“All right, let’s begin.” Airi instructed, taking her books out as well.

Akira nodded, turning his book to the correct page.

Morgana laid down on one of the bar stools, taking a nap.

They spent a quiet evening together, Airi correcting some of his answers and helping him remember his facts better.

 

Closing his books, he rested his forehead against the table and sighed in relief.

Airi took a sip from her now cold tea. “I corrected a lot less this time. You’re improving!” She smiled encouragingly.

Lifting his head, he smiled tiredly at her. “It’s all thanks to your tutelage.” He complimented quietly.

She blushed slightly. “No, you’re very smart, Akira.” She corrected. “You’re just putting more effort now...” Checking the time on her phone, she stood up, putting on her trench coat. “I should get home, it’s getting late.” She stated softly, heading toward the door.

Akira quickly stood up. “Wait!” He called out, putting on his jacket.

She turned around and looked at him questioningly.

“I’ll walk you home.” He offered, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.

She blinked in surprise. “You don’t have to...”

He shook his head, resting his hands in his pockets. “I want to.” He corrected, smiling lightly. He turned to the napping feline. “Morgana, watch the cafe!” He called out, startling the cat from its slumber. “O-Ok…” It yawned, curling its tongue.

The two walked out the door and into the cool late evening. It was already May, but it was still cold enough that they’d need a jacket. Walking down the empty streets of Yongenjaya, they passed a rowdy bar filled with drunk adults. Most likely a after work party from a small company nearby. A man walked unsteadily on his feet, bumping into Airi with his shoulder as he ambled out of the izakaya.

“Ah!” She yelped, stumbling back.

Akira reached out and held her shoulders, steadying her.

The man lifted his head to look at her, his inebriated eyes staring blurrily. “What a cute girl…” He burped, swaying in place.

She wrinkled her nose at the alcohol stench wafting in her face. She hated alcohol with a passion.

He reached with a hand out to grab her, and her eyes widened, bracing herself. Suddenly, the man was pushed away and he fell on the floor in a heap, snoring away.

Akira glared darkly at the drunk, his arm still outstretched. He turned to the class president who had her hands in front of her. “Are you all right?” He asked concernedly.

Airi nodded slowly, still staring at the unconscious man with wide eyes. That was close.

Grabbing her hand, he gently led her away and down the street, heading toward her house.

 

Stopping in front of her door, he turned back to look at her. “It’s a good thing I was with you tonight.” He remarked, smiling slightly. “I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if you were touched by that drunkard...” He muttered darkly.

Airi smiled back, blushing a bit. “Yeah...Thank you, my knight in black leather.” She winked.

He huffed in amusement. “I’m not Joker right now.” He idly tweaked a strand of hair.

“You say that, but you are. Akira is Joker. Joker is Akira. Always our dependable leader...who keeps sweeping his hair like a nerd.” She teased.

He smirked, doing the action that she described. “And you’re our Elegant, our lady who can’t stop worrying over her teammates as if they were her children.” He teased back.

She blushed furiously and looked away. “ Nooo…” She shook her head. “Anyway, it’s late and we have school tomorrow.”

He nodded. “Right. Have a good night, Airi.” He stated, smiling softly down at her.

They stood there for a moment, not moving. He looked at her curiously.

“U-Um…” She stammered, still blushing. “You can let go of my hand now…”

Blinking, he looked down at their still connected hands. Quickly letting go, he put his hands in his pockets, looking away, his cheeks heating up. “Sorry…” He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

“It’s all right…” Airi whispered shyly, opening her front door. “Good night, Akira.” She smiled gently, closing the door behind her.

Exhaling, he smiled fondly before turning and heading back to the cafe.

 
 

Water dripped nearby, and he snapped his eyes open. He was back in the cell again.

Dragging his body off the slab of wood, he slowly walked up to the bars, his chains clinking together. Grabbing the rusty bars, he looked apprehensively at the inhuman man sitting at the well lit desk.

Grinning widely as usual, Igor greeted him. “First off...I’d like to begin by congratulating you. To think you would find The Aeon...It is a cause for celebration.” He announced, his dual toned vocals echoing through the room. "I had not even expected her to reach you."

Akira furrowed his brow.”“Aeon”? What are you talking about?”

The inhuman Jailer chuckled ominously. “You may have acquired her, but don’t think her real power will come into fruition so easily...However, just having her with you turns the odds in your favor.” Igor proclaimed vaguely. "How interesting..."

“To think our master would give words of praise…” Justine commented quietly, brushing her silver braid.

Caroline struck the cell bars with her baton, glaring at him with a molten gaze. “You better treasure this moment, Inmate!”

“You have encountered allies who share your aesthetics, and you have found your place in reality.” Igor continued. “The time has come...Your rehabilitation will soon begin.”

Akira narrowed his eyes. “What rehabilitation? I don’t understand.” He exclaimed in frustration. Why was it always him? Why couldn't they just leave him alone. He didn't ask to be dragged into this. The only thing he wanted was to be able to live peacefully with his friends.

Chuckling, the beaked man gazed at him with pinprick sized pupils. “I shall explain it to you now…” He uncrossed his legs. “You have a special potential. However, that must be refined into a useful power. It is weak now, but refining it shall grant you the strength to stand against the coming ruin...That is the rehabilitation cast upon you.”

“Coming ruin..?” Akira questioned hesitantly, looking at the nonhuman with uneasiness. Was something bad going to happen?

Ignoring the teen, Igor continued his explanation. “There are various means by which you may gain the power to resist the ruin. Fighting Shadows and gaining experience is one way.” He tapped his heel against the velvet blue carpet. “The fusion process I taught you prior is another.”

Caroline turned back to the prisoner. “This is all possible because of our master’s guidance, Inmate!” She yelled.

Justine stepped forward. “Though it may be presumptuous of us, we have words of wisdom as well.”

Caroline continued after her twin. “When you’re out in reality, you better hone your relationships with those you have contracts with!”

Justine cut in. “Spending time with those people...will lead to the cultivation of your relationships with them.”

Caroline continued. “If you’ve got time to waste, you’d better visit your contractors, Inmate!”

Justine nodded. “That is another source of power to evade the ruin that our master has mentioned.”

Exhaling through his nostrils, Akira nodded reluctantly. He didn't have a choice. If he was going to be put through this, might as well put his all into it.

Igor tapped his foot. “Thanks to the contracts you’ve formed, your heart is steadily gaining the power of opposition. It seems the rehabilitation is going well. This is a truly joyous occasion...I shall grant you an ability befitting of your newfound growth. Consider it a gift.” He chuckled darkly. “May the devotion to your rehabilitation grow even deeper…I have high hopes of you.”

Akira nodded decisively. ‘I feel like my bond with Igor is growing deeper...Weird. I guess I can hold more Personas now.’

A shrill noise rang out in the room, piercing his eardrums. “...The time has come. Return to your brief moments of rest.” Justine commanded quietly.

“And don’t forget to go talk to your contractors, Inmate!” Caroline reminded, smacking the bars with her baton.

His surroundings slowly darkened before fading away, leaving him in oblivion.

With a gasp, he opened his eyes. He stared blankly ahead before registering the dark wooden beams that was his ceiling.

Sitting up, he sighed. ‘I hate that place…’

Chapter Text

----5/6, FRIDAY, EARLY MORNING, SUBWAY

As usual, both Akira and Airi were squished together on the crowded train as they made their way to school. It was packed with adults coming back from Golden Week, grumbling about their short vacations. Akira hugged his bag to himself, making sure to not hold it too tightly or else Morgana would yell at him.

Airi held onto Akira’s shoulder for balance, checking her phone for news and announcements. She had another nightmare again last night, that man's face flashing behind her eyelids as his hands tightened. She didn't want to remember anymore. All she could do was try to be like Rui, to live up to her legacy. Too bad today was going to be another long day.

“I wish I had money. I’d kill for a real breakfast…” A broke-ass college student groaned from a few feet away, gripping onto the safety pole.*

“What about Big Bang Burger? The one on Central Street is holding a contest right now.” Their energetic classmate suggested. “The Big Bang Challenge or whatever. If you go at night, you can eat for only ¥500.”

“You gotta eat one of their giant burgers though, right? How can anyone actually finish that?” The broke ass college student replied. “Still...¥500 is a steal.”

Airi tilted her head curiously. “Maybe you should go try it out.” She murmured to Akira.

“I bet giving that a go will increase your guts.” Morgana added, voice muffled by the fabric.

Akira huffed. “Maybe. I’d probably conquer it.” He smirked jokingly.

The train stopped and slid its door open, and they made their way through the sea of people.

Feeling eyes on her back, Airi stopped and turned around. She peered through the crowd, trying to find who was staring at her.

“Is something wrong?” Akira asked, looking back at her questioningly.

She bit her lip. “...No. It’s nothing.” Turning around, they continued on their way to school.

“Like it was last week, there still isn’t a gym teacher.” Kawakami-sensei began, the class listening intently. “Instead of having Kimisawa-chan supervise you today, I’m supposed to give you some guidance.” She took a deep breath. “The gist is, don’t go around talking about the incident. That’s all.” She announced shortly. “The police are still investigating Kamoshida-sensei, so I can’t say anything myself.”

She sighed heavily, looking as if she aged several years. “As a teacher though, I’m ashamed for not having noticed that a student was suffering like that...I’m not defending him, but as a colleague, he just seemed like...well, a normal person.” She reasoned. “Honestly, it still doesn’t feel real. I guess people can have multiple sides to them…”

Airi frowned slightly, looking at the older woman sympathetically. It’s not like it was her fault that Kamoshida chose to abuse his rights as a teacher.

Akira pursed his lips. “The teachers have it rough, huh..?” Morgana whispered pityingly.

“Oh yeah.” Kawakami-sensei perked up. “I just remembered something I learned about psychology. They say that humans have several different personalities hidden in their subconscious.” She explained to the class.

Different personalities..?” Morgana frowned thoughtfully.

“Oh, to be clear, I’m not talking about multiple personality disorder.” Kawakami-sensei continued. “These different personalities can be a different gender or different age from you. I mean, if you think about how gods and monsters in myths were first based on the human image…” She crossed her arms. “If you actually saw one of those personalities with your own eyes, it might look like a monster.”

Akira raised his brows. It actually sounded like she was talking about Shadows. The way they looked nothing like their human counterparts, but were from the very hearts of people. How interesting. He glanced over at Airi, who had her eyes narrowed in concentration. It looked like she was thinking the exact same thing.

“Hm?” Kawakami-sensei looked at the class in surprise. “You all seem more alert than usual.” She remarked, smiling modestly. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, Sensei. It was just very interesting.” Airi reassured, giving her an encouraging smile.

The teacher ran a hand through her curly brown hair. “Well, I’m just saying what I’ve heard. It feels like I just now understood what I learned long ago.” She shrugged.

Morgana swished its tail inside Akira’s desk. “Subconscious personalities...It’s a fascinating topic, and it has a lot to do with us. That teacher’s surprisingly smart, huh?” It remarked quietly.

Akira lowered his eyes, nodding slightly. ‘It feels like gaining that knowledge made me a bit smarter…’ He rubbed the back of his neck. Maybe they should look into psychology too.

-LUNCHTIME-

Packing her books back into her bag and leaving Akira’s bento on his desk, Airi walked up to Mishima who was fiddling with his phone, unaware of her approach. “Mishima-kun?” She called out softly. ‘I should ask about that site…’

His head shot up. “Huh?! Oh, Senpai…” He breathed out in relief, clutching his chest.

She smiled sheepishly. “Sorry for startling you.” She apologized. “You don’t have to call me Senpai, you know.” She shook her head. “Anyway, I wanted to ask how you were? Since Kamoshida’s arrest, I haven’t had time to talk to you…” She looked down guiltily.

He looked at her hesitantly. “Well...I’m OK now. All the bruises are gone.” He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. “...My parents didn’t care, though. They were angry that I won’t be able to put the volleyball tournament on my college application anymore..." He looked down resignedly. "But that’s not much of a surprise…”

Airi looked at him in horror, covering her mouth. What is with these terrible parents? “That’s horrible of them...I’m so sorry, Mishima-kun.” She whispered sorrowfully. “If there’s anything I can do to help, please tell me, OK? I want to be there for you.” She promised determinedly. “The book you gave me on my birthday really helped me…”

Blushing brightly, he shook his head rapidly. “No, senpai! I-I don’t want to worry you even more. You already have a lot to do what with being a phan-” He covered his mouth.

She gave him an odd look. “A fan…? A fan of what?” She looked at him curiously. ‘Was he going to call me a phantom thief?’ She furrowed her brows slightly.

Mishima opened and closed his mouth several times. “A fan of...Niijima-senpai, of course..!” He stuttered nervously.

She blinked. “Um, I suppose…” She coughed. “Well, don’t worry about worrying me. Your worries are my concern too." She smiled reassuringly. "I am your class president.”

Hesitantly, he nodded. “OK…” He agreed, a blush covering his face.

“Airi!”

Looking up, she saw Akira was gesturing for her to come out of the classroom.

She nodded and waved. “Well, I’ll leave you to your lunch. Remember, you can tell me anything, OK? I’ll do my best to help.” She smiled again before maneuvering her way through the desks and out of the room. ‘I’ll ask him later…’

Turning around the corner, she saw Ryuji and Ann were also there next to the stairwell. “What’s up?”

They crowded around Ryuji’s phone, opened to a certain website. “It ain’t much, but we’ve been gettin’ more postings on the Phantom Aficionado website.” He grinned, reading some of the posts. “”I want to make my friend apologize for not returning the stuff I lent him.” Ugh, deal with that yourself!” He rolled his eyes.

Ann looked up, hearing the door to their classroom slide open. “Hey, those girls…”

Airi turned around and saw two girls from their class, Ando and Fujiwara, standing a few feet away, not having noticed the group.

They turned their heads to listen as the two began to gossip in the hallway, their voices carrying down the hall.

“You know that phantom thieves rumor about stealing Kamoshida’s heart? I wonder if it’s true.” Fujiwara wondered, playing with the hem of her blazer.

Ando rolled her eyes. “It’s got to be made up. Do you seriously believe they exist?” She asked skeptically.

“But look at what happened to Kamoshida.” Fujiwara argued.

“He probably just couldn’t keep hiding it after that girl tried to kill herself.” Ando commented callously, flipping her hair.

Fujiwara hummed. “Yeah, you might be right. I guess there’s no way they really exist.”

Ando crossed her arms. “Most importantly, it seriously sucks that our school is gonna be known for stuff like this!” She complained. “It was bad enough that Kurusu came here, and now this?”

“Yeah, he’s scary." Fujiwara worried. "I wonder if this will affect our college entrance…” The two walked away, not noticing the five pairs of eyes glued to their backs.

Airi frowned. “Jeez, could they not?” She looked at the two departing girls with disappointment, glancing at Akira who looked on blankly. The class was still wary of the transfer even though he hadn't done anything.

Ann nodded in agreement, scowling at how heartless they were.

Ryuji shrugged. “That’s prolly a normal reaction for now, but...they’ll see soon enough!” He advocated weakly. “If we can take care of two or three famous guys, people’ll have to believe we exist.” He grinned.

Ann crossed her arms. “So about those big shots...We don’t have any leads yet, right?” She pursed her lips morosely. “Plus there’s that rumor about you two threatening Kamoshida too…” She trailed off.

“Maybe we should just do some research for now, check the Aficionado site a bit?” Airi suggested with a shrug.

Akira shifted his balance, sighing silently.

Morgana popped out of the bag. “Looks like you’ll just have to live a normal, honest school life for the time being." The feline gave them a stern look. "Still, make sure you stay prepared just in case anything comes up, all right?”

“I’ll keep an eye out for info on any big shots that might be comin’ around.” Ryuji proclaimed eagerly.

“And I’ll try to dig up some dirt online.” Ann added with a smile.

“We went and formed the Phantom Thieves group, but we can’t even find a target..” Ryuji rubbed his head, putting his phone away.

Airi sweatdropped. “There, there…” She patted his back comfortingly.

“I guess sometimes things just don’t go the way we want ‘em to…” He sighed.

Akira checked his phone. “Lunch is almost over. We should eat.” He suggested quietly.

They nodded and headed back, Airi making sure to hand the extra bento to Ryuji.

In the middle of Hiruta-sensei’s lecture, three phones buzzed. They took their phones out discreetly.

R: The police are really here...I saw ‘em at the entrance.
An: I saw them too! They were talking to the teachers!
Ai: If any of them approach you, don’t say anything weird, OK?
R: Got it.
R: But that change of heart thing is seriously amazing, huh?!
An: I hope they don’t find out we’re responsible...
Ai: Keep calm and look innocent.
R: I’m pretty sure we’ll be fine. There’s no proof it was us.
Ak: We don’t need to worry.
An: You sound sure of yourself…
An: But I mean, haven’t rumors been going around about how you guys threatened Kamoshida?
Ai: Oh, yeah…
Ai: Well, I don’t think anyone would mention that to the police.
Ai: School pride and all that.
R: Yeah, I doubt the cops would believe rumors.
R: Plus, this world’s Kamoshida shouldn’t know anything about what actually happened to him.
An: Still…
R: We did what was right. Don’t go freaking out over some label.
An: I guess that’s true…
Ai: It’ll pass. Just believe in us.
R: Man, I really can’t wait to keep living this double life!
Ai: Don’t let it get to your head. You have to improve your grades.
R: Yes, mom...
R: All right, Akira! We’re gonna be counting on you!


-AFTER SCHOOL-

Once the bell rang, most of the students got up and left, leaving for home. Airi sat at her desk, writing down the last notes. Leaning against his desk, Akira browsed his phone, waiting for her.

Hearing footsteps approaching, they looked up.

Mishima waved. “...Hey.” He greeted, resting his hands in his pockets, stopping in front of the two. “Have you seen that Phantom Aficionado Website?” He asked lightheartedly.

Akira nodded. “I’ve heard of it.” He replied quietly.

Airi perked up. “Oh, right! I was going to ask you earlier, but it completely escaped my mind.” She looked up at their classmate who looked back at her questioningly. “You’re pretty talented with web design, aren’t you? Are you the one who made it?” She inquired. "I remember you did a website for last year's cultural festival."

He rubbed the back of his head bashfully. “Yeah, I’m the one who started it.” He confirmed shyly. Moving closer, he was inches away from Akira’s face. Said male tilted his head back, a little weirded out by how close his classmate was.

Airi stared attentively. It was kind of hot, with cool and collected Akira and cute and stammering Mishima...

Silently clearing her throat, she glanced away awkwardly, a blush overtaking her cheeks. Don’t be a pervert.

“Um..!” Mishima stuttered. “...You guys are the Phantom Thieves, aren’t you?” He whispered.

Akira blinked. “What..? Give me some space.” He coerced, giving him an odd look.

Mishima blinked, noticing their proximity. “...Sorry.” He backed up a bit, embarrassed. “Although...if things really are as I think, I should keep it a secret.” He proclaimed quietly, giving them a tiny smile. “Kamoshida used me, and I did some horrible things to you guys.” He looked down sullenly.

Airi gave him a concerned look. “Mishima-kun, we don’t blame you…”

“Still…” He shook his head. “I still spread your record.” He looked at the transfer apologetically. “This isn’t much of a way for me to apologize for it…” He crossed his arms, staring at them resolutely. “But if there’s anything I can do to help the cause, just let me know!”

Akira blinked. “That’s great, but…” He trailed off, looking over at the class president for help.

She sweatdropped. “Thank you, Mishima-kun. But we’re not the Phantom Thieves. You should announce it on the website so they’d see it.” Airi suggested lightheartedly.

He nodded. “I know you can’t admit it.” He looked away. “There are many more evil adults outside of Kamoshida.” He furrowed his brow in resentment. “But I’m sure the Phantom Thieves will do something...They can’t let this end after just one target.” He looked back at them with a determined expression. “That’s why I wanted to make a forum where people could post their problems. There are probably a lot of people who have high hopes for the Phantom Thieves’ next move.” He smiled. “So I’ve also implemented an anonymous poll on the site.”

Taking out his phone from his pocket, he animatedly shoved it in front of Akira’s face. “”Do you believe in the Phantom Thieves, or not?”” Mishima recited. “I...hope someday my forum is filled with supportful posts. I’d really like to help out in the Phantom Thieves’ acts of justice!...Can I, please?” He looked at them with hope filled eyes.

Akira chuckled slightly. “Sounds like fun.” He humored his classmate.

He smiled widely. “I’ll live up to your expectations...I promise.” He swore quietly.

‘I sense abundantly high expectations from Mishima…’ Akira sweatdropped, nodding.

“See you.” Mishima waved, running away.

Once he left the room, Ryuji and Ann walked up to them. “We heard all that.” Ryuji stated, resting his thumbs in his pockets. “Geez...It was a little awkward tryin’ to figure out when to walk over here.”

Ann grasped her chin. “So that forum is Mishima-kun’s…” She marveled.

Morgana popped its head out of Akira’s bag. “Has he figured out our identities?” It asked, eyes wide with the possibility.

Airi hummed. “I think so. I was talking to him earlier and he almost called me a phantom thief.” She rested her chin against her palm.

“Even so, I think it’ll be fine. He seemed to be playing it cool.” Ann shrugged.

Ryuji deadpanned. “I guess we should have a little chat about this later.”

Airi leaned back in her chair, closing her notebook. “Well, if he does know, we should be glad to have him." She smiled. "Since he’s the one who made the site, he can reach out to us personally about the problems instead of having us scroll through the posts.”

Morgana nodded. “A forum where people can post problems may prove useful to us like that.”

They all nodded.

“Anyways, we gotta get lookin’ for a new target.” Ryuji urged.

“And we need to stay sharp until we manage to find one.” Ann added. “Once we do, we’ll have to head into another Palace, so we should prep our equipment and-” “Wait, oh CRAP!” He shouted.

The others jumped at the loud outburst. “What’s with you?!” Ann yelped.

Ryuji looked at them in horror. “D-D-Don’t we have an exam comin’ up?!” He squawked.

Airi let her head hit against her desk, sighing heavily. Akira sweatdropped.

Ann gave him an unimpressed look. “...Judging by that reaction, I’d assume you’re going to struggle this time too?”

“I-It’s not like you’re any better! All you’re good at is English!” Ryuji argued indignantly.

“I’d rather that than be bad at every subject!” She shot back.

Morgana grinned mischievously. “Even your Japanese is questionable at best, Ryuji.”

Ryuji pouted and kicked the floor. “What’s questionable is whether you’re really even a human.” He remarked, before grinning at Akira. “Good comeback, huh?”

Morgana glared sharply. “...Let’s discuss this with our fists!” It bristled.

The punk crouched, ready to pounce. “Bring it!” He replied darkly.

Slamming her hands against the desk, Airi stood up between them. “OK, children, I’m angry now.” She smiled serenely.

The two took a step back, staring at her with wide eyes. Akira and Ann covered their mouths, and watched attentively.

Airi looked down at the feline. “Morgana, don’t insult Ryuji’s intelligence.” She chided, then looked over at Ryuji. “Ryuji, don’t demean Morgana just because they don’t look human.” She gripped their collars tightly and brought them together. “Now say you’re sorry, or no more bentos or tuna.” She declared firmly.

They looked at her incredulously. “B-But..!” Ryuji began, but stopped when Airi glared.

“Lady Airi, I..!” Morgana snapped its jaw shut when she turned to frown at it.

Sighing, they gazed at each other grudgingly. “Sorry…” They muttered.

Airi smiled serenely. “We’re a team, remember?” She chirped.

Ann clapped her hands slowly. “Good job, mom.” She snickered. Airi shot her a dirty look.

Akira smirked faintly, looking at them all in amusement. “Anyway, exams are next week?” He asked.

Ann nodded. “Yep, it’s midterms. It’ll be from Wednesday to Saturday.” She confirmed.

Ryuji rubbed his head. “Ugh, I’m gonna die…” He groaned.

Airi rolled her eyes. “Not to brag, but did you forget that you’re good friends with the top scorer in our grade? We can do a study group.” She offered.

His head shot up. “Really…?” He whispered, gazing at her with hope filled eyes.

“Oh, please, please, please!” Ann clasped her hands together.

Akira leaned back against his desk. “Yes, please help us idiots.” He snickered quietly.

Airi gave him an unimpressed look, then giggled. “All right, all right.” She acquiesced. “ I work today and tomorrow but I’m free afterwards. My boss gave me the week off to focus on the exams. Just text me whenever if you need help.” She smiled before getting up. “I better get going or I’ll be late. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” She shouldered her bag.

“Oh, wait! I want to go to Shibuya too, so I’ll go with you.” Ann piped up, grabbing her bag from her desk.

“Same.” Akira added, zipping Morgana back in.

“I’m gonna hang out around school for a bit. Tell me if you wanna go for a run, Akira!” Ryuji waved, hopping out of the classroom.

Leaving the school, the three teenagers walked together to the station, waiting for their train. Ann glanced around, furrowing her brows.

Airi blinked, noticing her friend’s nervousness. “What’s wrong?”

The model bit her lip. “It felt like someone was watching me this morning…” She whispered.

She tensed. “...You, too?” She murmured, hunching her shoulders.

Alarmed, Akira furrowed his brow. “What? Why didn’t you tell me?” He pressed, before he blinked in realization. “It was this morning when we were going to school.” He stated quietly.

Airi nodded. “Yeah...I don’t know though, it could just be a one time occurrence.” She pursed her lips.

They got onto the train that pulled into the station. With a start, it began traveling toward Shibuya, the windows consumed in the black tunnel.

Ann scrunched up her face. “Should we tell the authorities? No, but then…” She trailed off, looking down sullenly. “Ugh, never mind! It’s nothing!” She shook her head rapidly.

‘I should say something…’ Akira thought to himself, hesitating. “Ugh, you’re pathetic. A real man should know how to sooth a lady’s heart, especially these two ladies!” Morgana whispered to him.

Deadpanning at the insult to his manhood, he opened his mouth. “Why don’t we hang out today?” Akira offered. “If you feel someone’s watching you, tell me.”

Ann looked at him in surprise. “Uh...sure! If you’re OK with that.” She stammered. “We could go shopping at the underground mall so we don’t leave Airi alone.” She suggested, looking at the class president.

Airi shook her head. “Don’t worry about me. There’s a lot of security around my job.” She smiled reassuringly.

“This is Shibuya. I repeat, this is Shibuya. The time is now 4:22PM, the next stop is….”

Chapter Text

Getting off the train, they walked Airi to her job before strolling around the mall. Ann perused the stores while Akira followed after her patiently. There didn't seem to be any indication of a stalker nearby, but he might as well hang with her anyway. She was his teammate and friend too. Out of the whole group, he knew her the least.

Deciding not buying anything, they headed to the diner for food. Grabbing the nearest table, they ordered some coffee. They sat in silence with their steaming cups, not sure what to talk about. “Hey, um…” Ann began. “There’s something I want to talk to you about, Akira.” She took a deep breath. “...It’s Shiho.”

Blinking, he looked at her questioningly. “Is she OK?” He asked quietly. He only knew she had woken up, and that Ann had continued visiting her.

She nodded, idly twirling a ponytail. “Well…You know that Airi and I have been visiting her in the hospital. She hasn’t come with me recently because she’s been so busy. Shiho...She said she was sorry.” She looked down sullenly. “Sorry for not telling me about Kamoshida...about all the things he was doing to her…”

She clenched her hands. “But it was my fault too. I didn’t realize how much trouble she was in...I wasn’t there for her...I didn’t even know how bad it was until Airi told me that I realized what was happening.” She stated grimly. “So, I apologized as well.”

Akira looked at her sympathetically. “She’s so strong.” He smiled slightly. Was it something about Tokyo that all the girls he knew had wills of steel?

Ann perked up. “Isn’t she?” She giggled. “Shiho really is a great girl. I’m glad I finally got to tell her everything I couldn’t bring myself to say before. And, um…” She uncrossed her legs. “Remember how Kamoshida threatened to take Shiho off the team if I didn’t sleep with him?” She bit her lip, baby blue eyes darkening at the memory. “I had only agreed to it so that I wouldn’t ruin Shiho’s dreams...But now that I think about it, he never would have put her on the bench and cost his team games…”

She sneered. “I seriously should have dared him to try and take her starting spot.” She slumped. “...But in the end, maybe I just didn’t believe in her ability.”

He pursed his lips. “You can’t blame yourself. This is all still Kamoshida’s fault.”

She looked up at him. “You think so…?” She murmured. “But...it all happened because I was weak. That’s why I believed Kamoshida’s authority outweighed Shiho’s own ability to earn her starting spot.”

She rubbed her head. “Akira, do you remember the last time I talked to you like this? When I got that phone call from Kamoshida...and cried.” She mentioned reluctantly, closing her eyes. “I felt so alone...scared, even…But because you and Airi were there for me, I decided not to go. I was a little surprised at how pushy you two were about it...but I see now you just wanted to help..." She grinned. "Thanks.”

He gave her an encouraging smile. “It was no big deal. We couldn’t just ignore you.” He replied modestly.

She rested her chin against her palm. “You’re so kind, Akira. Back then,” Her eyes darkened. “People used to call me all sorts of names…”Prissy bitch,” “Kamoshida’s girl”...I got tired of it pretty quickly. I know I could have gone to Airi about it, but then I’d be dragging her into that mess...” She pursed her lips. “But to tell you the truth, someday I want to be able to take labels like that in stride.”

She gazed at him determinedly. “Hey, um...Personas are the power of the heart, right? That means if my heart gets stronger, my Persona will too.”

Listening intently, Akira nodded, taking a sip from his coffee.

“So…” Ann took a deep breath. “I want to strengthen my heart. And I want to use that strength to help the people around me. I hope we can save people from trouble, just like we did when we changed Kamoshida’s heart.” She leaned back in her seat. “Though honestly...I don’t even know what “strong” is.”

She sighed. “Sometimes, when I think “strong,” I think of Airi, and when she tried to save Shiho that time...I want to find the courage to act like that. I’m going to find my own answer, I promise.”

Akira smiled at her determination. “Let’s find it together. You, me, Airi, Ryuji, and Morgana.” He declared. “We’re a team, remember?”

She looked at him in surprise. “Huh? Really?!” A grin grew on her lips. “Thanks! I feel like I’m a little stronger already!” She giggled. “I guess that doesn’t really count though, huh?” She smirked. “Well...I’ll be relying on you. Let’s train together and make our hearts super strong!” She pumped her fist.

He nodded in agreement. ‘I sense a heightened motivation from Ann…’ He noted, finishing off his coffee in one go.

“A strong heart, hmm…” She hummed thoughtfully before perking up. “How about this: I won’t get any refills on fountain drinks! I mean, they’re free, so not getting any would mean you have a strong heart!”

Akira sweatdropped. “Err, I don’t think that’s…”

Ann blinked. “...Is that not right? Well, whatever." She shrugged, finishing her coffee. "I think I’m going to head home now. Thanks so much for coming out with me to hear my troubles.” She gave him a grateful smile.

She called over the waitress for the check, and after paying their bill, they left the diner. He walked her to the station just in case, though she didn’t say she felt like there was anyone watching them.

Checking his phone, he realized it had only been an hour. ‘I could hang out with Ryuji…’ He pondered, before nodding. It was good to bond with his new friends. Texting the punk, he took the train back to the school.

Sitting on the train, Morgana popped its head out. “Are you going to hang out with Ryuji now?”

He nodded. “I have the time.” He replied quietly.

It sighed. “More sitting around in the locker room, huh…”

Akira winced. He hadn't considered how the feline was basically forced to wait for him. “Sorry.” He whispered.

Shaking its head, it yawned, showing its tiny pink tongue. “Don’t worry, it’s actually pretty tiring listening in on your lessons and conversations.” It remarked, going back inside the bag.

Getting back to the school, he walked over to the boy's locker room to change into the gym uniform. Leaving the jacket unzipped like always, he exited out into the courtyard where Ryuji was doing a couple of stretches, putting his weight on one leg and straightening out the other.

He looked up at him with a grin. “Yo, Let’s go!” Jumping up, he sprinted away, starting his laps.

Exhaling softly, Akira went after him at a slower pace. They ran a couple of laps around the school with Ryuji sprinting as fast as he could.

It was about an hour later that they began slowing down, the punk in front of him starting to stumble. They made it back to the courtyard where they started and Ryuji almost collapsed on the spot, holding himself up by his knees. “Ugh, dammit!” He cursed, panting. “I wanna move better, but I just can’t...I was trainin’ for nationals back in the day..." He gritted. "But now I totally suck balls.”

Stopping behind him, Akira looked sympathetically. Screw Kamoshida for ruining so many people’s dreams.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

They looked over at who spoke. The school should've been empty by this hour. Three male students walked up to them, also wearing the Shujin Academy gym uniform. They weren't anyone Akira knew.

Straightening up, Ryuji’s eyes widened in surprise. “Nakaoka...Takeishi…” He breathed.

Akira looked back and forth between them, noting the tension. ‘I guess they know each other.’

The tanned one, Nakaoka, sneered. “...Running, huh? I saw you from the window.”

Takeishi scoffed, adjusting his blue sports band. “What, you gonna try to come crawling back to the track team?”

Taken aback, Ryuji tightened his lips. “Huh? H-Hell no…” He replied weakly.

Nakaoka frowned. “Sure...Speaking of which, this was your secret training spot, wasn’t it?” He looked around at the courtyard space. “Well, it’s our spot now.” He declared. “You know, us. The former track team.”

Takeishi nodded. “We don’t even have a locker room anymore, thanks to someone I know.” He glared directly at his ex-trackmate.

Pursing his lips, Ryuji looked down guiltily, not saying anything.

Akira looked at him worriedly and decided to step in. “Let’s not fight.” He mediated, walking in between his friend and his former team.

He looked up at him. “We ain’t fightin’...” He muttered.

Nakaoka turned to the bespectacled teen. “Yeah, this isn’t anything like a fight. Not even close.” He remarked, before squinting at him. “Hold on, aren’t you that transfer student? You’re really gonna hang around with this loser?”

Akira narrowed his eyes at the insult to his friend, resting his hands in his pockets to hide his clenched fists. He could hang out with whoever he wanted, thanks. It's not like people were lining up to be his friend.

The third ex-track team member piped up. “You better watch out. He’ll hit you the second he gets pissed off.” He warned mockingly. “I heard his dad was the same way. Like father like son, right? Now that’s some scary shit.”

Affronted, Ryuji stomped his foot in front of him. “That don’t got anything to do with this…” He growled, glaring darkly at his former teammates.

Akira glanced at him, frowning softly. He shouldn't lose his cool. “Calm down, Ryuji.”

Dark eyes slid to him, and Ryuji straightened up. “...You’re right.” He exhaled.

Nakaoka stared at them in surprise.

Resting his thumbs in his pockets, Ryuji looked at them apologetically. “Look, back then, I…” “I don’t need to hear your excuses.” Nakaoka interrupted, frowning deeply.

“Everyone was going through the same bullshit with Kamoshida. The beatings, the impossible exercises...but we put up with all of it for the track team.” Clenching his fists, the tanned athlete walked up to Ryuji, glaring straight at his face. “But no. You had to go and fuck all of that up!” He shook his head angrily. “Man, I was stupid for ever thinking you were my teammate.”

He turned around, Ryuji facing his back. “...That’s all I have to say to you. I’m outta here.” He walked away, the two ex-track team members following.

Akira exhaled, glad that the confrontation was over.

Ryuji groaned, rubbing the back of his head. “...I nearly smacked him when he was talkin’ about my dad...I haven’t changed at all...” He whispered bitterly.

“You’re trying.” He assured, shifting in place.

Ryuji turned to him, a smile growing on his lips. “Y’know...you actually helped me calm down a little. I’m glad you were here with me.” He grinned. “Thanks, man!” He held up his hand.

Smirking, He lifted his hand up as well, and they high fived. ‘I feel like my bond with Ryuji is growing deeper…’ He reflected silently.

He rolled his shoulder, groaning. “...Let’s call it a day. We still got school tomorrow.” Akira nodded, about to head back inside to change into some more comfortable clothes.

“Hey, Nakaoka! Why didn’t you kick his ass?!”

The two looked off into the distance, seeing Takeishi yelling at Nakaoka. “What?” Nakaoka sputtered.

“The hell’s your problem?!” Takeishi shouted.

Raising an eyebrow, Ryuji crossed his arms. “Now they’re just arguing with each other...I should stay out of it.” He sighed, turning back around. “Anyways, nice trainin’ with you.” He grinned at Akira, who nodded.

They went back to the locker room to change, before parting ways.

Akira sighed, now in his usual black sports jacket and blue jeans. It had been a long day. Sitting on a bench at a nearby playground, he let Morgana out of his bag. “I’m gonna sit here for a bit. Why don’t you stretch your legs?”

Stretching out its body, it yawned. “Yeah, I need the exercise.” It agreed. “I’m gonna get lazy being in your bag.” It jumped down, sniffing at plants curiously and running around.

Akira watched with a small smile, taking his phone out of his pocket. Scrolling through the news, he decided to check out the Phan-site. Dragging his thumb up, he went through countless posts of “I want my boyfriend to apologize to me” and “My friend didn’t give me back something” before giving up.

Sighing, he checked the time. ‘Airi’s getting off soon. I could meet up with her and go home together.’ He blushed slightly at the thought. It wasn’t like they lived together, but at this point, her house and even Cafe Leblanc felt more like home than his house back in Mishima. Smiling fondly, he thought back to the times they studied together, just the two of them.

He could admit to himself that he was definitely hogging her from the others, but it wasn’t as if it she didn’t reciprocate. As a class president, she spent a lot of time with him instead of worrying about how their their class would take it. Was it really OK for someone like her to be with him?

“What are you smiling about?”

Startled, he quickly turned. Morgana stared up at him curiously, lazily waving its tail back and forth.

“Ah, nothing.” He replied evasively.

It narrowed its blue eyes. “Must be nice to be so close to Lady Airi, huh.” It remarked, giving him a knowing look.

Blushing at the accusation, he looked away. “I guess…” He answered vaguely.

Morgana brushed its whiskers. “Well, it’s not any of my business. But if you hurt her…” It trailed off, glaring at him.

Akira smirked lightly. “She’ll be happy to know you’re so protective of her.” He gave the feline a couple of scritches.

It involuntarily purred before shaking him off and jumping into his bag.

Shouldering it, he went to the station and took a train to Shibuya.

It was evening now, and the streets were brightly lit with all the TV screens and lights of Shibuya. He was always surprised to see so many people walking around even after the sun had set. Every store in his hometown closed before 7PM, and to see places that were open for 24HRs was mind boggling. The city was infinitely more convenient than the countryside.

Walking out of the station, he headed down to Central Street to grab a dinner before picking Airi up from work. He was pretty hungry and she wouldn't be off for a while anyway.

“...There have been far too many incidents recently to ignore! Can anyone deny this?”

Ears perking up, Akira turned. It was the same politician who spoke out against the mental shutdowns and adults taking advantage of the younger generation.

He hummed thoughtfully, stopping in front of the man to listen to his speech. Morgana snuck out of his bag, leaning on his shoulder.

“The runaway-train incident, mysterious psychotic breakdowns, a school with corrupt teachers…” The politician continued, gesturing out to his minuscule audience. Only a few people had stopped to listen, the vast majority ignoring him. “We have yet to discover the truth of it all! The apathy that permeates society is a direct result of negligence by our government and the media.”

The man gazed at the people, stopping at Akira. “...You’re listening quite attentively.” He remarked. “Are you interested in politics?”

Blinking, Akira nodded. “I am interested.” He replied politely.

The man looked at him thoughtfully. “Are you a student? I’m delighted to captivate the interest of someone your age.” He expressed, giving him a small smile. “..Hmmm, I could use the help of a young person, but I can’t hire someone without any experience. I’m sorry about that. However, I’d be happy if you stopped by to hear one of my speeches again.” He inclined his head. “...Well then, that’s all for today. I’m heading to the gyudon shop…”

Akira nodded. “I’ll be sure to do that.” He promised, giving a small bow before walking away. He saw out of the corner of his eye that the politician took his little step board and walked toward Central Street.

“Eating at the gyudon shop, huh? Pretty humble preferences for a politician.” Morgana commented, waving it’s tail in the cool evening air. “That guy seemed to want some help...He isn’t very popular, but his speech-giving skills might be helpful in the Metaverse.”

Akira hummed thoughtfully. It would certainly be interesting learning from a real politician. He nodded.

“Hey,” Morgana perked up. “You should work part-time at the beef bowl shop. If he sees you working hard, maybe he’ll let you help him.”

Akira looked at it questioningly. “Now?” He asked, raising a brow.

It nodded. “Why not, we have time right now.”

Pursing his lips, he exhaled, heading down into the underground walkway. Walking up to the job advertisement stands, he grabbed the one for the exact gyudon shop on Central Street and dialed the number. “Hello, my name is Kurusu Akira. I’m calling about the job offer at Ore no Beko.” He answered politely.

“Oh yes, if you can make it tonight, you’re hired. We need all the help. You’re a high school student, I’m guessing? I’ll let you move around your schedule.” The man on the phone offered.

That was fast. “All right, I’ll come in right now.”

“Great. Just come right in and knock on the employees only door.” They hung up.

Exhaling, he walked back above ground, making his way to the restaurant. Walking through the automatic sliding doors, he maneuvered around the full restaurant, hugging his bag to himself. Making it to the employees only door, he knocked twice.

The door opened, showing a man in a suit. “Oh, you’re the new part-timer right? I’ve been expecting you. Here.” He shoved a plastic wrapped bundle in his arms. “This will be your uniform. Please change into it in the bathroom and come back.”

Bowing, Akira did what he was instructed, changing into the blue polo shirt with an orange cross, a blue apron, black slacks, and a blue cap. Walking back to the employees room, he knocked twice and walked in, standing at attention with his hands clasped in front of him.

The manager got up from his desk. “Good, the uniform fits. No need to introduce yourself. I actually need you to start working right away. Do you have any questions about the job?”

Akira blinked hesitantly. What? He didn’t have to sign anything, or show ID? “...What does the work entail?” He asked tentatively.

“Take customers’ orders, prep them, serve them, ring them up, and then clean the store.” The manager answered immediately. “The meals are all ready-made, so it should be simple. Just make sure you’re nice to the customers, OK?” He urged nonchalantly.

Taken aback by the mass of responsibilities, Akira stared with slightly wide eyes. “Are there any other employees?”

The manager sighed. “Not quite. Our budget’s been cut despite being short-staffed...so you’ll have to do everything alone. You’re a spry young dude, right? You’ll be fine. I’ll pay you more to make up for the extra work!” He incentivized, looking at the youth optimistically. “OK, I need to head out for a bit! Keep an eye on the shop until I get back.” He appointed, leaving the office.

Akira sweatdropped. ‘Just me then…’ He thought bleakly. His first job in a restaurant and he was all alone without any other experienced workers to watch him.

Leaving his bag on a nearby chair, Morgana popped out, giving him an incredulous look. “This job is ludicrous. You have to do everything all by yourself from the very beginning?” It shook its head. “Oh well. Just give it your best shot, I guess. I’ll be cheering you on.”

Taking a deep breath, Akira left the room and immediately went behind the counters. First he served some of the bowls to the customers, then took the dirty dishes to wash, then wiped the counters. Over and over again.

Washing the dishes, he was internally panicking. ‘This job is so stressful…!’ He yelled in his mind. “Hey, the meat’s done. You’ll burn it if you let it cook any longer.” Morgana whispered frantically, sitting in the bag in the back counter.

He rushed to the back, taking the beef off the grill and dividing them between the bowls.

“That customer there wants to order takeout. Who has time to prepare that..?” Morgana gawked, gesturing over to the corner.

Hurriedly running back to the front, he took the takeout order as politely as he could before sprinting back to the stoves, throwing the pre-prepared meal on the grill. He panted quietly, sweat pouring down his forehead from the intense workout. He took a cold beef bowl that someone mistakenly ordered and quickly shoveled it in his mouth, starving after not eating for so long. Airi’s lunch wasn’t enough.

Running back to the front, he washed the dishes deliriously. Scrubbing a stubborn stain, he noticed that the politician from before was watching him work. Biting his lip, he threw the now clean bowls into the dryer, before rushing to box the takeout order.

“Thank you, please come again.” He stated, bowing quickly to the departing customer.

He sighed. His shift was almost done, and the shop only had a few customers left, all of them with a meal in front of them. He let his shoulders slump, exhausted from how intense the job was. ‘Why did I do this again…? Oh right, gotta learn for the team.’ He reminded himself weakly.

He heard the doors slide open, and he turned to greet the customer. “Welcome to Ore no Beko!” He bowed quickly.

“...A-Akira?”

Chapter Text

Wiping her forehead, she exhaled and took off her apron. It was two hours after what was supposed to be the end of her shift, but her boss had her stay overtime due to the influx of customers.

“Thank you for staying late, Airi-chan.” Hanasaki-san praised. “Here’s some extra on top of your wages.” She handed her ¥5000.

Airi bowed, taking the money. “Thank you so much, Hanasaki-san!”

Her boss waved her away. “You deserve it. Treat yourself to a nice dinner, you must be starving by now.”

Giving her a grateful smile, Airi bowed again before grabbing her jacket, wearing it on top of her dusty pink blouse and black skirt. Shouldering her schoolbag that also held her uniform, she left the flower shop and went above ground.

She honestly did like her job; her boss was nice and the customers were never too rowdy. Flowers seemed to bring a sort of calm for people, and she could lose herself in arranging the bouquets. But was this what she wanted to do for the rest of her life? Her boss was since it was her flower shop, but could she see herself doing the same thing day after day? Giving bouquets to people in joy, in mourning, again and again.

Rui probably could’ve done it. She was too kind...

“Hey Airi, bring those dandelions over here!” Rui yelled out from her spot in the garden.

Letting out a groan, she did what she was told, brusquely grabbing the yellow weeds, and brought them to her friend in a fist. “Here.” She was given a sunny grin in response, filling her stomach with butterflies.

“Thanks!” Taking the flowers from her grip, her brown eyes caught purple and took a hold of her hand.

“H-Hey!” Airi scrunched up her brow, trying to take her hand back from the grip.

“...The matron did this to you, huh.” She stated angrily, staring at the mottled bruises on her knuckles.

She sighed. “Don’t worry about it...You can’t do anything against them.” She mumbled defeatedly.

Rui gave her a worried look. “But Airi, you can’t let them win! Just because they smashed your-” “Shut up!” She glared at her only friend, not wanting to hear it. Pursing her lips, she let out a sigh. “Sorry, I don’t...I don’t want to hear it. Go-baka already rubs it in my face enough.”

Giving her a sympathetic smile, Rui shook her head. “No, I gotcha. I’m sorry for pushing. Here.” Turning back to her pile of flowers, she carefully picked out a dandelion seed head. “Maybe if you make a wish, it’ll come true!”

She looked at it skeptically. “That doesn’t work.”

Rui grinned, shoving it in her face. “You’ll never know if you don’t try!”

Staring at it for a moment, she hesitantly took it. Taking a deep breath, she blew.

‘Can we be together forever?’

“Airi, RUN!”

She shakily exhaled, feeling the tension leave her body. She shouldn’t be thinking of those things, even though she knew it was unhealthy to keep ignoring it. Her stomach grumbled, reminding her that she hasn’t eaten.

Clenching her abdomen, she made her way down to Central Street for a place to eat. ‘Crepes? No...Diner? Too expensive…’

Her eyes landed on the gyudon shop. Perfect. Heading toward the cheap beef bowl restaurant, dodging the groups of late shoppers, she walked in through the automatic sliding doors.

“Welcome to Ore no Beko!”

She stared at the familiar ebony haired male wearing the restaurant’s employee uniform. “...A-Akira?” She gasped, covering her mouth in surprise.

Said male’s head shot up from his bow, eyes wide. “Airi?” He sputtered. They stared at each other in surprise, not expecting to see the other here.

“Hey, the beef is burning!” Morgana yelled from the back.

Stiffening, he rushed to the back, flailing a bit in panic.

Laughing a bit incredulously, Airi took a seat. The only other customer near her was an older man, wearing a dark suit. He was watching Akira quite attentively. Raising an eyebrow at that, Airi shook her head and perused the menu.

Akira ran up in front of her, her rose colored strands fluttering in the man made wind. “What would you like to order?” He asked, panting slightly.

“Uh…” She blinked. “A medium barbecue bowl, please.”

Nodding rapidly, he rushed to the back to prepare her order. She stared after him, brows raised at the harried expression on his face. She looked around. ‘Is he the only employee…?’ She wondered. Exhaling softly, she took out her phone and scrolled through the trending news, noting yet another mental breakdown.

A bowl slammed in front of her, and she jumped. “Please enjoy your meal!” Akira bowed, blushing embarrassedly.

Airi blinked rapidly. “U-Um…” She stammered. “Are you the only one working, Akira?”

He nodded slightly. “Yeah…” He breathed out, rubbing the back of his neck tiredly.

“Why’d you take this job then?” She tilted her head.

His eyes slid to the side where the older man sat, eating a beef bowl unaware. “It’s for the team.” He answered after a moment.

Her eyes followed his, and lifted a brow. “Well, OK... Are you getting off soon? I could wait for you.” She offered, smiling.

He gave her a grateful smile. “Yeah, my shift ends in thirty minutes. Take your time.” He waved before rushing back to his job, waiting on another customer.

Smiling fondly at his flustered figure, she began eating her barbecue bowl. Chewing on the slightly burnt meat, she noticed out of the corners of her eyes that a certain man was looking in her direction. “Excuse me, young lady.” He called out.

She looked at him questioningly, swallowing. “Yes?” She answered politely.

“Do you know that young man who’s working? Is he your boyfriend?” He inquired, idly combing his receding hairline.

Blushing, she shook her head. “W-We’re classmates.” She refuted, heart beating faster at the mention of Akira being her significant other.

The older man hummed thoughtfully. “I see.” He paused. “It’s certainly unfair for him to work the entire restaurant alone.” He remarked, watching the employee with a frown.

Airi nodded. “Yeah, and we have exams coming up soon, so he’ll be even more exhausted.” She frowned worriedly. Was he going to keep taking shifts?

The man nodded grimly before placing a couple of bills on the table, and left the restaurant.

Staring curiously at the older man’s retreating back, she turned back to her meal and continued to eat. ‘I wonder what Akira wants with him.’ She wondered, chewing some rice.

Finishing her meal, she idly scrolled through her phone, trying to stall until it was the end of Akira’s shift. The shop was almost empty now, with only two other customers left. Akira was slowly washing the dishes, shoulders slumped in exhaustion.

She bit her lip, watching him concernedly. ‘He must be so tired…’

Just then, a man in a business suit walked into the restaurant. “Please excuse me for the interruption, but our store will be closing in a few minutes. Please pay for your meals and have a good night.” He bowed, before walking into the employee’s room.

Airi dug into her bag for her wallet, taking out ¥450 for her meal.

Akira made his rounds, collecting the money and handing out receipts. “Thank you very much. Thank you very much.” He bowed politely over and over, the customers taking their leave. He sighed, relaxing his shoulders. He turned to Airi. “Let me get my wages and change. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He smiled tiredly, walking to the back room.

 

Akira stood with his back straight, his hands folded in front of him.

His boss nodded. “All right, good work. You can leave now since it’s the end of your shift.” He took out a bundle of yen. “This is your pay. Thank you for today. Well, I hope you can keep it up.” He handed him ¥3600.

Akira bowed. “Thank you, buchou-san.” Accepting the money, he added it into his wallet. The manager nodded, leaving the room.

Sighing heavily, he took off his cap and held it loosely in his hand.

Morgana popped out of his bag on the chair. “A-Are you OK? You were alone out there this whole time…” It asked tentatively, giving him a pitying expression. “But you still managed all those orders by yourself. If you ask me, you were pretty proficient!”

He brushed his hair sluggishly, smirking slightly at his accomplishment. “Yeah…” He yawned, covering his mouth. “I have to keep at it until that politician notices though…” He blinked owlishly, gesturing for Morgana to get out of the bag. He took out some of his casual clothes and changed out of his work uniform, folding it into the bag before placing the feline back in.

Walking out of the back room, he double checked the store, making sure everything was clean, before leaving through the front door. Airi was waiting just outside, typing on her phone. “Hey. Sorry for making you wait.” He called out, walking up to her.

She looked up and gave him a smile. “Don’t worry about it.” She put her phone away. “Shall we go home?”

He nodded, and the two left the busy streets, heading down to the subway.

 

Sitting down on the train, he leaned back in his seat with a sigh, closing his eyes. He did way too much today.

Airi gave him a sympathetic glance. “Tired?” She inquired, hugging her bag to herself.

He slowly nodded, opening his eyes to half lid. “My shoulders are killing me…” He murmured, cracking his neck.

She hummed. “Did you do your homework for today?” She asked casually.

He froze. Slumping down in his seat, he hung his head. “Fuck…” He breathed, chuckling pathetically at himself.

Airi sweatdropped. “...Well, it’s not too late right now. I can give you a helping hand?”

He stilled. She was offering her help again, even after work. Biting his lip, he glanced over at her with vulnerable eyes. “...Why are you always so willing to help?” He whispered faintly.

She blinked. “Aren’t we friends…? Why wouldn’t I help you?” She asked, looking at him with a confused expression.

Huffing, he straightened up and looked directly at her. “I mean, you were the first to approach me even though you knew I have a record.” He grimaced. “The rest of the class, except Ann, still avoids me. You help me with schoolwork, at the Palace, with Suzui-san...and even now when you’re probably just as exhausted as I am." He furrowed his brows. "How are you so selfless..?”

Airi stared at him blankly, before looking down at her lap, not saying anything. Her? Selfless and kind? But she wasn't Rui...

Akira watched her for a moment, before exhaling. “Sorry, I only meant…” He paused, changing his mind. “I’m grateful for your help.” He gave her a ghost of a smile.

She nodded, still not looking at him.

Slightly hurt, he looked away dejectedly. They rode the rest of the journey in silence, an uneasy tension between them for the first time.

 

Walking down the backstreets of Yongenjaya, Akira continually glanced over at the silent female, feeling his concern grow. ‘Did I say something wrong earlier…?’ He fretted, his lips tightening. Arriving at the cafe, the lights turned off, he turned to look at the class president. “...Would you like to come in?” He asked hesitantly.

She nodded blandly.

Swallowing his nervousness, he took his keys out and unlocked the front door. Instead of staying downstairs in the cafe, he guided her up the stairs to his room, pulling on the light switch. “It’s not much but...make yourself comfortable.” He spoke awkwardly, letting Morgana out of his bag.

The feline jumped down onto the wooden floor boards. Giving him a knowing look, it went down the stairs, leaving them alone.

Airi looked around blankly, slightly curious at his living situation. The room was large but sparse, the floor and ceiling being made of old wood. The floor was too harsh to walk around barefoot, so she left her shoes on. It housed a bed in the corner, a old lumpy couch, and a CRTV on the table.

Taking a seat on the couch, she sank onto the plush surface. She blinked in surprise. ‘It’s a lot more comfortable than it looks…’ She idly noted. Exhaling, she leaned back, letting her mind run wild. Should she come clean? She hadn’t ever told anyone else this story. Takase was the only one, but he never knew the details...

Taking out his school books, he sat down next to her. “Um...so…” He glanced away awkwardly. Taking a breath, he bowed his head. “I’m sorry if I ...said something wrong earlier.” He apologized, peeking up at her with remorseful eyes. “Please, say something…”

She gripped her hands. “Ah…” She frowned softly, shaking her head. “No, I’m the one who should be sorry. You didn’t say anything wrong…” She bit her lip. Guess she was doing this.

Sighing heavily, she leaned against his arm. He tensed, but didn’t push her away. “You know I was at an orphanage,” She began inaudibly, resting her head on his shoulder.

He turned his head slightly, her rose colored tresses grazing his jaw.

She continued her story. “It was a Christian funded one, and I didn’t believe, so...I had a tough time. I had one friend there…” She took a deep breath. "Her name was Rui. She arrived after me, and she was the most loving and gentle person you could ever meet...She always did her best to cheer me up, especially after physical punishments.” She inhaled shakily, eyes darting away. “...I was so absorbed with my own pain, that I didn’t notice that the other kids were suffering just the same as me. There was even a boy there, Go-kun I think his name was, who would lash out at everyone before he was taken away."

She grimaced. "I hated him but Rui was the one who helped them, just like she helped me…” Her lips tightened. “There was a priest who really liked us. It was weird because none of the other staff did, but he would give us treats and stuff.” Her shoulders tensed as she continued. “One day, he called us into his office...he asked us if we wanted to see something special.” She trembled and clenched her eyes tightly.

His face scrunched up in horror and disgust. “You don’t have to tell me, Airi…” Akira spoke softly, rubbing her back. “Especially if it hurts you…” He lifted his hand and gently brushed her hair out of her face.

She shook her head weakly. “I trust you...I’ve only known you for a month but still, I just...I haven’t told this to anyone but the police…” She huffed shakily.

He nodded, letting her go at her own pace.

“I said no, and he hit me. He unzipped his pants, and r-reached out for me…” She began to hyperventilate, swallowing nervously. “But Rui attacked him with a letter opener from his desk...she got him in the neck, but it didn’t stop him.”

She stared unblinkingly, tears flowing down her cheeks in a steady stream. “He turned to her and began to...to strangle her. I screamed for him to stop, but he didn’t…” She clenched her teeth. “Rui died from asphyxiation, and he died minutes later from blood loss. I...couldn’t save her.” She professed, sobbing quietly.

She said it. She finally confessed her deepest sin. She had let her best friend die. Watched as her body cooled postmortem, as the red hand prints stained her tanned neck. Like a fly on the wall, she had done nothing as the kindest person was murdered for a piece of trash like her.

“Why..,” he heard. He looked down, and locked with red rimmed eyes, still flowing with tears. “Why did she have to do that?” Airi whispered. “Why couldn’t I save her too…”

‘This was why she was so heartbroken when Suzui-san jumped…’ He realized. Wrapping his arms around her, he held her protectively as she cried her heart out. ‘Airi…’ He squeezed her slim waist, trying his best to comfort her. “I’m so sorry.” He whispered.

Hiccuping, she shook her head. “It wasn’t your fault...it was mine. Rui died for me…I couldn’t do anything.” She blinked rapidly, trying to clear away the tears clinging to her lashes.

He frowned. “No, it wasn’t your fault that Rui-san died...and it wasn’t your fault that Suzui-san jumped.” He unwrapped his arms and brought his hands up, encompassing the sides of her face.

She blinked sluggishly, looking at him with red rimmed eyes.

His thumb gently rubbed away a tear track. “It’s not your fault. It was the priest’s fault, and Kamoshida’s fault.” He stated firmly.

Her eyes slid away. “Even if you say that...I still feel guilty…” She whispered. “I could have done something...Anything, really.”

“Then I’ll just have to convince you.” He declared, a determined smile painting his lips.

Sniffing, she gave him a small watery smile. “...If you say so.” She murmured, lifting her hands and grasping his wrists, plucking his palms away from her puffy cheeks. She wiped her eyes. “When the police arrived, the entire organization was investigated thoroughly...All the kids were transferred to other orphanages once they concluded the case, including me. It wasn’t great after that, but...I learned from Rui that I should take care of others, and us older kids did our best for the younger ones, no matter what...” She sighed heavily. ”Sorry, but can you just copy my answers? I don’t think I have the energy to really help you tonight…”

He nodded. “If you want, the bathroom is downstairs.” He offered.

She nodded, and with another sniff, headed down the stairs. Walking past Morgana who looked up at her in concern, she entered the cafe bathroom, closing the door behind her.

Staring into the mirror, she saw a strained little girl, eyes bloodshot, cheeks puffy from all the crying. She saw a disheveled teenager who could barely hold herself together, acting as if she was some benevolent and intelligent leader of her class. She saw a pathetic leech who couldn’t help anyone, even if they were right in front of her. She saw...

Airi sighed.

“It’s not your fault. It was the priest’s fault, and Kamoshida’s fault.” He stated firmly.

Rubbing her nose, she sniffed. “It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault.” She repeated to herself, taking a deep breath. Turning the faucet on, she cupped her hands and splashed her face with the cold liquid, cleansing the remnants of her recent breakdown. Sighing as the cool water chilled her feverish skin, she twisted the knob, damming the flow.

Tearing off a napkin from the dispenser, she dried her face. Wiping any stray tears, she threw the used paper into the trash before leaving the bathroom.

Large blue eyes greeted her as soon as she closed the door behind her, gazing at her concernedly. “Are you OK, Airi?” Morgana inquired quietly.

Giving the feline a small smile, she nodded. “Yes, I’m OK, Morgana. Thank you.” She lied, bending down to give it a few scritches.

It purred at the attention. “OK…” It replied skeptically, looking at her uncertainly before padding up the stairs.

Airi followed after it, the wood creaking underneath her feet. Arriving back on the second floor, she saw Akira had finished copying her homework and was putting his book away.

Hearing her footsteps, he turned his head to look at her, giving her a small smile. “Are you feeling better?” He asked softly.

She nodded. “Yes...Thank you again, Akira.” She sighed, smiling wryly. “I always cry when I’m with you. I’m sorry for dumping all this on you...”

He exhaled, shaking his head. “Don’t worry about it. I’m here for you.” He smiled gently.

She gave him a watery smile. “I think I’m going to go home now, it’s been a long day…” She rubbed her now sensitive eyelids, her corneas itching with dehydration. She just wanted today to be over.

He nodded. “I’ll walk you back.” He stated, grabbing his keys. She nodded, too tired to argue. They left the cafe to Morgana and walked down the road.

The streets were empty at this late hour, the cool breeze permeating through their thin jackets. Passing the supermarket, she tilted her head toward the sky, her hooded eyes following the dim astral specks, muted by the city lights.. “...Am I terrible for wishing that priest was still alive?” She whispered.

Gray irises glanced at her. “...Why?” He asked quietly.

A bitter smile grew on her lips. “So that he could suffer in prison, of course...Death is too kind of a punishment.” She murmured cynically.

They slowed their pace as the familiar house crept up into view. “...I don’t think it’s terrible.” He admitted, resting his hands in his pockets. “You want justice for your friend, even now. I think that shows you care very deeply.”

She huffed, smiling wryly. “I guess that’s good.” She inhaled, and slowly released her breath. “I try to be kind to others because Rui is kind...Was kind.” She bit her lip. “She saved me...I wouldn’t be here without her, even if that had never happened. That’s why…” She turned to look at him, her eyes quivering vulnerably. “I’ll do my best to help you. You, Ann, Ryuji, Morgana...anyone who wants or needs it.” She swore resolutely. “Because if I don’t...do I really deserve to live when Rui had to die..?”

“Airi…” Akira whispered, staring at her sympathetically. “Thank you for telling me about Rui. She must’ve been a great person...I’m grateful to her.” She blinked at him, not comprehending why. “Because of her, I met you.” He smiled. “Whether or not you think you’re a kind person, I know that you are.”

What? How could he think so highly of her, even after hearing what really happened…? Her heart jumped into her throat, swallowing instinctively. Did she really deserve his faith in her? She closed her mouth, lips tightening. Who was she to doubt her leader.

They stopped, now in front of her door. He rested his hands in his pockets, waiting patiently.

Her lips twitched. He must be so exhausted, especially after that shift at the gyudon shop, but still took the time to listen to her sob story, and even defended her against herself. Exhaling softly, she gazed at him tenderly. “You’re the kind one, Akira...I won’t let you down.” She promised. Biting her lip, she stepped closer.

He blinked, looking at her questioningly.

Stretching her feet, she tip-toed, tilting her head up.

He froze.

Her lips brushed against the smooth plane of his cheek, her nose just barely touching the rim of his glasses, lingering for a moment before pulling back. “Thank you.” She whispered, her cheeks flushed bashfully. Brushing some stray locks out of her vision, she opened her front door and closed it behind her softly, leaving him standing alone.

Heart pounding at her bold move, she hurriedly took off her shoes before rushing to run a bath, stripping her clothes into the laundry basket.

Drying her hair from her wash, she walked over to her bedroom and grasped the neck of her cello, hugging it. ‘Mom, Dad, Takase, Rui...I never said this before but...thank you.’ She closed her eyes and prayed silently, idly plucking the strings. ‘I’ll try my best to live for you...’ The chords vibrated, singing the notes into the air.

Familiar gray eyes flashed behind her eyelids, and her heart skipped a beat. Putting the instrument back, she threw herself onto her bed and hugged the Mona plush Ryuji gifted her. Gripping the soft cotton, she stared up at her ceiling.

Was this…?

 

A hand slowly reached up, cupping his cheek where he could still feel the phantom sensation of soft lips caressing his skin. Heart beating rapidly in his chest, he felt his cheeks burning under his palm, the difference in temperature like night and day. Wetting his dry lips, he idly wondered what it would feel like if those petals had landed on his own.

Turning away, he walked back home, feeling a grin slowly take up most of his face.

Locking the door behind him, he walked into the cafe and up the stairs. Quickly washing up, he changed into his sleepwear and got into bed.

Morgana watched him curiously, already laying down in its corner. “Why are you smiling so hard?” It asked, giving him an odd look.

Akira shrugged, still grinning widely. “No reason.” He answered vaguely, snuggling under the blankets. “Good night, Morgana.” He wished, closing his eyes in content. ‘That’s the first time a girl had ever kissed me...I feel like I’m getting closer…’

“Uh...good night..?” He heard it answer hesitantly, laying down near his feet.

 
 

“Hey there, Kimisawa-chan! Atsuki-chan!” The priest greeted them cheerfully in the hallways, empty of other staff and children.

Rui gave him a sunny smile. “Good evening, Shinpu-sama!”

He smiled. “You two were really diligent with your lessons today. I was watching as you balanced in ballet. How about a treat? I have some leftover cake from the staff party.”

She brightened. “Really? You’re always so nice to us!” She nudged her friend. “C’mon Airi, say thank you!”

Biting her lip, she looked down. “Thank you…”

He laughed jovially. “And of course, we shall thank the Lord for this blessing. Let’s get going, shall we?”

He guided them down the halls of the institution, floors spotless from constant mopping. They passed by the practice rooms where there were still children learning ballet and music, the art room next to it completely empty. Turning the corner, he led them into an office, far secluded from the rest of the building.

Walking to his desk where he had some open envelopes, he opened the small cooler, pulling out the opened box of cake. “Here, girls.” Placing them on some paper plates, he handed them to the two children.

“Thank you, Shinpu-sama.” They intoned, one much cheerier than the other, and wolfed down the sweet dessert. They didn’t usually get anything close to this, so it really was a treat.

 " Hmm…” He watched them devour the confection, a strange glint in his eyes.

 " What’s wrong, Shinpu-sama?” Rui asked curiously, finishing the last of her cake.

 " Well, why don’t I have a treat too...Want to see something special?”

  Tensing at the look in his eyes, Airi shook her head no. It reminded her of Hisoka, and she didn’t want to remember him.

Narrowing his eyes, he swung his hand and she fell to the ground, her cheek stinging from the contact. “Shinpu-sama!”

  He sneered. “Beautiful children like you two only have to stay beautiful by obeying your lord. I was blessed to have you two enter this orphanage, and it is time I get to enjoy it.” Removing his priest robes, he knelt down in front of her, unzipping his pants.

  Her eyes widened. What was he doing?! Her mother told her to never let a man unzip his pants near her, or let them touch her. Those men would hurt her. This man was going to hurt her.

  His face peered down at her, lips spread in a grin.

"Rahhh!!!” With a roar, Rui ran up behind him and jumped, a letter opener gripped in her hands.

He cried out as the sharp object entered his neck, exiting on the other side.

Airi covered her mouth as a fountain of red showered across the floor, some of the hot sap landing on her, burning her exposed flesh with its heat.

It was like that time a year ago.

You bitch!” He growled, turning to the dark haired girl, pulling the makeshift dagger out with a grunt of pain.

“Airi, run!” Rui yelled, grabbing the scissors left on the desk from cutting the cake ribbons.

She couldn’t move, her body wouldn’t respond, why wouldn’t it move?!

Her voice was stuck in her throat as she watched the priest tackle the other girl to the ground. “You fucking bitch! I was gonna go easy on you ‘cause you’re kids but now, I’ll definitely make it as painful as possible!” He growled, encircling his hands around her small neck. “I’ll kill you!”

Coughing from the pressure, Rui stabbed at his wrists, leaving red scars upon his flesh. “Airi...go…” She choked out, saliva sputtering out of her mouth as her fight grew weaker. She was too young, too small...

  He panted triumphantly, feeling her pulse weaken underneath his grip. “Now...for you…” He coughed, blood spewing from his mouth. He turned to Airi who was frozen on the floor, and began crawling to her, the slick blood moving him along. Reaching out with a hand, he stilled, before collapsing on the wooden boards.

Silence pervaded the small office as the two bodies slowly cooled.

"Nn…” Her tongue was like lead in her mouth as she tried to speak. She barely took in a breath with how much she was shaking. “No…” A tear slowly dripped down her face, landing in the pool of blood that began to stain her pants.

“No...NO! RUI!”

Chapter Text

----5/7, EARLY MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

She idly brushed her hair in the bathroom, gazing at her reflection in the mirror. She had woken up with the itchiest eyes, borne from last night’s crying session on Akira’s chest. Aside from that, her shoulders felt...lighter, somehow. As if she had finally stopped wearing a backpack of rocks, weighed down by her guilt.

There was still some, of course. Rui still died for her. She would never be able to forget that. How her chest just slowly stopped rising, how her body cooled in the hours it took the police to arrive. That silence afterward would never leave her ears. Sometimes, she could still hear that absolute absence of noise, even in crowded places. The guilt that she left behind the kids at the second institution when she applied for emancipation. For her support, her comfort, for food and clothes...

She sighed, frowning disquietly. It wasn’t like she could have done so forever. She taught them all she knew. Hopefully they would be able to survived on their own. They had to. The older kids who taught her were already kicked out a couple years ago and wouldn't be able to watch over them. Last she heard, some of them had joined up with the local gangs. Maybe even yakuza.

She frowned. As long as they didn’t hurt the people she cared about, as long as they could live with themselves...She wouldn’t judge them for finding a place to belong.

Placing the brush on the counter, she braided her hair into a loose fishtail. Stretching her suspenders over her shoulders, she put on her blazer last. Straightening it, she took a deep breath. “All right, Airi.” She spoke to herself. “Time to dance to the music.” She whispered, her eyes shining with renewed determination in the mirror. “No more crying.”

Grabbing her bag and her keys, she left her house behind and walked to Akira’s. ‘So much has changed in so little time...and it’s all because of him.’ Her lips quirked.

Before he arrived, she just lived day by day, trying to help others before herself. There wasn’t really anything to look forward to. Her future only consisted of her working to keep her house and paying bills.

But now, she was a phantom thief, fighting the injustices done to young people. She was surrounded by friends who understood what it was like to be used and discarded by adults, and they supported each other without a doubt. It was really...heartwarming.

Turning the corner into the narrow street, she saw Akira waiting outside the cafe, idly browsing his phone while leaning against the brick wall. The sun shown bright today, the light highlighting the black messy mop he called hair.

Her heart danced a little faster as she called out a greeting, walking up to him. Please don’t look at me with pity. Please don’t treat me any differently. Please let me still be Airi to you. “Good morning, Akira.”

He lifted his head, and gave her a smile. “Good morning, Airi. How are you feeling?” He asked quietly, pushing himself from the wall.

They walked down the road together, passing the usual elderly folk. “I’m better...thank you again.” She smiled shyly. “I feel a bit lighter now, thanks to your support.”

A rosy hue appeared on his cheeks, and he looked away, rubbing the back of his neck. “My pleasure…” He replied bashfully.

His bag rumbled, and Morgana pressed its head out of the small opening. “Good morning, Airi! Are you going to do the study group tomorrow? This guy definitely needs it.” It gestured to Akira. Said male deadpanned at the insult to his intelligence.

Laughing, she nodded. “If everyone has the time, then sure.”

Making their way onto the crowded train, Airi grabbed onto the tall male’s shoulder for balance as she was squished between another girl and the train doors. Akira hugged his bag closely.

“...Move a little more to the right, I can’t see the screen.” Morgana whispered. He adjusted his stance, putting his back to the inside of the train cart.

Loosening her grip, Airi clutched his arm instead, the train shaking causing her to bump into his side. She felt her classmate tense up.

Blushing at the familiar closeness, she didn’t move away even when the train stabilized on the tracks, relaxing against the warmth emanating from him. After last night, she found it really comforting to be near him. ‘Must be because of his kind nature…’ She reasoned. ‘He’s such a good friend to me. To us…’

What she didn’t see was the bespectacled teenager’s face, skin feverish from the blood rushing to his cheeks. “Now for today’s Train News.” The monitor announced over the roaring of the train tracks. The three Persona users looked up to the screens above the doors.

“Today’s headlines are…”Volleyball Beating Investigation!” The school claims to have left teaching methods up to its staff. It has denied once again that it had any knowledge of the beatings.” Airi furrowed her brow. Principal Kobayakawa trying to save face, huh. “”Pollen Warning as of Next Week!” Greater volume and arriving later than in previous years. “Hotspots of Tokyo!” Experience art in Shibuya! The Madarame exhibit opens next week.”

She blinked. Madarame exhibit? Where had she heard that name before? She bit gnawed on her lower lip, trying to remember. ‘At school? No...At work? No...Oh!’ The billboards next to the bookstore on central street were advertising it.

“People are really talking about the Kamoshida incident.” Morgana remarked quietly. “No one in this car knows that we’re the ones who did it.” It snickered.

Akira rolled his eyes and tilted his head to the side.

They walked into their classroom a few minutes before the first bell rang, Akira moving directly for his seat.

Airi dropped her bag off at her desk before moving to the front of the class. She clapped her hands loudly, garnering the class’ attention. “Good morning!” She spoke loudly, a smile painting her lips.

“Good morning, Senpai!” The class replied in unison, still sitting around casually.

Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, she continued. “So as you all know, we have exams coming up.” Some classmates groaned and she laughed. “Yeah, I know right? But we have to do them, so please do your best! If you have any concerns, you can come to me, OK?” She bowed. "Let's all get high scores!"

“Hai!” Her classmates bowed back.

Kawakami-sensei entered the room, and Airi moved back to her seat, sitting down. “Good morning.” She greeted, placing her folders on the side. “As I’m sure Kimisawa-chan told you, we’ve got exams starting on Wednesday. Don’t tell me you forgot.” She raised an eyebrow at the students. “Anyway, today we’ll be talking about “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” Most theorize it’s the oldest story in Japan; for some, it’s the oldest science-fiction story in the world.”

Ann listened to the teacher, a bored look on her features. Akira stared out the window, leaning against his palm. Airi didn’t bother writing anything down, it’s a famous story after all.

“But if you ask me,” Kawakami-sensei continued, rolling her eyes. “It’s the oldest story in Japan about a terrible woman. I mean, Princess Kaguya gives her suitors absurd tasks, demands fancy gifts, then runs off to the moon. Some men lose their fortunes, some are humiliated, and some even get serious wounds or go blind.” She criticized. “Women like Princess Kaguya actually show up in a lot of stories from around the world. Now then,” She looked over at Ann. “Takamaki-chan.”

Ann blinked and sat up in her seat. She usually wasn’t called on in class. She bit her lip.

“What do people generally call a woman who has a charm that sometimes leads men to their doom?” Kawakami-sensei questioned.

“A...femme fatale?” Ann answered hesitantly, blue eyes darting around the room.

The teacher clapped. “That’s right. The answer is femme fatale. Good job, Takamaki-chan.”

The model twirled her hair, smiling jubilantly at getting it right.

“Literally translated, it means “fatal woman.”” Kawakami-sensei explained. “Some famous examples are the witch Morgan le Fay from Arthurian legend and Queen Salome from the Bible. Not to mention the wild, seductive dancer of opera, Carmen.”

The three thieves blinked. Carmen? Wasn’t that…?

Two pairs of eyes bore into Ann’s back, and she turned back to them and shrugged, looking just as surprised as them.

Airi hummed, tapping her mechanical pencil against her notebook. Were all their Personas based off of famous figures in history? Scratching lead against paper, she made a note to do some research.

“...Let me just warn you that exams aren’t so easy that you can pass them with a single night of cramming. Take your time and make sure you understand the material, OK?” Kawakami-sensei advised, before starting their lesson.

Morgana wiggled itself a little out of Akira’s desk, looking up at him with one blue slit. “...You heard her. Must be tough being a student. Well, you have nothing to lose from studying. Give it all you’ve got.” It lightly smacked its tail against his thigh.

Akira huffed and nodded slightly, glancing over at his neighbor.

 

----5/7, SATURDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, SHUJIN ACADEMY

 

Giving him a wave, Airi left for work, saying it was going to be a short shift. He would have went with but there weren’t any open shifts at the convenience store today.

Sighing silently, he shouldered his bag and walked around for a while, looking at all the clubs the school offered. Maybe he should join one. Then again...He glanced at Fujiwara and Ando, standing near the doors of their class. "Hey, I totally forgot, but Kurusu-kun hasn't been expelled, has he?"

Ando shushed her. "Hey, not so loud. He's been showing up pretty regularly, so it looks like he'll be sticking around."

Fujiwara oohed, covering her mouth. "I see. So is the thing about him having a criminal record not true, then?"

Ando shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "I don't know, I'm too scared to ask. Anyway, it's probably best not to get too involved with him."

"But Kimisawa-senpai hangs out with him all the time...Wouldn't that mean he's OK?"

She rolled her eyes. "Senpai's got guts, that's for sure. Maybe he's blackmailing her..."

He pursed his lips, walking in the opposite direction of them. ‘People are still afraid of me…’ He thought resignedly. It wasn’t as if it was a huge difference to before his arrest. He didn’t have anyone he could call friends back in his hometown, any teachers who liked him, his parents...

He closed his eyes. Did they even remember he existed? It’s not like they’ve tried to contact him since shipping his clothes here.

He smiled bitterly to himself. It’s ironic that his arrest actually improved his life, in a way. Even though people were afraid of him, he gained new friends, ones who understood and actually liked him, and a new power to stand up against the injustices done to them and others.

“Hey, what are you stopping for?” Morgana whispered, swatting his shoulder blade from inside the bag.

Rolling his eyes, he started walking again.

After two hours or so of browsing clubs and getting shaky rejections from the club presidents, he made his way to the rooftop, Ann and Ryuji already waiting for him. Joining them, he let Morgana out and leaned against one of the large air conditioning units, peeking at the phone in the ex-runner's hand.

Tilting his chair back, Ryuji sighed. “None of these posts are any good. Everyone’s just bitchin’ about their parents or their boyfriends.” He complained sullenly. “There ain’t even a hint of a hint about a new Palace…” He propped his feet on top of a desk.

Ann leaned forward from her seat on a vent shaft. “We can’t get everything online…” She reasoned glumly. “Finding a post with a name and location is asking a lot…” She shook her head, her ponytails whipping around.

Akira sighed and stared up at the orange sky. Going from Kamoshida’s Palace to no action at all was so anticlimactic. Maybe he should text Airi for Mishima’s number and ask him…

Ryuji stretched. “Guess we just gotta find one ourselves then!”

Licking a paw, Morgana gave him an unimpressed look. “Are you seriously suggesting we look for a target that even the police have overlooked?”

Akira raised an eyebrow at it. “You can’t count on the police to find anything on their own. They had no idea about Kamoshida.”

The feline gave him an appraising look, before nodding in acquiesce.

Ryuji sighed. “...Well, we should prolly just hold off ‘til exams are done with, huh? We can wait and see for a little longer, then worry about comin’ up empty handed if it happens…”

A creak echoed throughout the rooftop, and four pairs of eyes snapped to the door. Morgana leapt off the desk and up onto the air conditioning unit Akira was leaning against, out of eyesight.

“Oh…” Ann uttered in surprise.

A female student walked up to them, her short brown hair fluttering in the breeze, held in place with a braided band at the top of her head. She brushed her black vest of any dust, adjusting her stance on her flats. “This place is off limits, you know.” She raised a sharp eyebrow at the group, her red eyes silently questioning them.

Akira observed the newcomer. ‘She’s not in our grade…’ He deducted, narrowing his eyes.

Ryuji watched her warily. “...We’ll get outta here once we’re done chattin’.” He replied, mouth tightening. “Anyways, what’s Miss Council President want with us?”

Akira blinked. This was Niijima-senpai? Airi's superior in the student council?

Said student council president tucked her hair behind an ear. “The troublemaker, the girl of rumor, and the infamous transfer student...Interesting combination.” She remarked calmly, eyeing around the rooftop. “Is Kimisawa-kouhai not here? She’s usually seen with you as well...To think that Ms. Perfect would hang around such a group.”

Affronted, Ann glared at the upperclassman, pink lips molding into a sneer. “Great way to start a conversation…” She muttered.

Red pupils slid to him, and Akira straightened up, resting his hands in his pockets. “By the way…” Niijima-senpai began, crossing her hands in front of her hip. “It seems as though you got to know Kamoshida-sensei pretty well.” She commented.

“Not really.” He answered coolly.

“Yeah, y’know he’s only been here a month or so.” Ryuji defended.

“Hm…” Niijima hummed, observing the bespectacled student like a hawk. “I heard Kamoshida-sensei used a volleyball team member to spread details of your past record. Don’t you hate him? Kamoshida-sensei, I mean.”

He hooded his eyes at her obvious digging. “What’s interesting is that you still refer to him as a teacher, even knowing he did terrible things to the students.” He shot back.

Taken aback, she opened her mouth. “I…”

Ryuji leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his thighs. “What’s all this about? My friend here’s an upstanding guy.”

The student council president crossed her arms. “I don’t mean to offend. Many students have been shaken up by what happened with Kamoshida-sen,” She paused. “Kamoshida.” She corrected. “The rumors about that odd, calling card-esque posting aren’t going away either.”

The blonds glanced at one another. “I didn’t expect someone like you would care about that tactless stuff, Niijima-senpai.” Ann stated, lifting her eyebrows at the brunette.

“I dunno that it was tactless…” Ryuji murmured, crossing a leg. He turned back to the upperclassman. “Anyways, we done here? We can’t leave if you keep talkin’ to us.”

Akira snorted silently. Can always count on Ryuji to get straight to the point.

The brunette glared. “At least try to understand my position. Being forced to deal with this horseplay…”

Ann glared at her incredulously. “Horseplay..?!” She hissed.

Composing herself, the student council president directed a thin smile at them. “Ah yes, by the way...It’s been decided that this place will be closed off due to the incident. I heard some people are coming up here without permission, after all.” She stated sardonically. “...I’m sorry to have interrupted you. When you have time, please tell Kimisawa-kouhai that I want to see her on Monday.” She turned and walked away, closing the door behind her.

Standing up, Ann glared at the door. “What was that about?” She huffed. “And what the hell does she need Airi for? I hope she’s not in trouble…”

Morgana jumped down, landing on a desk. “...She’s on to us.” It stated grimly. “That girl seems rather sharp. We should be cautious of her.”

Ryuji leaned forward in his seat. “She really pisses me off!” He growled.

“We’ll have to be careful.” Akira stated, leaning against the unit. “If she’s figured us out…” He pursed his lips at the thought.

The punk slammed his back against the chair. “Talk about a pain in the ass…” He groaned. “Who wants to tell Airi about this?”

Ann’s hand shot up in the air. “I vote Akira!” She shouted quickly, grinning at him knowingly.

He gave her an odd look. Why does she keep doing that? “Fine.” He replied, taking his phone out of his pocket.

Ak: We just ran into Niijima-senpai.
Ai:??? Did something happen?
Ak: She’s on to us. She might have figured out we’re the phantom thieves.
Ai: Oh no...Well, we can’t really do anything about that except be careful.
Ai: Did she say anything else?
Ak: She said she was looking for you.
Ai: I guess she wants to question me herself.
Ai: Thanks for telling me.
Ai: I have to get back to work. My shift is ending soon.

Turning off the screen, he put his phone away.

Morgana flicked an ear. “That reminds me...Study hard. Especially you, Ryuji. There are bound to be traps that will need to be solved with brains.” It warned. “Keep in mind that everything you do in your daily lives has an impact on your abilities.”

Ann tapped her chin. “True, studying won’t be so bad if we just think of it as helping us prepare to be phantom thieves.” She proclaimed optimistically. “Plus, we’ve got the smartest student in our grade to help us!”

Ryuji stood up from his seat, resting his thumbs in his pockets. “I guess you got a point...But man, it’s just so lame...I was all fired up about helpin’ people, not about studyin.’...” He rubbed his head frustratedly.

Morgana purred. “Well, I do have somewhere interesting to show you beforehand.” It announced. “You guys did originally promise to help me out with my mission, after all. Is Airi getting off work yet?”

Akira nodded. “She said she’ll be done soon. Should I tell her to meet us somewhere..?” He adjusted his glasses.

It nodded. “Tell her to meet us at the station square in Shibuya. Let’s go!” It jumped off the table and padded to the rooftop door.

“What..?” Ryuji rubbed his head confusedly. The teens followed it, Akira sending a quick text to Airi.

Chapter Text

“What’re you bringin’ us here for?” Ryuji questioned.

They were standing next to the tram car across from the Hachiko statue, with the punk sitting down on the dirty bricked ground.

“I’ll tell you once Airi arrives.” Morgana answered vaguely, laying down on the ledge of the underground entrance.

With a sigh, he hunched his back, resting his arms against his propped legs.

“Sorry I’m late!”

They turned to see Airi running up to them, slightly out of breath. “There was this customer and she wanted her bouquet exactly how she imagined it.” She rolled her eyes exasperatedly. “She yelled at me when she saw the red rose was just a centimeter too large…”

Ann wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “There there…let’s go to the spa after exams, yeah?” She comforted, looking at her sympathetically.

“Please.” Airi beamed, resting her head on the model’s shoulder. “So what are we doing?” She asked, blinking curiously.

Getting up on its paws, Morgana jumped down in front of them. “One of you take out your phone and go on the phan-site.” It requested.

Ryuji took his out. “All right, I’ve got the Phantom Aficionado Website up. Now what?”

They grouped together, looking down at the phone. “Look for a post with a full name in it.” It instructed patiently, licking a paw.

He rolled his eyes. “I already said there’s no info on any big shots. Don’t you remember?” Ryuji sighed. “But man, people actually go put someone’s real name on here. That’s some scary shit...”

Ann rescinded her arm and took her phone out as well, scrolling through the forum posts. “”He won’t listen to what I say”...No wait, there’s no name on this one.” She stated absentmindedly.

Sighing, Airi turned to her neighbor. “So what did Niijima-senpai say exactly?” She whispered, not wanting to break their concentration.

Akira leaned against the ledge. “She implied that we were responsible.” He pursed his lips. “She also sort of insulted us too...she sarcastically called you “Ms. Perfect.””

Airi furrowed her brow, taken aback. “Wow...I didn’t know Niijima-senpai thought of me like that.” She murmured morosely, a bit of hurt shining in her eyes.

Akira rested his hand on her shoulder, comforting her. “Are you guys close?”

She scrunched up her face. “Ehh...Kinda? As fellow student council members, we know we can rely on each other. I trust in her ability to take care of things as council president. Other than that, though…” She shrugged. “I don’t have many opportunities to talk to her outside of duties, since she’s an upperclassman. I do know her sister is a famous public prosecutor though.”

Akira nodded in understanding.

Ryuji perked up. “”Someone’s bad-mouthin’ me in online chat rooms”...This one’s got a name.”

“Ignore those. Aren’t there any posts about more serious trouble?” Morgana yawned.

“”I don’t know what to do about my ex who’s stalking me. His name is Nakanohara Natsuhiko.”” Ann read, furrowing her brow. “It says he’s a teller at City Hall.”

“What a mouthful.” Akira commented sarcastically, idly tapping the ground with the front of his foot. Airi snickered.

“A government worker’s stalkin’ someone..?” Ryuji exclaimed incredulously, a look of disgust smearing his features.

“That should be a suitable target.” Morgana nodded. “All right, now get the Meta-Nav ready.”

He perked up. “We’re just gonna jump right into a Palace? Fine by me!” He grinned, doing as he was instructed.

“Hey!” Ann snapped. “What happened to all that talk of “unanimous decision”? What do you think we should do, Akira?” She asked, turning to the other two.

Akira nodded. “Let’s go. We need to do this.”

Ryuji grinned at him. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

Airi tilted her head. “Nakanohara is only stalking one person, right? Is that distorted enough for a Palace…?”

The ex-runner looked at her in shock. “Dude, of course it’s wrong!”

She huffed. “I didn’t say it wasn’t, but Kamoshida had several distorted desires, and he had over ten victims. This seems much smaller by comparison.”

Morgana smiled at her reasoning. “Very sharp, Airi.” It commended. “You’ll see!”

Ryuji looked at her confusedly, before shrugging. “We need a name and a place, right? So the name is...””Actually,” Morgana interrupted. “We don’t need a location this time. Just enter exactly what I say. The keyword is…”Mementos.””

Airi blinked. “Mementos…?” The name didn’t ring any bells in her head.

“Huh? What’re you tryin’ to pull?” Ryuji squinted his eyes at the feline.

Morgana pouted. “Just listen to me. It should work...I think.” It whispered the last part.

“Geez, that again..?” Ryuji sighed resignedly. “Uhhh…”M-e-m-e-n-t-o-s,” was it?” He entered it into the search bar.

The phone pinged, confirming it.

He shot up from his seat. “We got a hit?!”

They all looked at the phone in surprise. “Just as I thought!” Morgana purred satisfactorily.

The air around them fizzed like TV static, the colors fading into red and purple. For once, no one panicked while they were transitioning through. The buzzing feeling faded, along with every person who was in the vicinity.

They looked around with wide eyes. “Everyone disappeared..!” Ann gasped.

“Are we in the Metaverse? But everything looks exactly the same…” Airi pondered, her eyes roaming the surroundings.

Ann nodded slowly. “It...kind of feels like I’m walking on air..?”

Taking a few steps, Ryuji spun around. “Is this that Nakanohara guy’s Palace?” He questioned incredulously.

Morgana hummed in amusement. “That’s half right, but half wrong.” It answered. “This is a type of Palace, but it’s different from the normal ones.”

Akira stared at it questioningly. “How so?” He asked, idly tweaking a strand of hair.

It padded toward the stairs. “Come on, let’s head down. The Shadows here lurk underground." It stated. "I don’t quite understand why. It may be because they’re drawn to something.”

Ann played with a ponytail. “Underground..? How are we going to get there?”

Airi walked toward the stairs, going down a few steps. “How we usually do, right? Everything looks normal so far…” She looked to the feline.

It nodded in confirmation. “You use it every day on your way to school. Follow me!” It dashed down the stairs, Airi following it at a slower pace.

“Ah! Wait up!” Ryuji yelped, the three running after them.

 

“The hell is this place..?” Skull questioned, looking around disconcertingly.

What was supposed to be the Shibuya underground station was instead some sort of hellish parody of it. The lights were extremely dim, barely illuminating the red halls. The TV screens all showed static, buzzing constantly in an unsettling manner. The most disturbing aspect was the mass of red-black veins, growing like cancer on the walls, ceilings, and everything in between.

Cringing away from the carnage, Elegant moved closer to Joker, feeling a little nauseous.

Turning around, Skull took a step back in shock, looking at his teammates. “Wait, our clothes changed?!”

They gazed down at themselves, wearing their usual thief outfits. “The Shadows know we’re here?!” Panther shrieked, looking at the others incredulously.

They all turned to Mona who was standing on a turnstile. It nodded. “Since the moment we stepped in.” It confirmed.

“You should’ve told us!” Skull complained, glaring at it.

“We’re still safe right here.” Mona assured. “I’ve come to investigate a number of times. Shadows never come up to this floor. But it’s a different story once you go down. This place is simply teeming with them.”

Elegant tilted her head. “Why is that? Is there something deeper that draws them?”

Mona smiled. “You’re on a roll today, Elegant! Yes, there seems to be. I haven’t checked that far, but Mementos continues deep underground.”

Panther held up her pink gloved hands in a stop motion. “OK, more importantly, what is this Mementos?! It’s about time you start explaining.”

Placing its paws on its hips, it stared at them grimly. “Mementos is...everyone’s Palace.” Mona announced.

Skull looked at his teammate in confusion. “Huh? Whaddya mean “everyone’s”..?” He asked hesitantly.

“As Elegant guessed earlier, a Palace as grand as the previous castle only forms when a person’s wishes are extremely distorted. So, instead of many individual Palaces, the general public has one gigantic shared Palace. That’s where we are now...Mementos.” It explained.

Ruby eyes covered in silver lace widened. “Wait, everyone’s? There’s over 37 million people living in this city!” Elegant exclaimed.

It nodded. “Who knows how far down it goes with so many people.”

The humans looked at each other uncertainly, unnerved at the revelation. “Now that you mention it, this place feels a bit different from Kamoshida’s Palace…” Panther commented hesitantly.

“When you say shared,” Skull began. “...You mean they’re all put together? Even though they’re just strangers..?” He asked warily.

“Think of it as the collective unconscious...No, never mind. You wouldn’t understand that.” Mona sighed despondently.

Joker pursed his lips, looking around their surroundings with a new approach. ‘This is what Tokyo’s like metaphysically..?’ He pondered, disturbed. How would his home town look like?

“I have another question…” Elegant began hesitantly, looking around. “This is just Tokyo’s...right? Does this mean every town and city have their own Mementos..?” She furrowed her brow at the thought. She knew every person had their own distorted thoughts, but to see it with her own eyes...

Mona shrugged. “All of Tokyo's inhabitants are in here, though I'm not sure if it includes other territories...” It answered unhelpfully. "It's possible this isn't the only Mementos."

“Ugh, this is too much…” Skull groaned, clutching his head.

Panther took a few steps, looking around. “So what you’re saying is...Using this place, we can even change the hearts of people who don’t have a Palace?” She asked, a hopeful glint in her eyes.

The feline thief nodded. “Correct! The steps to do so are slightly different though.” It smiled.

Skull walked near the inoperative escalators leading down. “But this place looks pretty huge. Are we gonna be able to get around just by walkin’..?” He questioned, scratching the back of his head.

With a jump, Mona landed a few feet away from its teammates, crossing its arms. “It seems the time has finally come…” It announced dramatically.

They turned to look at it questioningly.

With a firm expression on its cartoonish face, it struck several super sentai* poses, paws out. “Morganaaaa...Transfoooorm!” It yelled, jumping into the air. A puff of smoke enveloped it, and a black bus fell, landing noisily.

The humans all took a step back in shock, gaping at their now vehicular teammate.

The bus had one yellow stripe extending from its hood to its rear, blue orbs floating in front as its headlights. The license plate read “2-22”*, a golden cat emblem as its brand logo, and had a cat tail in the back near the exhaust pipe.

Its exterior moved around. “Come now, Panther, Elegant. Ladies first.” Mona purred, the sound more similar to an engine now than a cat.

“A car…?!” Panther yelped, flabbergasted.

“No way!” Skull squawked, staring with wide eyes.

Joker stared, barely comprehending what just happened. ‘What the fuck…’ He thought.

“Uhh…” Elegant articulated, not blinking.

“This comes from the way cognition materializes in the Metaverse, plus a bit of extra training.” Mona explained, its voice coming through clearly even as an automobile. “It’s not dissimilar to how you guys transform.”

Skull flailed his arms. “You turnin’ into a car is totally different than our clothes changin’!” He shouted.

Elegant continued to stare, tilting her head. ‘Why does this seem familiar…’

The car jumped, its wheels bouncing in and out of its axles. “For some reason, “cats turning into buses” is an extremely widespread cognition among the general public.” Mona explained.

“Why a bus though?” Panther asked, crossing her arms.

The bus jumped, as if it shrugged. “...No idea.”

“Wait.” Skull interjected. “Why didn’t you do this at the castle?!”

“I would have if I could!” It replied, shaking its metal doors. “But that castle was cramped, there were tons of stairs, and no way this fits on top of a chandelier!”

Joker snorted. “We could have ran Kamoshida over with this.”

A gasp sounded out, and they all turned to Elegant. “Oh!” She exclaimed, eyes shining with elation. “This is from My Neighbor Totoro!!!” She clapped her hands happily. “It’s been so long since that movie came out, I almost forgot!”

Realization dawned on their faces. “Ooh! That’s where this is from!” Panther gasped.

“Whoa...I forgot about that old thing. Who votes for a movie night?” Skull proclaimed. “Maybe Mona will get why he’s a bus!”

The cat bus tilted. “Is that where the concept comes from?”

Joker nodded, a nostalgic look on his face. “It’s been a long time since it came out but it’s internationally famous.”

“I love Studio Ghibli movies...” Elegant gushed, her purple gloved hands holding the sides of her face dreamily.

Joker smiled sheepishly, sweatdropping. “Yeah, you play the music, right?” He asked.

She nodded happily. “They were the highlights of the week with the younger kids.”

Skull slumped. “You’re makin’ me want to watch ‘em all again...C’mon, let’s go!” He rushed to the back, opening a door.

“Hey, Skull! Ladies first!” Panther yelled indignantly, running after him and wrestling him off.

“Stop pullin’ me! That’s dangerous!” The pirate scolded.

The bus shook violently. “Panther! Please be gentle!” Mona yelped.

Walking calmly, Joker opened the other side and took a seat next to Skull. “All aboard, let’s go!” The punk cheered, leaning back in his seat.

Panther looked out the window at Elegant, who still stood outside. “Hey Elegant, are you going to come in?” She called out.

Hesitantly, she grasped the door handle, opening the driver’s seat. “Uhh…” She uttered, furrowing her brow in discomfort. “What am I touching…? Am I going to be sitting on your insides, Mona? Am I going to hurt you?” She asked worriedly.

“Don’t worry, Elegant! I trust you to drive me.” The vehicle chirped.

She blinked. “I have to drive…?”

The headlights blinked. “Yeah, I’m a car, remember? I’m not going anywhere unless someone drives me.”

“You can’t drive yourself?!” Skull cried out.

Panther looked at her teammates. “Do any of us know how to drive?” She questioned.

Joker straightened up. “Time to bust my moves.” He announced, pulling the door open and getting into the front bench.

Sweatdropping, Panther stared at him perturbedly. “...Uh, safety first, OK?” She muttered awkwardly.

“You’d better not smash up my beautiful face, you hear me?!” Mona warned.

Narrowing her eyes, Elegant got into the driver’s seat first, holding a purple gloved hand in front of her leader’s face. “No. I am not letting any of you drive unless you’ve taken your driver’s test. Have you?” Her eyes zeroed in on Joker’s.

“N-No…” He sweatdropped, staying in the passenger side. "I've only driven racing games..."

Sighing, she reached down and turned on the engine with a flick of the switch. The vehicle turned on, engine purring. “Haha, that tickles!” The bus shivered. “Oh, there...That feels sooo goooood…”

Staring at the controls with horror, she hesitantly gripped the steering wheel. ‘What am I touching..?!’ She screamed in her mind, sitting stiffly.

Panther leaned against the front seats, right behind Elegant. “We’ll leave the driving to you then!” She cheered. “I trust your driving skills more than Joker’s.”

Said thief turned and gave her a flat expression.

Skull shook his head. “Uh, is that purrin’ I hear..? What a creepy-ass car!” He cracked.

“Don’t underestimate my meowtary engine. We’re going full throttle! It’s time to fly!” Mona declared.

With a shrug, Elegant stepped on the pedal, driving onto the train tracks. The station gave way to a foreboding and dark tunnel, the winds vacuuming stray metal and scraps pass them.

“Man...This place totally does feel like a Palace…” Skull marveled, looking out the window.

“Yeah, I guess it’d be strange driving on the tracks like this in the real world…” Panther reasoned. “Anyway, Nakanohara’s somewhere in here, right?”

The engine rumbled. “Most likely in a segment of his own creation. Don’t worry, it won’t be the size of a Palace. Our next step is to find an entrance to that segment.”

“And what’s this entrance gonna look like?” Skull asked, shifting in his seat.

“I have no idea, but strong distortions should be a pretty obvious visual clue.” Mona confessed.

“So we just gotta go wanderin’ around for it then? What a goddamn pain in the ass…” He groaned, leaning his head against the back rest.

“Hey, at least you’re not the one driving into hell.” Elegant retorted, changing the shift.

“I can take over if you need a break.” Joker offered, smirking slightly.

“No.” She replied flatly.

Stepping on the pedal, they drove down the winding tunnels, looking curiously at every path. Occasionally they hit dead ends, forcing them to turn around.

One dead end actually held a treasure chest. “Oh, a treasure chest! Joker, go get it!” Skull grinned.

The leader leapt out of the vehicle, pocketing the treasure and jumping back into his seat.

“So there’s treasure down here, too...:” Elegant remarked, reversing the bus.

Driving down the track, they saw something move in the hazy darkness. “Is that…?” Panther trailed off, squinting at the figure.

“It’s a Shadow! Let’s sneak up on it!” Mona advised.

“Wait, what? Do I just...slam you into its back?” Elegant questioned, hesitantly looking down at the steering wheel.

“Yes, we’ll catch it off guard like that, then we can kill it!” It answered.

Disturbed eyes looked over at her leader. Joker shrugged in response. He had no idea what to say either.

Shaking her head lightly, Elegant slammed her foot against the pedal, ramming Mona’s bumpers against the figure. It flew into the air and landed in a heap, and the thieves quickly got out of the bus to fight. “Now’s our chance to fight! Go!” Mona urged, changing back into its cartoonish cat form.

The Shadow looked to be a black inky figure with multiple white masks, before it convulsed and turned into its true form. The shadows drew back, revealing slimes, and they made quick work of the weak enemies.

“They were too weak.” Panther remarked as they got back inside the Mona bus.

Joker took out his phone to check the Meta-Nav. “We’re in the Path of…” He squinted at the unfamiliar word. “Qimranut..? Area 1.”

Skull leaned against the front seat. “Wazzat supposed to mean?” He questioned, scratching the side of his head.

“I don’t actually know…” Mona answered glumly. “But if it says Area 1, it must be there are other areas after it.”

Driving down the tunnel, out of the corner of his eye, Joker saw something flicker. “Stop!” He called out. Elegant pressed against the brakes, slowing the car to a stop. “Is that it?” He pointed toward the swirling red vortex.

The train tracks near it looked like they were being sucked in. “Dude, the hell is this..? It’s all wavy and shit.” Skull narrowed his eyes at the entrance.

“This is the place… I sense the target up ahead.” Mona confirmed. “Now, are we ready?”

Elegant looked at her passengers. They all nodded. Shifting the gear, she drove straight into the vortex. Coming out the other side, she slammed the brakes. Through the window, they see a shadowy figure of a man, standing in the center of the room.

Coming through the walls and ceilings were red tubes that twisted down a separate tunnel, pulsing gently. She narrowed her eyes. ‘They look almost like veins…’ She observed, feeling a shiver go down her spine. She didn't like it.

They jumped out of the car. “She’s mine…” They could hear resonating through the room. “That must be Nakanohara’s Shadow.” Mona remarked.

“Lemme see. Some front desk guy at City Hall became a stalker, right?” Skull asked, readying his steel covered bat.

“I don’t know how much evil he’s done, but we have to do something if he’s bothering other people.” Panther glared.

“Let’s go.” Joker commanded. The thieves ran up directly in front of the Shadow, readying their weapons.

“Who are you?!” The man shouted. It was a typical Japanese salaryman, with a bowlcut and rectangular glasses. His venomous yellow eyes glared darkly at them.

“Are you that stalker?! Haven’t you ever stopped to consider how your ex feels?” Panther yelled, stomping her heel.

Nakanohara swung his arm. “She’s my property! I can do whatever I want with her! It’s not like she didn’t treat me like a plaything! What’s wrong with me doing the same?!”

Skull glared at their target. “You can’t treat someone like shit just ‘cause they did it to you! What a load of crap…” He grumbled. “We’re gonna change the hearts of all the bastards like you!” He stomped his foot.

“There are millions of people far worse than me!” Nakanohara retorted.

“That doesn’t excuse you, you’re still doing the wrong thing.” Elegant narrowed her eyes.

He sneered. “What about Madarame…? He stole everything from me, but you’re letting him off the hook?!” He yelled indignantly.

The thieves were taken aback. Who? “...Madarame? The hell’s this guy goin’ on about?” Skull scratched his head.

Joker frowned. ‘That name sounds familiar…’

With a burst of black, the man transformed into an Obariyon, the little troll dancing around in front of them.

“Get ready! Here he comes!” Mona shouted from the back as they all readied their weapons.

“Now that I finally have what’s rightfully mine...I’m not going to let you take it away…” Nakanohara spoke. “Look...This is a winner-takes-all world. Come fight me and I’ll show you what I mean!”

Taking his gun out, Joker shot a bullet at the Shadow. “Go down!” He shouted. It barely fazed the target.

Rushing up to it, Panther swung her whip, flogging the enemy several times.

“Let me!” Elegant cried out, following up her teammate’s attack by slashing Nakanohara with several spins, before jumping up and striking down with the tip of her scythe.

Getting back up, the Shadow rushed at the silk clad thief, hitting her several times with his fists. She grunted, wincing at the hits but didn’t falter.

“Captain Kidd!” Skull shouted, his Persona floating behind him. “Take this!” He sent a zio, critically injuring him.

The obariyon fell to the ground, dizzy. “They’re on the ground! Nice going, Skull!” Mona complimented.

They rushed up, holding their target at gunpoint. Nakanohara stayed silent, glaring at them from underneath his fringe.

Exhaling, Joker flipped back and commenced the attack, the others following after him. Hitting it several times, the Shadow fell down, defeated.

Landing on his back, Skull flipped himself upright, holding up a rock sign. “Oh yeah!” He grinned viciously.

In a splash of inky liquid, the Shadow disappeared, revealing the teller again who was holding his chest. “I-I was wrong...Please forgive me…” Nakanohara whispered, looking at them shamefully. “That evil teacher used me, then threw me out on the street. That’s what caused my fixation on her…”

Joker furrowed his brow. “Evil teacher?” He repeated.

“Huh? Could it be that Madarame guy he was talkin’ about earlier?” Skull questioned, shifting his feet.

The Shadowed man nodded. “Yeah...I just didn’t want anyone to throw me out again…” He murmured timidly.

Panther crossed her arms. “So some selfish bastard was making you suffer too…” She whispered, looking at the man sympathetically. “Still, you shouldn’t have dragged an unrelated woman into your mess.”

Elegant nodded in agreement. “Please go and apologize to her. Learn from your mistakes.”

Nakanohara nodded sullenly. “Yes, I know that now. I’ll put an end to my love for her…” He looked up at Joker thoughtfully. “...Hey, you can change people’s hearts, right? In that case…Won’t you change Madarame’s heart?! Before more people fall victim to him…” He pleaded. A glowing blue light slowly enveloped him, and he disappeared, leaving ¥7200 as well as a ball of treasure floating in front of the thieves.

“Change...Madarame’s heart?” Panther repeated, blinking her eyes.

“Hm? What’s that shinin’ thing?” Skull asked, walking up to the ball of light.

“It’s the bud of a Treasure.” Mona answered, crossing its paws. “Had we left it be, it very well may have blossomed into a Palace. Joker, this will make a perfect reward!” It cheered.

Nodding, Joker walked up to the Treasure and grabbed it with one hand. Unfurling his fingers, he observed the Attachment Pearl charm.

“So Nakanohara had a change of heart, right?” Skull looked at Mona.

It nodded. “Most likely.”

Panther blinked. “But how are we supposed to know if we succeeded?” She pressed.

Skull crossed his arms. “The lady posted the dude’s name online. If he really does change, she’ll prolly comment again.” He reasoned. “Either way though, trainin’ against Shadows down here’s the best! It’s great prep for our next target!”

“It’s also nice to be able to give courage to the people who post their problems online.” Panther added, playing with a ponytail.

Elegant nodded. “Maybe when people see her fulfilled request, they’ll post more serious problems too.” She clapped her gloved hands.

Mona jumped. “On top of that, we can sell whatever treasure we get for some cold, hard cash!” It grinned covetously.

Skull rolled his shoulder. “Sounds like things are goin’ pretty great for us!” He laughed.

Joker raised a brow. “More money is always good.” He agreed.

Elegant rolled her eyes. “We’re going to break the economy…” She muttered.

The others ignored her. “All right, we did it!” Skull turned to leave.

“Hold on.” Mona called out. They turned to look at the feline. “There’s somewhere I want to show you guys before we leave.” It announced somberly.

“Are we going deeper..?” Elegant asked hesitantly.

It nodded, jumping in place. “Don’t worry, it won’t take long.” It assured, walking over to the vortex. “Why don’t we leave this room first?”

They nodded, and Mona transformed back into a bus. They walked back to the car, Elegant glancing back at the pulsing tubes with a thoughtful frown.

“Elegant?” Panther called. They were already back in their seats, looking at her curiously.

Biting her lip, she shook her head. “I’m coming.” She assured, sliding into the driver’s seat and turning on the engine. She shifted gears and drove through the portal. Ending back in the regular tunnels of Mementos, the swirling vortex behind them disappeared, leaving a vein covered wall.

“So? What else do you wanna do?” Skull asked, leaning back in his seat.

“There’s something I’d like to check in an area further down. First off, we should look for a platform that’ll let us descend.” Mona advised, the truck rumbling underneath them.

“Wait, you’ve been here before, right? Don’t you got like a map or something?” The punk raised a brow.

The vehicle shook. “That would hold no meaning in this place. The layout changes every time you enter.”

“Wait, so our path changes too?!” Panther yelped.

“This place is the fused cognition of a countless number of people. It’s constantly shifting. Even so, our destination should be pretty close." The engine purred. "I’m counting on you, Elegant!”

“How fascinating…” She marveled. “It’s like Tokyo the city is alive, and the people who live in it are just parts of it.”

Joker tilted his head. “Like blood cells?” He inquired.

She nodded enthusiastically. “It’s like Hiruta-sensei’s lessons about biology. We should borrow some books from the school library.” She suggested.

Skull groaned. “Great, more studyin’...”

Pressing on the gas, they drove down the tunnels, killing Shadows that showed up in their view. Joker acquired a new Shadow, a Jack Frost, and they continued on their way. Turning around a corner, they rammed against a chained door, opening it to reveal a station.

“All right! We reached a platform! We can keep going to the next area now!” Mona cheered.

They got out of the car, Mona changing back into its cat form. “H-Hold a sec...You guys hearin’ something?” Skull stammered, his dark eyes darting around.

They stilled, trying to listen over the vacuum of wind that was sucking up debris into the darkness of the tunnel. A screeching noise echoed, and they turned their heads in the direction the sound was coming from. On the other side of the platform, a train slowly pulled up, the windows all glowing an ominous red.

“The trains’re totally runnin’!” Skull commented, brows raised in surprise.

“Of course they are. We’re in the subway, you know.” Mona replied.

Panther looked on incredulously. “Yeah, but I thought this was a Palace.”

“Then maybe this is how the public views this place? I don’t know.” The cat shrugged.

She looked at it in horror. “People go through this darkness...every day..?” She whispered.

Joker narrowed his eyes at the train, something inside him screamed at him to be wary. ‘Why is it so unsettling…?’

Clenching her hands in front of her, Elegant took a step back. “It feels...wrong.” She uttered, watching the train cautiously. Shifting himself, Joker shielded her from the view, placing an arm in front.

Skull rubbed his head. “Forget that! You sure we’re cool runnin’ around on these tracks?!”

The feline nodded. “It should be fine as long as we’re not on the same ones...I think.” Mona shrugged. “I’m no train expert.”

He groaned. “You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me…” “Anyway,” Mona ignored him. “Let’s head to the lower area. It should be right after we go down that escalator.” It gestured to the inoperative steps.

Glancing at one another, they headed down toward the next underground level. Landing on another platform, they gazed ahead.

“All right, there it is! What I want to check is just past there!” Mona cheered. They slowly walked up to what it was talking about.

On both sides of them, trains were running at high speeds, never stopping at their station. To the front was an ominous wall, carved with glowing red symbols in a curved diamond pattern and an upside down triangle. Surrounding the walls were tendrils of black and red veins, as if they were creeping out from the crevices.

Panther scrutinized it. “...What is this place? It’s kinda creepy.” She remarked hesitantly.

Elegant nodded weakly, feeling her head pound. “I’m getting a really bad feeling from it...Like the closer I am to it, the more wrong it is.” She confessed, looking a bit nauseous.

They turned back to her. “You gonna be OK?” Skull asked, concern seeping into his voice.

Taking a deep breath, she nodded. “I’ll manage.” She bit out.

“Tell us if you don’t feel well, we’ll stop.” Joker advised, placing a gloved hand on her shoulder.

She exhaled. “Thanks, but don’t worry. I’m not going to hold us back. This is important, after all.” She smiled reassuringly at her leader who reluctantly nodded.

“Well…” Skull began, looking back at the wall. “It’s a dead end though. Why’s it even exist?” He scratched his head.

“Now hold on...Just watch. This is most likely not an ordinary wall.” Mona reflected, holding out a white paw. “If my hunch is correct…” It ran up and tapped it.

The floor beneath their feet began to rumble, and the humans looked around, alarmed. Dust flew into the air as the wall moved, separating into various pieces before folding into the sides, revealing escalators descending below.

“It opened..!” Panther gasped, taking a step closer to look down into the black abyss.

Feeling his phone vibrate, Joker took it out of his pocket. “A new area has been confirmed in the depths. Updating guidance information.” It droned out, the Nav opened to a new screenshot of the location.

Mona jumped in joy. “See?! It’s just as I thought!”

“What do you mean?” Elegant asked, idly grasping her arm.

“That wall wouldn’t budge when I came here by myself before. But it’d be weird for the deepest part of Mementos to be some normal place like this, wouldn’t it?” It explained, waving a paw.

Skull crossed his arms. “So you were thinkin’ there’s gotta be more?”

It bobbed its head. “Yeah! Now that Kamoshida’s Palace is gone and people are actually starting to talk about us...I knew something had to have changed down here!” It proclaimed cheerfully.

Panther peered into the dark depths. “How deep is it? Should we try going further down?”

Elegant grimaced at the thought.

Mona shook its head. “Let’s not. That’s not why we’re here today, remember? We’ve already accomplished our goal. We should head back and I’ll explain more once we’re home.” It urged, hopping back to the up escalators.

Elegant drove them back up to the first platform, and they exited the Metaverse.

 

They stood in their previous spot, the sun setting behind them in the Tokyo skyline. “Mementos, huh..? I still don’t really get that place.” Ryuji confessed. “Oh, and what was that wall thing we saw at the end?” He looked at the feline, now in its normal cat form.

It licked its paw. “I’m not entirely sure, but it blocked us from going in past a certain depth." It disclosed somberly. "If Mementos is the public’s Palace though...it might be affected by the general public’s belief in us.”

Akira shifted his foot, leaning against the cement. “So we can’t go further without more progress, huh.”

Leaning next to him, Airi sighed heavily, rubbing her temple. “Most likely. It’s kind of like a clam, we have to be patient for it to open up to us…”

Gray eyes slid to look at her, narrowing in concern. “Are you OK..?” Akira asked quietly.

She waved him away, trying to blink away the muffled feeling in her head. “Just a headache…”

Giving her a worried glance, Ann shifted her bag. “Why do you know so much about it, Morgana?” She blurted.

Its ears drooped. “My memories are a little foggy in that regard…” It confessed reluctantly. “However, I need to know what lies in the depths of Mementos, no matter what.”

“No matter what..?” She repeated, raising a brow.

The feline rose up on all fours, its back hunched. “Mementos is not just everyone’s Palace, it’s the source of all Palaces. It used to be that Palaces like Kamoshida’s with one ruler simply didn’t exist. So, if we can do something about the greatest cause of distortions, I’m certain my appearance will…!” It trailed off, looking down solemnly.

Ann gazed at it sympathetically. “You wanted someone to save you too…”

It blinked, bristling defensively. “I-I just needed pawns.” It justified, eyes wide.

With a chuckle, Airi picked up the feline and held it in her arms. “We understand, Morgana.” She spoke softly, petting the top of its head.

It purred, relaxing in her embrace.

Ryuji straightened up. “I see...So that’s why you came pokin’ your nose around with us.” He laced his hands behind his head, a hint of a grin on his lips.

“...I’ll help you. I hope you can regain what you’ve lost.” Ann declared determinedly. Akira nodded, showing he was also going to help. Shaking off the class president’s scritching, Morgana looked at them demurely. “I’ll...be relying on you guys.”

The teenagers all smiled at the cat. “By the way, Morgana...are you a boy? Or might you be a girl?” Ann asked curiously, crossing her arms.

“Could it be a car?” Akira joked, idly tweaking a strand of hair.

The students all grinned. “That is a possibility!” Ann teased.

“I wish I could deny it, but...I just can’t be sure.” Ryuji stated, his face contorting in bewilderment.

“Our little cat bus.” Airi cooed, humming the totoro theme.

Morgana gaped. “Why not?!” It shouted embarrassedly. “...In any case, of course I’m male!” He announced. “I mean, I…” He looked at Ann timidly.

Said female blinked. “...What is it?” She inquired.

It shook its head. “No...It’s nothing. We’re done talking about that!” It refuted, burrowing into Airi’s neck. She stroked his back, exchanging amused faces with her friends.

“Anyway,” Morgana continued, voice muffled in her blouse. “We now know that we can perform minor changes of heart in Mementos. If we come across any eye-catching leads, it may be worth dealing with them for a bit of combat practice.”

Ann shifted in place. “There weren’t any other outstanding ones though…” She stated sullenly.

He perked up. “I bet we’ll get tons of ‘em if we can change someone famous and make the Phantom Thieves well-known." Ryuji spurred, grinning at them excitedly. "The big fish are our main targets after all.”

Morgana snorted. “First, you need to find a way to get through your exams.”

He slumped. “I gotta study…” He groaned pitifully.

Airi looked up from her petting, letting Morgana down onto the ground. “Well, I’m free now. We can do our study group today?”

“I’m up for it!” Ann cheered. Akira nodded, smiling slightly.

Ryuji fell to his knees dramatically and hugged her legs. Looking up at her, he teared. “Save me…” He pleaded.

“Uhh…” Airi sweatdropped, one hand reaching awkwardly to pull down the edge of her skirt. He was really close to her...

Gray eyes sharpened, and Akira grabbed the back of the punk’s clothes, pulling him away from the class president.

“Urk!” Ryuji sputtered, the collar of his shirt choking him. “Dude, what the hell?!” He looked up at his bespectacled friend indignantly who glared down at him.

Ann rolled her eyes. “Ugh, why are you such a pervert?!” She groaned, walking away. Airi moved to follow her, shaking her head exasperatedly.

“Hey, wait! What’d I do?!” Ryuji shouted, getting up from the floor and chasing after them.

Huffing, Akira picked Morgana up and put him in his bag, walking calmly after his friends.

Walking with Ann to the turnstiles, Airi tensed. ‘This feeling again…’ She glanced over at her companion, who had an uncomfortable look on her face. “Do you feel that?” She whispered.

The model nodded slightly, her eyes darting around. “I hate this…” She hissed in frustration.

The boys caught up to them and they all walked to the train to Yongenjaya, not mentioning the stalker.

 
 

LOOK AT THIS!!!!! I actually follow her on instagram and I didn't know she was following this story! It seriously made my day yesterday! Thank you so much, Yukitalian! You can find her on instagram and twpf.jp/yukitalian

I'm always so happy and delighted to receive any sort of praise or fanart for this story. I never expected this, to be honest. I really only wrote this story for me because (ILOVEAKIRAOSMUCH) but now I'm also writing for all of you! Thank you from my heart for all your love, support, and appreciation!

Chapter Text

----5/7, SATURDAY, EVENING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

 

Taking off her shoes, Airi directed them to the dining room. “I’ll make some tea and food for us!” She called out, rushing to the kitchen.

Putting the kettle on the stove, she took out some avocados, chicken, tuna, and greens. Scooping up some rice from the storage, she washed the grains gently before placing it in the cooker. Turning on the stove, she dripped some cooking oil on it, rolling around the pan. Letting it heat up, she began slicing the chicken.

“Can I help?”

Startled, she gripped her knife and turned around, pointing it outward.

Akira stared at it in surprise. “Sorry…” He apologized, rubbing the back of his neck.

Shaking her head, she gave him a smile. “No, I’m sorry. Um, can you wash the vegetables?” She gestured to the cabbage head.

He nodded, washing his hands before handling the greens. They worked together in peace, letting the sounds of Ann and Ryuji arguing echo down the hall.

“I told you to drop it!”

“I was just askin’, jeez woman!”

“Lady Ann doesn’t need your help! Let me, my lady…”

Akira rolled his eyes. “Do they have to argue all the time?” He sighed as he pushed the chopped cabbage in her direction.

Giggling, Airi rewashed her hands before dumping the chicken and cabbage into the pan, the sound exploding through the kitchen. She turned on the kitchen hood, the vacuum humming loudly. “They’ve always argued.” She confessed, adding mirin and soy sauce.

He leaned against the counter, watching her cook. “You’re really good at cooking.”

“Hm?” She replied, glancing in his direction. “I couldn’t hear you.” She shouted as she sprinkled some grounded garlic.

He took a deep breath, “You’re really good at cooking!” He repeated loudly, the hood muffling most of his voice.

She smiled shyly, a hint of blush in her cheeks. “Thank you, I hope it’s OK!” She killed the heat and turned off the hood. “Can you take out some bowls from the cabinet?”

He nodded, crouching to open the drawer doors. Grabbing five bowls, he placed them on the counter. Opening the rice cooker, he scooped the cooked rice into four of them, packing them in.

Turning around from the stove, Airi gently pushed the chicken and cabbage on top, before placing the pan in the sink for later. Slicing the avocados, she placed them to the side of the bowls, sprinkling some dried parsley. “All right, dinner is served!” She announced. “Can you bring them to the table? I’ll make the tea now.”

Akira nodded. Balancing the bowls in his arm, he slowly maneuvered over to the other side of the room. “Guys, move.” He called out, the two blonds making way for him to place the bowls down onto the table.

Ryuji moaned, drooling at the sight. “Oh, this smell’s amazin’...”

Ann straightened up in her seat in anticipation. “Oh yeah, we didn’t eat earlier…”

Looking up at the table, Morgana tilted his head up at his carrier. “Where’s my share?”

“Right here!” Airi interjected, walking up a moment later. She held a tray of tea as well as a bowl of salmon roe and tuna. “Here you go, Morgana.” She placed the sashimi in front of the feline, and carefully placed the steaming cups of tea onto the table.

“Meeeoowwwwwww…!” He drooled, gazing at the sashimi with shining eyes.

Passing out the chopsticks, they all sat down. “Itadakimasu!” They said in unison, digging into their food.

Ann moaned, swallowing the soft avocado. “Ugh, I wish I could eat this good everyday…”

“I did offer my bentos.” Airi reminded, taking a sip from her green tea.

“Mmmphgmmg..!” Ryuji added, mouth filled with food.

Ann looked at him disgustedly. “Can you not?” She complained.

Swallowing, he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Sorry.” He apologized. “I meant to say it’s so good!”

Akira shook his head, eating his meal. “Compliments to the chef.” He smiled at Airi.

She rolled her eyes lightheartedly. “How do you guys not starve without me?” She asked amusedly.

“I do.” Morgana stated dramatically, wolfing down another piece. “All that canned cat food…”

Everyone laughed.

Laying down on the floor of the tatami room, Ryuji rubbed his stomach satisfactorily. “That was good…” He sighed, closing his eyes.

Ann grinned blissfully, sitting down on the other side. “Thanks again, Airi. We’ll pay you back for all the food!”

Airi laughed. “Don’t worry about it. I’m happy to cook for someone other than myself.” She smiled, taking the cups to the kitchen to refill them with fresh hot tea.

Bringing them back, she placed it on the low table. “OK, break’s over. It’s time to study.” She lightly kicked Ryuji’s side.

He groaned, squinting open his eyes to look up at her. He stiffened, gazing up with wide eyes, a dark red flush in his cheeks spreading to his ears.

She looked down at him curiously. “What?”

He gaped. “Y-Your...skirt…” He stammered, still staring unblinkingly.

She scrunched up her face, pulling her skirt down. “I’m wearing shorts underneath!” She defended, quickly moving away to the other side of the room.

“You pervert!” Ann shouted, glaring at him. “What is with you today?!”

He sputtered, shooting up from the mat. “It’s not my fault! She was standin’ right above me!” He argued. He looked over at Akira for support, but was taken aback at the dark glare he received. “Ryuji…” Akira growled as a warning.

Paling, he clapped his hands in front of him in a prayer. “I’m sorryyyy…”

Rolling her eyes, Airi slammed her textbooks on the desk. “Let’s begin, Ryuji-kun.” She stated, smiling serenely at him.

He let out a whimper, slowly taking his books out.

“What should we start with?” She asked the others.

“I’m kinda shaky with history…” Ann confessed hesitantly, taking out their history textbook.

Airi nodded. “OK, let’s go with that for now.”

They opened their books and began to study, Morgana taking a nap after his delicious meal.

Slamming his forehead against the table, Ryuji sighed. “My brain is fried…” He grumbled.

“Serves you right.” Akira muttered darkly, still writing down notes.

“Hm?” Ryuji looked over at him, not hearing what he said.

“I said we should take a break.” He lied.

Airi took a sip from her lukewarm tea. “Sure. We went through a lot anyway.”

Ryuji sat up. “But man, that Nakanohara guy was a piece of cake.” He commented with a grin. “If we can take down some kinda big target next, we’re totally gonna get famous.”

Ann gave him an unimpressed look. “We’re trying to help people, not get famous!” She refuted, fiddling with her mechanical pencil.

He argued. “But if people don’t know who we are, how’re we gonna give them any courage?”

Sighing, Akira nodded in agreement. “He’s right.” He stated, twirling his pen. “See?” Ryuji pressed, giving him a thankful look.

She pursed her lips. “I don’t think you’re necessarily wrong...But should we really be doing this at all if we don’t have a reason like with Kamoshida?” She asked hesitantly.

“You mean we shouldn’t be sticking our noses into other people’s business?” Ryuji elaborated. She nodded.

Airi straightened her books. “Well, we’ll just have to find a reason, right?” She smiled. “I mean, the people who send in requests tell us why they want us to change the hearts. If they’re in trouble, we should help out.”

Ann hummed, before acquiescing. “Yeah, I agree with that, and..." She mumbled. "I guess I was glad we were able to solve the stalker case.”

“Plus, what good are our Personas if we don’t use ‘em for good?” Ryuji reasoned, looking at her expectantly.

Akira nodded in agreement. “I want to help people. This is a good way for us to do so.”

Ann nodded. “You’re right, guys. Sorry.”

Ryuji leaned back, resting his hands behind him. “We don’t got much time to be arguing over this either. That Madarame guy bothers me.”

Airi perked up. “Right. I was wondering why that name was so familiar.” She voiced, taking out her phone. After a moment, she flipped it to show the others, opened to a results page. “Madarame Ichiryusai, a renowned Japanese artist known for his vast amount of styles." She explained. "He’s internationally famous and is holding an exhibit starting next week in Shibuya.”

Ann squinted at the screen. “It says he takes in orphans and helps them become artists..? He sounds nice.”

Ryuji frowned. “If he was so nice, why would a guy in Mementos ask for his change of heart then?”

They sat in silence, trying to think of the possibilities.

Akira sighed. “We’ll have to leave it after the exams.” He yielded. “We’re not gonna find anything else until after anyway.”

The others nodded. “Well, let’s keep studying, shall we?” Airi suggested, smiling at her yearmates.

Ryuji groaned, slamming his forehead against the table.

 

----5/8 , SUNDAY, DAYTIME, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS.

 

Wearing his usual black sports jacket, white shirt, and blue jeans, he sat down on the couch and packed his workout clothes into his bag. He might as well try to train today, maybe call Ryuji too.

His phone rang out. Taking it out of his pocket, he stared at the text message from the unknown number.

???: Hey, I saw on the forum! Nice job sticking it to that stalker!
???: This is Mishima btw.
M: I got your number through Airi-senpai.
M: My Phantom Aficionado Website came in handy, didn’t it?

He huffed in amusement. ‘How resourceful of him…’ He saved the number into his contacts.

Ak: What are you talking about?
M: It’s OK, you don’t have to say it. I know deep down in my heart that it was useful.

He snorted. Morgana looked up at him curiously. Akira tilted the phone so they could both see the screen.

M: Anyway, I’m in Shibuya right now.
M: I’d love it if you could come hear me out about your future actions!
M: I’ll be waiting at the diner in Shibuya. You gotta swing by!
Ak: Got it.

“What is he up to..?” Morgana narrowed his eyes. “Either way, it sounds like he has something important to say. Why not go see what it is?”

Akira nodded, pocketing his phone.

The feline jumped down onto the floor. “I won’t be joining you though. There’s something in Mementos I need to go look into.” It announced, padding to the stairs.

He blinked in surprise. “Do you want any of the others to go with you?” Akira offered, resting his hands in his pockets.

He shook its head. “No. Hopefully Mishima has something useful for you.” He gave him a grin before taking off, darting through a small window above the stairs.

Exhaling through his nose, he shouldered his leather bag and made his way to Shibuya, where Mishima was waiting for him outside the diner. He was wearing a green and white baseball shirt, along with beige cargo slacks. He perked up. “You made it!”

Akira waved, and the two went upstairs to the diner, taking a seat at a booth. The waitress came over and took their order for coffee, smiling emptily.

“How have things been? You know, with the...special activities?” Mishima yawned, covering his mouth. “Oops, sorry about that. I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep lately.” He apologized, looking at him with half lidded eyes.

Akira raised a brow. “It’s all right.” He waved him away.

He scratched his head. “I’ve been staying up managing the Phan-site all night, every night. I think it’s called...PR?”

He blinked. “...Phan-Site?” Akira asked, adjusting his glasses.

Mishima grinned. “The Phantom Thieves Aficionado Website! Phan-Site for short. You need a catchy name if you want people to notice you. This is all a bit of P-Thieves propaganda!” He cleared his throat. “Basically, there’s no point to taking down bad guys if nobody’s gonna know about it. That’s why I’ve started a blog for posts from people you guys saved, while filtering out the haters." He explained eagerly. "We need the Phantom Thieves to be seen in the proper light if we want to make the name popular, right?”

Akira smiled slightly. “That sounds pretty tough. You’re doing a good job, Mishima.”

He brightened. “Really?! Just hearing you say that makes my all-nighters worth it!” He grinned. “I hope Senpai appreciates it too…” He whispered, blushing a bit.

Akira narrowed his eyes slightly.

“Though actually, I really wanna know how you punish people...” Mishima rubbed the back of his head. “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna ask. It wouldn’t be any fun if you just up and told me." He smiled impishly. "After all, the Phantom Thieves have a reputation for being secretive!”

Akira sweatdropped, nodding his head to humor him.

Biting his lip, he looked down at his lap. “I...I wish I could be more like you guys somehow.” He admitted quietly before looking up. “But I’ll still be here to draw attention to the stuff you do!" Mishima stated determinedly. "You can leave that part to me! I’m gonna use my Phan-Site to promote the Phantom Thieves, and weed out any negative comments. Your popularity is gonna be at my mercy,” He paused. ”Or uh, my fingertips. It’s like I’ll be your strategic image management representative, so to speak.” He beamed.

Akira blinked. “Sounds cool. You’re really hyped for this.” He remarked, taking sip from his coffee.

Mishima perked up. “I knew you’d understand. Anyway, I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure that title’s more than just..for..show…” He slowly closed his eyes, breathing softly.

Hesitantly, Akira reached out a hand and gently shook him. “Drink some coffee, man.”

“Uh!” His eyes snapped open and he yawned. “I’ve gotta say though, managing the Phantom Thieve’s reputation is tiring work…” He muttered tiredly. “The forum gets all sorts of weird posts, including tons of things unrelated to reforming society…” He sighed. “It’d defeat the purpose of the site if the truth of the Phantom Thieves was buried among all that garbage.”

He drank his coffee in one gulp. “Oh, but you don’t need to worry. I’ll sort through all the trash.” He promised. “Speaking of which, I’ve actually already found some worthwhile info about our very own school. Our quest to boost your popularity can start close to home!” He grinned. “I’ll give it my all!”

Sweatdropping, Akira nodded. “We’ll count on you.” He stated. ‘Mishima seems motivated…’

He nodded. “I hope I can make you and Senpai proud of me...” He blushed.

‘Is he..?’ Gray eyes darkened behind reflective glass at the mention of Senpai again.

Mishima yawned again. “I might be overworking myself though…” He rubbed his hair tiredly. “Man, I’m exhausted...I think I’d fall asleep on the spot if I weren’t talking to you. I should head home…”

Akira nodded and called the waitress over to pay for their bill. Leaving the restaurant, they parted ways. “See ya later!” Mishima waved, heading underground.

Checking the time, he realized he had the rest of the day to kill. Shrugging, he texted Ryuji to see if he was free.

Ak: You free right now?
R: Yeah!
R: Y’know how I was looking for somewhere good to train?
R: Well, I found a great place! I can practice as much as I want now!
R: This is kinda sudden, but wanna go check it out now?
Ak: Sure, I’ll go.
R: That’s what I’m talking about!
R: There’s a cheap gym in a back alley over in Shibuya.
R: Let’s meet up and I’ll show you the way.
R: Where you at now?
Ak: I’m on Central Street in front of the diner.<br /> R: Gotcha! I’ll be there in a sec!

Putting his phone away, he waited for Ryuji, leaning against the wall next to the diner entrance. “Hey!” He heard. Turning to look, he saw Ryuji running up to him in his usual clothes.

“Let’s go, it’s this way.” He grinned, gesturing over to Big Bang Burger.

They walked over to the alley next to the restaurant. A little further in was a dingy old elevator, and in front of it was a neon green stand with an image of a bodybuilder, the words “Protein Lovers Gym” up top.

“Here we are...Protein Lovers gym!” Ryuji exclaimed, turning back to his friend. “It’s pay per visit, so you don’t gotta worry about any bullshit contracts or something.” He assured excitedly. “The equipment’s kinda crappy, but they got tons of variety. Plus, it’s real damn cheap. Totally worth, even without a pool or a hot tub.”

Bemused, Akira nodded. “Sounds good.”

“Oh yeah!” Ryuji perked up. “You bring your stuff?” He looked at him expectantly.

“...Protein powder?” Akira answered hesitantly.

Ryuji nodded. “Hell yeah, man. If you wanna beef up, you gotta-” He shook his head. “Wait, that aint it! I’m talkin’ about spare undies! Gettin’ back into your sweaty clothes after a nice hot shower is like, the grossest goddamn thing.” He scrunched his face in disgust. “...Oh, but don’t go gettin’ your hopes up. No way I’m gonna let you use mine.”

Akira sweatdropped. “...Yes, I have a spare.” He answered after a moment.

Ryuji nodded. “Cool, let’s head in.” He gestured to the elevator. They took it up to the third floor where the gym was, paying at the reception.

Sighing heavily, he took the train back to Yongenjaya. Every time he hung out with Ryuji, something always had to happen. This time he met his former Senpai, Ikeda, who was part of the track team back when it was around. To think they would try to reinstate another sports team so soon.

Walking down the backstreets, a black blur jumped onto his back. “Huh?!” He stumbled, grabbing whatever landed on him.

“Hey.” Morgana waved a paw.

Akira deadpanned. “Hey.” He answered flatly, putting the feline in his bag.

“How was your meeting with Mishima? I don’t care if you hang with him, just be sure you get your studying done, OK?” He lectured.

Rolling his eyes, Akira nodded.

He walked into the cafe, the sun setting behind him. Sojiro was the only one in the cafe, cleaning some cups. “That reminds me, the home shopping program is airing today...You wanna check out the TV?” Morgana whispered.

Shrugging, he walked over to the TV. “Hi everyone! It’s time to do some shopping!” The male host announced enthusiastically. “Here’s what we’ve got for you today! 50 Adhesive Bandages! Apply them to your wounds and feel yourself get better! We’re selling them for only ¥1980! You get 50 Adhesive Bandages for ¥1980! This is a limited offer, available only for today!” The screen showed a scrolling number.

He tilted his head. ‘We could use that in the Metaverse…’ He noted, taking his phone out and dialing the number. “Hi, I’d like to order the 50 adhesive bandages...Kurusu Akira...Cafe Leblanc, Yongenjaya...Yes, thank you.” He hung up.

“Oh, another buyer’s just called in! Thank you so much!” The female host cheered.

“Now all we have to do is wait for it to arrive.” Morgana purred.

“Hey.” Sojiro called out. “You’re free now, right? Come help me out.”

Akira nodded, going upstairs to put his bag down before changing into more comfortable clothes and an apron.

Chapter Text

----5/8, SUNDAY, DAYTIME

Brushing her hair into a french braid, Airi put on a dust pink blouse and black skirt over her sheer light gray tights. Grabbing her bag, she put on her heels and left her house, taking the train to Shibuya.

‘It’s been a while since I’ve visited Shiho-chan…’ She idly thought, gazing at the train car and it’s inhabitants. It was a bit emptier than usual with it being a Sunday. Most people would be at home enjoying their one day off, or even at church. Her eyes darkened at the thought. ‘It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault…’ She repeated in her head, biting her lip. Could she really believe that?

“This is Shibuya. I repeat, this is Shibuya. The time is now 1:42PM, the next stop is…”

Getting off at her stop, she walked over to her job in the underground mall where Hanasaki greeted her in her usual apron. “Airi-chan, you’re not working today.” Her boss remarked, looking at her curiously.

She shook her head. “I’m getting flowers for a friend.” She replied softly.

Hanasaki smiled sympathetically. “All right, feel free to arrange the bouquet yourself then. It’s on the house.”

“Thank you, Hanasaki-san.” Airi bowed deeply, grateful to her wonderful boss and friend. She had been kind enough to offer her a job, and always included extra wages when possible. Though she didn't know her boss very well, she knew she was very kind, especially in this city.

Picking out a few hydrangeas and daisies, she wrapped them up in a dotted paper before layering a plastic wrap on top. Bowing to her boss again, she walked above ground and to Ito Hospital.

 

Entering the antiseptic building, she bypassed the same blank faced receptionist and pressed the second floor in the elevator. The doors slid open, and she took a few steps, arriving in front of room 203. Taking a deep breath, she knocked twice.

“Come in!”

Wetting her dry lips, she slid the door open. Shiho was sitting up in her bed, a book in her hand and the duck plush on her lap. “Oh!” The black haired girl gasped, hugging her duck plush. “Kimisawa-senpai! Please, come in.” She smiled softly.

Bowing, Airi walked up to the bed, taking a seat. “Hi, Shiho-chan. Sorry I haven’t been around lately, things have been hectic.” She smiled apologetically, handing the bouquet to the patient. “Here, these are for you.”

Accepting the bundle of flowers with her good hand, Shiho inhaled the sweet fragrance. “Thank you so much, these are very beautiful.” She placed them in the vase next to her. “And it’s all right...I heard from Ann that a lot has happened since...I arrived here.” She looked down at her lap.

Airi nodded. “Yeah...how are you, Shiho-chan?” She asked softly.

The ex-volleyball member gave her a small smile. “I’m OK...the doctors told me I’m recovering well, and I can start physical therapy in a month or two.” Shiho assured. “They also assigned me a therapist, and I started sessions a couple days ago...”

She fiddled with her blanket nervously. "We...started talking about how this started, and...how K-Ka..." Her breath hitched. "Him. I...cried a lot...but they said that it's good. It means I'm...healing?"

Letting out a sigh of relief, Airi gently placed her hand on top of her's. “I’m so glad to hear that. If you need anything, let me know.” She smiled. “...I don’t know if you remember, but there was a bouquet of daisies here a couple weeks ago. Akira told me to give them to you as thanks.”

Shiho blinked in surprise. “Kurusu-kun did that..? I only spoke to him once, though…”

She grinned. “He said that he really appreciated it. Ryuji-kun and I were the only people who talked to him, so I guess he was happy to know one other person wasn’t judging him.”

They sat in silence for a bit, the ECG monitor beeps filling the room. “Hey, Senpai…” Shiho began. Airi looked at her curiously. “I want to let you know that...I’m sorry.” She blurted out. “I’m sorry that it had to be you who tried to save me...Because I...wanted to j-jump, I...placed the burden on you…”

She gripped the thin linens, breathing shakily. “I hurt you too, didn’t I?...My mom told me you cried, asking for forgiveness...” She bowed her head. “I’m so sorry…”

She stared wide eyed at the girl in bed. “Shiho-chan…” Airi whispered. “You shouldn’t be apologizing to me...You went through something terrible. I’m the one who should be sorry for not being able to help you in time...I couldn’t pull you up…” She closed her eyes in anguish. “I failed you. You and Ann, and your mother. I wasn’t strong enough, and it hurt all of you in the end.”

She got on her knees and rested her forehead against the edge of the bed. “I’m so sorry.” Airi cried out, a tear dripping onto the linoleum floor.

Shiho covered her mouth with a hand. “No no no no no…” She chanted. “Please, get up, Senpai!” She flipped the blanket with her good hand, swinging her legs over the edge. “Ugh!” She winced in pain, grabbing her still broken leg in its cast as the movement jarred the bone.

Airi shot up and gently lifted her legs back onto the bed. “Shiho-chan, please, your injuries..!” She worried.

She shook her head. “No, my physical pain must be nothing compared to the pain you have inside yourself…” She voiced, looking up at the class president with tearful eyes. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“It’s not your fault. It was the priest’s fault, and Kamoshida’s fault.” He stated firmly.

She stilled. ‘Isn’t it my fault..? Why do they keep telling me it’s not…’ She furrowed her brow. “But...I couldn’t help you. I had you in my hands..!”

Shiho shook her head. “It was my decision...You had nothing to do with it.” She reasoned. “You were trying to do the right thing...I’m probably alive right now because of you, so,” She smiled gratefully. “...Thank you.”

Slumping, Airi nodded timidly and sat back down. “If you say so…” She pursed her lips. If the very person who she failed to save forgave her, was it really Ok..?

Shiho nodded, panting slightly as perspiration gleamed on her forehead in the harsh lighting. “Ugh, I went from being able to run for hours to being out of breath at every movement...” She groaned, covering her eyes with a bandaged arm.

Smiling tenderly, Airi picked up an apple from the fruit bowl. “You have to keep up your vitamins. I’ll cut this for you.” She offered, getting up to the bathroom. Washing the fruit under the water, she shook the extra moisture off and asked a passing nurse for a kitchen knife.

Receiving it a few minutes later, she sat back down in Shiho’s room and began peeling the fruit. “Here, Shiho-chan.” She held out a piece in front of her lips.

She opened her mouth obediently, and chewed on the sweet apple. “Thank you, Senpai...this is kind of embarrassing.” She confessed bashfully. “It’s like you’re my second mom or something…” She laughed a bit.

Airi choked. “You’re like the fourth person to call me mom. Am I really that much of a nag?” She raised an amused brow.

Shiho shook her head. “No...you’re just very caring. You treat me like I’m your own daughter...not that that’s a bad thing.” She smiled sheepishly.

Blushing, she cut another piece of the apple. “That’s...too kind of you to say.” She murmured, holding it out.

Teeth pierced the fruit, and Shiho chewed on it. “I don’t think so...I heard from some girls in your class that they all look up to you.” She grinned.

Feeling her cheeks heat up, Airi smiled to herself. “I guess that means I can’t let any of you down, then.” They laughed together. “Now, eat up. You need to build back your strength!” Airi advised, holding out another piece. Rolling her eyes lightheartedly, Shiho chewed.

They spent a nice afternoon together, growing closer as friends.

 

Giving a wave to Shiho, Airi left the room and walked out of the hospital.

Taking a huge breath, she let it out, shoulders slumping. She tilted her head up, looking at the warm orange sky introspectively. ‘Is it really not my fault..?’ She frowned.

“Such emotion…”

Tensing, she turned around. Her eyes darted around, glancing at the passersby. ‘Who said that..?’ Hunching her shoulders, she hurriedly walked to the station, stiffly waiting for her train.

She bit her lip. The feeling didn’t go away. In fact, it was getting more and more intense by the second. Taking a shaky breath, she clenched her hands against the strap of her purse. ‘Of all the days to be alone…’ She cursed.

Feeling the floor under her feet begin to rumble, she looked out toward the tunnel. Relief filled her as the train slowly pulled up. Gnawing on her lower lip, she waited impatiently for the doors to slide open. With a ding, the doors opened, and she walked inside as far as she could.

Tightening her lip, she turned around, staring out at the crowd. ‘Who are you..?’ She glanced at all the passengers. It wasn’t any of them. The doors slid closed, and slowly pulled away from the station.

Through one of the windows, she saw a glimpse of blue hair, before the darkness of the tunnel engulfed the view.

----5/9, MONDAY, EARLY MORNING, SUBWAYS.

Scrunching up her face, Airi struggled to hold in a sneeze. Usually her allergies were mild at worst, but it seemed there was a lot more pollen today. Pursing her lips in resignation, she took out a surgical mask and put it on, covering her nose and mouth with the white cotton.

Akira glanced over at her. “Allergies?” He asked quietly.

She nodded glumly. “Yeah. I’m usually OK, but I keep getting the urge to sneeze.” She murmured, voice slightly muffled by the cotton. “You don’t have any?”

Combing his hair with a hand, he smirked. “Nope.” He stated smugly.

Narrowing her eyes, she pouted. “Lucky asshole…” She muttered.

He choked, shoulders shaking as he laughed silently. She gripped his shoulder in the crowded train, balancing herself with him.

“Whoa, what’s up with the goggles?” A salarywoman marveled at her companion. “You going snowboarding or something?”

“I hear the cedar’s blooming later than usual...Climate change and what have you.” The goggle wearing man replied, coughing. “Guh...Pollen allergies suck…I couldn’t go to the mountains even if I wanted to...My eyes and nose would gush like rivers.”

“That sounds awful…”

Morgana nuzzled his face out of the bag, humming as he overheard the conversation. “That’s right, the news said pollen season was starting later than usual this year. Looks like the pollen problems have only just begun. People are about to have some itchy eyes.” He looked over at Airi sympathetically.

She rolled her eyes. “It’s just today…” She sighed. "I only get a itchy nose."

“This might affect Mementos the same way weather does.” Morgana added, shifting inside the bag.

Akira furrowed his brow. “Really? So if people feel terrible, their Shadows also feel terrible?”

Morgana nodded. “That’s how it usually is.”

Airi blinked. “Wow...I wonder what else affects them?”

“This is Shibuya. I repeat, this is Shibuya. The time is now 7:05AM, the next stop is…”

They got off the train and walked to the Ginza line for their transfer. Waiting for the train, they heard footsteps behind them. “Morning…” Ann greeted glumly.

Airi turned and furrowed her brow in concern. “Are you OK, Ann-chan?” She asked quietly.

Grimacing, the model looked down. “Uhh…” She sighed heavily.

Akira shifted his stance, turning to look at her. “You have allergies too?”

She blinked in confusion, before perking up. “...Allergies? Oh, uh, maybe! I do feel kind of dazed, and everything feels weird!” She blurted.

The two Yongenjaya residents gave her odd looks. “I don’t remember you ever having allergies…” Airi remarked hesitantly. In fact, Ann was the exemplary figure of health, never having a sick day in middle school til now.

After a moment, Ann slumped. “Actually...I’ve been feeling someone watch me again…I hope I’m wrong.” She gnawed her bottom lip. “Maybe I just can’t shake off the feeling of infiltrating a Palace! At the Palace, we’re always cautious of not being noticed, you know! So it has to be my imagination...Yeah..” She laughed nervously.

Morgana popped out of his bag, standing his front paws against Akira’s shoulder. “Someone’s stalking you, Lady Ann?!” It asked worriedly.

She shook her head weakly. “No…?”

Airi grimaced. “I would have believed you if I hadn’t been feeling the same. In fact, yesterday…” She trailed off.

Akira furrowed his brow. “Yesterday? Did something happen..?” He asked worriedly.

Ann fretted. “Did they do something to you?”

Airi held up her hands in a placating manner. “Uhh...I heard them say something to me," She bit her lip. "But when I turned around, they weren’t there…”

Gray eyes darkened. “That’s way too close.” Akira stated grimly. “Someone should be with you guys.” He turned to the model. “Ann, you should make sure you have staff with you if you’re modeling.”

The two girls nodded hesitantly. “Be careful, Lady Ann…” Morgana fretted quietly, going back inside the bag.

The train pulled up, and they got on to their way to school.

 

Entering the school building, they walked to their class. “I heard Kamoshida-sensei was fired…” A student whispered.

“He got what he deserved…” A first year grumbled.

They glanced at their fellow students they passed by. Not even two weeks ago, the very same students who were badmouthing the gym teacher had looked up to him with shining eyes.

“I wonder who put up those postings…” A third year pondered, standing in front of the bulletin board.

“What’s his problem? Casting shame on the school like that…” A second year complained bitterly. “Your life is pretty much over if you do something like that.”

They looked at each other with uncertainly. The entire school felt tense, as if they were all waiting for something big to happen again.

Walking up the stairs, they entered their classroom. “I’m going to see what Niijima-senpai wants. Hopefully she’s in the council room right now…” Airi announced, placing her bag on her desk.

They nodded. “Be careful, Airi. She was a bit of a bitch to us.” Ann warned, a sneer painting her lips.

Airi nodded uncomfortably, and walked up to the third floor where the student council room is located. Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door twice. “Niijima-senpai? Are you there?” She called out. “Yes, come in.” She heard.

Sliding the door open, she closed it behind her, walking up to take a seat at the table. Niijima Makoto was sat at the head of the table, organizing the student budget.

Airi blinked. ‘She looks more stressed than usual…’ She noted.

She knew the upperclassman was a responsible young adult, but to see her so pressured brought a sense of worry. She didn't usually let people see her vulnerable, hurrying from one place to another with so many responsibilities, but the rare occasions Airi had walked into the room without knocking, she knew that Makoto would sit in silence, staring into space with a frown. It wasn't something she wanted to bring up though, and it left them in an awkward situation.

“I heard that you wanted to see me?” She asked politely.

Makoto nodded. “Yes. I, and the rest of the student body, have noticed recently that you’ve been spending a lot of time with Sakamoto-san, Takamaki-san, and most notably, Kurusu-san.” She remarked evenly.

Airi nodded. “Sakamoto-kun and Takamaki-chan are both friends from middle school. We’re only just reconnecting now... Kurusu-kun is a new transfer to my class, therefore my responsibility." She explained with a small smile. "We’ve all become good friends.”

The student president linked her hands in front of her. “Are you not scared, or at the very least wary? He does have a criminal record, after all.” She asked. "I know the student body looks up to you, calling you "Senpai" even when they're of the same grade..." She grimaced slightly. "Is it safe for you? For them?"

Airi frowned slightly. “Niijima-senpai, we’ve known each other for over a year now. You know I wouldn’t purposely put anyone in danger. Kurusu-kun is just a quiet individual. His circumstances shouldn’t define his person.” She stated disapprovingly. He'd been here for a month already, and people are still this afraid of him?

“His grades have been improving steadily, and he hasn’t committed any illegal activities since he’s gotten here.” She shifted a bit. "I'm hoping that if people look up to me like that, then they'd be able to understand my decisions in being friends with him..."

Makoto blinked in surprise. “Yes, well. I’m only being cautious.” She cleared her throat. “And what about Takamaki-san and Sakamoto-san? If you were such good friends in middle school, why did you only reconnect now? Did they ask you for anything?” She narrowed her eyes slightly.

Red eyes locked with red eyes. “...You know my circumstances, Niijima-senpai.” Airi began quietly. “I was fighting for my emancipation two years ago, right after finishing middle school. I had to do everything on my own…” She pursed her lips, eyes darkening at the memories. It was days full of cheap ramen and tap water, trying to save up enough money for that court date. “I didn’t have time to socialize…”

Makoto bowed her head. “I...apologize. Of course you had your reasons, it’s just…” She tucked her hair behind an ear, a bit embarrassed. “There were a lot of witnesses that said Sakamoto-san and Kurusu-san were the last people to be in contact with Kamoshida. I was just...wondering if there was a connection between that and the calling cards.” She stated with a pause. “You’re the best person to ask about this.”

Airi nodded in understanding. That seemed possible when she thought about it. “They were both victims of him, but that’s really it…” She sighed. “It’s honestly horrible of me to not have noticed it earlier. I could have gone to you and we could have stopped this before someone had gotten seriously hurt.” She whispered morosely.

She clenched her hands. “...I should have noticed, too. It was remiss of me to not have paid attention to the vast amount of injuries.” Makoto confessed quietly, frowning deeply. “...There’s another matter I wish to address with you. I have several witnesses that state that it was you who was up on the roof with Suzui-san, and that you tried to pull her up.” A muscle in her neck twitched as she tensed. “There were...rumors that you had intentionally let go.”

Her eyes widened. “What..? There’s no way I would do that! I tried to pull her up!” Airi clenched her eyes at the memory. “I should’ve been stronger. I shouldn’t have let go when she scratched me…”

Makoto’s eyes sharpened. “She scratched you?”

She nodded slightly. “Yeah...She hit a vein. It hurt enough that I...accidentally let go. I should’ve tried to hold on…”

She sighed. “I see. That clears things up a bit...I’ll be sure to be more vigilant with our student body.That will be all for now." She inclined her head slightly. "Thank you for answering my questions.”

Airi nodded, getting up from her seat. Bowing to her upperclassman, she left back to her class, a few minutes before first period would start.

Walking into the room, she was bombarded by her two friends. “So..?” Ann questioned, staring at her expectantly.

“Did she ask you anything weird?” Akira asked, adjusting his glasses.

Placing a hand on both their backs, Airi led them back to their desks. “She tried, but I didn’t let anything slip.” She answered, sitting down in her seat. “Hopefully, she’ll lay off…” She frowned, feeling irritation claw up her back.

Sitting sideways on her chair, Ann looked at her curiously. “You seem a little angry, though.” She remarked.

Morgana snuck his head out of Akira’s desk. “Did she do something to you, Airi?” It asked angrily. Leaning against his desk, the transfer student frowned in concern.

Sighing, Airi slumped her upper body against her desk, closing her eyes. “She asked me why I started hanging out with you guys, and kind of implied you were using me.” She explained, her voice muffled by her sleeve. “I shut her down by reminding her of my circumstances last year. She knows what I went through so she can’t say I don’t have my reasons. Then she…” She paused, clenching her jaw.

Ann sneered. “She thinks we’re using you? She’s the one doing it!” She huffed, crossing her arms.

Sitting up in her seat, Airi shrugged. “I defended you guys, of course. I wonder why she’s investigating this, though…” She frowned thoughtfully. “She should be busy getting ready for entrance exams. Did staff ask her..?”

Morgana waved his tail lazily. “That could be a possibility. We already know from that fat principal’s reaction during the confession that he most likely knew. Perhaps he wants to cover it up by targeting the Phantom Thieves?”

They looked at each other worriedly. If the staff was suspecting them, how long before their cover was blown?

Akira looked over at her. “You said she did something else?”

Airi blinked in confusion, then slumped in her seat. “Yeah…” She whispered sullenly. “She said some people believe I purposely let Shiho-chan fall…”

Ann slammed her hand against the desk. “What?! There’s no way!” She shouted, ignoring how some of the other classmates were glancing their way. “Anyone with eyes saw that you tried your best! You were the only one who..!” Clenching her fist, she let out a muffled scream of frustration.

Airi nodded slightly, keeping her head down. “Yeah, she knows that. She just wanted to confirm it…”

The classroom door slid open, and Chouno-sensei walked in. “Good morning, class!” She sang out in English.

The students all got into their seats. Dispersing to their desks, the Persona users glanced at each other once more, before paying attention to the front of the room.

“Today, we’ll be learning the difference between Your and You’re.” She began the lesson.

 
 

Thank you to HanaHimus for this cute fanart of Airi with the other Aeon social links!! She's really inspiring me to start P3, and hopefully I can do that soon!

Chapter Text

In the middle of her lecture on the difference between English and Japanese, three phones buzzed.

R: Hey, don’t you think the atmosphere at school’s kinda different now?
An: You mean with there being no Kamoshida?
R: Yeah, nobody ever talked about him out in the open like this before.
Ai: Everyone feels tense, like they’re waiting…
Ak: That’s true.
R: I wish someone’d just thank us for it or something…
Ai: Mishima does.
R: Besides him.
An: Yeah, everything has worked out for the best.
An: After all, Kamoshida’s actually been punished for his crimes.
An: That’s victory enough for me.
Ak: I agree.
R: I wonder what’s gonna happen to him now.
R: I mean, he’s a famous criminal at this point, right?
R: He’s gonna have to deal with people hating him forever...
Ai: He’ll rot in jail for the rest of his life.
An: Yeah, I don’t have any sympathy for him.
An: He got what he deserved.
R: For sure.

 

AFTER SCHOOL

 

Right before the last bell rang, Airi went up to the front where Kawakami-sensei was rechecking her notes. “Sensei, is it all right if I use this room after school today and tomorrow?”

The older woman looked up from her book. “Oh, yeah sure. Are you doing a study group?” She raised a brow.

She nodded with a smile.

“Go ahead then, class is almost over anyway. Oh,” Kawakami-sensei paused. “I won’t be able to come visit this month, but I’ll write that I did. So if any agents come, just tell them you saw me do the inspection, OK?” She smiled apologetically.

Airi nodded. “Don’t worry, Sensei, I understand you’re busy. You got a second job, right? Do you need any help?” She asked worriedly.

The teacher waved her away. “Don’t worry about it, I can handle my own business. You just focus on your schoolwork like a good student.” She smiled wryly, leaving the room.

Taking a deep breath, Airi turned toward the class and clapped her hands loudly. “May I have your attention?” She voiced. Her classmates turned to look at her curiously. “Since exams start this Wednesday, I got permission from Kawakami-sensei to use this room after school for a last minute study group." She announced. "If anyone needs any help with studying, please do stay after school! I’ll be doing this from today and tomorrow from 4PM to 6PM.” 

The room burst out into chatter at the announcement. Fujiwara cried. “Yes! I thought I was going to fail…”

 “Is that enough time to improve anything, though?” Tsukishima complained, slumping over his desk.

Matsumoto fretted. “I hope this will help me, I’m so bad at English…”

 “I’ll stay with you then, and cancel work.” Namikawa assured her drowsily, sneezing into her mask.

Ann snorted, leaning back in her seat as the room talked loudly. “We better tell Ryuji this, he needs it the most.” She looked behind her at Akira who nodded in amusement. “I guess we’ll all stay today.” He acquiesced.

The last bell rang, and some of the class dispersed out into the hallways. Most of the students stayed behind to ask Airi questions, crowding around the class president. “Why didn’t you do this earlier, Senpai?” Ando drawled, twirling her black hair.

She smiled apologetically. “I wanted to, but I’ve been busy with my job.”

Tsukishima scrunched up his face. “Is uh...Sakamoto and Kurusu coming, too?” He asked uncomfortably.

At that, the group of students tensed, nervous at the mention of the two.

Exhaling, Airi gave them a disappointed frown. “Listen. I know you guys are scared because Ryuji-kun’s known to be loud and brash, and Akira-kun has all those rumors following him. But please...give them a chance.” She pleaded softly. “If you look past the rumors, you’ll see that they’re really nice. They wouldn’t hurt anybody without a good reason, and...I think I can say that for all of us, right?”

Fujiwara looked away awkwardly. “But...didn’t they threaten Kamoshida-sensei?”

Matsumoto crossed her arms, giving the classmate a soured look. “Weren’t you listening to that confession? Kamoshida did shitty things to a lot of people. And wasn’t he targeting them too? Why wouldn’t they fight back?”

Giving the tall student a grateful smile, Airi nodded. “Them fighting back led to Kamoshida getting arrested. No more abuse,” She glanced at Tsukishima, who lowered his head. “And no more sexual harassment.” She grimaced. “Just give them a chance, OK? Akira-kun at the very least. He’s our classmate and one of us.”

Grumbling, they nodded reluctantly.

 

Leaning against his desk, Akira browsed through his phone. In the middle of reading a news article, a text message popped up from Mishima. Furrowing his brow slightly, he slowly looked up at him from across the room.

Black eyes glanced at him before darting away, fiddling with his phone as he sat at his desk innocently.

Bemused, he slid the text chat open.

M: Hey, I have some info for you!
M: I saw it on the Phan-Site, but I’ve heard about it at school too.
M: Anyway, there’s a guy at school whose bullying has gone too far.
M: I want to help the victim, but that’s impossible for me…
M: I went ahead and posted on the forum that the Phantom Thieves are coming for him though.
M: I mean you already changed the heart of that stalker, so this should be a breeze, right?
Ak: Piece of cake.
M: You’re amazing!
M: The bully is a brown-haired guy frequently seen standing out front of the school entrance.
M: And from what I can tell, his name is Takanashi Daisuke.
M: Just make sure nobody knows I told you the name!
Ak: Got it.

“Ooh, what good timing!” Morgana purred, reading the screen. “I know this is a small case, but we have a name, so we should be able to consider him a target. Let’s go gather at the hideout and discuss!”

Pursing his lips, he looked up toward the front of the class. “Airi’s holding a study session soon.” He argued quietly.

“Time passes differently in the Metaverse, remember?" Morgana reasoned. "It’ll only be a couple minutes in the real world.” 

Exhaling softly, he nodded. Silently signalling Ann with a jerk of his chin, he sent a text message to Airi and Ryuji to meet at the roof. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her take her phone out and nodding. He pushed himself off the desk and began walking to the rooftop, Ann following after.

 

Sitting down on a chair, Ryuji grinned. “If we’re here...you wanna go to Mementos, right?” He looked over at Akira who nodded.

Ann gave him an odd look. “What are you talking about? Don’t we need to study for exams? ” She argued, slamming her hand against the desk she sat on.

Ryuji waved her away. “Eh, don’t worry ‘bout that stuff. Let’s ignore the details and just go chargin’ in head-first!” He exclaimed.

She sweatdropped. “That’s easy for you to say...but we don’t even have a target.” She commented weakly.

The rooftop door screeched open, and Airi walked up to the four. “Sorry I’m late, I had to explain to some of our classmates the study group doesn’t start until later. They’re worrying really badly...” She sighed, taking a seat on a desk between Akira and Ann.

“Study group?” Ryuji repeated, giving her a look of confusion.

Airi nodded. “I’m doing it in school for two hours today and tomorrow. You should come too.” She suggested.

He hung his head. “‘Kay…” He groaned.

Akira snorted. “It won’t be any different from two days ago.” He consoled.

“Anyway, we do have a target. Some intel has come in from Mishima.” Morgana revealed, jumping into Airi’s lap.

The ex-runner perked up. “Ooh, perfect timin’! Let’s just go in right now then!” He pumped his fist excitedly.

Ann looked at him exasperatedly. “You’ll really do anything to avoid studying, huh..?” 

“Mementos is really interesting, though.” Airi remarked. “It’s a lot different than dealing with one person’s Palace.” She scratched Morgana’s ear.

The other teens looked at her questioningly. “Whaddya mean?” Ryuji shifted in his seat.

Purring, Morgana looked at him. “Well, think back to Kamoshida. There was something vital we did before we stole his Treasure, yes?” He asked, licking a paw.

Ryuji gestured at the feline. “C’mon, just tell us…” He nudged. Akira tapped his chin, thinking back to three weeks ago. ‘Too much happened, I can’t differentiate…’

Ann perked up. “Oh...do you mean the calling card?!” She exclaimed. “But wait a sec...did we send one the last time?” She furrowed her eyebrows in confusion.

Akira shook his head. “We didn’t.”

Morgana got up, padding to another desk. “The Treasure materializes when we change the target’s subconscious with a calling card. That’s the rule when dealing with a Palace." He explained to the teenagers. "But in Mementos, it seems like we can just go for the target immediately.”  

Ryuji sputtered, rubbing his head.“Wait, what? We don’t need a calling card or nothing?” 

The feline shook his head. “Something else already exists that fulfills that role. Fortunately for us, Mishima put a comment up in the forum saying the Phantom Thieves are coming.” It smiled. “For a small target, that’s enough of a calling card. That alone will put some fear in them for a while. Even that Nakanohara must have seen Mishima’s comments about him on the Phan-Site and that’s why the Nav picked up on him.” He licked a paw.

Ann leaned forward. “...Can we really leave something that important to someone else?” She asked.

Airi hummed. “Maybe it’s also because the target themselves are their Treasures. If they register in the Nav, then the Treasure exists to be taken..?” She looked down at the cat.

Morgana nodded. “That could be why. The desires of the Mementos Shadows are nothing compared to those of the Palace rulers. Still, we need to unanimously agree on our target." He grinned. "No ignoring the rules, even for smaller ones.” 

Akira nodded, crossing his arms. “Let’s discuss the intel then.” He commanded, leaning against the AC unit.

Morgana nodded. “This intel is on an arrogant brown-haired bully. He’s a student at Shujin Academy. Things have gone a little too far for just bullying though." He stated. "He’s abusing and blackmailing kids.”

Ryuji scrunched up his face in anger. “He’s the perfect target! C’mon, let’s take him down!” He punched his palm.

Ann scoffed. “Are you sure you aren’t just excited to go to Mementos?” She paused. “Then again, we can’t really leave a guy like that be...We should go.”

Akira nodded, then looked over at Airi. “Are you going to be OK? You said you felt sick in Mementos.” He asked concernedly.

Airi nodded. “I’ll be fine. What’s a little nausea compared to helping others?”

Morgana looked at each of the teenagers. “No objections? Mm...we’re good to go then. That’s a unanimous decision! OK, all that’s left now is to take down the target in Mementos!” It stated firmly.

Akira took out his phone and activated the Nav. As always, the air around them fizzed like TV static, the air pulsing with energy. With a feeling of weightlessness, they transitioned into Mementos, ending up in the opening of the train platforms.

Elegant flinched, immediately hit with a minuscule sense of nausea. ‘Is this going to happen every time..?’ She furrowed her brow worriedly.

Joker still had his phone out, checking the Nav. “It says we can teleport to each rest area we discover, and back to the entrance.” He read the screen.

“That app is so mysterious.” Panther remarked, crossing her arms thoughtfully.

Skull grinned. “Who cares, we’re here to kick ass!” 

Mona took out two vials out of his utility belt. “I have something for you before we head in there.” He handed them to Joker. “They’re Goho-Ms, which transport you to the very beginning of a Palace. Those were the last I had. You’re on your own now, OK?” He pointed his paw at the leader with a grin.

Joker nodded, pocketing the items.

“The target’s really here then?” Panther asked.

Mona nodded. “Definitely. I’m sensing them deeper than before, but their presence is certainly here.” He sneezed. “The pollen’s out of control today...It’ll definitely have an impact on Mementos…”

Elegant nodded. “Right, you mentioned this earlier. When the weather affects people, Mementos is affected as well.” She recalled, wiggling her nose a bit.

Mona nodded. “The type of change will depend on what kind of weather it is. This might turn out to be useful.” He rubbed his paws satisfactorily.

Skull scratched his head. “So what’s a ton of pollen gonna do?”

“I’m not too sure..." He rubbed his paws. "But the impact on Mementos is determined by how the public is feeling. How have other people been seeming to you?” Mona asked, tilting his large head.

Panther tapped her chin. “Come to think of it, some of the kids in our class have bad allergies. They all seem really out of it. Apparently the medicine makes them feel sleepy…”

“I see..." Mona nodded. "There might be a similar effect in Mementos then.” 

Skull rolled his shoulder. “So it’ll prolly be easier to beat Shadows or ignore ‘em completely. C’mon, let’s go find out.” He gestured with his hand.

They walked up to the gates. Joker took out his phone and selected Area two of Qimranut. In a flash of blue fire, they appeared at the next platform.

“Hey, this is where we left off last time, right?” Skull questioned.

“Yeah, and just as I expected, the path ahead is still open. All right, time to check it out!” Mona reached a paw out.

Running forward, they descended the escalators down to the next level. The phone in Joker’s pocket chimed. “Now in the Path of Ayatsbus.” The atmosphere completely changed, now lit with a dark blue light.

Elegant swallowed, the nausea getting a bit stronger.

“All right, we dunno what to expect from here on. We better watch out backs!” Skull advised.

Mona jumped forward and transformed into his car self. “Oh...Cautiousness is good, but let’s not linger in one area for too long, OK?” He warned.

Walking up to the bus, Elegant tilted her head. “Why? Does something happen?”