Chapter 1: The First Fifth of November
Poll: Are the Phantom Thieves just?
Yes: 67% No: 33%
Anon: I’m afraid 2 say
Anon: REMEMBER THE FIFTH OF NOVEMBER
Anon: the whole system is trash anyway, so I’m with them
Anon: the rulrs r always wtching >.>
The sidewalk began to rumble, a gentle tremor at first that grew into waves of vicious ripples. The after work rush of pedestrians paused in their tracks in the crowded Shibuya square as the motion fanned out beneath their feet. For a moment it seemed like it would stop, but then a thunderous groan echoed from the base of their feet to the dark sky above their heads. The air around the square suddenly was alive with terror.
“What was that?” Someone, a man, called from the crowd.
A woman’s voice echoed from another corner, calling out, “Was that an earthquake?”
“Oh my god, the palace!”
The last shrill cry turned everyone’s attention to the looming structure at the very center of the square as all chaos let loose. The first few shingles from the very top of the arching roof came sliding down into the gated lawn beneath, followed by a great rain of shattering glass as all the windows at the top of the clocktower burst simultaneously. Screams echoed in the air as the crowd stumbled back away from the quickly crumbling tower. Nobody could do anything but watch as the great structure trembled and shook, locked in its own undoing.
A voice screamed. “It’s the Phantom Thieves!”
Everyone’s heads turned for a different reason now, scanning the crowd for an unseen ghost. The elusive perpetrator of this fall and the many before it.
Takamaki Ann gripped her shoulder bag tighter, her lips fighting a tell tale twitch as she watched the scene unfold around her, before she turned and hurried in the opposite direction of the destruction. There was a quiet little cafe tucked away in a back alley of Yogen-Jaya where a sinfully good cup of coffee awaited her and she didn’t want to be delayed from her indulgence by a bunch of Peacekeepers coming down on the area.
Plus the barista was cute.
Bypassing the chaotic underground system altogether, Ann flagged down a cab to take her beyond the perimeter of Shibuya. The once over by the driver ignored as she doubled the fare to take the long way to skirt around the check points. The man didn’t even blink as he pocketed the hundred yen bill and followed her directions to the letter, letting her out right at the entrance to the back alley. Ann didn’t look backwards as she strolled straight into Leblanc, flipping the open sign to closed as she passed through the door.
“Timely as always. I didn’t expect you for half an hour,” the barista greeted her from behind the bar with a quirked smile, the low light of the cafe making it impossible for Ann to see past the gleam in his thick rimmed glasses.
Ann sighed, throwing her bag down on the floor in front of the bar. “No, thanks to you.”
The smile turned into a sly grin and Ann could finally see those slate grey eyes as he cocked his head slightly to the left. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Giggling, Ann let her mask finally drop and fell into a warn leather stool. “One day you are going to tell me how you always manage to beat me back after one of your heist, Akira.”
“Sorry, still don’t know what you are talking about,” Akira shrugged, grabbing an empty ceramic mug and moving towards the coffee siphons. He was wearing his signature playful smile though, one that was more Joker than Akira. “Same as usual?”
Ann nodded, tapping the counter top with a perfectly manicured nail as she continued to stare at her friend. “At least let me know everything went smoothly.”
“More like a sandpaper,” hissed another voice as a black and white cat jumped onto the stool beside Ann. “Someone got a little cocky in the end.”
Akira scoffed, but didn’t say anything. Instead he placed a steaming mug of coffee in front of Ann. She took a sip, snorting softly before the noise turned into an appreciative hum as the rich flavor traveled over her tongue.
“And that’s unusual?” She asked, smacking her lips together.
The cat growled. “No, but he’ll get caught one of these days if he continues not to listen!”
Akira rolled his eyes, sipping from his own mug of coffee. “How long has it been, Morgana?”
Morgana’s tailed lashed back and forth with clear annoyance, but his mouth remained shut. Akira rose a brow in question, his lips pulling into a mischievous and smug smirk. Growling, the cat muttered something so softly neither of the two humans caught it.
“Hmm? I didn’t catch that,” Akira, no Joker, prodded smugly.
“I said five years!” Morgana yowled. “But that doesn’t matter! It only takes one slip up for both of our necks to be in hot water!”
“I rather like hot baths myself.”
Ann giggled at the two, reaching over to give Morgana a soothing scratch to the back of his head. The angry cat stiffened before melting into her touch with a purr, all the anger leaving in a matter of seconds. She caught Akira’s amused expression at a particularly loud rumble from Morgana and took an innocent sip of her coffee with her free hand.
“Either way the job was a success and we’re both in one piece,” Akira assured as he continued to stare at the two. “Fukumoto no longer controls the Shibuya burrow.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Ann sighed, her face growing troubled. “But who knows who they’ll put in charge after him.”
Her voice was heavy with defeat as she dropped her hand from Morgana’s head, bringing both of them to rest on the bar top.
“Lady Ann,” Morgana said softly, a paw coming to rest on her thigh.
She sniffled quietly, gripping her fingers together so tightly her nails bit into the skin of her palms. “I just hate this! No matter how many palaces you take down, they just bring in a new ruler that is more horrible than the last! When does this end? When do we win? Can we even win? And why does no one else help? Five years and nothing! Haven’t we shown them people want change?”
Silence followed her outburst, her words falling heavy in the otherwise empty cafe. They sat between the three of them like a ticking bomb, one that had been avoided for a very long time. It was bound to explode sometime and Ann had always known she was the weakest link. She didn’t have the potential, much less the kind of power Akira welded like a finely honed weapon. She wasn’t even smart or talented like the other accomplishes, she knew Akira kept close but had never met herself. Ann was only the cover story, who had to watch her friend fight a losing battle constantly.
“Hey.” A calloused hand gently tipped her chin up and she found herself looking into warm grey eyes that shone with understanding and made her feel safe in a way she never had in this life.
“It’ll all be okay,” Akira promised with a small smile, in that usual way of his that made everything seem like it was going to be just that.
“Joker’s right, Lady Ann, you don’t have to worry about us,” Morgana piped up. “We can handle anything as long as he’s around! He’s our Wild Card!”
Ann let a small smile grow on her face, but fear still clouded her eyes. “But what if they Hunt you?”
She directed the statement more at Akira and anyone who didn’t know him like she did, might have not thought the question had any affect on him, but because she knew what to look for she could see the small changes. His shoulders tensing ever so slightly under the tight stretch of his shirt, the way his jaw slid marginally to the right, or the faintest amount of extra pressure in his grip that he released as soon as he realized what he was doing. Ann gave him an apologetic smile for bringing up the topic, sitting back in her seat to give him some space.
“Sorry, I won’t bring it up again.”
Akira sighed, his shoulders dropping as he brought a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “No, you don’t have to apologize. It’s a realistic fear.”
He sounded resigned and Ann felt the weight in her stomach sit a bit heavier. Thinking fast, she reached for the remote on the counter and picked it up in her hands. Waving it in the air between them she tried for a mischievous smile, but it felt as strained as the laugh she forced.
“Hey, how about we forget all that and see what kind of chaos the Phantom Thieves have caused, yeah?”
“Dammit!” Akechi swore, slamming his fist into his desk so hard papers went flying off the edge. Later he’d care about having to go through the trouble of sorting all those files back into order, but right now all he could see was the late ruler Fukumoto Taro recanting his claim over the Shibuya burrow on live broadcast.
“How?!” The detective demanded in aggravation. “How did we not know he’d received a calling card?!”
The nearest officers cowered away from the pure rage in their commander’s sharp gaze. The smart ones ducked out of the room as fast as they could, making themselves useful somewhere their leader was not currently about to throw the largest fit to be seen in the entire history of the Velvet Room. On his best days the commanding detective was downright frightening, on his worst you were lucky to leave the room in one piece without several patchworks of diarahan. The officers that wanted to stick around learned quickly to avoid a foul Akechi.
There was one exception in the room, a single female people often referred to as Leviathan when she wasn’t in earshot. Niijima Sae, ruler of the former court district and its occupants, stood before Akechi Goro’s desk with a face straight out of a poker match. She didn’t even flinch when Loki made an appearance, shimmering in and out of existence over his user’s shaking form.
“Fukumoto told his shadows and personal task force to keep the card secret,” she stated blandly.
“And why did the idiot do that?” Akechi ground out, fingers clenching down on whatever remained beneath them. Crushing important documents and other such things he’d regret destroying at a much later time. Right this moment there was a bigger mess to deal with and having other rulers swarming down into the Velvet Room demanding answers was a very real threat. Niijima’s hold on this burrow was the only thing holding them off for the moment, but that wouldn’t last. He needed to find answers before the others arrived or, worse, demanded his presence.
“He figured they could handle it on their own.”
The room went deathly quiet and the few officers still lingering in the room drew in a sharp breath at the factual statement that left Niijima’s lips.
“He. Thought. What.”
Niijima looked non-pulsed as she eyed Akechi’s bowed form.
“Apparently he wanted the glory of being the ruler who finally brought the Phantom in. It’s an envied prize most people in this position like to fantasize about. I’m sure some cognitive version lives in each and every one of their personal distortions,” she sounded mildly disgusted, folding her arms across her chest. “A young man or woman, with all the imagined power of a true Wild card, collared at their feet like a good pet. If he caught the Phantom, I believe Fukumoto expected to be the one to claim ownership.”
Akechi ground his teeth sharply. “And that imbecile thought he’d be the one to do it? After five whole years of others trying and failing to do the same? With back-up!”
“I didn’t claim the man to be intelligent,” Niijima waved a hand flippantly. “He was never good at a gamble.”
“Well now the rest of us are left cleaning up his mess!”
Niijima’s lips pressed into a thin line, but it was her eyes that had Akechi regretting his tone even fractionally. Golden yellow, like a predatorily reptile cut through their victims like steel. There was no mercy in those cold orbs as they narrowed on the commanding detective.
“You think I don’t know that, Akechi. I’ve worked hard to hold my position in this city, I do not want it put at risk because I have to substitute the late ruler of Shibuya until the higher ups find a strong enough replacement. Until then, I find myself stretching my own resources thin, while weeding out the incompetencies of Fukumoto’s personal task forces. None of which is work I particularly enjoy.”
Akechi, wisely, kept his mouth shut as the woman spoke. Niijima hadn’t been a ruler as long as she had, out of sheer luck. She was a game master, running a tight grip on her burrow and palace, always eight steps ahead of her enemies. Strong wit, observant, and a sharp mind made her a formidable opponent on any playing field, even before she had risen to her current rank. Unlike the others in her standing, Niijima wasn’t corrupted by base desire, but a sheer determination to win. Akechi suspected it was for that reason she hadn’t been targeted by the infamous Phantom Thieves of Hearts yet. They sought after those with hearts containing strong ill wills towards others, taking them down ruthlessly and swiftly. Niijima never fit that bill, though her own distortion was still cruel in and of itself, just far less so than the others. Akechi found himself lucky to have been kept in her burrow these past years, even upon finding himself seated in the Velvet Room with the awakening of Loki.
Acting as a Wild Card, but not a true Wild Card.
The whole reason this entire situation was so vexing.
Sighing, Akechi quickly bowed. “Forgive me, Niijima. I lost myself there for a moment.”
Straightening up, Akechi surveyed the room calmly for a moment. “With Fukumoto’s error, the task of catching the Phantom has become seemingly more difficult than ever. Their timeline has moved up once again. There was also no cognitive flare up this time.”
Niijima hummed her agreement, tapping her chin thoughtfully with a black nail. “Was there anything discovered in the aftermath?”
“Sadly, no,” Akechi shook his head a sneer pulling at his lips. “As always the Phantom is just that: a ghost when it comes to our intelligence. We still have been unable to even identify any traits about the individual beyond that they seem to be getting significantly stronger as time goes by.”
“Criminals like that tend to get cocky after awhile,” Niijima stated, her brows furrowing. “They’re bound to slip up.”
“Most would have thought it would have already happened by now. Five years is a long time,” Akechi argued. He wished Niijima was right, one little mistake would be all it took to give them the lead they needed to end this five year game. “I believe they have perfected their craft to ensure no failure. At this point, they’d need to break their pattern entirely in order for us to find them.”
“They’re a fugitive, who can’t run forever,” Niijima argued.
Akechi gave her a long look, resigned as he turned around to the board at his back he’d been avoiding looking at this whole evening. Like something out of a crime movie, photos and documents were tacked to a physical map of the city, connected by overlapping red strings. Locations of previous heists, verified sightings, and the occasional cognitive flare up of a magnitude great enough to only come from someone who held the potential as strong as a suspected true Wild Card could manage. All of it relatively useless because there was one major piece of key information they were missing and until they found it, all of it was just visual jargon.
“Except they have been… for five years.” Even he hated how defeated he sounded, it was quite pathetic. He had his theories and guesses as to the rough identity of the illusive Phantom, but after working on this case personally for the past year and a half, he was getting fed up with the endless dead ends that kept appearing every time he thought he’d finally gotten some kind of solid lead. It was like his target was made of smoke and mirrors not flesh and blood.
“Then we end this game of cat and mouse now,” Niijima said, she had moved around the desk and was standing between him and the board now, her back to him as her gold eyes scanned over all the clues. “We bring in some fresh eyes.”
“We’ll keep all you ladies and gentlemen watching at home updated as the situation continues. Now back to the studio.” The news anchor’s voice abruptly cut off as Ann powered down the old television unit, leaving Leblanc quiet. The clock over the bar read just past midnight and the only two occupants left in the cafe were feeling the effects of the hour.
“Mmmm-hah! I think I’ll just spend the night,” Ann yawned, stretching her body upwards to try to loosen up the stiffness in her spine. Several hours of modeling did horrible things to the body, but she didn’t come this far in her career to give up from just a little pain. Not when she had people relying on her.
Across the cafe, Akira chuckled as he switched off the lights, leaving only the ones leading up to the attic on. “I thought that was the plan anyway.”
“Oh, yeah.” Ann colored a little as she remembered their cover, her voice stuttering as he came closer. “Uh…. um… do we have to?”
She winced at the words, her cover up just made it more uncomfortable. The exact opposite of what she’d been intending. Akira’s face was unreadable as he stopped a foot away from her. She awaited for the inevitable blow, the final realization she’d been waiting for him to spit out at her since high school, only for him to duck his head as he brought a hand up to rub at the back of his neck.
“Ann, there’s only one bed,” he deadpanned.
“… Right.” She couldn’t look him in the eye.
“If it makes you uncomfortable, I’ll just pull some blankets down from storage and make something up on the floor. Can’t really sleep down in the shop though,” he sounded apologetic as he said the last bit, reminding her of why they had this arrangement in the first place.
“You know what, never mind! Forget I ever said anything, it’s not like we haven’t done this before and I trust you, so it’ll be okay, yeah?” Her voice pitched hysterically at the end there, but before he could have time to argue Ann was darting up the stairs to the attic apartment.
She blew out a deep sigh when she got to the top, knowing she had only a few minutes tops before Akira came up the stairs after her to get herself together. Thankfully Morgana was already fast asleep in the center of the large queen sized bed that replaced the old futon Akira had used in high school. Thinking back to how much the space had changed since then gave her a little distraction from her previous embarrassment, which had nothing to do with being uncomfortable sharing a bed and was rather about the who she was sharing it with and the annoying way said person made her heart flutter like it wanted to grow wings and fly straight out of her chest. None of which was anything he knew about.
Akira had always been a supernaturally observant person.
Throwing herself down onto the bed, Ann tried not to think too hard about that line of thought as she also pretended not to hear Akira reach the peak of the stairs and close the door at the top.
“Ann?” Akira’s voice was soft, but it held a question she didn’t really want to answer.
Humming a false note, she buried her face in her pillow, “Mmm, I might just steal these one of these days. So soft!”
Silence followed and just when she was about to say something to try to lift it, she felt the bed dip behind her. A stuttered breath left her lips as a familiar mess of dark hair hovered over her peripheral vision.
“Ann.” His voice was sterner this time, demanding a straight answer and Ann cursed the things that voice did to her. “You know you can tell me anything, right?”
Usually she’d agree, but this was definitely not something she wanted to put words to. Not when she already knew the answer was going to be a kind of rejection that would ruin the easy friendship they’d had since high school. Since he’d saved her from Kamoshida…
“Yep,” Ann chirped, popping the p as she shifted uncomfortably.
He was close enough that she could feel Akira’s chest cave in as he gave a frustrated sigh and fell onto his back behind her. Ann bit her lip and tried to snuggle deeper in to the bed, but now her thoughts were back on high school and the entire year leading up to meeting Akira. It wasn’t a time she liked to dwell on, especially because she could never stop herself from going down the trail of what ifs. Like what would have happened if Akira had never transferred into Shujin? Ann shivered, curling her fingers around the sheets before she even really realized what she was doing.
“ ‘kira.” He hummed softly behind her at the nickname. “Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t chased me down in Shibuya?”
Behind her Akira tensed and though she couldn’t see his face, she knew his expression would be stuck between concern and anger at the memories. She’d seen the look several times before. The first real time, five years ago when she’d confessed all the things Kamoshida had demanded of her over a table in the middle of a crowded diner in Shibuya. With the late afternoon sunlight in his face, Akira’s rage had been just as beautiful as it had been terrifying. He hadn’t even known her back then and Ann hadn’t trusted any man after every unwanted touch and pushed boundary she’d been put through, but for some reason the delinquent with gray eyes made her feel safe. Even when those eyes had screamed out for blood.
It was the first real moment in her life though that someone showed real concern about her as a person. He didn’t tell her to accept her position like every other person had, just because Kamoshida was ruler of the Aoyama-Itchome district and his wish was law. Instead he’d listened to a broken girl, grabbed her hand over the worn table, and promised something would change. Later, after the garish castle that had planted itself over their school had fallen, Ann realized that was the moment she started to fall for the dark hero who’d entered her life by chance.
Rolling over, Ann faced that hero but couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eye just yet.
“I never did thank you for all that,” she mumbled, fingers twisting around a loose thread in the sheets. “I’d still be his doll if it weren’t for you. Shiho, too.”
Akira didn’t say anything. Instead she felt an arm reach over her shoulder and found herself being pulling into a tight embrace, her head pocketed in the curve of a strong chest. A cry from the end of the bed alerted them both to the fact that they’d disturbed Morgana in the movement, but neither of them moved as the cat yowled angrily at being woken from his beauty sleep.
“Five years, isn’t too late, yeah?” She tried to laugh, but it came out muffed by the fabric in her face.
Chest shaking with silent laughter, Akira let her go and rolled over onto his side of the bed.
Chapter 2: Mission Start
Poll: Is the Phantom a Persona user?
Yes: 89% No: 11%
Anon: they’d have 2 b 2 take down those palaces
Anon: But wouldn’t there have been a Hunt by now?
Anon: PLS MARRY ME!!!!!!! <3
“Man, take a load of this place. Never thought someone like me would ever be invited here,” Sakamoto Ryuji whistled loudly, gaping around at his surroundings as the glass elevator shot upwards towards the highest floor.
His companion beside him gave a put upon sigh, rubbing her forehead in dismay. “Ryuji, please.”
This was going to be a long day, Niijima Makoto could feel it, as if the last night hadn’t been long enough. Following the fall of the Shibuya palace, Makoto had to throw away her evening plans to drag Ryuji around her sister’s burrow to make sure nothing was amiss in her palace. Not that she expected anything to happen, the thieves’ MO wasn’t to attack twice in one night and there had been no calling card. Still security was everything when Sae was breathing down her neck to make sure the job was done thoroughly. The summons to the Velvet Room with her and her one man team was just the icing on the cake to her already very long night.
No sleep in twenty-four hours and it was probably about to be even longer. She winced.
Ryuji didn’t seem as affected, turning with a gobsmacked expression dawning on his face as he loudly proclaimed. “Do you think this is about the Phantom Thieves?!”
Makoto’s expression flinched, maybe she was getting a migraine. “I have my suspicions.”
“Duuuuude, do you think they’re going to ask us for help on the case?” He sounded far too excited at the prospect.
“I thought you didn’t like extra work.”
Ryuji scoffed, plunging his hands into his front pockets. “Well yeah, not this stuff though. This shit beats regular duty any day.”
It was a naive view and part of Makoto wanted to point that out to her fellow Peacekeeper, but a larger part of her was too tired to go into the explanation she knew she’d have to if she opened that can of worms. There was no way her sister was just going to let her only persona users run off to chase after some elusive criminal and neglect their normal duties. More likely they’d be working twice as hard as usual to try to do both. Which meant more sleepless nights in her future.
“Just try to act professional here,” she begged, already resigned to the opposite happening.
Still Ryuji gave a wide grin and threw up a quick thumbs-up. “Gotcha, Queen!”
“And please don’t call me that.”
The elevator let out a loud thrill and there was a moment where everything seemed to be weightless, before the machine settled and the doors slid open. Makoto stepped forward, Ryuji following less than a foot behind her, as she led him onto the twenty-eighth level of what used to be the headquarters of the Tokyo police department. Now it was the headquarters for all the collared persona users, known more widely by the general public as Peacekeepers, with the twenty-eighth floor designated as the home of the infamous Velvet Room.
This was the den of the strongest and smartest persona users alive, somewhere Makoto herself had almost been assigned had it not been for her older sister’s interference upon the discovery of her potential.
Makoto still thought of herself as lucky that she’d dodged that particular fate, some of the things this department did never sat well with her stomach. It didn’t mean she liked her current position any more, because she was equally unhappy doing the work she was forced into there, just that it was the lesser of two evils in comparison.
And in this society, the lesser was almost as equal to being the good.
… Her father would have hated what had become of the world.
Tearing her thoughts away from that dark pitfall of thoughts, Makoto carefully observed her surroundings as the pair entered the room at the end of the hall. The center of the Velvet Room looked like any other police station. There were several desk scattered throughout with various bits of paperwork and files covering their surfaces, yet only three of them seemed occupied by two young females who looked a bit older than Makoto herself and one older man who looked to be in his later thirties.
Ignoring the others for now, Makoto focused her attention towards the back of the room where one long table acted as a stand in desk. Behind it a young man stood taking down tacks and red bits of string from a large map mounted to a board. The man turned to put something down on the table, pausing midway as he noticed Ryuji and her approach.
“Ah, Miss Niijima, I’ve been expecting you.” He smiled, putting the paper in his hand onto the table, before straightening and dusting his hands off as he gave her his full attention. “I trust your trip here was alright?”
“Splendid,” Makoto fought through her fatigue to give a small smile. “It’s a pleasure as always to see you, Akechi. My sister sent word that I was to report to you for an assignment.”
Akechi nodded. “You are correct. This is your other team member than?”
Ryuji shifted forward, offering a hand to Akechi with a grin. “Sup, name’s Ryuji. Is this about the Phantom Thieves?”
“Ryuji!” Makoto cried, face burning as she stared in horror at her companion.
Her embarrassment was short lived though as Akechi began chuckling. Trying to school her expression, Makoto turned a sheepish gaze to the detective who was shaking his head with clear mirth. He didn’t look offend at least and had even reached out to take the offered hand and give it a firm shake. Watching the two of them, Makoto tried to quell the rest of her second hand embarrassment. It was quite clear that Akechi didn’t appear to mind Ryuji’s brash nature.
“A pleasure,” Akechi said, dropping the handshake. “And you are correct in your assumption, that is indeed what you two have been called in here for.”
“I don’t know how much you two have been informed of, but starting today Niijima Sae has given your services on loan to this department. She said that if anyone could be of use to figuring out this case it would be her sister and, for the sake of honesty, this case could use the additional man power.”
Once upon a time hearing that would have made Makoto glow in pride. Now it just hit like another loaded weight on her shoulders. Ever since the overturn and Sae’s palace appearing, the relationship between both of them had changed even further. Sae had become blinded by success and getting to the top, and once she was at the top all she could see was staying there. There might have been good will behind the motivation years ago, but that had faded fast over time. Makoto rarely saw her sister and the day her potential flared up, in a rather regretful confrontation with Kaneshiro while she’d been childishly playing detective, all she’d been to Sae was another pawn to keep her title.
However, Makoto would do what she always did. She’d grin and bear this new responsibility because it was expected of her, even as the voice of Johanna grated against the idea, there was little choice to do otherwise.
Unless she wanted to be eliminated entirely.
“I see,” she simply put, tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear again. “So where do we begin?”
Akechi’s shoulders fell and for the first time Makoto saw the tension in the young detective’s body behind the polite smiles and welcoming eyes. He might just have been as overworked as her, but he hide it just as well beyond the small tells. She would never have envied the position he found himself in, nor could she have imagined how much pressure was resting on him to do what other’s had long ago deemed impossible. Catch the Phantom, perhaps one of the strongest persona users Tokyo had seen in the past ten years and one that knew how to cloak or had an accomplice who had enough power to hack cognition to hide both or all accomplices from Navigators. It really was an impossible mess and now she was right alongside him, neck deep in it.
“I suggest we take it one case at a time for that first year of activity. Critical mistakes are usually made when one is starting out, after a year our culprits would have already developed a seamless method of operation,” Akechi proposed, pausing to shuffled the papers on the desk into clear piles. “So we start at the beginning, two fresh pairs of eyes might be able to help me identify things I might have missed in my initial investigation.”
Makoto nodded her assent, moving to the table to watch as Akechi separated and organized the piles of files until only one was sitting in the center of the desk. A familiar face stared back up at her from the pages.
“With Kamoshida then,” she hummed, picking up a short typed list and looking over it.
Makoto had never personally dealt with the man, but she’d have had to have been blind not to have seen him passing in the halls of his castle, instilling his will on the students of his choosing. Most often those in sports. Behind her Ryuji growled something underneath his breath, reminding Makoto that he had his own past with the disgraced ruler. She wanted to reach back and grip his hand to reassure him, but professionalism kept her rooted to the spot.
“Ah, that’s right, you both were Shujin students at that time, were you not?” Akechi pinched his chin in his hand, brows drawn together thoughtfully. “Perhaps then, you might be able to add something to what little we know of this heist.”
“Fat lot of nothin’,” Ryuji grumbled, scratching his cheek. “Just glad the damn bastard fell.”
“Ryuji,” Makoto hissed.
Ryuji had the decency to look sheepish. “ ‘rry.”
Akechi’s face was strained when Makoto looked back at him, but the look quickly vanished as he picked up the photo of Kamoshida’s face and pinned it at the center of the empty board.
“What we do know is that after holding his burrow for over four years, someone only decided to act against Kamoshida then. Which leads me to suspect that someone linked to Shujin was the cause, most likely a student who either started that year or someone who was directly related to someone of the same MO,” Akechi explained cautiously and Makoto caught him looking at her out of the corner of his eye. “Did anyone stand out at that time?”
Frowning, Makoto leaned back against the desk, beside her Ryuji did the same expect with much less professionalism in the way he hopped up to sit on the surface with legs spread. She choose not to address that particular display of lacking professionalism as she instead tried to sort through her memories of that year.
Third year, she was mostly focused on her exams and getting into the best university possible. Kamoshida and the drama surrounding it was background noise. Vaguely she recalled the principal trying to get her to investigate the Phantom Thieves, believing that it might have been one of their own students, but then her potential came alive and, with it, her time as a student came to an end. In that whirlwind of activity, Makoto couldn’t remember any specific student concerns that arose to her as Student Council President.
“Hrm, that could be any first year student,” she sighed.
Ryuji however seemed to recall something as he shifted beside her. “There was a transfer kid I remember, in another class. Got shunned for bein’ a delinquent or somethin’.”
Akechi perked up. “Do you remember a name?”
“Nah, it’s been a while,” Ryuji shrugged. “Kid was quite though. Doubt this was him.”
“Hmm, it appears we are back to square one then. The school has already refused to give up their roasters without the consent of the ruler of that district and he has not exactly been the most cooperative in that matter,” Akechi grumbled, a defeated note entering his voice. “I tried, unsuccessfully, to get them to change their minds when I first started this investigation a year ago, but they didn’t want to tarnish their rebuilt reputation by bringing up past scandals.”
Staring at him, another idea struck Makoto as she pushed off from the table and turned her attention fully towards the detective. “The citizens’ archives would hold information about anyone entering Tokyo with a record at that time. It’d also give anything mandated by the ruling party in the file notes, like school of attendance and residential burrow.”
A smile broke on Akechi’s face.
“Then what are we waiting for.”
“Do you think Lady Ann would ever let me join her on set?”
Morgana’s voice was a low purr in Akira’s bag, drowned out by the metallic rattle of the train, thankfully. Akira eyed the other passenger’s briefly regardless, to double check that no one was looking their way with anything other than a passing glance. Every other passenger seemed wrapped up in their own business though and Akira’s shoulder’s relaxed ever so slightly as he reached up to shift the school bag on his shoulder’s with more force than necessary.
“Hey!” Morgana hissed.
“Keep it down.” Akira once more shifted the bag, turning so that his back was to the other passengers.
Grumbling, Morgana settled deeper in the bag, putting extra weight on Akira’s back. “Stop worrying, they can’t hear me through everything else.”
“But they could,” Akira tossed back, pushing his glasses up his nose as he ducked his head.
“Fine, but you never answered my question,” Morgana conceded, voice softer now.
Akira hummed thoughtfully, looking up to see how many stops he had left before they got to the university station. Two, which made the ride feel significantly longer than usual today. It might have had something to do with the heist last night. Increases in traffic and slower trains usually meant that they’d tightened up on the check points.
“Maybe,” he hummed, side eyeing the other passengers for any tells of tension: stiff backs, shifty eyes, or tight grips. There were a few, but not any more than what he’d expect the day after a ruler lost power and none were looking his way. Still another face in the crowd then.
Morgana sighed, his voice gone soft and dreamy. Akira knew exactly what was coming next.
“To be surrounded by her beauty all day, that would be the dream.”
Trying not to snort, Akira ducked his head with an amused grin.
Morgana’s crush on Ann hadn’t abated at all over the years, how his friend had never noticed herself was still a mystery to Akira. Then again, Ann had always been oblivious to her affect on men until the attention became directly sexual. Morgana’s attentions had always been purely innocent, in fact, more than once the cat had threatened to claw out a stranger’s eyes when he caught them ogling her body. He deemed himself the protecter of her innocence and the first night he proclaimed this to Akira, with starry eyed determination and such conviction, the other didn’t have the heart to break it to his feline friend that it was a bit too late for that.
Self-preservation was also factor in his silence. He was never going to tell Morgana about a night in Leblanc when both Ann and him had a bit too much sake while Morgana was at the Sakura house. Akira liked his face in tact, thank you very much, and it was something even Ann and him had never addressed directly. Mostly because Akira found out how she felt and the guilt never quite left him that he couldn’t feel the same.
And he’d tried, but beyond that one moment where two teenagers needed something to anchor them to reality, he just couldn’t. She was beautiful and one of his closest friends, but he couldn’t force a connection beyond that.
The loudspeaker cut in over his thoughts. The robotic speaker announced his station and Akira began to push his way towards the doors as the train slid into the station. The rush of students he followed out of the train distracted him away from his previous thoughts. It reminded him of high school, back when the train into Aoyama-Itchome station used to turn black and white with Shujin uniforms. Sometimes he missed those days, back when he didn’t have the constant pressure of multiple presences in his head and a target on his back. There had been something simpler in being the student and thief who only preformed heists when cornered, verses the thief with a grander goal.
Then he’d see an enforcer or a peacekeeper and be reminded all over again as to why he continued to do what he did.
Akira’s shoulder stiffened as he turned the corner and spotted the group of shadows standing guard by the station exit. Their standard blue masks staring down at the line quickly forming to get up to the above ground station, hands out for identification documentation. These ones looked like priests, dressed in the black uniforms with small white squares at their necks. They looked almost human if not for the black shape that rose from out of their clothing and the mocking blue expression plastered over where their faces should’ve be. Akira felt his usual disgust boil up at the sight of them as he followed suit with the crowd, reaching into his bag for his own id. Morgana met him halfway, id in mouth for Akira to take.
“How bad?” He whispered, blue eyes peeking through the small hole in the zipper Akira left open for him.
Looking around carefully, Akira took a careful headcount and paused briefly as he spotted the woman dressed in black standing just beyond the check point. Her brown eyes narrowed as she faced the crowd streaming past her. At the sight of her, Akira tucked his hands back into his front pockets, dipping his shoulders forward to make himself smaller.
“Seven shadows scanning ids at the check point and one peacekeeper,” he reported quietly.
In his bag, Morgana hissed quietly, “Shoot, that’s bad.”
Glancing up at the persona user again, Akira tried to evaluate the situation. He was not a navigator, so he couldn’t size her power up for one thing or another. It was the one frustrating thing about being a Wild Card. He could have infinite personas at his beck and call, but the ability to read his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses was beyond him. Picking fights was like a game of Russian roulette where there were more loaded chambers than empty. Experience made the game a little easier but not by much, leaving him relying on people like Mona and Oracle for that information.
“Can you read her from in there?”
Morgana hummed softly, while Akira held his breath as he continued following the line forward, closer to the shadows and the peacekeeper.
“She’s a navi, but not a very strong one,” Morgana’s calm voice piped up after a moment. “You shouldn’t have any problem slipping by her with the cloak Oracle placed on you, even from this distance.”
He tipped his chin down and up quickly, enough of a nod to get the point to Morgana, but not enough to be obvious to someone looking at him. He hadn’t doubted Oracle’s cloaking ability, it hadn’t failed him for years, except when he accidentally summoned personas too powerful for her to completely cover the cognitive traces of. However there was always this cautious voice that told him to be careful lest he accidentally stumble upon someone with a stronger power than her. Someone who might have the ability to see her cognitive hack and tear it away to discover exactly what power hid under it.
It’d be a Hunt the entire country would hold its breath for.
“Identification,” the crackle of the shadow’s voice demanded, hand held out with a scanner at ready.
Face schooled into impassive, Akira stepped up to the shadow and held his id underneath the scanner. He didn’t look up, but kept his eyes glued to the ground as the mechanic beep gave its reading, registering and logging the movement between burrows. The shadow withdrew the scanner, it’s attention already going to the person waiting behind Akira.
Stuffing his id back into his pocket, Akira kept his stroll leisurely and calm as he followed the crowd out of the station, towards the exit. He knew the moment he passed the other persona user, felt her presence brush against his as her eyes drifted over him. Two seconds that felt like an eternity and then it was all over, her gaze fell onto the next commuter.
And just like that, the Phantom slipped away once again.
“I-I-I’m s-s-s-orry, sir. Please don’t tell anyone! I-I…. I’ll have them p-pre-prepared for you right away.”
Akechi pinched his nose, annoyance and exhaustion warring with each other as he stepped out of the cold building onto the curb. The archives had been a bust, apparently the incompetent fools thought they could keep quiet about the fact that they didn’t have the skills necessary to run the data systems, instead they’d just managed to amount everything they collected into one huge pile per year and call it quits. Behind him, the younger Niijima and Sakamoto were talking quietly, probably just as annoyed by the outcome as him.
“Well it appears that we have our work cut out for us,” Akechi sighed, dropping his gloved hand. “Will you two be able to take those back to the Velvet Room?”
He waved a hand at the pile of boxes on the cart Sakamoto was tasked with pushing. Clearly, he was the brawn of this investigation and, as such, Akechi felt no harm in assigning him the laborious task of toting around all the boxed paperwork. The archive assistants had even been so kind as to lend him a four wheeled cart to use.
Makoto hummed, stepping up beside him. “Where will you be going then?”
The delinquent Sakamoto remembered vaguely was the only real lead he’d had in a while and hopefully it lead somewhere. Only the information in those boxes would tell them who he was, in order to perhaps get somewhere in this investigation. However he couldn’t just leave it there. In all honesty, the lead could be a red herring and without any outside groundwork they’d be continuing to take shots in the dark forever. So the ideal situation was to pursue other avenues to aid in their investigation in other places and, as luck would have it, a perfect avenue had made itself known.
“By happenstance I’ve come across someone who may be of aid to our investigation, I’ll go ahead to the university to meet with this individual personally and meet up with you later,” Akechi explained, taking out his phone to call for a ride. “Please don’t let my absence deter you two from beginning to sort through those. The other members of the Velvet Room should be of some help there as well.”
Brilliantly, there was a car not two minutes from here available.
“If you’re sure,” Niijima bowed her head, tucking a few stray pieces of hair behind her ear.
“You’re leavin’ us to deal with this effin’ mess,” Ryuji exclaimed, slumping over the cart in front of him while he glared at the detective.
Pocketing his phone, Akechi felt his eyebrow twitch. Sakamoto was just as vulgar and abrasive as Sae promised he’d be. He didn’t care for rank and gave no respect to authority or commands, it annoyed Akechi a lot more than he let show, because sadly he might come in use should they get close to the Phantom. That didn’t mean that he always had to play nice, he was afraid he’d have a mental shutdown if that were the case.
“Considering you couldn’t remember this person’s name, I feel this task is fitting for you,” Akechi grinned, giving his most blindingly, fake smile at the blonde.
A black car approached from down the road, watching it from the corner of his eye at it rolled to a stop along the curb, Akechi separated himself for Sae’s peacekeepers. There were more important places he had to be, things to get done. He wasn’t going to lose this game the Phantom was playing. This year was going to be different and finally fate seemed to be placing the right cards in his hand.
He directed his parting words to Niijima as he slipped inside the back.
“It’s alright, Niijima, I’m afraid I deserved that. Forgive my moment of rudeness, Sakamoto,” he bowed his head in the direction of the blonde. “Niijima, I leave you in charge until I return.”
Wide eyed, the girl nodded quickly. “I’ll do my best!”
Nodding, Akechi closed the door on the two and sat back as the town car glided forward. He trusted that Niijima would get the job done, she was similar to her sister in her work ethic, if only slightly more relaxed. That was nothing unexpected though, Makoto wasn’t the ruler her sister was. The younger Niijima was too set on pleasing others to really be the kind of force her sister presented. She was just as observant and smart though, enough so that Akechi knew not to underestimate her.
“Where are we headed, sir?”
Akechi sighed, tugging on his gloves. “The university.”
Poll: Are the stories about Wild Cards true?
Yes: 13% No: 87%
Anon: The ace detective has 2, so maybe…?
Anon: right, along with bigfoot and ningen lmfao
Anon: …. i want to think so >.<
There were days like today where being a political science major just seemed about as pointless as trying to bucket out a sinking ship. True, there were still politicians, but it was a dying art when a voting system was pretty much void and those with power got there by being the strongest in their corruption. Mostly politicians just lined the ruler’s pockets in hopes of being elevated in society, like aristocracy of past. Honest politicians, like Yoshida Toranosuke had been, didn’t exist.
However while the man who was once known as “no good Taro” was no longer a diet member, he used his speaking skills to impress university youth and sway their opinions towards honest ways. It was easy to imagine how, in this dusty classroom in the corner most part of campus, Yoshida could be the one to spark a revolution. At least Akira liked to imagine it, leaning forward in his chair and listening intently to the has been talk passionately to a class of thirteen. If he pictured his classmates wearing sixteenth century french garb and standing on desk singing an anthem of revolution, Akira’d blame Yusuke for dragging him to see the musical when it aired dubbed in theaters. All three times.
He really should have said no the second time.
“Ah, I’m afraid I’ve run over again.” Yoshida clapped his hands together, smiling brightly to the tired undergrads. “Please pay attention closely to the next chapter, we’ll have a round table discussion next class about the contents.”
Akira hung back as the rest of the class got up to leave, taking his time closing his books and sliding them into his bag. Morgana bitterly grumbled about the loss of space and Akira tried not to snicker as he zipped it closed with the usual three inch gap opening for Morgana. The room was quiet once the last student left and only Yoshida remained in the front, looking over his lecture notes at the podium, seemingly unaware Akira was still in the room. Akira knew better though, the other had come to expect their odd chats at the end of each lecture.
“And what can I do for you today, Kurusu?” Yoshida picked up his head to grin as Akira approached.
Akira shrugged, a small grin on his face. “I’d like to know more on lobbying.”
There was a brief mention of it in their last reading and it had caught his attention as something more than a student. However the textbook had been vague on its explanation, going into the fundamentals of the what, but not the how. While it was swirling around in his head, he figured that someone who had experience might be able to better illuminate the subject.
Understanding dawned on the professor’s face. “Ah, in the last chapter, correct?”
Akira nodded, stuffing his hands in his front pockets as Yoshida’s brows furrowed in careful thought.
“The art of influencing an issue through a public official,” Yoshida began carefully after a moment, but like always he knew Akira was asking something much more than just the definition of the action. “It’s not really a thing that’s done anymore, rulers don’t sway to the will of others, but theoretically the skills it used were basic negotiations. The key was finding a similar interest or pressure point to exploit, ultimately to get an individual to begin spreading awareness on your agenda.”
Akira tilted his head, his mind already filing the information away for future use in palaces. Perhaps he could use the skill to farm multiple shadows into personas, instead of just collecting one at a time, by swinging the strongest out of the bunch. Or even just get the strongest to convince the other’s to give up more items or money. It was something he’d have to experiment with.
“And that was considered fair?”
Yoshida gave a sad smile. “To be honest, for the most part it was a system of blackmail and under the table money exchanges. But yes, it was considered legal.”
The professor paused, his grip on a book on his podium going stiff. When he looked up again the expression on his face was pinched. Akira knew exactly what was coming next before the words even left the man’s lips.
“There are better ways to convince others of your cause, I hope you of all people would understand that, Kurusu.”
If only he knew, but Akira wasn’t about to share his identity with another confident. There were only a handful of people who knew about Joker’s and Akira’s connection. The more people that knew, the more dangerous it became for both him and them. It was harder to keep a secret with more people in the know, he kept only a handful of confidents that knew of both his identities. The others knew of either Akira or Joker, not both. Both Morgana and he agreed that it was for the best like that. They didn’t need to risk this secret, it was already dangerous enough for him to just exist with this power.
Really though, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The smile he flashed before he said goodbye was definitely more Joker than the comforting one he’d intended to give Yoshida. Usually he could control the two sides of himself better, but with a strong distortion fizzling in the background as white noise, the line between the two was more grey. It always was when he walked in palaces trying to keep his normal facade in place.
Stepping out of Yoshida’s classroom, Akira left a safe room and stepped back into the aisle of a western church. The mockery of actual gothic architecture was an eye sore no matter how many times he encountered it.
“What he was talking about, do you think it could help during infiltrations?” Morgana’s voice piped up softly.
Akira hummed. “Possibly, we’ll need to test it first.”
“We need to decide on our next target then,” Morgana’s voice was thoughtful and he had Akira’s full attention as he navigated the stone hallways. The early afternoon light coming through stained glass made the hallways feel deceptively soothing. “I know we’ve held off on Umeda, but perhaps it’s time the thieves took action against him.”
Covertly, Akira looked around, but he was the only one in the hallway. The other students had cleared out in the time he’d taken to stay behind in the safe room and talk to Yoshida. There weren’t any shadows visibly roaming this side of the campus either. Akira suspected they probably were all busy patrolling the exterior gates of the university, thinking that they could catch anyone suspicious before they even entered the palace. They didn’t seem to suspect that one of the students might be the very thing they were looking out for.
Morgana’s head popped out to look at him over his shoulder, the cat’s blue eyes regarding his expression carefully. “Its been nearly two years after all.”
Two years since the palace erupted over the university overnight. Akira had always regretted that they had taken down the previous ruler, only to have to deal with the complication of a palace placing itself right over where he attended classes nearly daily. His hands were tied though, he had avoided acting against the school’s president Umeda Shiro in order to avoid suspicion. Two schools with palaces, shortly falling after he just began attending, would raise a red flag if anyone bothered to look that far into it.
That and the moment he took action as the Joker within the palace, he wouldn’t be able to enter the grounds as Akira until the palace fell. It was a quirk in the cognition Akira and Morgana had discovered around the time he’d first awakened to his power in Kamoshida’s palace. Back then, he’d nearly walked straight into school the next day, until Morgana had yowled about his appearance. His uniform had faded into his Phantom attire as soon as he set foot on the grounds. He had to avoid classes for four days, pretending to be sick with the flu, while he searched for the treasure to steal. But it taught him a valuable lesson. If he didn’t act as a threat, then the cognition of the palace wouldn’t recognize him as one until he did. Once he acted as Joker, the palace would recognize him every time he tried to enter, whether he was acting as a thief at that time or not.
Timing would be key if they did go after Umeda Shiro’s treasure.
“It’ll be easy this time too,” Morgana huffed, tail lashing back and forth eagerly. “We already know relatively where the treasure is.”
Akira agreed silently. They also had valid reason to act. Umeda had been funneling tuition money for his own personal use for years, raising the cost of attendance by exponential amounts every year to increase his own allowance. There were also other rumors about him, ones that Akira tried not to listen to or think about. Afraid that if he did, he’d move into action without thinking of the consequences. At the time, he couldn’t have afforded to act unless he wanted to put his neck on the chopping block. Sometimes not knowing was just better, as much as he hated the thought.
“You don’t have class until next Wednesday, that leaves us five days to secure a route and take the treasure. We’ve done it in less before,” the cat sounded eager as he chattered on.
“We can’t be too careless though.” Akira hesitated, he could already see how he was going to let this get out of hand.
“C’mon, this isn’t the Joker, I know.”
Akira opened his mouth to shoot something back, fully prepared with a few sarcastic barbs, when he caught the telltale sound of shoes on stone. By the sound of their pitch, they were headed his way, and Morgana was out. Quickly, he shoved the cat, back in the back, zipping it up until only the smallest portion was left open. For once Morgana remained protest free at the rough treatment and just in time as the person rounded the corner.
He only got a second to really look at the man approaching him, before he realized said person wasn’t paying any attention to where they were going. Years of honing his reflexes kicked in and Akira side stepped out of the other’s way quickly, before he was walked straight into.
“Excuse me.” The sharp remark left his mouth, before he was even realized what he was doing.
Akira cursed himself when the man stopped mid-step and turned ever so slightly to regard him. Brown eyes narrowed at him under a mop of shaggy chestnut hair. At first glance it was the only thing disheveled about the other man’s appearance, but a closer look showed tell tale signs of carefully hidden imperfections. Small ones, but obvious enough that someone as observant as him could catch them. The duality intrigued him.
Already in for a penny, Akira met the other’s gaze full on. Letting his own annoyance play across his usually calm mask.
“You should look where you are walking,” he challenged, the other turning fully to face him now.
There was a moment of silence and Akira held his breath as the stranger continued to stare him down. It gave him the chance to really look at the other. Somehow he looked familiar, but Akira wasn’t sure where he’d seen the stranger before. Another student seemed most likely, he probably brushed against him in the halls of the university before and thought nothing of it. But something was nagging at Akira about the idea, like it was wrong somehow. But he knew he’d seen this face somewhere before.
Finally the other spoke, his expression schooling itself into pleasantness. It was so obviously fake, Akira wanted to snort aloud.
“Forgive me, I was preoccupied with thought,” the other apologized with a blinding smile. “I shall endeavor to be more careful in the future though.”
The words were so formal, Akira wanted to doubt his initial estimate that this guy was around his age. He spoke like he was thirty, not in his early twenties. Eyebrows drawing down in a frown, he continued to stare at him, looking just a bit more carefully at the other. The other in turn was clearly uncomfortable under the scrutiny, shifting slightly as he appeared to make up his mind and turn away in that moment. At the sight, Akira’s throat grew tight, something urging him to stop him before he walked away.
Thinking quickly, he called after the other. “Hey, it might not be my business, but maybe you should try to get more sleep in the future… Might help the not running people down bit.”
The stranger’s eyes widened fractional and Akira wanted to smirk in victory at the crack in the mask. He only allowed himself a small smile though.
“Excuse me?” The stranger stuttered slightly.
Akira waved a hand at the other’s face, where beneath his left eye a small splotch of dark skin had rubbed through until it was a visible half circle. “You should reapply if you’re going to hide bruises with cosmetics.”
Ann had beat that into him the first time he’d come back from a palace with a bruise the size of a softball blooming at the base of his neck. Since then she’d been smuggling him expensive creams to cover up the worst bruises that were visible from underneath his clothing. They lasted far longer than the cheap stuff he’d original bought from a convince store around the corner from Leblanc, but even they didn’t hold forever.
“Huh,” the other touched his face, eyes going hazy. “Most people would have pretended they didn’t notice.”
“I’m not most people,” Akira couldn’t help, but tease. It was second nature to him and watching the other’s face turn slightly pink made the slip worth it.
“Well thank you, I’ll be certain to reapply after I’m done with my business here.”
“You should just try to get rest.” Akira couldn’t help himself, it was his baser instinct to help people, even those he’d just met. Especially ones with cute faces.
The stranger’s expression became pinched, his hand coming up to his chin. “If only it were possible.”
“Long night of studying?” Akira guessed.
The hand dropped, exposing a blank mask. “… something like that.”
That was frustratingly vague. “Ah.”
“Well it’s been nice, but I really must be going. Good day to you.” The stranger nodded his head in a bow and without another word turned and continued down the hallway, leaving Akira staring after him with a puzzled expression.
He didn’t realize Morgana had wiggled his way out of his bag, until the cat spoke directly into his ear.
“What was that about?”
Akira shrugged, he wished he knew. More importantly he wished he had gotten the stranger’s name. Warmth was spreading outward from inside his chest. The chains on his soul shifted and rattled into a new arrangement as a new bond began forming.
It appeared he’d be meeting the stranger again. He’d make sure to catch his name then.
“Well whatever, we have more important things to focus on,” Morgana prattled on, unaware of the shift in his friend. “We need to start getting prepared for our next mission. Time is of the essence here!”
Akira nodded absentmindedly, turning on his heel to continue on his earlier route before fate dropped a new confident unexpectedly into his path. Only time would tell how the stranger would change it.
Morgana meanwhile had gone quiet. “So what are we going to do first, we headed to Leblanc?”
“After we make a quick pitstop.”
Akechi rubbed at his chest, where an uncomfortable burning sensation was just beginning to fade away. He was far too young to be suffering from heartburn, perhaps it was stress related though. All the expectations thrown at him at once could result in as much. Logically speaking, of course. It hadn’t happened before though, but he didn’t think it was any cause for concern just yet. If it persisted, he’d make the effort to go to a clinic when he found a moment.
Right now he had more important things to worry about, like catching his target. His run in with that student had set him back a few precious moments.
Such a frustrating individual too, saying such forward things like he had the right too. Those slate eyes noticing things he knew other people overlooked, because nobody should pay that much attention to an unwanted bastard like him unless they wanted something. Akechi’s cheeks felt a little hot at the reminder of a glimpse of a small teasing smile.
“Fool,” Akechi cursed himself, scrubbing at his forehead with a gloved hand. He needed to focus on what was important. Not some nobody who paid him half a mind.
And right now that was Yamagishi Fuuka.
The detective reached for the door at the end of the hall, pushing it open to force his way in. His sources promised this was the research lab that had requested aid from the Tatsumi Port Island native. For years, the Tokyo task forces had wanted to get their hands on the navi. Her rumored capabilities far surpassed any that they currently had within the city, even those of Kujikawa Rise. However things in Port Island were run differently. There no palaces or rulers held control, only a small family group that had ruthlessly cut through all of them and held them from ever rising again. That family group had denied any access from outside groups to their persona users and made it clear that as long as a persona user was in their territory they were free to do as they will. It was a completely different world than it was elsewhere in Japan, where cognitive distortions reigned powerful.
Akechi couldn’t deny that he was curious what living in a world where you weren’t owned and used felt like.
However his job wasn’t to focus on such things, just to take advantage of an adventitious situation.
When Yamagishi Fuuka’s identification had pinged on their systems as having crossed into a Tokyo run burrow, Akechi knew such a chance had arrived. It was Sae who’d found out exactly what the navigator was doing in Tokyo and alerted him this morning. The higher ups had been waiting years for this opportunity, especially since the Phantom had begun reigning chaos on the city with a suspected navi of their own cloaking their signals.
Six heads turned when he entered the room, three humans and three large shadows. Only the shortest woman with a teal braid held his attention, seated in the middle of the room surrounded by the guards. The other humans gasped and Akechi caught his name and title exchanged in whispers. They were easy to ignore in favor of his target. Yamagishi Fuuka remained still, face melting into a resigned smile, her hands clasped in her lap.
“Mitsuru warned me this would happen.” Her voice was far softer than he thought it’d be, lacking any malice or anger. “But I couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass.”
That surprised him. “Yet you still came?”
Yamagishi laughed, but it was tired sounding. “It was silly of me, I know. But I needed to see if they were onto anything. Spiritual research is hard to come by. You don’t believe in that stuff though do you, Akechi?”
She was right, of course. Akechi hadn’t believed in such fairy tale since he was a small boy. The moment his mother killed herself in front of him, he’d given up on such rose colored views of the world. If there was such things as a god or gods, then they were doing a shitty job. Letting people suffer needlessly and allowing such distorted realities to exist, where it was the corrupt who succeeded. It was despicable.
“Senpai tried to stop me, but if there is an opportunity for answers, I wish to find them,” she smiled sadly. “No matter the cost.”
Akechi growled. Freedom was too high a cost. She was a fool for leaving Port Island and coming here. Akechi wanted to seize her shoulders and violently shake some sense into her. Once he had dreams of rebelling against the system, with the power of Loki and Robin Hood, he’d even believed he could. But his own father had been the first to strike that childish belief down and since then, society had only shown that rebelling and plotting against the system would only destroy him. He’d never get the reward he wanted. It was best to play along, but once upon a time he would have envied what she had.
And she was willing throwing it away. Much like the Phantom, who had proved they had the power to get away from here before they got caught, but instead remained behind for some ridiculous notion of justice. The person deserved to be apprehended for being such an idiot.
“That is beneficial to me then.” He masked his emotions with a host’s mask. Always pleasant and willing to please. “Yamagishi Fuuka, if you’d come with me. Your assistance is required by the Velvet Room.”
It wasn’t a choice and both of them knew it.
Yamagishi surprised him again though. Instead of getting up and following meekly, she remained seated and stared him down. It was telling of her strength of resolve. She wasn’t capable of fighting him or the shadows physically, even her persona wasn’t capable of that. However her fortitude was in resisting and protection. If she didn’t believe what he was doing was right, she wouldn’t give in easily.
“You’re going to ask me to hunt the Wild Card.” Her soft words froze him in place. “I knew one once, enough to be familiar with that type of signature. It’s all over the city. You, too, have the ability. Though your’s is different. You only hold within you the Justice arcana. True Wild Cards are meant to be Fools.”
It was like a slap to the face. Akechi opened and closed his mouth for a moment, unable to form words. When he could, he choose to pursue the safer avenue for now.
“He died,” she said it simply, but her pain was clear in her eyes. She had been close to this Wild Card.
“Forgive me, I’m sorry for your loss,” Akechi stammered, attempting to regain his footing. “However, you’ve proven what we weren’t fully certain of. The Phantom is indeed a Wild Card, then?”
Her mouth remained sealed, but she nodded, eyes dropping down to the floor.
“You can find them then?” He pressed.
Once again she didn’t answer, but the way she bit down on her bottom lip and clasped her hands tightly together in front of her, told him enough. She could or believed she could. At the very least she was capable of seeing more than they could with their current man power. He needed to convince her to sway to his side.
“We need your insight in this. You might not have heard much about them, but the Phantom Thieves are a group of dangerous criminals that have taken it onto themselves to reform society as they see fit. They actively disregard what other’s may prefer for their own brand of justice and simply do as they please. They’ve already taken down buildings while the public was still around. Someone outside of their targets may get hurt at this rate.”
Akechi’s chest heaved as he tried to calm himself. “If someone so strong is on their side, leading them, then who knows how reckless they may become.”
Yamagishi’s brows furrowed, her lips pressing together. “I-I don’t understand…. Wild Cards serve a greater purpose. Like they did.”
She shook her head, eyes closing. “I’m sorry, I can not share anymore with you.”
“Then forgive me for this, but Yamagishi Fuuka, I place you under watch of the Velvet Room until the case of the Phantom Thieves is solved,” Akechi sighed, dragging a hand through his hair.
To the shadows, he said, “Escort her there for me.”
So Akechi and Akira finally meet, our rivals!
Got this chapter out on time, however I'm not 100% happy with it. Still it gets me where I need to be in the plot, so it is what it is.
Also if anybody can catch all the pop culture references I make in these chapters, I'll send you a cookie ;3;
Chapter 4: Double Agents
Tried a little different writing style here.
Poll: Is spying okay?
Yes: 42% No: 58%
Anon: government or like stalkers?!
Anon: what does this have to do with anything?
Anon: i’m bond. james bond.
Anon: MARRY ME PHANTOM THIEVES ＼(≧∇≦)/
“So many names,” Ryuji moaned, slamming his head straight down onto the desk. “How the ‘eff are we supposed to get thru all this shit.”
Makoto tisked from her side of the table, flipping over another page and continuing with her work as if he hadn’t tried interrupting her. Ryuji couldn’t see it, but he bet she hadn’t even bothered to look over at him as she did so. Miss Queen was one hundred percent about her job all the time, never one for breaks or that sort of thing.
“And where is that bastard, he could be helpin’ us,” Ryuji grumbled. “Seein’ how this is his problem and all.”
There was a snap as a stack of files hit the table top sharply. Ryuji flinched as he felt the air behind his head shift from the force of the strike. Lifting himself up slowly, he found Makoto not even looking in his general direction. Her mask was as impassive as usual, as if she hadn’t just tried to take his head off with a stack of paperwork. It was worse than if she was scowling, he knew not to go there.
Rubbing, his neck, Ryuji leaned back in his seat and reached for another file. “Do ya’ think this person is a persona user?”
Squinting at the words on paper in front of him, he scowled. It might as well have been gibberish. He couldn’t understand shit with how many characters he’d been staring at for the past three hours. Ryuji was going to kill him when he saw him again for making him do this shit.
“Probably,” Makoto hummed, finally breaking her silence and lowering the papers in her hands to the table top. She rested her chin in the cradle of the forefinger and thumb of her right hand. “It would only make sense.”
Grimacing, Ryuji scratched at the back of his neck. “Ya’ know who it is?”
Jeez, this could be bad.
Makoto sat back, her eyebrows drawing down and lips pinching together in a straight line. Ryuji always found her thoughtful look cute, even back in high school when he watched her from afar. But you wouldn’t catch him saying the words aloud. Nah, he had an image to protect.
“I heard a rumor, but it’s probably just that.”
“C’mon man, you can’t just leave me hanging like that,” Ryuji bemoaned, throwing back his head. He hated cryptic answers and that shit.
Makoto laughed softly and Ryuji’s head shot back up to catch the rare glimpse of an unguarded expression on his superior’s face. It was gone before it was even really there and she was once more staring at his sharply, a finger going to point at the stack of papers in front of him.
“If you have energy to complain, you can work your way through those,” she scolded, but a smirk broke across her face towards the end.
Ryuji rolled his eyes. “Can’t a guy take a break? We’ve been at this for hours!”
“We haven’t even gotten through the first box,” Makoto pointed out unhelpfully.
Shooting a look to the stack of boxes they hadn’t even cracked open, Ryuji felt the last pieces of his sanity threatening to slip. This was impossible. Like looking for a needle in a haystack. They’d be here forever at this rate. Which was kinda the point, but he hadn’t thought it’d be this bad when he suggested the idea.
In the end this was all really his fault, he should have just kept his big trap shut.
“I need coffee,” he announced, standing up abruptly. “I’ll get ya’ some too while I’m out.”
Makoto jumped, staring at him in surprise even as he was turning to walk out of the office and the headache that sat on the tables around him.
“You don’t even like coffee,” she stuttered, eyes wide.
Ryuji shrugged. “When ya’ have me doin’ this shit, I need the extra boast.”
A red flag was beginning to raise and Ryuji could see the suspicion dawning in Makoto’s expression. He needed to nip that in the bud before he left.
“Look, I know a place,” he began explaining, hands diving into his pockets for a nonchalant stance. “Best cup ya’ ever had. Plus I need a break before my brain explodes, man.”
He paused, looking around the office that was mostly empty expect for them. “I’ll even get some for his highness in case he gets back while I’m gone.”
Her eyes remained narrowed thoughtfully on him for a moment, before she sighed and picked up another piece of paper. “Just try not to take too long, okay?”
Ryuji grinned, throwing up a thumbs up. “Gotcha, Queen!”
“And don’t call me that!” She called after him as he made his escape.
Ryuji rolled his shoulders into a slouch as soon as he exited the building, feeling the oppressive weight of the environment roll off his back as he made his way to the nearest station. Even his smile melted off, his expression becoming stony. People gave way for him as he passed, some even whispering their troubled gossip as he passed.
It wasn’t something he wasn’t used to though. Since high school he expected being looked at strange and having people avoid him. The moment he punched Kamoshida in the face and had Captain Kidd awaken right smack there within the sport’s locker room, he’d accepted the trouble-maker label people placed on him.
As Niijima’s Sae’s peacekeeper, he was lucky to be allowed the freedom he was, but he suspected even she had Makoto keeping an eye on him. She overlooked the blatant disregard for rules, let the bleached hair and broken uniform codes to slip by, but Ryuji wasn’t dumb enough not to suspect that she didn’t trust him fully. She wasn’t wrong to though. Ryuji would have gladly saluted the system with his middle finger up in the air and kissed death if someone hadn’t stepped in with a sense of hope to end the entire effin’ system.
The bell above Leblanc’s front door chimed as he entered, the kid tending the bar looking up as he entered.
“Hey kid, where’s your boss?” Ryuji called out, taking a seat at the barstool at the far end from the entrance.
Dark eyes regarded him underneath a red ball cap, before the kid shrugged and picked up a mug.
Ryuji snorted, his hand already diving into his pocket for his phone. “Do ya’ know when he’ll get back?”
The kid shrugged, tipped his cap forward and went about scrubbing the already clean mug. It was all he probably could do to keep busy. There were no other patrons in the old cafe, most likely hadn’t been all morning, which wasn’t unusual for Leblanc. Kid practically got paid to do nothing. He wished he had it as easy back when he was in high school. Working convince store jobs after school until he got forced into being a peacekeeper.
It had been that or death and he didn’t exactly like the former. Leaving his mom behind wasn’t going to ever be an option.
“Well if you don’t mind, I’ll just hang ‘round till he gets back.” Ryuji sat back, slouching into his seat. He figured he had a hour or two to spare before Makoto decided to search for him.
“Do what you want,” the kid grumbled, placing the mug back in its spot before pulling out a hand held gaming console.
For a little while the cafe was quiet and Ryuji began nodding off to the soft static of the television unit in the corner and the gentle tapping of the barista playing his game. Leblanc had a spell most forgotten places did. Separated from the rest of busy Tokyo, with only a handful of patrons, it felt suspended in its own realm, away from all the bullshit. No rulers. No peacekeepers. No forced service all because you had the potential to summon your true self. It was just him and sometimes the company of a high school friend and confidant.
The front bell chimed again as the door swung open, a new occupant entering the cafe with a bag slung over one shoulder and another opaque plastic bag in his hand. Ryuji’s head shot up, fully awake, when he saw the other.
“Dude! Finally,” Ryuji greeted, sitting up with a wide grin. “Thought I was gonna be stuck with this kid for the rest of the afternoon.”
Akira chuckled, crossing the cafe to drop the bag on his shoulder in the back booth. The other he carried with him around the bar, where it disappeared from sight.
“Shouldn’t you be at work?” He asked, slipping on a green apron.
“Well, yeah, but,” Ryuji huffed, rubbing the back of his neck as he glanced away.
In typical Akira fashion, he didn’t push, but let Ryuji choose his own pace. Instead he took his time, making himself comfortable behind the bar, greeting the young barista with a nod. Ryuji watched the two’s routine quietly, trying to formulate what he needed to say.
“Shinya, was it quiet today?”
Shinya shrugged, pocketing his game. “Just him.”
“I’ll take care of him then, you can go home for today.” Akira gestured to Ryuji, already playing with the siphons. The steam rising from them obscuring his face as he did whatever he was doing, Ryuji didn’t really know too much about the coffee making process. Just that Akira was a pro at it.
Shinya nodded, tossing his apron off and grabbing a backpack tucked under the counter.
“See you tomorrow, Kurusu!” He called as he left the cafe.
Akira waved after the high school boy was gone. Once the door shut the bag in the booth behind Ryuji squirmed and Morgana slipped out. The black cat leapt off the booth and came over to the bar, jumping onto the counter beside Ryuji.
“You didn’t do anything stupid, did you?” He asked instead of greeting the blonde.
“Oi! Watch it, flea bag!”
Akira coughed, interrupting the fight before it could really begin. “What can I get you?”
“Ah-” Ryuji hesitated, trying not to glare at the smug cat. “Three coffees?”
Akira nodded, hands flying to his task with ease of years of practice. Half the time it didn’t even look like he was even really paying attention to what he was doing with his hands, as he kept his attention on both Morgana and Ryuji in front of him. Though knowing Boss, he’d probably drilled Akira on how to make every blend in Leblanc perfectly while blindfolded, before he handed over his shop to his charge.
He wondered if the old man was enjoying retirement.
“You don’t drink coffee, Ryuji,” Morgana observed, blue eyes narrowed. “What did you do?”
Ryuji scratched his cheek, looking sheepish. “Not so much what I did…”
Morgana’s eyes narrowed further.
“Okay, fine! I’m workin' with that Velvet Room Prince,” he gave in, holding his hands up in defeat as both other occupants of Leblanc paused in their own tasks to stare at him. “Not ‘cause I want to or anythin’. Sae loaned me and Makoto to him.”
“Prince?” Akira tilted his head.
Ryuji slouched in his seat, holding back a laugh. “Dude, do you not watch tv?”
“I have a full schedule.” Akira shrugged, a small smirk on his face.
Rolling his eyes, Ryuji chuckled. “Whatever, man. He’s the rulers’ golden boy, has been since back when we were in high school. He’s smart and actual good at his job. The public even loves him, probably doesn’t help most people find ‘im pretty and shit. Talk shows have him guestin’ all the time, spreadin’ positive propaganda about the rulers’ and peacekeeping forces.”
“But he has two persona, which is why he runs the Velvet Room and all us peacekeepers are expected to listen to him if necessary,” Ryuji continued, leg twitching under the bar. “He’s headin’ the Phantom case now.”
Morgana rolled his eyes and began cleaning his paw. “So? That doesn’t mean we have to worry yet. This guy is careful and has a whole army of personas.”
“Yeah, that’s not the problem,” Ryuji grumbled, shooting a look at Akira who was once more absorbed in his word and not the both of them. “He’s too smart. Akechi is going back to year one, he’s lookin’ into Shujin.”
Morgana stopped licking his paw, slowly lowering it to the countertop. Blue eyes were sharp as knives as they turned on Ryuji then and he knew he was caught before the cat even hissed out his next words.
“What did you say?” Even Akira’s head had come put to watch him.
“Ah, look I thought it’d throw ‘im off the scent, so I might’ve mentioned somethin’ about you,” Ryuji stuttered, hands up in defense. “Nothin’ that he wouldn’t have found eventually anyway, just that there was a transfer around the time of Kamoshida.”
“Idiot! That could be enough to put him under suspicion!” Morgana yowled. “What were you thinking?”
“I figured he’d look into him and then quickly dismiss him as a suspect when he couldn’t find shit. Then you wouldn’t have to worry in the future, because you’d already have been investigated” he tried, but at this point he was beginning to see how it might not have been as good of an idea as he initially thought.
“Except his name will be in that detective’s head now, so if something fishy does come up, guess what will be the first name to come to mind,” Morgana berated, hissing angrily. “Akira, we’ll have to call off this heist.”
Now he was lost.
“Wait, what heist?” Ryuji asked, looking between the two.
Akira had stopped paying attention sometime in between Morgana’s and his argument and was pressing grounds for coffee. His neutral mask gave nothing away on his thoughts as he filled three to go cups with the steaming liquid and topped it off with cream. The silence stretched on in the cafe for an uncomfortable few minutes, before he finally decided to break it.
“We can’t.” His voice was much too calm for the rising tension in the room as he capped the cups.
“Are you crazy?” Morgana growled. “You’ll be putting yourself in the line of fire because of this idiot! If we go after Umeda’s treasure now, they’ll put two and two together. It’ll look like too much of a coincidence that you attended both schools.”
Akira hummed. “Then we’ll have to come up with a stronger cover.”
The cat deflated, ears falling flat. “You are crazy.”
“No, you’re not thinking big enough for once,” he smirked, tilting his head. “I should message Oracle…”
His phone was out of his pocket, even as Morgana was yowling about all of this being a bad idea. For once Ryuji agreed with the cat. If Makoto or Akechi pulled Akira’s file out of the records before a heist against Umeda went down, he’d be right smack in the middle of it. Akechi was definitely smart enough to see the coincidence in two schools with a common factor of a former delinquent. It’d be like a puzzle piece in that guy’s mind.
God, he was an idiot.
“Look,” Akira interrupted, his voice sharp as steel. Morgana’s mouth clapped shut and Ryuji sat up straight as his friend pulled on a stern face. “Even when they pull my name up, I was not the only student relatively new to Shujin. It was spring, the new year had just begun. Nor was I the only one to go onto Tokyo University. My record will make me stand out, but we can still turn their attention elsewhere.”
Ryuji leaned forward, elbows hitting the bar top. “Dude, how?”
Akira folded his arms across his chest and smirked, only mischief promised in the devilish curve. “We give your boss something he wants.”
“Which is?” Morgana drawled, tail twitching.
“If you’re searching through public archives, it means you haven’t been able to access the school’s records, yes?” Ryuji nodded and Akira’s grin pulled wider. “I have a contact that can get you those.”
Ryuji blinked. “What?”
Morgana seemed to share his sentiment, the cat’s face drawn into a humanlike scowl as he stood up and stared down the other thief.
“How is that supposed to help us? Won’t that bring you under even more attention?” He grumbled. “I didn't spend years training you as a master Phantom Thief for you to basically turn yourself in.”
“I’m not turning myself in,” Akira explained, smugness radiating from his relaxed stance. “Think about it, with those records they’d have access to every new student at Shujin. A few transfers… and an entire first year class.”
Scratching his cheek, Ryuji tried to figure out where Akira was going with that. He wasn’t the best with logic games, but even he could see how this was only going to cause more problems for his friend in the long run verses help him out. Giving Akechi the roaster would be like handing him the key to decoding the lock.
However, Morgana made a pleased purring sound beside him.
“I get it now. With a list that large, interviewing all the former students would be too time consuming. To effectively search through all the overlap, he’d have to process potential suspects in groups.” Morgana sounded slightly awed, his tail swaying with pleasure. “Brilliant, as expected of our Joker!”
Akira mocked a bow, a pleased grin on his face.
“With Oracle’s cloaks you’d effectively be invisible, a navi wouldn’t even register you as a potential,” Morgana continued. “We should still take precaution and have her acting close by when that happens though.”
Akira nodded and two shared conspiring grins. Clearly, the plan settled between them. Well that was all and good for them, but Ryuji still didn’t know what he was expected to do to aid in this. It seemed both them had everything well in hand in this plan, with Ryuji outlying like always.
Ryuji coughed, catching their attention. “So what’s my roll in all this?”
“Idiot, you are going to hand over the roaster.” Morgana rolled his eyes.
Ryuji cocked his head to the side and Akira took pity. Chuckling, his friend handed him a carrier with the to go cups he’d forgotten all about during the argument and preceding counter attack planning. He accepted the handle from his friend and brought it over to himself. The aroma of fresh coffee hitting his nose hard.
He tried not to wince when he realized he’d need to drink one in order to convince Makoto he had been serious about the coffee.
“I’ll have my friend get in contact with you. She’ll get you what you need and all you need to do is give it to your boss.”
Simple enough. Ryuji nodded, taking that as his cue to stand up and get his stuff to go. If this was going to work, he needed to be a perfect example of a cooperative peacekeeper. Makoto and especially Akechi, couldn’t suspect him of anything.
This should be easy.
“Eff the big guys, right?” He raised the carrier in a mock toast, wide grin spread across his face.
Akira burst into silent laughter and Morgana rolled his eyes, huffing out an over exaggerated sigh. Ryuji didn’t take offense to it, secretly he suspected the weird cat actually was fond of him. Not that it mattered in the long run. They were teammates in the strangest of terms, but he’d support the one who’d shown him what it was like to be free, in any way that he could.
Later that night Kawakami Sadayo let herself into her dark, single bedroom apartment with a tired sigh. School had been exhausting as usual, high schoolers were never lacking for energy that was for sure. But she wasn’t complaining. It was nice to be able to offer all of her own energy into helping them succeed.
It was all she ever wanted to do.
Chucking off her shoes, Kawakami left them at the edge of the genkan as she dragged herself further inside. It was hard not to remember a time when she practically passed out right there on the step separating the areas. Her maid outfit sticking uncomfortably to her wet skin, but presenting too much of an effort to remove. There had been many nights where she’d just slept right there in the entryway still in that ridiculous costume.
That was a long time ago though.
“I think I’ll make myself some tea before bed,” she muttered to herself, already heading for her small kitchen.
Her hand ran blindly over the wall, searching for the light switch in the dark. She cried triumphantly when her fingers found it. The noise turning into a startled scream when the light illuminated the figure seated at her kitchen table.
Clutching a hand over her heaving chest, Kawakami wanted nothing more than to smack the roguish grin right off her guest’s face. The grin which only grew when he caught her looking over the ridiculous black and dark grey costume, stopping at the white and black mask covering his eyes. She quickly hide her sputtering expression, behind a scowl and folded her arms across her chest.
“What are you doing here?” She demanded.
Joker chuckled, a smooth deep sound that sent shivers racing down her spine- and now was not the time to fantasize about the things that voice did to her. Even if said voice had been haunting her dreams since the moment he came crashing into her life on accident. Jeez, if she knew just who’d order her maid service that night she’d never had accepted the job. It’d been a load of trouble since.
But she did get her life back thanks to him.
“I’m here to call in a favor.” Joker kicked up his legs onto her small table, folding one over the other before resting his head in the arms he crossed behind his head. He was really far too comfortable in an apartment he wasn’t invited into.
She quirked a brow, the scowl pulling into a pout. “A favor?”
“Listen carefully, what I need you to do is extremely important.”
Seriously? Jeez, how did she always get herself into these things.