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Chapter Text

"I think I've figured you two out." Futaba said one warm October afternoon.

It had been a lazy day, and a short trip to Mementos to take down a single target led the Thieves to take a break in Ren's room. Ryuji had been playing a game on a hand-held console, Ann had been dozing off on the couch, Yusuke was snacking from a box of pocky, Haru and Makoto had been doing homework, and Futaba had been fussing with the leader's laptop on his workbench when she spoke. Ren sat up from his bed, squinting over at her, along with Morgana, who had been resting at his side. He grunted.

"Yeah? What's that?"

"It's so simple I can't believe I never figured it out." she said proudly. "Morgana's a human on the inside..."

"But of course." Morgana agreed with a nod, sitting at attention.

"... and Ren is a cat on the inside."

The leader paused, staring at Futaba blankly for a moment while Ryuji began to snicker. "Um... beg pardon?"

"It's like this," Futaba said with a shrug, beginning to list off her fingers, "you hate water. You attack anyone who touches your stomach, even when you're lying on your back. You're flexible and always land on your feet. You can stretch in really weird angles and positions like it's nothing. You face your back to people you don't trust. Ren-kun..." She grinned. "You're a kitty, CONFIRMED."

"I am not!" he protested on impulse, and Ryuji's snickering erupted into full-blown laughter. The girls at the table began snickering, Yusuke was rubbing his chin approvingly as he looked over Ren, and Morgana looked down for a moment, pondering, before nodding at Futaba.

"I see. That makes a great deal of sense." He turned his attention to Ren. "Listen, there's no shame in being a cat. Let's find a way to switch bodies to return our souls to their proper vessels."

"No!" Ren cried. "I'm not a cat!"

"That's exactly something a cat would say!" Futaba protested. "We have proof! Embrace your inner animal!"

"Ren-kun, you would make an adorable cat. The cutest." Haru gushed, and Ann giggled, sitting up on the couch.

"It all makes sense now..."

Ren stared at her, utterly scandalized and wide-eyed, and he pouted. "Not you, too!"

"Shh. Ren." Morgana soothed, putting his paw on his hand. "It's okay to be who you are, Leader. Accept it. Embrace the cat..."

Chapter Text

"I have made a mistake..."

It was one of the few times Morgana was willing to utter the words, as he laid, glittering, in Ann's bathtub.

It was a day before important midterms, and the others had decided to gather at Ann's residence to study for a change of pace. Morgana had grown bored quickly with little to do but watch everyone study, and thus, he snuck off to investigate Lady Ann's home. It was ten minutes into his search when he found the bathroom. It was a clean, well-lit restroom, with a myriad of makeup and beauty products littering the marble counter-top by the sink, the light from the bulbs above shining against the white floor and the sink.

He would never claim to go looking in there for any reason in particular save for curiosity, but the sight of a few bras hanging from the doorknob lured him in, and the tub got him, line and sinker. It was positively glittering with shiny, gold-green flecks all over the deep white tub against the wall. He would claim for years to follow that he wasn't sure what overtook him, and that the next events that followed was a blur from the draw of sweet, sweet golden treasure.

The cat rolled with gusto all over the tub, huffing in the sweet scent of soap, lotion, and precious golden sparkly flakes. He wasn't sure how long he had been rolling in the glitter when his name was called, and he froze, peering up at the woman he called Lady Ann staring down at him, first with a gape, then with muffled snickering as lifted her hands up to cover her mouth, body beginning to shake with laughter, until full-blown laughter drew the attention and echoing footsteps of the rest of the Phantom Thieves.

Morgana looked over himself, baffled, when it became clear: he sparkled as the glitter became embedded within his fur. He was left staring over himself in a mix of awe and cringe as his ears flipped backwards, and the others' laughter became heard-- especially Ryuji, who began howling as he pounded the side of the bathtub, cackling with hysteria.

"You fucking-- you--" Ryuji wheezed, whole body quivering as he fought for breath. "Look at you!"

Even Makoto, Ren, and Haru were giggling. The only one who wasn't laughing was Yusuke, who held his fingers up as if taking in a picture, and his eyes squinted at the cat as he thought upon it. "Hold in that position," he ordered, "I'm going to fetch my canvas and paints. You've made yourself into a perfect model."

"Yeah, Inari!" Futaba agreed, handheld console at her side as she took him in. "Paint the sparkly kitty!" She pulled her phone from her pocket and snapped several pictures of the sparkly cat, who yowled in protest.

"There will be no painting of me in this... unfortunate situation!" Morgana cried in protest. Ann groaned, after finally getting her laughter under control.

"I don't want to know why you were rolling around in my bathtub." she huffed. "You're going to--"

"I... was investigating for your sake, Lady Ann!" he cried. "What-- well, I mean-- I was just-- trying to see what the source of the strange sparkles in your bathroom was!"

Ann's lips twitched into a smirk, and she sighed. "It was the remains of the last bath bomb I used! I just hadn't gotten around to cleaning out the tub yet..."

"You're going to need a bath." Makoto remarked bluntly, hands on her hips, shaking her head as she smiled at him. Morgana let out a psh.

"No need. I'll take care of it myself!" He lifted his back left paw up and began to lick it off.

"No, don't lick your foot!" Haru cried. "I don't know what's in those sparkles! I don't want you to get sick, Mona-chan!"

"It's just seaweed." Ann said with a sigh. "I had Ren check before he bought them for me. Still, you'll never get all of them off by just licking yourself."

"Yeah," Ryuji snickered, "all you'll get is a sparkly mouth to go with your sparkly ass. Moron."

Morgana hissed, haunches and tail rising. "What was that?!"

"Enough," Ren cut in, crossing his arms and shaking his head, "you're going to hate me... Ann, do you mind if I borrow your tub?"

"Not at all. I'll bring you a towel, too." she affirmed, nodding her head towards the faucet. Morgana's eyes slowly widened as Ren reached for the plug to the drain and as the others departed, but not before taking a few more pictures of the beleaguered cat. He watched as Ann came back with a small towel for Ren, who gratefully smiled at her and nodded.

"L- Lady Ann... where are you going?"

She shrugged. "I figured we embarrassed you enough. I was just going to let Ren wash you and be done with it. See you soon."

"No, wait!" he yowled in protest. "Lady Ann!"

"It's alright, you can keep hanging out with her once we're done here." Ren grunted as the water began to pool. "Tell me if the water's too hot or too cold. I think it might take a few washes to get all the glitter out."

Morgana groaned as he laid his back in the shallow water, feeling wholly mortified. "I have made a mistake..."



It took a total of three washes to get all of the sparkles out, and both Morgana and Ann's tub were sparkling clean. He was still shivering and slightly damp by the time he got home to LeBlanc with Ren, but he thought it was the end of it until Sojiro, finishing up for the night, peered over at him, snickering and grinning.

"Any more incidents with glitter tonight? No?" He chuckled. "I'm considering getting that picture Futaba sent me framed..."

"Boss, why? Why would you do that to me?"

Chapter Text

"I like men."

Ren regretted the words as soon as they came out of his mouth of their own accord, echoing through the halls of Madarame's art display. Holding up a mokoi in attempts to recruit it as his own had led to the shadow asking what sort of woman he liked-- older or younger. What had been intended as a smart-ass response had overrode his thoughts, and the words slipped out before he could stop them.

He heard soft gasps to the sides of him, and his gut wrenched. "...Oh?" the mokoi asked, mildly surprised. "That's surprising."

"... and women my age. Yeah. That's what I mean." he stammered as he avoided eye contact with his teammates. This hadn't been how he intended to come out to his friends. He had thought on it, and a few times came so close to uttering 'I'm bisexual,' but always shied away at the last minute. He wasn't fond of coming out-- he had done so to his parents in the past, and while it had gone as well as it could, it was so awkward that he swore to himself he wouldn't bother doing it again, especially since being sent to Shujin. He was already an outcast, and feared any reactions to who he was, until he met the others. Part of him wanted them to know, to have someone understand, and the other part thought it better to keep it unsaid. He just got a few friends, and the thought of being left behind and lonely again terrified him to his core, making his stomach drop, icy cold.

Seeming to notice his sudden pallor, the mokoi tossed a devil fruit at his hands and awkwardly said farewell, leaving the group be. Still, Ren avoided the others' eyes, hoping they'd conveniently forget the slip-up as he cleared his throat and turned his back. "Let's move on."

"Dude... are you gay?" Ryuji questioned curiously, softly. It made his heart skip a beat at how gently his best friend asked the question. "Come on, look at us, man. Cat's out of the bag now."

He froze for a moment, and instead of turning around, he heard the footsteps of his teammates coming to turn and face him. None of them looked at him with disdain or disgust or disbelief, which made the cold in his gut settle a little. Morgana crossed his arms, looking up at him with a calm, neutral expression. Ann looked... gleeful, almost, as she smiled at him, and Ryuji just stared, head cocked to the side.

Resigning himself to his fate, Ren groaned, shaking his head as his cheeks went red. "I'm... I'm actually bisexual. This... wasn't how I intended for you guys to find out." He scratched at the back of his neck, looking away again. "I don't know how, but it just sort of slipped out. I wasn't ready yet."

"The Metaverse can do that," Morgana acknowledged, "it can make you more likely to act on your impulses. You wanted to tell us, didn't you?" Ren sheepishly nodded, and Morgana smiled. "Well, that's okay. You should be better off now with that off your chest."

His head picked up, and he gawked in awe. "You mean... you guys don't mind?"

"No, dude," Ryuji said with a shrug, getting his attention, "why would we? That's just how you are, and it's fine by me. But, uh..." He smiled. "Your secret's safe with me, Leader, but if anyone finds out and doesn't like it, they'll have to answer to me." He pumped his fist into his palm, nodding with certainty. Ren turned to Ann, raising an eyebrow as she grinned at him, bouncing slightly up and down.

"You're bisexual?!" she squealed in utter delight. He awkwardly nodded, and she pounced on him with a hug. He was too startled to respond for a moment, arms at his sides, before lifting them up to hug her back. "I'm bi, too!"

Ren's heart skipped a beat as they pulled back, eyes beginning to widen with the same glee in hers. "You mean--"

"Yeah-huh!" she confirmed, practically vibrating in place with excitement. "I only ever came out to Shiho because I knew if I told anyone else, they'd just call me 'easy' or something ignorant like that... but you get it!" Ann squealed. "Yes! YES!"

The two clamped onto each other for another hug as Morgana and Ryuji watched on, mildly baffled as they shared a brief look, until finally as they pulled away, Skull threw his arms around his friends, squeezing them briefly and grinning. "Hey, everyone's okay just the way they are, especially in the Phantom Thieves." The words of acceptance made Ren-- and Ann's-- hearts flutter, and they looked at each other with ever-increasing fondness and respect. Morgana hopped onto Ann's shoulder and cleared his throat.

"What Skull said. And..."

"You, too, Mona." Ann giggled, eyes turning to him as she picked him up and placed him on the ground. "No matter what we are, we're all Phantom Thieves. That's what's important."

The navigator let out a blissful sigh. "Lady Ann... you're so wise."

Chapter Text

A strange idea crept into Ren's mind as he unpacked his bags in the attic he had returned to, and it came as he watched Morgana and Sojiro aid him. The two paused intermittently as needed to communicate, with Morgana seizing a pencil every time. At first, this ritual made Sojiro somewhat uncomfortable, but now the man hardly batted an eye as he readily responded to whatever the cat wrote down. 

Ren had moved back to Tokyo at the very beginning of summer, and while his friends helped him unpack most of his belongings, a few remained, sent later by his parents, and Sojiro had volunteered to help him unpack that evening after he closed the shop. It had been a little while into unpacking when Ren took a break, sitting for a moment on his futon as he watched Sojiro converse with a cat who responded with writing.

We'll definitely... definitely... take the world!

Mishima had claimed that an unknown Phantom Thief's voice rang out all over Tokyo as the logo appeared on any available screen mysteriously right before the end to the fight with Yaldabaoth. Few remembered the entire thing, save for his confidants, who still had varying reactions to being one of the very few who remembered watching him take down a would-be god with a demon lord. Iwai merely groaned and merely offered a "thanks for saving our asses" before asking to never bring it up ever again. This was much to Kaoru's disappointment, who wanted to know more of the cognitive world, the very mention of which made his father cringe. Ohya repeatedly bemoaned that she couldn't write about it or share it with anyone, because no one would ever believe her. Tora just praised the group endlessly for their bravery, unfettered once everything was explained-- even the supernatural aspects of cognitive psience.

Chihaya, relieved, praised the Trickster for doing his duty; Mishima gushed about it for months to follow and practically worshiped the Thieves, sometimes even calling Ren 'The Chosen One.' Tae just remarked "freaky stuff" and thanked the group for their actions. Kawakami just shook her head and remarked that it was going to be hard to look at anything the same way again-- especially Ren, but not in a bad way. Shinya and Hifumi begged for more information about everything when they weren't groaning over the fact that no one would believe them. Sae had come to peace with it and merely been grateful that it was over-- and forever in awe of the Thieves.

Sojiro, though, hardly reacted afterwards. Ren's arrest had halted any moaning or groaning over what he and only a few others had seen and recalled ("Maybe we ought to form a support group-- for people who have seen really weird things." Tae remarked one evening after the debacle. Sae had laughed and Sojiro merely grunted in response). The most he saw was that Sojiro looked a little disappointed in himself from time-to-time when he interacted with Morgana, same as Sae. It was too late to pull a little foray into the Metaverse to fix the issue of talking directly to Morgana.

... Once you hear that and your brain realizes he can actually talk, you start to understand him in reality. It's a change in cognition! Most likely.

Ren sat upright suddenly as the memory flashed in his brain. He looked down, wondering, distracted as the thought took him. Can cognition be changed without the Metaverse?

"Ren?" Sojiro questioned, grabbing his attention. Ren's eyes picked up to meet Sojiro's, who looked at him, frowning slightly. "You okay? You've been zoning out for a few minutes."

"Just... thinking." he said with a shrug, locking eyes with Sojiro. It wouldn't hurt to try... "Hey, Sojiro, do you remember that time I used my Persona to shoot a god in the face?"

The cafe owner winced and heaved a sigh, while Morgana rolled his eyes. "Of course I do. How could I ever forget that? Why?"

"Just humor me." Ren said as he rose to his feet. "Do you remember a voice ringing out right before I did that? A boyish voice saying 'We'll definitely take the world!'?"

Sojiro quirked an eyebrow. "Yeah, actually. Who was that?"

I hope this works. "That was Morgana."

Sojiro stared, speechless, at Ren. Morgana looked between the two for a second before his eyes widened, and he let out a soft gasp. "Oooh! You're trying to see if you can change his cognition without the Metaverse! Hey, Boss, did it--" He was cut off as he turned his head to see Sojiro gawking at him in utter silence. The silence continued as Sojiro rubbed a hand over his face, then turned to look between Ren and the cat.

"You're not pranking me, are you?" he croaked. "Did... I just hear what I think I heard?"

Morgana gasped, standing at attention. "Boss! Can you finally hear me? Yes for yes and no for no!"

Boss stared a moment longer before nodding. "Yes. Yes, I really can." He turned to Ren, dazed. "Next time, warn an old man, will you?" He groaned. "I need to sit down..."

"Why, Boss?" Morgana said with a sigh, grabbing his attention. "You know I've been able to talk all this time! Now there's just a voice to go with it that you understand. It's no big deal."

Sojiro scoffed as he flopped onto the nearest chair, rubbing a hand over his forehead and closing his eyes. "You'd understand if you were suddenly able to actually talk to a... non-human out of the blue. It's weird, alright?"

Silence fell over the room once more, and Morgana turned to meet Ren's gaze, who glanced between him and the Boss guiltily. The cat let out a wry laugh, and Ren could practically see the stars in his eyes. "Oh, Ren? Let's go test this out on a few of your friends!"

"No," Sojiro groaned, "don't you dare. Not without giving them fair warning."



Iwai stared from behind his counter, wholly displeased, while Kaoru practically bounced in place at his side as Morgana chatted with him. He groaned as he looked at Ren, crossing his arms.

"Fuck's sake, kid, what did we say about weird supernatural shit?"

"Don't be so rude!" Kaoru scolded. "Morgana has been a customer all this time!"

"Yeah, yeah." Iwai grumbled as he turned to look at the cat. "Did you guys come all this way and pull that cognitive shit on us just to place an order for a new slingshot?"

"No," Morgana said with a shrug, "I can't hold one anymore."

"Then come back when you get thumbs again, cat."

Chapter Text

Mishima perked up as he saw Ren strolling his way to him on Central Street in the evening. He had been ecstatic when he heard he was coming back to Tokyo, and that he was staying permanently. The two promised to meet up and hang out, and finally the day came.

"What's up, Trickster?" Mishima greeted, bowing his head. Ren sighed as he reached forward to shake his hand.

"You know I hate it when you call me that."

"Well, it's true and you know it." Mishima said with a shrug, shaking his hand, "I'm glad you're back." He peered over to his bag, which wriggled, and Morgana popped his head out, meowing in greeting. Mishima grinned. "Oh, and you brought Morgana! Glad to see you, too." he said cheerfully, stroking Morgana's head as the cat purred. Ren grinned wryly.

"Speaking of Morgana, I actually brought him for a reason today."

"Oh?"

"Yeah." He crossed his arms. "Do you remember a voice calling out 'we'll definitely take the world!' right before I shot Yaldabaoth?"

"Of course I do," Mishima said with a shrug. "Why?"

"Do it!" Morgana cried eagerly, and Ren grinned.

"That was Morgana."

Mishima went silent, raising an eyebrow as he looked between Ren and the cat, whose tail wagged back and forth with intrigue. "Did it work?" Morgana asked, and his voice threw Mishima back, who stepped back, holding a hand to his chest as he stared in awe.

"What did you--"

"--we found out we could still change cognition without the Metaverse," Ren said, pushing his glasses up, "and as soon as I figured that out, Morgana's been begging me to go around and make everyone who remembers able to hear him."

"Surprised?" Morgana asked gleefully. Mishima stared, jaw dropped, before his eyes shone and his lips split into a grin that reached ear-to-ear.

"No way, no way, no WAY! Oh, this is so amazing!" He knelt down to eye-level with Morgana, eyes glittering. "I have SO MANY questions now that I can finally hear you! You have time, don't you?!"

"Yes!" Morgana agreed. "Finally, another person who wants to hear me talk!"

"Who wouldn't?!" Mishima squealed, ignoring the odd looks passersby were giving them as he stood up to meet Ren's amused gazed. "Come on, let's go to the diner! Fish for Morgana is on me tonight!"

Morgana sighed, blissful. "You're my new favorite confidant, Mishima. Well, tied with Sojiro, but up there!"

"Good enough for me!" Mishima replied, a skip in his step as they headed for the diner. "We have so much to discuss, guys! So much...!"



Tae stared at the cat on the examination table. She insisted he was due for a check-up when he arrived home, and he had come, but with Morgana. He insisted he had an experiment he needed to test before she continued on with the exam, and after staring at the cat, she turned to him on the bed. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not a veterinarian."

"That's not why I brought him."

"Then why did you bring him? I don't mean to be rude to the cat-- I like cats and all-- but I don't typically allow them in the clinic for the sake of other patients." she remarked. Morgana heaved a great sigh at that, and she quirked an eyebrow at him. "What's that huff for? It's nothing personal. Many of my patients are allergic to cats, and it's for their sake." He meowed conversationally, and she shook her head. "I can't understand you, you know. I know you can talk to some people, but I'm not one of them." She paused and turned her head to Ren. "So why did you take him, again?"

"About that..." Ren started, scratching the back of his neck. "Do you remember a voice right before I shot Yaldabaoth in the face? 'We'll definitely take the world!'"

"You're not saying that was the cat, are you?" she asked dryly, grinning. His silence spoke volumes, and her eyes widened as her grin fell. "Oh, God. You are saying it was the cat."

"Surprise?" Morgana spoke up, and he waved a paw as she turned to stare at him. She continued to stare for a long time before sighing and scratching the back of her neck.

"So you can change cognition without the Metaverse," she surmised, "interesting." She clicked her tongue as she turned to Morgana. "So, what are you in here for, then? Want to take part in my experiments?"

"No!" Morgana cried, standing in alarm. "I'm... I'm good!"

She laughed. "Then run on home. I'll drop by in the evening to talk with you more; Ren's going to be in here for awhile. I mean, unless you change your mind and want a shot..."

"Bye, Tae!" Morgana yowled as he hopped off the table, jumped up to turn the doorknob, and scurried out to the backstreets. Tae closed the door behind him, shaking her head.

"What a pity! I could have had two test subjects..."

"That was mean and you know it." Ren scolded, crossing his arms. The doctor shrugged.

"What was mean was coming in here and changing my cognition without warning. Besides, I'll drop by with a good can of tuna for him later as a sign of goodwill when I come to get my evening coffee."

Ren pulled back his sleeve as she prepared for a blood draw. "You're taking this whole talking cat thing awfully well."

"Ren," she teased, grinning as he winced as the needle went in, "you're acting like I didn't watch you magically summon a demon lord and shoot a god in the face. Why would a talking cat surprise me?"

"... Touché." 



Introducing Morgana to Hifumi had gone too well.

Ren sat behind the cat as he ordered him to move shogi pieces, while Hifumi made her own moves. One of the first things she had done upon hearing Morgana for the first time was challenge him to a game of shogi, to which Morgana boasted he could win.

He could not.

"You should concede. There's no possible way for you to win this game." she said, crossing her arms as she smirked at the cat. Morgana huffed.

"That's not true! Give me a few minutes to think something up...!"

"There's such a thing as losing with grace, Morgana. Haven't you learned anything from eavesdropping on our games?" she questioned, and Morgana ignored her as he stared intensely at the board. Hifumi smiled brightly as she looked up at Ren. "Thank you for doing this. Now I have two shogi friends, one of which really needs some practice."

"Rude!" Mona protested.

"It's the truth." Hifumi said with a giggle. "It's alright, I'm more than willing to teach you..."



"Really, this is nice of you, but I was in class with Ren the whole time! I was there for all the lectures!"

"Yes, but were you actually awake for all of them? I knew you were there the whole time, and most of the time you were asleep!"

"Telling Kawakami was a mistake, Ren...!"

"Don't be ridiculous!" the teacher said as Sojiro watched, amused, from behind the counter as she crossed her arms. "I'm so glad you did this! Now that we can finally communicate, I can finally give you an education. Since you can't enroll in Shujin proper... I'll just have to tutor you myself!"

"Ren! SAVE ME!" Morgana cried from the booth. The Phantom Thief of interest looked over from washing the dishes, shared a wry look with Sojiro, and chuckled.

"I thought you wanted to go to school, Mona." he said wryly. Sojiro nodded.

"Didn't you say you'd take all the hardships that come with being a human?" he agreed. Morgana stammered for a minute before meeting the intense gaze of Kawakami, and finally he sighed and nodded.

"...Fine."

"Good." the teacher said proudly. "Now, onto our math lesson..."



Yoshida had been thrilled to see Ren once again. He was no longer just a volunteer assistant, but his intern, the one he considered his apprentice and protege. As his intern, he would receive a full scholarship when he started college the next year in exchange for his work, and would work with him his whole time in college-- at the end of which Yoshida planned to promptly offer him a job as a political adviser, a job which would need filling if he won a bid for Prime Minister at the next election. It was partially thanks to him that Ren was planning on majoring in political science prior to law school. Ren had agreed to start working starting in summer as he returned, and the Dietman's heart fluttered with glee to see the former Phantom Thief turned intern walk in on his first day to his office.  

"Amamiya-kun, I'm thrilled to see you!" he greeted at the door, shaking his hand eagerly with a grin. Ren returned the grin with one of his own. "It's been a little while since I've seen you! I'm glad you're back." Yoshida said, waving him along to his office, "One day, you'll be a member of the Diet, and it all starts here." He glanced over at the other office workers and winked at Ren. "After the adversaries you've faced, actually... it's long since started. I'm just happy to help you on the way."

As the door closed behind them as they entered Yoshida's office, Ren felt his bag wriggle impatiently, and he wondered if this was such a good idea. Before Yoshida could say a thing, Morgana's head bounced out of the bag and meowed to the politician in greeting. Yoshida beamed at the sight of him. "Ah! And you brought Morgana! I was wondering when I'd get to see him again." he said as he ran a hand over the cat's head. Morgana purred as Ren scratched at the back of his neck awkwardly. 

"About Morgana... say, do you remember that voice that rang out saying 'we'll definitely take the world' right before I..."

"Saved the world?" Yoshida questioned. "Yes, I do. Are you telling me that was Morgana?" He asked the question with such calmness that it froze Ren, while Morgana snickered from the bag. 

"You got it. How'd you know?"

Yoshida shrugged. "I always wondered what the strange cat silhouette was in the calling card for Shido; since the Metaverse can change appearances, and Ren was leading in with that..." He shook his head. "I managed to ascertain his identity, didn't I? It wasn't difficult."

"Wow." Morgana remarked. "We just meant to change your cognition so I could talk to you. We figured out how to do that just the other day, and I've been begging Ren to do it."

"I'm glad you did. It's a pleasure to finally be able to converse with you properly." He crossed his arms and sighed. "If you're coming to help Amamiya, I can't put you on a payroll proper..."

"Doesn't bother me. I just go where he goes." Morgana said with a shrug. Yoshida shook his head.

"Nonsense! Hard work deserves a reward in some manner..." His eyes brightened. "Say... how about for when you come to help, I'll reward you with treats? I get invited out to sushi quite often, and I could pick you up some tuna rolls..."

Morgana's eyes widened, and he hopped out of the bag onto Yoshida's desk, holding a paw up to his head as if in a salute. "Yes, done, thank you! Where do we start?!"



"You suck at this game."

"It's hard when you have paws and you're trying to operate a joy stick, alright?!"

"No excuses, Cat. You have human intelligence. You can get good."

Ren watched as Shinya and Morgana played on his tv. He had gotten a newer game console and television recently, and Shinya dropped by to see it when Morgana revealed his true nature. Shinya had asked a bare few questions before challenging him, wanting to see what he was made of. As the game ended, the victor clear, Morgana let out a sigh as Shinya turned his head to Ren. "I thought your cat would be better at games than this."

"Rude!" Morgana protested. 

"It's the truth." Shinya said with a smile. "It's not a big deal. We'll just have to practice..."



Ohya wasn't sure why Ren asked her to be sober before hanging out in a back booth of Crossroads. Normally, he didn't give two shits either way how sober she was.

That was until he pulled cognitive, weird supernatural stuff and the cat started talking to her. She had only met Morgana once or twice prior, and she was left just staring at the cat.

"You know what? I think I would have handled this better drunk." she finally grouched. "You didn't figure it out until now that you could let me hear him?! Where was he when I needed stories?!"

"You would take stories from me?" Morgana asked, eyes widening. Ohya nodded her head quickly. 

"Duh! I'd just cite you as an anonymous source! Do you have any idea of the tips a cat with the ability to lock pick could get?! Ren-kun, where were you hiding this wonderful informant from me all this time?!" she demanded, glaring at him. He nervously held his hands up.

"Hey, to actually hear him talk prior to now, you would have had to go into the Metaverse to hear him. The only reason you can is because you DID go into the Metaverse at one point and you can remember his voice."

"I would have braved it!" Ohya snapped. "I would have gotten myself one of those Personas and been ready to go!"

Morgana snickered, but stopped as Lala-chan came in with a little saucer for him, and he meowed gratefully at her as she leaned over and stroked his head before heading back to the bar. He turned, meeting Ohya's intense gaze, and nodded. "You ready for some stories, Ohya?"

"Start talking, Cat." Ohya said, summoning a writing pad and pen. "We've got a lot of ground to cover."




Chihaya merely looked at Morgana and greeted him, ready to hear.

"How did you do that?!" Morgana gasped. She giggled.

"When I heard that mysterious voice, I did some fortune telling to ascertain your identity. The Magician card came up, and after a long time of reading, I managed to trace it back to you. It was a lot of work, but worth it." She smiled. "Are you here for a fortune reading?"

Morgana looked up at Ren, who nodded to him. Finally, he nodded.

"Well, while we're here..."



Sae stared at the cat sitting on the bar, arms crossed, while Makoto murmured something to Ren from behind her. The attorney scratched at her head. "It took this long to realize this...?"

"It's good, isn't it?" Makoto questioned. "Now we can both hear Morgana."

The elder sister sighed. "Yes, but I wish I could have heard him sooner. Better now than never, though, I suppose." She straightened her back, unfettered. "Well, thank you for doing this."

Sojiro sighed as he passed her a cup of coffee. "You should have seen it today. A bunch of my customers now just come in and start talking to him like it's nothing. It's confusing all my other customers."

"You love me and you know it, Boss." Morgana teased. Sojiro rolled his eyes as he headed back to the kitchen.

"Love's got nothing to do with giving an old man a headache. How many people did you go and change the cognition of, anyways?"

"All of the people who remember." Makoto answered. Sojiro stared at Ren and Morgana, both of who sheepishly smiled back at him. He stopped and looked up as Tae came through the door and waved at the group.

"Evening, all."

"Tae, good to see you." Mona greeted. "How was your day?"

"Good, thanks." she said as she passed by nonchalantly, all while digging an expensive can of tuna out of her purse and dropping it on the counter. It was barely a second before Morgana thrust the lid off, and he began to drool as he took in the smell. He looked up at her, eyes practically glittering.

"I love you, Tae."

The doctor laughed. "Yes, I know. Sojiro, my usual, please." 

The cafe owner sighed and smiled slightly as he looked between the doctor and the cat. "Sure thing."

Chapter Text

"I roll to seduce the dragon with booze."

Futaba sized up Ryuji, who sat back casually, with a smirk on his face. "What? My dwarf fighter has over five bottles of various booze in his inventory! I can spare one."

"This isn't how you slay dragons."

"Says who?" Ryuji turned his head to Ren at his side, who was fiddling with a little figurine of his rogue elf, and he blinked. "Yo, you'll back me up, right? Booze could totally stop a dragon!"

Ren stretched his arms up as he looked at the people around his table. Futaba sat at the head, Dungeons and Dragons manual at the ready as she looked over an artful map Yusuke made for their campaign, and the figurines he crafted for them. Ann was toying with a figurine of a druid gnome, Makoto was watching, arms crossed, as her figurine of a human paladin waited. Yusuke was sketching his half-elf bard in a notebook while Morgana pushed his figurine of a sorcerer githyanki around. Finally, there was Haru, fussing with the axe in the hands of her figurine of a goliath.

"It could work," Haru spoke up over Ren's silence, "if my goliath launches the bottle at its face."

Futaba grumbled and sighed. "Fine," she conceded, "I will allow it. For it to succeed, you have to roll a nat 20."

"A nat 20?!" Ryuji snapped, glowering. "Why is the bar so high?!"

"You heard me. Or are you too chicken to sacrifice a bottle of booze?"

He grumbled for a bit at the challenge, before finally nodding. "Let's do this. I got this." He picked up the die and cupped his hands around it, pausing for a moment as he closed his eyes and prayed to anyone listening that the gambit would work. Finally, he rolled the die, freeing it from his grasp. The die tumbled and finally settled. Silence fell over the table again as Ryuji peeked from behind closed eyelids, and suddenly they shot open as he grinned.

"NAT 20! Take THAT, DM!" he hooted. Futaba stared before grumbling and nodding.

"By some... insane luck... you manage to get the dragon drunk as the bottle breaks over its snout and the alcohol slips into its mouth. The rest of the fight will be a slaughter because he can't fight back enough."

"Are you kidding me?" Makoto protested. "I didn't even get to roll once! I needed Yusuke to voice the characters!"

"Yeah," Ren agreed, raising an eyebrow at the calm artist, "you're a really good voice actor..."

The artist shrugged, putting his hands up as Ryuji stretched back again, hands behind his head calmly. "It's a gift, I suppose."

"Whatever! There's more fights to come!" Ryuji promised, grinning wryly. Ann rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, because you had your character take a dump on the desk of the mayor of the last village we passed through."

Morgana sighed, loudly, as he knocked his figurine over. "You know, we could be doing actual adventuring... right this minute... in Mementos."

"This is different than that, alright?" Futaba insisted. She paused as Sojiro peered up into the room from the staircase, brow raised. She sheepishly smiled as he shook his head.

"Take it down a notch, everyone can hear you downstairs." He sighed. "That's the single nerdiest game you guys could choose to play..."

Chapter Text

Ren's coffee was starting to get tepid by the time Sojiro realized something was wrong.

His first instinct was to grumble and grouse about how a perfectly good cup of coffee was wasted, along with the curry, the steam that was once flowing from it dissipating rapidly. On schooldays, Ren was up and ready to go at the same time like clockwork. He'd eat his breakfast and head out, and Sojiro would open the store and everything would go as it did.

He had heard the alarm go off on the kid's phone upstairs, and the insistent meowing of Morgana, who he valued as an additional alarm. "That kid better not be sleeping in." Sojiro grumbled. He called for him a few times, at which he heard no response. He sighed. "So he IS sleeping in. Now I'm gonna have to drive him to school... have to open the cafe late... gonna lose good business for the morning." he grumbled to himself as he grabbed a deep bowl of ice cold water from the sink.

The man nearly tripped on Morgana as the cat darted downstairs, meowing loudly and repeatedly at him, ears flipped back and eyes wide. Sojiro stopped short in front of the cat as he yowled at him. He sighed again. "Yes, I know, the kid's not up yet. Don't worry, I'll get him up, cat."

Sojiro thought it a bit strange that the cat didn't even hiss at him as he called him cat, which Morgana had a habit of doing, and his heart began to sink. He knew Morgana was incredibly smart for a cat, and the change in behavior worried him as the floorboards creaked under his weight. Morgana darted past his feet as he bounded for the bed, where Ren lay sleeping still, blanket off and his breath wheezy and shallow. His skin was flushed, and his hair was slick with sweat. The minute the sound of his breath reached his ears, Sojiro set down the bowl of ice cold water on the tabletop by the top of the stairs and hurried to the kid's side, beginning to pale himself.

"Kid?" he tried, at first quietly. As the kid shifted but didn't awaken, he raised his voice considerably. "Ren?" he asked aloud, shaking his shoulder firmly. Ren's eyes slowly blinked open, then flew open, as he took in Sojiro's face.

"I'm up," he said, voice scratchy, "'m so sorry, Boss, 'm up..."

Sojiro barely had time to pull his body away as Ren erupted into a fit of coughs as he forced himself upright. The boy covered his mouth with his arm quickly, and as soon as he settled and pulled away, he begun to try to swing his legs over the bed. The look on his pale face turned almost green as his lips curled and closed, and his hands reached to cover his mouth as he hunched over.

"Oh, shit." Sojiro turned to run as quickly as his legs could take him for the bowl, which Morgana was sitting next to. Morgana seemed to understand his train of thought and Ren's sudden motion of someone about to be very sick, because he tipped over the bowl of water and ice, letting it spill on the floor, and pushed it towards Sojiro as the man rushed forward. "Good kitty." he praised, snapping the bowl up and hurrying to Ren, thrusting the bowl in the boy's hands. "Get it in here! Not on the floor!"

As soon as he was done retching, Ren moaned again. "Sorry, Boss," he slurred, saliva dripping from the corner of his mouth, "'m sorry."

"Don't be. You're sick as a dog." Sojiro raised a hand to his forehead and felt a rush of heat meet his palm. "Lay back down, you're not going anywhere today. I'm calling the doctor over, and you're not going to move from the bed." He watched as Morgana hopped off the soaked table and over to his bed, hopping on Ren's chest and meowing in agreement. "See? Morgana's your warden today."

By the time Sojiro got back with Dr. Takemi, Ren was already asleep again. He felt terrible as he roused him, and the look in his eyes was a look of pleading to be allowed to go back to sleep. Tae confirmed what he suspected and prescribed antibiotics, and gave a firm order that Ren wasn't to leave for the next few days.

"'M sorry, Boss." he apologized again, and Sojiro raised an eyebrow.

"What for? It's not like you can help getting sick."

"... causing you trouble... wasting cup of coffee and curry... did you open the store today? Sorry..."

"Don't worry about it. Everything's fine." Sojiro deflected. "Just... stay down and relax. Dr. Takemi said you have to eat before you take your medicine, so I'll be back soon."

"Curry?" he asked hopefully. Sojiro scoffed.

"No. You're getting toast and butter." He felt his heart pang as the boy gave him a pitiful look, and he shook his head. "You need to be eating simple food right now. Nothing that'll upset your stomach. But..." He smiled. "I'll bring you a cup of tea. Hot liquid will be good for your chest."

"... 'Kay."

It was something of a challenge to get Ren to eat, because the boy grumbled that he wasn't hungry, but he did it. As soon as the toast was down, he reached for the tea and sipped it with vigor. "Stop and inhale the steam," Sojiro ordered, "it'll clear you out." Getting the antibiotics down afterwards was less of a challenge, though it came in a sickly white syrup formula that made Ren's face twist with disgust as he ingested it. Sojiro was there to immediately offer him a glass of water, and he brought him tea every so often while he insisted he drink it and inhale the steam.

Within a few hours, his friends were lingering within, face masks covering their mouths and wielding hand sanitizer. Futaba lingered on the couch as she watched Ann and Makoto fuss over Ren, while Ryuji flipped through various channels in attempts to find something to cheer him up. Yusuke offered suggestions, none of which Ren was particularly in the mood to watch.

Sojiro eventually came back upstairs, wielding a wet cloth that he proceeded to wipe Ren's forehead with. "There, kid," he murmured, "this should help. Do you want an ice pack?"

"You're a good dad." Futaba remarked from her spot on the couch, making her father's head dart to her. Sojiro's eyes widened.

"What?"

"You're a good dad," Futaba repeated, "not just for me."

The girls smiled at him, and Sojiro scratched at the back of his neck as Ren managed a weak smile up at him. "Ah, well... what sort of guardian wouldn't want to make sure their son-- ward's okay?"

Chapter Text

Iwai quirked an eyebrow as the kid he knew as the leader of the Phantom Thieves, known to the public as deceased, walked through the door of his shop, a hoodie covering his head and obscuring the sides of his face. The man gave a quick look up and down him, wincing as he spied a multitude of bruises on his face, and then over his shop. No one was there, so finally the gun shop owner heaved a sigh.

"Fuck's sake, kid, what the hell are you doing out and about?"

"I'm a ghost, come to haunt you. Oooh..." Ren teased. At Iwai's unimpressed stare, he shrugged. "Getting new weapons and armor for our next heist...?"

Iwai glanced towards the door and tossed the keys to Ren, who snatched it in midair. As his sleeve slipped back, Iwai could see the signs of a bloody struggle against cuffs. The kid's wrists were black and blue and he saw the brief twinge in the boy's lips as he held them up. "Go lock the door. Then we'll talk." he ordered. The kid obeyed and tossed the keys back at Iwai, who snatched them and deposited them back in his pocket.

The man stood and waved him along to the back, the dimly-lit storage room where they had discussed business many times before. Ren stood, hands in his pockets and sleeves slipping down over his wrists again as they retreated. Iwai turned to him, arms crossed, and shook his head. "What the fuck are you doing out? Everyone thinks you're dead, and you look like you might as well be dead. Rat bastard police roughed you up, didn't they?"

"Something like that," Ren deflected, "but I'm alive. What does it matter?"

"Don't you get it?" Iwai snapped. "If anyone who knows you're the suspect sees you, you're fucked to hell. Are you out of your goddamned mind coming out here? Does your guardian even know you're here?"

"He does. He was against it, but he does." He rolled his shoulders. "You texted me and said you'd be waiting if I wanted to buy something." Ren said with a shrug. Iwai froze for a moment, then sighed as he ran a hand over his face.

"Fuck's sake. I thought you'd be smart enough to send a friend over to do this for you."

"I need those weapons." he said firmly. "Our next mission's the key to getting me out of this situation. To save Japan itself."

"Japan itself...?" Iwai sighed. "I almost wanna ask you what you're talking about, but--"

"It's Shido." Ren snapped bluntly. Iwai paused again for a long time as he stared at Ren, then he slowly ran a hand over the side of his face.

"What'd you go and tell me that for? Now I'm gonna have to lie to the cops if they show up in here."

"You wanted to know. I need the gear."

"You sure about this, kid?" Iwai grouched. "This ain't like your other targets. You go after Shido and send a calling card, you fuck up once, and you're going to actually be dead. Why are you going after him?"

Ren scoffed. "You want to know why? I'll tell you why."

He explained the mess as best he could, but all Iwai did was stare uncomfortably and shift his feet as he listened. By the time he was done, Iwai's eyes had gone stony, but his face was pale.

"This is too nuts for me... weird... supernatural shit..."

"You believe me, then?"

Iwai heaved a great sigh. "You know I do. Doesn't mean I have to like it. This is gonna be the first and last time we talk about that... stuff, okay?" His eyes trailed to the stores of weaponry, and he grunted. "Fine, come on. I'll set you up for your big heist. Just make sure you kick Shido's ass."

He led Ren to his storeroom and obtained a clean box full of new equipment, at a mere glance obviously superior to his current equipment. He shoved the box into Ren's arms but immediately regretted the action as Ren winced, no doubt having hit his still tender bruises all over his body. Iwai said nothing, but Ren saw the split-second look of guilt and pity. Had he blinked, it would have been missed. Another box of modifications was obtained, but instead of stacking it on Ren as he usually did, Iwai held it himself and nodded his head to the back door. "Come on, I'll drive you home. Fewer people see you out, the better. Oh, and take care of those bruises when you get home; that shit's nasty. Makes you look like the corpse you're supposed to be."

"So you do care." Ren teased, and Iwai groaned.

"Listen, I'm doing you a favor. Don't make it weird."


It was late by the time they got to LeBlanc and settled everything in Ren's room. As soon as that was over, Ren flopped on his bed and passed out, and his cat jumped to his side and slumbered with him. Nonplussed, Iwai shook his head and went downstairs, where Sojiro offered him a cup of coffee for his trouble. Iwai sat in silence as Sojiro finished closing up the store, and said not a word until Sojiro did.

"How much do you know about that kid?"

Iwai grunted and leaned back in his seat at the bar. "I know he's supposed to be dead."

"Then you know."

"I know." he confirmed as he sipped the coffee. He looked up to meet Sojiro's inquiring eyes and nervous frown. "I'm not gonna tell anyone. He and the Thieves have done me a good turn, and they're doing good work. I just drove him home because a dead man's not supposed to be out and about. Your kid's out of his damn mind, you know that?"

Sojiro sighed and nodded. "That's what I tried to tell him, but he wouldn't have it. He's stubborn as a mule."

"No shit." Iwai said as he finished his coffee and stood. "Thanks for the coffee. Try to make sure that kid doesn't move his wrists more than he needs to and tell him to keep ice on it. He might want to hold off on doing any actual fighting for a few days." He scoffed and smiled slightly. "Dunno how much you'll actually convince him, but try."

Sojiro nodded. "That I will. Come back any time."

 

Chapter Text

 "Is that a penis chariot?"

Ren froze, briefly, then looked up to see Futaba and Sojiro hunched over the bar counter. Futaba was grinning and showing something on her phone to her father, whose nose was wrinkling and lips frowning as he took in the picture of Mara. Futaba giggled madly, deviously, as she nodded.

"Fresh from today's expedition in Mementos!" she cackled. "Its name is Mara!"

With little to do after Shido's palace, the group had descended into Mementos to handle a few requests in the meanwhile. It had gone smoothly enough, and Ren returned home to cook dinner for the family in the evening. He stared uncomfortably as Futaba giggled, Sojiro stared, and Morgana meowed conversationally.

He knew Futaba was the one and only party member who could film in the Metaverse, though he'd never asked before to see any videos or pictures she produced. He honestly didn't think she did much of that at all, what with being busy as a navigator. The fact that Futaba was showing Sojiro a picture of Mara wouldn't have bothered him in the slightest-- he might have even laughed-- if he didn't obtain one as a mask to use in fusion the following day to make a Mada. It was still in his inventory, and he prayed that the conversation wouldn't take the turn he feared.

"That's disgusting!" Sojiro groused. "Put that away; we're going to eat soon."

"You... show Sojiro what we're doing in the Metaverse?" Ren inquired. Futaba nodded, not looking up from her phone.

"Yeah, just the memorable parts, though. Don't worry, he thinks your thief costume is actually pretty cool."

"Yeah; the coat's nice, but the red gloves are... weird." Sojiro agreed with a shrug. "It's weird watching you just flip through Personas like they're nothing. Why can't the others do that? Didn't you say Akechi could, too?"

"We're not really sure why some people can and some people can't use more than one." Futaba said with a shrug, pushing her glasses back as she looked at her father. "We call them Wildcard users. Ren's told me he can even fuse two Personas together to make one stronger one! It's super cool, but sort of weird, because he just freezes in place and doesn't say or do anything while he's fusing, but when he's done, BAM, new Personas!"

"I... see." Sojiro quirked an eyebrow at Ren. "You're all kinds of weird, kid, you know that, right?"

Ren scoffed and smiled. "You could say that, yeah." He felt relieved, feeling the conversation was over, and was about to declared dinner served when Futaba spoke again.

"I wonder what he's going to make tomorrow using that Mara he caught!"

Sojiro's head darted back to him, eyes owlishly large and alarmed, lips curling. "Oh, gross, Ren, what the hell did you go and get one of those things for?!"

"It's for fusion!" Ren protested, cheeks going red. "I just plan on making a new Persona with it tomorrow, alright?"

"Can't you just make something else?" Sojiro groaned. "That's nasty, kid. That's nasty. Go to the Metaverse and get rid of it or something because I don't want you carrying that thing around in you somewhere."

"Pfft! It's not even the worst thing he's had." Futaba said, throwing a hand carelessly. "You should have seen Pisaca. No, wait, I think I have a picture, hold on--"

"I don't know what that is, but if you have it, get rid of it. No, I don't want to see it." Sojiro nodded his head at the kid's phone. "Go do it and come back. I'll plate dinner."

Ren sputtered and tried to think of a protest before grumbling and obeying, transporting himself to Mementos, feeling something like a child being told to wash their hands before dinner. By the time he got back, wielding a new Mada instead within him, Sojiro had plated curry and rice for him. Sojiro stared uncomfortably as he sat back down besides Futaba, who was eating happily.

"You got rid of anything else weird, too, right?" he groaned. "Futaba just had to go and show me Pisaca... gross, kid. Gross."

"Listen, you do what you gotta do."

Chapter Text

"Guys. Come on. It was just a shadow and I feel totally fine."

"Listen, Ren, we don't think anything bad's gonna happen to you, but it's just... in case something happens, okay?"

"Ryuji, I'm not a werewolf!"

"Yeah, but you got bitten by one in the Metaverse! Better safe than sorry!"

Ren shook the chain link fence in the batting cage, glaring out at his friends and Sojiro bitterly as he stood in old clothes, barefoot. Haru had rented the entire place for the night and asked the owner to leave, much to Ren's chagrin. Ryuji stood closest to the fencing of the makeshift prison they stuck their friend in for the night and frowned guiltily at him. The sky hadn't quite turned to night yet, and the full moon had yet to rise to its apex, but an unfortunate fight in the Metaverse is what led them to watching over Ren, as if waiting for him to change.

"It's no big deal," Haru tried to reassure, smiling sheepishly, "it's just for your own safety, Ren-kun. If nothing happens, we'll let you out, and if it does, then it'll pass and we can do this once a month. We'll still love you no matter what."

"That's not the point!" Ren grouched, sitting down finally and pouting. "You guys are making way more of this than you needed to!" He turned his sharp gaze to Sojiro, who had been standing back and scratching the back of his neck, averting his eyes. "Sojiro! Talk some sense into them! Werewolves aren't actually real!"

Sojiro said nothing for a moment, side-eyeing Ren, before heaving a sigh. "Look, kid, I'm sorry, but I don't know what's real and what isn't anymore. Futaba showed me what happened and it's just a precaution."

They knew shadows could take on the forms of mythical creatures based on the human psyche, so the appearance of a shadow shaped like a werewolf in the Metaverse hadn't surprised Ren in the least. He dispatched it quickly with a bless attack, and only took a bite to the arm in the process. He had been calmly grumbling and rubbing at the bite marks with some medicine as he finally looked back up to his party members, about to say something about moving on. They had all frozen up and stared at him in horror, save for Futaba, Morgana, and Makoto; they were the only three others who believed the whole thing was nonsense. Sojiro had demanded an explanation for the bite mark once they came back; Futaba tried to back up Ren saying it was just an accident and nothing to be concerned about, but he had backed the others in imprisoning Ren for the full moon that night. Just in case, Sojiro had said apologetically.

"This is ridiculous," Morgana huffed from his spot by the door, "he's fine! It was just a shadow, and we get attacked like that all the time!"

"Agreed." Makoto groaned. "We should just let him out and go home. This is a waste of time."

"D-- doesn't hurt to be safe, though." Ann said anxiously. "Ren-kun...? Are you sure you're feeling okay?"

"Feeling irritated, but otherwise I'm fine." Ren grouched. "Come on, let me out. Morgana, you can pick locks, right?"

"Yep." Morgana was about to jump for the lock when someone grabbed him from behind, and he shook wildly in protest as he looked up to meet Yusuke's eyes. "Yusuke! Put me down!"

"I will not. This is for Ren's own good-- stop wiggling."

"Here, I'll take him." Haru said calmly, pulling the cat from his hands and holding him steady with more ease. Morgana groaned.

"Fine, I won't pick the lock. Just put me down!"

The next hour passed quietly, with Ren having given up on protesting and deciding to lay down on the hard concrete, avoiding the eyes of the others, as he watched the moon rise. Night descended upon the world, and as the bright light of the moon crept over Ren, he felt the eyes of the others on him, breath being held. As expected, nothing happened; not even the slightest twinge in his muscles plagued him. His head rolled over to the others, entirely unimpressed. "See? I'm fine."

"Called it. Let's let him out," Futaba groaned, "then let's go home and get curry. This was stupid."

"I dunno," Ryuji hummed nervously, "maybe we wanna wait a little bit longer just to make sure?"

"No, he's had enough and he's obviously still human." Makoto snapped as she went for the lock and opened the door. Ren rose to his feet and walked out, rubbing a hand over his sore shoulder as he stepped out.

"Let's go home." he declared, and all began to make their way out when an ear-splitting, blood-curdling howl rang through the air, and all jumped out of their skin as they turned to Ren. Makoto shrieked and jumped onto Ryuji, who froze in place with Yusuke. Ann and Haru shrieked and jumped onto each other for protection. Sojiro yanked Futaba by the wrist behind his back as he turned on his heel.

Ren pulled the cupped hands away from his mouth and smirked as Morgana laughed aloud. "Just making sure-- OW!" he yelped as Makoto punched him in the arm and glared, hard.

"Don't make us put you back in there."

Chapter Text

Kawakami had been thrilled, though she tried not to show it, when Ren called her for help after his supposed death. She had texted him and he had confirmed that he was still alive, but she worried, still. He had been so apologetic and uncharacteristically weak-sounding, filled with exhaustion, when he called.

"Sensei, I am so sorry to be calling you for help-- I know you don't do that work anymore-- but I need some help. If you can't, I understand, but I'll pay if--"

"--I'm coming. Don't you dare pay me." Kawakami snapped. She rushed as fast as she could to the cafe, and knocked politely as she peered in through the window. No one was there but the cat that lingered by Ren's side at all times, staring up at the window, as if he had been waiting. He hurried forward and jumped on the knob, and the door cracked open as the bell above it rang. She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Hello, Morgana," she greeted, curtsying with the skirt she wore, "where's Ren?"

The cat meowed and looked back at her as he walked towards the stairs. She quietly closed the door behind her, minding the bell above it as she made her way in. Morgana meowed again as he waited on the stairs for her, as she followed, grateful for the cat's presence. He led her upstairs, where she almost froze at the sight of Ren lying, prone and silent, in his bed, as he turned his neck to look at her.

The skin on his face was half black and blue, and covered in scratches to boot. She knew if she pulled back the covers that she'd see even worse injuries all over, and she stopped short, eyes widening in horror. "R- Ren..."

"Sensei." he greeted, sounding tired. "Sorry for not standing to greet you..."

"Don't be ridiculous." she snapped as she hurried forward, looking upon him in utter pity as she came to examine him by the bedside. "Oh my God, what happened to you?!"

The boy laughed, weakly, and smiled ever-so-slightly with that signature smirk. She had no idea how he managed it, in his state. "I survived. Or maybe I'm a ghost."

"Don't joke like that." she scolded. "Can I see..." She froze in place as he pulled back the cover, revealing a body marred in black and blue, with one bruise in particular over his side that was in the shape of a boot. His ribs were covered in bandages, as were several other spots along his body, some of which were tinted pink around the wounds. He let her stare, for a moment, before pulling back the cover. She met his eyes as she began to shake, tears beginning to spring as she covered her mouth. "Oh my goodness, you poor thing! What did the police do to you?! This... this is police brutality! Have you seen a doctor?!"

"Yeah," he grunted, "neighborhood doctor, Dr. Tae Takemi. She's in the know. Told me to stay in bed until I heal; I've been replacing the gauze every so often. I'm okay."

"No, you're not okay!" she snapped, stamping a foot. "You should be in a hospital, not up here!"

"What'll happen if a hospital gets a dead man?" he scoffed. Kawakami choked as more tears threatened to overtake her.

"Amamiya-kun...!" She heaved a breath. "I... I'm sorry for c-crying, I just... you poor thing!"

"I'm alive," he said tiredly, "and that's what's important; I'm not dying quite yet. I'm so sorry for calling you on such short notice, especially since you quit this job. I'll pay you double for--"

"I'm not taking your money. I already told you that." she snapped, frowning as she struggled to control her tears, wiping them away with a thumb. "What do you need done?"

He sighed. "This is embarrassing, but... laundry. Especially my hoodies." He nodded his head towards a basket full of clothes by his shelf. "That's all."

"Is that really all you need? Is it time to replace any of the gauze?" she questioned, frowning. "Some of it's getting pretty nasty looking."

He shook his head. "Yeah, but I can do that myself. Don't trouble yourself."

"Don't you dare say that to me. You're going to sit here, and I'll be back tomorrow to check on you." Kawakami snapped. "I'll get on the laundry as soon as I take care of your gauze, and--" His stomach growled, and his skin on his face that wasn't bruised went scarlet. She nodded. "--I'll get you something to eat, something with bread to fill you up. When's the last time you took your pain medication? I'm assuming the doctor gave some to you."

"I thought you were a maid, not a nurse?" he teased, again with that damned smirk. She scoffed.

"I'm not a maid at all anymore. I'm your teacher and I'll do what I think is necessary for your sake." She sighed. "I wish you had called me sooner, Ren. You need help."

He shook his head. "That's kind of you, but I should be ready to get up tomorrow--"

"Don't you dare." she snapped. "You're not going anywhere. You're not dead, and you're going to stay there and let me do my job, or so help me..."

Chapter Text

The van was already packed with his belongings. Ren would be returning home as soon as possible-- all that was left was the ceremony and the award of his high school diploma. Sojiro himself had seen to it that Cafe LeBlanc would welcome him back for college, and hopefully he would never leave Tokyo again. That was his true home, after all.

Ren stood up to the podium, looking out upon his graduating class, the majority of whom looked away, then out to the crowd, where a moment's search revealed his family. Ryuji was whooping loudly and pounding his fist in the air, grinning broadly, as he saw his best friend stand before the crowd. Ann, Makoto, and Futaba waved at him as they spied his eyes on them, all smiling proudly. Haru and Morgana joined them, the cat sitting in her lap as they waved. Yusuke was sketching quickly in a book, and grinned at Ren as he did so. Sojiro merely smiled, sitting beside Ren's parents, nodding at him quietly. Ren saw his own parents weeping and smiling, as they had been when they heard about how he had saved the world as the leader of the Phantom Thieves.

Yoshida was there, too, as well as Kawakami, Hifumi, Tae, Mishima, Shinya and his mother, Iwai and Kaoru, Chihaya, and Ohya. Sae was seated beside Makoto, beaming just as proudly as her sister. Yoshida himself got glances from the crowd as a member of the Diet, as did Hifumi as a shogi player, but neither seemed to pay any attention to the eyes. They beamed at their friend, as Hifumi passed Yoshida a tissue to dab his eyes with. The others sat, watching and waiting and smiling proudly as they waited for him to speak.

It had been a week since the others' graduations-- Yusuke, Ann, Ryuji, Hifumi, and Mishima-- and Ren had driven back to Tokyo to attend theirs, both at Kosei and Shujin. He had mourned the fact he didn't get to go to Makoto and Haru's graduation the year prior, and would never have passed up the next opportunity. They had been lovely ceremonies, and now, it was his turn-- not just as any graduate, but the valedictorian of his class. It was a title few expected him to gain after all that had happened, but he stood, as all waited for him to speak.

The young man cleared his throat and began to speak. "Fellow graduates. It is my honor to be standing here among you all and give my speech as a valedictorian, but I have so many people I have to thank for helping me get to this point. This comes especially over the events of the last two years, which I know all of you are aware of." Soft murmurs carried through the crowd, and he shook his head. "I also know all of you have suspicions about some of the details of what I was doing during my time in Tokyo. However, regardless of what happened during that time, I changed. We all changed, for the better." He heard muffled groans from several other students, and he chuckled. "None of my past truly defines me, though it shaped me. I stand here today, a free man, with more blessings than I can count on both hands.

"I have struggled. We have all struggled. There are times in life when the struggles we get seem overwhelming, and we are left to wonder a number of things. What's the point? Why do we carry on? What light exists at the end of the tunnel?" He looked back up to his friends again, and smiled softly. "I'm here to tell you that those dark times come to an end, and you look back to see they weren't so dark after all. When the times are hard, that's when you receive the greatest blessings that will follow you throughout life, through the good times and bad times.

"I myself wondered, repeatedly, why I kept going, but I have no words to express my joy, for I am surrounded now by my true friends-- no, not just friends, my family." He sucked in a breath as he smiled at his group, all of which were beaming at him. Ryuji was even beginning to cry a little. "When the times are bad... and it seems like everyone's abandoned you... that's when those who will stay with you, through thick and thin, through hell or high water, make themselves known. It's also when the people who won't stick with you also make themselves known." He tried not to smirk as former friends in the crowd winced, as did several teachers. "The time in which I felt the weight of the world upon me was perhaps the most important time in my life thus far, and I would do it all over again if it meant sticking with my friends and my family for life.

"So, when you have times when the world seems against you, when the cards are stacked against you... know there's always light in the darkness. One day, you'll look back upon your past, and know that nothing was ever hopeless. Those times of struggle only make you stronger and freer in the end, in heart, soul, and mind. With that, I want all of you to go into the future with no regrets, and no despair. Your past and what people think of you does not define you-- only you can define you. Be brave, and know that a bright future lies ahead. Thank you."

Applause filled the air as every person in attendance clapped, even the ones shamed by their conduct, as they nodded at the valedictorian. Screams and whoops escaped Ren's confidants, who stood as they applauded; half of them were crying. When the ceremony was over and he could escape, Ren was surrounded by all his confidants and his parents. He almost couldn't breathe for a full five minutes from all the hugs he was getting.

"Dude," Ryuji said, brimming with pride as he finally got to hug him, "you did great. Actually made me cry a little." he sniffled. "You're like... like a brother to me, you know?"

"Right back at you." he agreed, and he grinned at Sojiro as the man put a hand on his shoulder, shaking him firmly but proudly as he looked upon him.

"You're a man, now." Sojiro praised. "You've got a job, school, and a home which we ought to get back to; I reserved the shop just for your party."

"Yeah, van's ready to go!" Ann agreed as she wiped tears away. "It's been too long, the last few months."

Ren paused and turned to his parents. His mother, a short woman who he looked so much like, and his father, a man meeting his stature, looked upon him with tears. He felt his heart clench, and he sighed. He had resented them at first for asking him to come home after all that happened, demanding to see him as soon as possible. Long conversations about his actions as a Phantom Thief and his adventures had eased the two parties, and though they couldn't say they were happy about it, they knew what he had to do.

His mother embraced him tightly, and his father merely bowed his head to his son. "I agree with Sojiro-san." he remarked. "Son... you're a man now, and you know where your heart is."

"Though we'll miss you... it's time for you to go home." his mother agreed. "I'm sorry we didn't see that sooner."

"Mother... Father..." He smiled. "I'll visit, often, when I'm not busy with school. I promise."

"I'll make sure he keeps up with his grades." Makoto added wryly. "We're going to the same university now, and we'll be taking a lot of the same classes."

"You'd best keep him in line, then." Ren's father joked, nodding his head. "Now, come on. We've got about a two hour drive before we can actually start the party."

As they departed the school grounds after everyone had a photo opportunity and everyone piled into their cars, Ren sat in the center of the bus he had taken back to his hometown. The others piled in and Makoto took the steering wheel, and Morgana rushed for Ren's lap. Ren himself had begun to pull off the black graduation outfit to reveal his casual clothes beneath almost as soon as he could, tossing the diploma into Ryuji's hands as he worked.

"If it makes you more comfortable in the car, that's fine," Makoto said with a sigh, "but put it back on when we get back to LeBlanc. More people want to take pictures when we get there."

Ren groaned. "Seriously?"

"It's one day, Ren. You can do it."

As they took off along the coast, Yusuke nudged Ren gently as he grinned proudly. "That was a beautiful speech. If words could be captured as a painting... ah! You've inspired me again!"

"You meant it, didn't you?" Haru asked. "About us being family..."

"Every word." Ren confirmed, nodding. "You guys... you're not just my friends. You're my family."

The group broke into a chorus of aww and Ren was noogied, hugged, nudged, and otherwise heaped with affection, turning his composure into mush and his cheeks red. The trip went on, steadily, until Makoto spoke again, this time nervously.

"H- how much do the townspeople there know? About the Phantom Thieves?"

Ren shrugged and leaned back in his seat lazily. "Oh, all of them believe in the Thieves, and basically all of them either highly suspect or know I'm a Phantom Thief, especially considering the mess with Shido and the timing of all of our actions. Mom and Dad found out from Sae and Sojiro when I was put in solitary confinement, but they agree that it should be kept a secret. When I got back, I kept getting questions about our activities." He smirked. "No one can prove it, though, and I'm not giving them any proof."

Chapter Text

The white walls weren't what perturbed Morgana the most. It wasn't even the poster about flea prevention over the cold metal examination table that bothered him the most. All were unpleasant, sure, but Morgana couldn't stop shaking as he tried to train his eyes on a cute poster across from him with different cat breeds. Ren stood by the table with him, staying still and not talking much as Morgana leaned as close as possible to him, shivering and ears back. Sojiro sat in a chair against the wall, rifling through a magazine plucked from a wall shelf, frowning slightly as he did so.

Morgana had been with Ren a scant few weeks before Sojiro declared that if he had to stay with them, the cat was going to the vet to get vaccinations. He had even offered to pay for it, though he claimed it wasn't out of the good of his heart, but rather for the safety of Ren and his patrons. "Can't have it get rabid and come in here." he had said, much to Morgana's ire.

"Are you okay, Morgana?" Ren finally spoke, and the cat scoffed.

"Of... of course I am!" he cried. "I-I'm not n-nervous. We face worse from Shadows all the time! W-what's a f-few s-shots...?"

Sojiro scoffed. "Man, that cat's nervous... keep a hand on his collar. Don't need him running out into the office and causing trouble." He shrugged. "Suppose I can't blame him. Doctor's offices aren't exactly the most pleasant places."

Morgana didn't have a chance to reply as the back door to the rest of the office opened, and he yowled and clung onto Ren's arm for a split second before forcing himself off of him. He hissed as Sojiro failed to bite back a laugh at the reaction, and slowly forced himself to turn his head to see the vet. She was a calm woman, scrubs a bit stained from paw prints of disgruntled animals, hair in a messy ponytail, but otherwise smiling.

"Hi there," she greeted, "sorry for the wait. Is this Morgana?"

"Yes, ma'am." Ren agreed with a nod. "He's here for a first-time check-up and vaccines."

"Alright, we can do that. Do you know how old he is?"

"No, he's a stray." Sojiro answered. "Started following this kid around just a few weeks ago. The pound didn't find a microchip on him or any notices for a missing cat with his description."

"Okay." As the vet approached the bench, Morgana's shaking was visible, as he tensed up. She smiled and pulled a small cat treat in the shape of a fish from her pocket, and he paused as she held it up to him. "Hi there, Morgana. How about a treat and I'll do my exam?"

Morgana sniffed at it, then looked up at Ren warily. "Do you think it's drugged...? She's-- she's not going to knock me out for my exam, is she?!"

"It's safe. It's not drugged." Ren reassured lightly. "It's just a check up, not surgery."

Morgana sighed and nodded. "I guess you're right... oh well. Shouldn't say no to perfectly good food..." He gently took the treat from her hand and nibbled on it experimentally as she smiled, bemused.

"Well, someone's talkative-- and clearly very attached and trusting of you." she said. Sojiro scoffed.

"He follows him everywhere. And man, does he meow, all the time."

"Alright-- so he's partially outdoors, then?"

The physical exam went smoothly, as Morgana allowed her to look over him as she needed to, and he got a few treats as a reward. He sighed as she finished, relieved. "That wasn't so bad..."

"Alright, I'll send the nurse in in a minute to give him his vaccines." she said, and the cat tensed up again. "We'll be giving him a combination vaccine and a rabies vaccine, and we'll schedule a date in the future for booster shots." She shrugged. "Also, I think we should talk about neutering him..."

"WHAT?!" Morgana yowled, eyes wide with panic, fur standing on end. He retreated behind Ren's arm and hissed, loudly, as he stared at her from behind him. "No! NO! I'm not down for that!" he cried. "Ren! Don't let her...!" At the entire spectacle, Sojiro began damn-near cackling with laughter, covering his face with a hand as he choked. The vet also broke into laughter, as Ren and Morgana shared a horrified look.

"Oh, seems like he knows what that means." Sojiro snickered. "Don't want them going down there, Morgana?"

"Of-- of course not!" Morgana yowled. "This isn't funny! STOP LAUGHING!"

"Alright, come on," Ren said with a sigh. "I think you guys are upsetting him. The procedure is a no for now."

"More like a no forever!" the cat protested. The vet frowned.

"Are you sure? Neutering prevents testicular cancer and a variety of other prostate problems. It also help stop undesirable behaviors such as spraying to--"

"What sort of human do you think I am?!" Morgana cried out, silencing the vet again as she tried to bite back her laughter. "I am beyond such vulgar behavior! Why would I ever try to mark territory by doing something so disgusting?!"

"Well, he hasn't tried to do anything like that." Sojiro said with a shrug. "He's been well behaved, but maybe we should consider it for Morgana's health."

"BOSS!" Morgana yowled, surprising Sojiro as he turned to meet his eyes in his yelling. "Don't you dare say you support this...! Don't let them do this!"

"Am I being told off by a cat...?" Sojiro wondered aloud, trying not to smirk. "Fine, I can understand why he might not want that, but we should still consider it in the future. Let's stick to the vaccines for now. But, Ren," he started, eyes locking into his ward's eyes, "if he ever goes and gets any lady cat pregnant, that's all on you for taking care of and paying for kittens. You know that, right? I can pay for his neutering right now and prevent all of that."

"I wouldn't dare!" Morgana gasped, and Ren nodded.

"I'm certain."

The adults dropped the topic, at least for the time being, and Morgana heaved a sigh of relief. That relief was short-lived, as he soon found himself with his head tucked against Ren as the boy held him steady while the nurse drew near with the vaccines.

"Don't tell anyone about this." Morgana murmured into Ren's jacket, and the teenager nodded.

"My lips are sealed."


Several months later...

"Hey, Morgana..."

Morgana looked up from his dinner to meet Sojiro's eyes. The man was scratching the back of his neck and looking upon him sheepishly and frowning. It had been a day past the cafe owner finding out about Morgana's true nature and intelligence, and while Ren slumbered to heal himself after his ordeal, Sojiro invited the cat downstairs for supper. Morgana had taken the meal with gusto, though he planned to eat as quickly as possible to return to Ren's side. Morgana meowed as he met Sojiro's eyes. "Yeah, Boss?"

Sojiro sighed. "Listen, I can't understand what you're saying back to me, but I know you can understand me. So... I want to apologize to you about the whole neutering thing, back when we took you to the vet." He shook his head. "Had I known you were as smart as you are, I would have never laughed at you. A ca... pers... being as smart as you are didn't deserve that." He shook his head and smirked. "Ren really backed you up by refusing to chop your balls off."

Morgana relaxed and nodded. "Thanks, Chief. I understand for mere cats why the... procedure may be necessary, but thank you for acknowledging that I am far more evolved than that and apologizing."

The cafe owner gawked, for a minute, before shrugging. "Um... I don't know what you just said... but can I assume this means we're good?"

"We're good." Morgana confirmed it with a curt nod of the head, and Sojiro relaxed back and smiled.

"Glad to hear it."

Chapter Text

"The hell...?!"

"Oh, you found the mouse part of it!"

"Why the hell are you guys mice in this?!"

Ren froze and looked up at the counter, briefly, before turning his eyes resolutely onto the pot of curry he was making. He heard Futaba giggling and Sojiro, flustered, stammering as he watched the video Futaba recorded of the inside of Shido's Palace. Ren was having a distinct flashback to yesterday's misfortune of Mara and wondered if this was somehow more embarrassing.

Futaba giggled, loudly. "Aren't we just adorable like that? Some of the statues in Shido's palace, when active, would turn those within its gaze into mice. It was just inconvenient and uncomfortable at first, but Ren figured out that it was, in fact, a boon at certain parts, because we could sneak through small vents."

Sojiro grumbled, scratching the back of his neck. "I... guess if it helped... it's still weird." He looked up at Ren. "Hey, kid, what was that like?"

Ren went silent for a moment as he tried to think of a proper descriptor, and finally shrugged. "Strange." he summarized. Futaba snickered.

"Yeah, for you. You were the most wiggly one. I can't wait for Sojiro to see the part when you run from a shadow like a weirdo, with your little hands in the air and stuff." she said with a smirk, and Ren's cheeks turned red as he kept his eyes on the pot. Sojiro laughed.

"So... sounds like he was a little bit... mousy, wouldn't you say?"

Ren made a noise that was halfway between a gasp and a laugh, escaping him as an ugly cackle as he hunched over, and Futaba's nose wrinkled as Sojiro laughed. "Gah! You're just as bad as Inari!"

"What's wrong? I'm just saying you all seemed a bit rattled by all of this." The man smirked as Ren choked again, laughing inelegantly. Futaba growled and scowled.

"Who gave you permission to make dad jokes?!"

"When I adopted you!" he declared with a snicker. "Just remember to pro-squeak cautiously tomorrOW!" he yelped and ruefully rubbed his arm as Futaba punched him lightly. "Jeez, does getting your powers in the Metaverse translate to getting superpowers in the real world? That actually hurt..."

Chapter Text

Ren stood back and away from the school gate in the alleyway, watching silently as other students walked through nonchalantly, murmuring among themselves. He tugged at the neck of his school uniform as he watched, heart palpitating. Morgana's voice seemed faint to him as he watched everyone go by... and couldn't bring himself to move his own feet.

It was his first day back after getting out of prison and declared a free man. His case was well known, now, as the young man who stood against Shido and was responsible for his indictment in the end. Ohya had been reporting on his case constantly, drawing the ire of the police (not that she cared), and Hifumi had compounded public interest in it by her interview and Yoshida by his public denouncement of the situation and his demands for Ren's freedom. Between the protests organized by his friends and some of the more massive ones composed of disgruntled citizens led by Yoshida, he knew that more of Tokyo, if not Japan, knew his name than not. His name had become a rallying cry against Shido and the corruption, and some of the protests came as a denouncement of the Japanese penal system for putting a likely-innocent young man in solitary confinement.

Ren knew the whole mess would likely lead to changes in how others in his position might be treated, and he was glad for it, of course. He also knew everyone would probably forget him and cease staring upon recognition when the newest scandal came to light, in time. It still didn't change the fact that more eyes than ever were on him, with attention he didn't want. The rumors and whispers before at school hadn't bothered him prior, so he couldn't understand why he seemed to freeze in place.

He was snapped back into reality as a paw slapped him on the back of the head, and he stretched his neck to meet Morgana's eyes. The cat was frowning at him. "Why are you just standing there? I tried to talk to you for the last five minutes, but you were zoning out so hard I had to hit you. What's wrong?"

The man shrugged. "I don't know."

"Well..." Morgana sighed. "I'd love to give you a pep talk, but you don't have time. You're going to be late if you don't get to class!"

"Right." With a deep breath, he forced himself to walk forward, head held high and eyes firmly forward. The composure was beginning to sap his energy, but he held it as he walked past the gate and through the doors, up the stairs to the third years' floor. He spied, out of the corners of his eyes, several other students stop to stare at the free man. Their whispers didn't escape his ears, either.

"There he is! The transfer student..."

"He's out of jail finally?"

"I heard his name was cleared."

"He never assaulted anyone to begin with. He stopped Shido from sexually assaulting a woman."

"Wow... and everyone thought he was guilty for almost a year!"

"Including me..."

"Poor baby! He's been through so much..."

"He was innocent? The whole time?"

"So he was never dangerous to begin with..."

"Wow. That guy has balls of solid steel."

"Don't look him in the eye! He probably hates all of us now! With good reason, too..."

"He was a good guy all along."

"Still, he survived prison for that long. He's sort of scary..."

"So they're still not going to make eye contact with you, huh?" Morgana said with a sigh. "At least they don't hate you anymore... they just sound like they feel bad. And also sort of scared of you."

Ren sighed and shrugged. "Well, what can you do? That's the world..." He spoke no more and hastily made his way to his new classroom. As he pushed the door open and peeked over the class, the other students, most of which were already seated, stopped to turn and stare at him. He cleared his throat and avoided their eyes, and was about to seek out someone he recognized when a familiar pair of voices rang out.

"RENNNN!"

His head darted towards the other wall, where Ryuji and Ann stood from their desks and grinned broadly. Mishima was among them, and he, too, stood and beamed at Ren. Ryuji practically launched himself out of his desk to greet his best friend, throwing an arm around him. "Finally, we're in the same class, dude!"

He laughed and finally smiled. "Glad to see you, too, Ryuji."

"Come on, come sit with us!" Ann beckoned, waving a hand over. Neither boy paid any attention to the other students as they strolled to the other side of the room, and the former Phantom Thief was directed to his seat between Ann and Ryuji, with Mishima in the seat closest to his in the next row. Finally, his heart settled, and any anxiety went out the window.

"It's too bad you're moving next month," Mishima said with a sigh, "we just got the best possible class arrangement...!"

"I know, right?" Ren agreed dryly. "Unfortunately, my parents are demanding I come home as soon as possible. No worries, though, I'll be back for university."

"Yeah, he'll only be gone a few months." Ann added. Ryuji scoffed.

"Few months is too freaking long... tell your parents that we kidnapped you and they're not getting you back." he said bluntly, and the group laughed again. Ren nodded.

"Then let's enjoy this while it lasts, alright? I'll be okay with you guys at my side."

They chattered for a scant few moments before more peculiar murmurs from across the room reached their ears, and all froze.

"I heard a rumor that Amamiya-kun was in jail because he was the leader of the Phantom Thieves all along... think it's true?"

"Fuck yeah, it's true. He was connected to Shido's case, and that whole thing and timing with Kamoshida... plus that time he supposedly went home when it was really because everyone thought he was dead... can't be a coincidence."

"Badass! We're in the same class as our hero!"

"Does that mean Kawakami is an accomplice? What about his friends?"

"They must be Phantom Thieves, too, especially Sakamoto-- he was involved in the whole Kamoshida thing."

Ren went white in the face and looked to his friends in wide-eyed horror. All shared a look, just as white in the face, and finally Mishima laughed nervously. "It... um, well... it seems like there's... new rumors about you." he stammered in a whisper, tapping his index fingers together. "But, they, um... they can't prove anything... and at least they don't think you're a criminal anymore!"

He shook his head. "You know, I think I almost preferred it when they thought I was a criminal..."

Chapter Text

Makoto was keenly aware of the whispers and stares that followed her and Ren as they entered the school. They had come into school together most of the time since getting together, meeting up at the train station and talking the whole way. It didn't seem as though many people noticed, with all the scandals from the Phantom Thieves incidents distracting them, but the day after the school festival had proven to distract the student body for the time being. Her cheeks began to flush before she even reached the gates as a group of girls pointed at the two and began to giggle at the sight of her and Ren.

This was all a consequence of Ren standing up and declaring his love before the students attending the Student Sharing Special. Makoto had appreciated it and thought it very sweet at the time, of course, as he pulled her out of the precarious situation of talking about the Phantom Thieves. She had been so tired she barely considered the consequences of his bold move; by morning the next day, it was revealed. Ren Amamiya, the criminal delinquent, was identified as the one who declared his love for none other than the student body president-- and it was not an unrequited love at all.

In spite of the cold air nipping at her cheeks, Makoto's face felt intensely hot, not unlike the feeling of standing too close to Ann when she was using her powers. She glanced up at Ren, whose eyes were straight ahead and composure stiff, but she saw his red cheeks and heard the giggles of Morgana from his bag. They heard the gossiping whispers as much as she did, and all of the student body did.

"Ooh, look at the lovebirds!"

"The Student Council President and the delinquent..."

"I always knew Miss Prez liked bad boys!"

"How the hell did he even manage that?"

"Is he being good to her?"

"Really, Miss Prez?! You could have any guy, and you choose HIM?!"

"I think it's hilarious; it's like a bad rom-com in real life."

"I was there when he declared his love for her! She got sooo red in the face, it was so cute..."

"How even?"

"What the actual fuck?"

"Is this real life?"

"I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry."

"I hope he's not abusing her..."

Makoto was certain that if she turned any redder, she'd burst into flames, a thought that Morgana echoed as he giggled loudly. "You two are turning so red, it's like you're burning up. There's no hiding it now."

"You're not helping!" she hissed just low enough for Morgana and Ren to hear, and Ren raised a hand to scratch the back of his neck. The young man cleared his throat. 

"So how much trouble am I in...?" he asked nervously. Makoto didn't even get the chance to say anything before even more whispers arose after a chorus of ooohs rang through the others. 

"Somebody's in trou-ble...!"

"Oh my god, she has him, the DELINQUENT, by the balls!"

"Punish him HARD, Miss Prez!"

"A delinquent like that deserves it, after all..."

She gasped and glared at the whisperers before she snatched her boyfriend's hand and practically dragged him up the stairwell. The action only drew more oohs, but they faded quickly as she pulled him away. "You're not in trouble." she finally said with a resigned sigh. The two escaped up the flight of stairs, all the way up to the third floor, where Makoto pulled him aside behind a line of lockers. She met his eyes solidly. "You did what you had to do; you were just trying to help, and you said you meant it..." She sighed. "We're going to have to cope with the fact our relationship isn't a secret anymore."

Ren said nothing, for a moment, before finally cracking a smile. "They'll forget about us, in time, with the stuff going on. If anything, I'm happy they know now. I can finally hold your hand as we walk into school together."

Makoto squeaked out something like a mix between a giggle and a gasp, and she shook her head. "You're embarrassing me..."

"You know you love it."

"Stop it." she giggled as she playfully shoved him. "Maybe I'll let you do that; we'll see. Now, go on, you'll be late for class." After a brief look around, Makoto allowed him to briefly kiss her before hurrying downstairs to his classroom. There was a skip in his step, and he hardly noticed the whispers until Ryuji waved him down before he headed to class. His best friend was smirking with a shit-eating grin as he met him by the stairwell. 

"Ren, buddy, you've been dating Makoto?" He cackled. "Oh, man, that's perfect; I'm behind on giving you two shit. I'm gonna have to pull double time on you two." He grinned proudly and nodded his head at his friend. "Gotta say, that took massive balls on your part to yell that in front of everyone. Surprised Makoto hasn't torn your head clean off."

Ren scoffed. "I'm pretty sure she thought about it for at least a few minutes this morning."

"Ah, no worries!" Ryuji said, waving a hand casually. "Anything to keep the negative press off of us for one day. Good on you, man; good on you! Up top!" He raised his hand in the air, and Ren quickly raised his palm to meet Ryuji's, and Ryuji cackled. "This is gonna be so good... just be careful, alright? You upset her and she'll probably tear your effing balls off, you know that, right?"

Chapter Text

Ren only faintly noticed the bell over the door ring as he stepped through the entrance to LeBlanc. He could barely remember traveling back home after what just happened. The gentle smile and kiss from his new lover, his best friend, sent him into a lovestruck trance. He was also only faintly aware of teasing from Morgana as his mind stuck to the person of his affections.

Sojiro said something snarky and asked him to help with the dishes, which he replied to with a distracted 'mm-hmm' as he went upstairs, set his bag down, and came back down. The next hour of dishwashing was a silent daze of emotion, the same sappy smile on his face. He hardly noticed as the last guest left the cafe, and he began shaking his hands dry as Sojiro told him he could stop.

"So..." Sojiro drawled, smirking wryly. "Someone's lovestruck." Ren snapped back into reality at his words, and turned to give him a sheepish look, shoulders deflating and smile fading. The red spread on his cheeks, and Sojiro laughed. "Sorry, kid, but you've got that look on your face. Good on you."

"...T-thanks." Ren stammered, scratching the back of his neck. Sojiro shook his head and smiled brightly.

"You know, back when I was your age, hoo, boy..." He shrugged. "All I'm saying is that you're free to ask me for advice if you need it, alright? I doubt you have much experience in romance, so I'm here for you." 

"I... um... thanks."

"Don't mention it." The Boss let out a wistful sigh. "Man, your face brings back memories... well, I hope you and whoever your girlfriend or boyfriend is--" Ren's head shot up in alarm, and he turned his eyes back to Sojiro in shock.

"Who told you?!" he gasped. Sojiro backed up a bit, eyes widening as he frowned slightly.

"What's with that reaction? I just said 'boyfriend' in case it was a boy, not a girl." His smile returned. "So... you're gay? That's fine with me. Is it Yusuke?"

"I-- uh--" Ren turned bright red again and shook his head. "That's... not why I freaked out on you. I thought for a minute one of my friends told you that I'm, um..." He sighed and shrugged as he continued, "... bisexual."

He didn't expect the nonchalance of Sojiro's next words. The man let out a soft ooh before nodding. "I see. Well, that's fine with me." He laughed. "Man, this probably wasn't how you anticipated coming out, was it?"

Ren stared, eyes comically wide, as he gaped at him for a moment before forcing himself to speak again. "... So... you don't mind?"

"No, of course not." the Boss replied with a wave of the hand as he turned to wipe the counter. "Why would I? People in this world care too damn much about the gender of the partners of other people that aren't them. As long as you're happy and in a loving relationship, why should I or anyone else give a damn? What difference does it make?" He laughed. "Besides, if you got with a guy, I don't have to worry about telling your probation officer that you knocked up some girl or something. Unless he has a uterus, but that's an entirely different conversation. Point is, I don't give a damn that you're bisexual."

Ren finally smiled again and nodded. "Thanks, Boss."

"Anytime." Sojiro replied with a nod back. He rubbed at his goatee as he pulled away from the bar. "Though, maybe we should discuss a few things. I'm going to buy a box of condoms and leave them in your room, and you don't need to tell me if--"

"No, we don't need to talk about this!" Ren cried, going red in the cheeks again as he cringed. Sojiro scoffed.

"We kind of do! I mean, I won't be asking about what you're up to with your girlfriend or boyfriend, but if you need it, do it safe, and--"

"We're done, okay, bye, goodnight, Sojiro!" Ren yelped as he pulled off the apron and darted upstairs. Sojiro reached after him, but was left only to watch as the boy retreated upstairs in a huff. The man stood in silence for a few minutes before letting out a tsk and shaking his head as he headed to lock up.

Chapter Text

"Dude. We need to talk."

Ren had wondered when this conversation would come. He had hoped that, after all his time in solitary confinement, they would forget all about his-- he wasn't sure he could say God or gods, or whatever force in the universe decided upon it-- given title of Trickster. He found no such luck as he turned his head from the sink, meeting the inquiring eyes of the Phantom Thieves and Sojiro. It was the day after Valentine's Day, and everyone had shown up for lunch. He had been cleaning at the sink and thought himself in the clear when Ryuji spoke.

Sighing, he wiped his hands on a towel hanging on a rack over the sink, and turned to face them as soon as he was done, tossing the towel back on the rack. "Yeah, Ryuji?"

"Did you think we would forget about what Igor, Lavenza, and Morgana told us about?" Makoto challenged bluntly, eyes level with his. "About you being the Trickster?"

He looked to Sojiro for help, but the man just stared back at him and shrugged silently. He sighed and reached a hand up to fiddle with a lock of hair between his fingers. "I was hoping you'd all forget about that, honestly. It's not important."

"I beg to differ." Yusuke remarked bluntly. "You knew this whole time that you were the... well, for lack of better words, the Chosen One, of a sort, and didn't tell us. Why?"

"I already explained what a Trickster is to you guys." Morgana huffed, standing up in his seat at the bar in Ren's defense. The free man felt a swell of affection for Morgana as he spoke. "And then there was that whole debacle you told me about in which all of his confidants came looking for an explanation for what they just witnessed, and Chihaya's explanation about arcanas and the Trickster during that. It's been discussed several times. What more is there to question?"

"Wait, they all know I'm the Trickster?" Ren asked, blanching. Sojiro scoffed and shrugged.

"Did you think we weren't going to question what the hell we saw you pull? I barely understand it beyond the fact you're... special."

"No need to worry," Futaba reassured with a wave of the hand over her cup of coffee, "they're all pretty cool with it. Well, aside from Mishima, but that's because he's fanboying over you."

"Back to the matter at hand," Haru cut in from beside her, looking up at Ren with a wounded frown, "why didn't you tell us? About all of this? Your dreams, the Velvet Room, what you are..."

"We would have been willing to listen." Ann added, frowning. Ren looked down to the ground in silence before picking his head back up.

"It was... uncomfortable." he finally admitted. "I just got friends who liked me for me. It would have been difficult to explain the whole Velvet Room thing and Igor, first off. But the main reason is..." He flushed slightly. "I... I didn't want to be treated differently. I didn't ask to be the Trickster. I just wanted good times with my friends who didn't think of me as anything more than just Ren." He sighed again. "I'm sorry for not telling you all, but... I just wanted you to treat me as me. Nothing more, nothing less. Aside from you and my other friends, I've been treated as someone I'm not, and I couldn't bear the thought of any of you doing that, too."

Silence fell over the room for a few moments until finally Ryuji stood. He approached Ren slowly, eyes meeting eyes, and said nothing, a neutral expression locked on his face. He broke the neutral face quickly as he grinned and threw his arm around Ren, squeezing his shoulder hard, making Ren gasp in surprise but smile slightly as he grinned at him and shook his head. "You're an effin' idiot, dude."

"What...?" Ren wondered, gawping at him, at the group. Ryuji rolled his eyes.

"You heard me." Ryuji snickered. "We already all knew that you're special, moron. The whole thing with you being a Persona user and being able to use multiple Personas was enough to tip us off, not to mention all the problem solving you can do."

"We've seen how you are, and how you solve all your friends' personal problems, just like a PC in a Bethesda game." Futaba added with a giggle. Yusuke nodded.

"The title of Trickster was only putting a name to your... unique abilities that we already were aware of."

Ren quirked an eyebrow as Ryuji pulled away. "Then... why does it matter if I told you or not?"

"Because we would have been willing to listen." Ann said softly. "You had all of this hanging over you even before you met all of us, and you felt like you couldn't share it the whole time... it had to be hard."

"We wouldn't have treated you differently." Makoto added, smiling reassuringly. "We would have just made ourselves available to listen, like you always made yourself available. That's all that would have changed. You know that you can tell us about anything, now, right?"

Finally, their leader smiled softly and nodded. "I do. Thank you guys, so much."

"Anytime, kid." Sojiro said with a grin, patting his shoulder. "So, uh... when's the first time that this... Igor guy, or... that guy pretending he was Igor... contacted you?"

Ren shrugged as he sat down on the bar stool next to Morgana, and scratched the back of his neck. "The night I arrived here, though the app had been put onto my phone hours before I stepped foot in Leblanc. I..." He sighed. "I remember it, clearly. He welcomed me to the Velvet Room in my dreams, and called me Trickster for the first time." He shook his head. "Of course, I thought it was all just a very vivid dream that meant nothing until..."

"Until the Nav activated and we ended up in Kamoshida's Palace." Ryuji finished, rolling his neck. He chuckled. "Man, we had no effing clue what was going on, at the time."

"Yeah..." Ren winced. "Sorry I accidentally activated it when you were standing too close. I was mortified that I accidentally dragged a stranger at the time in with me in on the weirdness."

"The hell are you apologizing for?!" Ryuji scoffed. "That was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life! Well, I mean, not that moment in particular, but it led to this, man. I'm glad I ran into you." He laughed. "Besides, it was actually sorta my fault it activated. I figured out the keywords, after all." He reached over Morgana to slap his friend's shoulder, grinning at him. "I wouldn't change a thing, dude."

"Yeah," Morgana agreed, "if you two hadn't entered Kamoshida's Palace, I probably would have died in that cell. So... thanks."

The group began to chatter and reminisce for the next hour or so, and all was calm. That was until Ren's eyes widened softly, and he cleared his throat, gathering the attention of the others. "If I'm allowed to talk about it, still..." He shrugged. "Igor-- the real Igor-- and Lavenza spoke to me again, the night before I was released, when I was dreaming."

The announcement caused all to sit at attention, wide-eyed and shocked. Sojiro blinked. "Hold on, didn't you destroy the Metaverse? How is he still contacting you?"

"The Velvet Room wasn't destroyed." Ren said with a huff. "I even saw the doors I used to go through to enter it throughout the city, and Lavenza spoke to me. I entered it again, as if the Metaverse wasn't gone."

"Wait, are you suggesting we didn't destroy the entirety of the Metaverse?" Makoto gasped. Ren shook his head.

"Apparently not. I tried consulting Igor about it yesterday, using the door to the Velvet Room next to the gunshop, but all he told me was that the Metaverse is larger than anyone could comprehend." He shrugged. "He also told me there have been other Persona users, who entered through different means than us..." He closed his eyes, looked down, and shot his head back up, his eyes flashing gold momentarily. The others jumped, especially Sojiro, who flew back and clutched the bar in shock as he gaped at him. 

"The Third Eye!" Futaba gasped. "You can still use it! You still have some of your powers!"

"I think we all still have our powers." Ren remarked, heaving a breath as he released his focus. "We just lack the means to use them, save for the things we can do in the real world. I don't think we can change hearts anymore, so we're still disbanded, but... I wonder. What more is out there?"

Morgana stood at attention, eyes wide with hope. "That's it! If we investigate, we'll surely find something to turn me human! You're a genius, Ren!" 

Sojiro let out a loud huff and rubbed his forehead as he stood straight. "Where's Wakaba when we need her...? I'm guessing Morgana just said something about finding a way to become human again?" He held his hands up as Morgana glared at him, and he winced. "I'm not saying it's a bad thing! I was just... sort of hoping the whole Metaverse business was done... you kids going in there as often as you did took years off my life." He turned to his ward, raising an eyebrow. "So what did they want with you, then?"

"They... praised me." Ren said with a shrug. "For following through with my... duty. Then they granted me a final arcana, The World. Lavenza called it 'the willpower to stand on my own in this world, unswayed by no one. ' She told me it will form the basis for a future of hope for myself and all of you, my teammates, who share the same belief. She said that because I gained The World, I am no longer an existence that wanders alone." He rolled his shoulders. "It felt... strange, but good, as I took in its power. I feel stronger than ever, with it and you all by my side."

"Does this mean that you're no longer The Fool arcana?" Morgana questioned, wide-eyed. "But... The World?" 

Ren shrugged again. "Maybe."

"That's..." Haru gasped. "Maybe you should see Chihaya and see what she has to say about it." She beamed. "That's amazing, Ren-kun!"

Sojiro shook his head. "I can't begin to wrap my head around all of this... but I've gathered that the kid is even more powerful now." At Ren's uncomfortable look as he hung his head down, Sojiro smirked. "Say, I lost one of my keys in here the other day... mind looking for it for me? Use that Third Eye thing."

Ren let out a short laugh as he looked up again, shaking his head at Sojiro. "That's what you want to use my powers for...?"

"So?" the Boss scoffed. "You said you didn't want to be treated special, anyways. Just use it to look for the damn thing, kid." 

The young man groaned, focused, looked about the cafe, and stopped as his eyes fell on the kitchen. He released his focus and nodded towards the fridge. "You left it on top of the fridge."

"Thanks, kid." Sojiro said with a grin. "You're using your powers for good; I'm so proud." He feigned wiping a tear from his eye, and Ren rolled his eyes.

"You're a dick, sometimes." he said with a tinge of affection in his voice. Sojiro rolled the key around his finger on its chain as he walked back up to the counter.

"Same goes to you, kid." 

Chapter Text

Sae stared down at the screen of the phone in her hand, eyes meeting one red, glowing eye in the shape of an app. It seemed to pulse under her gaze, and it chilled her as she thought, briefly, that the very same eye had led to this situation.

Ren was safe and sound, and all was said and done for the evening. The explanation of their escapades and his escape still turned in her head over and over, and she was aware it was well past midnight as Makoto excused herself to hurry into the bath before bed. Makoto had graciously left her phone on the coffee table, and Sae couldn't help herself. The app fascinated her, and she almost brought her finger to it once or twice before pulling back, deciding against it. 

"Sis?"

Sae jumped at her sister's voice, and looked up sheepishly as Makoto stood in her pajamas and looked out at her sister from the archway to the hallway. Makoto raised an eyebrow. "Checking for anything in particular?"

"No, I'm sorry, I shouldn't be snooping." Sae apologized, setting the phone down. "I was just... curious about that app."

Makoto giggled and shook her head as she walked forward and joined her sister on the couch. "It's fine. I suppose I can overlook a peek at my phone, considering what I did to your laptop. You said you were curious about the Nav?"

"Quite." Sae huffed, brushing back a lock of hair as she looked down at the phone. "It really just appeared on its own?"

"Yes, right after I awakened to my Persona." Makoto said with a shrug. "I'm not sure of its origin, but... anyone who awakens to a Persona receives the app from an unknown source. Ren was the first to get it, and I don't think he knows where it came from."

Sae shook her head. "Didn't Ann get hers before getting her Persona? What's the trigger for it? Entering the Metaverse for the first time...?" She frowned. "No, that doesn't make sense. Ren and Futaba had theirs before entering the Metaverse, and if that was the case, I would have it."

"Disappointed?" Makoto questioned, frowning. Sae didn't react for a moment before finally shrugging.

"I'm... not sure. It makes me uneasy, but it's fascinating..." She looked away from the phone and into her sister's eyes. "What... was it like, awakening to a Persona? Ren told me a little about it, but from your point of view..."

Makoto paused and looked down, silent, before looking back up and nodding. "It... I'm not sure I have proper words for how it felt." She sighed. "I just got so, so angry at Kaneshiro that my Shadow came. She asked if I decided to follow the path of strife, and I demanded she come to me at once." She shivered. "She kept speaking to me after that, but what followed was agonizing. It was like something was in my brain and trying to pry its way out of my skull by tearing through it. At the same time, my heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. My skin felt... strange, as if power was rapidly coursing through every muscle. I couldn't think. I couldn't breathe. It was just pain."

"I..." Sae winced. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."

"No, don't be. It was worth it." Makoto said gingerly, meeting her sister's eyes reluctantly under the gaze of pity. "My mask appeared, and I instinctively knew I had to pull it off, no matter what. So I did, and then..." She shook her head. "It's all kind of a blur for a few minutes after that. I remember being surrounded by blue flames that overtook my whole body, but it didn't burn. In fact, it was the most liberating, most powerful feeling I had ever experienced."

Her response did little to settle the look of pure cringe on Sae's face, lips curled back and wincing. "Ren-kun told me that your face actually starts bleeding when you pull the mask off for the first time. Did that happen to you?" she asked, pointedly. Makoto nodded.

"Yes, but you don't need to be concerned. It only hurt for a moment, and it was all cleared off and healed when the fire settled down. It was like it washed over me." She smiled gently. "I'm okay now. I can feel Anat in my soul, if I reach and look for her, and sometimes she makes herself known if I'm in danger. She pushes forward and demands to be let out to fight, and usually, I let her." She shook her head. "In the Metaverse, anyways. In the real world, it's sort of a nuisance when that happens." She laughed. "The same happens to the others. Ryuji complains that our Personas have, quote unquote, 'absolutely no chill, not even in the real world.'"

"I see." Sae twisted a lock of her hair around her fingers, looked at the phone again, and then back to Makoto. "Is it... possible for anyone to have a Persona?"

"No," Makoto said with a shrug, "Morgana says they need to have a powerful will of rebellion. There are two known methods: threaten a Palace ruler and have it come to you, or find your Shadow, accept it, and have it join you. All of us except for Futaba got our Personas through the former method, and we're not entirely sure how Morgana got his, because he has amnesia. Why?"

Sae hesitated for what felt like a long time before she spoke again. "Because... I think I want to awaken to my Persona, too."

Makoto gawked, jaw dropped, as she stared at her sister in silence. She stammered for a moment before shaking her head. "Are... you sure about that? Why do you want to?"

Her sister sighed deeply and looked down, shaking her head. "My desires got so distorted that a Palace formed in me. Obtaining a Persona is the only way to permanently prevent that from ever happening again, as well as the most foolproof method of preventing a mental shutdown."

"It might hurt..." Makoto warned, frowning. Sae scoffed and looked back up again.

"I'll endure it, if I am allowed the opportunity. I never, ever, want my desires to get as warped as they did again. Besides, you endured, and so will I." She shook her head. "That being said, we can't begin to consider doing that until you're done with Shido's Palace and everything settles down. I don't know that I'd call myself a Phantom Thief proper, but... if you'll have me, I'd like to join you, Makoto." 

Makoto beamed. "Yes! I would love that, sis! It'll be great!" She picked up the phone and looked upon the app. "Okay, we'll look for your Shadow as soon as Shido confesses and you're done handling him. Your Shadow should be somewhere in Mementos; your Palace collapsed immediately after you rescued Ren."

Sae laughed. "It's a plan, then. I'll look forward to it." There was a long pause, and Makoto yawned and stretched. 

"I should go to bed. We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow."

"Agreed," Sae said with a yawn, and nodded, "but... one last thing before we go to bed."

"Oh?"

"Makoto..." She met her sister's eyes, hard and pressing like how she met Ren's eyes. "Are you dating Ren?"

"WHAT?!" Makoto yelped and stood, backing away as her cheeks flared red and her eyes opened wide. "Wha... what gave you that idea?!"

Sae chuckled. "I'm not oblivious, Makoto. Even in all his pain and stress, Ren had a love-struck expression on his face whenever he talked about you, especially when he mentioned you started following him. I believe your reaction serves as proof to what I suspected." She scoffed. "I don't disapprove-- in fact, I approve, Ren is a brave and reliable young man-- but we're going to need to have a talk about this later... and I'm going to need to talk to him alone to make sure he understands what it means to date my sister..."

"H- hasn't there been enough interrogation already?" Makoto groaned, covering her face, which drew a laugh from her sister.

"Of course not. We haven't even discussed this business with you going up to mafia henchmen and demanding to know where their leader was. And then, of course, the whole problem of the three million yen blackmail..." Sae scowled. "Did you think I would just forget about that?"

Makoto moaned. "I wish..."

Chapter Text

It had barely been lunch time before the mill churned out the new and somewhat more accurate rumors about the transfer student, the jailbird who was finally free. Ren usually found a quiet place in courtyard to sit and eat, usually accompanied by Ryuji, Ann, Makoto, sometimes Mishima, and later Haru. The cafeteria was a no-go, from the smells to the whispers to the sheer level of avoidance the other students showed him. In the courtyard, the student body generally ignored him and left him to his lunch in peace, and it became a sorely needed safe space at school.

He found no such luck as he searched in vain for a space to hide away from prying eyes. Few students averted their eyes from him at Shujin as they gazed upon him in something like awe. Ren found it a little like when Makoto spied on him, but not nearly as charming; this time, his friends were not spared by the rumors either as they were identified as probable Phantom Thieves as well.

Ann was, at most, exasperated, while Ryuji balked under the sudden influx of attention afforded to him. He growled and waved a hand, gesturing for the onlookers to move it along as they sat in the farthest corner of the courtyard. "Shit, why can't they just leave us alone?" the former track star snapped. Mishima shrugged and sighed, resigned, as Ryuji grouched. "I get the appeal of the heroes in the shadows now, because when everyone knows you're a hero, they don't leave you alone!"

"Tell me about it." Ann groaned, leaning back against the wall as she sat on the ground next to Ryuji. "I already got enough stares as it was for my looks. This is even worse." She sighed and looked up at Ren, who leaned his back against the wall and kept his eyes down. "But it's the worst for you..."

"I'll endure it." Ren grumbled, though all could see the burgeoning irritation he was holding back. Normally, the man didn't give two tin shits about staring, but recent events left him on edge and desperately wishing for solitude. The wish came to him in the form of Kawakami, carrying her own lunch bag, as she approached the group in their sequestered corner of the yard. Her own eyes were tired and her frown was worn, but she managed a smile as she approached.

"Afternoon. Glad to see you again, Ren." she said, smiling softly at him, a smile he returned sincerely. "I take it you're all tired of the stares?"

"Yeah!" Ryuji groaned. Kawakami sighed. 

"I thought so. I'm going to go eat and do some work in my classroom before the next period starts, so would you all like to stay in there?" She scoffed. The group quickly rose to their feet and followed after Kawakami, offering repeated thanks in return. Ren yet again heard the whispers as he walked, following Kawakami to the second-year classroom he and his friends would have refuge in until class started again.

"It's them!"

"He has to be THE Phantom Thief."

"Worst kept secret identities ever."

"I mean, he was gone at the same time as the whole suicide thing... and he came back immediately after Shido confessed."

"Maaan, so they're like... superheroes!"

"What is this, a comic book?"

"So... he really WAS a good guy all this time!"

"He went through all of that just to stick it to bad guys!"

"Do you think he could give me an autograph if I asked?"

"Don't be stupid, he won't admit he's the leader of the Phantom Thieves!"

"Nobody piss them off, or they'll change your heart!"

"Bullshit. They haven't done anything since Shido."

"Well, I'm sure as hell not risking it."

"I knew it! Kawakami IS an accomplice!"

As they reached the classroom, Kawakami pulled the door shut and quickly retreated to her desk, groaning loudly as did so. She turned to meet the eyes of her former students, who quickly arranged themselves in desks near hers, and she shook her head. "Alright, you can gather in here during lunch until things settle down, but please, try your best to keep a low profile."

"Too late for that." Mishima said with a groan as he held out his phone, opened to the Phansite. "Someone took several pictures of Ren, with and without glasses, and compared it to the silhouette of the leader of the Phantom Thieves during the calling card for Shido."

"That proves nothin'!" Ryuji snapped. Mishima cringed.

"It's not just that... someone from school leaked how he was gone during the Shido thing, plus the whole business with Kamoshida. On top of that, there was already speculation when he was on the news while he was in jail. I keep trying to delete all the reposts, but it's beginning to circulate, and..." He held out the comment section. "Look."

"And the mask comes off at last!"

"Why don't the cops just admit that he's the leader of the Phantom Thieves already??"

"@P. thieves, pls steal your leader's glasses, he looks so hot without them on"

"CONFIRMED."

"OH NO, HE'S HOT"

"I saw a man so beautiful I started crying?"

"I'm calling 119 b/c my heart has been stolen by this man"

"PLS BE SINGLE"

"TAKE MY HEART PLEASE"

"*SOUND OF OVARIES EXPLODING*"

"I'm p. sure this man stole all the hearts with his hotness."

"Yes hello my heart is ready to be taken"

"Hi can you marry me okay thank you"

"LOOK AT THIS PRECIOUS BOY"

"DO AN AMA PLEASE"

Ren stared at the forum in dead silence, lips drawn back and eyelid twitching. "I'm so sorry, Amamiya-kun," Mishima apologized, cringing, "I don't know who leaked the pictures, but it keeps getting reposted when I delete it."

"It's not your fault." Ren said weakly, cheeks reddening. "I just..."

"Makoto's gonna be so pissed." Ann said with a grimace, scratching at the back of his neck. "Still, it's not... negative. There's that."

"It's too much attention." Ren grouched. "I don't want this hype. Ugh! All I want is to be left in peace."

"You and me both." Kawakami said with a sigh. "But at least it's positive."

"'You and me both'...?" Ann questioned, raising an eyebrow. The teacher shrugged.

"The faculty love gossip just as much as the students. You wouldn't believe how many teachers tried to ask me about Ren and if I knew and if the rumors were true that I was helping you." She shook her head. "At the very least, your other teachers that I interrupted in class for your sake seem to be certain about what I was doing. Miss Chouno in particular was interrogating me." She huffed and rolled her eyes. "That harpy kept trying to ask why we didn't bring her in the loop, and kept saying she would have been willing to help. I told her I couldn't confirm any of her claims, but it didn't stop her..."

"...Sadayo! Sadayo, are you-- oh! And with the heroes of the day, too!"

Kawakami sighed as Miss Chouno pushed the door open and grinned broadly at the group. Mishima shrank back, and the Thieves and Kawakami gave the English teacher a tired look as she approached, beaming at the group. "Hi, gang! Here for a little respite from fame?" Her eyes turned to Ren, who met her gaze steadily. "Amamiya-kun! How have you been?"

"Getting better every day, ma'am." he said coolly. "We were just hoping to try to relax before class started..."

"Oh, I completely understand!" Miss Chouno said cheerfully as she took one of the desks near them, setting a lunch bag down. "All the other students hounding you must be exhausting! It was good of Miss Kawakami to help you out during the last school year when you needed it, but I would have been able to help, too..."

Ren turned pleading eyes to Kawakami, who met the gaze, sighed, and leaned back in her chair, shaking her head. Chouno quirked an eyebrow. "Everything alright there, Sadayo?"

Kawakami forced a smile. "Oh, yes. We're in a room free of gossip and stares, after all..."

Chapter Text

Leblanc was packed the day of December 26th, two days after the Day of Reckoning. Every seat in every booth was occupied by one of Ren Amamiya's confidants, who sat and waited as they stared at the Phantom Thieves, sans Ren and Morgana, sitting at the bar with Sae. Sojiro stood behind the counter, hand on his hip and silent, lips twitched into a frown that wouldn't fade until Ren was brought home. 

Amidst the confusion and chaos of the last few days, eventually every confidant contacted Ren via text to ask what in the world they just witnessed. Futaba seized the phone and replied to all of them about the situation, which only roused panic from all of them. Even Iwai, who forced himself to try to stay as calm as possible as he sat in the booth closest to the door, had demanded as much information as he could get. Finally, Sae declared that there was no point in leaving any of the confidants out of the loop. They were the only people who remembered everything that happened, even Mementos fusing with reality and slipping away as the world became clean again. All agreed and promised as much aid to their effort to free Ren, and merely asked for an explanation in return.

"So," Makoto started from beside Sae as the stand-in leader of the Phantom Thieves, "you all know why you're here today. We will do our best to answer your questions about... everything."

"We just ask in return, that you do not share any of what is said in this room with anyone outside of this room." Yusuke added. Ohya scoffed, loudly.

"Please. It's not like anyone would believe us, anyways. I hardly believe any of this still, and neither can Lala-chan. Oh, speaking of which, she wants details, too."

"Question," Iwai grunted, raising a hand, "can I make an exception for Kaoru? He remembers, too, and I had to argue with him to get him to stay home."

"Exception granted. But only for those two." Makoto replied with a shrug. There was a long pause as Makoto looked down, trying to think of a way to approach the topic when Sae gently nudged at her side. 

"Why not tell them the whole story from the very beginning, like Ren did for me?"

Haru smiled softly. "That's a good idea. It's going to take all of us to tell it, though."

"I'll start," Sojiro cut in, "it all started in March, when Ren was falsely accused of assault by Shido, who tripped and fell when Ren saved the woman Shido was trying to sexually assault. He got convicted and put on probation, so he was sent here." 

Ryuji nodded and continued. "Then, in April, when Ren arrived in Tokyo, he found a freaky app with a picture of a red eyeball on his phone. He tried to delete it, several times, but he couldn't get rid of it, and he wasn't sure what to do with it." He chuckled. "That is, until he met me the next day, when I was chasing after that rat bastard Kamoshida..."

The story went on for a long time, partially because of the multitude of questions thrown at the group during the process. There were all sorts of reactions: Kawakami's guilt for being so cold to Ren at first and over Kamoshida, same with Mishima, who listened eagerly and awed at the details of every adventure in the Metaverse. Ohya giggled as she remembered approaching the Thieves for the first time outside of Madarame's house, and grumbled "I always knew he was a little shit..." when Akechi was discussed. There was outrage from Yoshida as he heard of Ren's time in jail and the beating he received. Hifumi's quiet pride shone as a smile and repeated requests for details as the plan to escape death was revealed. Tae winced as she recalled tending to Ren after escaping jail, and Chihaya played with her tarot cards as the story went on, nodding her head along. Shinya gaped and Iwai barely muffled curses as he stared, wide-eyed. 

As it ended, the room went dead silent. All stared at the Thieves with wide eyes and slack jaws until finally Sojiro cleared his throat. "And that's how it all was. A lot of... weird stuff."

"He saved us all in the end." Mishima gasped softly, a frown on his face. "Why... why are we the only ones who remember what you all did? How are we the only ones who remember him turning his Persona into something that could kill a god?"

"We don't know!" Ann groused.

"He... seems to form unusual, perhaps supernatural, bonds with people he either trusts deeply or is in certain ways connected." Yusuke commented. "All of us with Personas managed to undergo a second Awakening, as you saw him do, when our bonds with him reached their apex. We were all strengthened by his heart."

"Maybe it was something like the bonds coalescing that triggered his second Awakening," Haru suggested with a shrug, "the bonds also strengthened him..."

The others shared a look and shrugged before Makoto spoke again. "He... drew power from all of you, the support that sustained us in the last moments of the fight. Maybe that has something to do with it. Or maybe it was because you all knew who we were before Mementos was fused with reality. Maybe you because you were among the first to notice the distortion. Maybe it's a combination of those things."

"How did he even do that to begin with?" Tae questioned. "What, exactly, is a Trickster?" 

The others shared another look and collectively shrugged before looking at the group anxiously. "Ren is... special." Yusuke said tentatively. "Remarkably so." 

"Well, yeah, he's a Persona user, and a Phantom Thief, like you told us." Ohya said with a shrug. Chihaya shook her head.

"Not just that. He is the one sent to save the souls of mankind. You remember their explanation of the Velvet Room, correct?" She looked to the cards. "On extremely rare occasions, thought only to occur when times are the most dire, a special person is born with an exceptionally powerful will of rebellion. They rise to challenge fate and turn the course of human history from destruction. They are called Tricksters, and when they appear, they have the power to change the world... if they follow their proper path, as Ren did." She shrugged and smiled wryly. "Ren Amamiya is the Trickster. Or, well, Trickster, at any rate."

"That power you saw-- the Persona he called upon-- is the manifestation of the power of the rebellion in his heart. It's still within him." Yusuke explained.

"Holy crap... his heart's that powerful?" Shinya gasped, eyes wide. "It's too bad you lost your powers after the big fight... I'd want to join you and get my own Persona..."

"An incredibly special young man..." Yoshida shook his head. "Anyone who got to know him enough could tell he wasn't anywhere close to being 'normal' even without knowing the extent of his true nature." He smiled. "This... is such an honor. I would have never imagined the Trickster would come to consider me a friend and an ally, much less a mentor." He nodded. "That man will do even more great things one day. It almost makes me weep to think about the bright future we'll have with him."

"So he's like... The Chosen One." Mishima gasped, eyes widening as he gently placed his hands on the sides of his face, the truth hitting him as he fought to make sense of it. "Oh. Oh, my GodThe Chosen One. The Trickster. Oh... my GodOh my God."

"We are truly blessed to live in an age of a Trickster." Hifumi agreed. "That being said, we are his friends, aren't we? We have a responsibility to treat him like a human being, not just some mystical creature, if that is what he wants. He's still our friend, first and foremost." 

"Did... does he..." Sojiro waved his hand in the air, shaking as he sought out the words. "Know about this? About... what he is? I mean..." He sighed and pulled his glasses off for a moment as he wiped his face, shaking his head as he looked at the Phantom Thieves soberly. "Of course he knew, but... do you know how long he knew?"

"He knows." Ann confirmed, crossing her arms. "He knew since he met Yaldabaoth in the form of Igor back in April. He just didn't tell us for the longest time; I don't think he wanted anyone to treat him differently."

"He was decidedly uncomfortable when I found out and confronted him over his status as the Trickster." Chihaya remarked. "He even asked me not to tell anyone. I upheld his secret until now for his sake."

"There's no hiding it from any of you, or us, any longer." Yusuke added, arms crossed. "We are the only people in reality who seem to remember everything that happened, and we are all witness to his power and identity. I wish he had told us sooner, but it is as Ann said: he did not want to be treated differently."

Iwai scoffed. "I can't say I blame him. A guy with that much responsibility and power doesn't need the world, much less his friends, treating him like some sorta prophet. He already has enough on his plate without all of that shit going on. He's just a kid." He shrugged. "Doesn't matter to me who or what he is. If he wants to be treated like a normal person, I'll treat him like a normal person."

"But he's not a normal person!" Mishima cried. "This is incredible! He's the Chosen One, the protagonist, the one out of billions upon billions of human beings in this world! He's the hero who saved us all!"

"That's exactly why he didn't tell anyone, right?" Kawakami cut in, crossing her arms. She sighed and looked down, shaking her head. "This is... a lot to take in... but I think I understand."

"Well, I sure as hell don't." Ohya grouched as she looked up at Sojiro. "You don't serve booze, do you? All this... news that I can't share with anyone except you guys and Lala-chan about Ren being The-Chosen-One-Trickster-Thing is giving me a headache."

"What she said." Iwai grunted. Sojiro shook his head.

"No, sorry."

"Probably better you don't get drunk, anyways," Tae finally cut in with a scoff, "so we can be certain this isn't some mass hallucination. I have seen so much weird stuff in the last few days that I don't know what's real and what isn't anymore, because apparently a lot of supernatural stuff is very much real." She shook her head at the kids and sighed. "You kids... do you have any idea what this does to my sense of reality?"

"Didn't we see you praying at a shrine, once?" Ann pointed out helpfully. Tae shrugged.

"Yeah, but supernatural stuff and the gods usually do stuff in the background subtly... or so I thought, anyways, because we all just watched Ren use a demon lord to shoot a god in the face."

"What she said." Iwai grunted again, loudly, as he pulled the brim of his hat over his face. 

"So what do we do now?" Kawakami questioned, frowning and holding her hands together. "We know the whole story now. We know what Ren is and what you all have done. The world is saved, and we're the only ones who remember. What about Ren?" She inhaled sharply, trying to steady herself. "He... he put himself in jail so we'd all be safe..."

"Why did you tell him to turn himself in?" Shinya snapped angrily at Sae, who recoiled as he glared at her. "Why? Why couldn't they just leave him be?"

"It's not that simple," Sae said with a sigh, "the system is corrupt. If Ren hadn't, they might have moved to arrest all of the Phantom Thieves-- even some of us and fabricated crimes and evidence. This was the only way to minimize damage, and he wanted to do anything he could to protect us."

Futaba sniffled, burying her head into the bar as she faced away from the others. She shook as she fought back tears, and Sojiro sighed and put a hand on her shoulder as he looked down. The other Thieves moved quickly to her, eyebrows knit with concern, some with quivering eyes and lips as well. "We'll get him back, Futaba," Sojiro murmured, "no matter what it takes."

"He keeps sacrificing himself for us," Futaba whimpered, "first when he got beaten and tortured by the police, and now this. This isn't fair!"

There was a shuffling as Yoshida stood from his seat and looked over the room, eyes full of fire. "No, it isn't," he snapped, "and I don't intend to take this lying down! Ren Amamiya, Chosen One or not, is innocent and has repeatedly put himself in harm's way to defend us." He slammed a fist on the tabletop. "This cannot stand! I will do whatever it takes to free him!"

"Yeah!" Shinya cried, resolute, and stood with him. "I'm not letting this happen without a fight!" Yoshida nodded, quiet and proud, at the boy, who nodded back. Everyone followed, standing and shouting their allegiance to the cause. 

"Let's save the savior!" Mishima declared. "After all he's done... it's up to us now!"

"This is a time in which we cannot admit defeat, not after all he's done for us!" Hifumi snapped.

"Let's raise some hell, then!" Ohya decreed. "I already thought the original case with him and Shido didn't even add up on paper! Shido's injuries from the so-called assault weren't consistent with his testimony. I'll do some sleuthing and find the woman who fed the false statement."

"Hey, Chihaya," Ryuji cut in, watching as she quickly read her cards, "what's the forecast?"

Chihaya flipped the center card and nodded. "He will be freed... the Fool will become the World at the end of his journey, but I could have told you that without fortune telling. We will free him, regardless of what fate says!"

Chapter Text

Sojiro couldn't get a straight answer from Futaba as to why all of her and Ren's friends were huddled in her room in unusual, unsettling silence interspersed with whispers and murmurs. Normally, the girl liked her space, but she was listless all day and dead silent. He swore once or twice it looked like she was trying to fight back tears-- in fact, several of the kids did, too, when they dropped by in the evening. Above it all, it worried him how they refused to talk about Ren, brushing questions off as "he's busy" or "he'll be home soon." He knew they were hiding something, of course, being the Phantom Thieves, but he knew no amount of pushing would get information. He believed them when they said Ren was coming home soon, but wished they would elaborate. Still, he went to work, worried all day and not talkative with customers, and it was just after closing and right before heading home did he decide to turn on the TV to hear the news.

His breath caught in his throat as reporter announce the leader of the Phantom Thieves' suicide. He felt his blood run cold and his heart stop as he froze in place and felt the world stop spinning. He only vaguely could recall what happened after that. He wheezed and turned off the TV, locked the door, and hurried home to Futaba under a fog of panic that carried him numbly through Yongen. He didn't feel himself moving-- it was though he was in the cafe one moment and in his home the very next, about to head for Futaba's room the next as the bell rang insistently, combined with repeated pounding of a panicked fist. Inhaling sharply, he tried to look at least vaguely less dead inside as he returned to silently open the door.

The sight that met him as he opened the door snapped him back into reality in an instant. Everything crashed upon him at once, blood pressure rising and gut wrenching as he saw Ren, clothes torn and dirtied and skin paper white with splotches of black and purple hanging onto Sae limply, trying to stand but barely succeeding. Sae was straining under his weight as she pushed the boy onto Sojiro, who clutched the barely-living boy's arms as he tried to support him. He grunted under the dead weight, and looked down at Ren's head. He pushed up the boy's head to meet his eyes, and almost regretted doing so. His eyes were sunken and dark and confused, and the sheer number of blotches and bruises on his face turned him practically half purple. Dried bloodstains hung in long stains on the side of his mouth reaching down to his chin and from his forehead down the side of his face. Sojiro was certain he'd see more of the same, if not worse, under the clothes.

"Take care of him and keep him safe. Don't let anyone know he's here. If the doctor asks, he was administered amobarbital, but I'm not sure of the dosage or the exact times." Sae said quickly. "I'll be back tomorrow."

"Wait," Sojiro gasped weakly, "what--" He received no response other than Sae closing the door on him as she departed, and the man was left standing dazedly with a half-dead teenage boy breathing shallowly. As he turned his head to look upon Ren again, paling in horror, he heard footsteps behind him coming from Futaba's room and a shriek.

"Ren!" Ann screeched, and bolted forward, turning around Sojiro to get a look at her friend. Ren picked his head up with great effort to blink at her and his friends as a chorus of horrified gasps escaped them as they surrounded him. Ann backed up slightly, hands covering her mouth as she choked and tears began to well in her eyes, chest heaving.

"Ren-kun...!" Haru gasped, blanching as she reached out to his forehead as he blinked at her. "What happened to you?!"

Ren merely let out a tired grunt and slowly shook his head that had gone back to hanging downward with exhaustion. Ryuji's fists clenched, and the brief look of relief on his face twisted to rage as his eyes burned and lips curled back in a snarl as he looked upon his best friend.

"The hell did they do to you?!" he screamed. Morgana hissed as he bounded past the others' legs and looked up at Ren.

"Calm down, Ryuji, we need to keep a low profile, remember?"

"How am I supposed to calm down about this?!" Ryuji demanded. "Look at him! He's almost dead!"

"He's going actually to be dead if we don't get him somewhere quiet. Now isn't the time for anger; we have to make sure he stays alive." Makoto snapped. Ryuji and the others went silent, and he and Yusuke carefully lifted their leader out of Sojiro's arms, supporting him as they could. As Yusuke placed a hand over Ren's abdomen, the teenage boy let out a barely-stifled scream, and writhed as Yusuke quickly pulled his hand back and apologized. Futaba was fighting back tears as she approached her father, who watched in abject horror before looking to her.

"Sojiro--"

"You can explain later. In full." His head nodded down the hallway. "For now, get him to my bedroom. My bed's the largest in the house. Set him down and get the antiseptic. I would appreciate it if someone could clean him up a bit while I call Doctor Takemi and get her over here as soon as possible."

Futaba nodded and wiped a tear away as she waved the others along and guided them through the dark hallway to the end of the line, leading to a door she pushed open to reveal a simple master bedroom with a large, soft mattress covered in a dark blue comforter against the back wall under a small window. Yusuke and Ryuji pushed ahead, settling Ren in the center of the bed. Makoto and Morgana pushed forward and began unbuttoning clothes and pulling it off down to the underwear with record speed, hissing as they saw the extent of his injuries.

All recoiled in shock at the skinny black-and-blue young man, who bore a boot-shaped bruise on his abdomen and right leg, along with a myriad of other cuts and scrapes all along his body. Several more trails or splotches of dried blood stained his legs and ribs, which were all darkened with bruises. His chest raised and lowered shakily, labored as he wheezed. There was a ringing in his ears as he glanced about the others, then himself, as Makoto approached with a box of medical supplies. He thought he saw Morgana pass a wet towel to Ann, who nodded and began to wipe down his injuries.

Just touching them made the agony roar back to life. The antiseptic Makoto was dabbing on an increasingly red-stained cloth burned, flashes of flaming agony and the memories of sneering guards beating him, spitting upon him, mocking his muffled cries of pain. He wanted to scream as Yusuke and Ryuji lifted his arms, his legs, his torso as needed as the others worked. The dam cracked, and his willpower only lasted a few seconds longer before it all came crashing down.

Ren cried.

It started as soft sobbing before turning into wails as Makoto brushed his injuries with antiseptic. A second wave of humiliation hit him as he began to fight back the tears that washed off his facade to little avail, and he bit his lip in attempts to push back the audible cries of pain. Even with that, he couldn't muffle the pitiful whimpers in the back of his throat.

"I'm here, Ren. I'm here." Ryuji's voice came as a hand wrapped around his and clutched tightly. "You don't have to hold it in anymore; not in front of us. You're going to be okay; just breathe with me, alright?"

Ren blinked his eyes opened and gasped deeply as he opened his mouth again, seeing Ryuji and his extended hand around his own as something of a blur. He felt his hand around his, however, as real and strong. Another hand reached for his other, and he looked up and saw a blurred figure in the shape of Ann as her hand clutched his.

"You can cry all you want." Ann reassured. "No one is going to think less of you. You're so strong, Ren. We love you, so much."

Yusuke's hand, nimble and calloused in the places where he held his paintbrush, reached out and slowly, gently, stroked Ren's forehead and his hair. "You have been unmasked before us at last, yes..." Yusuke nodded, and it was briefly apparent to Ren as he looked at the artist that he, too, was weeping, his voice shaky and choked as he spoke. "All we see is your soul's beauty, marred with stress and struggle. Weep as your soul commands you to!"

"Listen to them," Makoto's voice came as she dabbed a cloth with antiseptic, "and breathe with Ryuji. This is going to hurt."

"Hang on," Haru ordered as she reached in and put a thick cloth in his mouth, "bite down on this, Ren-kun." Ren obeyed, weakly nodding, and met Ryuji's eyes. Ryuji inhaled deeply through his nose, slowly, until his lungs were full, and slowly exhaled through his nose. Ren followed the rhythm until he felt the cloth full of antiseptic burn his wounds on his abdomen and ribs, and his teeth clutched down on the cloth. It muffled a scream as tears began to escape his eyes again. Ann and Ryuji's hands squeezed his reassuringly as Futaba reached in to wipe away the sweat and tears with a damp cloth. Ren's vision was blurred and his head heavy as the fire ebbed away; Makoto pulled away, tainted cloth in hand as she looked over him. He couldn't read her exact expression in his state of mind, but he knew it was something like pity or guilt or both.

"There we go. I'm done cleaning you up." Makoto breathed, nodding and wiping sweat from her forehead. "You did so well, Ren. We're so proud of you. Haru's going to take the cloth out of your mouth-- keep breathing with Ryuji, okay? Doctor Takemi will be here soon, and she'll... hopefully have a pain reliever she can give you that doesn't interact with whatever's in your system."

"I'm sorry, Ren. We're so sorry." Futaba murmured, tears slipping from her own eyes as Ren blinked at her blearily.

"What for?" he questioned weakly. Yusuke shook his head as he pulled his hand back, eyes still wet with tears.

"For your state. You're in incredible agony, tortured and abused and suffering for our sake, and you felt as though you had to hide your visage for our sake." He scowled. "No more! You needn't hide yourself from us. Never again!"

Ren managed a weak smile at them, and wanted to say something, but his throat was too raw, too weak. Futaba retreated to her room and returned with a blanket from her bed, which she threw over his exposed body, shielding him from cold and eyes. Morgana quickly hopped to his side, settling under his hand as warm reassurance. He managed a grateful, shaky nod at her, and she nodded back. All looked up towards the door as Sojiro slowly walked in, taking in the scene with wide, baggy eyes.

"Doctor Takemi will be here as fast as she can. Hopefully within the next ten to twenty minutes." He sighed. "How you doing, kid? I heard your screams, and..." He shook his head and pulled off his glasses to wipe his eyes, then his forehead. "I... I'm so sorry..."

"Not your fault." Ren reassured tiredly. "I'm fine."

"Bullshit." Sojiro snapped, his eyes flickering to the boy's eyes. "I should have noticed you were all up to something earlier; stop trying to hide yourself from us. You're here with us, and you're safe now-- no matter what. No one's going to hurt you again here, not over my dead body." 


 

When Takemi came, all save for Sojiro and Morgana retreated reluctantly to the living room, waiting in tense silence as she and Sojiro tended to Ren. Every so often, a pained moan or groan came, and an hour passed before the two came out, looking somber.

"Alright," Tae started as she looked over the teens, wielding a lighter bag of medical supplies, "I don't have access to x-rays or MRIs for him, but that being said, I'm making a reasonable guess based on his signs and symptoms that he's got several bone bruises and at least one cracked rib, possibly more, on his right side, but at the very least, it doesn't look like he has flail chest. Aside from that, he also has a concussion, and some wounds that required stitches." She yawned. "Thankfully, he's stable, and finally resting. He should recover fully in a few weeks if given proper care; seeing as we can't take him to a hospital, the best that can be done is keeping the wounds clean and treating the bone bruises and ribs with ice. In the meanwhile, someone needs to stay with him for the next twenty-four hours and he has to be observed for any relapse or sudden symptoms. Hopefully he should sleep peacefully for the rest of the night-- and no, you don't need to wake him up intermittently."

"I'll do it." Ryuji said immediately, standing at attention. 

"No, I can watch him." Ann cut in, standing as well. Makoto shook her head.

"It's quite late... we've probably already passed the time in which the trains close. Why don't we just take turns watching him?"

"Then I'll go first!" Yusuke said resolutely, rising to his feet. Futaba scoffed and swatted at him from her spot on the couch.

"I can do it, Inari."

"Or me." Haru added helpfully.

"Anyways," Tae cut in with an eyeroll, "you can figure that out. I'm going back to my clinic to run tests on some of the samples I got from him; call me immediately if he starts displaying any sudden or unusual symptoms." She crossed her arms. "I'll be back tomorrow morning. I inserted an IV and gave him some fluids, so he should be alright for the next few hours."

"How about pain medication, though?" Ryuji questioned. "He's gotta be in a lot of pain."

The doctor shook her head. "Unfortunately, he was drugged with amobarbital, which has an off-label use as a 'truth serum' that can cause false recollections, among other symptoms." She growled. "Those bastards... I'm not sure how much he was given other than he was given way too many doses anywhere from twelve to twenty-four hours ago. It has a half-life of anywhere from 8 to 42 hours, and it reacts strongly with most pain relievers like oxycontin and morphine. The two amplify the potential side effects, and it could potentially kill him in a worst-case scenario. It's not safe for me to prescribe any sort of pain reliever for the next 48 to 72 hours at a minimum, and I won't give him any until I'm certain it's safe to do so."

"No relief for him?" Ann groaned. "Ren... poor Ren..."

"There's nothin' you can give him?" Ryuji challenged, and Tae huffed.

"Nothing safe. The safest I can give him is Tylenol. In the morning when he wakes up, if he's still in severe pain, you can give him a dose of it and see if it helps. He is, admittedly, in a lot of pain, but unfortunately..." She shook her head. "Your friend almost died. Do you want him to actually be dead?"

Ryuji grumbled and looked down, kicking the floor, before muttering, "No, ma'am."

"That's what I thought." She headed for the door. "Go keep watch on him; call me if anything happens. See you all first thing tomorrow."

With that, the door shut behind her, and silence fell for a scant moment before all the Phantom Thieves arose and hurried down the hall again, past a bewildered Sojiro, to the room in which their leader lay sleeping at last, chest raising and lowering with a mild hitch. Morgana looked up at them, briefly, shushed quietly, and settled his head back down on Ren's hand.

"He's got a good bunch of friends-- and a good cat, too." Sojiro's voice came as a whisper from behind, and all turned to look at him sheepishly. "I can drive you home if need be, or you can sleep in the living room or in Leblanc's attic. I can take over watching him-- he's my ward, after all."

"We're not going anywhere." Ann snapped resolutely, quietly, and settled on a chair next to the bed, looking upon Ren as she settled into a quiet vigil. Her eyes flickered up to Makoto, and she nodded. "How about we each take hour shifts?"

"I don't wanna leave him, though." Ryuji whined, frowning. "I'm just gonna get another chair and keep watch and sleep on it or somethin'."

"Me too." Futaba agreed. A quiet chorus of agreements came, and the room was filled with chairs from around the house to surround the leader and guard him for the night. Most quickly fell to slumber in their seats, but Ann stayed awake, keeping an eye on the clock as she waited for her shift to end to awaken one of the others. She almost reached over to brush hair out of her slumbering leader's face, but decided against it, lest she wake him. Sojiro came out of the living room every so often and peeked in, watching the impromptu sleepover, before smiling slightly and retreating.

Ren Amamiya was safe, alive, and home with his family.

Chapter Text

Ren's eyes fluttered open slowly before shutting tight as he grimaced as the pain roared awake. His head ached and his chest hurt as he breathed. His bruises were no better, sore and sensitive to the touch. His scars stung under the stitches, and it took great effort to muffle a moan of pain. He paused as he heard shuffling and soft breathing, and the sound of chairs being scooted closer. 

With great effort, he blinked his eyes open to see blurry outlines of his friends, but immediately regretted it as the light streaming in from the window above the bed made the headache worsen and his eyes burn. He groaned, nose wrinkling and eyes shutting again.

"Is the light bothering you?" Makoto's voice questioned quietly. Ren appreciated the soft tone and low noise level as he gingerly nodded his head, and after some clacking and shuffling, the shutters closed. He heard someone fumbling with the lamp on the nightstand next to the bed. At first, the light burned again through his eyelids, but it quickly grew dimmer until it irritated him no longer. "Okay, it's safe. Open your eyes, Ren-kun."

His eyelids fluttered open, and after blinking a few times blearily, his friends came into focus. He almost recoiled at how close they all were; Morgana was still under his hand, looking up at him with soft eyes and twitching his ears. Futaba and Ryuji sat at the ends of the bed by his feet, looking over him nervously. Makoto was at his side with a reassuring smile as she moved to feel his forehead-- her palm upon his head made him feel better, somehow. Haru was sitting beside her, one hand neatly on her lap as she reassuringly squeezed his hand with her other. Ann was at his other side and frowning worriedly as she pulled the comforter back onto his chest, minding the IV catheter still inserted in his arm outside of the blankets. Yusuke was sitting down at the bedside next to Ann, with a grimace still on his face.

"Hey, Leader. How you feelin'?" Ryuji questioned. Morgana rolled his eyes at him.

"What sort of question is that? He still looks like a corpse."

"Ah, shuddup!" Ryuji snapped, swatting at the cat who swatted back. "He at least looks a little less like a dead person than last night. That doctor does good work."

"Still, it's good to know how you're feeling currently." Makoto cut in. "How do you feel?"

Ren sighed. "Like I got run over by a truck and maimed with a barbed-wire-laden metal bat to the head, but I'm alive."

"What a colorful description." Yusuke remarked dryly. Ann sighed.

"Dr. Takemi should be here in a half hour or so; she's getting stuff ready at the clinic now. I don't know if she slept at all last night."

"Did you?" Ren questioned. No one responded, sharing wary looks. Ryuji shrugged.

"I mean... a little? Maybe like... 2 or 3 hours? I kept waking up in the chair..." There were murmured several murmurs of "me too," which made guilt lurch in their leader's gut.

"Oh. Um. Sorry."

"It's nothing," Futaba said with a wave of the hand. "Sojiro kept coming in and checking on you, too, but none of us mind."

"We're just so glad you're alive, Ren-kun." Haru added with a relieved sigh. "It was hard to sleep... I kept waking up, worried you'd stop breathing..."

Ren squinted at them all and sighed. "I... thanks, but I promise I'll be okay. I'm not dying yet." There was a moment's pause before his eyes widened, and he blinked slowly, remembering faint details of the night prior-- and red slowly spread on his cheeks, much to the others' befuddlement as they raised eyebrows at him.

"Ren...?" Ann questioned. "Are you okay...?"

"I'm sorry I cried." Ren apologized shyly, cheeks red. "I couldn't really think straight at the time..."

He flushed at the incredulous look everyone gave him, all eyes flipping to his as if on cue, cringes and all. Makoto shook her head. "There's nothing you need to apologize for. Ren, it's completely normal to cry. We would have been surprised if you didn't cry after everything that happened to you." she reassured, pushing back his hair. "You were tortured. You were drugged and beaten and abused and suffered. We're just so relieved that you're alive."

"Yeah," Ann agreed, scratching the back of her head, "I would have cried way more than you did. I cried when I saw you, and I wasn't even the one who got beaten up. To be honest, it was... it was... maybe sort of good for you to finally let your defenses down around people you trust." She nodded, serious and solemn. "We would never betray your trust. We're all here for you, whenever you need us."

"Agreed." Yusuke remarked. "You shouldn't hide yourself from us. Your strain and struggle is something we want to help you with, like you helped all of us; there is no doubt psychological damage as well as physical damage to you. We would help by tending to you, body, mind, and soul."

Ryuji grunted. "What they said. Dude, I know you're keepin' a lot of stuff pent up inside of you, mostly 'cause you're afraid of getting fucked over again, but you don't have to worry about that. Not with us." he reassured. "We've seen you at your lowest. We know all the shit you've been through. We still like you, a lot-- hell, more than a lot." He nodded seriously. "Nothin' is ever going to change that."

"We love you, Ren! No matter what!" Futaba practically shouted. "Get it in your head! We! Love! You!"

Ren gawked, staring numbly at his friends who smiled at him lovingly, and felt something ticklish and warm in his chest and his throat. Against his will, the urge to weep tickled his eyes once again. He inhaled deeply, forehead wrinkling as he fought it back, chin quivering, and nodded. "I... I..." Eyes, how could you betray me like this? "... Thank you... I..."

"We know, Ren. We know. Don't hurt yourself." Morgana teased. He snickered as Ren smiled and gently swatted at him with a hand, a motion Morgana returned with his paw. There was still an ounce or two of fear and embarrassment in his heart, but as he looked at his smiling friends, he knew he'd overcome it.

Chapter Text

A few moments was all he asked before dismissing himself to the back of the room to fully inspect himself. He had scarcely a moment until now to truly look over himself in the Metaverse without fearing an ambush. With his back faced to the rest of the dimly lit room, he inspected himself in detail. He looked upon his hands and arms first, holding them up and taking in the long coat and the red gloves upon his hands with a twitch on his lips. 

He pulled his eyes directly down to his chest, and a gloved hand ran over the shirt under his jacket, feeling every detail. He pinched the cloth to ensure its reality, then pulled his coat back to look upon his pants and boots, the latter of which he kicked against the ground, observing the heel and the surprisingly little noise it made as he did as such. Metaverse material, I guess...

For a moment, he lifted his arm straight up and strained his neck to look around himself, but quickly gave up on the effort as his neck muscles protested the action, and he winced as he pulled back. Finally, he reached for the flaps of his jacket, pulling and shaking it out as he ran his hand over it.

Hesitantly, he carefully reached up and pulled his mask off, flipping it over in his hands to examine it. He gawked at it for a time of which he wasn't sure of, and wasn't sure how long he would have stared, feeling the power in his palms and his heart, if a voice had not snapped him out of his reverie.

"Ren...?"

He jumped and flipped on his heel, coming face-to-face with the boy he had met yesterday, the one who had accidentally been taken on the first trip to the Metaverse. His inquiring brown eyes met his, head cocked to the side, as Ren flushed. "You okay?"

"Fine." Ren lied. "I'm just... I'm fine."

It wasn't that he wasn't starting to trust Ryuji-- in fact, the boy had proven himself perhaps the most trustworthy person he had met in Tokyo so far, a result of being thrust into a situation in which he was forced to rely on him. Still, Ren did not know his boundaries with his potential new friend, and certainly did not want to complain. The very request, the simple act of asking him about his condition, made his heart quiver with an emotion he didn't know was there, and he didn't know why.

Ryuji's lip twitched into a frown. "You sure? You seem sorta... rattled." He scoffed. "Then again... guess I am, too. All this shit is weird, right? Can't believe this magical alternate world stuff is real..." 

Ren laughed, short and dry. "Yeah, you could say that."

"And you, I mean..." Ryuji gestured, extending his arms and hands out as he lifted them up and down, a motion Ren took to him emphasizing all of him. "God, you've been through a lot, huh? Y'got superpowers now or something and didn't even know what was happening to you when it happened. Didn't even bother to ask until now how you're doin'." 

The boy shrugged as he pushed his mask back onto his face. He wasn't sure exactly how it stayed in place so comfortably, but he wasn't particularly in the mood to question it. "Well... yeah, it was pretty weird."

"What's it feel like?" his friend questioned, eyes alight with curiosity. "And, like... did it hurt when you got your Persona? I remember hearing you start screaming right before you... changed."

Ren shrugged. "Yeah." He hesitated before meeting Ryuji's eyes again. He exhaled sharply. "It was, like... well... Arsene-- my Persona-- started talking to me. Then it hit. My head just... hurt."

"Hurt how?"

Ren hesitated before speaking. "Like... an intense pressure. And something was trying to claw its way violently out of my brain. It hurt." He frowned. "It's not something I'd want to repeat, but it saved us, at least."

Ryuji winced. "Ouch. No wonder you were screamin'. Then there was the whole part where you ripped off that mask and it made your face bleed..." He shivered. "Am I gonna go through that if I get a Persona?"

"Yep." Morgana replied from the table behind them bluntly. Ryuji scowled, then sighed.

"At least it didn't last long, right? Shit." There was a moment's pause as he looked down, pondering, before his eyes came back up and met Ren's again. This time, a small smile played on his lips. "Well, you don't gotta hide any of that from me, alright? I know this is probably even weirder for you than for me, 'cause the whole Persona thing, but we're teammates from this point on, alright?" 

A month ago, Ren would have pushed away anyone who tried to feed him something like that. He would have called it a lie as he was shunned by former friends of many years. But something in his heart, his soul, spoke high praises of the boy he had incidentally befriended, and for the first time in a long time, Ren smiled back.

"Thanks, Ryuji. I'll take you up on that."

Ryuji grinned and slapped his back as they walked forward towards the door out of the safe room. "That's the spirit. Speaking of spirit, what exactly does it feel like to have a Persona?"

"Weird. I don't know how to describe it. It's this... thing, this presence, I feel in my heart, but the presence is me. It's like... feeling yourself-- oh, God, wait--" His nose wrinkled as Ryuji began to laugh, snorting inelegantly. "I don't mean it like that!"

"Suuure you don't."

"You're both such children." Morgana scoffed as he bounded forward, pushing between them. "Let's get a move on, but the teammate thing is good advice. When we fight together, we have each other's backs. Remember that."

"No shit!" Ryuji scoffed. Morgana rolled his eyes.

"You don't even fight..."

"But I could!" Ryuji protested. "Maybe I'll even get one of those Personas."

"It'll hurt even worse than Ren's description, you know."

There was a moment's pause, and finally Ryuji shrugged. "So what? If he can handle it, I can handle it. I'm tough."

Ren was still smiling, more than he had in the last month. "Heh. Keep that attitude, Ryuji. Let's get going."


An hour and a half later...

"Shit..." Ryuji moaned as he rubbed a hand over his aching head on the train to the restaurant he was taking Ren. "You really weren't kiddin' about the Awakening effin' hurting!"

"If it makes you feel any better, it'll fade in a day or two." Ren reassured. "You need to sleep, and it'll feel better. You'll feel basically like yourself after that." He paused. "Well, as much as you can while also feeling your Persona, though that weird feeling's starting to slowly fade, too. We just have to get used to it, I guess."

"Yeah, I feel Captain Kidd." Ryuji groused. He paused for a moment and laid a hand over his heart, and he stared down for a moment at his hand, shuddered, and shook his head as he put his hand down. "I dunno how to describe it other than weird, but I feel the power in me. You did a pretty good job describin' it."

There was a pause as Ryuji leaned back, letting his head flip back as much as he could in the seat, his energy spent. A wry smile crawled onto Ren's lips as he looked over his newest friend.

"So... would you say you could feel yourself?"

Ryuji snorted again, loudly, drawing the attention of other bemused commuters. He elbowed Ren, then winced as the recoil hit his spent muscles. "Aw, eff you," he groused, "it hurts just to give you shit for that."

Chapter Text

The day had come. It was the day that Sae would finally Awaken to the power she craved, the power over her own desires, her own heart. She was practically shivering with anticipation as she and the Phantom Thieves gathered in the attic space. All cast her a nervous look, most of all Makoto, who had been giving her a strange look all day. Sae could barely focus over the pounding of her own heart, and only snapped to attention when her sister addressed her directly.

"Sis." she said, dead serious, starting her warning. "There's no turning back once you Awaken to a Persona. She'll be with you the rest of your life. Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?"

Sae nodded, once, firmly. "I'm certain. Anything to prevent the formation of a Palace in me."

There was another moment of silence and shared looks before Ren stood from the table, holding his phone up. "Then let's be off."

Sae flinched instinctively as the world flashed pink around her, then warped before her eyes. She watched the kids' clothes morph into their Metaverse outfits, and the walls and floor melt away to reveal a dimly-lit subway with a reddish aura. She stared at the group in silence, and Makoto self-consciously rubbed her arms, looking away. Sae cracked a smile at her.

"I like your shoulder-pads."

"... Thanks." Makoto said shyly, looking to Morgana. "Do you sense where her Shadow is?"

Morgana paused, and his eyes widened, briefly, before turning to a wide-eyed Sae, who stared at the cartoonish cat. "Your Shadow is close. Very, very close. She's practically stalking you."

As he said it, Sae felt a heavy presence surround her, almost clutching her heart. She reached up shakily and put a hand on her chest. "How... what do I..."

You know who I am. You know who you are now. Are you ready to accept it? Are you ready to tarnish your own name for the sake of your justice?

Sae nodded, once, briskly. "I am."

Then let us forge our contract.

Pain flared, thudding as her brain felt like it was suddenly too small for her skull; Sae had bad headaches before, but none were as bad as this. Her eyes stung horribly, like the feeling of shampoo getting in the eyes, and she closed them shut quickly, trying to push back the pain. You're in too deep now... you know what you have to do. Lives are no longer just a gamble. She knew tears were forming, her body's reaction to try to wash away whatever contaminated her vision, but it only stung worse. Her heart pulsed rapidly, and her blood burned, muscles aching with power. 

I am thou, thou art I...

She stumbled, briefly, biting back screams as she fumbled blindly for the wall, steadying herself with a hand. "Get it over with." she hissed behind clenched teeth.

Very well. Don't lose sight of your justice... never again.

She knew the name, instinctively, as the pain faded as quickly as it started, as she felt her mask appear, sticking uncomfortably on her face, as if it had been hot-glued on. She slowly opened her eyes to the party, who stood a good distance away. All stood, watching, waiting in silence. Pull it off, they silently commanded, a few picking their masks off as a signal, let the fire take you. Makoto was the only one shaking, but she met her sister's eyes, and nodded, forcing a weak smile. Get it off like a bandage. 

Inhaling deeply, Sae closed her eyes once more and put her hands to the sides of her mask and tugged, hard, after a split second of hesitation. The yank quickly got the mask off, and the stinging pain and warm blood dripping down her face faded quickly as a blue fire washed over her. She felt it envelop her, her Shadow embracing her, as it moved, and she held her head up, allowing it. As it faded, she slowly opened her eyes, turning to face her Persona. 

She towered over her real self, a tall woman twice her height, in a simple, gown of white in the fashion of the Romans. A tall crown sat upon her head of short brown hair; in her left hand was a sword that reached the ground as she held it down, and in her right hand, held aloft, was a golden scale. 

"Themis." Sae addressed her, speaking as though she was an old friend. 

"Sae." Themis replied calmly. "Finally come into your own, have you?"

"I suppose I have." 

Themis bowed her head. "Summon me when you are ready for a fight; you are in no condition now to do so."

With that, she faded, and Sae felt the mask take its place on her face, this time much more comfortably; she felt it there, but not in a way that bothered her. The prosecutor felt all her energy ebb away, and she had to fight to not stumble and fall to her knees. She supported herself against the wall again, one hand keeping her up.

"Sis!" 

She looked up as Makoto hurried forward and hugged her tight. Sae chuckled and put her free arm around her sister, the two embracing peacefully. Makoto pulled back and looked her over, smiling softly. Sae shook her head and exhaled heavily. "You went through that?" she asked incredulously, cringing. Makoto laughed, very briefly, then sighed.

"Yeah, I did."

"...I'm so sorry." Sae groaned. "No description could have done that experience justice. That was the most pain I've ever been in in my life."

"But we're through it." Makoto replied with a smile. "The other side is beautiful, isn't it?"

In spite of her exhaustion, Sae felt a calm she had never known, a reign over her emotions and desires she had never dreamed of. It was almost intoxicating in an odd way, the sheer relief of it all, but she couldn't be sure if the calm after the storm was calm from the pain ebbing away or calm after years of distorted desires coming to an end. She decided perhaps it was both, and she nodded. "Yes," she agreed, "it is."

Makoto nodded back, then looked her up and down and giggled. "Love your outfit, sis."

Sae looked down and upon herself. She was wearing a white tunic with a flared out collar not unlike Ren's, the inside of which was a dark gray. The tunic itself was sleeveless, though long gray gloves crawled up her arms to her elbows. Around her waist was two loosely-hanging black leather belts with silver spikes, and her tunic extended down to her calves, the end of which was patterned with elegant black swirls; it wavered against dark gray jeans that dipped to black boots. She frowned and reached up, pulling off the mask, which she flipped over in her hands to inspect. It was black, with wings fashioned on the sides, meant to hug the sides of her head. The prosecutor wrinkled her nose in distaste. 

"I look ridiculous." she remarked bluntly. Ann shook her head. 

"It's better than mine, if it makes you feel any better."

"I have more skin than you exposed!" Sae griped, putting her hands over her arms. "This can't be practical in a fight!"

"It's a result of your cognition; that's your mental image of a rebel." Morgana spoke up, getting her attention. "You don't need to worry; those spots aren't in any more danger than any other part of your body. Your level of protection only matters on the quality of the armor you're wearing. "

Sae shook her head. "I wish you had warned me. I could have tried to form a... better mental image of a rebel."

"I like it." Makoto said with a smile. "I also think it's better than mine."

"But I like yours." Sae said, causing her younger sister's eyes to widen. Makoto shook her head and sighed. 

"Let's... let's just go home for today, alright? I can tell you're exhausted."

Sae found herself too exhausted to protest.

Chapter Text

Ren Amamiya had been avoiding calling his parents, and shunned any calls they made. They believed him when he said he was innocent. They claimed they weren't upset with him when the judgement upon him fell hard on them, though Ren claimed he could tell otherwise. He had clung to them out of fear and desperation when his record was struck with assault and he had no one else, but felt nothing but betrayal when they said he was to go to Tokyo. It had turned into a heated argument.

Let me just take the test for the Certificate for Students Achieving the Proficiency Level of Upper Secondary School Graduates, he cried, I'll pass it, I'm an honor student who's been top of the class. I'll find some stupid job. Don't send me to Tokyo. 

You need to leave, they replied, there's no future for you in this town. Everyone thinks you're a criminal. Your friends have abandoned you. Please. Shujin is the only school that will take you. That's your only chance at a real future. 

...And maybe the rumors about us will die down. You've brought us shame.

Ren's father had regretted the words as soon they came out of his mouth, but the look on his son's face told him clearly that he'd never forget the slip. "I guess it's true that no one wants someone like me." he spat bitterly. Ren walked away, ignoring them, packed his belongings, and was off the next morning. In spite of his new stoic personality, one developed out of fear and mistrust of others, he still had a flair for the dramatic. He left without a word, leaving a note in the early morning. 

Gone to the train station. Stuff's packed and off. Now I won't be here to shame you.

Contact rarely flowed between the two parties, and the once a month they called Sojiro, he could only inform them that Ren was doing well in school, but told them sadly that Ren got upset when they asked to speak to him. Eventually, Sojiro's calls became more loving, more fond of the boy, who he called a good kid, who stayed at the top of his class and made friends who hung around him and the cafe. It was because of that that they sent the signed permission slip for the Hawaii trip to him, much to his shock. It had been the first time that he called them, to offer a sheepish "thanks." On one condition, his mother had said sternly, to call when he departed and when he arrived in Hawaii. She voiced her fear of him getting lost in a foreign land; Ren resisted making a snide comment about them finally being free of him, and quietly acquiesced. 

He had followed through and called when he departed the airport, Ryuji yelling loudly into the phone to confirm his presence, much to the others' chagrin. Of course, he had forgotten in his fatigue when they arrived, and fell asleep almost immediately upon reaching his bed in the hotel after a very brief conversation with Mishima. He awoke at a time he wasn't sure of, but the room and the sky outside was dark with night, the only bright thing in his vision being his cell phone, which illuminated Mishima's sheepish face. Ren's eyes flickered to the phone, to which the caller ID was clear, and his face fell.

Oh, fuck.

"Amamiya," Mishima said shyly, holding the phone out, "your-- your mother's asking for you."

Ren went stark white and hesitantly reached out for the phone as if it were infected, and Mishima, cringing, mouthed an I'm so sorry before retreating to the bathroom before the yelling began.

Calls were still rare after that, with Ren still reluctant to speak to his parents. Concern hit them as the news about the Phantom Thieves grew convoluted, to the point of which in late October they called Sojiro to ask him to warn Ren to be careful about who he talked to at Shujin. Sojiro had responded oddly, sounding dazed as he talked. Still, they let it be, until late November, when they received a late-night call from Sojiro. Ren's sick with bronchitis and a sinus infection, he claimed, doctor wants him in bed for a few weeks. They hadn't connected the dots between their son's illness and the supposed suicide of the leader of the Phantom Thieves until much later, and for the first time calling home, Ren's mother insisted on speaking to her son. He had certainly sounded tired and raspy enough, too tired to protest, and he weakly assured her he was going to be okay. She voiced her desire to visit him in his time of illness, to which he vehemently refused, citing the nature of his contagious disease and her work schedule.

"Stay at home, Mother," he ordered, "I'll visit when I'm feeling well again and exams are over, around New Years."

No, she protested, Christmas Day. He acquiesced and hung up.

His visit on Christmas Day didn't come. Not so much as a call, even. Nothing but silence. Finally, in the late afternoon, she called his cellphone. He didn't pick up. Next was Sojiro Sakura, who hesitated before asking them to come by in person. 

Ren's been arrested again.

They panicked, of course, even more so when Sojiro said he couldn't tell them the details over the phone. He endured a yelling, then a disgruntled agreement to come, before being hung up on. They came to Leblanc late at night, greeted by their son's exhausted guardian and an unknown woman who introduced herself as a prosecutor, Sae Nijiima. You two are going to want to sit down, she said, tense, you're both in for a shock.

Ren Amamiya is the leader of the Phantom Thieves.

Shock turned into dismay, which quickly turned into despair. Ren's mother wailed into a handkerchief, his father merely hanging his head, forlorn. "Your son is a hero," Sae said hesitantly, offering the mother a napkin, "he saved the world, and he did this to protect his friends."

"I don't want my son to be a hero!" his mother cried. "I just want him back!"

"This is our fault," his father bemoaned, "we should have listened. We should have tried harder to be involved when he moved here. But he was right; we were ashamed. Oh, God. What have we done?"

The night of tears seemed to drag on for the entire two months of which their son was in jail. As soon as he was released and his probation cut a month short, they demanded his return home. This time, he picked up the phone, and argued back furiously.

"How dare you?" he snapped. "You sent me here and were ashamed of me for so long. Now this is home. Almost everyone who matters to me is right here in Tokyo, and I can go to the University of Tokyo with Makoto next year. I don't want to go back! Why don't you just let me stay here?"

"Your family is here," they argued, "we miss you. We haven't seen you in a year. Come back."

"Bullshit! All my aunts and uncles and cousins shunned me the moment I was accused, and now they're scared of me because of who I am. I have all I need right here. If you want what's best for me, let me stay!"

"Your friends will understand," they argued back, "we have a right to see you! You're our son!"

Ren hung up and refused to speak to them for over a week. When he did finally speak, it was short, blunt, and stayed at don't expect me to stay beyond high school graduation. At any other time in his youth, they would have scolded him for his sharp tongue; now they couldn't bring themselves to scold him. Sojiro informed them, surprisingly coldly, that he looked forward to having their son back for university, in a brief call with him. They knew Sojiro had grown soft on the boy, but never imagined he, too, would be even a little upset with them for forcing their son back to his hometown. 

Their son arrived late on the day of his return, flanked by all of his friends in a large van and a cat-- a magical, talking one at that-- they had heard about from Sojiro and Sae. They all helped him unpack (with great reluctance, especially from Makoto, Ryuji, and Futaba). Ren didn't even seem remotely bothered by the stares in his hometown, so long as his friends were with him.

"Hey, Ren," Ryuji asked, baffled as he pointed blatantly at a group of three teens, two boys and a girl, watching from an alleyway, all whom shrank back at his index finger, "who're they?"

Ren peered up at them and looked away, shaking his head. "No one you need to be concerned about. People I used to think I knew."

Fire flared in his best friend's eyes, and he growled. "You mean they were your shitty-ass 'friends' who ditched you after you were accused?"

"Ryuji, not so loud!" Ann scolded. Ryuji shook his head, still glaring so hard at the staring group that they shrank back as if his eyes could kill.

"No! They fucked him up for a long-ass time because they fucking abandoned him! I WANT them to know we're angry!"

"Ryuji." Ren commanded, and his friend silenced though still cast the coldest of stares at the group, which quickly hurried away, and Ryuji scoffed before continuing to help Ren. None of his friends seemed particularly warm to Ren's parents, save for socially-required politeness-- except for Ryuji.

"Yo, hope you guys know we're totally kidnapping your son during summer and every holiday we can." Ryuji said bluntly. Ren buried his red face behind his hands following the remark. Finally, when it was time for them to go back, Ren was hugged tightly by each one, and all looked back reluctantly. Only once did they stop, when Ryuji noticed people staring still, and he smirked. "I CAN'T WAIT FOR YOU TO COME BACK HOME, REN!" Ryuji shouted, drawing the eyes and ears of everyone in the vicinity. "TOKYO IS YOUR HOME NOW AND WE'RE YOUR BEST FRIENDS!"

Ren's face began to flush dramatically as Haru continued. "WE'LL NEVER ABANDON YOU, NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE SAYS, REN-KUN!"

"YEAH!" Ann joined in. "WE'LL BE TAKING YOU HOME AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE, AND WHEN YOU GET INTO COLLEGE, YOU'LL COME BACK FOR GOOD!"

"WE'LL SEE YOU IN SUMMER, TOO!" Futaba added even louder. "SOJIRO SAYS HE CAN'T WAIT!"

Ren's face had gone completely and utterly red, but he smiled beneath his hands as he covered his face. He was laughing silently, chest shaking as he fought back tears and laughter. The red did not fade for a long time, not as the cat said something snarky about it to him, as he retreated to his old room. He did not speak a word to his parents for the rest of the evening. For the next few weeks, Ren spoke hardly a word to them other than short answers, or to anyone else in town. The homeroom teacher at his school, when asked, had only to say that Ren only spoke when asked a question directly in class. At one point, his mother asked if anyone he was friends with before he went to Tokyo was talking to him, and he replied with a stern and quick no.

The only time they saw him smile or heard him talk more than a few words was when he was alone with Morgana or hanging out over either the phone or webcam on his laptop with his friends, where he played with them and talked happily. Often, he still spoke little, preferring to listen and offer choice quips when the opportunity arose. In the first two weeks, he was spirited away more than once when his friends drove up on the weekend, only reappearing late in the afternoon when fatigue forced the group to disband for the day. It was only several weeks back in his hometown on a Sunday morning did he finally speak.

"Good morning." he said of his own accord, jolting his parents from their breakfast. They returned the greeting in surprise with smiles. Over the next week, Ren spoke little by little more, but still seemed upset with them. Still, it was an improvement, and they would take it. Finally, one night at the dinner table, they asked to speak-- seriously. 

Ren agreed.

"So," Ren's father began, "you're a Phantom Thief. Not-- not justPhantom Thief, but the leader." Ren and Morgana shared a look, and Ren silently nodded. "Why?"

"You know why," Ren huffed, "you got told about all the weird supernatural stuff that went on. Apparently it was my... destiny or something like that."

"Right. The Trickster. That's... you." his father murmured, giving his son a wide-eyed stare. Silence fell for another period, and finally his mother spoke.

"When you had bronchitis... you sounded so weak, but we know now that you didn't have bronchitis at all." Her eyes quivered. "What did the police do to you?"

"Nothing that time couldn't heal." Ren said calmly. His mother shook her head.

"No, it's worse than that. What did they do?"

There was a pause, then their son sighed and lifted his shirt up, exposing the scars along his chest and abdomen. It was all it took to turn his mother into a bawling mess as she screamed and apologized pitifully. Ren did not meet her eyes as she cried, and when she settled down, he spoke again, stone-cold serious. "I don't regret it. Not a bit." 

"Well, I do," Ren's father grunted, "we should have listened to you. I'm sorry, son, I--"

"You're still not listening to me." Ren snapped, and both went wide-eyed and silent. Ren stared back, then to Morgana, nodding his head to the exit. Morgana spoke not a word but hopped off his seat and out of the room. His mother, eyes still quivering, exhaled deeply.

"Okay. Then we'll listen. Say whatever you have to so we can live together in peace for the next year." she ordered.

"I was angry you sent me off to Tokyo, but I would have forgiven you if you hadn't been so ashamed because of what I did to your reputation. I don't regret it; I couldn't ignore that woman. If you had left shame out of it, I wouldn't have been so upset." He shrugged. "I'm even willing to let that go, maybe now. But you didn't listen to me then, or last month when I said I wanted to stay. I meant it. The Phantom Thief business was hard and sometimes miserable, but it was good. I made friends who knew about my record but chose to get to know me for me. Those people are now my best friends, part of my family.

"A teacher at Shujin leaked my record, so I was as shunned there as I was-- am still I guess, but it's more shame than hatred-- here. My friends got me through it. That time in my life allowed me to meet my true friends, and now that everything's settled down, you forced me away from them out of some sense of guilt over me." He scowled. "It's not about me, even. It's still about youYou wanted me back, but I didn't want to come back. Tokyo is where I belong; it's where my heart is. I was finally happy and secure, but you tore it all away from me again for another year." 

There was a long, long silence again.

"Oh." his father finally uttered, quiet and guilty. 

"Yeah."

"Sorry isn't going to cut it, is it?" his father added. "Not that we deserve to be forgiven. You're... you're right, son. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything we said and did. We... made it worse. You did the right thing, and we're proud of you. You saved the world, not us. You don't owe us forgiveness."

"What we did was out of love," his mother murmured, "not that it makes it right."

"Then you understand finally." Ren huffed. He sighed. "Listen, I don't want to go the rest of my life hating you. I still love you guys, too, but you hurt me. I don't know that I'll ever be able to forgive everything, and I'm going to be angry for a long time. That being said, I don't want to spend the rest of the year here with you angry." He met their eyes. "Let me go to Tokyo when I have free time. Makoto's been teaching me to drive, and I'm ready to get my license. Listen to what I have to say from now on, and don't try to stop me when I leave to go to university. I'll visit you when that time comes, often, but I've been cooped up for so long that I have to be free. A caged bird can't fly."

"A caged bird can't..." His mother smiled despite the tears. "My word. You've grown so wise in so short a time. My baby's become a man. I'm just sorry we couldn't see that earlier."

His father stuck his hand out over the table. "Son. It doesn't have to be today, or even tomorrow, or next week, but... let's rebuild our family ties. Together."

There was another pause.

He put his hand out and squeezed his father's hand, which was wrapped by his mother's hand. 

For the first time in a long, long, long time, Ren smiled at them. It was a small smile, a shy one that was still hesitant and shaky, but a still a smile.

Chapter Text

It had taken awhile following the incident with the slapping and Tsukasa for Eiko to finally text Makoto back and affirmed her state of "okay-ish." It had turned into a short chat stream, and culminated in another appointment in the student council office.

Makoto: I am sorry for slapping you, by the way.
Eiko: its ok i needed it 
Eiko: ne ways, i wanna talk to u l8r bout this face-2-face
Makoto: Is tomorrow afternoon in the student council office alright?
Eiko: k, c u after school
Makoto: I'll be waiting.

Makoto had spent longer than she had intended explaining the entire story to Eiko, who leaned back in her chair, rocking herself with a foot precariously as she listened. Eiko had gone stone-faced, and Makoto simply continued on. By the time she had finished, Eiko's head was hanging down, and she was silent.

"Thanks." Eiko finally said sheepishly. Makoto raised an eyebrow.

"What for?"

"For being a pain in the ass when I needed someone to be one." Eiko said with a sigh, meeting her eyes. "Tsukasa... I just... I wanted love. I didn't wanna think about..." Her voice cracked, but she waved away the tissue Makoto tried to hand her. She inhaled deeply and continued speaking. "You're a good prez. I've thought. A lot. I think... I'm gonna go to college and figure things out." She met her eyes and smiled weakly. "Thanks for all that you and Ren did. You know..." She frowned. "For all the nice stuff he did for me and you... he doesn't sound like a dangerous criminal. You know what his story is?"

Makoto nodded, frowning. "All those rumors you've heard-- all of them are made up. Kamoshida forced Mishima to make up rumors and leak his record to the school because he didn't like him." She scowled. "His criminal record shouldn't even exist. He didn't assault anyone to begin with, and he was falsely accused."

"That's fucked up." Eiko winced. "Kamoshida was such an asshole; I'm glad the Phantom Thieves did whatever they did to him. Anyways, what's Ren's deal?"

After a moment's pause, Makoto indulged her and told every cruel detail of the story that Ren had told her. Eiko had paled during it, and she was scowling by the end. "That's... that's seriously, seriously fucked up." she snapped, eyes full of fury. She shook her head, face taut with anger. "So Ren's, like, one of the nicest, bravest guys, and everyone hates him 'cause of false rumors and something he didn't even do!? He saved a woman from being raped just for all of this to happen to him?! He's a hero! God, Kamoshida's such a fuck! Well!" She nodded to herself. "I'm not gonna listen to any more of that! I'm glad he's friends with you, Miss Prez." She sighed shamefully. "I, like, feel really, really, really bad for him now. Poor guy..." She tsked. "Anyways, it's too bad you guys were just fake-dating. You'd make, like, the ultimate power couple."

Makoto went silent and slightly pale, and laughed nervously. Eiko's eyes widened, and the girl began to grin a shit-eating grin. "Oh. Oh my God. Deetz. Now."

"Only if you don't tell anyone."

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

"We were fake dating, yes," she started sheepishly, "but... just after you ran off, we had a talk, and he... I... I said you were right. That I would fail a test on love. He said he'd be my study partner, admitted he liked me, and... we decided to start dating for real. That's all there is to it."

There was a long pause as Eiko stared at Makoto expressionlessly. The silence made Makoto uncomfortable, and she frowned. "Eiko?"

It started with a tiny smile, which grew into a grin with quivering lips. Eiko's chest began to shake, and finally she erupted into hysterical laughter, pounding her fist on the table as she hooted. Makoto had gone totally red in the face and, panicked, shook Eiko's shoulder.

"Eiko-- Eiko! Shh! I don't want anyone to know!"

Eiko wheezed, loudly, as she fought for breath. "Oh my God," she coughed, "th... this is the... the fun... funniest thing I've ever... holy shit, you and the transfer stu..." She hooted and almost fell out of her chair as she kicked her legs. "I can't breathe!"

"It's not that funny!" Makoto protested, wanting to crawl into a hole and die. Eiko shook her head.

"Yes it is! Yes it is!" she croaked, and let out another peal of laughter. By the time she could properly breathe and talk again, Makoto had buried her face onto the table, bordering her head with her arms, and was moaning lowly. She giggled and tapped Makoto. "Oh, come on, Miss Prez, it's hilarious and you know it. 'Sides, you two make a cute couple."

Makoto sighed and picked her head up while still leaning her upper body on the table top, her cheeks still red. Eiko giggled, and Makoto shook her head. "Please don't tell anyone. If my sister finds out, she'll probably throw poor Ren back in jail somehow."

"But he's innocent, right?" Eiko rolled her eyes. "What's she gonna do, say he killed someone?" 

Makoto winced. "You don't know my sister."

Eiko shrugged. "Alright, fine, your secret is safe with me. Said cross my heart and hope to die and everything. I think he's a great guy-- I feel bad for him, you know, but that's the sort of guy you want-- the guy who stands up to rapists. He's good and did the right thing even though he got in trouble. I saw how he stood up to Tsukasa, got right in front of you-- I mean, you could kick ass, too, but..." She sighed and looked down sadly. "That's... that's someone who cares about you. I think... you got a really, really good guy, Miss Prez. I'm... actually really jealous." She sighed. "Ren's the sort of guy I want. I just wish... Tsukasa could have been that sort of guy."

"I know, Eiko," Makoto murmured softly, "and that guy will come eventually. I can't tell you how or when, but you're a good person. Someone will love and appreciate you like you deserve. Besides that... you need to be able to stand on your own two feet. A boyfriend or girlfriend should be just as strong as you, and able to stand with you. You should make each other stronger, happier, together, and be there for one another. That's love-- not what Tsukasa was doing."

"But..." Eiko shook her head. "Who will care about me if a boyfriend doesn't?"

"Care about yourself. Love yourself. You don't need someone to complete you, because you're complete as you are. Remember that a boyfriend or girlfriend is someone who stands with you, who works with you, loves you, and sees you as a whole person." Makoto said bluntly. "That's enough for you and for anyone around you-- but there are more people than just yourself or a boyfriend who care about you. Like your friends." She smiled. "You don't have to go it alone. You can still count Ren and I as friends, if that helps. You can talk to us." Her eyes widened. "Oh, and Ren wanted me to suggest to you to get a cat or a dog for emotional support. He said something about animals usually being better than people."

Eiko snorted and giggled. "Yeah, I know what he thinks about cats; he's a huuuge cat person, right? He comes to school every day with his kitty-cat. Your boyfriend's adorable." Eiko finally cracked a small smile again. "You're... you're right. I have friends, and that's good. Thanks, Miss Prez. 'Sides, where else am I gonna find a Buchimaru-kun fangirl? Need me a freak like you." she teased, giggling as Makoto's cheeks went red. "I won't tell anyone, but I want all the deetz on you and Ren. You're probably the cutest couple I've ever seen, and you just seem so good for each other. Maybe he's that guy for you. You know. The one."

Makoto shrugged. "While I certainly hope so, it's much, much too early to be claiming that. We're just teenagers in high school right now, and that's okay. We're taking things at our own pace and having a great time. Whatever comes next, we'll handle it together."

"Well," Eiko said with a grin, "I'm glad all this happened, I guess. Helped me, helped you two hook up." She giggled. "Guess that makes me... the matchmaker! You're both welcome. So. This entitles me to... the deetz."

Makoto blushed. "What... what sort of details?"

"The deetz." Eiko teased, cocking her head to the side innocently. "I just wanna know what he's like. Bet he's a romantic doof."

"He is not a..." Makoto paused. "Actually..."

"Deetz." Eiko pressed, holding herself up on the table with her elbows, looking up at Makoto with a grin. Makoto blushed and turned red.

"A-- another time!"

Eiko stuck her tongue out. "Ugh, you're no fun. Fine. Later. I'm holding you to it." she warned as she arose and finally departed. Makoto let out a sigh of relief and began to tidy up the council room when her phone buzzed in her pocket. Frowning, she pulled it out and looked.

Eiko: deetz now?

Makoto sighed, loudly, to no one in particular.

Chapter Text

"Okay, but," Haru started one day in a safe room in Okumura's Palace, "why can Joker use more than one Persona? Can I or any of you do that?"

The others shared glances, and Joker rubbed the back of his neck shyly. It had been a topic that had come up only a very few times, generally summarized with "we just don't know." Ryuji had been content to accept it as a fortuitous blessing and leave it at that, while Makoto and Morgana had been ever-so-curious, still intrigued by his power. Morgana shrugged.

"I guess we didn't really explain that to you before you saw him do it, did we? Joker's special. He's been able to do that since he got his first Persona, Arsene."

"It's just sort of a thing he can do." Ryuji said with a shrug. "It's a good power. Wish I could do that."

"It is remarkable, and beautiful to see." Yusuke remarked with a grin. Futaba shook her head and stuck her tongue out without looking up from her laptop.

"Inari, are you forgetting about Pisaca? That was anything BUT beautiful. Ick!"

"Beyond that." Yusuke said with a shrug, and Ann shrugged.

"We really just don't know, but his power's been really, really helpful." she finished. She smiled at Joker as his cheeks turned red, and Haru cocked her head to the side.

"Have any of you tried to do what he does? Suck in another Persona?" she questioned. Makoto sighed and nodded.

"All of us have, at some point. We just can't. It seems to be unique to Joker." she said with a shrug. "I wish I could understand it, but we have very little understanding of the topic."

"Sure we do," Ryuji said with another shrug, "Joker sweet-talks a Shadow, it flies into his mask, and boom! New Persona!"

"Beyond that." Makoto huffed with an eye-roll. Futaba looked up from her computer finally, eyes landing on an increasingly uncomfortable Ren. 

"I got curious, so I started doing scans on him whenever he does that creepy thing where he stands perfectly still and stares off into space and gets new Personas. Necronomicon's scans indicate that he has weird brain wave activity, like he's talking to someone or watching something intensely. What's that about, Joker?" she questioned. Eyes fell on Ren, and he scratched the back of his neck again.

"I don't know... it's sort of hallucinatory, I guess. Basically I see Personas being fused in this prison-thing." he said, tactfully omitting details that would drag the conversation on far too long. Still, the statement drew odd stares from the others, and he averted his gaze. 

"Why didn't you say anything before about this?" Mona questioned, sounding almost hurt. Joker shrugged.

"Would you have believed me?"

"Um, yes," Ann said, frowning, "I mean, you come back with all new Personas... and we're in an alternate reality anyways..."

"...Oh."

"I think we could do with more details than that. Surely there's more to it." Queen pressed, staring hard at him. Ren almost shuddered at the stare.

"Okay, okay." he said reluctantly. "I yield." With a sigh, he did his best to explain the Velvet Room, but by the end of it, all the others were just staring at him. Ryuji stared at him as if he had grown a second head. Ann's jaw was loose. Yusuke was sketching rapidly, enraptured. Queen stared at him in awe. Noir's eyes sparkled in delight, and she smiled at him, hands held up to her chin. Oracle did not look up, but rather was typing rapidly on her computer, and Mona stood, staring into space vacantly and silently.

For a moment, Ren wondered if this was all a mistake to say, and his face was totally red. He cleared his throat. "That's it. Let's go."

"Hold on, we need to talk about this!" Queen protested. "If all of that is true, why can't we see all of this?"

"I don't know!" Joker cried defensively. "I never told you guys because I didn't think you'd believe me!"

"You execute Personas?" Ann asked in dismay. Noir giggled.

"But he makes new ones in the process! How delightful!"

"That's fucked up, dude." Skull groaned. "Seriously, what the fuck?"

"I don't know! The girls claim it's okay!" Ren bemoaned. His eyes quickly flicked to Morgana. "Mona, he-- Mona?"

All turned to Mona, who snapped himself back into reality and sighed. "Sorry, I... I was trying to remember something... something about what Joker said sounded familiar..." He scoffed. "But nothing came up."

"Deja vu, perhaps." Yusuke suggested, still sketching rapidly. "Maybe you have been to this bizarre place."

Mona sighed sadly and shook his head. "If that was the case, why can't I see this place like he can?" He looked up hopefully at Joker. "Next time you go in, can you ask the girls or that man at the table you described if they know me?"

Joker nodded his head. "Sure."

"Thanks, Joker."

"This still doesn't fully explain why he can use more than one Persona to start with, though." Noir said, baffled. "They call you a Wildcard... but why are you a Wildcard?"

"Does that mean there's been other people who can do what he can?" Ann asked, wide-eyed. Joker shrugged.

"They never said so directly, but the long-nosed man said that it was strange that I perceived the room as a prison, and mentioned that it changes by perception of the one who goes in. That implies there have been others. But who? He won't tell me..."

Silence fell over the room again, and finally Morgana sighed and headed for the door. "We've spent longer in here than we should have. Let's get going; we'll continue this another time."

The others nodded and packed their belongings, but Joker felt heat rise up his neck as the others gave him strange looks as they headed for the door. Of course, by the time they reached the Treasure and decided to return to the entrance, Joker had stopped to go into the Velvet Room, and he felt the eyes of the group upon him. "Don't forget to ask, Joker." Mona spoke up hopefully. He nodded, then went rigid as he always did in their vision when he went into the Velvet Room, knowing only more uncomfortable questionings and conversations were ahead about his powers and the Velvet Room. No one said a thing for a few moments, and finally Ryuji scoffed.

"I bet he's putting two of his Personas under the guillotine right now. Sick."

"Well, I can't wait to see what he comes out with!" Noir said cheerfully.

There was another pause before Ryuji grinned mischievously and borrowed a pen from Yusuke. He crept forward, advancing with the pen held out. When he drew a few centimeters away from Ren, however, he yelped in pain as he felt the force of a little shoe kick him in the shin. He collapsed, clutching his leg, and cursed like a sailor. Ren did not budge from his stupor to help, and for a moment, Ryuji heard a little girl's smug whisper in his ear.

Only I get to pick on the inmate, punk!

"You little--" Skull glared into the empty air, ignoring the baffled looks of his fellow thieves. "I don't know how Joker puts up with you-- OW!" he reached up to ruefully rub the back of his head, where a little invisible hand had slapped him behind the ear.

"Skull, stop sassing the invisible little girls." Oracle scolded. Ryuji scowled but bit his lip, and looked up as Ren snapped out of the Velvet Room to look down in befuddlement at Ryuji, then at the seemingly empty air in front of him to see Caroline smirking, holding her hands behind her back innocently. He shook his head at the invisible figure in disapproval, who stuck her tongue out at him before disappearing.

Skull groaned and allowed Ren to pull him up with a hand, then quickly scurried away from the door to the Velvet Room in disdain. "I wanna talk about this," he cried, "in the real world, where they can't invisibly pick on me! That's cheatin'!"

"You had it coming. Please return my pen." Yusuke said simply, holding a hand out with no sympathy. Ryuji grumbled and slapped the pen back into Yusuke's hand, and continued to rub the back of his head as they returned to the real world, cursing under his breath all the way there. Mona looked up hopefully at Ren, who sighed and shook his head. Morgana hung his head in disappointment, but smiled weakly as Ren rubbed a hand over his head reassuringly. 

"It's okay, Mona," he reassured, "we'll figure all these mysteries out someday, together."

Chapter Text

Ryuji nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt something prod the back of his calf insistently as he exited the train station. Turning on his heel, he had meant to see whose kid had gotten free from their parent and was bugging him when he stopped short. 

A scruffy yellow dog with a long snout and floppy ears and inquisitive eyes, who scarcely reached higher than Ryuji's knees, stared up at him with what seemed like a smile as his tongue lolled as he panted, his tail wagging in pleasure. He bore no collar, and he was covered in a thin layer of dust and dirt. Ryuji stared down at the dog in surprised silence as the crowd went by, and did not respond until the dog scooted himself closer and nudged his leg again with his nose, then his paw as he looked up at him expectantly.

Finally, Ryuji cracked a smile. "Hi, there." he greeted, holding his hand out for the dog to sniff, and he laughed as the dog licked his fingers and pushed his head against his hand. Ryuji scratched his ears. "You're a friendly little guy, aren't you?" As he pulled his hand away, he grimaced slightly as he looked at the dirt now dusted over his hand, but the dog whined and hit him again with his paw. Ryuji sighed and reached over to pet the dog, who let out happy grunts. The sounds almost made his heart melt. "Wish I could stay with you, buddy, I really do, but I gotta run to class. 'Fraid I don't have anything for you. Sorry."

The look in the dog's eyes, combined with the ears flopping back and the tail's ceasing, nearly crushed him with guilt, but Ryuji forced himself to turn and break into a brisk jog to school. It wasn't until he reached the alleyway he cut through that it was silent enough for him to hear the dog panting as it followed. He turned and saw the dog scurry right up to him, having followed on his jog, and sat down, wagging his tail in pleasure. Ryuji stared, open-mouthed, as the dog scooted forward and hit him again with his paw.

Ryuji glanced at his phone and saw he still had time, so he sighed and walked out of the alleyway, the dog following him at his heel. The first bench he found he sat upon to reach into his bag and retrieve a piece of ham from his sandwich he had packed for lunch. The dog eagerly took the meat, tail wagging a mile a minute, as he wolfed it down. Ryuji poured a little water out, which the dog lapped up, and the boy nodded his head along.

"Alright, you're welcome. You oughta run along-- school's no place for a dog." He scoffed. "Then again, a cat, either, but it doesn't stop Mona..."

The dog just blinked at him before scooting forward and hitting him again with his paw while panting happily. Ryuji sighed, again, as he pulled out his phone to snap a picture of the dog while he ran a hand over its head. Quickly he posted the picture to the group chat.

Ryuji: So this dog followed me all the way from the station... 

Ryuji: I have no idea what I'm doing.

Ryuji: His eyes are killing me; what do I do?

There was a pause and three dots on the screen, and the responses came.

Ren: Congrats on your new dog.

Yusuke: What a beautiful creature.

Haru: Oh, he's so CUTE! What are you going to name him?

Ryuji: GUYS THIS IS SERIOUS WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THIS DOG

Ann: Aww, what a cutie! Don't worry, we'll go shopping later and get him everything he needs!

Haru: That's right! I'll even pay for it! I can't wait to meet the newest little Phantom Thief! ^^

Ryuji: WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO TELL MY MOM

Futaba: the dog has chosen

Ryuji: GUYS SERIOUSLY I CAN'T ADOPT THIS DOG WHAT DO I DO

Makoto: Oh, dear... someone should take it to the shelter to check to see if it has a microchip, but by the looks of it, that dog is probably a stray.

Ryuji stared down at the phone, then the dog as it wagged its tail and hit his thigh with his paw. With great effort, he rose to his feet and met the dog's inquisitive eyes. "I'm sorry, buddy," he murmured guiltily, "but I have to go to class. You... take care of yourself, alright?" He turned, straightened his back, and tried to ignore the dog as it continued to follow him. Ryuji heard the giggles and whispers of other students as he passed by, but the moment the dog was stuck behind a gate and unable to follow Ryuji, it began. 

The most pitiful, heart-wrenching howling and crying came, making the boy jump. Students passing by winced and groaned, looking upon the dog with pity, then at Ryuji expectantly. Ryuji slowly turned, cringing, as he looked sadly at the dog, who whined and whimpered. It was a scant few moments before Ushimaru, irritated as always, pushed the doors open to see a bewildered Ryuji just in front of the gate, and a wailing dog. His eyes narrowed at Ryuji, who flinched back at his glare.

"Sakamoto. I put up with Amamiya's stupid cat because the school's decided it's a 'therapy animal' or some other hippie nonsense, but you don't have that excuse. Care to explain yourself?"

"I... uh..."

"Is it your dog or not?" Ushimaru snapped impatiently. "Because if it isn't, go to to class, and I'll call the dog-catchers to come get it."

"Um..." Ryuji's eyes flickered back to the dog-- or at least, he meant to, but it had vanished, and Ushimaru scoffed.

"Figured as much. Probably was hoping for a handout. Hopefully the dog-catchers find it and deal with it."

With that, the teacher walked inside, and Ryuji glanced back and frowned, already missing the dog. He sighed and walked into school, trying to put the dog out of his mind. He found the task impossible as his mind wandered off all day to the dog, and it didn't help at lunch time as his friends repeatedly asked him about the dog. 

"I wonder why it started following you before you gave it food." Makoto wondered. Haru sighed.

"The poor dear sounds so lonely... I wonder where he is now?"

Ryuji grumbled and shrugged. "I dunno. Effin' Ushimaru scared 'im away."

Finally, school ended, and all made their way to the train as they always did when they planned on a trip to the Metaverse. Ryuji had been half-hoping the dog would return when they reached the train station, but as soon as he stepped foot into the alleyway they cut their way though, he yelped as the yellow dog darted from behind a dumpster and up to him, placing his front paws on Ryuji's blazer as his tail wagged a mile a minute, his mouth open in a happy pant. A chorus of awws escaped the others, and Ryuji gently tried to pry the dog off of him as the others cooed over the sight. The dog grew ecstatic and darted between the Thieves, greeting each one like an old friend, running in excited circles, even licking (a now groaning) Morgana before returning to Ryuji to sit on his foot. Ryuji stared down at the dog in dismay and up to the others. 

"Again," Ren said with a smile, "congratulations on the new dog."

Ryuji sighed as he ran a hand over the dog's head. "What am I supposed to do now...?"

Chapter Text

It had started with his gums aching. 

Ren had returned home to Tokyo, and all was well until about a month in. Come August, he began to moan and rub at the corners of his cheeks ruefully, wincing every time he was forced to chew. Still, he complained little, though the others quickly keyed in that he was in pain. Sojiro purchased pain-numbing gel for him to apply to his gums, but soon, Ren began to refuse anything too solid-- which was when Makoto put her foot down and demanded he go to a dentist. The leader of the now-disbanded Phantom Thieves had protested, of course. He hated the dentist-- hated being laid back and having someone root around in his mouth with what he called "medieval torture devices." 

An x-ray quickly revealed the problem: one wisdom tooth was stuck halfway in its attempts to come out, and the other was going sideways, towards the roots of his other teeth. The wisdom teeth would have to come out. Ren had been initially dismayed, then relieved, as he clutched at his jaw and winced as an appointment was swiftly made. On the day of, Sojiro closed shop to drive him, Makoto came as emotional support, and Ryuji offered himself as extra muscle if Ren needed to be lifted or helped at any point. The three found themselves in the waiting room as Ren was taken in the back; Makoto was calmly rifling through a magazine while Ryuji first nervously fiddled with his phone, then his fingers as he glanced about anxiously. Sojiro just sat, arms crossed, hat in his lap as he waited.

"What's taking so long?" Ryuji moaned anxiously. Makoto sighed.

"It's only been fifteen minutes, Ryuji. They had to sedate him. It's going to be awhile."

"I'm with Ren," Ryuji muttered anxiously, "dentists stickin' friggin torture devices in the mouth sucks... poor guy..." His eyes widened. "Oh, crap. What if have to get my wisdom teeth taken out eventually?"

"It won't be the end of the world if you have to. If he can, you can." Makoto reassured dryly. "Just relax. Ren will be fine; this surgeon was recommended by Dr. Takemi, after all."

"Have you gotten yours taken out?" Ryuji questioned warily. Makoto shook her head.

"Not yet, but I should probably have my own mouth examined soon. Sis had the same sort of problem Ren did with his." she said with a shrug. "It gets more painful the older you get to have them extracted."

Ryuji shuddered. "You mean you go out of your way to have them taken out before they're a problem?! Hell no! Hell to the effin' no!"

"Would you rather wait and be in pain like Ren was?" Makoto asked dryly. "His case isn't even that bad." 

Ryuji grumbled and shook his head, and Sojiro scoffed. "I waited until I was about 25 and I got an infection. It hurt. A lot."

"Nope!" Ryuji yelped in disdain. "Enough talking about the scalpels in the mouth!"

A short while passed, and a nurse came out. She had a funny smile on her face as the others looked up, meeting her eyes. "Mr. Amamiya's ready to be taken home. We got him into a wheelchair so he doesn't stumble; can you help us get him into the car?"

No sooner than she had given the word did all three hop to their feet and follow her to their friend. Gauze was pressed in the corners of his mouth as his head lolled, and he smiled weakly as he looked up at them. "There you are. I'm done." he said giddily. "Wisdom teeth are out."

"Good thing, too. Come on, buddy." Ryuji said, biting back a snicker as they followed the nurse pushing his wheelchair out of the building and to the car. Ren was mostly silent as he watched the outside world, head still foggy, but he was faintly aware of Ryuji and Makoto carefully seating him in the back of the car. Makoto sat in the seat next to him, holding his hand as he clamped onto her's, and Ryuji got in front as Sojiro started the car. 

"How you doing back there, kid?" Sojiro questioned, adjusting the backseat window. Ren moaned.

"Thirsty."

"Oh, right, they don't let you drink or eat before the surgery." Makoto fished through her bag and poured water into his mouth. He chugged, holding onto the bottle and gulping. When he was done and Makoto pulled the cap away, Ren began to cry. The sight of Ren crying was a very rare one; the only time most of them had ever seen him cry was when he came home after being beaten to near-death and almost assassinated, the pain and exposure and humiliation overwhelming him. Makoto frowned, and Ryuji twisted himself to look back as both worriedly began to fuss. Sojiro's eyes flickered into the backseat mirror, and his lips twitched into a frown, but he kept his eyes on the road and his hands on the wheel. 

"Are you still thirsty? What's wrong, Ren-kun?" Makoto questioned. Ren shook his head and smiled.

"No, I just... love you guys so much." he slurred. "You're the literal best... I love you, Makoto. So much. You're so smart, and beautiful, and kind, and brave, and wonderful... you're the best girlfriend anyone could ask for."

Makoto's heart melted as Ryuji and Sojiro snickered, and her eyes softened. "Oh, Ren... I love you, too."

"That's all I want." Ren turned his attention now to Ryuji, just as soft and loving. "Ryuji, you're the... best friend EVER. You're just... such a good guy, the track team didn't DESERVE you, you're too good for this world, I love you..."

Ryuji laughed and ruffled Ren's hair as he reached over the arm rest. "God, you're so effin' high, dude. Still feels good hearing that, though. Man, what sorta drugs did they give you?"

"Don't need drugs to know I love you all." Ren slurred. "All of you-- Futaba's the best lil' sis, so smart and so good, Ann is a beautiful, most kind woman, Yusuke is so talented and wonderful, Haru is so brave and so strong, and Mona's the best, we're so lucky to have him... I love you ALL... and Sojiro is... Coffee-Dad. I love him, too." Sojiro let out a loud snort at the title, struggling to contain himself as Ren continued on. "Coffee-Dad... BEST Dad. I love you all so much. You're... all so good!"

"Alright, Lover-Boy," Sojiro managed to wheeze out between muffled laughter, "take it easy back there."

Makoto's phone buzzed, and she opened it to see Futaba in the group chat, typing away.

Futaba: This is the funniest thing I've heard/seen all month.

Futaba: He's so high; tell him I love him, too.

Futaba: I have to share this with EVERYONE. 

Makoto giggled, not even frustrated with Futaba's hacking at that point, and looked at her boyfriend. "Futaba says she loves you, too."

"Yaaay..." 

And with that, Ren was mostly silent on the way back, save for the occasional sweet mutterings about his other confidants. Makoto returned her attention to the chat and continued to write back.

Makoto: I'd avoid that. Ren isn't big on confessions of love, so he'll probably be mortified when he comes to his senses.

Futaba: Um

Futaba: Too late?

Ann: Oh my God. Ren's so precious.

Yusuke: So this is how he truly feels about us... I am so honored to hear this.

Haru: Awww!!! He loves us!

Makoto: Let's not let this escape this group. Poor Ren is out of it right now.

Futaba: Fiiine.

Futaba: BUT THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

Futaba: REN IS A BIG SOFTY LOVER-BOY

Ann: I'm laughing so hard; Ren's so sweet. We all love him, too. 

Ann: I'll drop by later with a smoothie for Ren; it'll be easy on his gums.

Haru: Oh! Let's have a little smoothie party when he wakes up! 

Yusuke: How delightful; I shall be there.

The rest of the car ride was uneventful. When Yongen-Jaya was reached, the three carefully escorted Ren back into Leblanc, with Ryuji standing behind Ren nervously as they went up the stairs to his room while Makoto and Sojiro ushered him up. Morgana peered up from his vigil by the window, tail swishing, and he stood upon seeing Ren.

"There he is," he said, sounding relieved, "how'd it go?"

"Good!" Ren slurred. "Thank you for asking, Mona, you're the best, you're so wonderful. I love you. I never want you to leave."

Mona blinked, then laughed, smiling to himself. "Oh, man, they DID do a good job, didn't they? That's nice of you to say; wouldn't mind hearing more of it..."

"Don't provoke him, you little egomaniac," Ryuji scolded, "he's drugged as hell. He needs to rest."

When he hit his bed, he passed out promptly after spitting out blood-stained gauze into a small trash bin held up to him by Ryuji, and he slumbered at last. Makoto moved forward and pulled the covers up lovingly, smiling down at her boyfriend. Morgana hopped down from his spot by the window and settled himself by Ren on the bed. Sojiro retreated downstairs while Makoto and Ryuji hung around upstairs to watch over their drugged friend, Makoto doing homework at the work table and Ryuji watching the TV with no sound, just closed captioning. 

A few hours later, and Ren moaned, low and pained, making the others jump and turn their attention to him. He blinked his eyes opened, winced in pain, and shook his head. The others quickly dropped what they were doing and turned to their friend, who squinted at them as his lips curled back. "Ren?" Makoto started nervously. "How are you feeling? Do you need anything?"

"My mouth hurts." he groaned. "And I'm thirsty and hungry, but I don't want to eat anything."

"Mashed potatoes," Ryuji said brightly, "Boss said he'd make some for you. I'll go downstairs and tell him, and I'll get you some water and an ice pack."

"Thanks." Ren said with a sigh. Morgana giggled.

"No 'I love you' attached to that?"

Ren groaned lowly, his cheeks flushing red. "Oh, God. So that wasn't just a dream. That's humiliating."

"It was adorable." Makoto reassured. "Ann and the others said they'd come by later with smoothies if you wanted one-- do you?" Ren nodded eagerly. "I'll text them, then. Once you eat, we'll give you one of the pills they gave you for pain."

Her boyfriend nodded in assent and reached for his phone, beginning to type after Makoto sent out her own texts to the group and reading the responses from earlier. His cheeks only turned redder, and he cursed under his breath.

Ren: I would like to formally apologize for my behavior under the influence.

Futaba: Don't apologize. That was the best thing EVER.

Ann: It's true. We all know what you think of us now. \(≧▽≦)/

Yusuke: I see no need to apologize; your soul cried out its true, beautiful feelings.

Ryuji: I'm still laughing about it. Don't sweat it, dude, we all got a kick out of it. 

Makoto: It was very sweet. We all love you, too.

Haru: You were so cute!

Ren: I am dying. Of embarrassment. I hope you all are happy.

Chapter Text

"Truth or dare."

"Truth."

"What is the most embarrassing thing you ever did?"

There wasn't so much as a hint of apprehension before Ren replied, calm and collected. "One time I ate a slug on a dare in front of my entire first grade class because a girl I liked dared me to do it, and then I threw up on the teacher's shoes, and then the girl's shoes. I got called Slug-Eater for the rest of elementary school. And for some of middle school. And my first year of high school."

A chorus of disgusted groans came. Ryuji winced, stuck his tongue out, and shook his head. "Effin' gross, man!"

"You asked." Ren replied in a deadpan with a shrug. "Truth or dare is my art."

"And what an art it is." Yusuke remarked dryly, his nose still wrinkled in disgust.

The first free Saturday night following Ren's release from prison had been devoted to a Phantom Thieves sleepover as celebration. Sojiro had closed shop early and let them have their party upstairs, leaving the teens to lay all over assorted sleeping bags over the floor by the space heater. Ren himself had dragged his mattress off his bed just to be at ground level with the rest of his friends, and the first of sleepover activities had begun: truth or dare. It had been wildly entertaining, with many a laugh and groan, but when it was Ren's turn, the man had no qualms; any truth or any dare was completed, without hesitation. Ryuji grumbled to himself, shaking his head in disgust before wincing again at Ren. 

"Gah, Ren, you're no fun playing truth or dare." Ryuji grouched, pouting slightly. "You're too effin' brave, you just do whatever's asked."

"Let's see about that!" Haru said cheerfully, though a fire burnt in her eyes, one of determination to see Ren get flustered. She locked eyes with him, and he scoffed.

"Oh yeah? I took on the last few dares. What could you do now to make me--"

"I dare you," she said, stone-cold calm, "to streak through Yongen."

There was a dead silence. Ren looked down, cheeks beginning to flush red, and he sighed. "So be it. A dare's a dare."

He did not meet anyone's shocked expressions as he closed his eyes. He reached down and pulled his shirt off in a flash, and finally the shocked cries of disdain came.

"REN, NO!"

"HARU, WHY WOULD YOU ASK THAT?! YOU KNOW HE HAS NO SHAME!"

"REN, STOP, YOU'LL BE ARRESTED AGAIN!"

"KEEP YOUR PANTS ON!"

"WHAT THE FUCK, DUDE, NO, GOD, PLEASE, NO!"

"RESCIND THE DARE, HARU!"

"HARU MAKE HIM STOP HE'S GONNA DO IT IF YOU DON'T--"

"Fine," Haru scoffed, stopping Ren as he reached for his pants, and drawing relieved sighs, "just run around Yongen shirtless, then."

Ren grinned a toothy grin. "Done and done."

What followed was nothing short of a spectacle. Ren ran, fast as he could, through Yongen shirtless. Yusuke followed with his phone, running in front of him, filming the run "for artistic purposes." Futaba had joined him, filming as well, while Ann and Haru followed in tandem to watch the procession. Makoto and Morgana stayed behind in Leblanc, too embarrassed to be seen with the half-naked streaker, and Ryuji ran ahead of the group, keeping an eye out for cops or any other obstacle. Mostly, the inhabitants just stopped to stare at the spectacle; some stopped and laughed so hard they wheezed, while a few older women clucked their tongues in disapproval and looked away. A small group of children cheered him on, screaming "Go!" as he went. A shiba inu, at one point, darted out from someone's house and joined Ren in his stride, tongue lolling happily. 

It went on for a scant five minutes before Ryuji came to a screeching halt and turned to Ren. "Go the other way! Boss is com--" It was too late. Sojiro marched out of his house, caught his bewildered ward by the arm, and shoved a shirt a size too large for him on before ordering the group back into Leblanc. It was only then did Ren finally turn a bright red in the face, and the citizens of Yongen giggled and whispered as Sojiro walked the group home. The scolding that followed was swift, and ended the game of truth or dare for the rest of forever.

It did, however, leave Ren with cold tits. 

"I told you not to run in the February air. It's freezing out there." Makoto scolded as Ren held his shirt up and held his chest up to the space heater. 

"A dare's a dare!" he protested. 

"You could have said no!"

"Me? Say no to a dare? Who do you think you're dating?"

"What if someone dared you to jump off a cliff? Would you do it?"

"Sure I would! I would just get a parachute and be good to go."

Makoto extended her arms out to her boyfriend, wholly exasperated, while the others just snickered. Ann rustled through her belongings before pulling out a soft pink bra. "Ren, I brought an extra bra," she said, giggling, "would that help you warm your boobs?"

There was a pause as Ren stretched himself to look over at the bra. He thought, for a moment, until a lightbulb went off, and his eyes widened. "Actually..." He grinned. "Hold on for a moment."

He ran downstairs, leaving the befuddled thieves upstairs. Within a few moments, the sound of a microwave dinging went off, and he ran back upstairs, two heating packs in hand. He took his shirt off, took the bra from a bewildered Ann and shoved one pack in each cup, then fastened it and smiled proudly. "Perfect!" he said cheerfully. "Now my tits are warm."

Ann choked, laughing as she shoved her face in her pillow and pounded the ground with her fist as she fought for breath. All descended into giggles as he pulled his shirt back on, especially Futaba, who was kicking her legs and giggling, laying on her back and trying not to squeal. "Ren," she whispered between laughs, "you have-- very nice boobs."

Ren patted the sides of his chest. "I know. I guess you could say I'm born with it." His eyes raked over the group. "So... if truth or dare's off the board, what do we do now?"

"Would Boss even find out if we started playing again?" Ryuji scoffed. Ren's phone buzzed, and he held it up, read it, and held it out to the group, half-amused and half-frustrated.

Sojiro: You kids better not be thinking about playing Truth or Dare again.

"It's like he's psychic!" Futaba groaned. Makoto chuckled.

"Or he just knows you two too well." she said wryly. "Why don't we just make hot pot and watch a movie? We have ingredients ready downstairs."

"Hot pot!" Yusuke's eyes lit up, and he sat up straight. "Yes, let's do that! Will we have porridge or udon this time afterwards? To cleanse our palates?"

"I'm not going to make us udon on top of hot pot," Ren scoffed, though he wilted as Yusuke deflated visibly, "but... I do have some porridge in the fridge!" he tried to reassure. Yusuke perked up again and nodded eagerly.
 
"That's acceptable!" he said cheerfully. "Now, what film should we watch with it? I have a selection of artistic films, but I'm open to suggestions."

Ann met Ryuji's eyes, and the two stifled a laugh behind shit-eating grins that Ren caught. Frowning, he turned his attention fiercely onto Haru, Makoto, and Morgana between them, who were trying not to grin. Ryuji cleared his throat and slowly held up a DVD, its case still covered in plastic wrap. Ren didn't even have to turn to know which movie it was. "Ryuji," he started, irritated, "don't you fucking dare--"

"How about we watch..." Ryuji spoke over him, unfazed as he held the DVD which bore the words Mama Mia. "Mama Mia? You know, for you, Amamiya?" Ryuji began to laugh, and cackled as Ren tackled him in an attempt to steal the DVD away from him. He tossed it in the air as Ren reached for it, and Ann caught it swiftly before tucking it away in her bag. She was wheezing again with laughter as she covered her face, the whole room descending into giggles. 

"Amamiya," Morgana teased, loudly, "here we go again."

"I could kill you all." Ren groused, falling flat on his back onto his mattress in defeat, though a small smile was playing on his lips as he covered his face with his hands. His words only drew more giggles. 

"No you couldn't," Haru teased, "you looove us, Amamiya-kun."

"Also, you're probably the gentlest person-- in the real world, anyways-- ever." Makoto remarked. Morgana laughed.

"And true that is. That one time you stepped on my tail by accident, you almost cried because of how bad you felt for the noise I made."

Ren's face was bright red. "Fuck you all." he grumbled as he forced himself upward. "I'm getting the pot. You can all decide on a movie while I get everything-- and no, we're not watching that one, either, Futaba." he said firmly, not even looking as he knew Futaba was holding up a DVD of The Force Awakens. Futaba pouted.

"But your evil, long-lost brother Kylo Ren is in it." she whined.

"I'm going to make us watch Avatar again if you keep it up."

"Which one?" Futaba questioned. "Space Pocahontas or the movie that doesn't exist?"

"The movie that doesn't exist." Ren replied from down the stairs, as he tossed the bra and the heating packs back upstairs, and Futaba dropped the DVD case.



After dinner and a movie on Ren's old television, the group had played Cards Against Humanity and chattered and gossiped and laughed until, one by one, they succumbed to fatigue and fell asleep on the floor in their sleeping bags and, in Ren's case, on the mattress he dragged onto the floor. They laid sprawled out, though some positions were intentional: Morgana remained close to Ann, who was too tired to push him away, and Makoto had fallen asleep within arm's reach of Ren. A quiet cacophony assorted snores and grunts occasionally rose, but all was peaceful until a little after 3 am.

Ren began to moan and continuously roll back and forth, first bumping into Makoto and then Yusuke who awoke first from the movement. Yusuke and Makoto's first half-asleep move was to push Ren and grumble at him to settle down, same with Ryuji, who came next and grumbled irritably as he shoved the foot that had bumped into him away. It took only a few moments, however, for most of the group to awaken slowly, lucid, and became aware of Ren's muttering and struggling. The group slowly crawled around, peering down at him with worry, as Ren's face was etched with stress and fear. "No..." he mumbled, "let me out, let me out, let me out... let me out... don't touch them... let me out!" 

Makoto reached out to him and gently shook his arm. "Ren, Ren, wake up, you're having a nightmare. Wake up." She shook his arm a little more firmly. "Wake up, Ren."

Ren gasped, deeply, and his eyes flew open. He pushed himself upwards and was breathing harshly in and out, his chest raising and lowering sharply as he gasped for air. Cold sweat dripped down his forehead and his back, his face pale and his eyes wide. His breaths came out as loud, labored wheezes. He came back into reality foggily, as he was left staring straight ahead at the wall while he became aware of the others fussing over him. Someone was running their hand in a slow, gentle circle over his back, someone reached to clutch his right hand, and someone else reached to clutch his left. His head darted right to see Haru, then left to see Ann. Ryuji, Yusuke, and Futaba quickly came into focus in the dimness as they worriedly peered at him, leaning towards him, and Morgana hopped into his lap and looked up at him with a frown. He glanced behind himself to see Makoto making the gentle circular motions, and she was talking hurriedly, in an attempt at a soothing tone as her hand made contact with his back and gently patted. 

"It's okay, Ren, you're okay, you're safe, you just had a bad dream. I'm here with you. We're all here. You're okay. Breathe with me. You're okay."

He panted quietly, cheeks flushing, and he hung his head. "... Sorry." he apologized sheepishly. Makoto shook her head.

"Were you having a nightmare about being back in jail, Ren-kun?" she questioned. Ren closed his eyes and nodded slowly. 

"Yeah. I'm... I'm okay." 

"You're okay. You're safe with us, Ren-kun." Haru reassured next, reaching to stroke his fluffy head. "No one is going to take you again. Not when we're around."

"Noir's right," Ryuji agreed, "you're safe, buddy. We're not going to let anyone take you again, no matter what. Okay?"

Ren nodded, dazedly. "Okay. Okay."

And with that, he fell back onto his mattress again and back to sleep. The others were left staring at him for a few moments, then eyes were met, combined with guilty frowns. "Poor Ren..." Ann muttered in a whisper. "He's been through so much... he must be traumatized."

"I'm not gonna let him go to jail again," Ryuji snapped, determined, "he's safe with me. With us."

"Morgana," Yusuke spoke, drawing the cat's attention as he frowned worriedly at the leader, "has he had nightmares in the last few days?"

Morgana nodded sadly. "Yes, but I was hoping the sleepover-- him being close to us-- might mitigate that. He's worrying me."

Makoto laid down again and scooted closer to Ren's side. In his daze, he subconsciously threw an arm around her and drew her closer, drawing smiles from the group and earning a blush and a giggle from Makoto. "Tomorrow, let's talk to him and Tae about seeing a therapist," she murmured, "but in the meanwhile, let's just... be here for him." There were nods and a quiet agreement, and soon, the group fell to slumber again, surrounding the leader who had sacrificed and done so much for them all.

Sojiro would sneak upstairs a few hours later in the early morning as the sun began to break through the windows to check on the group, and found everyone huddled around the leader in a protective circle. Morgana had, for once, forgone staying close to Lady Ann and settled on Ren's chest, while Makoto was pressed against him. He still held her in his sleep, and quiet, peaceful snores filled the air. 

With a quiet grin, Sojiro left the group in peace as he opened shop, ready for another day. Soon the smell of curry and coffee would fill the air, rousing the group slowly as they drifted peacefully to a wakeful state. Ren, in any event, felt safe in the clutches of his friends.

Chapter Text

At first, the rumors and whispers had bothered Ren, no matter how he tried to act nonchalant. It was easier for him at first to just pretend like he was stone-hearted and not make eye contact with anyone. Then came Ryuji, Ann, Morgana, Yusuke, Makoto, Futaba, and Haru; eventually Ren found himself genuinely not caring what the student body said or whispered. He had friends who knew him, who cared for him, who he knew and loved back. No one else mattered; the good people had come to know him, and that was enough for him.

Beneath it all, though, coming out often in Joker but rarely in the real world, was the spark of mischief that was behind every smirk and every glint in his eye. He looked positively devious when he smirked as he did in the Metaverse, a glimpse into his real self, and his friends had grown to love it. They began giggling and smiling on impulse at the sight, for they knew he was either pleased or up to something mischievous, and it was a facet they loved, one that had only come out when he slowly grew to trust them. 

One cold morning, he waited in his seat quietly, sipping coffee from a thermos courtesy of Sojiro as he played around with his phone. That morning, he had been running late, and the cold left him grumbling and bitter and tired as he stumbled downstairs. Sojiro had merely passed him the thermos and told him to wake up earlier next time, and off he went. Ren's love for coffee was a well-known fact to anyone; he smelled of coffee, sometimes faintly, sometimes strongly, an odor most found pleasant. 

The steam rose from the thermos briefly before he capped it and continued scrolling on his phone. Usually, he no longer even heard the whispers, as they had both settled down a bit and became background noise to him, but that morning, he heard a pair of students on the second row of desks away from his whispering.

No wonder the transfer student always smells like coffee... it's like he's addicted to it.

Or something in it. Maybe there's drugs in it. It'd be easy to hide without getting caught.

You think?

The spark of mischief and rebellion quickly overtook him, and Ren faintly heard Arsene in the back of his mind snickering. He turned and made direct, unblinking eye contact with the whispering students, who froze solid, eyes wide like deer in the headlights, as his gaze, almost always averted, met theirs. 

Without breaking eye contact, Ren reached over to his thermos, popped the cap off, and drank deeply, eyes still meeting theirs. As finally reached his chugging capacity, he put the cap back on and smirked deviously at them. "It's a cold morning, isn't it?" he said cheerfully as they gawked in fear. "Coffee's great for mornings like this. Rich in caffeine and bitterness."

And with that, he finally broke eye contact and turned back, facing the front of the classroom as Ann wheezed with laughter in front of him, hunching over as she tried to hide an ugly cackle. Kawakami was giggling behind a clipboard, and Morgana was snickering.

"Nice," Mona said proudly, "good power move there, Joker."

"Thanks," Ren chuckled hoarsely, "I totally didn't just burn the shit out of my throat for that. No, sir."

"God, Ren," Ann finally managed to say when she regained control over her laughter, "I wanna taste the druggie coffee."

"It's my special brand." Ren teased, ignoring the horrified stares and whispers as he passed the thermos and allowed her to have a sip. Ann broke into a fit of laughter again after she did so and passed it back to him. Ren's smirk, one of pride and rebellion, was seen for perhaps the first time by any outside of his friend group, though it faded quickly as class began.



When he had pitched the idea, Haru immediately agreed. It was a simple prank, really, but a prank that only those disgusted would consider a prank. One small bag of black ivory coffee, procured by Haru, was being prepared in Leblanc as they readied for a Phantom Thieves meeting. The pleasant aroma of coffee wafted through the shop, warming the souls of all inside. Sojiro had stepped out for the moment and allowed Ren to run the shop until he came back, though it was a very slow afternoon-- only the Thieves were left until Sojiro came back. Ren had offered to make a "special" cup of coffee until Sojiro came back and relieved him of duty for them to enjoy, and the Thieves agreed, even Ryuji, who agreed to a taste. "Well, if Haru bought expensive beans, I'll at least try it, but I'm probably gonna want cocoa after this." he remarked. Ann nodded.

"Maybe you'll be surprised, Ryuji," Ann added, "you sometimes like Ren's coffee because of how good he is at making it."

"I'm looking forward to it," Yusuke agreed cheerfully, "I shudder with anticipation at the approach of exquisite flavor, crafted by an artist of coffee!"

Futaba snickered. "Art can get in my mouth, then!"

The only one quiet was Makoto, who was, for once, perturbed by the smirk on Ren face and the wry smile on Haru's face as they said it was special, expensive coffee. When Ren finally cupped and presented the coffee, he sipped his cup calmly with Haru as the two waited at the bar, watching in anticipation as the others tasted it. Morgana sat on the stool next to Haru, ears twitching slightly as he watched, eyes half-lidded in disappointment, knowing fully well that coffee is toxic to cats. Ryuji took a big gulp and blinked, shrugging as he experimentally sniffed it. "It's kinda different, but I can't say I hate it," he said curiously, "it has a nice nutty taste."

"It is as exquisite as I had dreamed," Yusuke said with a grateful smile at Ren and Haru, "thank you for your generosity."

Ann let out a long, drawn moan of delight as she set her cup down. "It's really good! Has almost a chocolate-y taste to it... so this is what luxury tastes like."

"Yes, thank you." Makoto said, setting the cup down after a single, hesitant sip. Ann frowned at her. 

"What's wrong, Makoto?"

"Yeah, don't you like coffee?" Futaba pressed, holding up her own cup as she leaned over the booth seat. "This is supposed to be really expensive coffee! I'll take yours if you don't want it."

"It's just..." Makoto's nose wrinkled, and she looked up at a smirking Ren and Haru accusingly. "You said this was the most expensive brand of coffee in the world, correct?"

"Yes!" Haru said proudly. Makoto gave the cup a disgusted look.

"Isn't that... black ivory coffee?" 

"You bet!" Ren agreed. Makoto didn't like the look in his eyes-- the spark of mischief. Ryuji blinked quizzically at Makoto. 

"Why is that a bad thing?"

There was a disgusted shriek, and all looked to see Futaba's cup abandoned on the tabletop as the girl collapsed to the ground, gagging loudly as she scrubbed her mouth with a finger, her phone laying in her other hand. The others rose to their feet, alarmed, only to stop short as Futaba croaked out the words.

"Poop!" she cried out, squealing. "It's... IT'S ELEPHANT POOP!" 

"She's not technically right," Haru said with a smile, "part of the process involves extracting the coffee beans from elephant excrement following digestion of--" Ryuji and Ann didn't wait to hear the rest. The two screamed in disgust and shoved each other in a scramble to the bathroom sink, where running water was soon heard combined with cries and yelling.

"MOVE, RYUJI!"

"GO GET YOUR OWN SINK! I NEED TO GET IT OUT OF MY MOUTH!"

"SO DO I! MOVE IT!"

Morgana was cackling in his seat, and Ren and Haru had lost their composure, laughing, keeling over as they laughed. Yusuke and Makoto were the only ones left unaffected, and Yusuke eyed Makoto's cup, his already empty. "Makoto," he said with not a bit of disgust or regret, "are you going to finish your--"

"No." she said, pushing the cup toward the delighted artist, who began to sip from his second cup. Futaba continued to lay on the ground, prone and silent, tongue hanging out of her mouth as she curled into the fetal position. Ren leaned over the bar, smiling wryly at Futaba.

"Are you okay down there, Futaba?"

"My mouth will never recover..." she groaned, "it's forever tainted by poop coffee."

Ren looked up as Ryuji and Ann slowly marched out of the bathroom, white as a sheet, giving Ren and Haru a haunted look. It was then that Ren and Haru lifted their cups to their lips again, sipping casually, drawing disgusted cries from the two. "Dude! Effin' GROSS!" Ryuji groaned, gagging slightly. "Stop drinking that!"

"What, this?" Ren asked right before taking another sip, drawing a loud drawn-out groan from Ryuji as the boy covered his eyes. Yusuke cocked his head at Ryuji as he picked his cup back up.

"Why?" he questioned, holding his cup up. "It's delicious and free. Why does it bother you so?"

"It came out of an elephant's..." Ann let the sentence hang in the air as she shuddered violently. Yusuke shrugged.

"Yes, and it produced a unique flavor. Can I have your cups if you aren't going to finish them?"

"Dude!" Ryuji groaned. "You guys are gonna make me hurl! You're sick!"

"It's gourmet." Haru said calmly. She looked as though she was about to say more when the bell over the door jingled, and everyone (save for the still-prone Futaba) turned to see Sojiro, who stopped with his bag of groceries to stare in befuddlement at the scene. He quickly dropped his bag and hurried, kneeling to Futaba's side as she moaned. 

"Futaba? Are you--"

"Poisoned me," she gasped, "they poisoned me!"

"What?!" Sojiro glared up at Ren. "What did you--"

"Gave me... elephant poop coffee!" she cried, and Sojiro stopped short. After a moment of silence, he frowned.

"You were trying black ivory and didn't invite me?" he asked, almost sounding hurt. Ren shook his head.

"Of course not!" he disagreed, readying a mug. "It's still warm. I figured you'd want some when you came back."

"Of course I do!" Sojiro agreed, grinning excitedly as he carefully stepped over Futaba. "Besides, I need to ensure I trained you right. You better have not wasted such expensive beans." 

Before the Boss could take his first sip, Ryuji and Ann declared they needed air, and went outside to keep from throwing up. Futaba eventually pulled herself onto the booth seat, laying back as she wondered where everything went wrong. Ren and Haru shared another proud look and giggle and high-fived as Sojiro nodded to himself. "Excellent," he praised, "I've taught you well, kid."

From back on the booth seat, Futaba groaned. 

"I'm never trusting that smirk of his again."

Chapter Text

The group would be coming soon for the meeting, and Ren found himself, for once in the last few months, alone. Morgana had gone out to greet Lady Ann at the station, and Sojiro closed up shop early. As much as Ren loved his friends and their company, the rare moment of solitude left him at ease, relaxed, as he elected to sit and make infiltration tools. He had begun humming without thinking of it, not following any song in particular, but an urge picked at the back of his mind, one to actually sing.

It had been many years since he sang. Ren never wanted a career in music or anything, but he enjoyed singing to himself, alone. His voice was for him alone; the very thought of singing to anyone else or in earshot of anyone else made his heart drop, cold, with dread and embarrassment, though he couldn't place why. The urge still hung with him, and grew stronger by the second in his solitude.

The others will be a few minutes, anyways... 

Ren glanced about his room, and cleared his throat. "Anyone here yet?" he asked aloud, and no response came. His shoulders relaxed, and he smiled to himself as he pushed newly crafted smoke-bomb to the side and pulled out materials for a lock pick. He mentally promised himself he'd sing only a little, for a few minutes, tops, to settle the urge, and no one would be the wiser. Finally, the urge took him, and he began by tapping his fingers against the table, getting into tune.

"Who am I?" he began his song as a whisper, humming as he began to craft his tools. "Am I not unique? Maybe I'm not here at all." He began tapping his foot. "Look, the fakers, blinding us with lies, the breakers of us all!" His voice raised, and more audibly, he continued. "Oh, it's useless! Do you know what to do, huh? Would could it mean that we're here? What does it all mean? Can we make a difference? Can we really make a difference? If we don't break outta here?" He slammed a hand against the table and his voice raised again without his realizing it. "Wake up, get up, get out there! Raise your voice against liars! Feed your anger like fire! Why does nobody want change?"

Ren was fully into his song, having forgotten the world around him as he made lockpicks, tapping them along his table in tune. A little more, and he was be up on his feet, dancing to the tune of his own voice. "Just imagine you're out there! Swatting lies in the making!" He flipped on his heel, having forgotten the world. "Can't move fast without break--" 

He stopped as he belatedly realized he had an audience. His face slowly flushed a deep, deep, beet red as he stared back at his friends, who stood, gaping at him with slack jaws. Futaba was holding up her phone with a shit-eating grin, and at that instant, Ren wished he could crawl into the deepest hole in the world and die and have everyone forget he existed at all.

"S- so..." Ren coughed, trying to pretend like he wasn't blushing furiously as he tossed his lock picks over to the table. "Let's... get our meeting started?" he asked more than said weakly, a quiet, pleading question to forget what they had just seen and heard.

"Ren-kun, that was amazing!" Haru finally exclaimed, beaming at him. "Your voice is so beautiful! Could you sing for me sometime?"

"I, uh..." Ren scratched the back of his neck. "Um..."

"I think we broke him." Futaba whispered. "Ren.exe has stopped responding!"

"Are you okay, Ren-kun?!" Ann questioned, hurrying up to him. Ren nodded as she reached out, touching his forehead. 

"I'm... I am fine." he breathed weakly.

"Why are you so embarrassed?" Makoto questioned, smiling softly. "That was lovely, Ren. You should sing more often."

"I just..." Ren cleared his throat. "I'm... uh... I don't..."

Ryuji laughed and shook his head. "Oh, dude, don't sweat it. S'nothing to be embarrassed about, and they're right: you have a damn good voice."

"Magnificent." Yusuke breathed. He hurried forward, beaming enthusiastically at the leader, who shrank back a bit. "Positively magnificent! You MUST sing for me the next time I paint! I implore you, for the sake of art! Your beautiful voice must be translated onto a canvas!"

Ren had only gone redder at the comment, and was left stammering. Morgana giggled. "Calm down there, Yusuke, I think you've flustered him even more."

"But it's true! He has a gift that must be shared!" Yusuke practically shouted. Ren shrank back, seeing his life flash before his eyes. 

"Please," he wheezed, "let's... get to business..."

"But--" Ann was swiftly cut off.

"Please." he begged, and after sharing reluctant looks, the group got to it.



"So, Joker," Oracle began as he drove through Mementos, "are you gonna finish?"

He didn't turn to give her a baffled look, keeping his eyes on the road, but his lips twitched, and he decided to feign ignorance. "Finish what, Oracle?" he questioned. 

Oracle sighed and held up her phone. "The song, idiot! It had another good few seconds on it!" She pressed the screen, and Ren's singing voice came out. The van jerked as Ren winced, and Mona groaned. 

"Easy!" he snapped.

"Sorry!" Ren replied, cheeks turning red again. He shook his head, still not looking back. "No, Oracle."

"Oh, come on!" Panther groaned. "We all know you have an amazing singing voice! Just one song? Please?"

"No!"

"Oh, Dude, c'mon," Skull huffed, "s'no point in trying to hide it now, and we don't mind!"

"Yes! We love it!" Noir agreed eagerly. "If we have no music to play in the van as we drive, your voice would be welcome!"

"I agree." Queen said with a smile. "It would certainly be welcome over the sounds of Mementos."

"I implore you!" Yusuke begged, and Oracle pressed herself against Joker.

"Please?" she begged. "Please, please, please, please, pleaaaase?" she flopped over, pushing her upper body against Joker's shoulders, her hands held up and clasped innocently. Joker was silent for a good few minutes, and as Oracle sighed and pulled away as everyone looked down, despondent, the leader sighed.

"... What song do you want to hear?" 

Everyone brightened up, and a cacophony of voices came out as everyone demanded a different song, which quickly descended into bickering. In spite of himself and his red cheeks, Ren smiled weakly, until the group quieted, a consensus reached. He sighed. "So what'll it be?"

"Wake Up, Get Out There, from the top, if you please." Queen replied.

Ren was silent for a moment more, and he huffed. "You tell no one about this." he grumbled.

"Phantom Thief's honor." Skull said firmly, nodding his head. Joker hesitated for one last moment before he began, and the van silenced as they listened. That is, until Haru joined in, then Yusuke, until all of the Thieves were singing, smiling, and laughing as the song ended, hooting with joy. 

"Again, again!" Haru cried, beaming. "Last Surprise?"

"Yeah!" Mona agreed. "A team that sings together is a team that stays together!"

"Are you sure?" Ryuji asked sheepishly. "I'm aware I ain't the best singer, but..."

"Shit, Skull, if you guys got me to do it and joined in-- no one gives a rat's ass if you're good at it or not." Joker replied, and Skull grinned.

"Thanks, Leader! You're right."

"Hey! Last Surprise! Let's get to it!" Futaba demanded, and with a smile, Joker began again, the team following shortly into the song. 

As he did, the last traces of red on his cheeks vanished.

Chapter Text

At the time, he thought it was a brilliant idea.

The others had been knocked down, dazed in combat, while Joker remained standing. The enemies were almost down as well as he held his gun out, pointed at a group of four shaking Shadows, solo in a hold-up.

The impulse came as a desire to show off, especially in front of the newest member of the Phantom Thieves, Queen. It came as he pondered how to take them all down at once alone, and it came to him as quickly as he would come to regret the attempt to show off, to be as extra as his friends said he could be in the Metaverse.

The back-up party members, Skull and Mona, were approaching slowly with guns to back Joker up, but the leader almost didn't notice them. The temptation was too strong as he reached for his mask. The others on the ground, as well as the back-up, stared at him in befuddlement as the mask became a multitude of masks. 

It dawned on Mona first, who shouted at him to not do it. The call was accompanied by the others as he began to call out names. Repeated shouts of "JOKER, NO!" fell on deaf ears.

"SUZAKUAMENOUZUMEORTHRUSARSENE--"

The masks flared to life, and the Personas appeared at once but faded just as quickly, similarly shouting at their wielder as his world went black.



When the world came back, it was accompanied by a pounding headache, brain throbbing in its skull as Joker moaned. He heard the others shuffling, breathing heavily combined with sighs of relief, and he winced as he tried to form words.

"Ughhh..." Ren groaned as he reached for his head, eyes knit shut. "What happened?"

"You tried to summon all of your Personas at once and knocked yourself out from the energy consumption it took." Morgana said bluntly. "I told you not to do that!"

Joker winced and clutched his head, blinking around just long enough to confirm that they were still in the Palace, albeit in the closest safe room, with him propped on the table in the center. He closed his eyes tightly again after seeing Queen's disbelieving stare at him, blushing and blocking out his senses as best he could.

It was an impossible task, with abilities and senses sharpened by the Metaverse. 

"Can you... not be so loud?" He moaned. "My head..."

Makoto stared down at him, frowning. "Are you sure it's safe to have multiple Personas? It seems rather taxing on you, and just because you can doesn't mean you should..."

"No, he's fine." Ann scoffed. Ryuji nodded.

"He's been using multiple Personas since we started. He just never tried to summon 'em all at once before today..." The boy shook his head and glared at Ren. "You gave us a heart attack, dude! We thought you dropped dead for like a second!"

Ren groaned again, loudly. "I'm not dead. Dead people don't have killer headaches like this." He blinked his eyes open and smiled gratefully at Yusuke as the boy approached with a summoned piece of ice, which he took and pressed to his forehead. "Why, though? It was like... a bunch of voices at once telling me no, inside and outside, and then I woke up here with a massive headache." 

"It was foolish," Yusuke scolded, crossing his arms, "what were you even trying to do by summoning them all at once?"

"... I wanted to see if I could do an all-out with all of my Personas." Joker uttered bluntly. "I thought... it would look cool."

Silence reigned for a few moments.

"You moron!" Ann scolded angrily, scowling. "You scared us all to death with that stunt! Don't ever do that again!"

"But--"

"She said never again." Makoto snapped, and Ren silenced instantly, opening his eyes and gazing up at her with something like fear. "We need you, Ren! Dangerous stunts like that puts you and everyone else on the team at risk!" She sighed, and her voice lowered as Ren winced. "... I suppose having multiple Personas is okay, but please-- just use one at a time, and sparingly, alright? Switch only when necessary."

"No arguments here." Ren said with a sigh. "Sorry, guys. Didn't know this would happen."

Morgana trotted forward, smiling weakly. "It's okay, Joker. You just scared us is all."

The boy felt his heart swell a bit, soothing the headache if only for a moment, and he smiled weakly. "I promise I won't do that again. Didn't mean to worry you-- didn't know I'd worry you."

"Of course you would!" Ryuji protested loudly, to which Ren winced and Ryuji balked, blushing and frowning. "Sorry. But, yeah, dude, you're our friend. Of course we worry about you." Ren smiled and pushed himself up, holding the ice to his head with one hand. Ryuji offered a hand, which the boy took and allowed Skull to pull him up to his feet. 

"Come on," Queen said with a sigh, "let's go back and come back tomorrow when you're feeling better." 

Joker flashed his cocky grin. "Whaaat? I thought we were gonna go right back in! After all, I have all these Personas to help us--" He recoiled as the others turned to glare at him in unison, and he laughed awkwardly. "Oh, fine. Let's go home."



"Are you sure you're feeling alright?" 

Ren looked over at Makoto, who stared up at him, frowning as he continued to clutch his head as they left the station. Makoto had insisted on ensuring he didn't pass out again on his way home, and walked through the streets of Yongen as they made their way to the cafe. He nodded.

"Fine," he said dryly, "the headache's starting to settle down. Just tired is all."

"You DID severely overwork yourself, at least unintentionally." Morgana pointed out from the bag. "You should go straight to bed when we get back."

Ren resisted the urge to snark back. Makoto followed close at his side, still looking up at him worriedly as they made their way to Leblanc, the sun in the sky creeping towards the horizon and casting shadows in the street where Leblanc awaited, the streetlights beginning to cast their familiar glow over the city. The doorbell jingled, and Sojiro looked up from his spot at the counter, about to say his typical "ah, you're back," only to stop short at the sight of Ren clutching his head, being escorted by the girl who had dropped by not long before to get his phone number.

"What the--" He came from around the counter, quickly approaching and inspecting his ward. "Is he alright? What happened?"

"He and Ryuji were playing soccer at the school. The ball got kicked up a little too high and hit him pretty hard on the head. I was watching them when it happened." She nodded at him. "The nurse said he should be fine, but I wanted to take him home to ensure he made it safely. I am a little worried that he's concussed."

"I'm standing right here, you know," he grumbled, "and I'm okay."

"You got knocked out for a good few seconds."

"Still okay. Not bleeding or anything."

"Jesus." Sojiro groaned. "You're lucky you didn't hit your head on the concrete-- you could be in much worse condition." He turned his attention back to Makoto and smiled. "Thanks, I'll take it from here. Can I get you a cup of coffee for your trouble?"

"No," the girl politely refused, "I need to run home, or else my sister will be worried. So long as he's looked after for the evening." She smiled at Ren, who smiled back warmly. "Take care of yourself, alright?"

"I'll do my best." he chuckled. "Get home safely."

With that, she departed, and he obeyed an order from Sojiro to sit down at one of the booths while the man called Dr. Takemi. "Just to make sure you didn't really mess up your brain too much," Sojiro had said, stressed, "if you blacked out, I want to make sure you're okay."

As they headed to the clinic, Sojiro caught the brief smile on Ren, and he chuckled. "So, that girl?"

"Hmm?"

"She seems nice."

"She is nice."

There was a pause.

"... You tried to pull a dumb stunt while she was watching to impress her, didn't you?"

"Yep."

Sojiro shook his head. "I'm not sure whether to laugh at you or scold you, but she walked you home. Nice going, kid." He scoffed. "Just try not to bust your head open next time you want to impress someone, alright?"

The boy was tempted to claim he wouldn't make a promise he wasn't sure he could keep, but he heard a sharp don't you dare from Arsene in the back of his mind, and he quietly acquiesced.

Chapter Text

Before everything, Ren had been a popular boy in his hometown. Cute, smart, with a wicked tongue, the boy was a snarky kid, one prone to bouts of mischief and pranks, but also soft, looking out for those around him without a second thought. He was known as a wisecrack prankster with an exceedingly soft heart, and beloved by many in his hometown.

Until he was arrested.

The change was instantaneous; suddenly he had gone from a beloved native of the town to a pariah. Even those who believed him innocent still wanted nothing to do with him, and his sense of self was destroyed; gone were the snarks, the smiles, the zest for life and eagerness. When he had left, all of that had appeared to drain away, leaving a shy, quiet, and highly mistrustful young man who refused to show what was inside. His face was cold and neutral and masked with fake glasses, and he spoke not a word to anyone as he left.

When he returned, a free man, a hero for his testimony against Shido, and the rumored leader of the Phantom Thieves, he appeared almost exactly like he did when he left his hometown, save for the glasses. He only ever smiled or showed his true self, now, to his friends. The reactions in his hometown were varied; most averted their gaze and tried not to look at him or speak to him when they thought he would see, only to gawk at him when he wasn't looking. Some still openly glared at him, and a handful apologized for their shunning. An even smaller handful of the bravest who apologized asked about the rumor of him leading the Phantom Thieves, to which he would only say he could neither confirm nor deny the rumors; his statement spread like wildfire, and all gawked at the obvious Phantom Thief that hailed from the town.

He felt like a lion walking among a pack of hyenas when he reluctantly returned to his former high school. The other students would stop and stare at the free man, who appeared to act so different than he used to be. Many whispered that he was the Phantom Thief, one who enacted his revenge on his accuser, and were left to gawk at him with a mix of shock, awe, and guilt; Ren ignored them all. Morgana, in his bag as a "therapy cat" to help him with the trauma experienced, acted similarly, shunning the other students and hissing whenever anyone save for Ren tried to pet him. At least, at first; Ren had a stern talk with the cat, and he silenced, leaving him to sit quietly in his bag and desk and pin his ears back in distaste at anyone who had once known Ren only to abandon him.

Ren almost never smiled unless he was talking with his friends over his phone or with Morgana, in which event the facade melted away. He also almost never spoke unless directly addressed in class, at which times he would respond as curtly as possible. The boy almost immediately rebounded to the top of his class, for all he did after school was go home, eat, study, talk to his friends (he did every day), and sleep. This went on for two months, and no sign of his attitude changing came. His parents gradually felt more and more guilt as they watched their son suffer silently as he yearned to go home. 

Something had to be done.

The Sunday after Golden Week (during which he was gone the whole time; his friends picked him up early the first day and drove off with him immediately), Ren was quietly flipping through a textbook at the dinner table, Morgana sleeping beside him, when his parents approached. He gave them a quizzical, somewhat concerned frown as they sat opposite of him. They had strange smiles, and his mother was tearing up.

"What's wrong?" he questioned worriedly. "Why are you guys looking at me like that?" He blanched. "Oh, God. Grandma didn't bring up the baby picture fiasco again, did she? Or worse, send more pictures? None of my friends have let that go yet."

His mother laughed and shook her head. "No, sweetheart. We have something important to tell you."

Ren's lips twitched, and he sat up straight, at attention. "Is everything alright?" he questioned. Both nodded. 

"Son," his father started, "it was wrong of us to bring you back here. You've been miserable these last few months. We thought we were bringing you home, but we did just the opposite. After everything we've done to you, we can't apologize enough or ever make up for it. So we're going to do the greatest thing we can to make it up to you."

Ren's eyes widened slowly as he looked between the two. Morgana had begun to rouse, staring at Ren's parents in open befuddlement. His mother nodded. "We're sending you back to Tokyo," she said shakily, "as soon as your semester ends. Sakura-san has already agreed to take you in starting in mid-July, and Shujin Academy has accepted our petition to have you transfer ba--"

They yelped in surprise as Ren beamed, his eyes already wet with tears, as he practically sprinted around the table to hug them both, crying out thank you's. They put their arms around him and hugged him back, the family in a tight embrace for a long time as Ren erupted with joy. As he pulled back, he squeezed their hands, smiling just as bright as he had before everything.

"All is forgiven," he said giddily, "everything. I'll come back and visit you at least once a month, I promise. This is the best thing you guys have ever done for me, so thank you!"

His father laughed, nodding. "You're welcome, son. I'm just sorry we did this to you in the first place."

"Son," his mother started, grabbing Ren's attention, "Sakura-san hasn't told any of your friends, or even his daughter. He said he thought you would like to be the one to break the news to them." She nodded toward the stairs to his room. "Go on, sweetheart."

He kissed her cheek and sped off, textbook long forgotten, as Morgana trailed after him. As soon as the two got inside his room, Ren slammed the door and pulled his phone out, typing at lightning speeds.

Ren: GUYS. GUYS WE HAVE TO TALK. RIGHT NOW.

Futaba: Yo.

Ryuji: Everything okay, dude?

Ann: What's up?

Yusuke: What would you like to discuss, my friend?

Haru: What's going on, Ren-kun? 

Makoto: Someone's excited... you almost never write in all capital letters.

Ren: I have an announcement.

Futaba: O rly?

Ren: Ya rly.

Makoto: What is it, Ren? Is everything alright?

Ren: Better than alright.

Ryuji: Dude, quit the suspense and tell us!

Yusuke: It is a rare event that Ryuji says something as wise as that.

Ryuji: SHUT UP INARI

Ann: Soo? Tell us?

Haru: Oh! What's better than alright?

Ren: So, my parents noticed I've been pretty miserable back in my hometown. They felt bad about this, and have finally decided to take action.

Ren: I'm coming home permanently at the start of summer vacation, one month from today. Sojiro's taking me back and I'll be going back to Shujin for the last semester of high school.

Futaba: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADJSUGFSDHU89AH89UAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA8DFHSSX9GNHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Ryuji: FOR REAL??????? FUCKING AWESOME

Futaba:

 

Ann: I'M SCREAMING, THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER

Yusuke: Oh, happy day! We have so missed you so much!

Futaba:

 

Haru: How WONDERFUL! I can't wait!!!

Makoto: I must have made quite the noise, because my sister asked if I'm okay. 

Makoto: I can't tell you how happy I am to hear this... I'm close to tears.

Futaba:

 

Futaba: AAZSFUSIGBuioasba9oBAIBYGFISUXBGSPI9GBAFBPIBPIFBSXPGBSPBGGSDHRFHHRDAS!!!!!

Yusuke: In spite of her unintelligible messages, I am inclined to agree with the spirit of what Futaba is writing.

Futaba:

 

Ryuji: BRB GETTING THE VAN

Ryuji: IM COMING FOR YOU BUDDY!!

Ren: RYUJI NO I HAVE A MONTH LEFT

Makoto: It's not time yet, Ryuji! As much as I wish it was...

Ryuji: FUCK THAT IM COMING TO GET YOU NOW

Yusuke: I'll come with!

Ann: Wait for me!

Haru: I'll be right there!

Futaba: 



Ren: GUYS I CAN'T LEAVE YET I HAVE SCHOOL SHIT TO DO

Ryuji: SEE YOU IN A FEW HOURS 

Ren: R Y U J I



When Ren returned to school the next day, he was smiling brightly, a skip in his step with the knowledge he wouldn't be there much longer. His change in attitude drew surprised stares from the other students, who he ignored completely as he headed to class. All that was between him and home was studying and finals in a month, and he'd be finally completely free. At some point, whispers between the faculty were heard by the students, and the whispers filled the school within hours.

The day after, his bright mood had dampened as he realized he still had an entire month or so left. He was knocked out of the funk quickly, however, as his homeroom teacher addressed it. "So, Amamiya-kun," she started, frowning and clutching her hands, "we've heard that you're leaving for Tokyo soon."

"That's correct, thank you for reminding me." Ren said, smile returning.

"Aren't you going to miss your home?" she questioned, to which Ren had to fight the urge to scoff at. He settled for politely shaking his head.

"Sensei, with all due respect-- this is not my home. Tokyo is my home. I miss my home as it is right now." 

"But you were raised here."

"That doesn't mean this is home. Home is where your heart is." He nodded. "And my heart is in Tokyo, with my friends."

With that, he went silent once again for another month, which dragged on painfully slowly to him. Again did he spend his days studying vigorously and chatting with friends, but it was with more purpose and urgency. His parents smiled in an oddly sad way as he did so as a man on a mission. When the last day of finals came in July, he had wished he could stay and wait for his friends, who had promised to arrive early to load the car with his belongings, but he was sent off to the school that had betrayed him one last time. 

He finished his finals as quickly as possible and turned his tests in, leaving as soon as the gate opened and freed him. Ren had already paid a visit while he was waiting to the locker rooms, where he changed from his uniform into his casual summer outfit, and practically sprinted through the crowd, almost pushing over others as he made his way to the parking lot. He didn't even have to scan the lot for the van; Makoto was waiting for him near the front of the school, and the two ran for each other, ending in a tight embrace. They stood there, holding each other for a few precious moments and totally ignoring the crowd of his now-former classmates. 

Finally, they pulled apart, beaming and flushed. Makoto took him by the hand and led him out into the warm summer sun, and he spied the van like a vision in a dream as he heard and saw his friends yelling, cheering, waving at him ecstatically from their parking spot. As soon as they saw him, the van door was thrust open by Ryuji, who stood in the doorway and pulled him in as soon as he was in arm's reach. Ren found himself the subject of a massive amount of hugs and hair-ruffling as the group fawned over their at last returned leader. It took a few moments for the impromptu dog pile to pull away, leaving Ren dazed from the influx of affection and sheer happiness, the most he had experienced in months.

Ryuji slammed the van door shut and blew a loud raspberry at the school before he pulled himself back in, the window rolling up as the van pulled away with Makoto in the driver's seat. "Finally!" Ryuji cheered, throwing an arm around Ren as he settled in the seat next to him, where Ren had been strategically placed within arm's reach of everyone in the center of the car. "I don't have to go through Shujin without you anymore! Welcome home, buddy!"

"Key item obtained!" Futaba cheered as they pulled away. "Finally! Quest complete!"

"Not quite... but almost." Ren said as the van turned back onto the streets, heading the way of his parents' house. "Have to say goodbye... and thank you, first."

"That's fine," Haru said with a smile, "we spent all morning loading the van with your belongings, so all that's left is for you to do that."

As they pulled up to the house, the others save for Morgana and Makoto waited outside as Ren went into his house one last time before he would leave for home. He found his mother and father already waiting near the doorway, and they hugged him tightly, his mother pressing several kisses to his head as he blushed. "I promise to come back and visit as often as I can," Ren reassured as he pulled away, "I promise. And..." He closed his eyes for a moment before looking up at them with a shaky smile. "Thank you for finally being the ones to really set me free. Thank you."

"You said a caged bird can't fly," Ren's father said with a smile, "and we can't allow you to be caged any longer. You're a man who knows where he belongs." He turned his gaze to Makoto and Morgana and nodded. "We're counting on you to keep him out of trouble, you two. Can't have him going deliquent again."

Ren snorted, and Makoto giggled and nodded with Morgana, who meowed at them. "I'll do my best to keep him in line," she reassured wryly, "and... thank you, from the bottom of our hearts."

"Thank him," Ren's mother said, nodding her head to her son, who scratched the back of his neck awkwardly, "he was so forlorn and depressed whenever he wasn't talking with you. He made his case quite clear." She leaned down and kissed his cheek one last time. "Go on, son. We love you."

"I love you, too."

With that and a look backwards, Ren left his hometown, surrounded by people just as excited about his final, total freedom as he was. The end of the long drive culminated into an impromptu sleepover in the attic of Leblanc, where the boxes had been brought up but not unpacked yet. Sojiro treated them in the morning to coffee, and after the group helped Ren unpack and finally departed in the evening, Sojiro came upstairs. "Come on, kid," he said with a smile, pointing downstairs with a backwards thumb, "come help me. Why do you think I agreed to take you back?"

Ren rolled his eyes and pushed his phone into his pocket. He caught an apron Sojiro tossed at him and shook his head at his adoptive father. "Where would Leblanc be without me?" Ren teased. "The place would probably burn down."

"Hardy-har. Glad to see you haven't stopped being a smart-mouthed punk."

Morgana smiled to himself and settled back onto the bed, nestled peacefully, until Sojiro called his name, addressing him, drawing the cat's attention as his tail waved back and forth lazily. "Come on downstairs," the man ordered, "I know you're just as smart as any of the kids, so you're going to help with chores, too."

The cat sat up, staring wide-eyed at Sojiro, and frowned. "Oh, come on! All I have are paws! How am I supposed to help?!"

"Don't give me that." Sojiro scoffed. "I don't have to be able to understand you to know I'm getting back-talk. Just help clean up under tight corners."

Morgana let out a long, pronounced groan. "I'm gonna get all dirty," he grumbled, "but fine. I guess this sort of responsibility is part of being human." He hopped off the bed and trotted up to Sojiro, giving him a tired look, and the Boss chuckled.

"That's the spirit. Welcome home."

Chapter Text

Ren stared at himself in the mirror for a long time, hating everything he saw.

A shower later (he had asked for a bath, but Sojiro had told him not to use the tub out of concerns he'd slip into the water), and every wound, scar, and bruise was just as clean and fresh and obvious as ever. He saw everything over his body in the mirror; he gawked at his reflection with nothing but disgust.

After a few more moments of staring, Ren's eyes shifted to the clean and neatly folded pile of clothes-- his school uniform-- to the side of the sink, and with no small amount of pain just from moving, he clothed himself. He returned to gazing in the mirror thereafter, staring at his face-- his exposed face, glasses gone, wounds obvious. He held his hands up, seeing the bruises from the cuffs around his wrists as his sleeves slipped down, and he closed his eyes, throwing his hands down as he shook his head.

Have to do something.

He spied a makeup bag, no doubt Futaba's, on the far corner of the sink, and with no small amount of trepidation or guilt, he reached for it. He quickly extracted a tube of foundation and a makeup sponge, pausing to look in the mirror at himself one last time, then at the tube.

Even with my skin like it is right now, Futaba and I have a pretty similar skin tone, right?

Sighing and deciding he had no other option, Ren applied the cover-up as best he could, looking at himself in the mirror. Patches of blue and black were still fairly visible beneath it all, no matter how much he put on, but it was something. With another sigh, Ren carefully placed the tube and sponge back in the bag and pushed it back to where it came from, fully aware that Futaba would know the difference as he slipped his fake glasses on. Everyone probably would, but he had to.

He looked at the time on his phone and shuffled out of the bathroom, turning off the lights and heading to the door to slip on his shoes and make his way to Leblanc, where he knew the others were waiting. Every step was wracked in agony, but he didn't whimper or cry. 

Have to be strong.

He caught up with Sojiro as the man rounded around the corner to the alley leading to his house, and paused dutifully as Sojiro stopped him and looked him over. His guardian scowled, shaking his head at Ren. "Kid," he started bluntly, "they've already seen you. They're not gonna be fooled by some sloppy cover-up."

"It's for me, not them." Ren rasped, and after another moment's pause, Sojiro sighed and walked the boy back, slowly, to Leblanc.

As soon as he entered the shop, the doorbell jingling, his friends were upon him, reaching out to hug him and chatter excitedly that he was up... for the first moment or so. As soon as Ryuji pulled back from a one-armed hug, the boy leaned in, eyes narrowing and lips curling as he stared at Ren's face, and the rest of the group fell to silence. Ann pulled at Ryuji's shoulder and glared at him, but Ryuji shrugged the hand off. 

"Ren. What did you do this for?" he questioned, voice wavering. Ren flinched as his friend stared mournfully at him. "Why are you still trying to hide from us? We saw you when you came home! Why?"

"Ryuji, stop." Makoto hissed as the others glared holes into his head, but Ryuji shook his head. 

"No. Why? Why are you pulling this bull--" Ryuji stopped short. Ren closed his eyes and hung his head in shame, trying to will the emotion back into his body, and he flinched again as he felt arms wrap around him reassuringly. "I'm... really sorry, Ren." Ryuji murmured. "Come on, let's sit down, okay? Just take it easy."

Ren nodded and allowed himself to be escorted into a booth. Someone pulled his glasses off, and as he blinked his eyes open, he tried to keep his gaze downward. Ann came into his vision as she knelt down with a packet of makeup removal wipes in her hands and a weak smile on her lips. "Do you want me to clean your face off?" she asked hesitantly. "It's... really not good for your wounds. We should put new bandages on, too..."

The leader sighed. "Take it off." he murmured, just barely audible, and Ann began to wipe the foundation off gently, pulling off the cover and exposing the ugly bruises, cuts, and swelling all over his face. Every bruise and cut burned as she touched it, but he didn't flinch. Makoto followed up as Ann pulled away, placing clean bandages gently. As she finished, she squeezed his hand reassuringly and managed a smile, which Ren sheepishly returned. As he finally picked his head up and forced his eyes to look over his group, he belatedly realized the effect that the whole spectacle had had on the team.

Ann and Haru were sniffling as they wiped their eyes, and Yusuke was unashamedly tearing up as he gazed upon Ren, his lips twisted into a pained wince. Ryuji had settled across the table from him and stared, face reddened, his knuckles white as he clenched his fists under the table. Futaba had buried her head in her legs as she perched in the booth seat across from his, though her back was shaking. Makoto's face was pale and her chin was scrunched up, and Ren saw the pinpricks of liquid on her eyes. Morgana had settled on one of the bar seats, tucking his head low onto the seat as he gazed sorrowfully at Joker, and Sojiro's face had lost all color as he frowned guiltily, shamefully as he tried to avoid Ren's eyes.

He felt a cold, heavy pang in his heart and gut. 

"I'm sorry." he whispered, so low they almost didn't catch it. The team flinched at the statement-- save for Ryuji, who growled, slammed his palms on the table, and stood up, shaking his head.

"Stop trying to-- to--" The boy breathed sharply, loudly. "Stop trying to act all tough! Stop it!" Ryuji sucked in another breath as Ren flinched back, and then exhaled loudly, trying to steady himself to little avail as tears came, his arms shaking as he tried to support himself. "Sorry. Ren..." he murmured as he sank back into the seat. "Please..."

Ren slowly nodded, winced, and breathed sharply as he tried to adjust himself upright in the seat. In an instant, he winced powerfully, and groaned as he leaned back. Makoto quickly moved in and laid him on the booth seat, the pain overwhelming him at the moment too much for him to protest. He winced as his back made contact with the cushion, and the others winced with him. Sojiro and Futaba came forward, holding bags of frozen peas and ice packs. The ice chilled his skin, but the relief it brought from the pain outweighed the cold. Finally, he tried to push himself up one last time before laying back down after a display of gasping sharply and wincing horribly, forcing him back down.

It sent a horrible pang through his heart to hear the barely-stifled tear-laden gasps of his team.

"We'll... have a talk later, okay?" he murmured. "We have business to take care of."

There was a pause for a few moments before Ryuji nodded slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, okay." he murmured. "You just... stay there and take it easy, leader."

Ren nodded and glanced up, rubbing his eyes as he looked at the others, who were still fighting to regain their composure. Haru had disappeared, but only a moment; she returned into his field of view carrying a blanket from upstairs, and she gently put it over him before reaching over to stroke his head lovingly. "Are you sure you don't want to just go upstairs and rest, Ren-kun?" she questioned. "We can--"

"I have to be here." Ren snapped quickly. He moaned. "... Please... just give me this."

With a shared look and nods, the meeting began.



As soon as the meeting was over and their target was identified, Sae dismissed herself after wishing Ren a swift recovery and giving a promise to return the next day to assist the team. Ren pushed himself to his feet, holding the blanket around him like a shroud as he hobbled up to his room without a word. He was keenly aware of the others following closely behind, and felt hands upon his back as he began making his way up the stairs, sending his cheeks slightly redder.

Exhales of relief came from the group as he reached the top of the steps and walked over to his bed, stopping only to gesture at them to go while he changed into his pajamas. After doing so, they came back up, and Ren situated himself on the bed-- at first sitting, then laying down at Makoto's insistence, the blanket loose over his waist. He crossed his arms over his chest, staring at the group plus Sojiro as they remained standing by the bed, save for Makoto, who sat at the edge of the mattress and looking down at him worriedly, waiting for him to speak.

After a silence, Ren sighed and began.

“I just... wanted to be strong for you guys." He gestured to himself with a hand, up and down along his body. "I... I hate being this exposed, this vulnerable... I maintained a careful mask of neutrality this whole time for a reason, even though I know I can be me around you, but still..." The boy shook his head. "It's not like I don’t trust you, I just...” Ren sighed. “I don’t really care what happens to me; I don’t— I thought I didn’t— have a future because of my record. But, with friends like you guys ...” He smiled weakly. “Maybe there’s hope for me after all. I’m stronger with all of you, so I thought I had to be strong, no matter what, for you all. I owe you that much."

Ryuji immediately shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Dude, don't be stupid," he said bluntly, "you don't owe us a damn thing. You've been a blessing to all of us."

Ren picked his head up, staring in surprise at Ryuji with wide eyes. "What...?"

Haru smiled softly, reaching to gently brush back a lock of his hair. "Ren, this whole time, you've gone above and beyond for all of us out of the goodness and love in your heart."

"You did everything you could to give me my life back," Futaba said as she sat on the bed next to Makoto, "you were my Key Item when I needed you to be. You still do everything you can to help; you're like my big brother, but the best big brother ever."

"Our lives are immeasurably better, thanks to you." Yusuke added. "I shudder to think of where I would be if it were not for all of you, but most of all, you, Ren."

"You helped to give me the courage to keep going, no matter what," Ann said with a teary smile, "you stopped just to help me when you barely even knew me, back in April... you actually care. You're an amazing person, Ren-kun."

"You never abandoned us, no matter how hard things got." Ryuji agreed. "Dude... it's finally our chance to return the favor. We're your teammates, and your friends. Family, even." 

"You risked your life for us without any hesitation," Morgana cut in, nodding at the boy, "and you're paying the price. We're going to do everything we can for you; let down your defenses around us."

"So let us take care of you when you need it, like you took care of us." Makoto finished. "Please. We're going to stand with you no matter what."

"I'm not a Phantom Thief," Sojiro broke in as he scratched the back of his neck, "but I'm with them. Through hell or high water, kid-- you deserve that much."

Ren shook, staring at the group in silence as he gaped at them all. He couldn't think coherent thoughts or make coherent words come out of his mouth, but he felt himself begin to shake and tears threaten his face. Not again, he internally bemoaned, this is humiliat--

"Ren." Makoto urged with a squeeze of his hand-- and the dam broke for good as the others came closer. He cried for a long time, and during it all, he felt gentle hands run over his soft head and whispers of it's okay, breathe, we love you, let it out.  When the tears began to settle down, he managed to hiccup out proper words.

"It hurts." he choked out numbly as he fought to regain his composure. "I can't..."

"Shh, it's okay," Makoto reassured, "I know. I know it hurts. It's okay. We're here."

"It hurts." Ren wheezed out as the tears began to slowly subside and he was capable of words once again. "Everything..." He laughed weakly and shook his head. "Look at me. I'm a fucking mess..."

"It's okay," Futaba reassured as she pushed herself against him, leaning by his side, "that's what we're here for."

"We know, Ren-kun, we know you hate showing yourself this much," Ann whispered to him, patting his arm as she reached over Futaba, "it's okay. We're here to help you, and we're not going to let..." She stopped, briefly, an angry noise caught in her throat, and she nodded firmly. "We're going to protect you. No one's going to hurt you again while we're here."

Yusuke's fists clenched, and the boy scowled as he looked upon Ren's face. "The anger is threatening to choke me as I see what they did to you. Monsters, all, but..." His eyes softened. "You're safe here, my friend."

Ryuji nodded, his own free fist having clenched at Ren's words as well. "We won't let them touch you again, I promise." he reassured, squeezing his shoulder gently with his other hand. Haru nodded eagerly.

"If they so much as approach you, I'll cut them down and enjoy their screams!" Haru said, both serious and giddy. All stopped for a moment to give her a wide-eyed stare, to which she shrugged. "What? It's what they deserve! No, worse! They deserve WORSE than that!" She clicked her tongue. "I need a dull ax, so it takes longer and they suffer more."

There was a moment of silence.

"Jesus." Ryuji gasped. Ren, amidst the slowly fading tears, let out a laugh, straining his chest, but he couldn't help it as laughter bubbled through him. The laughter filled his attic as the others joined in, and at the end, Ren was slightly wheezing and wincing but smiling.

"... Thank you." he finally whispered. His eyelids quietly closed, and his chest began to raise and lower with a hitch, but slowly and peacefully. Futaba quietly extracted herself from his side, Makoto leaned down and kissed his forehead, and Haru leaned in, pulling the sheets up and tucking him in.

"Come on," Sojiro whispered, "we should let him rest." He turned his eyes to the cat, who was watching from the windowsill in relative silence as he looked down at the leader with quiet concern. Morgana seemed to sense Sojiro's eyes on him, and the cat turned to meet his eyes. Sojiro hesitated, for a moment, the thought that the cat could talk still fresh in his mind as a somewhat uncomfortable fact. "Morgana... can you watch him?"

The cat nodded and hopped down onto the mattress, positioning himself between Ren and the phone left on the mattress. "I've got it, Boss," Morgana promised, "I'll keep a close eye on him and contact the others with his phone if I need to. I know his password."

Sojiro blinked and looked to the others, who nodded, and he turned to smile at the cat. "Thank you." he whispered, and the group departed quietly, albeit not without a few worried looks back at their friend.

Chapter Text

Mishima hardly got a wink of sleep two nights ago, and not nearly enough the following day. The night was restless as he mourned Ren; the only thing he could do was desperately text Ren for a reply, and the night of no response left him almost catatonic with anxiety and despair. He had cried, quietly, and walked into school looking like a zombie the day after the announcement that the leader of the Phantom Thieves was dead, and found no solace from Ryuji when questioned, who dodged the subject. He stared at the empty seat where his friend sat and at Kawakami as she (as neutrally as possible, though her voice wavered) announced that Ren had gone home for a family emergency. Waves upon waves of guilt rushed through him, and he couldn't bring himself to focus, lost in a miasma of his own shock as he stared numbly at his hands on his desk. 

Midway through homeroom, he felt his phone buzz, and he almost didn't notice himself taking it out of his pocket to see the message that would thrust him back into the land of the living.

I'm all good.

The boy made a sharp noise of surprise and relief, coming out as a strange gasp and laugh out of his mouth and noise, drawing odd looks from the people around him, but he didn't care. He smiled giddily, his heart soaring with relief, as he believed the nightmare had come to an end. His shoulders drooped and he suddenly felt exhausted, more so than ever, as he dropped the tenseness. He turned to look at Ann, who met his eyes and smiled weakly, nodding her confirmation. Mishima once again found himself in a dazed stupor, this time out of relief.

The day passed as a blur until lunch, when he went about the halls seeking the other Thieves. He finally found the group by peeking into the student council room, and he knocked politely. The others paused and looked over at the door, and after a short debate he couldn't hear, Ryuji opened the door and ushered him in, shushing him surreptitiously. The door closed behind him, and for a moment, Mishima found himself bewildered under the stares of the Phantom Thieves, sans the leader, Futaba, Yusuke, and Morgana. All of them looked exhausted, gaunt with a lack of proper sleep, eyes and lips etched with stress.

"What do you want to say, Mishima-kun?" Makoto demanded, and he flinched. It still struck him odd that the student body president had become a Phantom Thief, one that was dating the leader, and he shrank instinctively under her gaze. He stammered for a moment before clearing his throat.

"I heard from Ren. I know he's alive." Mishima breathed. "I'm really curious as to how you guys did that, but you probably wanna keep that a secret for the time being. So..." He frowned worriedly. "Is... is he really okay?"

The others shared a reluctant look for a few moments, and finally Makoto sighed. "He's alive," she replied, "but he's in really bad shape."

"What?" Mishima's eyes widened. "What happened to him?"

"The police tortured him." Ann said, voice dead serious and heavy. All the color on Mishima's face drained as his eyes widened with horror. 

This can't be real.

"We'll spare you the details of all they did to him," Haru said hesitantly, "but he has a cracked rib, many bone bruises, and he's coming off a concussion. He's also suffering from the trauma of it all, the poor thing..."

"No..." Mishima shook his head, trying to shake away a bad dream to no avail. "Oh, God. Ren... I can't believe the police did this... Will he be--"

"He'll live, but he's going to be in a lot of pain for awhile." Ryuji remarked bluntly. "They drugged him with somethin' that might interact too much with pain relievers. He'll make a full recovery, though."

"Physically, at least. I hope emotionally as well." Haru said with a shrug.

Mishima covered his face with his hands, shaking his head. He shook, fighting back tears. "This is my fault," he murmured, "if the Phantom Thieves weren't so... if I--"

"It's not your fault. It's the police's fault... and our next target's fault." Mishima's eyes widened as Ann talked, and he looked at her, wide eyed, then over the group. All their eyes shone with fiery rage. She nodded with certainty. "He's going to pay for this."

"I'll do whatever I can to help!" Mishima replied seriously. "Anything! If I can, just-- ask me for anything." He paused. "Say, is Ren well enough to receive visitors?"

The others shared a look again, and Makoto shrugged. "I suppose that's fine, but you'd have to do that after seven or so; we're going to start our mission, or at least get an overview of the situation, and we'll need him until about then."

"Don't be disappointed if he's asleep, though," Ryuji remarked bluntly, "guy's gonna need a lot of rest."

"I'll stop by anyways. I need to see him." Mishima shrugged. "So, um... what sort of stuff does he like? I'll drop by with a 'get well soon' card or something."

"He likes sushi," Haru said with a smile, "I'll give you the money to get a surprise order of it for him and Morgana. It should brighten his day considerably."

"That's nice of you, Okumura-senpai, but I can't accept your--"

"Did I phrase that like it was a choice?" Haru questioned, smiling cheerfully, and Mishima quickly nodded nervously.

"N- no ma'am. I mean-- yes, no wait, I-- I'll get him sushi." He blinked. "So, um... how he escaped?"

Makoto nodded towards the door. "We'll tell you the whole story when this whole mess is over, we promise. For now, it's safer for you to not know."

"I'll support you all however I can!" Mishima promised.

"Then stay on the sidelines for now," Ryuji said with a huff, "our leader needs all the support he can get. Just go visit him and keep working the Phansite."

The boy nodded, and after Haru shoved enough money in his hands to go out and purchase sushi that night, Mishima ran out of the council room as a man on a mission.

I know what I should do.



The doorbell jingled as the door to Leblanc opened. Sojiro looked over towards the door as he saw the young man walk in with a plastic bag in his hand, at the bottom of which was a box, with something on top rustling against the plastic as he moved. The boy smiled sheepishly.

"Um... hi," he said awkwardly, "I'm... Yuuki Mishima. I go to Shujin, and--"

"The kids told me you were coming," Sojiro said, relaxing back a bit as he gestured with a thumb towards the stairs at the other end of the building, "he lives upstairs. Go on ahead; he's laying down and watching TV. Just make sure you don't talk about this to anyone."

"Yes, sir!" Mishima promised. "Thanks!" He walked forward, hearing the sound of some anime playing on the upstairs television as he traveled up the stairs, his heart quivering with anticipation to see the very much alive leader of the Phantom Thieves. As he reached the top and turned to face the room, he saw light coming from a screen on a table several feet away from a bed where Ren laid, pale and black and blue in the face where there weren't bandages, and his arms over the sheets, with his cat perched at his side. 

The cat picked his head up and meowed in greeting while Ren pushed himself upward in an attempt to sit upright. Ren winced in obvious pain but nevertheless managed a brave smile. Before his loose sleeves could roll back down and shield his arms, Mishima spied gauze and bruises worse than he expected, as well as almost entirely blackened wrists, where he had struggled against handcuffs. Mishima found himself blanching as he took in his friend, who tried weakly to act as though nothing was wrong.

"Hey, Mishima." he greeted tiredly. "How are you?"

"How am--" Mishima sputtered. "How am I?"

"Yeah." Ren replied with a wry smile. The wound at the side of his lip cracked a bit from the motion, and Mishima shook his head.

"God, Amamiya, look at you! You're a mess, and you're asking me about..." He frowned. "They weren't kidding when they said the police tortured you..."

"Didn't sell them out, though." he said proudly. "Can't and won't sell out my friends. I would do it again for them."

Mishima eyed him with a mix of awe and horror, skin still white with shock. "Amamiya..." Mishima laughed weakly, rubbing his hand up and down his other arm. "At least you're still spirited. But, God..." He shook his head. "Don't sit up on my account; you should be lying down and resting."

Ren huffed indignantly as he remained sitting up. "The others are just being overprotective," he said with a wave of a bandaged hand, "I got up the other day and walked myself all the way here from my guardian's house. I have work to do, and they aren't letting me leave for a few days except for our... activities."

Mishima sputtered again for a moment, eyes wide with shock, and he scowled. "For good reason!" he snapped. "Are you trying to get yourself caught, or worse, killed?! The world needs the Phantom Thieves more than ever and you're--" He stopped himself as Ren gave him a bemused stare. He blushed. "S- sorry. But... you're worrying all of us sick. You look like you should be in a hospital, not here." he said sheepishly. Ren scoffed.

"If I was in a hospital, I'd be in the morgue; I've been told I look like a corpse as it is." He flashed a lopsided grin again. "But I'm not dead yet! I'm feeling better!"

Mishima groaned. "If this is how you look while 'feeling better', I don't want to know how you looked before the doctor in the neighborhood got to you." He glanced around the room and spied Morgana perched on a small chair against the wall near the bed, where the cat was staring at him silently. He hesitated as he looked elsewhere for a place to sit, and Ren grunted at the cat, who huffed and hopped off the seat to curl up against Ren on the bed.

"Have a seat." he ordered, gesturing to the stool at the foot of the bed. Mishima reached for the chair and sat down beside the bed; he hoisted the bag onto his lap, fussed for the box, and put the bag aside as he held a box in his lap. Ren raised an eyebrow at the box and nodded at him, and finally, he opened it. Inside was a variety of different sushi rolls, and the boy's tired eyes lit up at the sight. "You got me sushi?"

"I, uh, the others said you like sushi, so I got you that, and... I printed out some of the thanks and well wishes from the people who still believe in you on the Phansite." He smiled shyly as he picked the letters out of the bag, handing them to Ren, who took them and read, smiling. "There's not a lot of us, but there's still some who do. And... I thought you could use some encouragement right now." With that, he handed the box to Ren, who looked over the sushi with desire before turning his eyes to the bag, where something still was before turning his softened eyes to Mishima.

"Wow, I... wow. Thanks, I-- I don't know what to say, but... this means a lot. Thank you." he said, and Mishima nodded.

"You're going through a lot right now, Amamiya-- Ren. It's the least I can do to try to make it a little easier for you." He scowled. "I can see what the police did to you; it's barbaric! I don't even know how you're still sitting up like that... I'd be bed-bound in your shoes."

"With a lot of determination and stubbornness, that's how. And really, it's not as bad as it looks--" He faltered under Mishima's unimpressed stare, and he chuckled. "Okay, fine, it is pretty bad, but I'm alive, aren't I? Not dead like everyone thinks." 

"Well, that's true, but..." Mishima's nose wrinkled. "Just don't push yourself too hard, alright? You're worrying all of us sick." He nodded at the box. "Go on and enjoy your sushi."

Ren looked down and blinked at the sushi, pupils widening ever-so-slightly with desire, but he still picked his head up to look at Mishima gratefully. "This can't have been cheap; can I reimburse you for--"

"No!" he refused, shaking his head. "No, you've more than earned it." He sheepishly smiled. "Besides, when Okumura-senpai heard I was coming to visit you, she gave me the money to get you sushi, so you should be thanking her." He smiled as Morgana leaned over the box, starting to drool slightly as he stared at the fish, his tail wagging in anticipation. Mishima chuckled. "I even have some for Morgana; Okumura-senpai said to get him fatty tuna, among a few others."

"Thank you!" Morgana yowled in delight, though it sounded like ecstatic meows to Mishima. Morgana bounded from Ren's side to headbutt Mishima's arm and purr. "THANK YOU! I finally get my fatty tuna!" Morgana cheered. "I know you can't understand me, but I have to thank Haru, too-- THANK YOU!"

"Wow," Mishima said with a chuckle, "it's almost like he can understand us. Like he's talking to us."

There was a moment of awkward silence as Ren thought about how to approach the situation. Morgana huffed and hopped off the bed for the workbench, where a small pad and pencil lay. Mishima watched, entranced, as the cat fumbled with the pencil for a few moments before dropping it and nodding his head towards the paper. Morgana hopped back onto Ren's bed and to his side by the sushi as Mishima reached for the paper. His eyes widened as he read it.

That's because I can understand you. I HAVE been talking to you, but only the Phantom Thieves can understand my speech-- because I'm one of them.

Mishima stared at the paper, then at Morgana, then at Ren, and back between them for a few moments. He shuddered and put the pad down, shaking his head. "No way."

"Way." Ren said with a weak smile. "You've probably pieced together by now that we're doing weird supernatural stuff to change hearts and allow me to escape, which we'll happily explain to you once this is all said and done. Morgana is a part of that-- the one who showed us how to change hearts in the first place."

"He's right, you know," Morgana piped up proudly, "this team wouldn't exist if it wasn't for me."

Mishima continued to stare for a few moments, jaw loose, before uttering a weak "Oh, wow," to which Ren and the cat simply nodded in agreement with, "this... I know it's real, but, it's still... just wow." The boy smiled. "You'll really show me all of it when this is over?"

"I promise. Now, rather than dwell on that, why don't you share this sushi with me?" 

There was a moment's pause, and Mishima spoke hesitantly. "Don't you want it for yourself? I mean, I got it for you and Morgana..."

"And since it's mine, I want to share it. Go ask Boss for an extra set of chopsticks."

Mishima continued to hesitate, and Ren huffed. "You wanna see weird supernatural shit now, don't you?"

"I mean, sort of... but it's not like you're in any condition to do... whatever you do."

Ren smirked. "There is one thing I can do... try not to freak out." he said, and Mishima's eyes lit up as he nodded eagerly. 

"I won't! I'm ready for whatever you-- HOLY SHIT!" He yelped in shock as Ren flashed his eyes yellow in a brief use of the Third Eye. Mishima recoiled so hard that he tipped the chair back, and after a moment of swinging his arms helplessly in an attempt to right himself, he crashed to the ground with the chair and groaned lowly. He sheepishly picked himself up, rubbing a fresh bruise on his back as he shakily sat back down and stared, wide-eyed, at Ren, who clutched his head wearily, wincing. 

"You kids okay up there?!" Sojiro's voice came, and Mishima nodded to himself.

"Yeah, sir! Just leaned too far back and fell down!" He gawked with a loose jaw at Ren. "What did you..."

"The team calls it the Third Eye. It basically illuminates hidden objects and allows me to see through the shadows. Sort of like seeing in the dark combined with highlighting things I might have missed." He shook his head, hand still pressed to his scalp. "It requires focus, but it doesn't typically give a headache like this to use."

"Probably because you're still healing..." Mishima breathed, dazed, watching and listening as Morgana scolded Ren, who scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. "I don't know what Morgana is saying, but whatever it is, I agree, because he's probably telling you not to show off like that when you're in that shape."

Ren laughed and nodded, still wincing. "Basically, yeah. Now, go on, go ask Sojiro for Morgana's bowl, two ice packs-- one for you, one for me-- and chopsticks. It's time for sushi, which heals all."

"You-- you got it!" Mishima promised, and he hurried downstairs for the requested items. Morgana eyed the sushi dreamily, and purred as Ren plucked out a fatty tuna roll and held it for Morgana to chew on. The cat let out a meow of pure ecstasy after the first bite.

"I think you're right, Ren," Morgana moaned, "sushi really does heal all..."

Ren rolled his eyes and ran a hand over Morgana's head, eyes going to the ceiling as he drifted into his own thoughts, forgetting the pain for a little while. He slumbered peacefully that night, a rarity for the coming days.

Chapter Text

"I'm bisexual."

Yusuke didn't even look up from his painting as the words left Ren's mouth. "That's nice. I'm asexual." he said dryly. Ren smiled, put his thumbs up approvingly, and left in peace.



"I'm bisexual."

Ren was, admittedly, secretly terrified of coming out to his now-girlfriend, his gut clenched and heart racing as they sat on the couch of his room. His heart, however, felt as though it came to a complete stop as Makoto smiled, reached up, and kissed his cheek reassuringly while squeezing his hand.

"Okay. Thank you for trusting me, Ren. I don't mind."

The boy sighed with deep relief and smiled back warmly at her. "Thank you."



"I'm bisexual."

Futaba didn't respond, and Ren thought either she wasn't paying attention as she typed at her computer or didn't approve. With a sigh, he was about to get up and leave without another word, but his phone buzzed. As he opened it, he saw she left him a gif on his messages:



Ren snorted out a laugh, and Futaba giggled from her spot at her computer.



"I'm bisexual."

Haru paused, and Ren shrank back for a moment as she sighed heavily. "I wish you had told me before I bought these flowers, Ren-kun," she huffed, "I would have gotten pink, purple, and blue flowers to plant in rows for you!"

Ren's eyes widened, and he smiled, laughing in spite of himself. "That's not necessary, Haru."

"It's no trouble," Haru said with a wave of the hand, "but I'm afraid I've just filled all my planters. You're just going to have to help me build a new planter up here so we can do that."

Ren quirked an eyebrow. "This sounds less like wanting to support bisexuals and more like getting me to help you build a new planter."

"Why can't it be both supporting bisexual people and getting you to help me build a new planter, Ren-Ren?"



Goro found out offhandedly that Ren was bisexual. He had no issue with it, of course. He even admired Ren and the team's casual approach to the subject.

At least, at first, he did.

"Hey, Joker," Futaba questioned as she tapped at her laptop, laying flat on her stomach on one of the couches in a saferoom of Sae's Palace, "why were you looking up bikes the other day? Where would you ride it?"

Ren smirked, and almost immediately the team began to cringe as he readied himself.

"Oracle, I thought you knew that bicycling is my favorite past-time."

A chorus of groans emanated throughout the room, and Ann flicked the back of the leader's head as he snorted loudly. Futaba's nose wrinkled as he looked up at him.

"Ugh. Now I'm like 99% sure you looked up bikes just to make that joke today."

"You can't prove anything. You could say I have... an alibi."

Another chorus of groans came, and Makoto shoved her face into her hands as her boyfriend cackled. Ryuji reached over and punched his friend in the shoulder, but his lips were twitching as he tried not to laugh while Ren rubbed his shoulder and continued to laugh. In that instant, Goro felt an intense surge of envy. Ren seemed to detect the negativity no matter how hard Goro tried to shove it down, for the leader stopped and patted him on the shoulder as they left. "You alright, Crow?"

"Fine, Joker. Thanks for asking." Goro reassured, forcing a smile. Ren smiled back innocently.

"Are you sure? You know I'm here to stand by you." Ren smirked, and Goro himself couldn't hold back a groan, and certainly not a small smile in spite of his envy as Mona tossed an empty soda can at the leader.

Chapter Text

Ryuji and Ren were having a sleepover. They did so from time to time for no reason other than a mutual appreciation for hanging out with a best friend, staying up late playing video games and eating junk food. It was some time past ten that Ren's phone buzzed, and the boy picked it up awkwardly, slipping his hand over it and choosing to lift it over his face, resulting in half of the screen being covered by his hand. 

Ryuji laid on the couch on his back, his head hanging lazily over the side of the couch, his hair dangling slightly as a result of his positioning. The boy had been the one to send the text, a forward of a Phantom Thieves meme for Ren to laugh at without having to get up as the two sat and talked lazily. Ryuji stopped talking as he observed Ren awkwardly pick up the phone, and he frowned while Ren smiled and laughed at the meme.

"Ren, what the fuck."

Ren blinked and turned his attention to his friend, eyebrow raised. "What?"

"Why are you holding your phone like that?"

Ren frowned. "What's wrong with how I'm holding it?"

"Your hand's all weird!" Ryuji huffed. "Like, your fingers are up towards the ceiling, but so's your wrist and palm! Why?"

"... Because I reached for it like that?" Ren asked more than said, twisting himself to lay in a similar position as Ryuji without really thinking about it. "Is it a problem?"

Ryuji paused and shrugged. "No, not really, it's just weird! Isn't that uncomfortable?"

"Uh... a little, I guess. Buuut that's how I picked it up, and I'm not feeling inclined to change it."

Ryuji scoffed. "You're weird, Amamiya."

Ren's nose wrinkled. "Says the guy who's laying with his head hanging off the couch upside-down. You're weird, Sakamoto."

"Says the guy who's doing the same damn thing!"

"Says the guy who started it." Ren retorted, sticking his tongue out. Morgana groaned from his spot by the window. 

"You're both weird." the cat scoffed. Ren and Ryuji awkwardly twisted their necks up as they turned to glare at Morgana.

"You're weird." the two chorused in unison. Almost immediately after, they turned their necks for their eyes to meet as they grinned slyly. "Ayyy!" they drawled, snickering at each other. They swatted their palms out in mid-air as an air high-five, and Morgana rolled his eyes.



"Has anyone ever told you what an effin' dork you are?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Yes, you do!"

Ren, who was currently holding an ice pack to his knee, fixed Ryuji with a baffled stare. "Why am I a dork?"

Ryuji huffed. "You pull all these dumb stunts in the Metaverse with that knife and shit 'cause you wanna look cool, and every so often, you manage to hurt yourself like you did today when you're trying to look cool."

"I am cool." Ren huffed. "It was just an accident that I tripped and fell on my knee when trying to attack the enemy! That almost never happens! Ergo: I'm not a dork."

"The hell you are, you're just a big dork under all of your mysterious-ness bullshit." Ryuji retorted. "You run around with those fake glasses--"

"WHAT?!" Ren's eyes almost bulged out of their sockets as he gave Ryuji a scandalized stare. "How did you know that?!"

Ryuji shrugged. "I tried 'em on one time during a sleepover while you were downstairs, just out of curiosity. Realized they were fake. Why do you wear them, by the way? You look cooler without them on."

Ren said nothing for a moment, and then he sighed. "'Cause I thought they'd... soften my image." he admittedly sheepishly. Ryuji's brows lifted as Ren averted his gaze while he took off his glasses, which he turned over in his hands to look at the fake lenses properly. "At least, at first. Now I use them to try to hide my emotions in public."

His friend's eyes softened, and Ryuji frowned and leaned forward. "Dude... why?"

"Because no one needs to know. They've decided who I am. They don't need to know the truth."

Ryuji's frown deepened, and his eyes focused on Ren's shame-filled face. "H- Hey, man... if it makes you feel better to do that at school, that's okay, but you don't have to do that around us." he reassured gently. "We wanna know how you're doing. I wanna know how you're doing. You're my best friend."

Ren looked up, eyes widening, and he smiled weakly. "Thanks, Ryuji. That means a lot. I know I can be standoffish sometimes, but... it's just hard for me to open up and trust people."

His friend's frown curled into a snarl, and Ryuji's eyes hardened. "Yeah, 'cause of your dick old friends from your old school. Fuck 'em, man, we're not like them."

"I know that." Ren said, smiling at Ryuji. "Why do you think I'm telling you any of this in the first place?"

Ryuji's eyes widened, and he smiled again, chuckling to himself as he scratched the back of his neck. "See? That's what I mean by you being an effin' dork. Y'don't gotta act all mysterious--"

"-- but it's part of my aesthetic!" Ren protested, pouting, and Ryuji snorted. 

"See? Dork."

"You're a dork."

"You're a bigger dork."

"You would win in the dork Olympics."

"Goddamn right. I would get silver, though." Ryuji smirked. "You, Ren, you're a gold medalist in being a huge effin' dork!"

The two laughed, snorting and laughing at each other's snorting.



"Here we are... just two dudes alone at an amusement park..."

"It's only gay if you make it gay, Ryuji."

"Shuddup!" Ryuji protested, turning red in the cheeks. "I mean-- nothing wrong with that." he quickly reassured. Ren nodded and smiled to reassure he wasn't offended, and, relieved, Ryuji shrugged and smiled. He looked over to the tall, imposing roller coasters of Dome Town, and he grinned wickedly as he turned eager eyes to Ren. "C'mon, let's get over to a roller coaster! I'm ready to scream!"

Ren raised an eyebrow. "Don't get sick again, okay?"

Ryuji laughed and grinned broader. "I'm all good. I'm totally used to it after last time. You better not cry on it, understand?"

"When have I ever cried on a roller coaster, Ryuji?" Ren questioned as the two made their way towards the line, and Ryuji scoffed. 

"I saw you tear up, just a little bit, the last time."

"And I still swear it was because of allergies!" Ren protested. Ryuji elbowed him playfully.

"You keep telling yourself that. C'mon, let's go!"


"Don't you dare laugh!"

Ren was covering his face and trying to not start laughing at the pictures Ryuji's mother had left out on the living room table, where the two were huddled around for a studying session. They had gone to Ryuji's apartment for a change of pace, and Ryuji had pointed towards the living room and told Ren to relax while he got snacks. The boy returned to see Ren red in the face as he covered his mouth and tried desperately not to laugh. As he approached, Ryuji realized what Ren was seeing: an open scrapbook in the works by Ryuji's mother, with miscellaneous baby and toddler pictures of Ryuji strewn over the table. Ryuji broke into a panicked sprint and quickly shoved the pictures inside the book and sprinted into another room to hide the evidence. He returned to see Ren still struggling for breath, and he scowled, cheeks reddening. 

Ren shoved his face into the table as he wheezed, and it took him a good few minutes to finally beat down the laughter. He smiled weakly at a very red-faced Ryuji. "Dude..." Ryuji groaned, and Ren chuckled.

"I'm so sorry, dude, I can't help it. Now you know how I felt during the baby picture fiasco."

"Well, that was different," Ryuji replied, a smile gracing his face, "it was sort of your fault it happened to you. This one wasn't on me!"

"Whatever helps you sleep at night, Sakamoto." Ren scoffed. He gestured to the open textbook he left on the table. "C'mon, let's pull ourselves together. We're gonna prove to the others that you can do well on exams."

Ryuji sighed and shook his head. "Hope so. I dunno if I'm smart enough to do that."

"You stop that." Ren scolded, and Ryuji looked at Ren, surprised, as the other boy stared seriously at him. "Listen, just because academia isn't easy for you doesn't mean that you're stupid. You're a good person, you know right from wrong, and you know a hell of a lot about exercising and how to work out. You have your things you're good at. Don't let your grades get you down, man."

"Says the guy that gets all A's." Ryuji grumbled. Ren sighed. 

"Well, let me try to help you, okay? We'll see about you."



Ryuji stared at his test scores in awe.

A B.

He got a B on one of his exams! And didn't fail any of them! He got C's!

He couldn't help himself as he slung an arm around Ren, who was admiring his place at the top of the class among a sea of disgruntled students who enviously glared at him. Ren turned and grinned at Ryuji, throwing an arm around him, too.

"Told you you're not stupid." Ren said proudly. "Ramen tonight?"

"Ramen tonight!" Ryuji cheered. "Couldn't have done it without you, dude."

Ren smiled. "Right back at you."

Ryuji frowned at him, quirking an eyebrow. "What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing," Ren dismissed as the two walked away from the scoreboard, smiling, "just glad to have you as a friend."

Chapter Text

Yusuke: Joker? Do you mind if I ask a few questions?

Ren: What's up, Yusuke?

Yusuke: I apologize for the late text. I wasn't expecting you would reply until the morning, and I aware today was quite trying; after all, we took Madarame's treasure.

Ren: No need to apologize. What's on your mind?

Yusuke: We just haven't spoken much one-on-one. You speak so little, and you have done more for me in a few days than anyone else in my life to this point, yet you barely know me. You are truly a benevolent soul, and I seek to remedy this gap between us. Also, I had been cruel to you before I joined the team when you were just trying to help, and I sincerely apologize. 

Yusuke: Ryuji has informed me that you're quite silent and mistrustful, and that you've been through many ordeals, but would not give me further details.

Yusuke: I apologize if I'm causing you discomfort. I would merely like to know you better. 

Ren: Again, no need to apologize. I'm afraid I'm not a very interesting person.

Yusuke: Why would you say that? That simply isn't true; you're the leader of the Phantom Thieves, you were the first to Awaken to a Persona (save perhaps for Morgana), the only one of us capable of using multiple Personas, the first to get the Meta-Nav, and as I said, you've done so much for a stranger simply because you believed it to be the right thing to do.

Yusuke: And-- I hope you don't mind me prying, but you are on probation. I'm curious about the background to it, though be assured that I am not judging you for it.

Yusuke: Please, tell me a little of yourself.

Ren: Okay.

Ren: I came from a little town in the country, and now I live in an attic above a cafe in Yongen. It's a very long story that I'll get into all the details of in person another time, but the short version is that I was accused of a crime (assault) that I didn't commit by a very powerful man after I stopped him from raping a woman. I was quickly convicted and sentenced to a year's probation and sent off to Tokyo. You heard that Kamoshida leaked my record and made my life... difficult at Shujin, but at the very least, it's shown me who truly wants to give me a chance. Better than that having someone find out and abandon me later.

Ren: In spite of all of that, I have no regrets. 

Yusuke: Goodness... I had no idea. I'm so sorry.

Ren: It's okay; I'm just trying to survive and make the best out of the situation. That's all I can do at this point; I'm just happy to have the opportunity to help others with the Meta-Nav. It's blessed me with friends who have my back, too.

Yusuke: I reiterate do not care that you have a record; in fact, I think even better-- highly-- of you now. For what it is worth, though we've only known each other a short time, I would like to offer my friendship. 

Yusuke: I have very few others in this world as well now. You are now one of those few.

Ren: Friends it is.

Yusuke: Excellent. I look forward to a long and beautiful friendship, Ren.



"I truly appreciate this, Ren," Yusuke said with the biggest smile Ren had ever seen, "you have no idea how much this will help me capture true art!"

In the aftermath of the lobster incident on the beach, Ren had convinced him to let the lobsters go free. He would help him, instead, set up a tank in his room with everything Yusuke needed to properly care for a pet lobster. Getting a big enough tank and the supplies necessary hadn't been cheap, but Ren claimed it was to keep morale up for Yusuke, as well as teaching him some responsibility, which benefited the team, as he went out of pocket for his friend.

"A rock lobster is a lot of responsibility, and can live well past one hundred," Ren warned his friend, "are you sure you want to take that on?"

"I will," Yusuke stated with determination, "I will ensure this creature, my partner in art, will be cared for with the utmost of attention for life. If it outlives me, I will have it released or passed to perhaps one of you or your children or even grandchildren."

Everyone knew Ren had a propensity for dropping everything for a friend just to make them happy and once his mind was set, he wouldn't change it, so no one protested. He proved it as he and Yusuke team-lifted the 75 gallon tank (though they would likely have to invest in a larger one a few years down the road) and its stand to Yusuke's dorm. The next two hours were spent scrubbing the inside of the tank and the objects going in it to ensure its sanitation for the creature that would inhabit it.

Finally, when the tank was set up, the lobster (a single one; Ren had talked Yusuke out of having two), was placed in their new home. Yusuke watched with amazement as it traversed the inside of the tank calmly before settling on one of the logs placed inside for decor. The artist giggled with glee. "Look! He is already showing me the harmony of movement with his many legs, and he poses so readily! I feel inspired just looking at you, Leonardo!"

"Leonardo?" Ren said with a snicker. "Sounds like a good name."

"I knew you, of all people, would understand." Yusuke said breathlessly as he stared at the lobster. The boy reached for the canister of vegetation-based pellets and dropped a few in, oohing and aahing as the lobster reacted and intricately picked up the pellets with its legs and delicately consumed them. "Extraordinary." he breathed. Finally, Yusuke tore his gaze away from his pet and beamed at Ren. "I have no words to properly thank you, my friend. I assure you that your investment in my artistic endeavors will be repaid in full one day--"

"There's no need," Ren said, raising a hand and silencing Yusuke, who stared in shock as he smiled, "consider it a very early Christmas and birthday present for you, as a gift from a friend. Just take good care of Leonardo."

Yusuke didn't move, and his face went blank. After a moment, Ren frowned and spoke gently. "Yusuke? Are you okay?"

"How," he croaked, his voice cracking, "did I ever find such a wonderful friend? How can I ever--" His eyes lit up. "A hug! That is what close friends do, yes? Can I thank you with that?"

Ren shrugged. "Uh, sure, if you feel comfortable doing that and you want to, but it's not necessary--" He was silenced as Yusuke, tearing up, embraced him in a tight hug. After a moment, Ren chuckled and patted Yusuke's back as the boy wept with joy. 

Joker looked over to see Leonardo staring at the two with mild interest, and he mouthed be good to him to the lobster, which continued to stare. Ren wasn't sure why he bothered, knowing the lobster didn't understand, but it made him feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, a feeling he relished as it lasted the rest of the day.



When they had begun their foray into Shido's Palace, Ren discovered, much to his and the team's delight, that all of his injuries and aches and pains from the aftermath of the interrogation room faded in the Metaverse. When Ren had gone in, they were in the back of his mind, with determination to lead the team overtaking any hesitation he had from the pain. His team had voiced their concerns and a desire for him to stay on the back lines, but upon seeing the change in health, they rejoiced. Ren took on the role as Joker and the leader with gusto as they began their mission. When they had left after the first day, however...

"Ow." Ren hissed through his teeth, and instinctively, he put his arms around his abdomen and hunched over. The pain and aches and agony had returned in full force with no warning as they returned to the real world. He immediately tried to stand back up, but it was too late. Almost instantly the team had surrounded him in a panic as they tried to see what was wrong. 

"What?!" Ryuji yelped, and winced as he pulled back the hem of Ren's shirt to see the wounds that very much still existed, and he blanched, then scowled, at the presence of black and blue. "The eff?! Is this some cognition bullshit?"

Morgana sighed sadly and nodded. "I was afraid of this," he said mournfully, the group's eyes falling on him, "Joker's cognition of himself was that of being strong with all of us as the leader. In the Metaverse, that translates to him being healthy and uninjured. But in reality..."

"He's still just as injured as he was before we went in." Makoto surmised glumly, crossing her arms. Ren sighed and shook his head.

"All the more reason for me to accompany you to the Palace, then. It's the one place I don't feel like I got hit by a truck."

"You really should still be careful, though." Ann remarked. "You'll just carry injuries you get inside the Palace out with you."

"And it'll be on top of all your other injuries you already have." Haru agreed. Ren grumbled and shrugged, though he winced at the motion as he tried to stubbornly stand up straight.

"I'll chance it." he said, determined.

"Ren..." Futaba grumbled in a frustrated warning, and Ren frowned. 

"Don't take this away from me. Please." He sighed and shook his head. "I wasn't kidding when I said it really isn't that great, being 'dead.' I stay at home all day, alone until you guys get off of school, feeling like absolute garbage inside and out." Ren huffed. "I. Need. This. To. Cope."

Everyone shared guilty looks. Ren briefly noted a strange look from Yusuke as the boy's lips twisted into a grimace before suddenly transforming into a strange smile. He chose not to question it as he was quickly ushered back to Leblanc with Futaba as the others parted ways for the day, with backward looks and repeated requests to Ren to take care of himself. Ren stumbled into Leblanc, stuffed his face with curry, took a quick shower, and passed out in bed without Morgana even having to tell him once. 

He awoke late the next morning to the sound of quiet munching, and he groaned, cracking an eye open before opening both wide and sitting up in surprise-- though he regretted the action almost immediately, as the bruises and scars on his body screamed at him for the sudden movement. He yelped and laid back down, and the subject responsible for his surprise set down his cup of jagariko on the chair he had been sitting in, where he was watching an art video on Ren's TV with closed captioning. Yusuke approached and knelt down beside Ren's bed, frowning with worry. 

"Are you alright, my friend? Can I get you anything?"

Ren blinked in surprised. "Yusuke..." he started, stunned, "don't you have school today?"

"I do, but I skipped." Yusuke replied simply. Ren frowned.

"Why?"

"To be with my friend in his time of need." 

The matter-of-fact tone Yusuke had taken as he spoke without a lick of hesitation shook Ren's heart. He smiled weakly and laughed, shaking his head. "I see. I'm fine, Yusuke. I just sat up too fast."

"You don't need to sit up if it causes you discomfort," Yusuke reassured, "can I get you anything? Food, water, aesthetics?"

"Aesthetics?" Morgana questioned from Ren's side on the bed, and Yusuke nodded.

"Aesthetics can heal the soul. Ren has no doubt had damage to the soul as well from the torture he underwent, and I have examples on my phone if he requires art." He frowned. "If I had more notice, I would have painted something for him, but I suppose I'll have to make do."

"I appreciate the concern, but I think I'll be okay." Ren claimed. Yusuke frowned, unconvinced, as Ren winced and pushed himself up, displacing Morgana as the cat hopped off the bed and stood beside Yusuke. "I need to get up anyways," he claimed, "need to use the bathroom and get something to eat to take the pain medication Takemi prescribed. I can ask Sojiro after I'm done in the bathroom."

Yusuke shook his head. "Nonsense-- I will request a hot plate of curry from Boss for you along with some water. You go to the bathroom and come right back upstairs; you need to rest, which I can see you haven't been doing enough of."

Ren was tempted to say "Yes, Mother" or otherwise snark about Yusuke's own lack of self care. The look of genuine care on Yusuke's face immediately softened him, however, and he settled for nodding. He allowed Yusuke to help him stand up, wincing as he did, but nevertheless he stood. "We're still going into Shido's Palace today, though." Ren said with determination. Yusuke frowned in disapproval before sighing. 

"Very well. That being said, you should rest for the time being. School won't be out for the others for several hours."  He smiled reassuringly. "No need to worry, however! I'm sure we will have a good, relaxing time together; I brought several artful films for us to watch and put you at ease."

Joker stared at Yusuke for a moment before laughing softly and smiling gently. "Thanks, Yusuke." he almost whispered. Yusuke smiled back.

"Anytime, my friend."

Chapter Text

Though night had fallen, Shinjuku was wide awake.

People of all stripes-- businessmen seeking a drink, a movie, or a host club, young people from the nearby University of Tokyo running about, overwhelmed tourists, vendors and shopkeepers offering goods, some benign and some illicit-- could be found there. Some made their way pointedly to a destination, ducking their heads and avoiding the hawkers who tried to pass out ads or girls dancing in front of nightclubs, beckoning visitors in. Others, particularly bewildered tourists, found themselves hoarded, unused to the hustle and bustle of the red light district. 

The bright streetlights and signs on buildings and ads flashed all colors of the rainbow, enticing visitors inside with the promise of pleasure. The air was tainted with the odor of cigarette smoke and the body odor of so many humans in one place, and hot with body heat, absorbed by the concrete jungle and exuded out like the city was breathing. The clamor of thousands of voices in this part of Tokyo alone made it difficult to speak to one another without having to yell to stand above the crowd for the barest second, all while trying to avoid being swept aside by the crowd. 

Ryuji, Ren, and Morgana scarcely found a spot off to the side to talk. Had it not been for the fact it was past the second month since his arrival, Ren would have been left dumbfounded and overwhelmed-- he still was, a little, and smiled gratefully at Ryuji, who had ushered him safely to the side. "Takes awhile to get used to the city, doesn't it?" he teased, smiling wryly. Ren chuckled.

"Hell of a lot better than my shithole of a hometown. Even with the smell. And the noise." He cleared his throat, quickly giving his friend a once-over to decide whether or not the two would fit in. Ryuji had almost not come in his casual summer outfit, opting for his uniform, but a rebuke from both Ren and Morgana dissuaded him-- particularly Ren, who didn't want to be swept away by himself in the crowd. He nodded. "Anyways, we're looking for a bar called Crossroads. The journalist should hopefully have info for us on our target. If I'm correct..." He pointed down one of the streets heading north of where they stood. "Should be that way."

"Alright," Ryuji said with a nod, "stay close, though. Easy to get swept away by the crowd. If you get lost, go stand in front of the movie theater and I'll come find you. Same if I get lost."

"Let's stick together." Ren agreed, and the two pushed their way past a crowd, past a fortune-teller who beckoned them forward that Ryuji immediately dismissed, though Ren, out of curiosity, decided to put a visit to her on his list of things to do in summer. There had been a few cops in the crowd, but mercifully, neither were stopped. 

Finally, they found themselves at the bar in question. A bell above the door jingled as Ren pushed the door open, and they were greeted by the sight of a modest, dark bar cast in red light on red walls, with a heart-shaped neon sign on the wall over the bar that said WELCOME LOVE in a variety of colors. A tall and portly barkeep in a black yukata with golden flowers patterned on it, was behind the bar.

Though the barkeep had turned and offered a warm "Welcome!" she had stopped and frowned at the sight of how young the two were. The woman they sought was on the other side of the bar from the barkeep, and she smiled drunkenly, while the barkeep eyed the boys and frowned at Ohya disapprovingly, then the boys.

"How old are you boys?" 

"Uh..." Both boys drawled awkwardly, grimacing as they heard a stifled groan from Morgana in Ren's bag.

"Sorry, Lala-chan," Ohya said brightly, her cheeks reddened from alcohol and slurring, "they're with me."

Lala huffed. "Someone your age, picking up children..."

"We ain't children!" Ryuji protested, and Ren winced. Lala shook her head as she turned back to the journalist.

"Just don't let the minors drink, alright?"

Ohya nodded and stood up, though she stumbled a bit as she balanced herself against the bar and smiled brightly at Lala. "We're gonna sit in the back." She turned and beamed at the two boys. "Go on back there and I'll treat you both to some water."

"Go on and have a seat, boys," Lala said with a sigh and a soft smile, "I'll bring you two some water."

"Thank you." the two said in unison as they hurried to the back as told. Ohya joined them, stumbling a bit at first before Ryuji stood and offered a hand, which she took as he helped her sit down in a quiet booth in the back. Lala came, bringing Ohya her drink and the boys tall glasses of water, which they thanked her for again. Lala sighed.

"You two finish your chat with her as quickly as possible and go home," she warned, "it's not safe for either of you nice young men to stick around in Shinjuku this late."

"Yes, ma'am." Ren promised, and with that, Lala departed. Morgana groaned from the bag as she left.

"Ugh, she reeks of booze..." he complained, but neither Ren nor Ryuji acted like they heard him. Ohya didn't seem to notice the meowing and laughed, propping her head up with a hand and an elbow on her knee.

"What a surprise! I thought you were joking, yet here you are, and with a friend, no less! I respect that bravery, so I'll listen to what you have to say. Well, what do you boys want to know?"

"Who controls Shibuya." Ren said calmly. Ohya's smile faded, and she sat up straight, eyeing both the boys curiously.

"Oh." she said, for the moment sounding sober. She shook her head. "Why that?"

"We need intel on their boss," Ryuji replied bluntly, "like, as soon as p--" The boy yelped and stopped as Ren elbowed him, an action that wasn't missed. Ohya laughed, then sighed, again propping her head up with a hand. 

"Well, I do happen to know something about that. I could tell you, but..." She stopped, took a long sip of her drink, and looked at the two calmly. "Do either of you know the Phantom Thieves of Hearts? You know, that case the public has been focused on lately?"

"Sure do!" Ryuji replied with a wry smile. Ohya's nose wrinkled.

"I was pursuing the issue of people randomly entering a shut-down state, but I'm lacking intel..." She beamed. "That's why I'm looking for new material to write about. So! Do either of you have any info on these Phantom Thieves?"

Ryuji grinned. "Heck yeah, we--"

"Ryuji," Ren hissed, "voice. Loud. Public." 

Ryuji deflated slightly and nodded. "Yeah," he said, quiet and awkward, "we do." 

"Why are you asking us?" Ren questioned, frowning as he crossed his arms and turned his attention back to the reporter. Ohya shrugged.

"You're Shujin kids, right? I remember the both of you wearing their uniform the last time we met." She smirked at Ryuji, who cringed back and blushed, before turning her eyes back to Ren. "I thought you might have some... insider knowledge on the Phantom Thieves because of it. And I see my suspicions were correct."

"What... suspicions?" Ryuji asked anxiously. She shook her head.

"You really need to get better at hiding your cards, kid." She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Obviously I mean my suspicions that you two have info on the Phantom Thieves."

"Oh!" Ryuji forced a laugh. "Yeah, we definitely have that. Nothing else, though. Just rumors."

Ohya chuckled. "I see... Their first incident was that of Kamoshida, you know? Ideally, I'd like to get some exclusive coverage from a student that suffered Kamoshida's abuse."

"I can do that," Ryuji spoke up quickly, scowling, "'cause the rat bastard overworked the track team I was on to near-death, broke my effin' leg, and got me almost expelled!"

Ohya stared for a moment before grinning wildly. "Jackpot!"  she cried. Ren stared at Ryuji in surprise, then smiled as Ryuji grinned at him. Ren turned to Ohya.

"If you interview Ryuji here-- anonymously-- can you give us the information we're looking for?"

"Done deal." Ohya said cheerfully. She smiled at Ryuji. "Gimme your contact information and I'll get in touch with you later."

"Sure thing." Ryuji agreed, and the two quickly exchanged numbers. Ohya hmm'ed and shrugged.

"Now that I think about it, those mental shutdowns and the Phantom Thieves both seem supernatural..." Ren and Ryuji shared a look as she hmm'ed again and looked away from the two. "Could they be related...? Or am I just hoping for a coincidence...?"

Ryuji frowned. "Phantom Thieves didn't do any of--" He cut himself off as he felt Ren elbow him and Morgana burning holes into him, while Ohya gave him a wholly unimpressed stare. There was a moment of silence, and Ohya chuckled.

"Sorry, I have a tendency to talk to myself on occasion. Well then, you can't exactly consider this an upfront payment, but..." She reached for her drink and took a quick sip of it, set it down, and stared, hard, at the boys. "Junya Kaneshiro. I think he's the guy you're probably looking for." 

"Yes!" Morgana cheered, and Ryuji glared at the cat, who smiled weakly and quieted. Ohya looked to Ren.

"You should check him out further if you're curious... but I'm not responsible for what happens next!" 

"Thank you, Ohya-san." Ren said, and Ryuji nodded eagerly.

"Thank you!"

"Don't mention it." Ohya said with a grin. She looked over to the bar. "Lala-chan! Can I get refills for these two? We need to make a toast to our new acquaintances!"

"It'll be a problem if you stay too long," Morgana warned, "you should leave right after you finish your water."

The two finished, stood, and thanked both Ohya and Lala, though Ohya pulled Ryuji to the side for a moment before the two left. "If you've got secrets, kid," she warned, "do a better job of trying to keep them hidden, will you?"

"Y- yes, ma'am." Ryuji stuttered, and off the two went into the night. They weaved their way together through the crowd and to the train station, then both went straight to Yongen as the two decided a sleepover would be in order. They grabbed Big Bang Burger, ate, ran to the bathhouse, and almost immediately passed out, with Ryuji on the couch and Ren and Mona on the bed. 

In the few minutes before slumber came, Ren's voice came out in the dark of the night and the silence of the night. "Ryuji?" he whispered, his voice a quiet breeze through the room.

"Yeah, Ren?" Ryuji's tired voice came, also as a whisper.

"Thanks for coming with me and helping out."

There was a pause, and when Ryuji spoke again, his voice was tinged with affection. "I wouldn't leave you to brave Shinjuku alone, especially for the first time, dude. I know you'd do the same for me any day."

"You know it," Ren agreed, "and thanks for being willing to be interviewed."

"Anything for the Phantom Thieves, right?" Ryuji said cheerfully. "I already checked the Nav. Kaneshiro's there. We'll all meet up tomorrow, kick his Shadow's ass, and show Miss Prez what real justice is! We'll be counting on you, leader."

"And we'll be counting on you, too," Ren said, smiling in the dark, "night, Ryuji."

"Night, Ren."

Chapter Text

Ann: Ren. My fellow bisexual. My best friend and practically my brother.

Ren: Ann. My fellow bisexual. My best friend and practically my sister.

Ann: I need your help. I'm gay for Shiho but I'm too afraid to confess.

Ren: You finally admit it. 

Ren: Why are you afraid to tell her? I'm about 99.9% sure she's into you, too. Have some faith in yourself.

Ann: It's that 0.1% that's getting me!

Ann: What if it's more than that? What if I ruin our friendship? 

Ren: You won't! I know you won't. Shiho loves you too much to let something like that happen, even if she didn't like you back (she does, by the way). 

Ren: Have you told anyone else?

Ann: No, but Futaba probably knows now.

Ann: She texted me. She does know. She just sent me the "Just Do It" speech by Shia LeBeouf. And a number of gifs from the speech.

Ren: She's right, you know.

Ren: My best advice would be to tell her plainly. The sooner it's off your chest, the better.

Ann: I want to do better than that! Some way to make it less awkward.

Ann: How did you tell Makoto?

Ren: She was saying she'd fail a test on love, and I said I'd be her study partner.

Ann: See?? You did it so smoothly! Smoother than just awkwardly saying "I love you a lot, and not in a strictly platonic way!"

Ren: To be honest, my heart was beating out of its chest, and I'm pretty sure my voice squeaked a bit on the last part, but it worked.

Ren: Have you tried telling her?

Ann: A few times, but I always end up chickening out. 

Ann: What do I do, Ren?

Ren: You know what you should do.

Ren: Why don't we ask Ryuji for help so he can back me up? He just got a girlfriend by doing essentially just what I told you.

Ann: He was already pretty positive that Hifumi liked him, too!

Ren: Yeah, but we really had to talk him into it. Had to convince him this was the opportunity of a lifetime and that he'd regret it if he didn't try. 

Ren: It's the same for you.

Ann: Ugh... Fine.



Ann Takamaki has added Ren Amamiya and Ryuji Sakamoto to the chat.

Futaba Sakura has been added to the chat.

Futaba:



Ann: Figures she'd let herself in.

Ryuji: What's going on?

Ann: Don't tell anyone else about this chatroom. 

Ryuji: I won't. What's up?

Ann: Well...

Ren: She has a massive crush on Shiho and I wanted you to back me up when I told her that she should just tell her exactly how she feels.

Ryuji: Oh! Effin' finally!

Ryuji: Yeah, Ren's right.

Ryuji: You'll regret it if you don't say something, Takamaki!

Futaba:

 

Ren: See? They agree with me.

Ann: But... how? Where? When?

Ren: How about you set up a crepe date, hang out at Inokashira Park, and tell her there?

Ann: But HOW do I tell her?

Ren: Just get it off your chest.

Ann: I can't just do that! I'll die!

Futaba: I can literally send her a message right now for you that will look like it came from you that will say "I AM SUPER IN LOVE WITH YOU, PLEASE GO OUT WITH ME"

Ann: DON'T YOU DARE!!!

Futaba: ( ಠ ʖ̯ ಠ)

Ryuji: Wait. I got this.

Futaba: (¬_¬)

Ryuji: Don't give me that! You haven't even heard my advice yet!

Ryuji: So, Suzui likes sports, right?

Ann: Yes...?

Ryuji: Does she still like volleyball?

Ann: Yeah. She said she doesn't want Kamoshida to ruin it for her.

Ryuji: Then get yourself a volleyball or something and write I LIKE YOU on it. Give it to her as a gift. 

Futaba: Step 3: ???? Step 4: Girlfriend obtained.

Ryuji: Exactly!

Ren: That's ridiculous.

Ann: ...

Ann: ........

Ren: Oh my God, you're thinking about it.

Ann: LISTEN 

Ann: SAYING WORDS IS NOT WORKING FOR ME

Futaba: So are you going to do it?

Ann: I... maybe?

Ryuji: It's a great idea, don't listen to Ren.

Ren: Hey!

Futaba: 



Ann: I...

Ann: I'll do it.

Futaba: (✧ω✧)

Ren: Alright. Set up a date and we'll go get a volleyball before then.

Ann: About that... I just texted her and she said she wants to hang out this evening around 5. 

Ann: It's 3 right now.

Ren: Then let's get shopping!

Ryuji: We're gonna find you the nicest effin' volleyball, you'll see!

Futaba: SHE'S DOING IT AND MAKING SHIA PROUD

Ann: Thanks, guys.


A quick shopping trip later, and Ryuji and Ren left, casting Ann thumbs-up of approval as she spied Shiho making her way through the crowd of Shibuya. Ann had shoved excess paper around the volleyball in a large gift bag to hide the contents, and she could feel her heart beating out of her chest as Shiho greeted her with a hug, eyed the bag, and asked what was within and who it was for. Ann stuttered awkwardly for a moment and chose not to reply at all as she forced her gaze over to the crepe stand the two frequented, and she smiled. "Look, Shiho! Let's go get some crepes!"

Shiho had given her a stare Ann tried not to notice as she ordered them crepes to go, and was unusually quiet on the way to the park where she insisted they wait to eat the crepes at. Shiho prodded her a few times, only getting startled, short answers out of her. They ate the crepes on the fence by the side of the pond in the park, and as soon as Ann was left to lick the last traces of sugar off her hands, Shiho cleared her throat. Ann turned to stare at her, wide-eyed, as the girl crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. 

"Okay, what's up with you? You're being really weird, Ann."

"I... uh..." Ann's lips twisted as her heart threatened to burst. She laughed awkwardly, then shoved the gift bag towards Shiho. "It's... for you."

She looked award, and Shiho's brows lifted. "Okay... thank you, Ann." 

Ann heard the rustling of paper, and a soft gasp as Shiho extracted the volleyball. The girl laughed. "Oh, thank you, Ann-- but why were you so anxious about giving this to me?"

The other girl looked over to see that Shiho had extracted the ball on the opposite side of which she had written her message. Ann took a breath, closed her eyes, and turned the ball over in Shiho's hands before darting her head away again, blushing furiously. Shiho let out another gentle gasp and an 'oh' as Ann closed her eyes. A silence fell, and a million thoughts raced through Ann's head. "I messed up, this was a bad idea, I'm so stu--" The train of thought was cut off as Shiho began to laugh. Ann's eyes snapped open, and she turned to look as Shiho had keeled over with laughter, leaning over the ball as she hooted. Ann blinked as Shiho held a hand up.

"Wait, just-- just give me a min--" Shiho hooted a little more as Ann shrank back, and finally, the girl looked up at her, beaming with tears slipping out of the corners of her eyes. 

"I'm so sorry," Ann apologized, "if you don't feel the same--"

"Ann, you adorable idiot," Shiho giggled, "I love you, too!" With that, she dropped the ball, and latched onto Ann with a kiss on the cheek and a hug. Ann's heart soared as she did so, and she, too, threw her arms around Shiho as the two laughed brightly. When the two finally calmed down, Shiho was still left giggling as she blushed and looked at Ann. "You could have just told me that, you silly goose! I'm happy to be your girlfriend!"

"Shiho..." Ann giggled. "You don't know how happy that makes me."

"Likewise, but..." Shiho laughed again as she picked up the ball and examined the message on it. "What possessed you to tell me this way?"

Ann flushed again and huffed. "Listen, words weren't working for me!" She paused and shrugged. "Also, it was Ryuji's suggestion..."

"Ryuji suggested this?" Shiho snickered. "You know he's never going to let you live this down, right? And neither will I."

Ann shrugged and smiled. "I'm fine with that, if it means I get you as a girlfriend."

Chapter Text

Ryuji noticed when Ren froze like a deer in the headlights when he saw cops walking through Shibuya. The behavior was not one that was new; Ren had displayed the same aversion to the police immediately after getting out of prison. The athlete had assumed it was a byproduct of getting out that would fade, with time, but the fear was as strong as ever, several months down the road, with Ren back home in Tokyo for good. The two had been pushed close together, suffering under the sticky, humid heat of Shibuya in summer, but Ren was shivering. Neither officer even seemed to notice the boys, but it did nothing to resolve Ren's shaking. 

He immediately pulled Ren to his side opposite of the officers, and moved as far away to the side as possible. Finally, he pulled him into the alleyway leading to Untouchable, where Ren desperately tried to regain his composure. Ren shook his head and huffed. 

"I'm okay." he said, though Ryuji hadn't said a word yet. Ryuji frowned.

"The hell you are, you..." He sighed. "Never mind for now. Breathe with me, man. We can talk about this later."

Ryuji didn't like the way Ren flinched and averted his gaze at his last sentence... and he definitely didn't like how Ren dodged the subject later on.



Ann noticed when they were shopping.

Ren was looking at watches when Ann found one made of aluminum, sleek and stylish, and she smiled. "Oh, this would look good on you." she said, and she reached for his wrist. As soon as she touched it, Ren jerked back and paled as the metal made contact with his skin. Ann frowned and quickly pulled it away as Ren shook his head.

"No, no-- I mean, it's very nice, but it's too expensive." he dismissed. "Thank you. I don't know if I want a watch anymore, though, I mean, I have a phone and all..."

"But you've always worn a watch..." Ann trailed off, and her eyes went soft and sad. "Ren... are you..."

"I'm fine." he said, though he was rubbing at his wrist with his other hand without realizing it, as if he was trying to pull off something that wasn't there anymore. "Thanks. I think I'm done in this shop. Let's go look in the... something store."

Ann felt a pang of worry take root in her heart.



Yusuke and Haru noticed when Ren was still as skinny as he was when he left prison. They, Ren, and Morgana had agreed to go out for lunch at the Wilton (much to Yusuke's delight) one afternoon after Ren's return but both noticed how loosely his shirt hung over his torso, only somewhat less loose than it had been when he had gotten out. It was minimal progress to show for the last few months. 

"Ren, my friend," Yusuke started bluntly, "have you not been eating?"

"I have to agree with him," Haru said worriedly, frowning at Ren's sparse plate, "Ren-Ren... please, eat."

"What about Yusuke?" Ren questioned, not looking at either of them as he toyed with his food. "He eats bean sprouts all the time..."

"Not anymore." Haru said. "I've been commissioning him on the regular, so he can buy himself better food, and I treat him quite often. His bean sprout days are a thing of the past."

"Indeed." Yusuke said, scratching his chin. "Although Haru's requests are quite curious, they give me an artistic challenge every time, and I get paid handsomely for my efforts." He frowned. "That being said, you live in a cafe and work as an intern for Yoshida-san. You should be coming back to a healthy weight by now."

There was a long pause, and Ren shrugged. "I dunno. I just haven't been that hungry."

The two stared a moment, shared a sad look, and Haru pushed the contents of her plate onto his. Ren blinked. "What are you--"

"You didn't have nearly enough on your plate, and I was planning on going back for more anyways." Haru said cheerfully. "So please eat, Ren-kun."

"Please." Yusuke agreed. Under their expectant stares, Ren took a hesitant bite.

The two were still left worried.



Sojiro suspected, but his suspicions were confirmed one night when the door of Leblanc's bathroom jammed, with Ren inside. He heard the doorknob jiggling, and by the time he dropped what he was doing to help, Ren was shaking the door desperately. Quickly, Boss got the door open with a shove from the other side, and found Ren shaking, on the verge of tears, eyes wide and his lips taut and drawn. Sojiro took him by the shoulders and ushered him quickly to the booth in the back. 

"Sit down and stay there." he ordered, and as soon as he saw that Ren had done as he was told, he went out, flipped the sign to CLOSED, and came back in, where Ren was staring at the tabletop, shaking visibly. He was trying not to look up as he heard Sojiro heave a sigh and approach him. The man paused. "Can I get you anything? Water?"

"... No, thank you." Ren nodded weakly. "I'm okay."

Sojiro said nothing at first, electing to keep a reassuring hand on Ren's shoulder. When Ren finally calmed down and stopped shaking, Sojiro sighed heavily. "Kid, to be frank, you're really, really not okay." 

Ren didn't reply and didn't visibly react. After a moment's pause, Sojiro sighed again. "I want to have a serious talk with you about seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist; Futaba sees both, and she likes hers. I could set you up with an appointment with both."

"No." Ren refused quietly. "I'm okay. I'm sorry."

A silence fell, and Sojiro sighed again. "You know what? Just... go head to bed. We'll talk about this another time when you're not coming off a panic attack."

Ren nodded and silently went upstairs, avoiding the worried frown Boss was sending his way.



Morgana noticed long before the others, save for Futaba and Makoto, when Ren had had the fifth nightmare in a row the week he was released. It always began the same; Ren would start groaning and rolling side-to-side, which sometimes turned to thrashing and yelling, which woke himself up if Morgana didn't. Ren brushed off Morgana's concern every time.

"I must have eaten something bad."

"I'm just overtired." 

"Nightmares happen, it's fine."

He tried, a few times, to argue that it was a recurring event, but Ren brushed off his concerns as politely as he could. This carried on even in his hometown and upon his return to Tokyo.

Morgana suspected something was deeply wrong, especially when he discussed it with Makoto.

"He's suffering," she agreed sadly, "I'm with him so often and I notice everything the others have been describing. He needs help... and we're going to have to be the ones who get him to get that help. He needs us."



Futaba and Makoto noticed first. 

Futaba knew exactly what was wrong and why, and she saw it in his movement, his eyes, his attitude. She still struggled with her own trauma, anxiety, and depression, sure, but with help, she coped. Makoto noticed the same changes immediately after Futaba; she noted all of it whenever they were out together on a date, and she noted it when she would sleep over and he would awaken with nightmares almost every time. She would quickly pull Ren into her arms and murmur reassurances, and his shaking would cease quickly at her touch, though he would fall back into troubled sleep. Makoto first discussed it with Ren, who gingerly admitted he wasn't okay, but didn't think anything would help. Then she discussed it with Futaba, Morgana, and Sojiro, who quickly affirmed their shared concern and desire to help.

"I suffer, too, but I can cope with your help and therapy." Futaba said seriously. "Ren will be no different."

Futaba sent the message out to the team, who all immediately agreed:

They'd help him like he had helped them.



Ren knew exactly what was happening when he came downstairs one morning and found all of his friends waiting for him with grim, worried expressions as they gazed at him pitifully. His heart clenched at their stares, and he suddenly felt small as the center of attention. Part of him was tempted to turn on his heel and run back upstairs and hide, but the rest of him knew he couldn't run forever from this conversation. He paused in the stairway nonetheless, looking out at his friends and his practically adoptive father glumly. After a moment's hesitation, he sighed and moved to an empty bar stool closest to the stairs, and he sat backwards in it, propping his head up on his arms, which rested on the back of the stool.

"Alright," he started with a sigh, "get it out of your systems."

"Ren, we're really, really effin' worried about you." Ryuji said first with a frown. "You get really, really nervous, almost like you're on the verge of having a panic attack, whenever you see a cop..."

"You actually did have a panic attack when you got stuck in the bathroom." Sojiro remarked. Haru nodded. 

"You're also not eating enough, and you haven't since you left prison."

"And you have such good food available to you..." Yusuke agreed.

"You freak out when people touch you on the wrist or neck and you look freaked out for a good half an hour, minimum, every time." Ann added.

"You have nightmares almost every night." Morgana continued. Makoto sighed.

"You're always tired because of that... and the mental anguish you're going through, aren't you?"

"I know exactly how you feel." Futaba finally said, staring at him hard. She sniffled. "It... we hate seeing you suffer like this. Please, Ren. Let us get you help." She wiped her eyes. "Please."

Ren said nothing for a moment and looked down, and he closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. "Help how?"

"We want you to start seeing a therapist," Sojiro said bluntly, "and a psychiatrist, too. Dr. Takemi recommended both of those to Futaba, and she likes them. Dr. Takemi's recommending them for you, too."

"Do you think that would actually help me?" 

"Yes." the room chorused at once, and he jumped slightly. Makoto nodded firmly.

"Ren, I know there's a stigma around it, but it's absolutely no different than seeing a physician for a physical problem. We love you deeply, and we're always here to listen, but we're not professionals." She locked eyes with him. "You're traumatized and you need help."

"And every one of us wants you to get that help." Yusuke agreed. Ryuji nodded.

"Yeah, man, it's like... it's like if I had just ignored when my leg was broken." He huffed. "Ignorin' it wouldn't have made it any better, and this ain't any different." 

Ren stared at them all a moment longer before hanging his head down and staring intensely at the floor for a few moments. Finally, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, picked his head back up, and nodded.

"I'll do it," he said soberly, "not just for me. For all of you, if it matters that much to you..."

Futaba moved first, letting out an excited squeal as she rushed forward and threw her arms around him. He returned the hug as several of the others, namely Ann, Haru, and Makoto, descended upon him with relief. He cheeks flushed red and he had to work to not let himself cry as much as he wanted to, though a few tears managed to slip.



He walked out of the first therapy session feeling exhausted.

It had been with a dose of fear that he went in, but he walked out with another appointment scheduled the next week. Part of him wondered if it was truly worth it up until he went out the door and found Sojiro waiting for him with a reassuring smile. The next week, he found himself greeted at the appointment's end by Ryuji, who slung an arm around him and declared they were getting ramen. Practically every week, he found himself greeted by either Sojiro or one of his friends, and he knew it was worth every last moment of tears and frustration. 

It would be a long process, but they would be there every step of the way.

Chapter Text

Makoto tried not to notice as a group of three girls, mostly 3rd years, approached her desk. They drew within inches of her, and finally, she grumbled and looked up. "Can I help you?" she questioned. The girls all shared a look before looking at her grimly.

"Miss President... Makoto." the tallest one started. "Is Amamiya... abusing you?"

Her eyes widened, and Makoto scowled. "No! Why would you ask that?"

"I mean... his record..." the middle girl pointed out. "... Isn't he... violent? A criminal?"

"No!" Makoto groaned, shaking her head. "No, he isn't! Kamoshida and the student body made up all of those rumors!"

"But he does have a record." the shorted girl pointed out, and Makoto groaned again, rolling her eyes.

"Did any of you bother to try asking him what for instead of just following rumors? No?" She huffed. "Ren interrupted a very drunk man trying to rape a woman in his hometown. The man stumbled and tripped, hurt himself, and blamed Ren for it." She sighed sadly. "As it turned out, the man was rich, and threatened the woman to not testify against her attempted rapist. Ren got convicted of assault, and now he's living in Tokyo because of it." She scowled, glaring a red Niijima glare at the girls, who flinched under it. "Poor Ren has enough on his plate for just doing the right thing, but he doesn't regret it. He has to deal with people like you who blindly make and follow rumors. Maybe, if you tried just talking to him, you'd see he's one of the kindest, sweetest boys you've ever met."

"You believe him?" the tallest girl questioned, and Makoto nodded firmly.

"I do. So does Kawakami-sensei, Okumura-san, Takamaki-san-- everyone he's befriended, everyone who's gotten to know him, knows he's not violent at all." She sighed sadly. "And I know this speech has done nothing for you. Ren Amamiya is a good person, and--"

"-- can confirm." 

Makoto looked over in surprise to see Eiko approaching the group, frowning bitterly. "Once upon a time, I believed those rumors, too," she agreed, "but when I was in trouble, he and Miss Prez went out of their way to help me just because they were worried about me and it was the right thing to do." She giggled. "The only thing Ren is, is an adorable dork. Makoto is lucky, 'cause if she wasn't dating him, I sure would be trying, but he's totes head over heels for her." She scoffed. "Also, if Ren tried anything weird, Miss Prez could kick his ass five ways to Friday-- she knows aikido." Eiko snickered. "And he's real into that."

There was a stunned silence from the girls. Makoto looked over to the front of the room to see her teacher readying to start, she nodded her head towards the other desks in the room, and the girls departed with backwards glances. She and Eiko shared a smile, and she mouthed a thank you to which Eiko replied with finger guns and a click of the tongue before heading to her desk.



Ren was well aware of the dirty looks he was on the receiving end of as he headed to class. He kept his eyes straight ahead as he went to class, and stared out the window intensely when he reached his seat, looking anywhere but the rest of his class. He jumped slightly and out of his daze when someone prodded his arm, and he turned to see Ann smiling brightly.

"So... you and Makoto?" she began teasingly. Ren sighed and nodded.

"Yeah. This... wasn't what we wanted, with everyone knowing. My dumb ass just panicked and yelled what came to mind first when she needed a diversion..."

"Pfft, who cares what any of them think?" Ann cupped her cheeks in her hands and set her elbows on the back of her chair as she giggled. "And when were you going to tell us?"

"Eventually?" Ren said weakly, flushing. "I just... I mean, it never came up..."

Ann punched him in the shoulder. "You dork! Look at how flustered you're getting!"

"I'm not getting flustered!" Ren protested, his cheeks reddening further. Ann squealed.

"You are... and the first thing to come to your mind was to yell that you love her?" Ren nodded weakly, face bright red, and Ann giggled again. "You two are too cute!"

Ren sighed and scratched the back of his neck as scattered snickers from students nearby reached him. "I do... and I'm feeling guilty for putting the spotlight on her. She doesn't deserve anyone talking poorly about her just because she likes me enough to look past the record."

"Because your record is bullshit and all of us know it." Ann reassured, squeezing his shoulder. "And she sees what a wonderful person you are. Makoto knew what she was getting into when she started dating you, and she still loves you, and you love her. That's all that matters-- forget everyone else and all the looks. Makoto will, too."

The boy smiled softly. "Thanks, Ann. Your vote of confidence helps." He sighed glumly, shaking his head. "I still feel guilty, though..."

"Then talk to her about it." Ann said reassuringly. "That's how couples get through stuff like this, right?"

Ren smiled. "Right. Thanks again, Ann..."

With that, he decided he'd pull his girlfriend aside at lunch and settle the matter.



When lunchtime came, the Phantom Thieves left Makoto and Ren to speak privately on the rooftop, albeit with backwards glances and giggles. Ryuji shot the two finger-guns and slapped Ren's back proudly, to which the boy could only respond to by smiling weakly. The two headed up the stairs, to the roof, under the shade of an HVAC unit, and when they thought no one else was in earshot, Ren spoke.

"Makoto, I'm so sorry." he apologized guiltily. "I should have yelled something else at the festival-- now people are whispering about you, too. I can't apologize enough, and..." He sighed. "You don't deserve--"

"Stop that right now." Makoto snapped, and the boy's eyes snapped up to hers, wide and surprised. She stepped forward and took his hands into hers, their gazes steady. "Ren Amamiya. Did you mean it? Do you love me?"

Ren nodded his head. "More than anything," he admitted, "I've never felt this way about anyone. Just being around you is like... well... it's like my heart is just... fluttery and warm just at the thought of you, and I think of you all the time. It's good. Better than good. I feel safe. I feel loved. You're an amazing person, Makoto." He chuckled awkwardly. "Maybe that sounds sappy, but, uh, it is what it is. I... I really, really love you."

Makoto smiled warmly, eyes soft. "Good, because I feel the same way. I love you, too, Ren, and those people whispering-- I don't care about them, and neither should you."

With that, she pressed a kiss to his lips, and he melted into it as she pressed him against the HVAC unit. He yelped slightly as his back made contact with the metal, then he chuckled, smirking at her for a brief moment as she pulled away. "Little rough, there."

"You like it."

"Damn right I do."

She leaned in for another kiss, and he wrapped his arms around her as they, at least for the moment, forgot the world.

Neither noticed a small group of girls peeking through the very slightly ajar door, nor did they notice them hurrying away, fighting back mad giggles.



"Oh, my God, Miss Prez wears the pants in the relationship. This changes everything."

"Miss Prez is a dom. That's amazing."

"Amamiya-kun is a lucky bastard..."

"I didn't know he was capable of love. Wow."

"This is the funniest thing I've ever heard of in my life."

"I kind of don't blame her... he's very attractive."

"He's cute and all, but he's not good enough for her."

"He never will be good enough for her with that record, no matter how hard he tries."

The next day at school was filled with just as many whispers and stares as the day prior, though the stares were less hostile to Ren, who was doing his best not to look ashamed as he and Makoto walked through the halls to their homeroom classes. Makoto was stiff in the shoulders, eyes straight ahead and challenging, while Ren kept his gaze downward. As they reached his homeroom, he turned to smile at her in spite of his stress, his eyes softening. "Well, this is my stop. See you at lunch?"

"See you at lunch." Makoto confirmed. The two squeezed their hands together, and Ren reluctantly started heading for the door when Makoto grabbed his wrist. He turned back to her, and his heart practically seized up in his chest as she gave him a kiss on the lips. He almost didn't even hear the scandalized gasps around them among several hoots and whistles and one GET IT, MISS PREZ! from an unknown student that sounded awfully like Eiko. Though it only lasted for a second or two, nothing more than a quick peck, it felt much longer, and Ren was grinning stupidly as she pulled away. 

"You be good." she said, and Ren laughed.

"Oh, that's all I can be after that. Today's going to be a good day."

"What makes you say that?"

"You kissed me. Any day you kiss me is a good day."

Makoto's cheeks flared red, and she punched his arm. "You sound like you're from a host club!" she squealed, and Ren laughed.

"Do you want me to stop?"

"I didn't say that!" she squealed. They stared at each other for a second, their eyes soft and gazes tender as they took each other in. "Alright," she said hesitantly, "I really have to go now. Bye, Ren."

He nodded weakly. "Bye, Makoto." Finally, their gazes tore apart, and he stood there for several moments with a dopey smile on his face as she walked off. Ren only snapped back into reality when Ann shook him, and he came to his senses to see her giggling and smiling at him. 

"Somebody's in love!" she sing-sang, and Ren flushed and scratched the back of his neck. She waved at Makoto by the stairs, as she had turned to smile wryly at Ann shaking Ren back into reality. Makoto giggled and waved back before going up, and Ann shook Ren's arm again. "Come on; you'll be late." she urged, dragging Ren in as he ducked his head to avoid the gazes of the crowd while he smiled and blushed beneath his glasses. Many more whispers overtook the hall following the spectacle, though Ren couldn't bring himself to care about any of them.

"Oh no, they're actually adorable together."

"Holy fuck, this IS a rom-com in real life!"

"Did you see Amamiya's face? He really DOES love her..."

"Hey, as long as it keeps him in line, right? Amamiya wouldn't dare overstep his bounds now."

"It's good to know someone has him on a leash."

"I can't believe it, but I'm actually starting to support it."

"Did you hear what he said after she kissed him? I had no idea he was so sappy."

"Fuck. Now I'm kind of jealous."

"... I want to get a man that looks at me like the transfer student looks at Miss Prez."


By the week's end, gossip had shifted back to that of the Phantom Thieves, and almost no one batted an eye at the two as they came in every morning, hand in hand. The two were head over heels for each other, a fact that was becoming quietly accepted at the school, partially out of fear of raising objections in front of either of the two and partially due to the fact no amount of protesting would stop them. Many of the students who had once been afraid of Ren seemed, while still somewhat uneasy, no longer terrified of being in his presence. That, at the very least, was for the students who doubted the claim in Makoto's story that he was truly innocent; some believed it and pitied the boy.

Come mid-November, and just about everyone had stopped caring entirely. Their relationship was an everyday affair and a fact of life, with the fiasco and fallout of the school festival revelation behind them. Attention to the couple was barely even raised when Ren left school for "family reasons" due to the fact any gossip that would arise from that subject was overshadowed by the news of the suicide of the leader of the Phantom Thieves. The attention drawn was to Makoto, who came to school with dark eyes and an exhausted frown etched onto pale skin, but she stood tall and made her way to class, ignoring the students that backed away from her, as her gaze was hard and threatened anyone who dared disturb her.

When she reached class early, she moaned and shook her head, trying to force herself into a wakeful state, and she blinked at Eiko as the girl walked up to her desk. Makoto's frown deepened ever-so-slightly. "Eiko?"

"Makoto, are you okay?" Eiko questioned bluntly, hands on her hips. "What's eating you, Miss Prez?"

The girl sighed and crossed her arms. "Ren had to go home for a family emergency last night. I can't give you the specifics, but he's going through a lot right now. I drove him home and back, and we spent a long time talking. I've been checking on him via text all morning; he's trying very hard to be brave, but I can tell he's suffering." She sighed sadly, shaking her head. "I worry about him, Eiko."

Eiko's eyes softened. "Oh, Makoto... that's so sweet of you. Trust me, though, he'll be okay, especially with your support. You know how resilient he is. He--" She paused as Makoto's phone buzzed, and Makoto opened it to read the message. Her frown suddenly turned into a soft smile, and she giggled. 

"I think you're right, Eiko."

"Ooh, what did he say?" she asked eagerly, and Makoto displayed the phone.

Ren: Sorry again about last night. I know you must be exhausted. Thank you again for... everything.

Ren: I just wanted to tell you that I love you.

"Aww," Eiko squealed, "that's so sweet--" She stopped as the phone buzzed and another message popped up, and suddenly her delighted smile turned into a smirk as she began to laugh. "'My Queen?'" Eiko questioned, and Makoto turned bright red as she quickly pulled the phone back to read the message. 

Ren: I hope you have a peaceful day at school, My Queen. ❤

"He calls you 'My Queen?"

"Shh!" Makoto hissed. Eiko squealed into her hands. 

"That's so cute! Do you call him My King or something?"

"No!" Makoto cried. "No, he hates being called pet names!"

"But he has no trouble calling you that!"

"He says it's not the same if he says it to someone else! And I don't mind!"

"I'm sure you don't, Queen." Eiko teased as Makoto went red. She looked up at the clock in the back of the room and back to Makoto. "Unfortunately, I gotta go to class. Please tell your snookums-- or honeybuns-- or snugglebug, whatever pet name you want-- that I wish him the best."

Makoto groaned. "I'll tell him the last part. Not the pet name part. He'll get flustered."

"All the more reason to do it!" Eiko clicked her tongue and pointed finger-guns at Makoto. "See ya later, Queen!"

"Don't call me that! And don't tell anyone!" Makoto yelled after her.

"I won't, your majesty!" Eiko promised with a wave, and as the girl left, Makoto groaned and leaned back in her chair, and sighed tiredly again. A few other students asked later on of her boyfriend, to which she gave them the same story she gave Eiko, and the story became the accepted consensus.

For the time being.



When Ren returned to Shujin in February, free from jail, he was faced with a slew of questions about his suspected activities as a Phantom Thief, especially after the AMA, which he tried to brush off as politely as possible. A few, however, were a little harder than others to ignore.

"Miss Prez-- Queen is sooo lucky..."

"Did you see the AMA? They're so in love."

"I shipped them from the beginning. Even when he had the record. Seriously."

"I'm so glad to hear that they're just as in love as ever."

Ren huffed, hands in his pockets as he made his way to class, head held high and eyes straight ahead. Shortly after he reached his classroom and took his seat, his phone buzzed, and he looked down at it to see a text from Makoto.

Makoto: Have a good day at school-- I'll be looking forward to our date tonight.

He beamed without realizing it until a student let out an oooh.

"Someone's smiling... seeing your girlfriend later, Joker?" a girl a few seats away questioned. He looked up to see a group of girls tittering as they stared at him. He paused for a moment and shared a look with his friends around him-- Ann giggled, Mishima smiled, and Ryuji nodded proudly. Finally, Ren flashed his Joker smirk at them.

 "You're damn right I am."

With that, he settled into the new school year. No matter what came, he knew he'd be fine. Makoto knew the same as she settled into her first college lecture anxiously, tapping a pen on her notebook and smiling as Ren sent her a text that would help her through the day.

Ren: I love you. Have a good day, my Queen. ❤

She sighed happily. The new world they had forged together still wouldn't be easy, but it would be better, and they'd work through to make it better together.

Chapter Text

 

(This one is based off of Retrodynamic's work on Tumblr, "Changing dressings" https://retrodynamics.tumblr.com/post/177930010574/changing-dressings. Unsure if will add anything further).

"Ren? Ren... it's time again."

Ren let out a low moan and turned himself over on his bed, cracking his eyes open to see Ryuji and Ann, wielding bags of gauze and antiseptic and cotton balls, staring at him quietly. It was dusk, not quite night and not quite day, and the light from his shuttered windows crept over him, illuminating slivers of black and blue wherever his skin was not hidden by his hoodie or his blanket. He felt Morgana shift on the bed and hop off, leaving him lying quietly. 

He stared at them mournfully, lips twitching, and Ryuji sighed. "I know, buddy, I know. It's not fun, but we gotta do it."

With a quiet sigh, Ren pulled himself from the bed, revealing legs covered in scratches and bruises that still made his friends wince. He wore shorts, knowing fully well this moment had been coming, and no matter how much he hated it, he didn't want to make it more difficult for them. He didn't wear a shirt under the hoodie, which hid more of the wounds he truly didn't like looking at.

The team had fallen into a routine of taking turns bandaging him. The group rotated between Ann and Ryuji, Makoto and Haru, and Yusuke and Makoto, the latter of whom insisted she was fine doubling up on duty to care for him, mostly to spare Futaba the stress of doing it any further, who had night and morning duty with Sojiro (though every so often, Kawakami showed up to help with laundry and other chores for the beleaguered teens and assisted Sojiro in Futaba's stead). At first, Ren had protested, stating he could do it himself, but an attempt at doing so had left him almost weeping in pain on the floor the first time, his wounds exposed and dirty gauze lying around him. From then on, he allowed them to help, but he nevertheless hated it, feeling exposed, helpless, and humiliated. There was no shame in it, the others insisted, but the feelings lingered.

This was the second time Ryuji and Ann took up his dressing, and neither looked pleased about the situation either. The first time they had done it had been ugly; as soon as they were done and Ren was pushed back into bed, Ann burst into tears as soon as she was out of earshot of the leader. Ryuji had followed suit, and both fought to hide their despair to little avail. Still, neither hesitated when it came to helping their stubborn friend they loved and worried about dearly.

"Sit." Ann ordered gently. He obeyed, settled himself down, and allowed her to pull off his glasses. Both sat with him, and after a moment's hesitation, they began. Ryuji started by pulling the gauze off his right leg, wincing as he looked at the spent wrappings. Ann worked on his face and peeled back the bandages, her frown only deepening as she saw the dried blood and scratches under the bandage. Ren winced and grimaced several times during the process, but did not make a sound. She let out a sigh. "You've been itching them again." she murmured, and Ren chose not to reply. After a moment's silence and pause, she sighed again and finished pulling off the last of the bandages. "Please, try to stop doing that. It's just going to take longer to heal..."

"... Sorry." Ren murmured. Ryuji sighed, too, as he dropped the last dirty piece of gauze from his right leg. 

"Makoto and Haru told us you were itchin' last time, too. S'okay. We brought anti-itch cream. Should help with that." He forced a weak smile. "But, uh, the itching means you're healing, right? So... it's good. Just... let your body do its thing."

"'Kay."

Ryuji and Ann shared a look in silence, then went back to their work. Ren eyed the bottles of antiseptic they both extracted, and he closed his eyes tight as he saw them both grabbing cotton balls to dab the antiseptic on. Ren kept his eyes closed as Ann gently put her index finger under and thumb over his chin, pulling him forward ever-so-slightly. 

"We'll get this done as fast as we can." Ann promised, and with that, the burning began as he felt the cotton make contact with his wounds. He couldn't hold back a hiss of pain, and he grit his teeth, fighting back tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. The stinging burn spread over his leg and face as the two moved, and though it took seconds, it felt like hours to him, and he was left to breathe shakily as they pulled back, the sting fading.

"You're doing great, Ren," Ryuji praised, "just hang on a little longer, okay?"

"Okay."

The two applied the anti-itch cream and clean white bandages to his wounds and moved on, Ryuji to his other leg and Ann to one of his arms as she pulled back the sleeve. Again, they removed the old, cleaned the wounds and winced with their friend, and replaced the bandages. Ann finished the other arm quickly, and finally, Ren shakily stood, walked to his bed and pulled up a pair of sweat pants, and slipped them on over his shorts. There was a moment of hesitation, but finally he sighed and took off his hoodie, exposing his torso. His torso was by far the worst injured part of his body; nearly half of his flesh was covered in bandages, which scarcely hid the black and blue discoloration that peeked out under the corners of the gauze. 

He returned and sat back down, and quickly, the two moved in, pulling off the old. Both grimaced as they saw the slowly-healing injuries and bruises, which appeared as ugly as they did the day prior.

Takemi told them this would happen. They knew it wouldn't be an overnight process, but it still sent shivers of rage and disgust up their spines. Ann bit back an impulse to vomit, and Ryuji bit back rage, nearly biting his lower lip so hard it bled. Both were merciful for the fact Ren had closed his eyes upon pulling off the hoodie so he did not see their expressions. The first time, they hadn't been so lucky, and Ren fretfully insisted he could do it himself when everyone know he could do no such thing. They apologized many times, but still felt awful about it.

Still, they moved quickly, cleansing his wounds and applying anti-itch cream. When Ann drew antiseptic to the biggest wound on his side, he let out a bit-back scream, biting his lip as Ryuji squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. "We know, Ren, we know." Ryuji tried to soothe. "Just hang in there. A little more, okay? You're doing awesome."

Finally, Ann was done, and Ryuji moved in to wrap gauze around him, weaving his arms around his friend's torso. Finally, it was done, and Ren pulled his hoodie back on quickly. As he opened his eyes, they saw exhaustion and resignation.


(This was part of The Lovers chapter I intended to do and will probably be finished at some point. The context for this is Ren is having his picture taken, but his hair isn't cooperating, so Ann takes over)

"What even is your hair?!" Ann groaned in frustration as the comb got stuck in Ren's hair. The boy shrugged.

"My mom wonders the same thing."

"Hold still!"
 Ann snapped, reaching for the comb. "I will fix your hair!"

Ren yelped in pain as she tugged the comb out, and he groaned. "Easy! That hurts!"

"Sit down!" she ordered, and she practically dragged him aside and had him sit on the floor on his knees while she knelt down and struggled to tame his curls. She panted tiredly, glaring at Ren's hair, which she managed to slightly comb back. Ren was wincing in pain, lips curled back and cringing as he fought back screams. Finally, Ann let out a loud, exhausted sigh as she yanked the comb out of Ren's slightly smoothed-down hair; the boy was shaking as Ann hunched over, breathing heavily. 

Ren groaned and instinctively almost reached for his sore scalp to rub it, only for Ann to swat his hands and glare at him. "DON'T YOU DARE RUIN MY HARD WORK!" she snapped, only to let out a frustrated whine as a lock of curly hair popped upright on top of his head. Ann licked her fingers and smoothed it down, stopping to glare at his hair. "You behave yourself! Just for five minutes!"


(This was supposed to be a Mishima chapter. Unfinished, may be finished in the future. First part's context is that Ren explained his whole backstory to Mishima, who reacts, and the following part is shortly after Ren's release from jail)

"I'm so sorry!" Mishima sobbed. "Amamiya-kun, I'm so, so sorry! I-- I--" He hung his head, tears still streaming down his face. "You're-- you're innocent, you're such a good person, and I ruined your life even more than it already was, because I was afraid... I c-can't even..." He shook his head, wholly ashamed of himself. "I'M SO SORRY!"

"I forgive you."

Mishima's head shot up, eyes wide as he stared at Ren, who was watching him, arms crossed. Mishima gasped. "You... just like that?"

Ren shrugged. "I know what Kamoshida did. You're sorry. That's enough for me."

Mishima stared at him, shell-shocked, as Ren stared back silently. Mishima gasped. "You're... you're serious, aren't you? Just like that...?" He let out a shuddering gasp. "You really are something special. I don't deserve to be let off so easily, and you-- you don't deserve any of this..."

"No. I don't, but it is what it is." Ren said with a sigh. "I'm... trying to look for the good in the situation. Those people at school don't know me; I know me, and the people who bothered to look past the rumors and get to know me, know me. It... makes it easier to avoid what I had to experience when I left my hometown." At Mishima's horrified gasp and stare, he shrugged and averted his gaze. "Let's just say I thought I had people before now. I didn't. Now I do, because those who really will stand with me got past all of that and gave me a chance, my reputation be damned. Hopefully that means I won't be..." He stopped himself, voice catching in his throat. "Well, I have people who I trust now. I really should be thanking you for making it clear."

"You can trust me, too!" Mishima cried. "I won't abandon you, I promise! I-- I'll prove it to you, somehow! If you'll let me-- I'll be your friend, Amamiya-kun!"

~*~*~*~

Ren almost regretted inviting Mishima over to visit after his release, for the first thing he did upon seeing him was to freeze for a moment as his eyes widened and he stare as though he saw a ghost. An uncomfortable silence fell, and Ren frowned. "Mishima?"

"I-- Ren-- you... you're-- Trickster." Mishima gasped, as though it still hadn't set in. Ren groaned, and Mishima paled. "I'm sorry, I just-- I've never met..." He breathed out, and spoke quickly, barely stopping for air, "... a Chosen One like you who literally has-- had the power to-- to kill a would-be god and I don't know what god made you the Trickster but I want to be respectful but I don't know what--"

"Chill." Ren cut him off, and Mishima flinched. He scowled and shook his head. "Don't stand on ceremony for me."

Mishima nodded quickly as he scratched the back of his neck. "S- Sorry. I'm just... I mean, you're... you're..." He looked dazed, stumbling back a bit. Ren reached forward and gently grabbed his wrist, steadying him as best he could-- or at least, he tried, before Mishima fainted. Ren flinched as he went limp in his grasp, and he quickly moved the boy to his couch. Mishima wasn't unconscious for long; the boy groaned and blinked his eyes up at a frustrated Ren, who was crossing his arms and looking down at him, scowling.

"Mishima, pull yourself together. I said don't stand on ceremony for me; I'm not special."

"Not spe--" Mishima sputtered. "But you-- you killed a god! You saved the world! You're the Trick--"

"-- I know!" Ren sighed heavily, shaking his head. "It's something I never asked for, alright? I was afraid of telling anyone for this very reason. I didn't really want anyone to know because I want to be treated like a human being!"

Mishima flinched and stared, wide-eyed, at Ren, whose gaze was still averted, his arms crossed. The boy sitting down felt a pang in his gut, and his eyes softened. "Amamiya... I'm sorry." He sighed. "I should have remembered that Chihaya-san said that you were keeping it a secret, but..." He shook his head. "How do you keep such a thing inside of you without it wearing on you?"

"You don't." Ren said bluntly. After a moment's pause, he sat on his bed, propping himself up as he hunched over, his arms folded against his knees and propping him up. He shook his head again. "Imagine knowing that you're supposed to save everyone, but not knowing how or what's threatening them, being called shit like Trickster and He Who Will Save the Souls of Mankind... and being terrified that the only people who love you will find out and treat you differently." He groaned and made direct eye-contact with Mishima, who flinched again but met his gaze, refusing to bow his head again and avert his gaze. He could see pain in the phantom thief's eyes. "It's horrible. It's one of the most anxiety-inducing things you could experience. I went through hell and back for so much and ended up in jail and tortured!" Ren inhaled sharply, closing his eyes, shaking his head again. "I can't... I can't have the people in my life who remember treat me like I'm more than myself."

"I..."

"Don't you get it, Mishima?" Ren snapped, his eyes going back to Mishima's. "Whatever slapped me with this-- they slapped it onto a human teenager!" He groaned, ducking his head. "Fuck all of this."

Mishima's gut wrenched, and a profound sense of guilt overtook him. He stood and approached Ren, who he gently patted the arm of, prompting the exhausted-looking man to look up at him. "Amamiya-kun, I had no idea... I'm so sorry." He shook his head. "Even heroes and chosen ones are just human in the end. If I had known it was causing you this much turmoil..." He looked down mournfully, guiltily. "I'm sorry. I'll try to be... cooler around you from now on." He nodded. "You deserve that much."

Ren sighed and sat up, smiling weakly at Mishima. "Thanks. I know you're excited about it; wish I could be that excited about it." He sighed again, this time relieved, as he leaned back. "At least it's over. I've done my job. I'm free. I'm no longer the Trickster."

"Are you sure about that?"

Ren quirked an eyebrow at Mishima. "Well, we killed Yaldabaoth and changed the hearts of the vast majority of humankind. Pretty hard to top that."

"Doesn't mean you're not special anymore." He shrugged awkwardly and rubbed the back of his neck. "Now that I'm aware of your... nature, I can see it's still in you. I don't think that can ever change; that thing you summoned-- Satanael-- is still in your heart. Thus, I think that at your core, you'll always be the Trickster." Mishima smiled reassuringly, warmly, proudly. "It's a good thing, and I know it's scary to you, but I think you should embrace what you are." Ren blinked. "You said you want to be a politician, right? One that's better than Shido?" He held out his phone, a page open on the internet that Ren didn't want to read. "I did some research on Tricksters after you got put in jail. According to legend on some forums Chihaya-san directed me to-- that we know isn't just legend anymore-- they're agents of massive change, capable of destruction and creation, born only on extremely rare occasion.He nodded. "You destroyed the old when you killed Yaldabaoth-- and now you're creating the new, better society. I believe that's why whatever higher power made you-- that's why you're here."

Ren groaned, putting a hand over his face as he grumbled. "Mishima, you don't have to be some special chosen one to make meaningful contributions to society. I'd rather not think about it."

Mishima shrugged. "Suit yourself, Amamiya-kun. I'll do my best to just... treat you like a person, and with time, I'll get over it. My belief still stands, though, and while I won't press the issue, I'm still going to do everything I can to support you!"


(This was made as a gift for Books-And-Late-Nights on Tumblr for completing a request (http://books-and-late-nights.tumblr.com/post/178198689914/request-ren-using-his-third-eye-for-things-that). I have no current plans of adding anything else to this WIP as it stands).

The muscles in his arms screamed at him as he hobbled out of the second-hand store in Yongen. Everything screamed at him-- overwhelming his senses and thoughts, briefly, as he stumbled. He thought maybe the shopkeeper said something to him, but he muttered an "I'm fine" before trying to stumble toward Leblanc. 

The cold November air bit at his makeup-laden skin bitterly and a creaking ache across his ribs and legs heightened, causing him to freeze ever-so-slightly as he bit his lip and bit back the pain. Briefly, he allowed himself to stumble to the side, leaning against a wall at an angle that he hoped looked merely like a teenager being lazy. 

He hurt. His ribs burned and felt as though they were cutting him from the inside-out. His legs ached so bad it was hard to walk, and his arms were no better, especially from the bags they carried. Ren's face felt raw, and he was faintly aware of the constipated facial expression he had as he tried to mask the pain. 

The boy jolted as he felt a hand gently pat his arm, though he regretted the action as every part of his body screamed at him. For a moment, hot shame flooded him-- he was Joker, agile and sharp as the knives he wielded. He was never the one who got ambushed. 

"Hey," a voice came, and he turned his head to stare, wide-eyed, at the neighborhood officer he saw on a weekly basis staring at him, "you alright, kid?"

He couldn't respond. The site of the uniform filled him with dread-- the cold from the November air chilled him like he had felt chilled in that room, the cold needle piercing him, over and over again, and for a moment, he forgot how to breathe.

"Kid?" the officer pressed, and Ren let out a soft gasp as he fought to ground himself.

"N..."

What happened next was something of a blur. Ren wasn't sure what happened between then and now, but the next thing he knew, he was on the ground, on his side in the recovery position. He felt Morgana sitting on his head, and Ryuji and Futaba were kneeling down at his side, staring at him with wide, teary eyes as he gawked at them, and for a moment, he wondered if the whole day was a dream.

"... Sorry for the trouble," he heard Sojiro say from a few feet away, yet he sounded so foggy and distant, "he's very sick with a fever and he's suffering from delirium. He managed to sneak out on us. Gave us all a heart attack."

"I can see he's very ill," the old man from the shop clucked, his voice also faint, "shouldn't he be in a hospital?"

Sojiro's voice came quickly. "No. There's not much they can do for him there. The neighborhood doctor's been watching him. He'll make a full recovery if he stays home and rests." 

Even dazed and in agony, Ren sensed the emphasis of those last words, and he flinched. He froze up again, though, as he heard the officer sigh.

"Alright. But if he gets out and does this again, I'm going to have to call an ambulance take him to the hospital. I think he's a danger to himself."

"That won't be necessary to call the ambulance." Sojiro quickly reassured. "I'll be taking him home right now. The doc will be by in a few minutes to see if we should get some sedatives in him."

Ren moaned, having enough of being on the ground, and slowly tried to push himself up.

"No!" Ryuji, Futaba, and Morgana chorused at once, and he stiffened as he heard the officer talk again.

"Do you need help getting him home?"

"No, I think we'll be fine."

"I got him, Boss." Ryuji said, reaching and pushing his arms under Ren as Morgana hopped off his head. Ryuji quickly pushed himself up and hoisted Ren bridal-style, who moaned in protest, which Ryuji could only roll his eyes at. "Don't give me that, you big idiot! If you rested like you were s'pposed to, I wouldn't have to do this! Do you know how bad you scared us?!"

Futaba was completely silent, staring at Ren as tears welled up in her eyes. Slowly, she reached down and picked up his bags, and Ryuji tilted Ren's face away from the officer and old man as he followed Boss back to Leblanc. As Boss opened the door for Ryuji to march in with Ren, Ren caught deep sighs of relief and cries as his waiting team laid eyes on him. He thought, maybe, that some of them were trying to scold him fiercely, but he tuned it out as he turned on his Third Eye to find a way to escape. As the colors of the world blurred, a glowing blue erupted around him-- Ryuji became a blinding figure in the grayness of the world.

"... Ren? Ren!"

Ren gasped and shook his head as he quickly became aware that he had dozed off. When he came to, he winced as his head throbbed at the motion, and he blearily blinked at the others surrounding his bed. There was a silence that fell over the group, and he frowned.

"Why're you all so worried?... I wasn't gone that long."

"You were gone two hours!" Makoto cried. "Out and about without your phone! We had no idea where you were!"

"We were worried sick!" Haru sobbed. "We thought the worst had happened!"

Ann, red in the face with tears, scowled. "Don't EVER do that again!" she shouted.

Even Ryuji was in tears. The boy's fists were clenched, and he sniffled as tears prickled at the corners of his eyes. "We already almost lost you! We thought we lost you for real because you were being a stubborn idiot!"

Sojiro let out a great sigh and held his hand up, silencing the group. He approached Ren. After a moment of staring at the wide-eyed boy, he sighed and shook his head.

"You're grounded."

"What?!" Ren gasped. Sojiro scowled.

"You heard me. You're grounded until you heal up. You're not going out without my permission."

"But the Palace--"

"If it wasn't for the fact you weirdly heal when you're in there, I'd say no," Sojiro scoffed, "but when I give the okay for that, you're under their supervision."

"But I'm the leader!"

"Then lead," Yusuke said bitterly, "but we're not letting you out of sight. Boss has spoken."

"Verdict rendered." Futaba agreed with a firm nod, her own tears having slowly faded. "Grounded!"

"I just wanted to be useful!" Ren cried. "I don't want to be a burden!"

The room silenced. After a moment, Ren sighed and spoke again. "I-- I know I can rely on any of you. But it's... harder to kick the feeling of uselessness. I hate it. I just-- wanted to do something."

The silence continued as the others shared a look, and finally Makoto spoke. "You've already gone above and beyond for us with everything you did in the interrogation room, and you know we're not friends with you for your level of usefulness at any given point. We've talked about this. And no matter how long it takes-- we'll drill it in your head that we're your friends because we care about you, because you're a wonderful person and I don't know where we'd be without you." She sighed. "That being said, it doesn't change the fact that you very well know better than to do what you did."

"Still grounded." Sojiro agreed. Ren grunted.

"Ugh, but it's boring being stuck up here..."

"We'll come to you," Ryuji reassured, "just hang tight a little longer, alright?"

As everyone stared at him, and he felt the pain in his bones, he once again activated the third eye. Beneath him, his bed glowed blue, and he winced, clutching his head as he released his focus.

"I'm gonna go get you some food so you can take your meds," Sojiro said, "but-- no more scaring us, alright?"

Ren let out a quiet sigh as he laid flat, quietly. "Okay." he acquiesced at last. Soon after he ate and took his medication, he fell to slumber in peace, a welcome respite from the pain. 

When he awoke, the world was dark, and Morgana laid on his chest still, fast asleep. Ren's eyes blearily drifted about the dark room, only to pause as he noted something long blocking the entryway. Again, he focused his third eye, and a baby gate with a note attached was illuminated.

Ren stirred and looked at Morgana, then his phone, where an unread message from Futaba waited. He reached over and opened it to be greeted by an image of the team grinning around the baby gate proudly while Ren slept in the background, with the sign's message very clear:

Dumb Reckless Cat Jail

Ren let out a weak laugh, straining his chest, and he shook his head. They must be referring to Mona, right?

"The sign isn't for me." Mona drowsily answered, and he flinched. Had he said that aloud? "Go back to sleep, Joker."


(The context for this is Ren's grandma sent him baby pics and a video of lil him playing Cops and Robbers and asked him to forward it to his parents... in the middle of the night. Tired and confused, he accidentally sends it to his friends. Shenanigans ensure. Unsure if will finish)

Ren: Hey, guys, do me a huge favor and delete that email I sent to all of you. I was hacked. It has a virus. Don't look at it. Just delete it.

Futaba: You liar, it doesn't have any viruses, you just didn't mean to send it to us.

Futaba: What is it? Nudes?

Ren: No! It's a very special virus that you aren't able to detect. Delete the email. Now.

Futaba: Clicky.

Futaba: ASDFGHKJL I AM PISSING MYSELF

Ren: I SAID DON'T CLICK

Ryuji: WHEEZING HOLY FUCK I CAN'T BREATHE

Ryuji: IM ACTUALLY ON THE VERGE OF TEARS AND MY GUT HURTS I AM LAUGHING SO HARD

Ann: I'm saving this, thanks!

Ann: I'm going to put this in a very special folder for bad days. 

Makoto: It is, admittedly, very cute, Ren.

Haru: Aww, you're so cute, especially as a toddler, Ren-kun!! 

Yusuke: I apologize, Ren, but I will be saving this to use as artistic inspiration.

Ren: I'm dying kbai.

Ren: I'm actually dead now.

Ren: RIP.

Ren: That means we're never going to talk about this again.

Ryuji: we are ABSOLUTELY going to talk about this again, you're never living this down

Ann: You're going to be an old man one day and we're going to come to you like "Hey, Ren. Remember that time you accidentally sent us your baby pics and video?"

Ren: Why do you do this to me?

Futaba: Cardinal rule of the PTs is to make sure the leader doesn't get too big for his britches, you demon, you.

Futaba: Calling you cute and basically pointing out that even though you try to be edgy and Extra, you're still a cinnamon bun, no matter how hard you try.

Ren: Excuse you, I'm at least a SINNAMON bun if I have to be a bun at all.

Ann: Yeah, no.

Makoto: Don't lie to us and yourself, Ren.

Ren: BRB learning to hack just so I can delete all of your copies of my greatest mistake.

Haru: NO!! I need your baby pictures! They prove that you were a cutie through every stage of your life thus far!

Ren: How about we push back that PTs meeting a day so I can recuperate my dignity?

Makoto: No, Ren, we need to talk about our next move. We'll be professionals about it.

Ren: No, you guys won't.

Futaba:

 

Ryuji: Nope.

Ann: Nuh-uh.

Haru: How can I be professional when I have CUTE BABY PICTURES AND A VIDEO OF YOU PLAYING COPS AND ROBBERS??

Yusuke: I will try, but...

Makoto: ... No, we won't.

Ren: Fuck.


(Context: Ren gets a copy of the Compendium from the twins and gives it to Futaba and Makoto, who subsequently try to micromanage his Personas and fusions. Will be finished at some point)

"Remind me why you're recruiting a Black Ooze again?" Oracle groaned from inside Necronomicon. "It's weak and it's not like it learns any good abilities."

Joker chose not to reply right away as Oracle floated to the ground behind him, her Persona dispersing, and he ignored the others as he absorbed its power. Once it had flown into the mask, he huffed. 

"I need it to make another Persona. I'm fusing it with that Pisaca I got in Mementos to make a stronger Persona-- a Unicorn-- with good healing and Bless attacks."

The others just stared at him. Skull frowned. "So you're taking two of the most butt-ugly Personas to make... an effin' unicorn." He shook his head. "I know you've tried to explain it to us, but I still don't get it."

"Neither do I, Skull," Joker said as he turned around, leading the group back out of Mementos as the group piled into the Monamobile and he took the wheel, "neither do I. Besides, it's not like I like having them, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper to recruit them myself than it is to summon them back from the twins."

"I must agree it is most bizarre..." Fox mused. "Taking two hideous things and making something beautiful out of them... true art, but... I am at a loss as to how."

"Have you ever tried asking those twins in that Velvet place about how that works?" Panther questioned as the van bounced and Yusuke winced, covering his mouth. Joker shrugged casually.

"I have, but I barely understood their explanation. Something about cognition, the essence of the Personas, and their power, but I still barely understand how or why specific Personas make... other specific Personas."

Oracle grumbled. "Wish I had a fusion guide like you'd find for video game tutorials on the internet. I bet I could figure it out and make you better Personas."

Joker shrugged again. "That would be nice, I suppose."

"Can you ask them if they have anything like that?" Queen pressed. "It's fine if they don't, but it might be helpful if we can help you figure out what you need to make the best Personas..." She looked at him with a soft smile. "After all, you are the only one on the team who can use multiple Personas. It'd be wonderful if we could optimize your repertoire..."

"I..." He sighed. "I suppose you're right. I can't promise anything, though."

"And that's fine," Queen reassured with a smile, "we appreciate you asking. I understand the girls can be... a bit of a handful, from your description." 

"A bit of a handful?!" Skull cried, balking as he patted his shin ruefully. "This shin still hurts like a bitch! Those invisible little girls are evil!"

Morgana snickered. "Maybe if you hadn't taunted them so much..."

"I didn't taunt 'em! I was just gonna mess with Joker a bit!"

"You did a little after one of them kicked you..." Noir remarked. 

When they made their way back to the entrance, the others gawked as they always did as Joker walked toward the Velvet Room door they could not see. Skull backed away from the spot where Ren froze in place and cringed, ignoring the rolled eyes and snickers coming from the others. 

They were left waiting as they always did.

Chapter Text

It was shortly after Ren transferred back to Shujin, shortly after he had begun therapy at the behest of his friends. All had been going well; Ryuji, Ann, and Mishima were all in his third year classes (thanks to Kawakami’s influence; she was up for consideration as the next principal of Shujin). Futaba was in a first year class, but she always hurried and hung out with her third year friends at any break.

All of this helped Ren cope, and his recovery was going well. He had off days, sure, and the occasional nightmare or anxiety attack, but he managed. They were all there to help him, and he knew he could rely on any of them. Most of his teachers were fairly understanding of his situation and, if necessary, let him go outside to take a breather for a moment.

Except for one.

Mr. Ito was a hardass, not unlike Ushimaru, and still often treated Ren as if he was a delinquent, despite being top of his class. Ren, for the most part, grinned and beared it, in spite of the occasional rude comment or Ryuji’s irritation over the matter. So long as Ito was fair in his grading, Ren shrugged it off. He had faced far worse.

Ito taught chemistry, a subject he was proud of. He was, however, prone to going off on long monologues about his life, something the class often exploited in attempts to skip lecture. Ito went on tangents that ended up straying from actually teaching about chemistry, though no one was sure how or why he decided to do any of these.

It was one of those days. Ito had decided he was going to do an impromptu lesson about cooperation and critical thinking, an exercise he had found on the internet. Most rolled their eyes and were ready to participate-- anything to avoid having to practice chemistry. Ren paired up with Ryuji quickly, and the boys were ready until the task was revealed: a cloth wrapping, tied in a knot, would have one end on one participant’s wrist, and the other around the other’s wrist. They would have to move around each other and figure out a way to untie the knot without slipping it off and untying it, as many suggested.

Ren had gone pale as soon as the task was revealed. As the ties meant to cuff partners to each other were passed around, Ann, Mishima, Ryuji, and Ren gawked at the tie held in Ryuji’s hand awkwardly. The color had yet to return to Ren’s face as the teacher approached; every other pair in the room had begun the awkward task, but the two boys were left staring at the tie.

“Hey!” The teacher clapped his hands at the boys. “Stop standing around and socializing! Get to it!”

Ryuji scowled. “Ito-sensei, he’s gonna get a panic attack if he gets tied up like this! I’ll partner up with someone else, but Amamiya shouldn’t have to do this.”

“And why not?”

“You know why!”

The teacher scoffed. “This isn’t at all the same thing. It’s just cloth, and you can slip your wrist out at any time. He’ll be fine.”

“But--” Ann’s protest was cut off.

“Do it, or neither of you get credit for the assignment.” Ito snapped. “Furthermore, I’ll give the both of you detention for being willfully defiant.”

Ryuji bristled, his face reddening. He was about to open his mouth to protest, but Ren shook his head. “It’s okay, Ryuji. I’ll be okay.”

The other boy gave him a reluctant frown as Ito walked away. “Are you sure, dude…? I’d take the zero for the assignment if we have to. I don’t want you to panic.”

“I’m not going to panic.” Ren huffed. “He’s right. It’s just cloth. I’ll be okay.”

Ryuji shared uncertain looks with Ann and Mishima. They frowned worriedly at Ren, but Ryuji sighed and bowed his head. “Okay. But the minute you start freakin’-- you slip it off and we take the stupid zero.”

“Okay.” Ren said, and with a pause, he reluctantly slipped the tie on his wrist. He felt his heart rate quicken as it tightened and tugged on his wrists. Memories flashed from before-- bruised wrists, mocking, sickening pain as he struggled. He shook his head and exhaled sharply as he tried to stare at the knot. “Okay,” he repeated, “if-- if you move like that, and I move like this…”

The boys rearranged themselves, awkwardly pushing past each other as they slipped around each other. The knot was a little looser, but it tugged on Ren’s wrist again, and he felt a wave of nausea hit him. He stumbled a bit, bumping into Ryuji, who frowned again and steadied him by the shoulder.

“Do you need to stop?” Ryuji asked. Ren couldn’t bring himself to respond. He remembered the tug as the officer pulled him along down the hall, cold silence being broken by echoes and shaking chains, stuck, stuck, stuck, the looks of disdain, stares from other prisoners, never seeing the light of day-- Ren was breathing shallowly. He felt sick.

He jumped, snapping back into reality as Ryuji pulled off the unfinished tie from his wrist and shook his head. “We’re done. Sit down.” he ordered. Ren found himself speechless as just stared, watching as Ryuji marched up to Ito, red in the face. He couldn’t hear the specifics of their argument. Ito eventually snapped the tie out of his hands, marched up to Ren, ignoring Ryuji's yells and the classmates’ stares, as he thrust the tie back onto Ren’s wrist.

In an instant, several things happened at once: all he had just tried to push out of his mind flew back to him. He screamed bloody murder, violently pulled his wrist out of the tie, scraping his skin red, and he bolted out of the classroom, feeling his heart race as his stomach threatened to give in right there and then. An impending sense of doom overwhelmed him, his skin felt ice cold with the chill of shivers. His stomach ached, piercing like knives in his gut; sweat broke out all over his body.

I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying…!

He stumbled into the bathroom and hunched over a toilet, retching his guts out. He wasn’t sure how long he had been there, but eventually he felt a hand on his back rubbing gentle circles onto him, and unintelligible murmurings, probably something meant to be reassuring. When he slowly calmed down and gasped for air, he became slowly aware of what the voice was saying.

“You’re okay, you’re okay-- breathe with me. You’re having a panic attack. You’re safe. It’s okay.” The voice belonged to that of Ryuji. Ren’s whole body shivered, and he leaned back, away from the bowl. “Are you done?” He nodded, once. Ryuji reached over and wave a hand in front of the sensor on the toilet, triggering it to flush. “Can you stand?” he questioned. Ren nodded; Ryuji moved his arm over his shoulder and lifted him up carefully.

The other boy grunted and gingerly extracted himself from Ryuji once he was up, and stumbled to the sink. He turned the cold water on and rinsed his mouth and splashed his face with it. For a moment, he held his breath, feeling his blood pressure lower; Makoto had described this to him once, called it the Mammalian Diving Reflex, but the exact details of what it did beyond lower his blood pressure were distant to him at the moment. The remaining pain in Ren’s gut subsided, and he was left panting with exhaustion.

“Alright,” Ryuji said softly, “c’mon, let’s get you to the nurse.”

“The assignment,” Ren gasped, “Ito…”

“Can suck a dick,” Ryuji scoffed, “your mental health is more important than either of our grades. Hang onto me, I don’t want you fainting on the way there.”

The door creaked open, and both boys turned to see a worried-looking Ann just beyond the door, behind the doorway, in which a wide-eyed Kawakami stood. She hurriedly approached the boys, frowning as she examined Ren-- the boy was still pale and soaked, his face, shirt, and hair soaked by the sink. “Are you alright?” she questioned. “Mishima-kun came running and told me what happened. Ann’s been watching the door. There’s a lot of confusion outside.”

“I’m okay.” Ren croaked. Ryuji scowled.

“Effin’ Ito-- effin’-- idiot! He--”

“I know,” Kawakami said, cutting him off, “Mishima explained.” She scowled. “He will be getting a talking to about this, both from me and the next staff meeting. Don’t think he won’t be punished for this.”

“My grade…” Ren moaned. Kawakami shook her head.

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll make sure neither of you get penalized-- you all handled this very well, and I’m proud of both of you.” She sighed. “Okay, come on, Amamiya-kun, I had Mishima run to the nurse to tell them to call your guardian to come get you. Let’s get you home.”

“I don’t have to…”

“Don’t argue with me.” Kawakami said firmly. “You need to go home and rest.”


Sojiro had come and took him home with little fanfare. There wasn’t so much as a grumble about having to close shop-- only a quiet question, asking Ren if he was okay, and then they went home. Ren brushed his teeth and retreated upstairs to his attic, curling up on his futon with a water bottle courtesy of his guardian, who told him to drink from it regularly to compensate from the loss of hydration borne of throwing up. He didn’t feel like talking, and Sojiro didn’t press him. Ren laid in bed, Morgana resting on his chest and purring, as he answered a slew of concerned texts from his friends. He started responding, reassuring them all he was still alive.

He felt like doing nothing but lying there. Shame flooded him. He desperately dreaded going back to school the following day, and he sighed forlornly. Recovery was going so well, too…

Ren flinched as he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. He didn’t flip himself over— he figured it was probably just Sojiro coming up to check on him. He’d see he was probably asleep and leave him be, and everything would be—

“Kid, you’ve got a visitor.”

Ren’s eyes opened. He finally turned himself over and sat up as Morgana hopped off of him and off the bed. At the top of the stairway, beside Sojiro, was Makoto, her eyes and lips soft and worried. Sojiro looked between her and him and smiled softly.

“Makoto?” Ren gasped. “Don’t you have class?”

“Don’t worry about that right now.” Makoto urged. She looked at Morgana, who got the hint and trotted up to Sojiro, and the two headed downstairs, leaving Ren and Makoto in the room alone.

There was a moment of silence. Makoto set her bag on the table next to the stairwell and walked up to Ren’s bed. The boy pushed his legs over the edge of the bed, and Makoto settled herself next to him. Immediately they leaned together as Makoto put an arm around Ren. He returned the gesture, putting his arm around her, and feeling so soft and safe in her grasp. For awhile, no words were exchanged; Makoto simply rubbed her hand up and down Ren’s arm, soothing him as his eyes closed.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she finally questioned. Ren shivered and didn’t respond for a few moments. After the pause, he softly sighed.

“I made a fool of myself…” he groaned. “I’ve never had a… an… event like that. Not in public, anyways. Especially not at school. I’m so ashamed…”

“You don’t need to be. Not at all.” Makoto murmured. “You’re only human, and Ito is at fault here, not you. No one will blame you.”

Ren moaned and shook his head. “I didn’t… I never wanted anyone outside of our little group to see me like that. It took me long enough to get used to being more open around all of you as it is, and even now, I don’t like being openly… whatever that was around anyone.”

Makoto kissed the top of his head. “I know. I’m sorry this happened to you, Ren. No matter what, though, we’re here for you. Not just me— everyone. The Phantom Thieves…” She giggled. “Well, we don’t steal hearts anymore, but we’re, corny as it sounds… a family. And we’ll always be there to support you.”

Ren smiled softly and sighed, then frowned again. “I don’t get why it happened, though… our Personas are still in our hearts. We’re in control of our emotions and desires. I’m in therapy, and it still happened.” He shook his head. “The fuck?”

“We control our emotions and desires, yes,” Makoto remarked, “but it doesn’t mean we don’t have them. All things considered, you held it together until you were in a safe place— the bathroom— when most people wouldn’t make it that far.” She stroked his hair. “And just because you have one bad day doesn’t mean your recovery isn’t going well. It’s normal. Ups and downs are normal.”

Ren’s eyes closed again, slowly, drowsily absorbing the information. He murmured a soft “thank you for listening” to her, to which she just kissed him again and squeezed him with the arm she had around him.

At some point, they laid down on the bed together atop the sheets, and he had fallen asleep within her arms’ grasp. She looked upon him for a long time— she looked upon his tousled curly black hair, his face bare of glasses, his features tired but… at ease. No sign of distress marred the corners of his eyes or his lips, and his diaphragm slowly lowered and raised quietly with his soft breaths. She gently ran fingers through his hair and thought upon on him.

Once upon a time, she had seen him walk through the halls of Shujin, head hung and eyes firmly downcast, hard and outwardly emotionless, shaded by black rimmed glasses. She had thought him guilty of his crime of assault, at first, and a hooligan involved with the changing of Kamoshida’s heart. Even when she had joined the Phantom Thieves, she saw scant emotion on his face— with a few exceptions.

His eyes had been unusually soft as he questioned: what drove you to do something so reckless? He wasn’t accusatory— just carried the tone of concern, not for him, but for her.

It took some time with him after that to coax out that first smile she saw him smile. Ryuji, Morgana, and Ann had reassured her that that behavior was quite normal, especially around new people, and not the result of spite. Ren was simply slow to trust and even slower to lower his guard, if he ever truly did.

He rested in her arms, sleeping peacefully. She smiled, and her heart fluttered as she gazed upon him. Makoto kissed his head again and snuggled closer, and caught a soft smile on him as she did so. Quietly, she drifted off as well.

At some point later, she was awakened to Morgana pawing her leg gently as he sat on the end of the bed. Ren yawned drowsily.

“Five… more minutes…” he groaned as he shoved his face into the mattress. Morgana’s tail swished impatiently.

“Okay… if you want to wait that long to eat the sushi the others brought over.” At the statement, Ren’s eyes burst open, and he sat up. Morgana and Makoto giggled. “They’re all downstairs.”

Ren sat upright, looking down at Makoto as she yawned and sat upright. He kissed her on the cheek and bolted off the bed, then offered a hand to pull her along. She took his hand, and he hurried downstairs, where the others waited at the booths with smiles. A container full of sushi waited on the center of the central booth, and everyone had plates in front of them, waiting for their friend. Boss was absent, having left the cafe to the kids for the day. Everyone beamed at the sight of the bright-eyed and excited leader.

“There he is!” Ryuji said cheerfully. “How you feelin’, dude?”

There was a pause. Ren looked between the food and his friends, and he smiled. “Better. Much better. Thanks.”

Ann giggled. “How did you get him down here so fast? Didn’t you say he was asleep, Morgana?” She looked to the cat as he strolled downstairs. “You know how he is when he’s sleepy…”

Morgana laughed. “All I had to say was the magic word.”

Ren nodded. “I’m always a slut for sushi.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re always sort of a slut, period.” Futaba giggled. Ren’s cheeks reddened, and he flashed her a finger.

“Gremlin.”

“Cat boy.”

“I’m not a cat.”

“Shh… you don’t need to deny it, Ren-kun.” Haru teased. “Why don’t you come sit down and join us? I bought enough for everyone.”

“Indeed,” Yusuke said with a smile, “after hearing of your ordeal today, Haru generously got a large order of sushi to lift your spirits.”

Morgana’s eyes widened, and Haru giggled again. “Come here, Mona-chan,” she urged, plucking a fatty tuna roll up, “I know you want it…”

He yowled excitedly and charged forward. Ren and Makoto shared a look and smiled; they walked forward, taking their place among their friends.

Chapter Text

He hadn't wanted them to notice. Hadn't wanted them to worry. Hadn't wanted to make a fuss or be a burden to the people he just met. It's not like it was a big deal anyways, he reasoned, something up to him and him alone. So when Morgana came along, he stuffed his epinephrine needle into a side pocket of his bag and hoped he wouldn't notice.

The four of them had just started infiltration of Kamoshida's Palace. It was the day after their first actual day of infiltration, and the group hung about on the rooftop at lunchtime, craving the privacy-- no one to stare and judge and whisper, at least for a little while.

Ren packed a snack for Morgana in the side pocket with the medication and before he tore into his own lunch from the student store, he pulled out a baggy of kibble and opened it for Morgana. He noticed a growing itch in the back of his throat that he tried to ignore. As Mona popped out of the bag, he paused a moment, then gave Ren a curious look, tilting his head to the side.

"Is there something in the side pocket of your bag? I feel it bumping into me..."

Ren blinked. He cleared his throat and decided to go about it casually-- they'd forget and no one would care. He just had to be calm about it, he decided.

"Oh, um. Yeah. It's just allergy medication."

Morgana poked the side pocket and huffed. "It's shaped like a tube... what sort of allergy medication is it?"

Ren shrugged casually, trying to not pay mind to the fact Ryuji and Ann were starting to look over and pay attention to the situation. "Oh, it's just, er... it's a needle."

Ann’s brows lifted. "You have an epipen? Must be a serious allergy."

Ren just averted his gaze and shrugged casually. Ryuji frowned. "What're you allergic to?" he questioned. Ren again tried to shrug casually.

"It's really not a big deal." he said calmly. "It's just a peanut allergy is all."

Ann blanched and flipped over the packaging of the granola bar she had been snacking on. As Ren eyed the quickly-abandoned snack as it fell into her lunch bag, he realized the itch was still there in the back of his throat. He tried to ignore it as Ann gasped.

"My lunch had peanuts in it!" she cried in dismay as she quickly hurried to toss out the snack. She ran back inside the building, and Ren's cheeks were slowing flushing red as Ryuji went white in the face and ran up, examining Ren's face carefully.

"Holy shit, are you still breathing? Are you feelin' okay? Do you need the needle?"

"I'm fine!" Ren protested with a wave of the hand. Morgana hissed with a wince.

"Your face is a little red... do we need to call 119?"

"No!" Ren huffed. "My throat's a little itchy, but don't worry, my allergy technically isn't as bad as a lot of people who also die if they eat that stuff." At the other boys' expressions, he groaned. "Bad choice of words..."

The door creaked open, and within seconds, Ann was hovering over him too. "Are you feeling okay?!" she cried. Ren bobbed his head with a huff.

"I'm okay! Guys, I'm okay, relax!" He took a breath. "My throat is a little bit itchy, but believe me, if I was going to go into shock, I'd know by now. I’m one of those people that react immediately. My allergy isn't as bad as some people's; to react, I have to ingest the stuff, for the most part. I've only had a serious reaction once..."

Finally, the others backed off a bit, looking exhausted. "Still..." Ann trailed off with a pant. "I've heard reactions only get worse with time. I wish you had told us sooner-- we'll just check the ingredients of our lunch before we bring it from now on."

"Don't trouble yourselves over me." Ren said with a sigh. "It's not a big deal..."

"Can your reactions get bad enough to endanger your life?" Morgana questioned. Ren sighed and nodded, and Morgana frowned again. "Then it is a big deal. You need to speak up about things like this."

"... Didn't want to make a fuss over me."

"It's no trouble, dude." Ryuji reassured. "Taking a few extra seconds to make sure we don't accidentally kill you is worth it."

Ann nodded. She twirled a lock of hair in her hand and frowned worriedly. "Is your throat feeling any better?"

Ren shrugged. "Not really? But it hasn't gotten worse. Again, it's fine, it'll pass."

None of the others looked pleased, but Ren tried to shrug it off. He reached for his lunch again.

"Wait, hold on," Ann cut in with a frown, "did you check the ingredients on that?"

"It's probably fine." Ren grumbled.

"Can you let us check just to settle our nerves?"

Ren stared at them for a moment before sighing and surrendering the lunch. Ann stared intensely at the container before passing it back to Ren. "It's safe," she concluded, "but you need to check in the future, okay?"

"I will." Ren acquiesced tiredly. In all truth, it sent a warm feeling through his heart, but he tried to shake it off. They'd probably forget in a week.


A week later, a calling card sent, and Kamoshida gone, the group found themselves nervous but hopeful as they tried to go about in the meanwhile in semi-calmness. They had gotten out of school and grouped up to hang out just to try to keep their minds off matters, and found themselves wandering a convenience store in Shibuya.

Ren wasn't sure what possessed him, but out of curiosity, he picked up a package of peanut butter cups and flipped the packaging over while Morgana was off with Ann looking at something. He had barely begun examining the ingredients when a hand came into his vision and yanked the package out of his hands. Someone cuffed the back of his head.

"The hell you doin'?!"

Ren sheepishly looked up to see Ryuji giving him an incredulous stare as he shoved the candy back onto the shelf. He shrugged awkwardly.

"I don't know? I was just curious about the ingredients. Not sure why."

"I'm not sure why either, 'cause it's a package of poison for you, dude!"

Ren smirked wryly. "Mmm, mmm, death." he snickered. Ryuji rolled his eyes.

"Alright, smart ass, come on, the bathroom's in the back. You need to wash your hands."

"Why? I didn't even touch the actual death candy..."

Ryuji rolled his eyes. "You don't know what traces of what might be on the package. C'mon, and don’t touch your face until you wash your hands."

In spite of the scolding, Ren was smirking subtly.


Kamoshida’s change of heart had been successful. The group had sold the treasure they got and were celebrating at the Wilton buffet. Ren and Morgana had excused themselves to go get their own plate of food after turning away in disgust from the plate of beans Ryuji had procured them.

Ren had already grabbed some fish for Morgana and ham for himself, and in between listening in on other buffet guests, he approached the dessert table and eyed a delicious-looking plate of brownies. He had almost reached out for one when Morgana pawed his shoulder.

“Hold on,” he murmured, “shouldn’t you make sure that’s safe to eat before you take it?”

“It’s probably fine,” Ren whispered with a shrug, “I don’t see any peanuts in it.”

“You should still ask.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Then don’t take it.”

“But--”

“If you want it, you need to ask.”

Ren grumbled to himself and flushed as he realized a waiter was staring at him curiously. “Is something the matter, young man?” the waiter questioned. Ren felt Morgana nudge him, and he shrugged.

“Just… trying to figure out if the brownies had peanuts in them is all…”

The waiter shrugged. “I don’t know off the top of my head, but I’ll go ask the kitchen. I’ll also ask what else has peanuts in them so you don’t take anything that does.”

Ren shook his head. “Oh, no, that’s okay, I’ll just--” He realized the waiter wasn’t listening as he walked off towards the kitchen. Morgana smiled.

“See? He’s gonna go ask for you.”

“This is more fussing than I need…” Ren grumbled. Morgana headbutted his shoulder.

“Well, sometimes, you have to, especially when your health is at stake. While we’re waiting, why don’t go you back and look at the sushi? I thought I saw something we’d both like there…”

Ren sighed to himself and flushed as he tried to make himself look busy and not in the way. It was a scant few minutes before the waiter came back out, looking apologetic as he approached him, but he carried a thick slice of chocolate cake. “Sorry, young man, if you’re allergic, I’m afraid the brownies aren’t safe for your consumption. The kitchen recommends this double chocolate cake instead-- it’s peanut free.”

Ren flushed and shrugged. “Oh, no, it’s not a big deal, sorry for the trouble…”

“No trouble. We appreciate your asking instead of you guessing and having a medical emergency in our buffet.” The waiter held out the cake. “Please take this instead.”

After a second of hesitation, Ren took the cake and forced a smile. “Ah, thank you…”

“You’re welcome. Feel free to ask if you’re concerned about anything else.”

As the waiter walked away, Ren heard Morgana trill smugly. “See?” he pressed. “You could have just poisoned yourself! You’re lucky I was here to ensure you didn’t take the brownies.”

“Right.” Ren said awkwardly, and off he went, returning to the table his friends were at. Ann looked up from her dessert and eyed the cake he had.

“Did you ask about the ingredients in that?”

“It’s safe.” Morgana piped up as they sat down. “Ren tried to take some brownies, but I stopped him and made him ask a waiter. Turns out they had peanut products of some sort in them, because the waiter apologized and gave him that cake instead as a safe option.”

Ryuji sighed in relief. “Good thing you asked. Could have had an emergency on our hands if you didn’t.” He jerked a thumb at Ren. “‘Cause we all know this guy isn’t careful enough.”

“It’s not a big deal…” Ren grumbled. Ann scoffed.

“It is, if you could die from it.” She looked over the huge pile of food on the other plate he had set down at the table. “Are you going to be able to finish all of that? Save the cake for last in case you can’t finish it… I’ll take it.”

Ren let out a groan. He wondered if and when they’d forget about his little issue-- eventually, he told himself. Probably by the next month?


A month later, a new party member, a new success, and growing notoriety-- the Phantom Thieves were on their way to glory. That meant a party over the latest success and their newest member, a tradition they were going to hold from then on out. They made their way to Leblanc, and with gusto, tore into hot pot to strengthen their bond of friendship and have fun.

All was well until he offered candy he had stashed away to the others.

“Whoa, hold on,” Ann said, cutting Ren off as he reached into his bag of snacks for the group, “you made sure to check nothing had peanuts in it, right?”

Ren bit the inside of his cheek as the others looked at him, Yusuke especially, who cocked his head at him. Yusuke’s excitement washed away to confusion and concern at Ann’s comment.

“Hmm? Are you allergic, Takamaki-san?” he questioned, turning to Ann. Ryuji shook his head and jerked a thumb in the direction of the leader.

“Nah. It’s him. Deathly allergic, but he ain’t careful enough. Carries one of them epipen needles and everything.”

Yusuke’s eyes widened, and he gave Ren a worried frown. “Goodness! Did you check the ingredients?”

“I mean, no,” Ren said with a shrug, “I just figured--”

No sooner than he had said no did Yusuke swipe the bag away from him. Ren slowly buried his head into his arms against the tabletop as the others investigated what he had brought. Yusuke made a disdainful noise as the bag rustled.

“This one says ‘may contain traces of peanuts’...”

“It’s probably fine,” Ren said with a wave of the hand, peeking up to see what he was holding-- a small chocolate bar, and he shrugged, “I eat that one all the ti--”

“YOU DO WHAT?!” Ann yelled in dismay. Ren almost fell backwards out of his seat at her glare. “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!”

“It hasn’t affected me before?” Ren asked more than said, feeling sweat run down the back of his neck. By this point, Ren flushed as he saw Sakura-san coming up the stairs, looking annoyed.

“What’s all the yelling about? We have customers downstairs…”

Ren shrank back as Ann held up the candy bar. “This says ‘may contain traces of peanuts’ and he said he eats it all the time anyways!” she declared, ignoring Ren’s gesturing. Sojiro frowned and approached, taking the candy bar from her to look at it carefully, holding his glasses in place. He frowned and shoved it in his pocket.

“Jesus… okay, yeah, I’m confiscating that.” He scowled at his ward. “What were you thinking?”

“... It tastes good and nothing bad has happened yet?”

Sojiro shook his head. “Kid, for someone who’s at the top of his class, you’re an idiot sometimes. You know I banned peanut products from the cafe for your sake, right?” He looked at the other teens. “You kids mind taking a peek at the other stuff before you dig into that?”

“With the utmost thoroughness, Sakura-san.” Yusuke promised with a bow of the head. “No harm will come to him, reckless though he may be.”

Ren had gone beet red as Sojiro stood over the group and waited as the other teens and Morgana began pouring over the treats he had brought. At one point, the bag turned over, and Ren could see a sour gummy candy he liked on the inside. He tried to reach for it, only to have his hand slapped away by three hands simultaneously.

“No!” they chorused at him, as if scolding a child who had their hand caught in a cookie jar. Ren leaned down on the table and sulked as he watched them pick out certain candies for the next ten minutes, passing them into Sojiro’s outstretched hand as they muttered to each other over what was probably safe. Finally, Ann passed Ren the sour candy he had reached for.

“Be more careful.” she scolded, and Ren smirked wryly.

“I like to live life on the edge.”

“You fall off the edge once, though, and you’re dead.” Sojiro said firmly.

“Hey… not necessarily.” Ren protested. “That’s what the epipen is for.”

“Don’t be so careless.” Yusuke snapped, the most frustrated had sounded with Ren since before awakening Goemon, and Ren flinched back a bit. He frowned and settled for chewing quietly on his sour candy as, slowly, conversation moved from him to their sordid pasts after Sojiro went back downstairs, and oddly enough, Ren found himself grateful for the change to that topic.


He had just meant to make a joke.

The fireworks festival had been canceled by torrential rain, and the group filed into a convenience store packed with other soaked festival-goers groaning about the rain. Ren himself was soaked, his body cold from soaked up rain, his hair practically a sponge that held in raindrops. The temptation to shake his head like that of a cat or dog came to him, but he knew better than to do that in a store surrounded by other people and products on shelves. The rain dripping off the group’s clothes and shoes was bad enough as it was.

As he glanced over the store, shivering as he listened to his friends bicker gently, his eyes fell on a candy on the shelf with peanuts in it, and he grinned wickedly. He reached out for it, about to make a joke about how delicious death was, when Makoto’s hand shot out and tightened around his wrist, stopping him short. He slowly turned to see her giving him a death glare while the others just gave him an unimpressed look.

She didn’t say anything; she just elected to stare him in the eyes with her hard, red, Niijima glare, and he felt his will waver fizzle out and die. Makoto squeezed his wrist tightly, once, making him wince, before pulling his hand away from the shelf and letting go. He couldn’t bite back a small snicker, but the death look she gave him again silenced him.

“We’ll be lecturing you-- again-- about this. Later.”


Day two into trying to rehabilitate Futaba, and Ryuji and Ann had joined Ren, Morgana, and Futaba in the attic of Leblanc to chat and eat junk food. As Ryuji set down the grocery bags, he plucked out bags of chips and candy.

“Got us the good stuff, and made sure none of it would kill the leader.”

Futaba raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

Morgana nodded his head towards Ren. “He’s allergic to peanuts. Deathly so.”

“It’s not a big deal.” Ren tried to wave off. Futaba stared at him for a moment and grinned wickedly.

“So what you’re saying is…” She leaned forward. “... you don’t want deez nuts.”

Ren choked for a split second, then laughed brightly as Futaba pointed finger guns at him.

“That’s exactly right,” he said cheerfully, “well. Not deez nuts. Other nuts and the act thereof are fine.”

“Dude…” Ryuji groaned as Ren and Futaba giggled madly. Morgana blinked in confusion.

“... I don’t get it.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Ann said with a sigh.


“I’m sorry, Amamiya-kun, but I’m not allowed to sell these to you.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve been informed of your allergy, and these may contain traces of peanuts. Niijima-senpai was very clear on the subject.”

Ren grumbled to himself. One of the clubs on campus was holding a fundraiser selling chocolate bars, and Ren had meant to purchase one when he was shot down by the girl running the cash box, who looked rather spooked by his presence. Haru, the newest member of the Phantom Thieves, had accompanied him to the fundraiser, intending to also make a purchase. She stopped and frowned at him.

“I didn’t know you had a peanut allergy, Ren-kun.”

“It’s not a big deal…” he said casually. He sighed and turned his eyes back to the cashier. “What if I promise I’m not the one who’s going to eat it? I could give it to a friend.”

“I’m sorry, but no.” the girl repeated anxiously. “Again, Niijima-senpai made it very clear we were not allowed to sell these to you.”

Ren sighed in defeat and bowed his head. “Fine… thanks anyways. Good luck with with your fundraiser.”

“T- Thanks.” the girl stammered as he walked out without another word. Haru quickly made her purchase and followed him, where she found him sulking outside by the lockers against the wall. She smiled reassuringly at him.

“Ren… if you were craving sweets, I can take you to a confectionary later that has peanut-free treats.”

“‘Kay. Thanks.”

Haru frowned. “Are you alright? It seems like something else is bothering you.”

Ren turned and looked at her for a long moment before sighing wearily. “I just… I’m feeling a little babied by the whole thing. The others tend to be overprotective and paranoid. I just wanted to buy a few bars to give to the team as gifts…”

The girl smiled softly. “Oh, Ren… that’s so sweet of you. But what’s this about them being overprotective? Is it a severe allergy?” Ren hesitated, sighed, and pulled the epipen from his bag. Haru’s brows lifted slightly as she eyed the syringe. “Oh. That bad…” She shrugged. “Well… I can imagine it might be a little aggravating to be fussed over, but they’re doing it out of love.”

“Hm?”

“Amamiya-kun,” Haru said calmly, “would they be constantly looking out for you like that for any reason but love? If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t be fussing like this over you.” She cocked her head to the side. “What do they do that’s overbearing?”

Ren huffed. “Constantly asking to see the ingredients of what I’m eating… asking the waiter about ingredients in whatever I order at restaurants… what you just saw in there. Hell, they even got Mishima in on it. One time we were hanging out and I tried to buy a candy bar, only to get stopped by him.” He shook his head. “Never thought I’d get chocolate-blocked by him, of all people.”

Haru smiled softly. “Oh, Amamiya-kun… I know it’s frustrating, but again, it’s all out of love. They care about you.” She paused as her phone buzzed, and she opened her messages to see something from Futaba.

Futaba: It’d help if he would stop going all LEEROY JENKINS whenever we go shopping. It’s like he’s addicted to trying to eat things that may or may not kill him.

The girl giggled softly and beamed at Ren. “After school, follow me. I’ll show you that allergy-friendly confectionary I was telling you about. I’ll make sure you have safe options.”

Ren smiled back at her. “That sounds good, Haru.”


“Ah, Amamiya-kun, did you check the ingredients on that?”

Ren picked his head up, giving Akechi a surprised look as he held a package of candy he had gotten from a vending machine.

It was the afternoon, shortly after they had begun their foray into Sae’s Palace, and Akechi had followed Ren to the vending machines to obtain sweets to restore health and SP on a budget. This was a typical habit of Ren’s to ensure the team had a little something other than Takemi’s medicine alone in the Metaverse, even as a snack if someone got hungry. Futaba had mentioned they were running low on drinks like soda and water bottles and sent him out before they made the day’s journey to the Metaverse. Akechi had elected to follow and help with carrying some of the cans and treats, and Ren thought little of it until Akechi popped that question.

He looked away from the package in his hand and looked at Akechi, who was frowning. Ren raised an eyebrow. “How did you know?”

Akechi smiled wryly. “Don’t underestimate the skills of a detective. It wasn’t something I intended to discover-- it’s just something I found when looking into your background. In any event: did you check?”

Ren rolled his eyes and nodded. “No, but I have before, and know it’s safe. The others nag me or even confiscate the bag if I get anything other than what they know is safe. They’re a bit overprotective.”

The detective smiled wryly. “For good reason; they need their leader… and it’s too early for you to die, Amamiya.”

Ren couldn’t hold back the scoff that escaped him.

"I'll bear that in mind." 

Chapter Text

Ren's Birthday Squad

Futaba Sakura has added Ryuji SakamotoAnn TakamakiMakoto NiijimaHaru Okumura, and Yusuke Kitagawa to the chat.

Futaba: First things first, no one is going to tell Ren about this chat.

Futaba: Secondly, we have a week to do something for our leader.

Ryuji: What d'you mean?

Futaba: I did some sleuthing. Ren's birthday is August 17th.

Ryuji: F'real?!

Haru: My goodness! Today's the 10th! We only have a week to throw a surprise party together!

Makoto: I don't know if that's a good idea. Ren doesn't really like to be fussed over in a big way like that.

Makoto: We don't even know if he likes having birthday parties.

Futaba: I've tested the waters by casually talking about them. Ren said they're okay, so I'm taking that as it being okay!

Haru: It also doesn't have to be big if he doesn't want it like that!

Ann: A cake and a few presents in Leblanc would be good for showing him we love him.

Yusuke: Yes, I can see it now. We must decorate his room with the proper aesthetics, though.

Ryuji: And how are we gonna do that if we're keeping this a secret from him?

Futaba: One of us will have to distract him while we set up. Ren hasn't said anything about his birthday, so he'll be completely ignorant to the fact that we're doing anything if we're careful about it. 

Futaba: Makoto, you're his girlfriend, and you're pretty good at keeping a secret. You should distract him for a few hours while we put together a party in his attic!

Makoto: There IS a yakuza movie I want to see that's coming out a few days prior... I could say I want to go see it. 

Haru: Wonderful, I'll get you two advance tickets.

Makoto: That's nice of you, Haru, but we can't ask you to do that.

Haru: Too late! I just had them ordered for showing at noon that day!

Makoto: I... okay then.

Ann:
 Cake. We need to get cake for him. What sort of cake does he like? Makoto, do you know?

Makoto: He's really not picky, but he does seem to like that American cake-- red velvet. He's also mentioned that he likes buttercream frosting. 

Ann: Ooh, he has good taste! I'll order one from a bakery for him and bring it!

Yusuke: 
What about the aesthetics?! If we're taking pictures for posterity, the room must be absolutely perfect! I insist!

Futaba: Is that really necessary, Inari? Just get some balloons and streamers if you want to decorate.

Yusuke: Balloons and streamers?! Absurd! Pedestrian! 

Yusuke: I will be taking this matter over!

Futaba: Whatever, so long as you don't take forever setting up. We only will have a few hours on the day of to set up.

Ryuji: So what am I going to be doing?

Haru: You have the most important job of all, Ryuji.

Haru: You're going to help by doing whatever I and Yusuke tell you to do when we're setting up!

Ryuji: What?!

Yusuke: Yes, I'll need assistance with lifting things.

Haru: Furthermore, I'll be ordering a few gifts for him, and several of us may also bring something. We'll need your help carrying them upstairs and placing them as needed. I will also be handling the guest list.

Ryuji:
 Fine. What about Mona?

Makoto: 
He'll be shadowing me to give me suggestions for distractions if we need more time. Futaba's going to set him up with a small headset. 

Haru: 
Then that's settled! Futaba, can you inform Boss and let him know I'll help make dinner for Ren with him?

Futaba: Done and done. He's going to help, and he says he'll keep it a surprise, too. 

Futaba: Operation: Surprise Party has begun!



Ren yawned as he cracked his eyes open the morning of the 17th, his mind foggy and distant and focused on only one thing: coffee. He was faintly aware that Morgana was gone, no doubt already downstairs, and he woke up a little as his phone buzzed repeatedly, and he drowsily lifted his phone. He blinked and yawned, slowly awakening, as he saw the chat app with a number of messages.

He opened it and found a number of messages from all of his confidants, and he opened the Phantom Thieves group chat first.

Ryuji: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, REN-REN!!!

Ann: HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (つ≧▽≦)つ

Yusuke: Happy birthday, Ren! May you serve as our shining light and inspiration for many more years to come.

Haru: Happy birthday, Ren-kun!!! ☆*:.。.o(≧▽≦)o.。.:*☆

Futaba:

 Image result for avengers birthday gif

Makoto: 
Happy birthday, Ren. 

Ren smiled, then typed.

Ren: Thanks, guys!

Ann: So what's the birthday boy up to?

Ren: Going out with Makoto to a movie.

Ryuji: Aw, that's real sweet. That's all you want?

Ren: Having friends like you is the real birthday present.

Ann: That's so corny and adorable; how are you this cute??

Haru:
 I must agree with Ann-chan! You're just so pure!

Ren: I mean it, though.

Futaba:

Image result for picture of guy clutching chest

Yusuke: We wish you a wonderful day, Ren.

Ren yawned and pushed himself out of bed after that last message, moving to dress himself, and he headed downstairs, pausing to smile at the sight of Futaba, Sojiro, and Morgana waiting for him and smiling brightly back at him. Futaba moved first, hopping out of her seat at the bar to wrap her arms around Ren.

"Happy Birthday!"

"Thank you." He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed, and as they pulled apart, Ren sniffed the air as his favorite brew of coffee infiltrated his senses, warming his body and soul. He eyed a steaming cup on the counter top before an empty seat, to the left of which was occupied by Futaba and the right was occupied by Morgana. 

"Happy Birthday, Ren." Sojiro said warmly. "Come sit down and get your coffee."

"I think I will, thanks." Ren agreed, still smiling, as he took his place and lifted the cup to his lips. The coffee tickled his senses and warmed his mouth and throat, awakening him truly to the world. As he set it down, he blinked his eyes open, bright and wide and cheerful. 

"Happy Birthday." Morgana added finally, swishing his tail back and forth. "What do you intend to do today besides go out with Makoto?"

The young man shrugged. "No clue. I didn't have anything particular in mind."

"That's really all you want to do?" Futaba bemoaned. Ren shrugged.

"It's just my 18th. Legal age of adulthood is 20." He shrugged again. "Not that I'm complaining; don't get me wrong. I'm just... happy with what I have, right now." 

Sojiro nodded proudly. "You're already practically a man. You've proven yourself that much; you know what's really important to you." Sojiro smiled. "Anyways, I'm going to get your breakfast. Eat up."

Ren nodded and wolfed down his breakfast before hurrying to the bathroom to clean up a bit. Shortly after, he settled down at the counter, and pulled at his phone, finally addressing the large number of buzzes his phone had been nagging him with.

Mishima:
 Happy Birthday, Ren!

Iwai: Happy birthday, kid.

Kawakami: Happy birthday, Amamiya-kun!

Hifumi: Happy birthday, Ren-kun. I hope this year is a wonderful one for you.

Yoshida: Happy Birthday, Amamiya-san! You're becoming more and more a man with every passing year.

Ohya: 
Word on the street is it's your birthday! I'm gonna have to drop by later and give you your first legal drink-- wait. Fuck. Lala-chan's telling me you have to be 20. What is this bullshit? Eh... what Lala doesn't know won't hurt her, right?

Shinya: Happy birthday, Ren. Hope you get better at Gun About this year, so you can actually beat me.

Tae: Happy birthday, guinea pig. I suppose I'll let you off trials for today; I hope you have a nice day.

Chihaya: Happy birthday, Ren-kun! My cards tell me you're going to have a wonderful and prosperous year.

Ren smiled, and he responded to each and every one. He wasn't sure how long it had been or how long it was taking, but he enjoyed chatting and texting to all of them, who questioned him as to what he was doing that day. By the time he finished responding to everyone, the bell above Leblanc's door jingled, and he looked up to see Makoto smiling brightly, waving as he instinctively beamed back. He shoved his phone in his pocket and rose to his feet, hurrying to her to be rewarded with a kiss. She giggled. "Happy birthday, Ren. I love you."

"Love you, too, Makoto." He turned to smile at Sojiro, who was grinning. "We're off, Sakura-san."

"Have fun, you two. Enjoy yourselves." 

"We will." Makoto tugged at Ren's sleeve lightly. "We should be going. Don't want to be late, now do we?"

With that, Makoto ushered Ren out of Leblanc, and silence fell for a few moments. After about ten minutes, Futaba's phone buzzed, and a surreptitious message from Makoto to the birthday group chat.

Makoto: We're on the train.

Futaba met Sojiro's eyes, then Morgana's, and the three nodded at each other. Within moments, Ryuji barged in, then Ann, and not long after, every phantom thief sans Ren and Makoto was gathered. Everyone had some sort of gift in varying boxes and bags, even Yusuke, whose present was in the shape of a canvas beneath a white cloth. The others were left to gawk at it. Yusuke nodded proudly at it.

"I spent the last week laboring upon this... it will beautify this celebration when I reveal its true form."

Nods came, but silence fell. Futaba glanced over Yusuke and frowned. "Uh, Inari..." She cocked her head. "... is that the only decoration you brought?"

Yusuke nodded his head, then froze as his eyes widened in horror and he blanched. "Oh, dear me..." He shook his head. "I got so carried away with my pride for this painting that I forgot about decorating the rest of Leblanc..." He fell to his knees. "How am I going to..."

"Do we even need decorations?" Ryuji scoffed. "Ren won't care."

"I will care!" Yusuke snapped, glaring at Ryuji, who flinched back in surprise. "How could I allow such a momentous event to go so... so bland!"

Ann rose to her feet from one of the booths. "We have to move fast! Where's the nearest party store?!"

"Party decorations?!" Yusuke gasped, balking. "So unimaginative!"

"Too bad!" Ann cried. "We have two hours before their movie gets out! We have to make do! MOVE IT--"

"Uh... Ann?" Sojiro said, clearing his throat. "Futaba told me you were going to pick up the cake in an hour. Are you gonna have time to go with Yusuke?"

Ann sputtered for a moment when Haru stood. "I and Mona-chan will go with him." she said resolutely. "I agree with Kitagawa-kun; we must rectify the situation. Ann, you will have to stay here and help Ryuji move gifts upstairs and clean up the shop until it's time to get the cake. Futaba-chan can help Sakura-san with making dinner for later." Apprehensive looks were exchanged, but in the end, everyone nodded. Haru smiled proudly. "Let's get to work, everyone! Let's give our leader a day to remember!"

Chapter Text

"Remind me why you're recruiting a Black Ooze again?" Oracle groaned from inside Necronomicon. "It's weak and it's not like it learns any good abilities."

Joker chose not to reply right away as Oracle floated to the ground behind him, her Persona dispersing, and he ignored the others as he absorbed its power. Once it had flown into the mask, he huffed. 

"I need it to make another Persona. I'm fusing it with that Pisaca I got in Mementos to make a stronger Persona-- a Unicorn-- with good healing and Bless attacks."

The others just stared at him. Skull frowned. "So you're taking two of the most butt-ugly Personas to make... an effin' unicorn." He shook his head. "I know you've tried to explain it to us, but I still don't get it."

"Neither do I, Skull," Joker said as he turned around, leading the group back out of Mementos as the group piled into the Monamobile and he took the wheel, "neither do I. Besides, it's not like I like having them, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper to recruit them myself than it is to summon them back from the twins."

"I must agree it is most bizarre..." Fox mused. "Taking two hideous things and making something beautiful out of them... true art, but... I am at a loss as to how."

"Have you ever tried asking those twins in that Velvet place about how that works?" Panther questioned as the van bounced and Yusuke winced, covering his mouth. Joker shrugged casually.

"I have, but I barely understood their explanation. Something about cognition, the essence of the Personas, and their power, but I still barely understand how or why specific Personas make... other specific Personas."

Oracle grumbled. "Wish I had a fusion guide like you'd find for video game tutorials on the internet. I bet I could figure it out and make you better Personas."

Joker shrugged again. "That would be nice, I suppose."

"Can you ask them if they have anything like that?" Queen pressed. "It's fine if they don't, but it might be helpful if we can help you figure out what you need to make the best Personas..." She looked at him with a soft smile. "After all, you are the only one on the team who can use multiple Personas. It'd be wonderful if we could optimize your repertoire..."

"I..." He sighed. "I suppose you're right. I can't promise anything, though."

"And that's fine," Queen reassured with a smile, "we appreciate you asking. I understand the girls can be... a bit of a handful, from your description." 

"A bit of a handful?!" Skull cried, balking as he patted his shin ruefully. "This shin still hurts like a bitch! Those invisible little girls are evil!"

Morgana snickered. "Maybe if you hadn't taunted them so much..."

"I didn't taunt 'em! I was just gonna mess with Joker a bit!"

"You did a little after one of them kicked you..." Noir remarked. 

When they made their way back to the entrance, the others gawked as they always did as Joker walked toward the Velvet Room door they could not see. Skull backed away from the spot where Ren froze in place and cringed, ignoring the rolled eyes and snickers coming from the others. 

They were left waiting as they always did.


 

To Ren's surprise, the twins had given him a copy of the compendium as well as another book about fusion without an argument. He did, however, find their shit-eating grins at the request unsettling.

"Good luck with your team, Inmate." Caroline had said smugly.

Though a bit bewildered, he gave the books to Futaba, who poured over them, then passed it to Makoto, who similarly examined it. A few weeks passed as they talked and argued and wrote down notes Ren didn't get to see. Not yet, anyways.

Finally, one day before a Mementos trip during a meeting a short while after Akechi had joined the team, the two declared they had figured out how to best use Ren's ability of the wildcard.

"We made you an optimized, well-rounded build." Futaba said as she passed the notebook to Ren. "You'll fuse Personas in the order on this notebook, and you'll be OP and ready to cover weaknesses on the team."

Ren took the notebook and scanned it quizzically. His lips twitched into a frown. "Girimehkala?"

"Oh, yeah," Futaba said with a nod, "I have it specced so it should repel physical attacks-- and thus, physical attacks will bounce off of you."

"But it's ugly..."

"No complaining." Makoto scolded with crossed arms and a firm Niijima stare. "It's not just for you, it's for the team, and as the only one with multiple Personas, we need to optimize your repertoire." 

Ren pouted but did not protest further until a moment later when he gasped. "You want me to execute Mothman?!"

"WHAT?!" Ann snatched the notebook out of Ren's hands and held a hand to her chest. "But--"

"Yeah, it's weak." Futaba said bluntly with a wave of the hand. "It's just taking up space. If Joker can sacrifice Personas to make items, he might as well get some use out of it."

"Not the soft moth baby!" Haru cried, pouting. "Anyone but him!"

"Alright, timeout!" Ryuji declared as he stood up. "Y'can't micromanage his Personas like that!"

"Sit down, Ryuji." Makoto ordered calmly. "Again, keep in mind that Joker is our sole wildcard. Thus--" 

Akechi snorted. The others turned to give him funny looks as he shook his head. He rose a hand to his face and coughed. "Apologies," he said calmly, "allergies."

Everyone just gave him dubious looks before turning back to Makoto, who cleared her throat. "Anyways... my point is, Ren is a huge benefit to the team, given his unique power. We can optimize it and minimize waste of money and Personas he carries; he still only can have a few, so we need to make sure his powers are optimized for efficiency on the battlefield."

"We made it this far with him managing his Personas, didn't we?" Ryuji huffed. "Just leave it be! Don't fix what ain't broke!"

"... No, they're right." Ren finally spoke up. He shook his head as eyes went to him. "They have a point. A lot of team funds do go into fusing Personas." He frowned. "But... I sort of like getting creative and experimenting with what I have. Sort of grants a surprise element."

"Mm, I must agree." Yusuke piped up, a hand on his chin. "It's always exciting to see something new come out on the battlefield. It's inspiring."

Makoto and Futaba shared a look. They turned back to him, looking as though they were about to say something more, when Haru cleared her throat.

"Why not compromise? Have Ren use up half his spaces for your recommended Personas, and let him play around with the other half of his Personas."

Akechi nodded. "Mhm, yes, that would be the best compromise." He raised an eyebrow as Makoto raised an eyebrow at him. "Something wrong, Niijima-san?"

"You're so... calculating and it seems like you would prefer optimization, not random elements."

The detective chuckled. "Why, Niijima-san, detective work would get boring if nothing unusual happened from time to time. True, a sort of orderliness makes life easier, but not more interesting."

"... Alright." Makoto turned back to Ren and sighed. "Fine. I suppose that's the best way to appease the team, but still, try to balance what elements and powers your other personas have."

"Will do." Ren said, relaxing back. He looked at the notebook again with a wrinkled nose. "Do I still have to get Girimehkala?"

"Yes." 

"Son of a bitch."



Joker panted and wiped the blood coming out of his nose with his glove.

They were up against a tough Shadow in Mementos, and while it was almost done, too, Ren felt the same. He was low on SP and health, and knew he had to knock out the enemy quickly. Fox had already been knocked out and laid, prone, on the ground, while the others similarly panted with exhaustion.

When the enemy swiped at him, Joker thought it was all over, and winced, bracing for impact... but it never came.

The physical attack had bounced off harmlessly as the enemy staggered backwards. Joker took the opportunity and charged forward, swiping with his blade with as much force as he could muster. The Shadow howled and precipitated back to the form of the human it belonged to while Ren staggered back and held his gun up. After a little back and forth, it disappeared and left the bud of a treasure behind, which the leader snatched and tucked into his pocket.

"You're welcome." Oracle said smugly as she floated down from her UFO. 

Ren turned to give her and Queen a wry smile and a shake of the head.

"It's still ugly, though."

Chapter Text

"Haru, I tolerated you picking out streamers, but this is going too far."

"They're just balloons, Yusuke."

"But those balloons?"

Haru let out an exasperated sigh as she turned to Yusuke. "What's wrong with these ones?"

The boy shifted uncomfortably, rattling the basket of miscellaneous decorations tucker over his right arm as he looked at the balloon in the shape of the number 18 Haru had been pointing at. "It's... a number."

"... And?"

"It simplifies the matter too much. A birthday is not just a number, it is a celebration of another year of life!"

The woman sighed and looked over the wall of balloon styles before turning to Yusuke. "What do you recommend, then?"

Yusuke clicked his tongue and shook his head. "A variety of colors, reflecting our friend's spirit. They may not have anything particularly... artful, so we will have to make do with what's available." He turned to the annoyed-looking cashier. "We need four of each of the following color balloons: red, white, and black." He turned to Haru as the cashier began preparing the balloons. "As you know, red is a representation of joy and happiness, something that Ren has given us all and that we hope to provide, especially on a day like this. White is purity and truth--" His voice dropped to a whisper. "--which is what he, as is his duty as the Trickster, has brought to the world."

"And the black?" Morgana questioned from Haru's shoulder.

"Partially because he likes the color or lack thereof, and its association with the night and mystery-- something he was once shrouded in to all of us."

Haru nodded quietly and looked in the basket of decorations. "Do you think we have enough?"

"Enough?" Yusuke shook his head. "Not if I had my way, but we are pressed for time. We will make do as we can."

"This all you kids need?" the cashier questioned as he finished with the balloons. Morgana's eyes glittered at the sight of the balloons, and on instinct, he swiped at them before having his paw slapped away by Yusuke while Haru nodded.

"Yes, thank you." As she offered her card for payment, she turned to Yusuke. "Well, let's hope we have time to decorate before the movie ends."


"That should do it."

Ryuji dusted off his hands and smiled at the small pile of gifts he and Ann had placed on the table by the stairway. Ann had already left a short while beforehand to pick up the cake, and the boy marveled at his work as he looked around the room. His eyes settled on Ren's shelf, and his nose wrinkled at how dusty the decorations were.

"Oh, dude..." He sighed and grabbed a cloth. "Might as well while I'm waiting..."

As he cleaned, he paused for a moment as he laid eyes upon the decorative ramen bowl he had given him so long ago. It was still in good condition, and his eyes softened as he carefully wiped it off and reminisced. He put it back to its spot as a centerpiece and smiled fondly before moving onto the rest. 

He finished just as he heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and turned to see Morgana, Yusuke, and Haru hurrying up to the room. 

"Ah, good, you've already cleaned up a bit," Yusuke remarked, "do you know if there are any low tables to put the gifts on? We should move them to the center of the room."

Ryuji's nose wrinkled. "What for?"

"To make Ren the center of attention when he opens them, of course."

The blond shook his head. "Dude, we'll all be able to see him just fine from where I put them, and he won't have to bend his knees for them or anything. It's fine where it is."

"But..."

"Why don't we do this?" Haru suggested as she strolled past him. She planted two of the three bunches of balloons at either end of the table and nodded. "There. It'll look nice while he opens them."

Yusuke let out an exasperated sigh. "I'm afraid we don't have time to argue about this, so very well. Let us commence our work."



Ren stretched his arms as he and Makoto exited the theater. Makoto was still shaking from excitement over the movie, something he smiled at as they walked. He set his arms down. "Did you like it?"

"Yes, very much so." Makoto said, pleased. "Thank you for coming with me to see it."

"Thank you." he replied wryly. "I always love going to the movies with you. Your passion is great."

"Oh!" Makoto reddened and giggled. "Thank you..."

As they headed out, she quietly pulled her phone from her pocket and began texting.

Makoto: We're out. Heading your way.

Ann: Already??

Yusuke: You have to stall him.

She quirked an eyebrow.

Makoto: Is something wrong?

Yusuke: The decorations. I must finish setting them up.

Ryuji: I think it's fine, though. It's not like Ren really cares.

Yusuke: I care!

"Is something wrong, Makoto?" 

Makoto looked up nervously at Ren, who fixed her with a quizzical frown. She nodded.

"O- Oh! Yes, everything is fine. My sister is just texting me is all..."

Ren shrugged. "Alright. Should we head to the train station?"

"Y- Yes. Let's go."

The two began walking as Makoto fumbled to text back.

Makoto: It'll take us anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to get back. Can you be done in time?

Ryuji: All of us are here. We'll get it done in time.

Yusuke: A true challenge... but very well.



Makoto: We're in Yongen. Approaching Leblanc now.

Makoto sent off the message and continued walking to Leblanc, still hand-in-hand with Ren, who had been relatively quiet the whole way back. He had muttered once or twice about the heat of summer, but not much else beyond softly conversing with Makoto about the movie they had seen.

The bell above the door jingled as they entered Leblanc. It took Ren's eyes a moment to adjust to the change in lighting, but he was able to standing behind the bar cleaning some cups as they came in. He smiled at the sight of them. "Ah, you're back."

"We are." Ren glanced around the cafe. "Where's Futaba? She head home?"

"She's upstairs in the attic." Sojiro said as he jerked a thumb towards the stairs. "Why don't you go see her and then call your friends over for dinner?"

He nodded. "Sounds good." 

Makoto's heart palpitated as she looked at Ren, who seemed calm as ever and hopefully oblivious to what was coming as they headed upstairs. He kept his head down to watch his step as he always did when going up the stairs, and nearly jumped out of his skin when it came.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"

Ren yelped and almost fell backwards into Makoto as he reached the top of the stairs and was greeted collectively by his friends, who all stood up from their spots around the table they had pulled over to loudly greet him.

He blinked repeatedly as he took in the room. Streamers had been placed over shelves and the rafters, from which hung a "happy birthday" banner. A balloon bouquet had been placed in the center of the room and floated over a covered canvas while two more balloon bouquets flanked the table by the stairway, which was covered with colorful wrapped gifts. The table that the group sat around had a cake in the center atop a red tablecloth, and lovingly written in frosting upon it was "Happy Birthday Ren!"

The man stared at the group, stunned into silence as they beamed at him and waited for a reaction.

For a moment, he flashed back, remembering when he first stepped foot in the dusty, messy attic, alone while Sojiro warned him to behave himself. A criminal with no one at his side, which he thought he would always be.

"Ren-Ren? You there?"

Ren snapped out of it as they began to frown worriedly at him. Futaba in particular was shaking. "Oh, no, did we jump to conclusions? Do you not like--"

"It's not that." Ren smiled softly and bit back tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. "I-- I don't know what to say."

"Are you crying?" Haru gasped. Ren shook his head and laughed brightly.

"No!"

"Oh, my God, he is!" Ann squealed. "Happy tears!"

"No thanks to you all." Ren sniffled. "God damn it... I have a stoic image to maintain, damn it..."

"Not anymore." Ryuji teased. Yusuke beamed.

"A true success... worth every panicked moment." He stood and approached the covered canvas. "I made this for you, Ren. No canvas will ever be able to adequately portray how much you mean to all of us... but for the moment, this is as close as I can get."

Yusuke pulled back the sheet to reveal a painting of Satanael, his wings extending from end to end of the canvas, while the others' Personas stood at either of his sides in a line beneath his wings, hand-in-hand.

"I hope the meaning is apparent," he remarked, "you are our centerpiece, our leader, but we stand at your side, forever."

Ren clutched at his chest, as if he had been struck weak by an attack, and he nodded. "It is. Thank you, Yusuke, and thank all of you for... everything."

"We should be thanking you." Makoto said as she reached to kiss his cheek. "Now, come on. Let's go eat and then we can move to opening presents and cake..."


It was late in the evening by the time almost everyone dispersed. Ren sat on his bed and stared quietly at the pile of shredded, colorful paper at the foot of the table where many of his unwrapped gifts still lied. Morgana laid in the pile of paper, arms and legs spread-eagle, as he purred contently. Futaba remained perched on the couch and grinned as she filmed Morgana having the time of his life in the paper. Unfortunately, it only took a moment for the cat to realize he was being filmed; he quickly extracted himself from the paper, cringing as Futaba groaned.

"That was so cute! Go back to what you were doing!"

"No! It was undignified!" Morgana huffed. His eyes turned to the balloons in the center of the room, and his indignation faded quickly as he gawked at them. "Hey, Ren, is it okay if I try popping just one?"

"Go for it, but be warned, it's gonna be loud when you pop it."

Morgana scoffed. "Pfft, who do you think I am?" He allowed his claws to to come out as he eyed the one closest to him, and stood on his hind legs. "I am Morgana, a master thief who would never get scared by something so simple!" he declared as he swatted at the balloon. 

POP!

Morgana yowled and jumped backwards before flipping and bolting away from the remains of the balloon while Ren and Futaba choked on their laughter. When Ren was able to regain control of his breathing, he nodded to himself.

"Here's to another great year with everyone."

Chapter Text

"How long do you think he's been up there?"

"How is he comfortable in that position?"

"I can't believe he fell asleep up there..."

"Do we wake him up?"

"What do we do?"

Hushed voices argued while their dear leader slept above them. What was supposed to be a regularly scheduled meeting had turned into a concerned debate upon realizing Ren was fast asleep in the rafters of his room, laying on the beams with his arms lazily hanging off the sides and snoring softly, his chest raising and lowering softly. He wore only sweat pants and no shirt, having decided to lay down for what was supposed to be just a few moments.

Everyone sans Yusuke and Morgana were arguing over how to handle the situation. Yusuke stood back, initially framing the sight with his fingers, snapped a few pictures, and was finally in the middle of sketching rapidly. Morgana sat atop the rafters, staring at Ren quietly, tail flicking back and forth impatiently.

"Eff this," Ryuji whispered as quietly as he could, "let's just wake 'im up."

"No! He could fall and hurt himself!" Makoto protested, grimacing as she looked up at him.

"He could fall even if he wakes up on his own..." Futaba murmured. Ryuji looked over toward his mattress and shrugged.

"We could just move his mattress under the rafter and hope he lands on it?"

"What if we just let him sleep?" Haru suggested with a giggle. "Maybe he needs the sleep."

Makoto crossed her arms and shook her head. "We have Mementos targets that need to be taken care of, and it's unsafe for him to stay up there."

"Let him stay up there for at least ten more minutes," Yusuke huffed without looking up from his sketchbook, "I need to finish this sketch. Do you understand what an opportunity this is?"

Morgana sighed and looked down at the other thieves. "He's done this before. Usually I just let him sleep, and he just hops down when he's awake. I've only seen him fall one time."

"He's fallen doing this before?" Makoto griped, putting her hands on her cheeks as she grimaced up at him. "Why is he doing it again, then?!"

Futaba just sighed, crossed her arms, and shook her head. "He's such a cat..."

"I am NOT a cat!"

"I'm not talking about you, Mona."

Makoto sighed and shook her head. "He's getting a talking-to about this later... if we really don't have any other options, let's go ahead and move the mattress."

Moments after they placed the bed below him, Ren opened his mouth and yawned loudly, tears pricking in the corners of his eyes from the yawn. He mumbled a bit and rubbed at the corners of his eyes while he stretched his other arm out. Silence fell as everyone stared (and Yusuke grumbled) as Ren sat up. He stretched his arms up, cracking the joints. After a moment, he blinked his eyes open and heard the breathing below him. Ren looked down at his team and waved.

"Oh, hey," he greeted with another yawn, "when did you guys get here? What time is it?"

"Ten minutes past our scheduled meeting." Makoto said bluntly. Ren frowned.

"Crap. Sorry, didn't mean to doze off."

Ann shook her head. "How did you even fall asleep up there? That can't be comfortable, and the risk of falling..."

Ren shrugged and hopped off the rafters. He landed feet-first on his bed and blinked at it. "Uh... why is my bed here?"

Haru put her hands on her hips. "We were afraid you were going to fall and hurt yourself!"

The leader just smiled. "Oh. Thanks, but I'm okay. I've only fallen once and the bruises weren't that bad."

Makoto grit her teeth. "Ren..."

He knew the look in her eyes. He flinched back and held his hands up defensively. "Whoa, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you guys would worry."

After a moment, Makoto sighed, and her shoulders relaxed. "Ren, we really need to have a discussion about your self-care habits later."

"But falling asleep in the rafters after a good workout session IS self-care."

"He's got a point." Ryuji agreed with a snicker. Ann sighed.

"Ren-kun, you're such a cat."

"What?"

"... Nevermind. Just go put a shirt on."

The boy smiled a very Joker-esque smile. "You mean you DON'T want me to run around Mementos half-naked? Where's the fun in that?"

"Joker!"

Chapter Text

The moon shone down on the trailer, peeking through the windows, providing the only dim light in the night as seven teenagers and a cat all slumbered within.

The group was sprawled out in various locations. Most were on the floor in sleeping bags. Futaba and Morgana shared the bed in the camper, pulled out from the couch that converted into a bed. It was some early hour of the night no one was sure of, but it didn't matter as the sounds of gentle snoring and soft breathing filled the air.

That is, until it was broken by a whisper.

"Is anyone awake?"

It was Yusuke's voice, albeit muffled. There was a soft groan from the bed.

"Well, now I am." Morgana mumbled. Futaba yawned.

"Same. Thanks, Mona." she muttered. The cat bristled.

"He started it."

"Guys..." Ann's tired voice crept up. "Why are you all whispering?"

Yusuke coughed. "I woke up from a dream and I have a pressing question."

"What is it?" Haru whispered, now awake as well.

"Do lobsters have dreams?"

A silence fell over the camper.

"That's why you woke us all up?" Ryuji hissed, having awakened. Makoto groaned.

"Everyone... why are we all whispering? We're clearly all awake."

"Is Ren awake?" Ann questioned. There was a soft sigh.

"I am now..." he whispered back.

"Guys, I have to pee." Ryuji whispered. A chorus of snickers and some groans arose.

"Thanks for sharing, Ryuji." Ren whispered dryly.

"You're welcome."

"Why are we all whispering?" Haru questioned. Yusuke scoffed.

"I feel as though we'd be violating the beautiful song of the night to speak aloud."

"That's Inari talk for 'it's sleepover protocol', right?" Futaba cut in.

There was a pause.

"So... do lobsters dream?"

Futaba sighed and pulled her phone from her pocket. "Let me look it up so Inari can go back to sleep."

"I have to pee, too, now." Ren whispered. Another chorus of snickers and groans arose. Ryuji shoved Ren's arm.

"I called it first."

Futaba grumbled. "Can't find anything about lobsters dreaming. Only about dream symbolism of lobsters."

"What do lobsters symbolize, then?" Haru questioned.

"Says here it's... possibly about wealth, self-confidence, and... sometimes aggressive or sexual feelings." Futaba groaned. "Eww. Save your horny dreams to yourself, Inari."

"I beg your pardon?! I was merely dreaming of their artful elegance, nothing so base!" He paused. "Though I would have never imagined it would represent something like that."

"Can we stop talking about sexuality and lobsters?" Makoto groaned. "And go back to sleep please?"

"Who even does research on what lobsters mean in dreams?" Morgana whispered. Ren snickered.

"Someone has made it their life mission to analyze the meaning of lobsters in dreams. Obviously."

"Really?"

"No." Makoto scoffed. "I would be shocked if there was any actual methodology behind dream analysis."

"Really? Given the Metaverse and what we're going through again?" Ann pointed out. Makoto groaned.

"Does it matter? We're all awake and whispering about nonsense at..."

"2 am." Futaba piped up.

"2 am."

"Let's go back to sleep." Morgana urged. Ryuji got up and headed to the restroom, then Ren, and both settled back in their bags. "Goodnight." the cat said.

"Goodnight." the others chorused, and back to sleep they all went.

Chapter Text

Joker felt a small but growing headache in the back of his head as he tried to shove a voice to the back of his mind.

Parvati was one of his newer Personas, one he had fused for Shido’s Palace for the purpose of healing. The Persona served its purpose well, of course, but like all Personas, it could grow... noisy.

All of Joker’s Personas were prone to making comments and suggestions if they were on the forefront of his mind and summoned, and while it could be irritating sometimes, it was usually silenced by banishing them to the back of his mind. He’d simply swap in a new Persona and peace and quiet was his reward.

Parvati, however, was unusually stubborn. He could hear her faint pleas to be let out in the back of his head as he pulled everyone into a cushy saferoom of Shido’s Palace. Still, he steeled his facial expression and did his usual job of checking on everyone.

“How about you, Joker?” Mona questioned as he asked them how they were doing. He blinked.

“Me?”

“Yeah, you,” Panther agreed, “you know we were iffy about you fighting to begin with, considering you’re still recovering in the real world from you know what.”

Let me out let me out let me out. Let me talk to them.

Joker just shook his head. “Thanks, but I’m fine. Let’s all have a ten minute break before we head out.”

The others nodded and sat in various locales while Joker elected to lean back against the wall. A small but growing headache was in the back of his head, but he was determined to ignore it. Parvati, however, apparently determined not to be silenced, kept complaining. Eventually Joker, without really thinking about it, grit his teeth and put a hand to the back of his head.

“Joker?! Are you okay?!”

He pulled his hand away and opened his eyes, bewildered as the other team members swarmed him. Chairs scratched against the floor and the bed Futaba was laying on squeaked as everyone rose to their feet. Joker frowned and held his hands out.

“Whoa, whoa, what’s all the fussing for?”

“You were gripping your head like you were in pain, and we’re very worried about you given your physical state in the real world.” Queen replied in a matter-of-fact way. She had pulled a glove off and put her bare hand on his forehead. She sighed. “Well, you’re not running a temperature.”

“Guys, I’m okay.” Joker reassured with a hand up. At the others’ unconvinced frowns, he frowned right back. “I’m serious. I’m fine.”

“Joker, if we need to go back for today, it’s fine,” Noir reassured, “we have plenty of time and we’re making good progress.”

Joker shook his head again, winced, and clapped the back of his skull. At the others’ expressions, he groaned. “Wait, wait! Just hear me out!” He sighed. “You know those little headaches you get if you argue with your Persona? One of my new Personas has been nagging me nonstop and she won’t shut up, even after I put her in the back.”

“Nagging you about what?” Panther questioned. Joker sighed, exasperated.

“She won’t say. She wants me to let her out to talk to you guys, but won’t say why. I refuse to let her out unless she gives me an explanation.”

Skull scoffed. “Dude, just let her out. She ain’t gonna stop.”

“But...”

“I don’t see why not.” Fox agreed. “Let her speak. She is a part of you right now, so she must feel there’s something she needs to tell us for your sake.”

Joker stared at all of them for a long moment before sighing. “Alright. Stand back.” The others stepped back, and Joker reached for his mask. “Parvati.”

The mask dissipated into flames, and Parvati materialized before them. Joker sighed with relief at the sudden end to his headache, and he frowned at her. “Alright, what is it?”

Parvati turned to the others and sighed forlornly. “Joker is so very, very touch-starved, but won’t admit it. He needs—“

“Back in the mask you go.” Joker snapped, and quickly the Persona dissipated and flew back onto his face as a mask. He looked away from the others. “Alright, let’s g—“

“Joker...” Panther said wryly. “Do you need a hug?”

The boy pouted and crossed his arms. “No.”

The girls giggled. Panther inched forward before wrapping her arms around him tightly. Oracle followed suit, then Haru, the Makoto. To his surprise, Yusuke joined in, and finally, Ryuji shrugged and reached in to pat Ren’s shoulder, unable to breach the wall of people.

In spite of his bewilderment, it felt good.

“Do you feel better yet?” Noir asked. Joker merely let out a ‘hmph.’ When everyone finally pulled away, he cleared his throat.

“We won’t discuss this again.”

“Sure thing, leader.” Skull said with a wry smile. Queen sighed and clutched his hand, prompting him to look over at her. She was smiling softly.

“Next time, just tell me, okay?”

Joker sighed softly. “... Okay.”

Chapter Text

This one was done as another sick fic but abandoned because I decided I have enough that's too similar to this. The tl;dr is that Joker goes to school and tries to pretend like nothing is wrong. It goes as well as you'd think. Will not be continued.

Ren ducked his head sheepishly. Kawakami frowned. "Amamiya-kun, are you alright?"

"Ye..." His voice scratched, and he struggled to get the word out of his throat without sounding hoarse. "Yes." he said, though it came out barely audibly. Kawakami frowned.

"Are you sure? You sound like you're losing your voice." Ren, this time, elected to shake his head stubbornly and look away. Kawakami stared at him for a moment before sighing. "Alright, but if you feel ill, ask to go to the nurse." He nodded again quietly, continuing to avert his gaze. He tried to pretend like he wasn't getting funny looks from the rest of the class and concerned stares from Ann and Kawakami. Even Mishima was side-eyeing him. 

His thoughts on them faded quickly, however, in favor of a shiver as he felt his throat protest at a bit of saliva he unconsciously tried to swallow. He could feel the snot in his throat. His head hurt, he could barely breathe through his nose, and a fog fell over his other thoughts as he tried to pay attention in vain. He felt so hot and sleepy and sore, his head damp with sweat, but he had to persist, that was his job as the leader, and Sojiro would be so mad if he had to go home early...

"... Amamiya-kun? Amamiya!"

Ren's head shot up as he belatedly realized his teacher had been addressing him. He forced a nervous smile and nodded, biting back a wince with great effort as he felt the world spin with the motion. His eyes, glassy and tired, remained averted as he tried not to give away his weakness. She frowned. "Were you paying attention?" The boy bobbed his head up and down again instead of speaking. A small hurk escaped him as nausea tickled his mouth at the motion, a noise so small he hoped no one heard. Her eyes narrowed. "Can you verbally confirm that?"

Ren bit his lip and cursed internally. He stared at her for a moment before clearing his throat, trying to muffle the sound of mucous, and opened his mouth-- but the confirmation came out as a muffled wheeze, and he flushed. He tried again, once more-- and covered his mouth as he fought back a strong urge to cough. He lost the battle and hacked violently, wholly losing control for what felt like a long period of time. It stung horribly, like someone was rubbing sandpaper up and down his throat, and he wheezed involuntarily at the end of the bout. By the time he was done, everyone was staring at him and those close to him were inching away, except for Ann. Ann reached out and pressed a palm to his forehead for a few seconds and winced before pulling away.

"His forehead is hot. He's sick."

"No, I'm not. It's just allergies." Ren tried to say, but it came out as assorted wheezing noises. The only discernible word he got out was half of the word "allergy," which got him an eye-roll from the teacher.

"Alright, enough. Takamaki, can you please escort him to the nurses' office?"

Ren tried to protest again, but this time, sound eluded him entirely, aside from an almost inaudible, unintelligible noise that sounded like a goose honking. Ann nodded. 

"I'll get him there. Alright, come on, Ren."

Ren tried to wheeze out a protest, but to his dismay, he found himself muted. His eyes widened as he clutched at his throat and tried for words, but nothing more than a tiny wheeze escaped him. He felt panic run through him, but Kawakami just sighed. “There goes your voice… Amamiya-kun, don’t be stubborn.” 

Morgana reached out and headbutted his chin, drawing soft giggles from the rest of the class. Ren looked down at Morgana, who stared at him seriously.

“I told you you were sick,” he scolded, “come on, Joker. You’re in no condition to out in public.”

The class giggled again softly at what sounded like a chain of concerned, scolding meows, and Ann nodded. Kawakami laughed.

“Go on, Amamiya-kun.”

Morgana hopped into his bag. Ren finally hung his head and stood up, picked up the bag, and followed Ann out, shuffling his feet. As soon as they were out of the classroom and into the quiet hallway, Ann let out a big sigh.

“You’re so melodramatic sometimes, you know that?”

Ren gave her an affronted look and tried to protest, but again, little more than a wheeze escaped him. He scowled and reached for his phone, typing quickly into the chat app. Ann watched him bemusedly and reached for her phone as it buzzed and Ren looked at her expectantly.

Ren: We had a meeting today! I can’t afford to be sick!

“Oh, no, you don’t,” she warned off with a frown, “you’re not being self-sacrificing when you’re so sick you can’t even talk. Mementos targets can wait.” She looked into his bag at Morgana. “Did he seem ill this morning?”

Morgana shrugged. “He seemed quiet, more than anything, but that’s sort of normal for him… I did think he looked pretty pale, though.” He turned to give Ren a frown. “I wish you had said something-- well. Written down something or conveyed to me that you’re sick before we came to school. This explains the weird coughs you tried to muffle…”

Ren pouted and started typing again. 

Ren: It’s not a big deal. No one needs to fuss on my behalf.

“Oh, yes, we do.” Ann sighed as they kept walking. She shook her head. “Ren-kun, you have terrible self-care habits… you’re our friend, and our leader. We have to fuss over you sometimes.”


This was intended for the next chapter of AMA 2; it's essentially what I would imagine occurred in Inaba during the whole end of Persona 4. I've hit writer's block on that one. No idea if I will continue this. Persona 4 Golden spoilers.

"... I just can't believe the public reaction." Naoto remarked with a scowl. "There's ample evidence of wrongdoing after his confession, but everyone seems to want to sweep it under a rug."

"Tell me about it!" Dojima grouched. "I thought he was suspicious before any of this Phantom Thief business. This is absurd."

"I just don't get it." Yukiko added. "Everyone lately seems so... mindless. Has anyone else noticed?"

The group nodded. "Yeah," Yosuke agreed, "it's creepy as hell. Lately there's people even claiming none of the Phantom Thief stuff happened."

"Did everyone just go amnesiac or something?" Chie huffed.

They had just planned to get together for the holidays after finals; Yu and several members of the Seekers had been turned loose from the University of Tokyo for the holidays. After a few hours' drive, Christmas Eve had the group, plus Yu's uncle and cousin, gathered around Dojima's living room, chatting and reminiscing.

Inevitably, the conversation got turned toward the chaotic recent elections. Yu and Naoto had been first to protest earlier in the year at the sight of Shido on the news, both of whom stated his rhetoric was dangerous and fascist. The others agreed, and hoped Japan would see the light before the elections. No such luck came, and the group found themselves disturbed by the increasing amount of fanaticism and mindless worship. 

The year had been hectic enough with that and the business of the Phantom Thieves. The team was convinced a group of Persona users were behind it and followed their actions with great curiosity. Rise had thrown public support behind them eventually, only to receive disdain after the Okumura debacle. She had hoped that would turn around after Shido's confession and the revelation that the Thieves were innocent, but she was left ridiculed on social media for even believing in them.

Rise huffed and hugged herself with a shake of the head. "I'm receiving so much hate on Twitter lately, it's insane. Why are they booing me? I'm right. The Thieves are right. Shido is a criminal!"

"Don't mind them," Chie said with a sigh, "they're all talk. If anyone tries to give you trouble, though, just let me know."

"Or me." Dojima agreed with a huff. "Maybe you ought to stay in Inaba for awhile until this all calms down. The world's lost its mind..."

"Dad," Nanako said worriedly, frowning, "what's going to happen to us?"

Dojima sighed and reached forward to ruffle her hair. "It's going to be okay, Nanako. Somehow. I'll make sure nothing happens to you."

Nanako looked unconvinced, but nodded quietly. Teddie looked to Yu to his side, who had gone quiet, looking down at the tabletop in silence. Nanako sat at his other side and also looked up at him with a concerned frown, following Teddie's gaze. "Sensei?" Teddie spoke up, drawing his attention. "You've been especially quiet."

"Something wrong?" Dojima questioned. After a moment, Yu shrugged and picked his head up.

"Something feels very wrong," he said, "and not just because of the whole Shido thing-- well. That's a big part of it."

"You mean about the public's attitude in general?" Yosuke questioned. Yu nodded.

"Yeah... feels unnatural. Like something's causing all this-- the world didn't feel distorted like this until a year ago, but it's only gotten worse."

"... I agree." Rise piped up with a nod. "I can feel it, too... like something's brainwashing everyone around us."

Naoto frowned. "I thought maybe I was imagining it, but... I as well. How about the rest of you?" The Persona users nodded, and she pursed her lips. "That's... very odd."

Nanako cocked her head. "Does it have anything to do with the other world?"

Dojima flinched at its mention; after a few years of nightmares flicking back to when she had been dragged in to the TV world, Yu and the Seekers had finally come clean with her about what had happened. To their surprise, she took it with no horror or shock-- mostly just intense curiosity, and she had mourned the fact she hadn't managed to get her own Persona while in the other world. Dojima had just sighed and said he was grateful it was all over so he didn't have to think about how weird it all was. Even so, every now and again, Nanako took to asking her big bro for stories of their adventures in the TV World, much to his chagrin. With the Phantom Thieves' arrival, it was clear that that world still existed. The fact that it was probable another group of Persona users were accessing it unsettled him as much as Nanako fawned over the Thieves' activities. 

Yu nodded slowly. "It's possible." he admitted. Naoto crossed her arms.

"I know it's been a long time, but you told us about this... Velvet Room. Could you access it somehow and speak with the inhabitants to figure out what's going on? I've been consulting with the Shadow Ops, and they're getting restless over the situation as well. They'd be able to help us, if something truly is wrong."

Yu shook his head. "It disappeared years ago-- the door to it. I could try looking and see if Igor comes back because of how dire the situation is, but I can't promise any--"

The room paused as heavy raindrops began to pelt the roof, interrupting the quietly falling snow Marie had summoned for much of December. The group shared a look.

"Um... that's a unique weather change for December..." Yukiko murmured. Nanako rose to her feet and ran to a window, looking outside. She froze at the sight of the rain coming down.

"Um... Big Bro?" she said weakly. "Can rain be red?"

The group rose up and gathered around, looking outside in dread, then horror, as they realized blood-red rain was coming from the sky, tinting the snow on the ground pink.

"What in the...?" Dojima sputtered. "What is thi--" 

The group yelled and screamed as spires of rock in the shape of ribs began breaking out of the ground and reaching skyward. A pink fog among the blood red rain was settling in. 

"... You don't suppose she could be messing with us, could she?" Chie asked after a moment of silence as she gazed up, her face going white. Yu didn't reply for a moment; he stepped away from the window and held his hand out, tugging at a very familiar impulse that rose in his heart. A tarot card appeared and floated in his hand, waiting to be crushed, as the group turned to stare.

One-by-one, they followed suit, testing themselves, until the entire group managed to summon their tarot cards and stared in abject shock at the cards. Nanako gasped. "Big bro... is that...?"

"Persona..." he murmured. He nodded and waved it away. "Our world..."

"It's fused with the other one." Rise squeaked in terror. "This... this isn't good."

"No shi--" Yosuke looked down at Nanako, cleared his throat, and groaned. "No kidding, it's not good! But how?! And why?!"

"What's going on?" Dojima demanded. "What--"

Yu's phone buzzed, and he picked it up to see a new text message.

Marie: This isn't my doing.

Marie: Something is very wrong.

Marie:
Meet me by where the Velvet Room door was.

Marie:
 NOW.


His phone began buzzing with messages from the Shadow Ops, too, as did everyone else's phones. Yu's eyes hardened, and he looked up. "Marie wants me back where the Velvet Room door was." He turned to Naoto. "Naoto, you consult with the Shadow Ops. Tell them what we know and see if they have any information." He turned to Kanji and Teddie. "Kanji, Teddie, you two keep an eye on the doors and make sure Dojima and Nanako stay safe." He turned, finally, to Yukiko, Chie, and Yosuke. "Yukiko, Chie, Yosuke, you come with me in case I need backup."

Everyone nodded. Dojima frowned as he looked upon his nephew. "Yu..."

"I have to go, Uncle." he said firmly. "We'll be okay. You and Nanako stay safe and stay here; we don't have time to stand around and deliberate."

Reluctantly, Dojima nodded. "... Don't do anything stupid." he said worriedly. Nanako, in tears, rushed forward and hugged Yu; since reaching age 11, she was becoming tall enough to not necessitate Yu leaning down to return the hug, and he hugged her back.

"Big Bro... come back safe, okay?" she pleaded. "Promise me."

"I promise." he agreed. He squeezed her once more and pulled back, nodding at the others. "Let's go!"


This one I started writing on request because of the peanut allergy chapter. It was a little forced and I hit writer's block on it. For those who requested it, I think this is all I got in me. Sorry.

It wasn't a big deal, he decided. He'd be casual about it, and everything would be fine. 

The boy kept his head pointed at the wall as he went up the stairs, away from the others as they gathered around the table. He hoped they wouldn't notice the growing redness and swelling and bumps crawling over his skin as he tried to quietly head for his bag on the table by the stairs. He succeeded in keeping his head turned away, and began rifling through his bag quickly. Then, he decided, he'd head to Takemi. She could help him, probably. He'd endure a scolding something fierce, he knew, but better that from one person over his entire team scolding him.

"Ren, what are you doing?"

He froze at Makoto's voice. He knew if he looked over at them, they'd see his face, and then they'd all panic. He shrugged. 

"Getting something from my bag is all."

"Getting WHAT from your bag?" Ann questioned. Ren bit his lip and chose not to reply as he tried to dig out the epinephrine needle. She frowned. "Did you hear me?"

Morgana darted forward to hop up next to the bag-- and recoiled, ears pinning back and tail standing on end as he saw Ren's face just as the boy extracted the needle from his bag. Ren would have blanched if he could, but the red, puffy, itchy skin prevented this. "Morgana, shh--"

"ALLERGIC REACTION!" 
Morgana yowled at the top of his lungs. No sooner than he gave word was Ren swarmed by panicked teenagers who were shouting and screaming about what to do. The leader was pulled onto his bed as Ryuji and Ann dragged him toward it, and he was left sitting with a dumbfounded expression.

"What's all the yelling about?" Sojiro's voice came as he came up the stairs-- only to blanch at the sight of Ren. "Oh, shit!"

"Call an ambulance!" Makoto snapped. "I'll give him the shot!"

"Got it!" Sojiro agreed as he quickly reached for his phone.

Makoto advanced forward with the needle and popped off the safety cap. "Hold still!" she ordered. Ren didn't even get a chance to reply before Ryuji and Yusuke held him by the arms, locking him in place as she slammed the needle into his thigh. He winced as the needle plunged into his skin, and was left to wait as Makoto watched all of the contents trickle out. 

"What did you eat?!" Ann cried, making the boy wince. He didn't reply for a minute, making Ryuji growl with frustration.

"God DAMN it, Ren!" the blond barked even louder than Ann as Ren cringed. "What did you--"

Ren pulled a wrapper from his pocket, which was immediately snatched by Makoto. She read the label and frowned. "'May contain traces of peanuts'?! What were you thinking?!"

"... That it tasted good..." he muttered. He reached a hand up to scratch at the hives on his face, only to have his hand slapped away by Yusuke with a force normally reserved for when he had needed to snap someone out of a status condition in the Metaverse. Haru quickly approached, carrying a first aid box, and pulled out an anti-itch cream.

"Hold still!" she ordered. Ren frowned.

"I can do that myself--"

"Ren, if you argue, you will suffer consequences." Haru warned, her tone threatening. Ren silenced and allowed her to work.

Chapter Text

Leblanc was filled with a cacophony of excited voices. The group had congregated for a study session before their exams, and all gathered around a booth table of Leblanc. They had yet to start; Ren was busy helping Sojiro with food and drinks for he and his friends’ session, and the group refused to move forward without him.

The chattering and light teasing made Ren smile. A warmth filled his heart as he worked with Sojiro, who smiled back.

“Great job, kid.” he praised as he eyed the cups of coffee and other drinks the boy had prepared. The man put a hand on his chin and nodded to himself. “Maybe one day you’ll be as good as me.”

The boy smiled softly. “I sure hope so. I learned from the best.”

“Damn right. Go give your friends their food and drinks and then you can go join them.”

Ren nodded and moved out, first carrying the drinks, then carefully, plates of curry to each and every one. Even Futaba had joined them, and beamed excitedly as Ren gave her her plate.

“Curry! Thank you!”

Ren smiled and just nodded as he finished distributing the food and headed back towards the kitchen. From the table, Ryuji let out a cheerful laugh.

“It’s great! Your curry is awesome!”

“I must agree,” Yusuke piped up, opposite of him, “I can see why cooking is referred to as the ‘culinary arts.’”

Makoto giggled from her spot at the booth. “I think he’s catching up to you, Sakura-san.”

By the end of it, Ren was flushing a bit, but smiling and nodding sheepishly. Sojiro laughed. “Hopefully not too quickly, or I’ll run out of things to teach him.” He patted Ren’s shoulder as the boy began taking his apron off. “Good job. Go join your friends.”

His ward nodded. “Thanks, dad.”

Silence fell over the room. It took Ren a second to realize his mistake as the silence broke and he heard Ryuji and Futaba burst into laughter.

His gut clenched with shame. Without thinking, he ducked his bright red face and headed out the door, barely noticing the jingle of the bell above the door in his desperation to leave.

I FUCKED UP I FUCKED UP I FUCKED UP.

He dazedly wandered, barely noticing where he was going until he stopped short in front of the strain station, above the steps leading to it. Something stopped him from going further, so the boy took a few steps back and shakily stared at the station and the people coming from it.

Part of him wondered if he hadn’t snapped out of it if he would have wandered off to nowhere in particular on the train. He wondered how the others would react; his first thought was they wouldn’t care, the way no one cared when he left home. The thought brought a bubble of doubt from his heart. Would they care?

He shook his head and groaned as he stepped back further. Ren knew he was being childish about the whole thing, and knew he was probably going to get called out for overreacting, but he didn’t want to go back. The shame clenched his heart and reddened his face still as he finally pulled away from the station and back towards Yongen. He stopped himself yet again and started to look around for a quiet spot to sit and hide to compose himself.

“There you are!”

He jolted at the sound of Morgana’s voice. Ren looked down to see the cat trotting up to him, having weaved his way through the crowd. The boy grimaced.

“Are you here to make fun of me?”

Morgana frowned and climbed his way up to Ren’s shoulder. The boy could feel the cat’s body against his head and the tail swishing. He turned to meet Morgana’s eyes as the cat frowned at him. “Why would I do that? What’s with you? Why did you run?”

“I didn’t run...”

“Ren.”

Ren groaned and shook his head. “I called Sojiro ‘dad.’”

Morgana was unmoved and cocked his head at him. “Yeah. And?”

The boy pursed his lips briefly and huffed. “It’s a very embarrassing faux pas to call someone who isn’t your parent ‘dad’, especially offhandedly like I did. It just sort of slipped out and I got embarrassed and left. You heard how Ryuji and Futaba were laughing.”

Morgana blinked. “So... all this is because you called Boss ‘dad’ and that’s embarrassing? I don’t get it.”

Ren crossed his arms. “What’s there not to get?”

“He basically is your dad.” 

“But he isn’t.”

Morgana huffed and rolled his eyes. “He houses you, feeds you, teaches you, cares for you, nags you, offers advice, and worries about you. How is he not your dad?”

Ren reddened further and shrugged as he looked away. “That’s... well. I don’t want to ruin the fact he’s tolerant of me now. I might have just done that because of that slip up.”

The cat shook his head. “You didn’t see Boss after you left. He was laughing and smiling, and... looked almost like he was going to cry.” Morgana butt his head against Ren’s cheek. “I think you’re fine.”

Ren hesitantly turned back to him. “You think so?”

“I know so. Come on.” He nudged him again. “Let’s go back home.”

With a sigh, the boy nodded, and began walking back after a moment of hesitation. He was still red in the face as he made his way to Yongen, and had barely entered the neighborhood when he saw Futaba standing outside of Leblanc with a worried frown, on the verge of tears. She quickly noticed him and immediately perked up as she hurried up to him.

“There you are! Where did you go?! I was worried!”

Ren blinked. “You... you were?” he asked incredulously. The girl nodded.

“Mhmm. We were all laughing, but then... you didn’t come back in. Then we started worrying, and Morgana went out looking for you.” She sighed and brushed her hair back as she looked down. “Sojiro said you’d come back when you were ready, but I was...” She began fidgeting with her fingers. “It’s silly, but I was worried you were going wander aimlessly for too long and get lost.” She looked up and tucked her hands behind her back. “I’m glad you’re back.”

Ren smiled weakly and nodded. “I’m back. Let’s go in.”

Futaba pushed the door open and held it open. The boy took a breath and headed inside, head still down and reddened.

“Hey!” Ryuji greeted, far too cheerfully. Ren didn’t look up, but he could imagine the smile on Ryuji’s face. Ryuji yelped as Ann and Makoto immediately shoved him and glared at him. He winced and rubbed his arms ruefully. “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it!”

“Be tactful, Ryuji.” Makoto snapped. Sojiro cleared his throat, and Ren finally looked sheepishly up at his bemused guardian who had an odd expression on his face, torn between amusement and relief.

“... Hi, Boss.” Ren muttered shyly.

“Ren.” The man paused a moment, then sighed. “... Do you think of me as a father figure?”

Ren was silent for a moment and muttered a tiny ‘yes.’ Sojiro frowned.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t catch that.”

Ren let out an exasperated groan and settled for nodding in silence. After a moment, Sojiro cracked a smile and ruffled the boy’s hair affectionately.

“That’s what I thought. Go head upstairs with your friends...” The man took a breath. “... son.”

Ren’s eyes lit up, and he nodded. He still blushed, though, as the girls let out a collective awww!

Futaba shoved his arm playfully as they headed up. “He’s your dad! No take-backs!”

Ren shoved her right back and shook his head. “He’s your dad, too. That would make you my sister.”

Futaba paused for a moment before sticking her tongue out at Ren. “Y— Yeah! I said no take-backs! Embrace your place in the coffee family!”

The kids continued to laugh and bicker lightly as they headed upstairs. Sojiro watched after them, and when they were finally all upstairs, the man pulled his glasses off and rubbed at his eyes. He sighed and smiled with a shake of the head.

“Can’t believe I have two of them, now...” He glanced at the tray by the sink full of clean plates the kids had offered to clean while Ren had run out. It was all they could do while they worried about their friend, and alleviated Sojiro’s workload. He chuckled. “... or seven. I’m getting too damn sappy in my old age...”

With another shake of the head, he decided he’d blame the kids instead for his softened heart.