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4/15 - Friday

He feels like shit.

The first thing Akira sees when he opens his heavy eyes is a steel table and dark surroundings. It's a hauntingly familiar landscape and for a moment, the strongest feeling of deja-vu hits him. Especially when he notices the used needle tossed on the floor, not too far from where he sits.

He brings his hands up to his face and eyes the handcuffs around his wrists.

This again.

He can't remember how he got here. Not in detail anyway. The whole thing is pretty blurry, there might have been some screaming, some busted doors, it all happened pretty fast. What matters is the here and now and right now, he's pretty fucked. It's not like this is part of a greater plan where his friends save him, he's fucked. 

There is no backup plan. No genius in the background. No Phantom Thieves.

All of this was executed - flawlessly - by someone he doesn't know and it's the anonymity that puts him in real danger. That someone has it out for him bad enough that he'd end up here again.

"Talk," a female voice demands and Akira looks up.

She's nothing like Nijima Sae but she's just as demanding and clueless about the real problem. The problem being that this time they've actually got the wrong guy. For once, Akira's hands are clean of this particular fuckup.

The woman before him is shorter than Sae was. Her hair is dark and tied back in a bun so tight it actually pulls her eyebrows up a little. Her clothes are dark, formal, standard, nothing special about them except the tiny blue butterfly brooch that sticks out on the left side of her collar.

Akira guesses that the brooch wasn't part of the uniform.

Her hand slams on the table, making it shake and Akira's eyes flick to hers. She's angry, he can read her pretty well but he can't tell her anything she wants to know. He doesn't know anything.

She sighs and sits down. She opens the folder in front of herself and turns it to show Akira a picture of a man with balding grey hair and an almost permanent hunch. As if he's been working hunched over a computer for too long. His body looks too thin and doesn't fit the suit he wears and Akira knows him.

He's the principal of his current school. His new school.

"Tell me what you know," the woman demands "The day you return to school is the very day this happens. I don't believe in coincidences, only connections."

Akira shakes his head. His fingers twitch and he moves the cuffs around just a little but he's as stuck as he was before.

His wordless answer only enrages her more and she slams the table again "Talk!" she demands "This is no coincidence! With your record, no school in the country should have taken you. You were lucky there remained one school that did. But on the very day you returned to school, this happened. It had to be connected to you!"

That sounded strangely familiar. All of this does. Only this time Akira isn't suffering from some strange memory loss, he remembers quite clearly how he got here and why he's in this chair now. He remembers the looks on his parents faces when he came home from Tokyo. The night of celebration he had with his friends before they had to leave.

He remembers Futaba clinging to his leg as Makoto had to drag her off. Ann's tearful face as she said goodbye, Yusuke saying something deep and philosophical to hide how much he'd really miss him. There was Haru's kind smile and one last hug before they got on the road again and out of his life.

...for about two days before Ryuji came back and declared he'd transferred and moved to Akira's town because " Shujin Academy sucks ass, my only friends are girls and Yusuke might as well be a girl too. Plus my ma likes it here more, it's quieter."

It was the false accusation last year that had gotten him expelled from his last school but the consequences of it were lingering still even as he returned with a clean slate. His parents had found a school and Ryuji had promptly followed suit, enrolling on the very same day. Things were looking up. New school, clean(ish) slate and a friend to go through it all with him. Though Morgana was quite vocal about having to put up with Ryuji again, Akira had a feeling the cat was happy about it too.

Then came the day. The very first day of school.

"Dude this place may not be like Tokyo but the ramen!" Ryuji exclaims as they walk together to school. 

In a quieter town like the one Akira lives in, it isn't like Tokyo where he was mashed into the train every morning. In fact he barely needs to take the train, it's a twenty minute walk at best to school and Ryuji had loudly proclaimed he could run that in five.

Akira feels Morgana's weight in his backpack, a twitch of a smile plays on his lips as he watches Ryuji's eyes get wide - the way they do when he's excited about something.

"Fuck man, I've never tasted ramen like that," Ryuji goes on "Next time the gang come back down, we're taking them there." 

Akira's bag shuffles a bit as Morgana pokes his head out "You really think they're gonna come back down here?" he asks sceptically "Lady Ann might not even like ramen! She's into cakes and desserts and things like that high class place we were in last time." 

Ryuji wrinkles his nose "That place was full of snobby, rich assholes who looked at us like we'd spent the whole time shitting on their couches. Fuck places like that."

Morgana hums in thought and relents "True," he says "But at least the food was good."

Ryuji notices other students wearing their uniform and reaches over to stuff Morgana's head in Akira's bag again.

"Yo get down," he scolds as he zips the bag up "And don't come out until it's safe."

Morgana protests, loudly, but it's muffled from the zip and Ryuji grins at Akira.

"New school, new teachers," he says enthusiastically "New track team."

"Will you be alright?" Akira asks with a nod to Ryuji's leg.

Ryuji shrugs "There's no Kamoshida here and all I can do is give it my all. Besides, I ran from a sinking ship and onto a rail, I think I can handle a high school track team."

The memory makes Akira smile, just a little and he watches Ryuji. The boy is an open creature, he's blunt, honest and to the point but he hides a lot of his pain behind bravado and loud gestures. Akira learnt fairly quickly that Ryuji's most honest emotions were in his eyes.

Not that he needed to look there, Ryuji trusted Akira enough to let him know almost everything that went on in his head. Especially the things he never told anyone else.

"What about...?" Akira stops. It had bothered him that he was going to live in a different city and go to a different school than his friends but Ryuji had transferred so quickly, he hadn't thought about what the other must have been thinking.

Ryuji smirks knowingly "Ann?" he cocks his head and shrugs "She'll be fine. She's got Haru and Makoto...and Yusuke. Dude, I wasn't gonna leave you alone. Besides, there's not much chance of my deadbeat father finding us here. It's better here. For both me and my ma."

Ryuji's hand finds Akira's shoulder and the grin on his face reaches his eyes. That's how Akira knows he's truly okay.

" Good," Ryuji says with an over exaggerated stretch "Now that that's out of the way we can..." he stops mid-stretch and Akira looks over to see a girl, paused in the footpath with her phone in her hand but her eyes on the both of them.

"Suzui?" Ryuji's eyes widen.

Suzui Shiho looks surprised and a lot better than the last time Akira had seen her. She still has her hair in a ponytail, brace on her leg but somehow she seems...stronger. Less like she's going to be knocked over by the wind.

"Sakamoto-kun?" Shiho asks and turns her eyes to Akira "Kurusu-kun? What are you two doing here?"

"I could ask the same," Ryuji points out "Clearly we're all going to the same school again. You transferred, right?"

Shiho nods and turns her dark eyes onto Akira. She nods a little in silent greeting and Akira follows to do the same. He'd been there after all, he'd witnessed her saying farewell to Ann, she'd still been recovering then but now she seems somehow stronger. Wiser. Not as downtrodden as she had been last year.

"How is Ann?" she asks as the three of them walk to school. Shiho falls into step beside Ryuji and Akira as easily as Ann had. But not with Ann's confidence.

"Haven't you been keeping in touch?" Ryuji asks, his hands jammed into his pockets again.

"We have but you must have seen her more recently," Shiho points out quietly "Is she...okay?"

"She misses me," Ryuji brags "But she's fine dude, she's got her friends over there and she's doing what she wants. As usual." 

A fond smile lights up Shiho's expression and she nods in approval "That does sound like her. I don't expect anything less."

"Neither does she," Ryuji mutters.

They pass through the school gates and Akira feels the cool breeze of anonymity. When he first came to Shujin, everyone knew who he was thanks to Mishima. There were rumours, people whispering in really loud voices around him and whilst this didn't outwardly bother him, it had been something he'd noticed.

Here, nobody seems to care and it's actually refreshing.

He watches the students walking towards the school, talking to each other about mundane things that actually aren't exaggerated stories of his criminal deeds and it's so blissfully normal it might actually become boring when the novelty wears off.

"Oh yeah," Shiho looks up as they walk into the hallways "There's an assembly this morning. The principal had an announcement."

"Another assembly?" Ryuji complains "Dude, those never end well."

Akira shrugs "Kamoshida's ended well," he reminds him quietly and doesn't miss the way Shiho shivers at the mention of Kamoshida's name.

Stronger, wiser, but the scars are still there.

"We gotta go to the faculty office anyway," Ryuji points out as he rubs his hair about to disguise nerves "Hopefully this time they put us in the same class."

Akira follows the two of them and Shiho parts from them on the second floor.

"It's just down there," she says, pointing down the hallway "Third door to the right."

With a small bow, she turns on her heel and heads off to her class. Ryuji pauses for a moment to watch her leave and when she's gone, he turns back to Akira.

"What were the odds, of all the schools in Japan, we'd end up in the same one as her again?"

"Small," Akira comments dryly and nods to the faculty office "Let's go." 

There's a rush of nostalgia and familiarity as Akira opens the door to the faculty office and finds the teacher he's supposed to be seeing. The woman is no Kawakami but she bears a slight similarity in that Akira can very easily imagine her in a maid outfit.

Her name is Kojima and when she stands up, she's still shorter than both Ryuji and Akira. Her hair is jet black, straight and silky, her eyes are huge and dark and Akira can actually hear Ryuji's breathing quicken when he realises her body is nothing to scoff at either. Even under the teacher clothes.

" Sakamoto Ryuji and Kurusu Akira," Kojima sighs as she takes out their files and looks over them. Her dark eyes assess them both "You're both in my class."

"Yesss ..." Ryuji hisses to himself.

"Given your record," Kojima continues, her eyes on Akira "Just know, the entire school will be keeping a very close eye on you. One toe out of line and you're out."

"Dude he was innocent!" Ryuji argues right away - apparently no longer smitten with her body or looks as long as she threatens his friend "They even proved that!"

"Regardless, we have no tolerance for troublemakers," Kojima's tone gets harder and so do her eyes "Do I make myself clear?"

Ryuji glares and he looks like he's about to say something else when Akira shoots him a look. Not here. Not now. It's not worth it.

Ryuji deflates immediately and scowls at the floor instead "Fine," he mutters.

Akira nods and Kojima's expression switches from hard to pleased right away.

"Good," she beams "For your own sake, it would be better to keep that to yourself as well. We don't want to disturb the other students."

Now Akira definitely feels a wave of deja-vu.

She leads them out of the faculty office just as the bells indicate the first period. Kojima's shoes click slightly on the floor as she leads them towards their classroom.

"There's an assembly on first thing," she explains "The principal has an announcement and your attendance is mandatory. After that however, class will begin."

Ryuji and Akira exchange glances, following her as she opens the sliding door and lets them into a classroom that quietens as she comes in.

"Right, let's do this fast because there's assembly," Kojima announces "We have two new students with us here and we don't have time for introductions. Kurusu-kun," she turns to Akira and points at the seat near the window "You'll take that desk and Sakamoto-kun, you're over there."

She points to the back, somewhere near the middle. Akira spots Shiho smiling from where she sits two rows ahead of him. He can see relief in her eyes.

"Right," Kojima announces "To the assembly hall and be quick about it."

Akira and Ryuji drop their bags at their desks and follow the rest of the class as they murmur amongst each other and file out of the classroom. As they walk, Ryuji huffs.

"It's bullshit that you still have a record," he grumbles "You turned yourself in to get the charge to stick to Shido and it was through that, that Nijima Sae proved your innocence. How do you still have a record after that??"

"Don't mind it," Akira shrugs, noticing his bag wriggling under his desk as he leaves the classroom. He wonders if Morgana can breathe in there.

They file into the assembly hall and stand in lines as usual. Ryuji stands in front of Akira, the two of them looking around and watching as the teachers file onto the stage, followed by a man in a brown suit they can only assume is the principal.

He's so thin. He looks like the slightest wind would knock him down flat and the suit is at least three sizes larger than he actually is. Akira eyes his balding spots of grey hair, the bags under his eyes and the slow pace he walks as he makes his way across the stage.

"I know someone who needs a nap," Ryuji mutters to him quietly.

"Good morning, Shinsou Academy," he croaks into the microphone "As you are aware, a series of events have caused this assembly to become a necessity. Recent events have hit our student body hard and it is our job as teachers to reassure your safety and protection."

For once, Akira is completely out of the loop. He frowns and sees Ryuji just as confused. The both of them look at Shiho, who is still and listening intently. She knows what he's talking about.

"A...seasoned principal would assure you that your safety is guaranteed within these walls but I can't say the same," the man continues tiredly "It would be a lie. The events of the last two weeks in particular have made it clear that the student body, the faculty and even the board of this school are at high risk and I would ask that everyone exercise caution." 

"Dude what the fuck is going on here?" Ryuji asks, face full of concern as he notices everyone else in the hall is tense and hanging on the principal's words all of a sudden.

"Police are working on discovering the root source of the disturbances but in the meantime..." the principal says and out of the corner of his eye, Akira sees someone walking up onto the stage. The figure is dressed in black, his head completely covered with a balaclava, eyes peeking out just barely through holes and hands covered in gloves.

The figure walks up onto the stage so fast, so purposefully that no one has a chance to stop him.

The rest of the student body and the teachers notice him a beat after Akira does and nobody has any time to do anything as the figure draws out a gun, points it at the principal and shoots him point blank in the head.

Back in the interrogation room, Akira shakes his head. He'd been in that school a grand total of thirty minutes and that happened. What happened afterwards was fairly fast as well, it might as well be a blur for all his memory recollects. He can see the woman across the table from him is impatient, angry and determined to get answers out of him but he doesn't know what to tell her.

He had nothing to do with this.

Screaming, running, Akira is nearly knocked off his feet and has just enough time to grab Ryuji before the blonde takes him away from the middle of the assembly. Over his shoulder, he sees the figure walking calmly off the stage again and nobody stops him. Nobody wants to go near him whilst he has a gun in his hand, even the teachers and staff make a run for it.

"Suzui!" Ryuji screams amidst the chaos. He's got a hand on Akira's shoulder and it's so tight that he's never letting go. Akira is stunned, he's in shock but he watches the figure walking out of the hall as silently as he'd walked in. 

Everyone's running for the doors but Akira spots Shiho, stunned and still standing where she'd been before. Ryuji takes him back to her and grabs her as well before making a run for the doors.

"Ryuji," Akira says and although his feet are running with them, he wants to go after the shooter. He grabs Ryuji's arm and tries to get him to stop "Ryuji we have to-" 

"Fuck that, we have to get out of here!" Ryuji shouts and drags both of them out of the assembly hall, through the crowded hallways and out through the entrance doors.

They stop running when they're at least two blocks away from the school. Ryuji lets them go and leans against a vending machine, he rests his hands on his knees and pants at the ground as Akira stares down the road they'd just been running down. Shiho's in shock, she's shaking and staring at the ground and all Akira can think is that he has to go after the shooter. Someone has to stop him, someone has to.

"What...the fuck was that?" Ryuji asks, still panting hard from adrenaline and sudden exertion. He turns to look at Shiho "Do you have any idea what that was?!" 

Shiho can't answer, her eyes are wide and she's shaking so hard it's a miracle she's still on her feet.

"She's in shock," Akira explains, his eyes still staring down the street. He picks himself up again and dusts his legs down "Look after her."

"Wait, where are you going?!" Ryuji squeaks in alarm "You better not-"

"Morgana," Akira says and takes off down the road he'd just come from. He hears Ryuji calling after him but it's like he's in water. The blood is rushing past his ears, shock and adrenaline at the same time and he can't hear anything. Can't feel anything but an overwhelming need to get his bag out of his homeroom class.

The school is empty when he returns. Akira sprints through the open doors and through the hallways he'd just come through. His legs take the stairs two at a time and his shoes squeak on the floors as he bursts into his empty homeroom class and runs for his bag.

When he gets there, two things happen at the same time. The first is he opens his bag and finds Morgana gone. The second is the doors burst open, there's shouting, armed police, someone grabs him, puts his hands behind his back and slams his head into the desk.

"You were the only one in the school," the woman tells him fiercely "The only student in the entire building, what kind of student runs back into the school after a shooting!?"

"I wanted my bag," Akira explains calmly.

The woman doesn't buy that for a second, she stares at him incredulously "There's a shooting, a man is shot in front of the entire student body and you go back into the building for your bag?! Do you really expect me to believe that?!"

Akira wonders if telling her there was a cat in his bag would make her believe him. Probably not. She seems determined to have someone answer for this. Anyone.

"I was in the assembly when it happened," he says instead "There are others who can say I was there."

"That doesn't mean you weren't associated with the shooter," she insists "With your background-"

"Of which I was proven innocent," Akira cuts in firmly.

She bristles "Still. Your ties to the Phantom Thieves in Tokyo cannot be ignored. Especially given what's happening."

Akira can't say anything. He doesn't know what is going on. He doesn't know what the principal had been talking about before someone came and shot him in front of the entire school. For once, he's totally and completely out of his area here and it feels a lot like the first time he went into Kamoshida's castle without yet realising where he was.

The woman is about to say more when another officer opens the door and looks at her.

"There's someone here to talk to you, detective," he says in a short, curt tone "He says it's important."

The woman stares at Akira for a few moments more before she gets up and leaves the room without another word. The officer glances at Akira and closes the door, leaving the boy alone in the room.

Akira takes a deep breath. He glances at the cuffs on his wrists again but leaves them be. His memory is still fuzzy and hazy but that's mostly due to the drugs. For the most part, he knows the important parts of what happened.

The irony. He's back for thirty minutes and this happens. That's got to be some kind of record.

Makoto would probably be impressed.

He waits for another two minutes and that's when the door opens and the woman walks back in, her face dark and unimpressed but something shifted. She looks...reluctant.

"You're free to go," she tells him as an officer follows her in and grabs Akira. He wrenches him up onto his feet and Akira feels confusion wash over him.

"But we'll be keeping an eye on you," she says as the officer uncuffs him and hauls him out of the room.

Akira is dragged down the long hallways, up a flight of stairs and down another set of hallways before he finds himself in the front offices of the police department. He'd wonders if Ryuji gave them hell, or maybe his parents managed to convince someone he's innocent. But when he's taken to the front desk, the last person he expects to see is Akechi Goro smiling at him as if he hadn't been pointing a gun at his head the last time they spoke.

"Hey," the brown haired boy says as Akira is given to him "Let's go."

Akira blinks, he glances back at the police officers but follows Akechi out of the building. He feels their eyes burning a hole in his back the entire way.

Outside, it's dark already. Akira rubs his wrists and follows Akechi down the stairs, onto the footpath. He follows Akechi down the road and the brown haired boy doesn't say anything. Akira can't think of anything to ask him either. Not anything that Akechi would be willing to answer.

Akechi leads him into a small cafe. The waitress seats them at a booth and Akira is still finding it hard to concentrate. This is a lot to deal with in one day and he feels his body practically sigh in relief as he slides into the booth and sits opposite Akechi.

The other doesn't look much different from how he was before. Same soft brown locks, same deceptively gentle eyes. Akechi may have thought he fooled the rest of the world into thinking of him as someone harmless but intelligent, however Akira was never fooled. Ryuji could be read by the emotions in his eyes, Akechi couldn't and that was what had ultimately given him away.

Because only someone as guarded and secretive as Akechi was would have had to learn how to hide his emotions, even in his eyes.

Akechi orders coffee and Akira mumbles the same. When the waitress is gone and they're alone, Akira belatedly notices the cafe is pretty much empty, save for them and an old couple in the corner. Akechi chose well.

"I'm going to assume you have questions," Akechi says in that light but serious tone of his "But we have very little time and I need to get this out before...well..." he pulls his phone out and sets it on the table before turning his eyes onto Akira.

He still has that same stare. Like he knows everything that's going on in Akira's head. It would be disconcerting if Akira didn't know better.

"After that business with my father, I went into hiding," Akechi explains calmly "It was safer. For both of us and I was in no physical state to reappear."

Akira figures. If Akechi hadn't died back there, he was at least gravely injured. Futaba hadn't been able to read any signs of life coming from the other side of the barrier but Akira had always held out some hope, miniscule though it was, that Akechi had survived.

Evidently, he had.

"But I always kept a close eye on you," Akechi continues "I saw everything. How you handed yourself in, how my father was finally convicted. It was a stroke of genius and I saw Sae's hand behind it."

Akira stays silent. The waitress brings them back their drinks and he keeps his eyes trained on Akechi. It's so like the other to be so calm and collected, even in this situation. The only reason why Akira understands him so easily is because he's the same. Not one for panicking.

"Anyway," Akechi sighs after he takes a sip of his coffee "Then I saw you come back here and of all the schools, of all the places you could have gone to..." he shakes his head "Either you somehow knew what was going on or you have the worlds worst luck"

"I'm going to go with the latter," Akira replies, tone sharp but patient.

Akechi nods "I thought so. But I'll explain what's going on once Sakamoto gets here. No doubt he'll ask and I hate repeating myself."

It doesn't take long. Ryuji bursts through the door like he's determined to rip the thing off its hinges and he's by Akira's side in seconds.

"Fuck man!" Ryuji says, plopping himself in the booth beside Akira "I saw the cops and I thought...for fucks sake you' gave me a heartattack. Don't do that again!"

He pulls Akira close with one arm around his shoulders and Akira thinks he sees a twinge of anger or discomfort in Akechi's eyes before the other skilfully hides it again behind his coffee.

"Morgana?" Akira asks.

Ryuji shook his head "I thought he was with you."

"He wasn't in the bag," Akira explains "That's when they..."

This doesn't make much sense. None of it does but when Ryuji finally registers Akechi's presence, his eyes widen in alarm "Dude, you're still alive?!"

"Perceptive as always, Sakamoto," Akechi drawls "Who did you think the message came from?"

"Dude, I thought you were Futaba or something!" Ryuji exclaims and Akira is distantly aware that he's the loudest thing in this quiet cafe. The old couple in the corner are scowling at him now for ruining their peace.

Akechi looks unimpressed too but he shakes his head and flicks the annoyance off like one would flick a fly away "Carrying on," he says, tone still unimpressed "You two have walked into Shinsou Academy at the worst possible time."

"Don't need a genius detective to tell me that," Ryuji grumbles.

Akechi ignores him "For the last two weeks, Shinsou Academy has been plagued with a series of unexplained and strange events. Students are going missing, some are attempting suicide, staff are reporting incidents of unprovoked violence and assault towards not only the student body but faculty as well."

Akira wonders if that was probably something Kojima should have warned them about on their first day.

Ryuji's eyebrows knit in confusion "You think someone is messing around with their heads? Like Mementos and shit?"

Akechi's eye twitches "No. You lot put a stop to that with your final stunt in the heart of Mementos, did you not?"

"Oh...right," Ryuji deflates.

"Even if that weren't the case and someone could still get into castles, that doesn't explain why we can't," Akechi continues and nods to Akira "You can't get back in, can you?"

Akira shakes his head. The app on his phone is gone but even Morgana, who never needed the app, couldn't return there. It's gone. It should be.

"Which means this is the result of something without supernatural means. A group branding themselves the Phantom Thieves are behind these attacks."

A beat. Akira feels Ryuji's rage light up before his own does and the other practically jumps out of his seat.

"But we're not-!"

"Clearly, they're a fake group using your name," Akechi cuts in before Ryuji can explode at him "But effective. They send out red calling cards just as the Phantom Thieves did and it's not long before something happens to the student or teacher they call out. The only reason these incidents have not been widely publicised is due to the efforts of the late principal. He had been working to keep these incidents from becoming public knowledge."

"Why?" Ryuji asks, eyebrows still knitted in a frown "And how? If there have been suicides...I mean everyone talked about Suzui after her attempt, there was nothing anyone could do to keep that down."

"Everyone in Shujin Academy talked about it," Akechi corrects him "The wider public didn't care. Student suicides are - sadly - a given, especially these days and the other incidents were easy to cover up. If the fake Phantom Thieves were after notoriety or fame, they just eliminated the only obstacle that was keeping their actions quiet."

"Won't they shut the school down after what happened?" Ryuji asks "I mean...that was a public execution. Right in front of all of us."

"No," Akechi answers "That's not going to happen. There are only two schools in this town and they can't afford to keep one student body at home, even for this incident. Investigations will continue but you will have to return to school and continue as normal."

Perhaps that's a little much to ask but there's a reasoning behind it that Akira can't deny.

"Fortunately, you won't be alone," Akechi promises "I will be transferring to your school as of tomorrow. We may not have the use of Personas to help us here but something is going on and I'm guessing you're not the 'running away' type."

He's right. Neither of them are. Akira doesn't even need to look at Ryuji to know the other isn't the kind to walk away from something like this - even if he knows it would be safer to. Without the use of Personas, they're as helpless as normal students.

Except they're not. Because they possess the will to get to the bottom of this - a trait not many students have. It's not much, but it's enough to keep them from running back to Tokyo and praying this goes away.

"Calling themselves the Phantom Thieves," Ryuji scowls "That's unforgivable enough. I'm not letting them get away with this."

Akechi smiles dryly "I figured as much," he says as his fingers close around the bottom of his cup "At the very least, we might be able to find some lead on who's behind this."

"We could use Futaba," Ryuji says "And Makoto and the others, maybe we could tell them..."

Akechi shakes his head right away "A large group of students from Tokyo suddenly transferring here would be noticed," he points out gravely "And if this group posing as the Phantom Thieves have any idea who they're posing as, that's a risk as well."

Ryuji opens his mouth to protest and stops when his brain catches up with him.

He deflates and sinks back in the booth "Shit," he mutters "Even if I tell Ann what's happening, nothing will stop her coming here. Especially if she hears Suzui is involved."

"Precisely why I suspect Suzui hasn't told her anything herself," Akachi deduces "The others should be kept in the dark as well. For now at least, until we know more."

"Fine," Ryuji relents. He eyes Akechi suspiciously "But dude seriously, how did you survive? Futaba said you'd died."

"I almost did," Akechi answers but he doesn't continue and the look in his eyes tells them both he's not going to go into the details either. It hardly matters right now, the point is he survived, he's here and they're in trouble...again.

Ryuji shoots Akira a doubtful look but even he understands the seriousness of this situation. Someone is posing as the Phantom Thieves, the principal has been murdered and Morgana is missing. In light of all that, Akechi turning up and getting Akira out of the interrogation room might just be more of a blessing than a curse.

"Now," Akechi says as he finishes his drink and places his cup down on the table "Onto the more serious business. Kurusu-kun, I seem to find myself in need of a place to stay."

Akira's eyebrows rise in surprise and Akechi grins at him "Just for the night. Think of it as a 'thank you' for getting you out of that interrogation room and keeping both of your parents in the dark about what happened to you."

"Dude, how did you even pull that off?" Ryuji asks, dumbfounded.

"I know how to talk to adults," Akechi explains with a flick of his hand "For your own sake, it might be safer if you're not alone tonight. With Morgana gone and the police keeping their eyes on you, it may be safer for you to have me around."

"Fuck that," Ryuji scoffs "He'll be safer with me around than you!"

Akechi ignores him and Akira tries to ignore the persistent flutter of nerves in his stomach. Akechi's gaze fools many into believing he's harmless and although Ryuji and Akira can't be fooled now, Akechi's eyes still do something weird to Akira.

"Fine," Akira relents at last and the smile that appears on Akechi's face reminds him of a lion with his prey.

He wonders if that makes him the prey in this instance.

"Excellent," Akechi beams "Then I suggest we go home soon. It's getting late and we wouldn't want your parents to suspect something happened to you."

He pays for their drinks and as he's busy at the counter, Ryuji takes Akira's arm and pulls him to the side "Watch your back," he warns him in a low voice "Anything happens, call me alright?"

Akira glances at Akechi over Ryuji's shoulder. The other is leisurely talking to the woman behind the counter but everything about him, his stance, his eyes, the way he holds himself, he's on guard. Akira has always been able to read people and Akechi is surprisingly the easiest of all to read.

Strange, considering nobody else can see through him.

"I'll get hold of Futaba," Akira says quietly "At the very least, she'll keep a secret and she's not likely to go here. She might be able to help us find best, the cat just ran off somewhere."

"Here's hoping," Ryuji huffs and lets go of Akira's arm as Akechi strolls up to them.

"Right," Akechi sighs "Let's go."

* * *

Akira can't tell what presumptions Akechi had about his life before the events of last year. What kind of student he'd been, what his parents had been life, his friends, his life before Shido took it off him, but it's nothing like it is now.

Despite the town remaining the same, almost all of his ties to friends and everything in his former school had been cut off the second he'd been slapped with an assault charge. The only things that had actually remained constant had been his house and his parents. Neither of whom batted an eye when he came home and casually informed them that Akechi was an old friend and he was staying the night.

Instead all that had happened was his mother had quietly laid out a futon on the floor of his bedroom and his father had grunted something about staying out of trouble before hiding behind his newspaper.

"Your parents are..." Akechi pauses, seemingly struggling for words as Akira lays a blanket out on the futon "...interesting."

It makes Akira smile. He chucks a pillow onto the futon and reaches to close his bedroom door before turning to look at the other boy "I think the word you're looking for is: cold."

Akechi raises and eyebrow and looks around Akira's room. Akira hasn't been here long enough but his room is generally as he left it. The bookcase is full of manga, textbooks and other things lying around on shelves. His desk still has some precision tools and lockpicks (Morgana actually insisted it was still important to learn this stuff, even if he is no longer a thief) and there's a sleeve sticking out of one of the drawers of his dresser. His bedroom is, for all intents and purposes, fairly normal. Not nearly as large as the one at Sakura's cafe had been.

"Not sure what I expected," Akechi says as Akira takes a seat on the end of his single bed "It's not like the leader of the real Phantom Thieves would deck his bedroom out any differently. If anything he'd be normal like this."

Akira pulls his phone out and looks over it for a moment, he turns to Akechi to see the other giving him a knowing look. Like he knows exactly what Akira plans to do.

"Futaba," he says simply.

"Fine," Akechi shrugs "I can't stop you. Besides, Sakura Futaba hardly seems like the type who'd gossip to the others. If anything, she'd understand the risk right away. If she isn't already aware of what's going on."

Just as he finishes his sentence, Akira's phone goes off and Futaba's name appears on the screen. Akechi grins and Akira wonders if his powers extend to predicting the future. If so, he'd like to know if he's going to survive the outcome of this impending danger...or tonight.

"AKIRA!" Futaba screams the second Akira dares to answer his phone "WHAT THE HELL?!"

"Nice to hear from you too, Futaba," Akira winces and rubs his ear.

"Thirty minutes?! Thirty minutes into your first day at school and THAT happens?!" Futaba splutters "That's...if I wasn't so worried, I'd say that's impressive."

"Do the others know?" Akira asks with a glance to Akechi who seems quite amused. The other boy settles down on the futon and just watches.

"Not yet, no," Futaba answers, her voice thankfully a couple of levels quieter "Do you want me to-"

"Don't worry them," Akira advises "Just...what do you know?"

He can practically hear Futaba's unimpressed huff "I know the police suspected you right away. Even if you hadn't gone back into the school grounds, they'd have come asking questions anyway because of your history and the fact that this happened the day you came back."

Akira glances at Akechi who nods. It would have happened regardless simply because of who he is. The consequences of what happened with Shido are far-reaching indeed.

"As for the attack...I've hacked into the security cameras. The assailant shoots the principal and walks out of the school, nobody stops him. There was an unmarked van waiting for him outside the gates, the license plate is blank and once it drives off, that's it."

"What about Morgana?" Akira asks "When I went back to the school-"

"You went to your bag, I saw," Futaba says "I checked the cameras but there are no cameras in the classrooms, only in the hallways. But I didn't see anyone coming back from the time you left the classroom to when you came from a few students who went back for their bags after the shooting."

None of them had taken Akira's bag either.

"Didn't see Morgana walk out on his own either," Futaba sounds uneasy "Could he have gone out the window? Cats land on their feet right?"

"Even if he did jump that height, he couldn't have opened the windows by himself," Akira frowns and as worried as he is, he's still trying to figure out how Morgana seemingly just disappeared. How a cat can disappear from a classroom without ever showing up on the cameras.

The only logical solution is that Morgana had gone into someone else's backpack and had been taken out then, but why would Morgana do such a thing?

"I'll keep looking but we don't have a lot to go on here," Futaba continues warily "The news of the shooting will get out soon enough and once the others find out it's your school, they'll want to come."

"Stop them if you can," Akira advises. As much as he would like to see the others. Yusuke, Ann, Makoto, Haru and Futaba, he can't risk it. Not when he barely knows what's going on here. The only thing worse than getting caught up in this, is getting his friends caught up in it as well. Ryuji is already in it but he can still spare the others.

"I'll try," Futaba promises "I might be able to stop Ann, Haru and Yusuke but Makoto..."

"If all else fails just tell them I really don't want them here as long as I don't know what's going on," Akira tells her "They'll get in the way if they come here themselves."

"Alright..." Futaba still sounds doubtful.

Akechi is still watching Akira quietly. Akira doesn't really like the way Akechi's eyes make him feel and he looks away to concentrate on the phone call instead.

"This group calling themselves the Phantom Thieves...the new Phantom Thieves," Futaba continues "Given the nature of the previous attacks. Student suicides, assaults...all of it being hushed by the school, I believe we're dealing with students of that school. At best, we have at least one student in that school who is part of this group."

Akira nods "The figure I saw...he could have been an adult or a student."

"Yes it was hard to tell," Futaba agrees "I think right now, our best bet is to take a roll call of the students present in that assembly and find out who was missing, then go from there. I'll have names for you tomorrow to start investigating."

"Sounds like a solid start," Akira nods and Akechi seems to agree as well "I'll leave it to you. Thanks Futaba."

"Wish you'd stayed here," Futaba grumbles "But maybe it was some sort of fate you ended up in the one school with a fake Phantom Thieves group."

Akira hums, he can't find much in the way of logical explanation here either. Nothing other than 'It was fate' that he had to end up here of all places. 

"Tell Akechi to keep his head down too," Futaba warns "People over there may not notice who he is but that fake Phantom Thieves group might."

Akechi shrugs and Akira shakes his head "I'll tell him."

"I'll call you tomorrow," Futaba promises "Don't get killed."

She hangs up and Akira puts his phone down. He looks at Akechi and the other seems to have no problem in watching him. Assessing him. Maybe it would make Akira feel more uncomfortable if he didn't have such a solid read on Akechi in return. There's nothing this guy can hide from him now, not now when he's seen him at his worst already.

"Well then," Akechi says with a smile that rushes right down Akira's spine "Shall we go to sleep?"

Akira shrugs, he lends Akechi a shirt to sleep in and changes in the bathroom. When he comes back, Akechi is already lying in the futon on the floor. Akira turns the light off and lays down on his own bed, his phone next to his head.

Silence drags on for about two minutes. During which Akira is acutely aware of Akechi's presence in his room.

It's strange. When Yusuke stayed over in his room that one time, it had been easy for Akira to forget he was even there. Aside from his quips and remarks, Yusuke was easy to ignore. He was even louder than Akechi and still he was easier to forget about.

Akechi however, Akira is very aware of him. He can't help it, it's like a twinge in his chest that won't let him forget that Akechi Goro is sleeping on the floor right next to his bed. His ears prick and can hear the other breathing and if he concentrates, he is even aware of the body heat the other produces.

"Kurusu," Akechi's soft voice breaks the silence and Akira closes his eyes. He doesn't answer, he doesn't need to, Akechi knows he's still awake.

"What do you live for?" he asks and it gives him away. Akira can read the tone right away.

At his core, Akechi has always been lonely. His desperate search for acceptance turned him into one of revenge and envy. It was what had driven him to the events that evidently nearly got him killed. He'd tried so hard to do this alone, to become famous, to be accepted and loved but it hadn't brought him what he really wanted. Then in those last moments before he'd shot the barrier up to save Akira and his friends, he'd understood at last. Akira had the one thing Akechi didn't have and that had been his end.

But Akira can't answer him. He doesn't have the answer himself. Not the one he suspects Akechi wants to hear.

After what had happened, Akechi had lost everything. His purpose, his drive. All he had left was himself. Abandoned, unloved by his own father, his mother hadn't cared enough to stay and had killed herself out of shame without thought for her own son. He had no friends, nobody he could honestly say he trusted.

No one but Akira himself.

When Akira doesn't answer, Akechi's chuckle is quiet "That's probably the right answer."

Akira can't help it. His lips twitch in a small smile and he turns his head, this time to sleep for real. He falls asleep to the sound of Akechi's breathing and somehow it makes him calmer than he has been in weeks.