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Persona 5: Rebellion

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His back hit the ground.

His leg felt like it was burning.

Everything was swimming.

He picked himself up. Grabbing the edge of the only table in the room Akira pulled himself to his feet in defiance of the police in the room.

Bad decision. The policeman closer to him reared back and slammed a fist into his jaw, sending him flying back to the ground. His head hit the ground hard. Everything was turning black. His ears were ringing with a frightening intensity.

Holding his hand in front of his face, he couldn’t even see how many fingers he was holding up. He could barely recognize that it was a hand. Everything hurt.

The man was trying to shove a clipboard in his face. He was saying something too, Akira honestly couldn’t understand him. He seemed to get frustrated and slammed his foot on Akira's knee.

Pain shot through his body. He shot up and grabbed onto the leg and cradled it. Tears threatened to spill out. Hot, angry, tears.

The man grabbed his hand and forced a pen into his closed palm. The man then rubbed the tip of the pen against the clipboard, it kind of looked like his name, and dropped Akira again. He hit the floor again.

The blur was letting up. The adrenaline in his body was doing its job and clearing his vision. Akira could make out the man's face. He couldn’t see much, but he could make out the man’s face. That was important. He would remember that when he got out of this.

A commotion caused him to turn his head to the side, leaning up and twisting his body on the ground to look at the only entrance of the room. Though mangled vision he saw a tall silver haired woman arguing with the officers and forcing them out of the room. He knew that woman. He lived with that woman. What was her name?

His vision was blurring up again, but he let himself smile a little. He had memorized the man’s face. The two officers left the room and Akira finally let himself slump to the ground. His eyes began to close, one eye drooping shut.

He held his hand in front of his face, he couldn’t even see how many fingers he was holding up. He could barely recognize that it was a hand. Everything hurt.

Then, the woman grabbed him by that hand. He was pulled upwards, which only failed as his leg collapsed and he was sent back onto the ground. He hit the back of it hard. His skull pounded. His vision swam even more and the black around the borders of his eyes grew even stronger. The ringing in his ears grew louder.

He could give up now. No one would blame him. He wouldn’t blame himself. If he closed his eyes he doubted he would open them again. But he couldn’t do that. He wanted to so badly. But there was something he had to do. Why couldn’t he? What was it?

Oh right. That. Thinking of it made the rage inside of him begin to boil. He couldn’t die like this.

The woman grabbed him by the arm again. This time she supplied more weight and helped lift him. His leg was in tatters. It felt like something might be broken, at least torn or dislocated. It hurt too much. He was placed on a chair and the woman stood up straight.

With his good hand Akira grabbed his leg and felt around. It wasn't as bad as he thought. He pushed. His knee snapped back into its socket. The policeman had only dislocated it. Good. He could deal with that. The woman looked at him, a little shocked, before clearing her throat. She grabbed his now empty hands and put chained them to the table.

He was beginning to fade again. Think. Think. THINK. Get mad. He thought of the policeman. He thought of everything that had happened to him. Thinking of this sent a river of rage flowing through him. He wanted nothing more than to find the man and show him how to really hurt someone. But now wasn't the time.

The woman took his hands and locked him to the table. His eyes focused on her face. She was very beautiful, long silver hair and red eyes were the predominant features he could make out. Her red eyes held an incredibly sadness in them. The look faded quickly and turned into a stonewall expression. She took a seat on the other side of the table. She was saying words, but Akira was only making out every other one.

“We … tell me … I need you.... Are … attention …” She snapped her fingers in front of his face. His eyes cleared up a bit. He needed to focus.

“What did they… drugs … disgusting.” She was looking more and more enraged as she talked. His head wasn’t swimming as bad as it used to be and he was able to focus a little better.

“Can you hear me?” The woman asked. He nodded his head in response. He could finally hear her.

“Good, now, you have to tell me everything. Every bit of your history as the leader of the phantom thieves.” Akira nodded his head. He was barely conscious. Telling this woman every bit of his life seemed like a good idea, it was right?

She pulled out a manila envelope from her bag and placed it on the table. Out came a picture of him standing in front of a large gate and a profile of a man with a strong chin and wavy hair. “Let’s start. Were you a member when I picked you up from Juvenile Hall on the ninth of April.” Was he? He began to tell his story.

______________________________________________________________________

There was a loud buzz as the last of the gates leading to the outside world was opened. Akira stepped out into the light with all his worldly possessions on him. His pair of fake glasses, all three shirts he owned, and all two pairs of pants. The glasses had been a fleeting thought he had when he went to trial, maybe they would make him seem more innocent? It didn’t work. Lastly, he felt around for the insignificant amount of yen he owned. It was kind of sad how little he had.

He was wearing one of those sets of cloths. A grubby pair of jeans that was too small on him now, and a shirt that showed off a small amount of midriff due to how much it was being stretched. When he lifted his arms, it seemed to show his entire stomach. He had tried to keep the shirts he used every day in Juvie, but they wouldn’t let him take them.

He looked back on the monumental building. It had been a full year. A full year of his life in this hellhole. A full year wasted.

Akira walked out on the street. They were a little far from proper Tokyo so there was only a single road leading to and from the building. Standing in front of a slick looking black sedan parked to the side of the road was a tall, beautiful, silver haired woman. She was wearing a form fitting black suit that covered her entire body. Seeing as how she was the only person in the area he walked towards her.

“Akira Kurusu?” She called out as he got close, “I’m Sae Niijima. Your probation officer.” She looked him over. He was a lot bigger than she expected him to be. He was taller than her by a decent amount, even with her heels on. Something that not many people in Japan could claim. He was also a lot more muscular than she thought he would be. His tiny shirt didn’t hide much. She had to be more careful then she thought she would need to be.

“Hello, nice to meet you.” He walked forward and nodded his head slightly towards her. She nodded back and walked around the car to the trunk and popped it open.

“Come put your stuff in here.” He walked over and put his small backpack in her trunk. She looked at him expectedly for some reason. They stood like that for a few seconds before her eyes widened in surprise. She coughed into her hands and walked towards the driver’s side door.

“Sorry about that, my mistake, I thought you had more for some reason. Come get in. I’ll tell you about your plans on the ride.” He got in the passenger side of the vehicle and they took off.

Looking back, he could see the prison fade into the background. It might have been the most beautiful thing Akira had ever seen.

“Thank you Niijima-san.” He couldn’t help but feel appreciation to this woman for getting him away from there.

She sighed “I appreciate it, but this is all a pretty big inconvenience if I’m being honest. You really owe your grandfather more than you could ever know. I only agreed to this because of him.”

“I would thank him if I could.”

She tsked at herself “I apologize. He was a great man. I’m sorry for your loss I just thought you should know what he's done for you. He set up lodging for you for the next year of your probation. You’re going to be spending a week with an old acquaintance of his, and then spending a week with me, in that pattern for the next year.” Akira nodded in understanding as they drove. There was a brief silence.

“How was your time in juvenile hall.”

“It was acceptable.” He lied.

“Did they treat you well?”

“Well enough.” He lied again, but she accepted his answers and drove on. She could probably tell he was lying but didn’t feel the need to push. She attempted to play some music softly in the background, but got frustrated with the lack of any good options.
She turned it off and they sat in silence for a while as Akira watched the passing scenery.

“Look, before we get there I want to explain something to you.” Akira cut his concentration from the scenery and looked at her. “If you step one foot out of line, no, one toe out of line, I will throw you back in there before you can blink. I will accept zero tomfoolery, zero problems, there will be zero tolerance.” He nodded his head.

“While you’re in my apartment you will be on your best behavior. I live with my younger sister and if I think for even a second you are doing something inappropriate to her you will be locked away for the rest of your life.” She looked away from the road for a moment to stare into his eyes. “If you once, just once, do anything to her. Anything. From even just using her toothbrush without permission. I’ll put an end to your entire life.”

“I won’t be a problem.” He turned his eyes away from hers and looked at the road.

“Good.” She paid her full attention to the road now. He really didn’t have anything to say after that. An awkward silence filled the car after that.

After a while Sae interjected “Your grandfather told me a lot about you. He spoke very highly of you and defended your innocence, he said there was no way you did what you were accused of.”

Akira smiled at that. The first genuine smile, he thought to himself, that he had had in months. “I wish I could thank him for that.” Sae didn’t smile.

“Your record while in North Tokyo Correctional Center didn’t show any of that.” Akira stopped smiling, “You were a troublemaker. The guards were shocked at how you even managed to survive.”

Akira sighed and resumed looking out the window. “There’s a lot more that goes on in there then a record can say.”

“I understand that. But I don’t like it. I don’t like what I saw at all. I would prefer to not have you in my residence, ever, if we're being candid.” Akira’s frown dropped even further.

“Why are you then?”

“I owe your grandfather a life debt. He helped me out more than anyone could have, or should have, at a low point in my life. He spoke so highly of you I’ll look over your past infractions. However, if you ever, and I mean ever, seem to even become slightly threatening, I won’t just put you in prison. I’ll do worse.” He nodded his head. She stopped making any noise and they rode in silence.

______________________________________________________________________

They parked in a parking lot and walked towards “LeBlanc”, where he would be staying. A man named Sojiro Sakura would be his caretaker for the weeks he wasn’t with Sae. They passed through bustling Yongen-Jaya on their way there. The sights were a shock to Akira, who had grown up in a mid-sized coastal city. The number of people just walking through the streets were insane.

LeBlanc was a small cafe on a side street connected to the main street. Entering the cafe, with the small ding of a bell, there was an overwhelmingly strong sent of coffee. The place seemed inviting and quiet. Only one person was in the cafe at the time so Akira relaxed. Standing behind the counter was an older man with a thin pointed beard. He was well dressed, with his most prominent feature being the fedora that rested on top of his head. They met eyes and he made a slight sneer.

“So. This is the kid.” The man, presumably Sojiro Sakura, asked.

“Yes, Akira Kurusu, your new ward.” Sae waved her hand at him as he stood behind her. She placed her bag down and took a seat at the counter. Sojiro nodded at him and then at the stairs.

“Well, why don’t you go upstairs and put your stuff away. Where's the rest of it?”

“This is it sir.” The man's slight sneer turned into a frown for a moment before setting into an unreadable expression. Akira took some time to head upstairs while the two adults began to converse.

Rounding the corner of the stairs, Akira stopped and stared, “What the…” Akira looked stunned at his room. It was a mess, there was trash littering the entire room. Dust was on everything. He avoided the trash bags and bike resting against the wall. Maybe he could use that later, might as well ask at some point. Akira set his bag down near the bed, he didn’t even have a dresser to put his cloths in. He snorted to himself, not like he needed it.

The bed was alright. It was basically bare, only a small sheet on it. It was decently comfortable he noticed. The blanket seemed to be a piece of paper, so thin he doubted it would provide any warmth. Well, Juvenile hall was worse, so he didn’t mind. He made his way back down the stairs.

The two adults stopped conversing and looked at him. He couldn’t make out what they were saying but Sae picked up her bag and Sojiro started talking. “Well kid, not much left to say. Here's a key to the store. I live down the street from here if you need anything. Don’t need anything. I don’t think I need to warn you but just to be sure. If you take one step out of line, a single guest you don’t warn me about, a single missing item from the cafe, the register not adding up, anything. I’ll have you out of here in a second.” He stared up into Akira’s eyes with an intensity that would intimidate most people. Akira simply nodded and accepted his key. Sae’s glare was harsher anyways.

“Thank you for the ride Niijima-san and thank you for the room Sakura-san.” He nodded his head at both of them. Sae had already made it to the door and waved her hand at him from behind. She was staring intently at her phone with a frown on her face. Sojiro simply sighed and grabbed his hat from the table and followed her out the door. Akira went back upstairs.

Exhausted, Akira passed out within seconds of hitting the bed.

______________________________________________________________________

He woke up.

What time was it? Blinking his eyes open, Akira starred up. The ceiling was a black void, the walls were made of cinderblocks. Why was he surrounded by cinder blocks? Looking around some more he saw a lidless toilet and a set of sturdy bars in front of him.

He was in another prison cell.

In a moment, he was on his feet and whipping his head around, looking for an escape. Where was he? Was he in his old cell? No, there was too much blue here. it wasn’t just all grey.

Wait. This is just a dream. A sigh escaped his lips, this was just a dream. He let himself relax and take in what was going on.

Looking down he noticed that he was in a tattered old pinstripe prison outfit. Another reason it was just a dream, his actual prison outfit had been bright orange.

It's just a dream. Saying that didn’t make him feel better. It felt too real. It was making him scared, and that was making him angry. He didn’t like being in a cell.

The room surrounding the cells was circular and quite nice. There was a huge blue circular rug with a desk in the middle. In front of his cell was two young girls in warden’s outfits. They couldn’t have been more than 11 and both had eyepatches on, one with the right eye covered and the other with the left eye covered. This might have been the weirdest dream he’d ever had.

In the center of the circular room, at the desk, sat a balding man with an unnaturally long nose. He called the thing a man, but it didn’t feel right describing this creature as a man. Its eyes bulged unnaturally. It had no irises, just a single, strained, dot staring straight at him. His mouth was too big, the smile monstrous in a way. It looked hungry. It looked wrong.

Its body was unnaturally thin. Long arms that seemed too long for his frame. Sharp jutting elbows and very long slender fingers. The thing looked wrong.

They met eyes. It spoke. Its voice was deep and unnerving. “Trickster,” it’s face light up some, mirth showing in its expression, and sat up straighter. “Welcome to my Velvet room.”

______________________________________________________________________

April 10
Cloudy

Akira woke up in a cold sweat. That dream was too real. What was that thing talking about? Rubbing his eyes free of the sweat he sat up.

Akira looked at his phone and saw he had half an hour before Sojiro was supposed to arrive to take him to school. He made his way down the stairs and stopped at the center landing. Sojiro was behind the counter of the cafe. He looked up at the noise and they met eyes.

“Hey, kid, you’re awake. Get ready, I have some curry here you can eat before we leave.” Akira noticed the food on the counter and could smell it now that he saw it. It smelled really good. His stomach rumbled to remind him how hungry he was.

“Thank you, I’ll take a shower and be right over.” Sojiro nodded and Akira went on the other direction on the set of stairs. It was a split staircase, one side leading to his room, the other leading to a small bathroom. It was reasonable, it had a toilet, a sink, and a small bathtub/ shower combo. There was a window that looked out on the street in the center of the wall above the bathtub. The window was glazed over, but there was still a curtain that could be pulled over it if one wanted more privacy.

After a small shower Akira head downstairs in his Shujin uniform. It had been given to him by Sae who had it stored in the back of her car. He nodded to Sojiro and ate his food quickly. It was even better than it looked, he accepted the small cup of coffee as well. Akira was honestly surprised at the hospitality of the man.

“Thank you for all this. I appreciate it.” Akira mentioned in between bites. It was delicious! He almost shed a tear at the flavor. After eating gruel for a full year, this was like heaven on earth.

“Well, I couldn’t have you hungry on your first day and you don’t have any other food.” He rubbed the back of his head and looked at him sheepishly, “In a few days you can run to the store and pick up some groceries. There's a second fridge under the stairs that's normally empty you can keep your food in.”

Akira nodded but wasn’t sure where he would get money for those groceries. Eating hid his frown. He would need to get a side job to afford food.

“Your grandfather left you some money to pay for your groceries. I’ll give you some of it every week. It’s not a lot but it should cover basic meals.”

At the mention of his grandfather not even eating could hide the look of sadness on his face. Sojiro noticed and glanced to the side.

“Oh, I apologize for bringing up bad memories. Respects to your grandfather.” Akira thanked him and then continued to eat in an awkward silence.

______________________________________________________________________

The ride to school went well. They didn’t talk much but that was alright with Akira. Arriving, the first thing he noticed was that the school was massive. It was way bigger than his old school. He looked up, awed, at the school as he walked up the stairs. At the top Sae was talking to a young, pretty, brown haired girl. She was about his age. She was holding books in her arms and was talking excitedly to Sae.

She looked at him and he was able to get a closer look at her. She had the same piercing red eyes that Sae had. That wasn’t something easy to forget. A small, strained, smile forced its way onto her face. She was very cute, even with the strained look, she gave a small wave towards him and Sojiro and him made their way over. This must be Sae’s younger sister. She wasn’t happy to see him but he inwardly thanked his luck that the first girl his age he would interact with outside of Juvie was so cute.

“Hello, Akira Kurusu I presume, I am Makoto Niijima, younger sister of Sae Niijima and student council president of Shujin Academy.” She placed both of her hands in front of her and gave an informal bow. He gave her a small bow back. Standing close to her he was forced to look down on her. She was shorter than him by quite a bit. Sae, in her heels, actually was the only one in the group close to his height.

“How was your first night?” Sae questioned. She nodded at Sojiro and turned around to make her way into the school with all three in tow.

“It was nice, Sakura-san makes great curry too.” Akira stated as he followed her.

“By the way, please just call me Boss, Sakura-san makes me sound too old.” Sojiro cut in from behind him.

“You may call me Sae-san as well. If we're going to live together it wouldn’t be comfortable to sound so formal.” He nodded at the two of them and they began up the stairs. “I wanted to introduce you to Makoto before we all live together.” They stopped on the third floor in front of a room labeled Principal’s office. Knocking on the door they heard a loud “Come in” from inside.

Entering the room Akira was happy to have glasses that kept people from seeing his eyes as they bulged. A huge man sat behind the desk near the window. He must have been at least a few hundred pounds. The man’s bald head didn’t make him look any thinner. His hairless face hid any chin that he might have possessed at one point. His head seemed almost more neck than face.

Next to him was another pretty woman. She must have been in her late twenties, and looked exhausted for some reason. Probably stressed with school starting soon. She didn’t seem happy to see him however when they met eyes.

“Sae Niijima! Welcome!” He sat up straighter, “I wasn’t expecting for you to be here today too. Makoto Niijima, what a welcome surprise.” He put on a huge smile that didn’t make him look any better.

“I wished to be here to introduce Makoto and Akira to one another.”

“Well, welcome, and you must be the Akira Kurusu I’ve heard so much about.” His smile dropped as he looked at Akira. He gained a deep scowl as he looked at him, trying to look intimidating. It didn’t even phase Akira. Just another person who didn’t want him there.

“Akira Kurusu, I cannot stress this enough, if you cause even a single problem within this school I will have you expelled and put back where you came from.” His scowl deepened, “I was incredibly hesitant to even accept you, but there were circumstances that made us let you in. Keep your head down and don’t make even a whiff of trouble if you want to avoid any problems. It will be better for Shujin, and better for you, if we don’t have any problems with each other.” The woman to his side sighed.

“Why do I have to take him? There have to be better candidates” She asked.

It was a simple question but it made Akira tighten his jaw. Every single person he had met so far didn’t want him. Why had any even said yes to having him? The complete neglect to his very existence when they would say they didn’t want him, or how much of a bother he was, was pissing him off. He was in the room with them when they were saying this, just because he went to Juvie didn’t mean he wasn’t a person too.

“You were the only teacher with a spot open. I apologize.” He tried to look comforting when he said it too.

“Well, I’m Sadayo Kawakami, I’ll be your homeroom teacher.” She gave him a small wave and looked to the side again, biting her lip slightly. Something was troubling her, probably him, it just made him even more upset.

“I would like to emphasize again just how bad of a situation you’re in. A single mistake and you will be out. After Shujin there will be nowhere left. Make full use of this opportunity.” He clasped his hands in front of him.

Kawakami pulled a small card out of her pocket and walked towards him. She grabbed a few items off the front of the desk as well before reaching him. “Here’s your student ID, treat it with care. Here is also your class schedule and the guidance book. Read that through, any mistakes will have you sent to the guidance office and in your case, it's not going to be three strikes and you’re out kind of situation.” She reached down again and picked a backpack up off the ground and handed it over to him.

He nodded and tightened his jaw more. He would have to go on a run after this to let off some steam or something. Being reminded every few minutes how bad a situation you were in, how lucky you were for their help, and implicitly how little they trusted you, was wearing on him.

“Sae-san dealt with your paperwork earlier.” Kobayakawa mentioned. “So, you’re free to go.” The four of them made their way out of the room. They left in silence.

Sae’s phone began to ring as they reached the entrance to Shujin. She picked it up and began to talk to someone. “Yes, uh huh, I understand. I’ll be there.” She put her phone away. “Looks like I have some business to take care of, Makoto you can find your way home correct?”

“Yah sis, no problem.” Her smile seemed to drop more, but Sae paid it little mind.

“I can give her a ride, if you want.” Sojiro offered.

“Our place is in the opposite direction of Leblanc, thank you for the offer but it will be easier if Makoto just takes the subway. Just to reiterate once more. If you step out of line in any way at school, at LeBlanc, at my apartment, or anywhere. I will have you thrown back in Juvie within seconds.” Her red eyes glared at him with a frightening intensity. Akira met her gaze for a moment before looking away, no need to challenge the woman or put her on edge. It didn’t make him feel any better though. Being treated like a criminal was getting old. He thought he might have had less angry stares outside of Juvie compared to inside, but looks like that wouldn’t happen. Sae turned her back and walked away, waving to the group and saying goodbye. Makoto followed afterwards, giving a general goodbye and not meeting Akira’s eyes. She was cute but she didn’t like him. That was fine, par for the course so far.

Kawakami came out of the building and chased her down before she made it to the main street, and the two began to talk. Akira and Sojiro followed them down the stairs and began to walk in the opposite direction towards his car. With a final look back at the school, Akira couldn’t help but recognize just how much the school resembled a prison. Would this be another year of confinement?

______________________________________________________________________

Makoto sighed as she walked away from the school. Another night of dinner by herself. Well that’s going to change soon she snorted out as she thought of her new housemate. The criminal she had been waiting anxiously for weeks to meet. He didn’t really meet all of her expectations though.

He was tall and strong enough looking to fit her ideal criminal. But she really thought he would seem more… threatening. He just stood there and accepted all the indirect insults thrown on him. He didn’t lash out once at all the implications.

He was also missing the face tattoos and large scars she thought he would have. He actually had no tattoos. Her movies had always made it seem as though the bad guys were covered in tattoos. He also had those dorky glasses too. And his messy hair. He looked more like a tall, kind of buff, nerd then a guy who had assaulted someone and just gotten out of prison.

Lastly, she blushed a bit as she thought about it, he was better looking than she expected too. He was pretty good looking for a guy who had just gotten out of Juvie. He wasn’t nearly as terrifying as Sae had made him out to be. She had been training her aikido too for when he was going to be a clear-cut yakuza member. Well exercise was never a waste and they always say, ‘Never judge a book by its cover’.

“Niijima-san! Wait up!” Turning her back Makoto saw Kawakami racing up to her. She had had the woman for a class the year before, but they were never close.

“Thank you,” She breathed out, catching her breath slightly, “I need to ask you a favor.”

Makoto’s breath caught in her throat Oh no, she really hoped it wouldn’t be what she thought it would be.

“Can you please tutor Kurusu-san after school.” She bowed her head a smidgen, “I really need him to do good in this class.”

Makoto sighed, she knew this would happen, “Why me? And why does it matter? He’ll only be here a year anyways.”

“We get paid based on how our students do, if one fails I’d have to take a pay cut.” She was leaving out the part where it only really affected her bonus, “Please! There's no way he’ll be able to keep up with the material, he’s been out of the school system for a year.”

“How did he even make it into Shujin?”

“Somehow he passed the entrance exam. It was close but he did qualify academically, but qualifying is a lot different than succeeding.”

Makoto rubbed her head, but nodded. This would take time away from her own studying but she was the school council president. This was kind of her job in a way. Help any student she could, right? “Well, alright, I’ll try for a bit but if he’s a bad student I’m going to have to drop him.”

“Thank you! I knew I could count on you! If you ever need anything just ask, I’m sure I can help you out some way!” She bowed a large amount, turned around, and left back towards the school.

This was going to be a headache.

______________________________________________________________________

“Kawakami-san!” A boisterous voice called out. A large smiling man came walking towards her. If Akira was tall, then this man was monstrous. Kawakami seemed to remember his height being labeled as somewhere from 6’8 to even 7 feet tall. It made sense for a volleyball player she assumed.

“Did you check out the new student?” He had a very brash voice. Standing near her he completely towered over her. The man, Kamoshida, was the star of the school. A celebrity within the community and possibly the most successful man in the school. A gold metaling Olympic athlete who had brought the teams volleyball program to nationals twice now, and was prepared to win it this year. Everyone loved the man, even if he put them on edge sometimes.

“I’m not sure why I have to deal with him.” She sighed

“I’m not even sure why we accepted him. If its prestige, my volleyball team gives enough of that.” He wasn’t wrong. School recognition and funding had increased dramatically after he had arrived. Every person in the area wanted to have their child’s name on that team, it could make the difference when applying for university.

Not everything about him was so great and grand though. She had heard the rumors and seen the injuries of the students on the team, but Kamoshida seemed like an alright guy. She didn’t know much about volleyball, and no one had ever complained before. There was that track team problem a year ago, but it was that problem student that started it. Kamoshida couldn’t be blamed for that. He had made her uncomfortable a few times but nothing too serious. None of this was her problem anyways. She was done interjecting herself into her students’ problems.

“Yeah, why him too? He went to Juvenile hall for year! Why not someone with like, minor burglary? Maybe like loitering or theft under a thousand. There’s gotta be a kid out there with less of a record” She shook her head solemnly.

“It’s a mess, I’ll talk to Principal Kobayakawa about it and see what I can do.” He moved forward and clasped her on the shoulder. “If he gives you any trouble, any at all, you tell me and I’ll have him on his ass and out the gate faster than I can spike a ball.” He smiled brightly at her. It was the smile that had charmed the school, but she didn’t really see why. Nodding her head, he let her go and made his way off towards the gym. School would be starting soon, and with-it volleyball would be coming back.

She walked towards the entrance to the school rubbing her temples. She just had to get the problem student. Why not Ms. Chouno? The nosy woman deserved it, always trying to see what she was doing, looking over her shoulder at her phone. But no, this was her problem. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too bad.
______________________________________________________________________

 

“Come on! You could have merged hours ago!” Sojiro slammed his hand on the dashboard and sighed. “You’re a quiet kid, you know that.” Akira wasn’t this quiet by nature, he was just watching his words.

“Sorry Boss, just taking in the scenery.” Akira leaned back and looked out at the standstill traffic again. Sojiro snorted and reached over to turn on the radio.

“Breaking news! Another mental shutdown has been confirmed! A driver has caused a 14-car pileup on the Shibuya highway system. Traffic will be delayed…” Akira stopped paying attention and looked out the window.

“Another one? This has to be the 5th in a month. Jeez, someone needs to get on this.” Sojiro sighed, “I bet that's one thing you miss about your home. People aren’t just dying and accidently killing innocents once every week. Wait, you know about the mental shutdowns, right?” Anything he was about to say was cut off when his phone went off. He picked it up, “Yeah. I’m stuck in traffic. Well, I won’t be home for a few hours. There's ramen in the cabinets above the fridge. I’ll make it as soon as, look I’ll make it as soon as I can. Can I call you back? We’re moving a few inches.” He hung up and put his phone in his pocket again.

“Women, right?” He snorted.

“Was that your wife?”

“What? No, no way kid. Do I look like the kind of man to settle down?” He looked annoyed at Akira “You need to watch what you say kid, you’re being a little presumptuous.” That had seemed to set him off a bit. He turned the radio up a little and watched the road some more. A painfully awkward silence filled the car. This continued on for nearly half an hour as they inched forward, barely making any progress.

Jeez, that was a sore spot. Akira thought as he looked out the window and spotted a subway entrance, “Uh.” He cleared his throat “I think I’m going to go take the subway home. I need to go get some reading done. Might as well get a lay of the land too”

“Yeah, you do that.” Sojiro still seemed miffed about the wife statement. Akira grabbed his small backpack with ‘Shujin’ printed on the back he had been given and left. What a weird man. He had been so kind to him that morning too. It hurt a little that Sojiro was so upset at him, but Akira steeled himself. He knew that people wouldn’t like him coming in, he shouldn’t have let his guard down so quickly.

The subway station was within walking distance and soon he was on his way to his new home.
______________________________________________________________________
Akira made it back quickly and put his bags upstairs. He quickly changed into his one pair of workout clothes, his only pair of workout clothes, a ratty pair of basketball shorts and a simple white T-shirt, and went for a run.

A quick jog found him in a park nearby. There was a medium sized pond in the center and a trail around it. It was rather empty at this time of the day so he began to make his way around the pond.

He thought back over the past two days. The hell of his last year was over. He had been released from the prison he thought he might never escape. But was life any better now? Well, yeah it was, people didn’t like him but he wasn’t in jail.

But, in juvie he knew who hated and who only tolerated him. It was easier to understand and predict, you could judge people at face value. Here? It was a lot more confusing. It seemed like everyone was both. Maybe he was giving everyone too much credit, maybe they only hated him. He had too much hope coming out of juvie, he should have expected this much resistance rather than the blind hope he had had. He wiped at his eyes as he thought about it. It was making him mad. What might discourage and sadden others, seemed to only make him angrier. This was something that had grown over the past year. His rage was something quick and seemed to almost consume him from time to time. He had to get back to running to burn it off.

He wanted to explode so many times that day. Just tell someone, anyone, to stop looking at him like he was about to kill them. He really needed to move more before he did something he would regret. He didn’t want to yell at Sojiro and be back in Juvie before even two days had gone by. He started to sprint at the thought.

Everyone saw him as a criminal. Not a single person so far had expressed even a single desire to have him around. Sojiro tried, but that was still confusing, why even try if he actually didn’t like him? But he was ready for this now. He knew this would happen. All he had to do was keep his head down and not bother anyone.

He knew who he was now though. Some resistance wasn’t going to change him, he would keep his head down for a year, but it wouldn’t break him. He was stronger than that. He wouldn’t cry, he never would again. He wouldn’t stop trying to be him, he wouldn’t become someone his grandfather would look down on.

He picked up his pace more somehow. At least, he thought, next time he was going to save someone, he was going to be sure he didn’t get caught, and he was going to make sure the other guy didn’t get back up after being knocked down.

______________________________________________________________________

When he made it back Sojiro was waiting outside scrolling on his phone.

“Boss?” Akira questioned as he walked up.

He seemed a little startled before he answered, “Kid, god you need a shower.” He pinched his nose, “I forgot to give this to you when you left. Me and Sae need you to write in this every day to give us an update on what you’ve been doing.” He handed over a small diary which Akira pocketed.

Sojiro looked hesitant for a moment, “Sorry about earlier,” He breathed out “I overreacted. I’ll tell you about the other person on the phone eventually. I’m heading home, I’ll see you later. You’re in charge of getting to school tomorrow so don’t forget. Don’t leave the cafe.” He backed away and walked down the road. Akira shouted his thanks and goodbye as he entered the cafe.
Sojiro had just made everything even more confusing. Sighing, he made his way upstairs. A quick shower and he was ready for bed. His pajamas were a simple set of cotton long shorts, it was too hot for a shirt and he didn’t even have a good one. It was only a few moments before he was asleep.

______________________________________________________________________

Chapter Text

April 11
Monday
Clear

Getting to Shujin was a bigger hassle than he expected. His trip through the subway systems the day before had helped a bit, but he still had gotten extremely lost and missed one of his connecting trains. Why were there so many lines? So many people too. When people would say that standing in those subway cars makes you feel packed in like a sardine, they weren’t kidding. Even with all these problems, he was still early enough that he could make it to school, but he would be cutting it close.

Walking out of the station, he immediately saw a pretty blond girl in a Shujin uniform. She had long blond hair pulled into two pigtails and was very cute. She was shorter than him, but taller than most Japanese girls. He only had a handful of non-Japanese classmates in his life, so this was an oddity.

Maybe she knows a fast way to get to Shujin. He approached her and was about to ask when a car pulled up alongside them.

The car rolled down its driver’s side window and a man peered out to smile at her. He had a very strong jaw and short, puffy, curly hair.

“Ann-Chan! You’re going to be late to school, want a ride?” The driver asked.

The girl nodded slowly, looking hesitant for some reason. The man’s eyes trailed over and he noticed Akira. His smile twitched a bit, not enough to be noticed by most people but Akira had learned how to look for small details

“How about you, you need a ride?”

There was a look in his eyes that seemed threatening, warning him that he needed to reject this offer. The man gave off a dangerous vibe that Akira didn’t feel the need to deal with. He shook his head side to side, indicating no, and the man rolled his window up without giving Akira a second look. The girl, Ann, walked around the other side and got into the car. They rode away soon after.

...Oh! Shit! He forgot to ask for directions.

Akira opened his phone and tried to pull up his navigation app.

“SHIT! Did that pervert just leave with her!?” A boisterous voice called out.

Looking towards the voice Akira saw, what seemed to be, a stereotypical delinquent. Bright blond hair, unbuttoned shirt, bright undershirt, loud voice. His unbuttoned shirt had Shuji colors. He could ask this guy for directions, but not wanting any trouble, Akira turned away. He walked in the direction the car had departed in.

“Wait! Dude! Did he take her!?” The blonde cried out.

Akira felt a hand on his shoulder and turned around to face the other student. The guy looked very upset.

“Uhh yeah, is that a problem?” Akira asked while he calmed removed the guy’s hand from his shoulder.

The other student didn’t seem to notice his touch and Akira was happy for that. The delinquent was, once again, shorter than him but also taller than a normal Japanese person. He should probably stop calling the guy a delinquent, it was kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. He felt proud of himself for using that English idiom.

The delinquent looking kid kicked the ground and tsk’d “Shit, what's that pervy bastard going to do to her.” He raised his hands in the air in rage and growled, before throwing them down into his pockets. “Wait, I shouldn't be saying this, are you going to rat me out to Kamoshida!”

The guy moved towards him threateningly. Akira had to calm down some of his old impulses before he made trouble. This guy probably wasn’t going to do anything, he really shouldn’t fight on his first day. He took a calming breath.

“No, I don’t even know who that is. It’s my first day.”

A look of realization dawned on the other student’s face. “Oh! You’re a transfer student!” A huge smile grew on his face and he took a step back. Good. “Well! Nice to meet you! Kamoshida’s that prick who drove away with the girl. He thinks he's the king of the castle here at Shujin. Watch yourself around him. He runs this place.”

The delinquent looking student seemed a lot friendlier now. Still not wanting any trouble Akira nodded his head, turned back towards the way the car went, and walked away.

“Wait!” Akira turned around, again, “You’re going to Shujin right? You’re going the wrong way, here follow me. I’ll show you a shortcut!” The unnamed blonde turned on heel and began to walk down an alley. Appreciatively Akira began to follow him. He didn’t think this guy was going to try anything.

“I’m Sakamoto Ryuji by the way!” Akira nodded and introduced himself, before they fell into a comfortable silence.

______________________________________________________________________

“What the…” The blonde, Ryuji, muttered out.

What the was right. This was not the school Akira had visited, not the school at all. In its place was a giant castle that consumed everything in sight.

“I swear this is the way to school.”

Akira didn’t doubt him either.

They had walked back the way they came and took a different route several times, each time Ryuji exclaiming it was the right way this time. Akira honestly didn’t even know where he was anymore so he just had to trust him.

For some reason, every other person on the street was gone. There wasn’t a single person in sight, anywhere. There wasn’t a single car, a single animal, there was nothing. It was terrifying, and it was affecting them both.

“Damn dude! This is like, the fifth time we ended up here!” Ryuji was getting very flustered.

He could tell that Ryuji was getting scared.

They finally approached the castle and pulled to a stop in front of it. They had to have been walking for nearly half an hour. Pulling out his phone he saw that he was now, officially, late for school. He tried to call someone, but then remembered he didn’t have any contacts in his phone. He had deleted everyone in a rage before he entered Juvie. Oh yeah! He had Sae! He perked up and pulled up her number.

Wait, bad idea. He doubted she would want to hear about how he got lost on his first day and ended up at a castle. She would probably get him drug tested.

Ryuji seemed to get the same idea. He pulled out his phone and was fiddling with it.

“What the hell dude, I can’t make a call!” That wasn’t good. “None of the buttons are working either! I can’t get online!”

Akira closed his contacts and tried to go online. In an instant, his phone froze. The screen went pitch black, before a bright red eye took over the entire front of the screen.

“What the hell! What’s this eye!” Ryuji thrust his phone towards Akira’s face.

Akira showed Ryuij his phone and showed that he had the same problem. Thinking back, he had seen this eye app before. It had been a few weeks ago but he had. He thought he’d deleted it too.

Ryuji stepped up towards the castle “I don’t think we have a choice anymore, let's check out inside.” He walked towards front door of the castle.

Akira didn’t follow at first. He looked around at every street he could see. The lack of anything living was scaring him. There was a complete and haunting silence here, something he hadn’t once experienced since entering Tokyo. He didn’t want to enter this monstrous looking castle. Something about it seemed… off. He was hesitant to go in, but the only living person in sight was entering it, and he didn’t want to be left alone.

They entered the front of the castle with no fanfare. It was creepy inside.

It looked like what someone would expect a castle to look like, complete with torches and paintings on the walls. However, every painting seemed to be about volleyball, or it had that man in the car in it. It was unnerving, and was pissing off Ryuji quite a bit. If that was anything to go by.

Akira didn’t know what to think of the guy. Enough time around actual, dangerous, criminals let him know that this guy wasn’t a threat. He was just a loudmouth looking for attention. He didn’t have the edge a lot of the guys Akira was used to hand. He didn’t seem like a bad guy.

Overall, he had no strong opinions on him. Brash, but not dangerous. When they got out of here Akira doubted he would see much of him again, if he could.

They pulled into the Great Hall of the castle. There was gold everywhere. Beautiful chandeliers hung from the ceiling. It was a beautiful room fit for a palace.

The most glaring object in the room, the thing that ruined it, was the giant painting of that man, Kamoshida, plastered on the far wall. Not only was it tacky, the painting also unnerved Akira greatly. Its piercing yellow eyes seemed to stare into his very being. Something inside of him was screaming at him to destroy those eyes.

“Seriously. What’s going on.” Ryuji’s face had lost a lot of the apprehension it originally had. It was easy to read him with how expressive he was. He was equal parts furious and scared now.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here.” Shocked, Akira leapt backwards like a cat, away from the voice. Walking towards them, followed by several massive men in armor, was Kamoshida. Except now, he was wearing a cape, a crown, and only a pink speedo.

It wasn’t the best look on him, if Akira was being honest.

As he got closer Akira could match up to him. This man was massive. He had to be over seven and a half feet tall, and with his guards dwarfing him, it made Akira and the shorter Ryuji look like ants.

“What the hell Kamoshida! What is this place! Where’s Shujin!” Ryuji snarled at him.

Akira looked into the man’s eyes, a bright, evil looking, sickly yellow color. The voice that had been in his head rumbling earlier was now pounding in his skull. It felt like something was trying to escape from his brain. It scared Akira a bit, why was this happening. The voice was making him angrier and angrier too. It was feeding his rage, building on his fears, and stroking his inner fire.

“You’re not in Shujin Academy anymore.” Kamoshida calmly strolled up to the two of them and looked Akira dead in the eyes. “Welcome to My Castle.”
He seemed to completely ignore Ryuji, as the boy yelled and taunted something. A small smirk grew on Kamoshida’s face before he snapped his fingers, turned on heel, and strode off down the hall with a few guards following.

“Where do you think you’re going!?” Ryuji tried to move after him, but he got nowhere. The guards moved, quicker than Akira thought they could, and slammed a shield into Ryuji’s side. He was sent flying to the ground, crying out in pain as he smashed against the hard surface.

Alarms were blaring in Akira’s head. One of the guards grabbed Ryuji by his arms and began walking away. The hit had taken most of the fight from him, and he was around the corner and gone in seconds. The rest of the guards, all four of them, surrounded him in a wide circle. He had to get out of here.

Akira moved, he had been in a situation like this once or twice and knew what to do.

To be fair, it was against people that were smaller and weaker than him. Not against giant men made of metal. But it was his only chance.

He shot out like an arrow, straight for a gap in between two of the guards. The two closest to him lurched forward to grab him. Before they could get a hand on him, he turned, and used the opening made for him by the guard behind him that had overextended himself trying to reach him. He was out of the circle in a moment, moving with all the speed he could, before something smashed into him from behind.

He was sent sprawling to the ground as a shield bounced off him back. It knocked the air from his lungs and left him gasping for breath on the floor. His vision blurred from the pain. One of them had thrown their shield at him and actually hit him? That shield had to be over a hundred pounds! They shouldn’t have been able to throw such a heavy shield with such strength, what were they? These weren't people. These weren’t people at all.

Two of them grabbed him by the arms and Akira couldn’t help but be pulled along. He was gasping for breath as they took him down the same corridor they took Ryuji earlier. The fire that had been building inside of him was only getting stronger. The voice was only getting louder. It wasn’t saying words, it was only screaming.

___________________________________________________________________

Pain flared in his back again as he was brutally thrown against the ground. Akira gasped loudly and began spasming, trying to keep his back off the ground. Something really hurt back there and he didn’t know what. He could hear the cell door slam shut behind him.

“Dude! You okay!” Ryuji rushed up to him and helped him roll onto his stomach. It was nice of him, and something that Akira desperately needed. He let out a sigh as he rested for a moment.

After a few seconds, he picked himself up with Ryuji’s help. Neither of them spoke as they looked into each other's eyes. What the hell was going on.

The cell door was reopened soon after being closed. The giant man, Kamoshida, and three of his guards came into the cell. His smirk took up his entire face, the man was very happy. Ryuji and him stood silently next to each other.

“Now now now, what are you two doing in my castle?” He snapped his fingers and the guards moved towards them. He tried to step in front of Ryuji and stop them, but his resistance only lasted a second as the guard hit him with his shield and sent him to the ground.

Ryuji joined him soon after. Two of the guards put their weapons at Ryuji’s throat while the other picked him up and slammed him against the wall.

The same pain erupted in his back, the left side he had now noticed. The knight let him go slack and then smashed him again with his massive shield, knocking the air from his lungs. Akira moved desperately, grabbing at the shield, doing everything he could to get some space between him and the knight. He couldn’t even budge this monstrous being.

Kamoshida, clad in his pink speedo, strolled further into the room.

What was happening? Was this his doing? WHAT WAS HAPPENING!?

In a moment of clarity, one thought calmly entered his mind.

I’m going to die here.

Kamoshida was laughing. He was speaking to Ryuji, but Akira wasn’t paying attention.

I’m going to die here.

I'm going to die here.

I’m going to die here.

The thought raced through his mind an impossible number of times. His brain shifted into overdrive. He began to look around wildly, getting Kamoshida’s attention. A cell. He was in a cell. Oh god, he was going to die in a cell!

“So, what is the Criminal doing here?” He sneered at him. When Akira didn’t respond the man hit him with a strong backhand on his cheek. There was joy in his eyes after the hit.

“I said.” He grabbed Akira by the chin and forced him to look in his eyes. “What are you doing here? Criminal.”

He was in a cell. He was going to die in a cell. Ryuji began making a commotion, distracting Kamoshida before he could hit Akira again. He left Akira alone to go taunt Ryuji more.

Would he die in this cell? The more he thought about it, the more he panicked. This feeling, this unimaginable terror, was pumping the fire through his veins. He had promised himself so many months ago that he would never die in a cell. He promised himself that he would never be put in a cell again.

How dare this man? How dare this monster? His breathing started to get heavier, coming out in slow pants.

A buzzing grew in his ears as his brain raced. He had sworn so long ago that if someone ever tried this again, he would bury them. He would never be taken prisoner again. He would never be locked up. His vision started to turn red.

His muscles began to feel stronger. His reddening vision began to focus on one thing and one thing only. Kamoshida. Breathing was no longer slow deep gasps. It was getting faster. It was getting harder to breathe, the fire building inside of him was growing. Kamoshida began speaking again and Akira focused.

The voice in his mind was drowning all of this out. Its screeching was deafening.

“That’s enough fun for one day.” Kamoshida laughed to himself, “Alright kill little Ryuji here, slowly. We’ll get to the Criminal next.” Kamoshida walked up to Ryuji and put his foot on his back. He snapped his fingers, “I got an idea! Let’s start with a throwback! Break his legs.”

Ryuji started desperately squirming. He was yelling something at the guards who slowly approached him. He was begging for his life.

He was going to kill them. This wasn’t an if or maybe. He was going to kill them. He was going to kill him!

No. That wouldn’t happen. Akira wouldn’t let it.

It came onto him like a rushing river. The fire. A white-hot fire that felt like it would consume him and burn him alive. Looking at this man was causing waves of overbearing heat to flow through him.

Akira was going to kill him. He didn’t know how, but he was going to get out of this. He was going to grab Kamoshida. He was going to grab him by the throat and crush it. Akira felt like he was burning alive. He was going to kill Kamoshida.

Time slowed down to near a halt.

“This is truly an unjust game… Your chances of winning are almost none.” Possibly the weirdest part of the day, a blue butterfly floated past him, “But if my voice is reaching you, there may yet be a possibility open to you.” The butterfly disappeared soon after saying this. Akira wasn’t given much time to think about it.

“STOP!” Akira screamed.

The guard slammed his back into the wall again, knocking the air from his lungs. There was nothing he could do. A deep chuckling resounded in his mind.

Kamoshida sneered at him. “Hit him harder, I don’t like the look in his eyes.”

“Is this it? Are you simply going to watch?” A monstrous, yet poised, voice boomed in his mind. “Are you forsaking him to save yourself?”

“You will die if you do nothing. That boy will die if you do nothing. Are you willing to accept that?”

Akira couldn’t move. No, he wouldn’t.

“Was everything you’ve done a mistake? Do you regret fighting against injustice?”

No! I don’t.

The voice chuckled with its incredibly deep voice “Very well, I have heeded your resolve. Now show me the truth to your words.”

Pain exploded in his forehead. It felt like something was trying to force its way out, digging through his skull to escape.

“Vow to me. I am thou. Thou art I. Thou who are wishes for the strength to get revenge on the world and impose thy justice. Call upon my name and release thy rage!”

A blue fire exploded from Akira’s forehead. It flew down his body at rapid speeds. It came off him in vicious waves, turning the guard holding him into a black mist. Winds began whipping around him with ridiculous strength, blowing the other occupants of the room off their feet and slamming them against the walls. The fire was burning with amazing intensity, blackening the walls and melting the bars. It felt incredible.

“Show the strength of thy will to ascertain all on thine own, though thou be chained to hell itself!”

The fire exploded out of him with unrelenting fury.

It died down slightly, enough that Akira was able to feel that a mask had formed on his face. He knew somehow, to rip it off. The fire somehow picked back up in intensity as he grabbed its edges, the room felt like it was on the inside of a volcano. He tore with all his strength.

It hurt. It hurt a lot. He screamed a rough, guttural screech of pain as he tore the skin from his face. Blood poured down as the mask ripped the entire front half of his face off. Blood splattered his clothes as he reached the end. The fire increased in volume and intensity as it got closer and closer to coming off.

With a final tug, the mask came loose and he threw it to the ground. A final wave of fire flew from his body, before vanishing entirely and leaving him standing there.

Ryuji, still on the floor, lifted his hands off the top of his head and looked at Akira.

“Woah.” He looked stunned.

Akira looked down at his body. He now sported a solid black ensemble. He had on, what looked like, an armored dress shirt, bright red gloves, and a long, solid black, trench coat.

“What are you doing! Kill him!” Kamoshida yelled from the ground against a wall. He had been slammed there and was picking himself up slowly.

He had dropped his coat, which now was on fire to the side, and sat in just his speedo, his crown having fallen off too. His guards moved fast. In seconds, they were up and ready to go.

Inside of Akira there was a voice, screaming for blood. It was deep, just like the voice that had spoken clearly to him earlier.

It had a guttural rage that should have frightened him. It only made the fire in his veins burn hotter. He wouldn’t disappoint it. He took off.

Sprinting, faster than he ever had before, he went straight at the terrified Kamoshida and his guards. He leapt over Ryuji, seemingly flying through the air, and, on his way down, slammed his heel into the side of Kamoshida’s skull. There was a loud thud as his head was smacked against the wall.

Kamoshida swung with one hand wildly, forcing Akira back. He grabbed at his now bleeding head with his other hand and fumbled his way away from Akira.

“AAGGHHHH! YOU FUCKING PUNK! KILL THEM, NOW! KILL THEM ALL!” Kamoshida fell on his face, holding it in both hands. He pushed himself into a corner as his guard swept with his sword at Akira, making him jump back.

A large knife had formed in his hands somehow. It was a mix between a machete and a dagger. It was of medium length, most of it was thick like a machete, but had an edge on both sides. Near the end it narrowed out to a sharp, vicious, point that looked like it could pierce anything.

Akira swayed slightly out of the swords reach, before jumping back in. He landed on the knight’s torso and slammed his new blade into opening on the guard's visor, turning the knight to a black mist.

“Use me.” The deep voice resonated within him.

He somehow knew what to do.

“ARSENE!” A bright red monster made of fire erupted from him. It tore the other guard apart, punching a hole through its armor and then tearing it in half. Now it was just him, Ryuji, Kamoshida, and Arsene.

Getting a closer look at the fire monster Akira was able to make out a few of the beast’s details. It was wearing a bright red tuxedo, complete with a large top hat. It seemed like it was about to head out to a ball, rather than massacre whatever monster was just in front of him.

This wasn’t to imply that it looked kind. Arsene looked demonic. It had features that separated it from ever possibly looking like a true gentleman. Massive clawed nails on the ends of its hands were the first thing. They looked like they could rip a man apart with ease. Its massive frame supported this idea. It had to have been nearly twenty feet tall and looked brutal.

Its face was its most noticeable, and intimidating, feature. Eyes made of pure fire. They were alit with a glee, and fury, with an intensity that Akira had never seen before. Looking into his eyes felt like looking into a bottomless pit, the anger inside of it was all consuming. It should have terrified him. He should have run away at just the sight of this… thing.

Instead, he felt a connection. A primal, unexplainable connection. This demon was him. He was this monster, this beast of death and destruction.

It made him feel… complete standing next to it.

Seeing him stare into its eyes, Arsene’s mouth, made of more fire, lit up in delight. Its teeth, which was the best way to describe them, were just brighter flames. The grin nearly consumed the monsters entire face, with an intensity and ferocity that would shame even the deadliest of predators.

Akira couldn't help but smile back.

Akira looked down at the pathetic sniveling man in the corner. He could only feel contempt for this man. The fire burning inside of him had been quelled slightly, but he could still hear his blood pounding in his ears.

The voice wanted him to destroy this man.

“Dude! What the hell!” Akira jumped a bit, having forgotten for a moment that there was another person in the room.

Ryuji had gotten up and had moved towards him. He didn’t look injured. “What is up with your outfit man! And what the hell is that… Thing?”

Arsene became a bright blue and black smoke and returned into him.

Looking down Akira had to agree. His new outfit was weird. “I have no idea.” Ryuji rubbed his head at that and sighed. Both didn't know what to do.

“What about Kamoshida.” Ryuji motioned his head towards the crying man.

At the movement, the man collapsed in on himself and tried to push himself even farther into the corner. Akira reached down and picked up the key ring Kamoshida had dropped, it could come in handy.

Akira wanted nothing more than to take his new knife and gut the man who had nearly killed him. He wasn’t a murderer though. He didn’t know what was going on or even if this “Kamoshida” was real. But he wasn’t going to go around killing people when he didn’t even know what was happening.

He also doubted Ryuji would be very happy if he started beating the man to death.

“We can lock him in here. It’ll take his guards some time to get here and we can be out by then. I remember the way we came, it’ll only take a few minutes to get out of here.”

Ryuji nodded and they quickly moved out of the cell. They locked it behind them, and made their way down the hall.
____________________________________________________________________

They made quick work through the castle. Akira decimated most foes they met before they could even see him. If he could get to them before they saw him, he could stab them in the head and kill them quickly. If they avoided that, or were too strong to die from a single hit, they would transform into several different monsters he would have to then fight. It was beginning to take a toll on him, but he powered through.

“WAIT!”

Shocked at the sound, Akira threw his back against a nearby wall and crouched down, looking for the voice. Where was… what? There was some kind of cat… thing.

“You’re not soldiers of this castle right!? Get me out of here! Find the key! Please!” The thing begged.

“What the hell!? What are you!” Ryuji shouted. He seemed just as surprised as Akira was, he just so happened to be more vocal about it.

“I’m a prisoner! Look, we don’t have much time! Please let me out of here, I know a nearby exit!”

“No way dude! We don’t even know you! You don’t look human at all! Akira, we’re leaving behind this cat, right?”

“Don’t call me a cat!” The cat yelled at them, which went ignored.

“Come on man, I mean it doesn't look like a monster but it could transform when we let it out! Who knows in this place.”

Akira looked down at his pocket, towards the key ring, and weighed the pros and cons. Ryuji brought up a good point, it didn’t look like a monster but it also didn’t look like a person. You couldn’t trust anything in this place either. However, the cat continued with a good point, why would it be locked up if it wasn’t a threat to Kamoshida? Akira had sympathy for a fellow prisoner. What to do, what to do.

It took him a few moments but he came to a decision. He doubted the castle would put an enemy behind bars for them to unlock, and then it would attack them. It must have done something to piss of Kamoshida. And, as they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or something like that. Akira grumbled to himself and then pulled out the keys, to Ryuji’s shock and the cat’s purrs. It took him a minute or two to find the right key.

“Thank you kind sir! I owe you a debt.” The cat bowed and flourished before prancing out of his cell.

“What’s your name, cat.” Akira asked.

That seemed to set the creature off, it rounded on Akira and narrowed its eyes. It was about to make a move when Akira palmed the hilt of his knife, which stilled it.

“I’m not a cat! Don’t ever call me a cat or I’ll make you regret it, understand!” The… thing yelled.

Akira nodded slightly and its eyes softened. Alright, it didn’t like being called a cat. Wasn’t hard to just not call him a cat, maybe it was some kind of slur to it? Akira didn’t know what was offensive to monstrous looking creatures but no point in making enemies.

“You may call me Morgana.” The creature added.

“But you are a cat!”

...Dammit Ryuji. Akira sighed and took his hand off his knife as the two of them started arguing. He started walking away and was a decent distance apart from them before they noticed and jogged after him.

“Sorry about that, this idiot doesn't know his place. You can call me Morgana.” The creature told him.

Akira nodded his head.

“Know my place!? Screw you, cat!” That started a whole new wave of arguments.

He needed to get out of here. He was becoming more and more exhausted and frustrated. He wasn’t nearly as angry anymore after killing so many things, but those two arguing wasn’t helping. He walked away again.

______________________________________________________________________

It only took a few minutes to get out of the castle after that. Morgana didn’t lie, he took them to an open-air vent and they were out.

“This is where we part ways.” Morgana nodded his head appreciatively at him as they reached the gate. He blew a raspberry at Ryuji. “I thank some of you for your help, I don’t like to need it but I appreciate it. I’ll pay you back for your assistance someday.” Apparently busy, it jogged off back towards the castle.

They had only known the thing for a bit, and while it wasn’t enjoyable in the slightest, the thing was knowledgeable. In the few minutes, they traveled together Akira had learned more about where they were then he ever would have figured out on his own.

Cognition, Palaces, Persona? So many things that were vital to what was going on. That thing would make a good ally. If he ever came back that was.

On the way, out they had seen some students that Ryuji had known, locked in the cells. They weren’t given any time to try to rescue them, to Ryuji’s horror. He had screamed about coming back for them.

Akira had no idea what to do, Ryuji said he hadn’t seen them in weeks, which made sense as school hadn’t been in session in weeks. So, there could be real people locked in there, like he was a few minutes ago. It was all confusing.

Akira didn’t like the castle, but hadn’t he promised himself a long time ago, as well as to Arsene more recently, that he would help anyone in need? The students locked up were innocent as far as he knew. But he really didn’t want to come back here. This was a tricky situation.

Getting back to the task at hand, Akira pulled out his phone. If what Morgana had said was true, all they had to do was use that weird app on their phone and they would be out. Akira pressed the button like he was told, and to his surprise, it began to work.

His vision started to swirl and he got a blaring migraine. It lasted for a few seconds and then, when he opened his eyes, he was back in the real world.

Looking down, his school outfit was back on. He grabbed at his face and felt that his glasses were back on as well. He sighed in relief.

“Dude, seriously, what the hell is going on today?” Ryuji said as he clasped him on the shoulder. Ryuji pulled out his phone and began scrolling through it. “That eye app is still there too. Damn man, what… Wait. WE’RE FOUR HOURS LATE!”

Looking down at his phone, Akira confirmed the worst. He was indeed four hours late to class now. This day, physically, couldn’t get worse.

“Hey! You kids! What did I just hear!” Two large police officers walked towards them.

He had thought too soon, it could get worse.

But this wasn’t too bad, he could talk his way out of this. Two street cops? They probably wouldn’t care if he could make a good lie.

“Nothing! We were just talking about how we found a castle over there and then we were here and more time passed than we thought but nothing about being late to school or whatever!” Ryuji word vomited out.

What the hell? Akira couldn’t help but look dumbfounded at the guy. How had this guy made it this far in life? Damnit Ryuji. He didn’t know if he could recover from that.

“What he means to say is, we got lost on the way here. See I’m a transfer student, and it’s my first day. I took the wrong line this morning and met this guy. He has a hard time with putting together his words and thoughts.”

Akira leaned in and spoke very slowly and very quietly for the next part, “I really don’t think he’s all there, you know? His student badge says he has a learning disability.” He leaned back as the policeman nodded his head.

It was a dumb lie, all things considered. A single look at Ryuji’s actual student ID wouldn’t have anything written on it, so this was pretty brazen. But if they looked Akira could duck into the alleyway and be gone while Ryuji fumbled around. Luckily, the man didn’t actually seem to care.

“Alright, well, if I catch you two out here again I’ll have to take you to the station! Now get to class.” He took a step back and went to move away.

He stopped and turned back around “Wait, sorry blondie. I didn’t mean to sound insensitive. If you ever need help getting around and see me or any policeman just ask. We understand and can help you get what you need.” The policeman said. The two walked away after that.

Akira assumed they thought he would take care of Ryuji now. That worked better than he thought it would. Whether it was because Ryuji actually seemed like he could have a learning disability, or the fact that they both looked like delinquents, it didn’t matter. They had left them alone. Turning back towards Ryuji, Akira had to grin. Ryuji looked quite miffed.

“Dude! Why’d you say I have a learning disability! I’m normal!” He waved his hand down at his, not so normal, self. Bright blonde hair, a severe slouch, and an unkempt uniform. None of it looked like what a regular student would look like.

“What did you want me to say? You can’t just yell that we got lost in a castle. Everything you said sounded insane. You’re lucky I stepped in before you got us both drug tested.”

Ryuji kicked the ground and slammed his hands into his pockets. He turned towards the alleyway they went through earlier to get to school.

“Whatever man. You say next to nothing for hours, then you’re talking like crazy. But it’s just to call me ‘special’. I don’t get you.” Ryuji muttered out as he walked.

Akira followed him down the alleyway, he still didn’t know how to get to school. He didn’t really care if it upset Ryuji. He didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but the guy shouldn’t have shouted that they got lost in a castle in downtown Tokyo.

Within minutes, school was in sight. Ryuji perked back up immensely at seeing it. Luckily, any possible hurt feelings didn’t seem to matter to him anymore.

Ryuji grabbed his shoulder before they reached the end of the alleyway. “Yo, after school, lets meet on the rooftops. I know how to unlock it. We gotta talk about what just happened.” Ryuji let him go after Akira nodded. They walked towards the school.

A large man stood outside the front door at the top of the stairs. Why he was standing there? Akira didn’t know. Maybe he just liked standing, waiting for kids to show up late. Whatever it was, it made Ryuji kick the ground lightly.

Getting a better look at him, Akira saw that the man had no real defining characteristics. Average height. Stern face. Large glasses. He looked like the stereotypical hardball teacher. Probably wasn’t that hard.

“Sakamoto! You! Where were you two! You’re four hours late!” The man yelled at the two of them.

“Mr. Ushimaru, sir! Sorry, we got lost.” Ryuji replied.

Well, at least Ryuji didn’t say that they were stuck in a castle this time.

“Unacceptable! We got a call from the police about you two! You!” He pointed at Akira, “Are you the new transfer student?”

Akira nodded. The man’s stern expression grew into an intense sneer. Well, that wasn’t unexpected. He probably knew his record.

“Get in here. We’re going to the Principle and you will explain yourselves!” Before they could go up the stairs, another man came out the front door.

He was tall with a carefree smile. He made his way towards Mr. Ushimaru, “What’s going on here?”

He recognized him immediately. Kamoshida. The man in the speedo.

It was easy to see that Kamoshida was actually really tall. Did Japanese people ever get that tall? When he reached Mr. Ushimaru, he towered over him. He was shorter than in the palace though.

Akira’s jaw tightened. This guy had tried to kill him.

His blood boiled the more he looked at him. Did he know what that other version of him had done to them? He didn’t look furious at seeing them, so probably not.

Akira desperately wanted to kick his face again. To hit him over and over until his skull caved in. Looking at this man was driving him insane. He had to forcibly distract himself by focusing on Mr. Ushimaru.

It didn’t work and he was soon stirring himself up by looking at the man.

“You seem so carefree Sakamoto. Quite a difference from when you did morning runs on the track team.” Kamoshida’s voice was teasing, but the carefree and jovial smile made it seem like he was just being friendly.

Akira could see the truth in his eyes though. He had gotten good at reading people's faces, looking for what they truly believed. This man hated Ryuji.

Ryuji hated him too, “Hey! Shuddup, it's your fault that -”

Mr. Ushimaru cut in before he could finish, “HEY! Watch the way you speak to Mr. Kamoshida!”

Flabbergasted Ryuji responded, “He was the one that -”

“Now, now. I might have stepped over a line.” Kamoshida interrupted, neither of them seemed to want to let Ryuji speak. “We both messed up, let's forget about it.”

At his words, the other teacher quieted down. He bowed his head slightly, and stepped back. Akira noticed the power shift. Such a stern teacher being showing deference to a gym teacher? It seemed Ryuji wasn’t kidding when he said the man ran the school.

“And you? Are you the new transfer student?”

Akira nodded his head, and the hate on his face became more pronounced. This man really didn’t like him either. He probably liked him less than he liked Ryuji too by the way he wasn’t even trying to hide the hate on his face. Mr. Ushimaru couldn’t see his face now though, maybe that had something to do with how blatant he was being.

“You better watch yourself.” The words were biting. There was a massive amount of aggression in the way he spoke and the way he held himself. It was a direct threat. Try anything and he would be there. He’d like to see this man try to stop him if he wanted to do something.

“Lay off him!” Ryuji cut in.

That surprised Akira. Ryuji stood up for him? That was nice of him, unneeded but nice. Akira looked at him and nodded his thanks. Looking back Kamoshida didn’t look happy.

“Hey. I’m trying to be a nice guy here. Sakamoto, you need to watch yourself. You’re on thin ice as it is. You too Kurusu.” Kamoshida voice lost its playfulness. He was being just as aggressive with Ryuji now. It quieted Ryuji.

“Get in there and get to class. I’ll overlook this for today, but I don’t want to see you late again. Especially you Kurusu.” Kamoshida turned around and headed back into the building with Mr. Ushimaru following him.

He would overlook this? Did he have the authority for that? He’d ponder it more later. A few moments after the teachers entered the building, Ryuji walked towards the entrance.

“Come on dude, as they said, we’re on thin ice.” He mocked, “I don’t know why you are though. You just got here.” Luckily, he didn’t ask anymore and they parted ways soon after that.

______________________________________________________________________

Ms. Kawakami was standing outside the door to his classroom when he arrived. She also didn’t look happy to see him. He was getting used to it.

“Where were you!? I’ve been worried all day about you! I can’t have a new student already skipping class!” She chastised him, “And you were with Sakamoto!? This is a bad start for you.” She shook her head side to side and he felt a little bad.

That feeling died quickly when he remembered how she looked at him the day before.

“Come in and introduce yourself. Please don’t say anything weird, please.” She opened the door for him.

He entered the room and looked around. Everyone in the room tensed up as he entered. All the chit chat stopped. People were looking at him with fear in their eyes.

His blood ran cold. They knew. His mouth went dry as he thought about it. They knew.

He recomposed himself. Couldn’t show weakness.

“I’m Kurusu Akira.” He paused then walked over and took the only open spot available, behind the pretty blonde girl he had seen earlier. She looked at him with the same fear in her eyes as he passed her. She was with Kamoshida earlier too. Maybe they had some kind of thing together? Now he was starting to hate her too.

He stayed quiet as Kawakami restarted her lecture. How had everyone found out about his record? Had it been leaked by a teacher? He had just started there, how had he made any enemies. Wait, dumb thought. Of course he had enemies. Every teacher he met so far outwardly disliked to hated him. It wasn’t a stretch to think one of them, or a few of them, had leaked his record to try to get him forced out.

Well, he could deal with that. People not liking him? People afraid of him? So what. No matter what happened Juvie, well basically prison, was worse.

He just didn’t like the sidelong glances everyone in the room was giving him. It was putting him on edge.

When he found the person who leaked his records, he could only imagine what he would do. Thoughts of dark alleys and broken bodies filled his mind.

The bell rang half an hour later. Many students packed up and left, while others began whispering to their friends. It was lunchtime it seemed, and Akira hadn’t brought anything.

Oh god, oh god, he's in our class.

I heard he murdered someone and that's why he was sent to Juvie.

Don’t look at him. I heard that he nearly killed someone for looking at him wrong. Oh SHIT look away!

Akira left the classroom after that. Walking through the halls wasn’t any better. Every single student was looking at him the same way that his classmates had. He was taller than everyone in the halls so he couldn’t hide behind anything. He made his way up the stairs as fast as he could, and went to the roof.

The door was unlocked. No one was up there though, and Akira wanted to keep it that way. He looked at the lock on the door and saw that it was a simple turn based lock that could be undone from the outside, but would need a key from the inside. Relocking it, he walked behind the building that held the staircase and sat down in the shade.

What had happened to his life? He bit back angry tears at the thought of it. He would not cry.

He had been way too optimistic. He thought at least the students wouldn’t hate him. Now, there wasn’t anyone left that he could interact with. The only person possible was Ryuji, but even he would probably not want to talk to him after he learned about his record.

His thoughts spiraled around in his brain about how lonely and miserable this next year would be. He was getting more and more depressed as he sat there. He had no one left.

His feelings of insecurity and fear gave way to anger. His body started to burn up as he thought about the people that had wronged him.

How dare the student body judge him like this? They didn’t know him, his situation, what kind of person he was, his innocence!

How dare a teacher, a person that was supposed to look after him, do this! His breath was coming out in heavy pants now. He curled up against the wall and rested his arms on his kneecaps.

The voice that was in his mind earlier was now chanting. He could feel it driving him up the wall. Good thing he was alone, if someone had been around and looked at him with those scared eyes he wasn't sure if he could hold himself back from going off on them. He just wanted to yell at one of them.

Why did he care though? It was just some dumb students.

He breathed in deeply. Just some dumb students. None of them mattered. If people wanted to be afraid of him, fine. If any of them tried anything, he would give them something to be afraid of.

He took some more calming breaths and tried to clear the haze in his brain. He read a few times that meditation and deep breathing could help a person calm down. It took a while but it worked. The voice inside of him quieted.

Looking down at his watch, he saw that he had only ten minutes left before he had to get back to class. He was starving, but he could grab something on his way ‘home’. Maybe he could use his measly amount of yen to buy ramen.

He got up. He was alone now. There would be no one on his side. That comforted him for some reason. He was used to that. No one had been on his side for a long time.

He had been through worse. Get through this year, move away, start a new life. None of this would matter soon. He could do it.

______________________________________________________________________

The school day passed by quickly after that. The stares and whispers didn’t stop, but he was getting used to them. Surprisingly it was starting to make him feel better. It was good to have people afraid of you. In Juvie that had saved him a few times. He didn’t believe that being happy that people were afraid of him was normal, but if it was improving his mood so he didn’t think too much about it.

Akira waited in his class for a few minutes after the final bell and then moved back upstairs. He was 50/50 on if Ryuji would be there. After hearing about his record the guy probably decided he would rather investigate on his own or something. He reached the entrance to the roof, and after confirming that no one was watching, opened the door and headed out.

There he was.

“Yo! Dude!” Ryuji came walking over from the side, smiling and waving.

“You’re here?” Akira asked, surprised.

Ryuji frowned. “Yeah? Why wouldn’t I be.” It took him a moment but then his face lit up in understanding, “OH! Your record! Yeah dude, I know, I don’t really care. You did your time. Isn’t that the point of Juvie? Do your time and you’re forgiven? Plus, you saved my life and got me out of that ‘Palace’. You can’t be that bad.” He was smiling again.

Akira smiled at him. A genuine smile. At least one person was willing to talk to him.

“Thank you. I appreciate that.” Akira said.

Ryuji nodded and waved his hand, as if to say it was no big deal. It was, but Akira didn’t say anything.

“It’s no problem man, I’m sorry for the rest of the students though. Who leaked your record? I bet it was Kamoshida!” He slammed his fist into his palm.

He was probably right too. Kamoshida was a likely candidate.

“I don’t know who did it, but it doesn't matter. I don’t really care how anyone looks at me.”

“That’s good dude, stay positive! We gotta talk about that place we visited though! What the hell was that!” Ryuji pulled sat in one of the abandoned desks on the roof, “The cat explained a bit, but do you think that it was real though?”

Akira didn’t know what he meant by that, of course it was real. “Well, yeah, how else would we both have seen it.”

Ryuji scratched his head at that and hummed.

Akira continued “Check yourself for bruises. Mine healed up when the fire thing happened, but maybe you still have some.”

Ryuji pulled his shirt up slightly, and there it was on his side. A large purple bruise. Proof that what had happened was real.

“It wasn’t a dream…” Ryuji looked dumbfounded and Akira couldn’t blame him.

How the guy hadn’t felt that massive bruise on his side before this didn’t make sense, but nothing really made sense today. Ryuji was kind of thick to be fair.

“Well… do we go back?” Ryuji looked hesitant after saying that.

“Go back?” He still wasn’t sure if he wanted to or not. “Hmmm…”

He thought about it, go back to the place where he had almost been killed?

Ryuji’s face grew stern, “Yeah, remember those guys we saw in there. We have to go save them.” He looked solemn after remembering them.

His fellow students, right.

Akira was even more torn now. He didn’t like any of the students in this school, he was starting to hate them actually. But did anyone deserve to be locked up in there? He knew firsthand how awful it was. His sense of justice was calling out to him. Hadn’t he promised himself that he would help people in need? People that deserved it? He had reaffirmed that to Arsene when they met, so could he just ignore these students? They might not even know him yet, considering they had been trapped. He didn’t think they deserved to be locked in there.

But to go back? To where he had almost died? Could he put his life at risk again and go back into the castle and see… Kamoshida.

Remembering the man made him grind his teeth. His pulse quickened as he thought of the man threatening to kill him, and almost making good on his threat. How dare he try to kill him. The thought of the man telling his guards to finish him off sent waves of rage coursing through him. That pushed him over the edge.

“Yeah, we go back.” He had to go back. He had to wipe the grin off that man’s face and shove him into the ground. He had to beat that man savagely for ever even thinking of trying to kill him. Save the student’s too, he guessed. Somewhere in there.

That excited Ryuji who began wildly smiling.

“Alright! After school tomorrow then! We can meet up and retrace our steps!” Ryuji hopped off the desk and walked towards the stairwell. “I gotta get home, but let’s meet in front of the school after class tomorrow! Here give me your contact ID.” They traded numbers. This would be Akira’s first contact, after Sae. His first friend in a way too.

“You know, I think we’re going to get along just fine as delinquents. See ya dude!” He waved his hand and left Akira alone, who followed after him shortly. His first friend huh?

______________________________________________________________________

“Kurusu-san!” A voice shout out.

Seemed like another person wanted to talk to him. Turning his head, he saw an angry Makoto Niijima approaching him. She had already known about his record, right? Why was she mad?

“Yes, Niijima-senpai?”

“I’ve been waiting for you all day! I showed up early to try and meet you, where were you!” She looked very frustrated. Why was she waiting?

“I apologize, I got lost on the subway. Why were you waiting? Does Sae-san need something?” It felt a little awkward to call her Sae-san. Maybe he would refer to her as Niijima-san and see how that felt. Sae also had his number, why wouldn’t she just text him?

“You were missing during lunch too!” She continued, “It’s been very hard to track you down. Then I hear you showed up late with Sakamoto? You really shouldn’t be seen with him. On top of that, while he’s not the best student, he knows the area, there's no way he would be four hours late normally. I don’t know what happened, but you’re not starting the school year well.” She looked exasperated.

Another person telling him off for being with Ryuji. People around here really didn’t like him. That made Akira want to see the guy more.

“I’m sorry, I found somewhere quiet during lunch so I could be alone.”

Her look softened a bit after hearing his reasoning. She had to have heard the rumors being thrown around school about him.

She nodded, “Well, that's acceptable, but I’ve been looking for you. I was requested by your teacher to tutor you, to help you catch back up to the curriculum.”

Ahh. Now, that made sense. It would look bad on the school if they failed to rehabilitate the criminal they took in. They would look weak.

“You could have had your sister text me. But yeah, that’s fine.”

She blushed, and then looked slightly surprised at that, she must have expected him to say no.

“What times do you want to study?” Akira asked.

It took her a few seconds to clear her throat and reorient herself. Just another person assuming he was a good for nothing criminal who didn’t want to learn.

“Well, we can meet after school in the library. I have a lot of work to do but we can get a lot done in an hour or two. We can have you catch up a decent amount by the first wave of tests.”

Akira nodded, “When do you want to start?”

“We can start tomorrow.”

Oh, that wouldn’t work, he had just made plans with Ryuji.

This was difficult. He couldn’t say no to her as, admittedly, he needed the help. Self-teaching oneself for a full year didn’t prepare him well for actual school. The Juvenile hall he was sent to wasn’t well known for its thriving population of scholars. No good teachers, or even decent teachers, ever taught there. If a teacher even came at all. It wasn’t safe for teachers there.

Akira had been left, mostly, to his own devices for the past year. Any teachings that were possible he accepted, but those classes were always extremely rudimentary and he never learned much. They always were cancelled soon after they were started too.

But he couldn’t say he made after school plans with another delinquent, it might scare her off helping him. She would think he wasn’t interested in learning. But he also couldn’t cancel his other plans.

“I can’t start tomorrow.”

Makoto blinked a few times, not expecting that. “Why not? How would you have plans on day two of school? We have to hit the ground running on this. You’re taking Pre-Calculus and English two, both of which I’m not sure you’re ready for.”

She was right. How did she know his classes?

She noticed his confused look “I saw your folder...” She looked bashful at that, and a little nervous, “I didn’t mean to pry but the Principal wanted me to know. He said it was important I know, as student council president, about you. I couldn’t say no.” Makoto didn’t want to admit, but she had been a little curious about him too. She could have not actually read any of the notes, but she wanted to know more about the guy that would be living with her.

Akira didn’t mind too much. But it did make him think, if the man was willing to share his folder so easily, what else was he willing to share? Maybe he shared his record? That didn’t make much sense though. The man had let him in, why try to force him out? Why accept him in the first place then? Akira didn’t know, but god help whoever did release his records when he found them.

“It's not that big a deal. You would find out soon anyways. I’m not sure why he felt that necessary, but at least now you know what you're working with.” He let out a short laugh at his own expense. “My history is okay but you’re right. I’m not ready for any languages or any math.”

Makoto nodded at him knowingly.

Akira continued, “Sakura-san wants me to come back after school tomorrow so he can show me something. I’m not sure why it's important but he thinks it is.” He lied. No point in telling her he was going to spend the day with Ryuji. She might find out if they were seen together, but he would just have to be careful.

“Alright, fine, we can start on Wednesday. Tests come fast so we have to get ready.”

Akira nodded.

“I have to go now, but don’t forget. Wednesday. I’ll meet you after class.” She turned around and left.

There were plenty of whispers popping up about the two of them already, just from that short talk.

Wow, this was a gossipy school. Whatever, he wouldn’t let it get to him ever again. The rest of the students gave him a wide berth as he walked down the hall. No one was even going to try to see if the rumors were true, they were too extreme. The first person to test them though, to see if he was as scary as people thought, was going to regret it.

____________________________________________________________________

He made it back ‘home’ soon. He was getting used to the train system in Tokyo. Walking into the cafe, only Sojiro was there. The bell rang and alerted the man who looked up from one of his brewing stations. He didn’t look happy.

“Hey, I got an interesting call from your school today. Late on the first day?” He was tapping his foot and looking at him expectedly. He looked more furious than Akira had ever seen him.

But, admittedly, Akira had only known him for three days.

Akira shrugged. “I apologize. The subway was more difficult than I thought and I got lost. It was an accident.”

Sojiro looked away and sighed. He seemed to have accepted his answer. The anger on his face had disappeared almost immediately.

“Four hours though? You really don’t have any leniency. Be more careful and leave earlier tomorrow. I don’t think you can be late again without repercussions.” The man grabbed his hat and walked around the end of counter. He moved towards the entrance, passing Akira. Before he could reach the door, his phone rang.

“Hello? Yeah. I closed half an hour ago. I’ll be home in ten minutes. I’ll tell you about it when I see you. Well, just wait. Don’t take that tone with… alright fine. I’ll be back soon.”

Talking to the mysterious person who lived with him again? Akira wasn’t going to bring it up.

Sojiro hung up his phone and finished his walk towards the door. “Go to sleep. I’ll lock up today but you’re going to have to start taking care of that tomorrow. Turn off the lights too, I’ll see you after school.”

He hesitated as he reached the door.

“Just, don’t be late again. I tried to cover for you but they didn’t believe me. I can’t help you much here.” Sojiro left after that.

Akira was incredibly surprised. Sojiro tried to cover for him? That man didn’t make any sense. Furious at him one second, then the nicest man he’d met in a year the next.

Before he reached the stairs, he noticed a fresh plate of curry sitting out on the counter. Another kindness? Sojiro, for all the confusion, was earning Akira’s favor very quickly. A quick meal, it was even still warm, and he was back upstairs and off to sleep.

It wasn’t good sleep. All he could dream about was a blue prison cell and its unique wardens.

Chapter Text

April 12
Tuesday
Cloudy

Makoto stood near the entrance to Shujin academy, patiently waiting for Akira to show up.

To be honest, he scared her a bit. Sae told her all about his time in Juvie. Apparently, he had been a troublemaker. Her movies had made it clear what being a troublemaker meant. In a dumb move she had rewatched one of her old favorites where a member of the Yakuza goes to prison and has to fight to survive. It was a huge action thriller, but it made her think of the fights Akira must have got in, and that scared her.

Juvenile halls were supposed to be well regimented. How’d he become a troublemaker?

He had been arrested for assault too, which didn’t help quell her thoughts.

Sae had warned her to keep her distance, but kinda hard to do when they were going to be living together. She didn’t tell Sae that.

However, she was the student council president and had been asked by a teacher to help him. She couldn’t say no to helping a student, that was her job.

This whole thing was easier before he made friends with the biggest delinquent in Shujin on day one. She didn’t like to think the worst of anyone, but he wasn’t making it easy. He hid himself well, but she had seen the real him on that first day, just for a second after they met the principal. She saw a fire in his eyes that scared her.

She breathed out as students passed by her and entered the school. Considering the crowd, she was able to easily spot her new “study buddy”, and his new friend. He was taller than any of the students around him, and with Ryuji’s bright hair, they were pretty noticeable.

There he was. Clearing her throat, she walked towards the front of the steps as the two of them approached her.

He’s big. Makoto blushed to herself. She shook her head.

Ryuji’s face had on a giga watt smile as he chatted at Akira. He seemed to be doing all the talking as Akira just nodded his head every few seconds. They noticed her looking expectantly at them.

“Yo, Prez! What’s happening?” Ryuji called out while doing a mock salute.

“Sakamoto. Your shirts undone. And will you ever take that dye out of your hair?” Makoto sighed and gripped her books tighter as the two of them walked the rest of the way up to her.

Ryuji pulled his shirt closed, but made no actual effort to fix it. “Yeah, I’m getting around to it.” He laughed to himself, placing a hand behind his head.

He had said the same thing every time she asked. It had been like this for months now, no teachers could do anything.

“Please do. It’s technically not a dress code violation but the school would appreciate it. Could you please give me and Kurusu-san a moment?” Makoto asked politely.

Ryuji gave another quick salute, clasped Akira on the shoulder, and walked into the building.

Here he was, the deranged Criminal, as her fellow students had called him.

“Niijima-san, is something the matter?”

“No, nothing’s wrong, I just wished to talk with you about something before school.” They scooted to the side as people passed by them. She could overhear some of their chatter, it wasn’t polite.

She restarted, “I’m just making sure you found the school today.” She joked. He didn’t laugh. Comedic timing wasn’t her strong suit. “Well… um… seeing as you found it. Are we still on for tomorrow?”

Wow, this was more awkward than she could have ever imagined. Replaying it in her head, she could see how she might have come off as rude or condescending. Oops.

He looked down at her. She couldn’t see his eyes due to a glare on his glasses. Should have angled myself better. She chastised herself.

“Yeah, we’re good. I’m behind on a few subjects. I’m looking forward to it” He smiled.

Woo, Makoto felt better. He wasn’t upset at her comment.

Akira scratched the back of his head as her silence continued. She could see a good deal more muscle on his arm then most Shujin students had.

“Umm, I’m going to go to class now. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He started to walk away.

“Yes. Good. I’ll see you in the library tomorrow!” She called out.

He stopped and called back. “Yes, tomorrow.”

“Good.”

“Good, goodbye.” He muttered.

“Did you say something?”

“No, uh, I just said good, goodbye.”

“Oh, yes, goodbye. See you tomorrow” He sped away before she could finish saying tomorrow.

She took a few breaths to collect herself.

Oh. My. God. She had to go around the corner and find a quiet spot where she was alone. That was. The. Most. Awkward. Experience of her entire life. It was painful it was so awkward. Why had she forgotten how to talk like a normal person? Jeez, she didn’t have many friends but she wasn’t… That!

This was worse than when that boy had asked her out last year. When she was with Sae. That was bad for everyone.

But for this, she had no real reason. He was intimidating, yeah, but also tall, muscular, and he had an intense look in his eye. He would have been cute or good looking if she didn’t know his past. She didn’t think she was that intimidated by him, so why was she so awkward just then!

Whatever, it happens. Everyone's awkward sometimes. Especially with new people. New people she had been specifically warned not to get close to.

She wasn’t, like, terrified of him either. Just a little off put. What a mess. This wouldn’t be fun.

What would she do if Sae found out? Oh, jeez, that COULDN’T happen.

She didn’t want nearly as much interaction with this new transfer student as she had. But life had other plans it seemed.

Makoto calmed herself outside for a moment longer. Akira was already friends with Sakamoto. That didn’t spell well for him.

Sakamoto was a mystery. He seemed nice, but he had tried to assault Kamoshida near the end of his first year. He barely made it to his second year here.

Near the end of last year, he had dyed his hair a bright yellow too. He had no friends, he ate lunch alone every day. Makoto felt bad sometimes, but she had her own problems to deal with.

She couldn’t solve everyone's issues.

Jeez, why even take Akira in? Sae had told her that his grandfather praised him, and begged her endlessly before he died, to do so. Sae never said why she respected the man enough to accept this. Makoto never met the man though, so she just had to trust Sae, which she did with all her heart.

However, Akira seemed like he could become a problem down the line.

______________________________________________________________

Lunchtime

Akira walked through the crowded Shujin hallways. Everyone gave him a wide berth.

“You hear he killed someone?”

“I heard he crippled someone in Juvie.”

“I think... Oh shit look away!”

That last group scurried off as Akira looked their way. He didn’t mind the rumors anymore. It was kind of funny how extreme they were. He’d learned quickly in Juvie that it was better to be seen as a threat than someone that could be walked over.

This wasn’t Juvie, but using that reasoning was making him feel better. On another upside, nobody would be messing with him anytime soon, on account of him murdering at least a dozen people apparently.

Akira found his way to a patio in the center of the school. There were vending machines lining both walls. A few students were sitting at the only table there, but a quick stare had them all shuffle off. Finally, alone, he went to the nearest vending machine to look what he could get for lunch.

“Yo, buddy, what’s up?” Ryuji’s voice called out.

He had made it.

Ryuji clasped him on the shoulder. “Whatchu got for lunch?”

“Whatever these vending machines have.” There weren’t many food options either.

“For real? Here, take some of my bread.” Ryuji took a seat and tore his moist loaf of bread in half.

Nodding thankfully, Akira sat at the small table with him. He downed his entire half in less than a few seconds. The food didn’t fill him up much.

“So, look dude I really appreciate you going back in for those guys, even though you don’t know them. I feel like I need to tell you some more about Kamoshida.”

Akira sat up straighter. He had been going at this just for personal revenge, it was time to find out what the man had done to others.

“Guy’s a monster.” Ryuji whispered, “Look, he got hired here a few years back right? So, he comes in and is pretty normal from what I’ve heard. But, he revolutionizes the volleyball team. Within two years we were second at regionals and in his third year we made it to nationals! Last year the girls squad came in second too, second in nationals! Second! They are supposed to win it all this year, and the guys team is good too.”

So what? the guy was a good coach, how did he get so much control over the school?

Ryuji continued, “So, he’s this great coach and now Shujin is on all these lists as THE up and coming school to go to. Like, we shot up like thirty spots in the national school rankings since he got here! We weren’t that low on the list before either. People love him for that, and the principal lets him do whatever as long as it keeps happening.”

Ryuji leaned back and let out a breath, “Now, here's the bad part. Again, he was a normal guy it seemed at first. The 3rd years I knew last year said he was a good dude. I actually looked up to the guy at first, just like everyone in this school does. A little background on me too, I got into Shujin on a track scholarship. I was actually zoned for a different school, but they didn’t have a good program there.”

Akira was surprised, Ryuji didn’t seem like much of a runner with his awful posture.

“So, midway through my first year here, Kamoshida took over the track team. Apparently, our old coach had been stealing money from the school, but I don’t buy it. He was an amazing coach who was one of the nicest guys I knew. But, that’s another story though. Basically, when he took over, life went to hell. His training sessions were brutal. They were insane. Nearly everyone dropped out, it was like me and maybe ten guys left by the end. Something happened between me and Kamoshida and the track team was disbanded. They let me stay here cause Kamoshida said it was a mistake and my mom moved apartments to be closer to the school.”

“Thank you for that, Kamoshida’s awful huh?”

“You don’t even know, I just want you to understand why everyone loves him, and why they ignore the things he does. There’s rumors everywhere about the awful, terrible, things he does to the volleyball team now too. Worse than what was going on with the track team. Dudes a charmer so he’s allowed to abuse students daily and still have a job, right? If you don’t fall for the fake smile, then you love the recognition. If you don’t fall for either, you don’t have the power to do anything. Guy’s an absolute monster. We have to take him down.”

“Is that why there was a student in a gym uniform in the castle? Is that a member of the volleyball team?”

“Yeah dude! That’s right! I don’t know how he got there, or what's really going on, but those guys play a part. Look, he's a scumbag of a human being. We need to stop him. I just wanted you to know what he was doing that made him such scum.”

“Yeah, there’s something off about him. I noticed it when we met on the stairs. Do you know what he does during their training?”

“No, sadly it's kept under tight raps. But, try to look around, when you see a student covered in bandages, with bruises everywhere and maybe a broken bone, they’re probably on the volleyball team.”

They continued talking but, across the way, Makoto noticed the two of them chattering at the table.

Oh god she thought This could be trouble.

She had nothing against Ryuji personally, but rumors and history did mean something. She didn’t think him and Akira spending time together would be good for Shujin.

“Kurusu-san.” She chimed in before Akira could ask Ryuji anymore questions.

Makoto, the cute student council president, had come to join them. She strode up to their table.

She put on a small, strained, smile. “We’re still on for tomorrow, right?”

Ryuji’s jaw dropped, “Wait! You have a date with the president!” He bellowed and shot up from his seat, pointing an accusatory finger at them. “Dude! I can’t even get a date, and I’ve been here for a year!”

Makoto’s face lit up a bright red. Phrasing stupid. She thought.

“No, I mean are we still on for studying later today. After school, nothing intimate is going on. Trust me.” She blushed even more and began to fidget with her hands.

Akira laughed, “Yeah, we talked about this a few hours ago. I’ll meet you then, I want to learn don’t worry.”

Makoto’s small smile slid down her face. “Yes, I just saw you and wanted to make sure. Lunch period is ending soon so you two should go back to your separate classes.”

Akira’s smile dropped too. He caught what she was trying to say, she wasn’t very subtle.

It was clear to see she wanted them not to be talking to each other.

“Yeah, let me grab my stuff.”

Makoto nodded and looked down to unruffle her skirt. Akira took that moment to meet Ryuji's eyes. Ryuji nodded. They would talk more later.

Akira grabbed his bookbag and got up. He passed by Makoto and made his way back inside.

God that girl was awkward. He hadn’t had any good interactions with her, but he would have to push through it. He would be living with her soon and needed her help if he wanted to pass classes.

He just wished she wouldn’t try to stop him from seeing Ryuji. He didn’t like people trying to tell him what to do.

____________________________________________________________

They had made it back to the grand hall of the castle. The Cat, Morgana, had met up with them at the entrance. He had heard their commotion and investigated. Luckily, the guards were too stupid to check it out too.

Ryuji had raised a fit at Morgana’s arrival. Akira didn't trust the creature fully either, but he was glad to have him there. Having backup here would be helpful.

Ryuji had been helpful too. He had brought a toy gun for a stupid reason. Why would he think that Akira would use a toy gun to hold up monsters shooting fire and lighting at him? Maybe it would work once or twice, but Akira didn't want to take the risk of the monster getting mad and leaving him wide open.

The fact that the gun actually worked surprised all of them. But it was going to be incredibly useful.

This pistol, it felt… right in his hand. Like they had been made for each other. He had felt the same way about his knife, but that had literally been formed from his consciousness for him.

He was good with it too. Almost every shot he was taking was on the money. He had never used a gun before either. This level of control and precision was amazing.

They weren’t easy shots either. The Shadows, as Morgana called them, moved around quickly once they took their true forms. He had to aim carefully to hit some of the flying jack o lantern ones.

Today got even weirder after one of the fights, the Jack-o-Lantern went down and Morgana told him to interrogate it, saying he could get money or items from it. That was useful as he had already made more than enough money for groceries this week just from killing shadows, so why not get some more.

But then, halfway through the interrogation, the thing said he wanted to join him, then it flew straight at him and into his skull. It terrified him at first. Arsene calmed him down and explained what was happening. Apparently, he could now use the skills of the creature when he fought.

And it worked. He could use fire based attacks now. The Jack-o-Lantern didn’t speak much, it just made wild noises of encouragement sometimes.

It seemed to be able to share its raw emotions with him, which he didn’t understand it, but when it got bloodthirsty, it made Akira more bloodthirsty. And when he felt cautious, Akira was put on edge. All conversation ran through Arsene though, who translated most of what it was saying.

Fighting was making more sense too.

When Arsene got hurt, Akira didn’t physically get hurt, but he started to feel more and more physically drained after every hit. He got sluggish after a lot of hits, and even almost passed out at one point. Morgana used a healing spell on Arsene and he felt reawakened.

Also, when he used too many spells in a row he felt drained. It wasn’t the same kind of drained as with physical hits, his movements weren't affected, but he just felt an emptiness that was hard to describe. It was like, a well inside of him had dried up. He would have to take a break after a fight to rest up and drink a soda and it normally fixed him up a bit.

Switching between Arsene and Jack-o-Lantern was tiring too. He had to be careful not to make unnecessary changes too much. It affected his stamina and pulled from that indescribable well. Maybe with more training it would become easier.

But he also couldn’t have the two out at once. He had tried for a second and it felt like his head would explode. He was forced to vomit in a corner while Morgana had to beat both enemies by himself. The migraine he got after it was still hurting him, his head pulsed with a vicious beat.

Morgana explained to him that having more than one Persona was unheard of. It was actually supposed to be impossible. Morgana had never seen anyone have more than one persona, or ever seen a Shadow join forces with a Persona user. But after some prodding Morgana did admit he had never met another Persona user, so Akira didn’t know what to believe.

Physically, he felt amazing. He was faster, stronger, more agile, more balanced. Everything about him was improved, and he couldn’t wait to push the limits of what he could do. Just how strong could he be here? Maybe strong enough to kill shadows with his bare hands? The thought excited him. He could feel his bloodlust rise.

He had to be careful though. He had almost made a few key mistakes. He was stronger, yes, he was strong enough to take a fire blast to the face that had terrified Ryuji. A move that should have killed him only left a few mild burns and some red marks. It hurt like hell, but a quick heal from Morgana got rid of all the pain. He was happy to have the Cat around even more now.

But it did leave him knowing that, even as strong as he was now, he still had to be cautious. His body could take hits when he went in to fight. When Arsene took damage, it would affect Akira mentally. But when Akira went took damage, he took damage physically.

Morgana said that if Arsene took enough damage, Akira would faint. But Akira doubted that he would just pass out if his own body took too much damage.

Overall, there was a lot more to test out in regard to his abilities. With more training, who knows what he could do? How strong could he get? Enough to tear down walls? How fast could he get? How agile? And what about with his other abilities? Could he get good enough to use more than one persona?

He was getting more and more excited. He would be coming back soon to push the limits of what he could do.

But not everything was going well. They had found more students getting tortured in various prison cells. It was brutal. It made him feel disgusted.

The students in there in no way deserved what was being done to them. Especially the ones who had… failed to survive the torture. Thinking back to their mangled bodies made him want to vomit, Ryuji had vomited. Akira didn’t know if he could hold himself back next time he saw the real Kamoshida.

Morgana had explained that these were all just figments of Kamoshida’s cognition. None of them were real. The ones being tortured must be current members of the volleyball team, while the.... dead ones must have been students who weren’t on the team anymore. Ryuji memorized their faces. He would know them better than Akira would.

Even if real life wasn’t as brutal as this, it still confirmed that Kamoshida was torturing students. He needed to fix this. He would never forgive himself if he let people suffer like that, even if he didn’t like them. They hadn’t committed any gross crimes, they just didn’t like him.

His rage at Kamoshida drove him forward. How dare the man stand there, smile, and charm people when inside, he was a monster. The two-faced snake needed to be dealt with.

Morgana had explained distorted desires and how the palace came to be. If this was how he viewed the world Akira knew what he had to do. He had to stop this man before anyone got seriously, irreparably, hurt.

“You knaves again?” Kamoshida’s voice called out.

Ah, there he was. Akira saw the man as he turned around. It sent waves of fire coursing through him as the voice in his head, he assumed it was Arsene, began screaming. There was another, higher pitched, voice in there too. Probably Jack-o-Lantern.

This time though, Kamoshida wasn’t taking any chances. The man had ten guards surrounding him.

That was bad. Akira was getting better, and with the gun he now had a lot of options to fight with. But he had only fought up to three Shadows at once this trip.

That powerup he got when he first awakened his Persona seemed to be a onetime thing. The insane amount of power that poured out of him hadn’t happened again, no matter how hard he tried. It was probably just a onetime thing.

Akira took a few steps back. They had to get out of here, they couldn’t fight this many in the open. And not with Ryuji here either, any blow would kill him.

“To think you’d come back. You’ll die here for your assault on the king.” Kamoshida moved towards them.

Ryuji stepped forward, out of Akira’s reach, “You’re not the king of Shujin Kamoshida! We’re gonna take you down!” He took another step forward.

Akira moved towards him to try to cover him, standing behind him. He was ready to move if the guards did.

“I memorized the faces of your victims. When we get out of here we’re going to end your reign.” Ryuji said seriously.

Kamoshida laughed, “It seems it’s true when they say, ‘barking dogs seldom bite’. You’re not going to do anything.” He snapped his fingers and the guards moved towards them.

Akira went to jump in front of him when something slammed into him from behind. What!? He rolled onto his back but before he could get up a heavy boot slammed onto his back and held him down. He grabbed at the boot but a second soldier came in and held his arms down too.

They had snuck up from behind. He hadn’t even thought to look behind him. What a rookie mistake. He had been so focused on the ten soldiers behind him a few got behind them.

Looking to the side it looked like Morgana was down too. One of the guards had grabbed him from behind and was holding him still.

Ryuji was still standing though. The guards were leaving him alone as Kamoshida started pacing towards him.

“How far have you fallen from your track days? Up and coming tack star, leading the district in your first year? Popular, well-liked? Now look at you.” Kamoshida laughed. “Your only friend is that Criminal over there, you’re alone every day, you’re going to fail out of Shujin, and you’re about to die? How much worse can it get?”

Ryuji looked absolutely pissed, but he made no moves. They met eyes for a moment before Ryuji looked away, ashamed.

“You had so much potential. Then you go and mess it up by messing with me.” Kamoshida was standing directly in front of Ryuji now, smirking down at him. In a flash of movement Kamoshida hit him with a swift backhand that sent Ryuji stumbling back.

Akira could see Ryuji better now. His eyes were alight with rage. They reminded him of… himself.

“It’s not really your fault though. I was going to destroy the track team one way or another. You were just the easiest to mess with, you always had that temper. Then, you did me an even bigger favor. You tried to fight me. I got complete justification for breaking that leg of yours. It was cathartic. Finally, to be done with you and your--”

“Shut up.”

“What did you say--”

“SHUT UP!” Ryuji’s breath was coming out in heavy pants.

Was he? Yes! He was! The same blue fire started to come out in waves from Ryuji. The Shadows holding him down were close enough to Ryuji to be consumed by the fire, freeing Akira.

Akira took the opening to stab the guard holding Morgana before it could recognize what was going on. The two of them nodded at each other, and began to work on the other two Shadows that had come in from behind them.

Ryuji, meanwhile, was raging. The fire coming from him was keeping any shadows from even trying to approach him. The boy was screaming at the top of his lungs.

Kamoshida couldn’t move, he was frozen in fear. The wind whipped at him, pushing him onto his back and on the ground.

Quickly finishing the guards behind them, who were too distracted to make any real defense against an angry Akira, he looked back towards Ryuji.

A mask, in the shape of a skull, had formed on his face. The boy grabbed at it and, in a sickening display, he pulled the mask loose tearing the skin from his face. It made a bloody mess that would disturb most people. It was affecting Kamoshida, who had been blown to the ground but still hadn’t run away.

At his angle he could see bits of muscle in between the massive amount of blood pouring down his face. Oh god, was this what Akira looked like?

In a flash of fire all of it disappeared. In its place, Ryuji now stood wearing a wicked looking, solid black ensemble. The main design was the skeleton theme that ran along the whole thing. His mask was a skull, while along his back was a dangerous looking metal spine. It made him look menacing. On his chest was a bright red tie resting on top of his solid black armor.

Completing the look were bright yellow gloves that were holding a metal pipe. It wasn’t nearly as intricate as Akira’s knife, but it still looked deadly. He had seen the kind of damage blunt weapon, like a metal pipe, could do.

On his back rest a large shotgun. That was weird, Akira hadn’t formed with a pistol so why did Ryuji have a shotgun? Maybe something to do with his cognition of what he was supposed to look like? It was only a guess but Akira wouldn’t complain.

Before Kamoshida could move, Ryuji stepped in towards him. He bashed the man across the face with his pipe, sending him spinning across the ground. When Kamoshida looked up he was holding a clearly dislocated jaw between his fingers. Blood was pouring out between them.

Akira was happy.

Behind Ryuji was a massive floating pirate ship. Standing on top of its skeletal pirate captain. The thing had on a stereotypical pirate’s outfit, with a hat with skull and crossbones and an eye patch over its right eye. Finally, it had a large cape flowing down from its back.

It looked monstrous. It had a clawed hand, like Arsene’s, on its left arm but the other arm had a massive cannon attached to it. It had an intense and intimidating glare with a look in it that seemed to spark like lightning.

“CAPTAIN KID!” Ryuji screamed and pointed his pipe at the assembled guards.

A massive lightning bolt came flying out from the canon, crashing into the uniformed guards. A few went down instantly, turning into mist, while the others took their true forms.

Looking over, Kamoshida had been escorted out of the room by a few guards. That left only three guards to fight the three of them.

Ryuji jumped in with an unexpected level of ferocity. He was swinging the pipe around like a maniac, catching a flying devil in the side and sending it to the ground. Ryuji bashed its head in before it could get any spells out. Taking the opening, Akira and Morgana jumped in to help, killing the pixie and flower thing quickly.

“Well, it looks like you survived.” Kamoshida’s voice called out above them.

Looking towards it, there he was. He was massaging his jaw, but otherwise it looked okay. He must have had a healer on his side too.

From behind him, a familiar blonde girl came walking out, clad in a revealing bikini. She looked gorgeous. But her whole outfit, with the cat ears resting on top of her head, made him feel uncomfortable. He felt wrong looking at her.

“Takamaki! What’re you doing here!?” Ryuji asked.

Right. Ann Takamaki. She sat in front of him in class.

“Woah… Wha.. What a meow-velous and beautiful girl!” Morgana added in.

Apparently, cats could be attracted to humans. Who knew? Maybe it had something to do with the cat ears.

“What’s… what’s going on?” Ryuji asked.

Something felt off about this whole thing.

Kamoshida grabbed Ann by her chin and pulled her face closer to his.

“LET GO OF HER YOU PERV!” Ryuji was getting angrier.

“How hard is this to understand? This is my castle. I own it. I can do whatever I want to in here, and everyone accepts it. They all want to be loved by me.”

“Takamaki! Say something!”

“Ryuji! It’s no use. She’s not real, she’s a figment of his cognition just like the other people in here.” Morgana cut in.

That seemed to calm Ryuji down slightly. He wasn’t any less likely to jump in recklessly now though.

“You jealous? I bet it's hard for a punk like you who's probably never even kissed a girl.”

Ann completed this by kissing Kamoshida on the cheek, a move that enraged Ryuji. He would have jumped in right then if Akira hadn’t grabbed his shoulder.

Akira never thought that he would be the voice of reason. He was getting more and more pissed watching this man take advantage of Ann. But, he didn’t know her well, and apparently Ryuji did so he had to be the logical one. It was making Ryuji much angrier than it was making him, something rare.

“Ah, looks like this isn't going to work.” Kamoshida said, disappointed.

A half dozen guards came pouring out from behind him, sprinting out from the hallways. So, it was a trap. Get Ryuji mad enough to jump in, and surround him. Good thing Akira had stopped him, or they could all be dead.

Even more guards came out of the hallways near them. All in all, it must have been fifteen guards in the room now, way too many to handle.

Kamoshida grabbed the fake Ann by the waist, and walked back down a hallway, leaving them behind.

“We’re outnumbered! We need to get out of here!” Morgana advised.

Akira agreed. They would gain nothing from fighting this out. He pulled on Ryuji’s shoulder, who still looked like he wanted to go after Kamoshida, and they sprinted away.

____________________________________________________________________

Making it out of the castle was easy after that. A few quick fights, he had gotten a horse called Bicorn to join his forces, and they were out. After leaving, Morgana had told them that it was their turn to help him. He needed to find his lost memories and they needed to pay him back for his hospitality.

The way he said it kind of pissed Akira off, the cat was bratty. Ryuji made it known that he had never agreed to anything though.

Akira felt a little bad, the creature was right. He did owe him for his help, both in explaining what was going on and for all the healing that he had done. Akira wasn’t sure if he would be alive without him.

He told Morgana that he needed time to think about it, and the two of them left. He did owe the creature, but he also didn’t know just how involved he wanted to get in this whole separate world. There was a lot of danger there, too much danger in some cases.

After getting out Ryuji had apologized to Akira, saying he was sorry for dragging him into this. Akira refuted that, he could have left at any time and not cared. He wanted to be there. He wanted to take down Kamoshida.

Both for personal reasons, and to help others. Mostly personal at this point.

Ryuji looked extraordinarily happy. They both talked more and agreed, they would take some time to prepare up before they went back in again. Fighting like that was exhausting, they would both need a long break before they could try again. It would also give them time to get better gear with all the money they had made.

That money could buy better melee weapons, better guns from that store Ryuji told him about, and more medicine that could save their lives. They needed time to prepare.
__________________________________________________________

?
?
?

His ears were ringing.

What day was it? Where was he?

God, everything hurt.

His vision swirled.

He lurched forward and rested his head on the edge of a table. It felt like he was going to vomit. It took a while, but he managed to refocus on the beautiful silver haired woman sitting in front of him. Sae. That was her. He lived with her.

Right?

She looked concerned, but made no motions to help him.

“Acting as a Phantom Thief would’ve been more efficient alone. You could’ve gone about it that way, but you must have seen some use in allies? Tell me. Am I wrong? Who did you pull into your crimes?”

She paused for a second.

“Did you try to pull me into some of those crimes?”

He could focus now. She cleared her throat and kept speaking.

“I need to know who you got involved, names, reasons, everything. Tell me more about Kamoshida, did his hospitalization have anything to do with the Phantom Thieves.”

He restarted his story.

________________________________________ ________________________

Ryuji’s stomach started growling wildly. He grinned and scratched the back of his head.

“Looks like fighting Shadows takes a lot out of a guy huh? I’m starving, why don’t we got get some ramen from a place nearby! I know a good one, my treat!” He asked.

Akira couldn’t refuse a free meal.

They walked for a bit to a small, out of the way, ramen restaurant. It didn’t take long for them to get seated and to put in their orders.

Ryuji was smiling, “This place is good, but I’ll take you to the best place in Tokyo next time!”

Huh, next time. It was weird to think about going to lunch with a friend.

“So… uh, dude. I don’t mean to pry or anything, but we’ve both almost died a few times and so I feel a sort of connection to you, and uh I just need to ask you something--”

What? Was this?

He cut in before it could go any further, “I’m sorry Ryuji, I didn’t know, I’m not, you know, into dudes or anything. Like, you’re cool and --”

“NO! DUDE! LISTEN TO ME!” He shot up and yelled anxiously, then realizing that everyone was listening, he sat back down and started whispering. “That’s, that’s not what I was trying to say. I was trying to ask, what did you really go to Juvie for?”

Oh. That. That might be worse than if Ryuji was coming out to him.

He was somehow less prepared for this. He hadn’t been asked about his sentencing in months. People always shared what they did and while his was one of the lighter punishments to have been assigned to that detention center, he always spiced up the story to make him seem intimidating.

He doubted that Ryuji wanted to hear the lie about how he assaulted five armed men because they looked at him wrong.

When was the last time he even claimed his innocence? It must have been his first day in Juvie. That’s right, he told a guard in a desperate attempt to get any acceptance. He still remembered the man's words.

“No one gives a shit.”

That had ended any attempts to try to tell people the truth. Who would care? It's not like anyone had believed him in the first place.

God, at least he’d seen a few sitcoms about what to do when your friend comes out of the closet. There wasn’t a sitcom episode about explaining the innocence to your incarceration.

“Well, all right, listen closely.”

Ryuji leaned in and kept quiet.

“Look, this is going to sound ridiculous. I don’t expect you to believe me, but this is what happened. I’m innocent.” Akira held his breath after that.

Ryuji didn’t move. He just kept looking at Akira.

“It was over a year ago, I was walking home and I heard a woman screaming for help. So, I ran over and there was some drunk guy harassing her. Before I could even see what was going on, he fell over and cut his head open.” Akira took a breath. “Everything was a blur at that point. He started screaming about suing, and then the cops arrived and he got the woman to be on his side and then everything just went downhill from there.”

Ryuji looked serious, more serious than Akira had ever seen him. “Wait, is that it? Really? So, you didn’t do it? How did he get the woman on his side?”

“I don’t know, I asked myself that a lot, I guess it was he had something on her. I don’t know how he got the cops on his side too. Maybe he bribed them. Look. I know this all sounds insane, I somehow didn’t do it, but everyone else involved lied continuously until I was sent to Juvenile Hall, but it's the truth.”

“So, who was the guy?”

“I don’t know. They never said his name, said it was for his safety from the insane defendant. That was what they actually said. My whole trial was a kangaroo court to be honest. I was in and sentenced in under half an hour. I spoke once and they prosecuted me.”

Akira didn’t like telling this story. He had cut out many of the details about his personal life leading up to the trial, and everything after the trial as well. It was hard to talk about the most miserable time in his life. He looked down at his hands. He was twiddling his thumbs. A nervous tick he used to have. Old habits die had he guessed.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. Looking up, Ryuji was smiling at him.

“Dude, if there's someone that understands no one believing you, it's me. I’ve only known you for a bit, but I trust you. You say a shitty adult ruined your life, well a shitty adult ruined mine. I’d be an asshole if I expected you to believe me and I didn’t believe you.”

That… that meant a lot.

Akira looked into his eyes. As far as he could tell, he wasn’t lying.

That... that was the first person who had ever told him that he believed he was innocent.

Akira had to wipe at his eye, giving a fake reason about dust and pollen.

“Ha, dude, don’t worry about it. You’re a good guy. In my case, the shitty adult is Kamoshida again. I told you about the track team, but I didn’t tell you everything. I tried to tell the school constantly about him, but no one believed me. They all told me to suck it up, so I did. But then he started getting worse. He started talking about my personal life, he was saying things about my mom, and I saw red dude, you know?”

Akira knew all about that.

“So, one second, he's making fun of me and my mom, and the next I’m punching him. But, I was some small, scrawny, first year. He had more than a foot on me and like, what one hundred, one hundred fifty pounds? It didn’t even phase him. No one was around so he literally picked me up, like over his head, and threw me down the stairs.”

Jesus, what the hell? Who does that in normal life?

“I broke my leg pretty bad, and by the time someone came to help, it was too late. I don’t like to talk about the specifics, but I can’t run like I used to. So, I got kicked off the track team, and then it got disbanded when Kamoshida told everyone I had tried to punch him, missed, and fell down the stairs. I was barely conscious and didn’t make it back to school for a week, so when I got back no one believed me. Not, my old teammates or my old friends. I was alone man, cause one shitty adult.”

Huh, so Ryuji had gone through something similar to him.

Ryuji continued, “So I understand you. We’re kinda the same you know. A shitty adult lied about us and ruined our lives. Kinda lucky we met on the first day huh.”

Ryuji shoulder bumped him, and they fell into a kind of silence, as Ryuji was anything but silent as he loudly slurped up his ramen.

Akira felt awful for judging Ryuji so harshly the first day they met. He had been the nicest person to Akira in a year, and the guy barely knew him.

Akira wouldn’t let that go ignored. He would get revenge on Kamoshida for everything. For Ryuji.

This guy was his first friend, his first real friend, he had in years. Possibly ever.

He was feeling an intense loyalty. He wouldn’t let Ryuji down.

They made small talk for a bit, discussing future plans and when they would go back. Apparently, there would be a volleyball rally the next day, from Kamoshida’s advice.

Akira was strongly considering skipping school tomorrow.

They both had to leave soon and, after saying his goodbyes, Akira went home. He ate another quick meal that Sojiro supplied, once again thanking the man for his hospitality. He was starving even after that ramen, and went to sleep.

He dreamt of a blue prison.

______________________________________________________________________

April 13
Wednesday
Cloudy

Making it to school was easy now. He could phase out entirely on his way there. He was there in record time, and regretting it.

The day wasn’t off to a good start. The volleyball rally started almost immediately and he was forced to go.

Who even cares about volleyball? Was the sport really that popular in Tokyo? Where he was from, it was more of a casual thing rather than the most popular sport.

He thought baseball or fútbol would be the more popular sports. Maybe even basketball. Not Volleyball though.

He met up with Ryuji before the matches started and they found a spot off to the side. No one sat near them.

He could see Makoto, also sitting, across the way. While they were on the ground, she had found a chair somewhere. President’s privilege he guessed.

God, he was bored. Him and Ryuji were running out of things to talk about.

Even looking at Kamoshida wasn’t making him unbearably angry. He was just so bored. This thing had been going on for nearly two hours now, and almost all of it was just a celebration of Kamoshida, masked in a “support Shujin Sports” thing. But the only sport there, or even mentioned, was volleyball.

The girls looked good when they played. Wait, phrasing, they played well. Like, they were good at volleyball. They were cute too though, so his first thought wasn’t entirely wrong.

The first match was the guy’s team against the girl’s team. One girl, who Ryuji told him was called Shiho, was amazing. It made sense why they were so good, every move she made seemed graceful and fluid. Ryuji said that she was going to lead them to Nationals, and she could even make the National team. Watching her play was by far the most interesting part of the day.

The guy’s team had won in the end though. When they got down ten points, Kamoshida joined them and kicked some kid, named Mishima, off the court. Akira thought the guy was in his class.

Kamoshida turned it around quickly, and soon the guys won. Everyone cheered, saying how amazing he was at volleyball and how impressive he was.

That frustrated him. What adult, a former Olympic athlete, needed the vindication of high school students that he was good at his sport. A win he got by beating high school girls. What a douchebag.

A few matches happened in which students were encouraged to join. A lot of people played, Shiho and Ann played a match together. Makoto even joined in as well. Ryuji and him never joined though.

At the end Kamoshida picked the best players he saw, played against them, and then beat them.

How did no one else see this guy had a massive ego?

Now, it was the faculty versus the guys team. The guys team was getting trounced.

Kamoshida had the ball. In a second he spiked it and the ball flew over and smashed into Mishima’s face.

Akira shot up, like everyone else did. This was exciting. He moved in closer with the crowd.

Kamoshida shouted “Can someone take him to the nurse?” The look of concern on his face looked almost sincere.

This was an opportunity. Akira wanted to get out of here.

“I’ll take him.”

Everyone quieted down. They all looked at him. No one had expected that.

He walked over and helped pick Mishima up. The guy was tiny. Jeez, he must have been only 5’4 or 5’5. Akira couldn't really drape Mishima’s arm over his shoulder comfortably, he had to crouch down to even make it work slightly. It looked awkward, but they were out of there before anyone thought to say anything.

How hurt was this guy? Did a volleyball to the face really hurt that much? They walked most the way there.

“Uhhh… thanks, thanks for the help.” Mishima fumbled out.

The guy was afraid of him, that much was certain, but who wasn’t at this school?

“Yeah, no problem, to be honest I just wanted to get out of there you know? Sitting for two hours straight isn’t fun.”

That got a chuckle out of him. Akira let go of his arm and they walked in silence for a bit.

“So… uh… how do you like Shujin?” Mishima asked.

Bad question.

“It’s fine. Kawakami-Sensei is a good teacher. I feel like I’m learning a lot.”

“That's good, I’m not sure what your old school, I mean, I know you don’t have an old school, I mean uh… yeah that's good.”

God people in Shujin were awkward. Akira nodded at him.

Akira wasn’t saying that he wasn’t awkward too. He hadn’t talked to a girl in a full year, so he was sure he wasn’t going to be good when he had to have a full conversation with one. His little talks with Sae and Makoto weren’t really a good base, somehow Makoto was even more awkward than him and Sae had spent most of the time threatening him.

He wasn’t this bad though. He could at least have a short conversation.

They arrived at the nurses and Mishima seemed to disappear inside. Guy seemed terrified. He must have been one of those people that believed everything he heard.

Akira started heading back, taking the long way to get some extra time away.

“There you are.”

Turning around, Kamoshida was there. Looking around, they were the only two in the entire hallway.

“You took a weird way back to the gym.” Kamoshida said as he kept walking towards him. His normal smile wasn’t on his face.

“Yeah, I got lost, I’ve only been here a few days.”

“Got lost huh, you seem to get lost a lot. Not good with directions? That’s fine, neither am I.”

Kamoshida was a foot in front of him now, staring him right in the eyes. He towered over, the already tall, Akira.

He hated this man.

Kamoshida moved fast. He grabbed Akira by the front of his shirt and slammed him against the lockers.

Akira didn’t react. He knew it wouldn’t help to fight back.

“Look. I don’t like you. I don’t want you here. I don’t know what you were planning with Mishima, but I don’t want to see you with him again. Got it? I take care of my players. If I see you near him again, I’ll have you out of here before you can blink.” He slammed Akira’s back against the lockers. “Got it?”

Akira nodded. He was having a hard time holding himself back from knocking the man’s head off.

Kamoshida lowered him down and let go of his shirt. Then he punched Akira in the gut.

The air left his lungs as Akira doubled over.

“Good. We understand each other. Keep your head down or there's more to come. Watch yourself.” He left.

Akira watched the man leave. It was pissing him off. He had been forced to sit there and accept the abuse. It had been a long time since he had been put in that position. He always fought back. The feeling of helplessness was enraging. He wanted to wipe that man off the face of the earth.

Kamoshida had, somehow, made Akira hate him more.

“Hey! Are you alright?”

Kawakami came from the other direction and approached him slowly over, watching the retreating Kamoshida.

She put a hand on his back and tried to help him straighten up.

“What was that about?”

She seemed shocked.

“It was just a warning from him. You know, one of those ‘You do anything and I’ll kill you’ kinds of warnings.”

His tongue was loose. He was too mad to try and lie, even if it would probably be better to deny the whole thing.

Kawakami looked torn, she seemed to not know whose side to take on this. She would most likely say that he had started it if anything came up.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” And he was after catching his breath.

“Well, uh, let’s just ignore it then?”

Typical. She probably loved Kamoshida just like the rest of them. He couldn’t help the angry glare he let loose on her as pulled himself away from her abruptly and sharply, leaving her hand floating in the air.

She looked ashamed and incredibly embarrassed.

Who cared though? He didn’t. She was just another person who thought he was some animal, and Kamoshida a king.

He walked away, in the same direction as Kamoshida. He could faintly hear her curse to herself as he rounded a corner.

Akira walked back to the rally in time to see it ending. Everyone was pouring out and heading to the locker rooms. Akira followed them.

He changed out of his gym uniform. He didn’t see Ryuji, but he’d meet back up with him later.

Now he just had to get through the day and study with Makoto.
______________________________________________________________________

Finishing the day was hard. He couldn’t stand the looks that Kawakami kept sending at him. If she really felt so bad, why didn’t she do anything? He nearly had to leave after they made eye contact and she teared up. As soon as class was over, he was out the door before anyone could say anything to him.

People cleared the way as he walked. Good. With how he was moving he would likely have bowled them over.

He made it to the library after some delay. He had taken a wrong turn on the way here and had gotten lost. Makoto was already there. The library was silent, but everyone's eyes were on him as he walked in.

“Uh… do you need a book sir?” The librarian asked.

She looked extremely hesitant to even talk to him. Terrified that he might do something in response. Why did everyone have to be so afraid of him!? He was getting madder by the second.

He calmed himself. It wasn’t helping his image.

“No. I’m here to study. If I need one I’ll ask, but thank you.” He dipped his head in thanks and went to sit with Makoto.

She was already hard at work somehow, considering that class had only gotten out maybe ten minutes ago it was impressive. Without saying a word, she pulled out a binder full of notes and handed it over to Akira.

“Here’s my work from my first year. The first few pages are the table of contents. There's basically every English word you will need to know, and many of the common phrases. We can work our way through that over the next few weeks.”

She pulled out a thick, heavy, book. It was in pristine condition.

“Here’s the book I used when I took pre-calculus three years ago. Math hasn’t changed much since then,” She laughed to herself, “You guys don’t use this book in your class so the problems won't be on any homeworks, but I thought this book has some really good explanations on how things work. We can catch you up quick.”

Akira was dumbfounded. She had really put in a lot of work for this.

Wow, she actually did want him to succeed.

The feeling that someone cared about his success motivated him. He thanked her for the books and put them off to the side.

“Let’s start with English, we can do that for an hour, then Math for an hour. Then I have to go home.”

Right down to business, no small talk or anything. Akira didn’t mind. He needed to get this stuff done right away if he wanted to pass.

They quietly studied for the next hour. Makoto had him do exercises from another book she brought that had a bunch of English word problems. Whenever he had an issue he would ask her, and she would know the answer immediately.

It made him realize how far behind he was.

He had tried his best in Juvie, but his motivation wasn’t there near the end of his imprisonment. When Shujin had offered to take him in he worked his ass off to try to catch back up, but there was only so much he could do in the month before his placement test. The fact that he managed to pass it and get into Shujin was mind blowing.

He was never stupid. He was at the top of his classes before his imprisonment. Something that his ‘parents’ forced on him. He didn’t like thinking about them.

It was because of how well he did in his old school that he was even placed in these classes. If none of the last year had happened he would already be done with pre-calculus and English one.

He was picking English up quickly though. They managed to get through all the material in the subject that she had planned for the day in 45 minutes.

Math was harder though. Luckily, they had the extra time to use as it took them the rest of the two-hour block to get it done.

After finishing they packed their bags and left together.

The library had been quiet the entire time they were there. The most he heard were a few whispers directed at them, but a glance here and there stopped those. It had been a little awkward being the only ones talking, but Makoto never seemed to notice or care.

They made it to the steps in front of Shujin.

“Thank you for the lessons Niijima-Senpai.” He really appreciated them.

“It’s no problem, can’t have you failing out now can we.” She gave a weak smile but didn’t meet her eyes.

It was still awkward between the two of them, but Akira wouldn’t do anything to fix it. He didn’t want to mess up the delicate balance they had as he needed the help.

“It’s getting late, I can walk you to your subway if you want.” It was going to be dark soon.

“No, no, it’s fine. My stations just down the block. We can meet up again tomorrow, same place same time?”

“Yeah. That’s fine. I’ll see you then.”

They walked down the stairs and went opposite directions. Akira’s subway station was actually the way she went, but he didn’t want to awkwardly walk next to her the whole way there. He found a different station the other direction and was soon on his way ‘home’.
__________________________________________________________
April 14
Thursday
Clear

Akira got up early that morning. Kamoshida getting physically aggressive with him reminded him that he hadn’t worked out since he left Juvie. He needed to fix that.

With how much violence, both in the real world and the cognitive one, he was facing, he would need to be stronger.

He did the body weight exercises he had learned over the past year. He supplemented them by doing pullups on a study bar going across his ceiling. He would need to find a good weight room to really start training again, but this would do.

He took a quick shower and was off to school.

The train ride was normal. Packed like a sardine and incredibly uncomfortable.

His instincts were screaming at him to get out of there. His paranoid brain informing him that anyone could attack him and there was nothing he could do. He swallowed his inner panic for the ride, got off, and walked to his next subway line.

He waited behind the bright yellow line.

The world exploded. The only warning was the high-pitched screech of metal on metal.
Metal came flying out of the tunnel before the car arrived. A metal pipe slammed into the top half of the head of the woman next to him, decapitating her from there up. She hadn’t had time to even move.

Akira was frozen as the gore splashed on his face.

The crowd panicked, they threw themselves backwards shoving everyone around them trying to escape. He joined them as pushed his way to the back. His height and strength allowing him to get closer to the exit.

The train barreled into the station, sending even more metal flying. A piece of sheet metal slammed into the couple next to him, killing the two of them instantly.

The train careened over the edge of the platform on his left, slamming into and crushing people.

The screams in the crowd grew louder. It was terrifying the way that large patches of voices just stopped.

The metal and rocks flying from the crash points were shredding people, sending more and more blood flying everywhere.

Akira could barely breathe.

Every person within a five-foot radius of him was dead.

It was horrifying.

So much death. He couldn’t even breathe anymore.

He looked to his left.

The end of the train had whipped around and coming straight for him.

He saw something in the window of that final car.

A pair of bright yellow, evil, eyes.

The train car hit him.

Boom, everything was normal. There was no blood, no pain.

He gasped.

He grabbed at his body to feel for anything wrong. He was okay, nothing was damaged.

He couldn’t stop himself and he vomited in his mouth. Swallowing it, he tried to stand up straight.

People looked at him as he felt himself up, but no one moved. He let out a sigh of relief.

What was that.

Wait. No. It couldn’t. But, if he focused. Yes, it was getting louder. That screech.

“GET BACK!” Akira roared at the crowd and began shoving everyone around him backwards. People resisted and shoved him back, forcing him to stumble as the screech grew louder.

He could see it coming now. A bright light coming at him. He could feel the eyes resting on his back.

He grabbed the woman next to him, threw her down, and dove on top of her. The spot above her head was eviscerated by the same metal pipe. It still hit someone, but this time it was only a glancing blow. It was still a vicious hit. The businessman might live with proper treatment though.

He jumped to his feet and pulled the woman’s hand with all his might. They tore through the stunned crowd in a second, as debris started raining on them.

“GET BACK!” He screamed again at the crowd.

This time they listened. The severity of the situation seemed to reign on them.

Everyone tried to move back as the train car spilled onto the side of the platform again.

This time, it killed less people.

“KEEP GOING!” People sprinted from the platform, rushing up the stairs and to safety. He wasn’t even sure if people could hear him over the roar of everything else.

He let go of the woman’s hand and began to look around, people were still hurt.

Wait, what was that boy doing!? He wasn’t moving!

The boy was frozen in fear.

Every adult around him had abandoned him.

Looking around, Akira realized that the boy was in the direct path of where the train car would whip into. Where he had been killed. Where was this boy’s mother!

Akira turned towards him, but froze.

If he went for him, he would die too.

He's going to die. He's going to die. He'S GOIng TO Die. HE'S GOING TO DIE!

The thought consumed Akira. If he moved he’d most likely die. If he didn’t the child would die for sure.

Where was anyone else! Why was he the only one paying attention! A quick glance around revealed, people were only thinking of themselves.

Everyone was storming out of the building, shoving people around them to the ground if need be. Trampling over others in a rush to survive.

They’re going to leave him to die.

The thought made him feel sick.

Akira moved. He rushed forward, mind blank.

Vaulting over a piece of rubble and sliding under a hanging piece of rebar, Akira moved.

What was this? How was he moving so swiftly? He had always been faster than most people in high school, and training in Juvie had made him stronger too. But not like this.
He was so agile.

He moved like the wind.

He reached the crying child faster than he thought he would. It had only taken seconds to get there.

He only had a few precious seconds to get out of there.

Twenty seconds had passed since he had started screaming for people to leave.

He ducked as a piece of rubble flew past his head. His reflexes were faster than they had ever been. Not questioning it, he picked up the boy, held him to his chest, and turned around.

Faster. Faster. He needed to be faster.

Turning his head, Akira saw what he was afraid of. The train had whipped around and was now on the move towards the two of them.

Shit. Akira threw the boy higher on his chest, resting most of the boys holding him with one hand. He ran faster.

The boys hat had blown off, but looking backwards Akira saw that he was out of the direct path of the train. He didn’t stop though. He was one of the few individuals alive still down there.

He leapt up the stairs in a blur. Adrenaline was fueling his body. He got across the street before he could take a breath and put the boy down.

His body stung, more than it should. Looking down he finally realized he had some pretty bad scrapes from this whole thing.

His shirt was a nightmare. Most of it had been yanked off by different items that snagged him. He had several deepish wounds, he might need stitches for at least one of those. Letting out a breath Akira sat down and leaned back.

“Oh my god, are you okay?” A feminine voice called out. he leaned back farther to see it was the woman he had jumped on top of earlier. She had a short, black, bobbed-style haircut. On top of her head was a pair of orange sunglasses that were missing one of the lens.

Dusting himself off, Akira stood up. “Yeah, a few wounds here and there but I should be okay.”

The boy was still standing right where he left him.

The woman made her way over to him, mouth agape. She placed a hand near the deepest visible cut on his body, as if to touch it, before stopping herself and pulling away. “I wanted to say, thank you, you saved my life.”

Akira scratched the back of his head, “It was nothing, don’t worry about it.”

The woman’s jaw dropped even further “That was nothing! That wasn’t nothing! I owe you a life debt! I should be dead!” She grabbed his hand to stop him from refuting.

“Wait! Sir! Sir!” A young woman came up to him, interrupting the first woman. This new woman was rather pretty for her age. Grime, sweat, and blood notwithstanding.

She had a boy pulled into a hug as he lightly cried into her side. Looking at the boy closely, he saw that he had on a blue t-shirt with the word NOOBS posted on the front.

The woman let the boy go and stood up straight, only to drop into a bow, the deepest one Akira had ever been given. It nearly seemed reverent, and then it was. The woman dropped to her knees and put her head against the floor. “Thank you. Thank you so much, sir. I owe you more than you could ever imagine.”

The boy seemed flustered, but didn’t stop her. He was still crying but began to bow repeatedly as well, continuously muttering out thanks.

“Please, may I have the name of our savior?” The woman asked as she picked herself up with her son’s help.

“Kurusu Akira.”

The woman bowed again and put a hand on her son’s shoulder.

“Thank you so much, please let us thank you for this. I can never truly repay you, but please, please come over for a dinner and let us thank you, I swear it will be worth it.” The woman bowed once more along with her flustered son.

“Oh! Excuse my manners, my name is Oda Aki, and this is my son Shinya.”

Akira could only gape slightly at the two of them. He had never had someone so thankful for his assistance. At a loss of words, he nodded slowly and exchanged contact information with the mother. She bowed her head repeatedly before excusing herself and shuffling away.

“Well Mr. Hero, how are you feeling now?” The other woman was still there. The woman had a teasing smile on her face that seemed to fit her well. “I’m Ohya Ichiko.”

Ohya, the woman he saved. The whole street was filled with the sounds of police sirens as relief workers flooded the underground, looking for people who could still be saved. Seeing as they looked relatively unharmed, and not on the ground dying, the workers passed by them.

Akira made to leave, as Ichiko yelled after him and followed him out. He had to go back to LeBlanc now. He needed to bandage himself and change cloths. If he hurried, he could make it to school by lunch.

Ohya caught up to him, matching pace and moving down the street with him. “I know a doctor around here, they can fix you up for cheap. I’ll even cover any costs.”

That made Akira pause. That was great, because Akira had no money for doctors anyways. He was only a few moments away from just walking to school and trying the nurse there.

“So, Akira, how did you know to move back?” The woman’s tone was questioning, but not accusatory.

“I just had a feeling. I heard something bad and I saw in the news recently about something like this. I just felt a little paranoid, which I guess worked in this case.” He lied. No point in explaining his vision.

The woman nodded her head as she lead him down the street.

“Lucky me, that paranoia saved my life. I’m a reporter, by the way, I mostly do human interest pieces nowadays, which is a nice way to say gossip, but, would you mind doing an interview about this sometime? I’d love for everyone to know about your heroics.” She looked genuine while saying that, she was excited to tell people about what he had done.

He couldn’t do that. He needed to keep a low profile.

“I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable right now being in the news over something like this.”

She nodded understandingly.

“Yeah, I feel that, don’t want to be a center of attention in this tragedy. I’d probably do the same. Well, I’m sorry for asking.”

“It’s no problem.”

They made it to the small clinic in less than ten minutes. They made small talk the whole time about her career and his classes. When he made a joke, she would laugh and brush his arm with a wave of her hand. The slight contact would make him blush brightly, which embarrassed him greatly. She seemed to notice that, which only increased her laughter and touches.

When they got to the clinic, it only took a few minutes to get into a private room and get prepped for stitches. The nurse said he only needed one set of them, the others would be fine with just bandages.

Ohya was still with him, standing next to the bed. It was only the two of them in the room now, the nurse having just left. Her hand was resting on his shoulder.

“Well, thank you again for saving my life. I don’t know how I’m going to pay you back yet, but, here, let’s trade numbers. I’ll think of some way soon to pay you back, even if it's just a drink.” She laughed to herself.

She was very cute. In a more mature way than the other girls he’d met so far. She was also very touchy, and a little flirty, as her hand lightly brushed his shoulder as she pulled away. He was getting very flustered.

“Yeah, I think Mr. Hero deserves his first drink after that.” She teased, “I’ll message you soon, if you don’t mind getting a drink with an older woman.”

“How do you know it's my first drink?” He tried to tease back.

It was. But he didn’t want to admit it.

She laughed and patted his shoulder again, “Cause you ask questions like that. Come on kid, I’m not stupid.”

He probably should say no. But, getting a drink with a pretty older woman did sound like a good night. He had never drank before, and it had been over a year since he had flirted with a girl.

He decided to push the limits.

“Alright then, we’ll make it a date.”

That seemed to freeze the woman’s teasing smile, if only for a second. She snorted and rubbed his shoulder a bit. The contact felt good.

“So, Mr. Hero’s got jokes huh? Alright, you’re not gonna catch me off guard. Call it whatever you want.”

“Who wouldn’t want to brag to their friends about having a date with an older woman.”

Ohya snorted again, and then burst out laughing.

“God kid, I’m liking you more and more. Alright, but don’t tell anyone about this. Can’t have people knowing I’m buying an underaged student any drinks.”

A knock at the door interrupted them.

“Looks like the doctors back, I gotta go kid, sorry. I’ll message you though. Sayonara.” She saluted him, and passed the doctor on the way out.

He liked that woman, she made him feel more confident for some reason. Her self-assured body language and teasing nature made him feel more comfortable around her.

He felt extremely embarrassed about all the date stuff though. He hoped it didn’t come off as too awkward. He was thinking with his dick in that moment and couldn’t stop himself. But, she had laughed, so it couldn’t have been all bad.

The doctor helped him out of his shirt and began his procedure.
______________________________________________________________________

A/N

Jesus Christ. This chapter is longer than the last. I thought I didn’t want super long chapters, but I guess I was wrong.

This chapter took so long to write and put out for 3 reasons. Number 1, I had a TON of tests and quizzes the last week or so. Number 2, it was just so long. Number 3 I had some big family problems that just destroyed my motivation to write.

I said at the end that the real changes would start happening this chapter, and that was the plan. The train crash and the introduction of Ohya, and Shinya, were both planned for this chapter.

What wasn’t planned, was Ryuji’s awakening. In my chapter layout I never included that. But, when writing this chapter, I felt I couldn’t leave it out.

There was too much I wanted to go over about the Metaverse. I plan on expanding the rules and regulations of that world as the story goes on, adding more based on things in game and things that can be inferred. There will still be a lot of mystery and not understanding what's going on, but I hope to set some rules that can be used in the storyline.

There was a big info dump about how Akira’s body understood in game mechanics like HP and SP, stuff I needed to go over and explain. As well as personas joining him and so on.

In the same way that Arsene is cognitive, all the damage Arsene takes is cognitive as well. But any damage Akira takes, is physical. It is an important separation.

I’m happy to introduce later game characters in so early. I don’t really want to have to wait for months to introduce them, so this was good. Expect more late game characters to be introduced before their time.

On Akira and Ohya, and Akira asking Ohya on a date as a ‘joke’. That was a spur of the moment thing that I thought would be funny. But it also makes sense for the character I want to write.

And because a lot of people do care, and so do I, will that affect the final pairing? Probably not, because I don’t know it yet.

Don’t take anything as the final pairing. I don’t like fanfics where the story starts and two characters are in love from the very beginning, eternal love at first sight. I think it’s a lot more fun if the characters flirt, gain a repertoire, and get to know each other first.

Like in Naruto, everyone knows that story where two 12-year old’s look into each other’s eyes and love each other forever. It takes out so much fun where the main character can flirt and doesn't just dote on one girl for the entire story.

And Persona 5 lets you do a lot of flirting/ romancing with many girls. So, I plan on keeping that going.

It should be pretty fun.

But back on the scene, he’s a teenager. An older, good looking, woman says she's going to give him his first drink and he's thinking about how she's interested in him. Of course, that excites him and he says something dumb about it being a date. He’s thinking with his dick. Luckily, Ohya’s cool, and from in-game, is cool with dating a high schooler, so she's fine with it.

I think it will just be fun to see the two of them share a drink, something I wanted to do all game but was always cock-blocked by Lala-chan.

There's a lot more to come for this story as it's now going to have several things different from the main story. I don’t like writing Canon scenes, but sometimes I have to. Ryuji has to awaken his persona, they all have to meet. But once I get out of the tutorial days, it should be a lot easier to really take some deviations.

So, thank you for reading! Please be sure to review and tell me what you think! I’m always happy to hear!

The next chapter should be out within a week or two, depending on my schedule, so see you then!

Chapter Text

April 14
Thursday
Noon
Cloudy

He made it to school before it ended. Mr. Ushimaru looked like he was going to have an aneurysm when he arrived, especially when the man saw the damage to his cloths. When Akira explained what had happened and showed the man his doctor’s note, he quieted down and looked extremely hesitant. There were no superiors near him to tell the man what to do, and Akira’s situation was unique. So, the man walked Akira to the nurse's office to be checked over again then he went to the principal's office.

The nurse was nice enough to him, a little standoffish but not overtly rude. She gave him a new uniform to use from now on, free of charge, which was convenient. He didn’t want to spend his extra money from the Metaverse on this. Although this set was a little too small, it restricted almost all movement in his arms. He’d have to fix his old pair.

He sat and waited until Mr. Ushimaru came back and told him to just go to class, they would overlook his tardiness for the day, but be more careful next time.

Akira could only laugh to himself after that. How kind of them. He almost died, and they say just don’t do it again. The insensitivity was so jarring he let out a genuine chuckle.

They really didn’t like him. Why did they even accept him into this school?

Well, they did, so now he was their problem. He had no plans on getting that close to dying again, so the situation would be avoided.

He made it to class, interrupting the lesson. All the other students looked at him with an accusation in their eyes. Their first thought must have been how he was late to class because he was out committing crimes.

Honestly, it was making him want to commit some crimes. He was feeling at the top of the world right now. He was alive. He could easily have died. He wanted to go out and live his life, not sit in this class.

Well, he was going to commit some crimes soon. Ohya and him should be getting drinks soon, and that was kind of a crime. He was over the moon at the thought of an actual date with a girl, even if she was probably ten years older than him. He needed to figure out what he would wear to that, his school uniform probably wouldn’t work.

If he got lucky, not that kind, he would even manage to get in a drunken bar fight. Hopefully Ohya would be gone and he could let off some steam.

Although he did hope he would get the other kind of lucky too.

Kawakami looked at him with an incredible amount of sympathy. It disgusted him. Akira hated receiving her pity. It was pissing him off. He went his seat and stared intently at his books, breaking their eye contact.

Takamaki didn’t noticeably flinch when he had passed her this time. He felt bad for the way that Kamoshida saw her, but he didn’t know her. She was just another person who didn’t like him. He’d deal with Kamoshida, and maybe it would help her too.

He had shown up after lunch so there was no break that day. He went through all his classes, dealing with the pitying looks from Kawakami the whole time. That woman was infuriating him. Constantly looking at him like he needed her help. He didn’t need anyone’s help. He would deal with Kamoshida, get through the year, and disappear.

The docks didn’t care if he went to Juvie. He could easily leave Shujin after this year was over and get a job there. One more year at an easier school, and he could then start working there full time. He was smart, with a high school degree he would be able to move his way up to management within ten years. He would be free from the problems of his old life.

The thought of escape from this world was all that kept him going sometimes. No more Shujin, no more Sae, no more anyone looking down on him. He would be free and could be alone. He might even change his name.

School ended in a blur and he was gone. Kawakami almost called out to him as he was leaving, but pulled back at the last second. Good. That woman was aggravating. Constantly looking at him with those sad eyes, but never trying to do anything. Not that he would accept any, but don’t look so upset if you’re not going to do anything.

He didn’t want to have anything to do with any teacher here at Shujin, or any student really. Except Ryuji, but that was different. They had to fight legendary monsters together using mental projections of their true selves.

He checked out his phone. Five messages from Ryuji asking if he was okay, apparently, he had heard about the crash and put two and two together. Akira sent back a quick response affirming that he was okay. The guy responded in seconds joyfully and Akira laughed to himself. Akira responded, saying he would be back soon, he had to study with Makoto.

After that he went straight to the library. Like clockwork, there was Makoto. Already set up before he arrived. Her head was down in her books and she didn’t seem to notice him. It didn’t make much sense how she was so prompt, he could barely have made it to the library any faster. Whatever, it wasn’t that important.

He pulled up a seat next to her.

“Hey. How’s it going?” Akira asked.

She ignored him aggressively, not looking up towards him when he spoke.

Maybe she was just super involved in one of her problems? Well, whatever. Akira pulled out the English book she had given him from his backpack. Somehow, the thing had survived the morning with minimal damage, but when he had more money he would probably replace it.

He started doing problems where they left off last time. He worked for a few minutes before he hit a roadblock in the work. Makoto still hadn’t looked up from her notebook.

He looked at her for a bit to try and get her attention. He coughed in his hand a few times after when that didn’t work. Why was she ignoring him?

“Ummm, are you okay?”

“If you’re not going to take school seriously I don’t want to continue these sessions.” She said as she stared at her books.

“What?”

She finally looked up and stared him in the eyes. There was righteous fury in them.

“You were late to school. Again. I tried to wait in front of the gates, but you never showed up. Then I hear, halfway through the day, that you finally showed up. You made friends with Sakamoto day one, alright fine. You get lost day one, alright fine. But now you’re just skipping half of the day? I don’t have any time to waste. I was doing this as a favor.”

What the hell? She was mad at him?

The fire began to rage in his stomach.

It was a white-hot anger.

He met her eyes with the same intensity.

He had to hold himself back from yelling. That wouldn’t be appropriate.

“First off, Sakamoto is a good guy, no matter what anyone says. Second off, I didn’t plan on being late, or did you just believe the rumors being floated around the halls? That I was late cause I was mugging a dude and things went wrong? No, I need to pass. If I mess up, I go back to Juvie. I was late because I took the train from Shibuya this morning. You know, the one that never arrived?”

That made her hesitate. It took a moment, but the look of realization that dawned on her face made his anger lessen into only a simmer, and filled him with a smugness.

“OH! God! I didn’t know! I’m so sorry, are you alright? I… I’m really sorry. Are you okay though?” She looked at him with pity.

He hated those looks. The fire reignited.

“Yeah. Here, let’s trade phone numbers so this doesn't happen again.”

Makoto quickly added his number.

She looked incredibly upset with herself.

“Oh… uh, well I’m sorry for assuming things. That’s on me.”

They were both quiet for a few seconds. Everyone in the library was looking at them now. Akira didn’t care. All of these people were leeches. They were nobodies who would continue to be nobodies.

Makoto leaned over to his book to look at his problem. She stared at it for a few seconds before taking her pencil and writing down a few notes.

“Well, if you, uh, follow these you should be fine. Your wording is kind of right it just doesn’t mean exactly that.”

She looked up at him with a hesitant look on her face. He didn’t really care though.

He nodded and grabbed the English book, before closing it and sticking it in his backpack. He didn’t feel like studying anymore.

“Yeah. Thanks. I actually have an appointment so can we continue this tomorrow?”

He needed her help, but he didn’t really want to interact with her right now. She had lost a huge amount of his respect in the past few minutes.

Mouth dry, all she could do was nod her head and look back down at her books. She looked like she wanted to say more but instead, he grabbed his backpack and left without saying goodbye.

“Fuck.” He mumbled. He couldn’t help himself from cursing. He probably should have stayed anyways. He needed her help.

Was everyone at this school lemmings? Even Makoto, who he thought might be above that for some reason, instinctively thought the worst about him. God damnit.

He took a few angry breaths before heading down the stairs. He made it to the first floor and was on his way out when he rounded the corner and a mess of black hair slammed into his chest. He wasn’t budged, but the girl fell to the ground.

“Owwwww…” The girl on the ground said as she rubbed her butt.

“Sorry about that, I didn’t see you coming.” He offered his hand to her to help her up. As she looked up he realized she was that amazing volleyball player from the other day. Shilo, Shiro, no… Shiho! That was it, Shiho.

She was covered in bruises and bandages. That made sense based on what Ryuji had told him. Thinking about how she got those injuries only served to increase his. He had to suppress it and look away before he scared her.

Shiho didn’t even give him a second look as she grabbed his hand and popped back up onto her feet. That was surprising.

“No worries, I was kinda sprinting and I took that corner too close.” She laughed and rubbed her butt a little more. “You’re the new student, right? Akira-san? How are you liking Shujin?”

She smiled lightly at him, with no malice in her expression.

Akira wasn’t used to that.

“Uh, it’s going fine. The classes are… educational.”

Shiho nodded her head in agreement, ignoring his dumb response.

“Yeah, English is pretty rough for me though. Ms. Chouno really doesn't let up.”

He could only nod as she continued to smile lightly at him. A few seconds passed where no one said anything.

“Well, I gotta get going.” She continued, ignoring the awkward silence. “Volleyball practice is waiting, and Mr. Kamoshida doesn't like it when we’re late.” She laughed again, but it was hollow this time. Her smile had faded.

“Yeah, uh, it was nice to meet you.”

Her smile appeared again, “Yeah! It was nice to meet you too! Oh! I’m Suzui Shiho by the way!” She turned to go past him, but before she could make it the whole way she turned back towards him.

“Oh, and one last thing. I’m sorry about my classmates, it’s gotta be rough dealing with that. They aren’t all bad though, and I hope they stop talking about you soon. Try not to let it get to you. If you ever want to talk about it just come find me! I know we don’t know each other, but I know how important it is to have a friend, so you know. Not to be weird or anything, but uh, you understand.”

“Thanks, I’ll, uhh, remember that.”

She nodded her head and continued towards the gym.

What a weird girl. She was nice though. The nicest person he’d met so far in Shujin.

He thought about her bruises. It took extreme effort not to turn around and head straight to the gymnasium, where he could confront the man on his crimes.

No. He had to wait. If he barged in there he would be in more trouble than the man. He would figure out some way to deal with Kamoshida without getting himself in trouble.

He left the school after that and made his way to his train.

_________________________________________________________________________

“I don’t… I don’t want to do that...”

Standing behind a pillar, Akira could hear every word Ann was saying into her phone.

He had walked down the stairs and seen her, clearly distressed, whispering into her phone. He really had no reason to care why she was upset, but he listened in out of curiosity.

After hearing a bit, he was able to figure out why she was so distressed. He couldn’t ignore it.

Putting two and two together wasn’t hard. Someone was pressuring her to go farther than she wanted, there was a good chance it was Kamoshida too. Just knowing that Kamoshida was involved made him need to step in.

“Please… I’m not comfortable with that. Look… I gotta go.”

Akira rounded the corner as she hung up. Her eyes widened dramatically in surprise.

“You. How much did you hear?” Mouth agape, she stared at him nervously.

“Just a bit.” He lied, “Do you want to talk about it? Whatever that other person is trying to get you to do, you don’t have to.”

She became visibly angry at that, snarling, she turned her back to him.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I can’t escape this.” Her tone was biting.

“I thought the same thing for a while, but sometimes it's nice to talk to someone about it.”

He still thought that however, but their cases were different. He could never escape his past.

“You don’t know me, you don’t know my situation!” The last part came out as a choked-out sob. She shuddered slightly.

“Yeah, but, look, you don’t even have to say anything about it. Wanna get some food? I’ll pay.”

He really didn’t need to do any of this. The girl didn’t even like him as far as he could tell. Ryuji had told him that she was a good person, and they apparently knew each other from awhile back. He couldn’t ignore someone suffering under Kamoshida though.

Ann was silent. She didn’t turn to face him, but she motion to leave either.

“How about big bang burger?” He offered, “Or, there’s this pastry shop down the road I passed on the way here.”

He only offered the pastry shop because it was literally the only other restaurant he knew. Well, except for LeBlanc, but he probably shouldn’t bring this girl ‘home’. He had passed the pastry shop the last three days on his way to school. The option seemed to light her up. She turned to face him with a smile.

“Yeah, yeah let’s go get some pastries, I could go for an eclair.”

They made their way over to the restaurant silently. Akira didn’t have much to say and Ann was staying tight lipped. They placed their orders, two eclairs for Ann and a donut for him, and took a seat near the back of the restaurant.

It was relatively busy. There were enough people in the restaurant to create a constant, comfortable, hum of noise.

“So, do you wanna talk about it?” Akira asked.

He wouldn’t mind if she didn’t. He had done all that could be expected of him.

Ann took a bite of her eclair. She stayed quiet and looked extremely hesitant to do anything else.

“Alright,” Akira said, “I’ll start. Can’t expect you to open up if I don’t too, huh?”

Why was he even trying this hard? He shouldn’t care.

But looking at her scared, sad, face made him need to do something. He didn’t feel right leaving this alone.

It didn’t help that she was so cute too.

“I hate Shujin. I’ve been here for what, four days? And I hate it. I hate the students, I hate the teachers, I hate everything about this dumb school.”

That got something out of her. Her face warped to a more confused and curious expression.

“Why?”

“Why not? Every student thinks I’m some kind of mass murderer, every teacher’s a dick to me, the principal can barely stand me for some reason, and then there’s that asshole Kamoshida. I hate that guy the most. I could ignore everything else if I didn’t see his stupid face everywhere. I can’t stand that guy.”

There was a moment of silence before Ann burst out laughing. Akira smiled at her outrageous laughter.

“It took you four days to realize you hated him? That’s a little long for such an outrageous douchebag.”

“He had me tricked for the first day” he lied, “But that rally put me over the edge. Did the posters really need his face? And did he have to win every single match? Like come on, that one girl, Shiho, she had him on the ropes too, but then he had to win. What an asshole.”

She smiled more gently after that.

“Yeah, Shiho was so close to beating that dick. Give it a year and she’ll trounce him.”

“She was good. She’s super nice too, we talked after class today after we ran into each other. How do you know each other?” He knew she did.

“We’re best friends! And she’s always been that nice. I had no friends when I came to Shujin too, everyone thought I was some dumb foreign bimbo and wouldn’t talk to me. Shiho was the only one who was friendly to me. We first talked when she came up to me in art class, I thought she was going to say something nice, but instead all she said was, and I quote, ‘Takamaki-san your paintings suck.” She burst out laughing again after saying that and Akira couldn’t help but chuckle with her.

Ann’s face quickly lost that mirth however, and she focused intently on her half-eaten eclair.

“As I say that,” She continued, “I realize. I did the same thing to you. I thought you were just some criminal because of where you were from, I didn’t get to know who you really are. I hated that shit when it happened to me. I’m… I’m sorry for being a bitch to you.”

Akira didn’t say anything for a few seconds, only because he didn’t expect that. A full-on apology? What?

“It’s… uh…. It’s all good, it’s not that big a deal.”

She looked up from her eclair with an intense look on her face.

“It’s not. I did the same thing to you people did to me. I judged you based on what others said about you and your past. So, I can’t fix it, but how about we start over. I’m Takamaki Ann, nice to meet you.” She bowed her head slightly at him as she spoke.

“Alright, I’m Kurusu Akira, nice to meet you.”

They both sat in a comfortable silence and ate a more of their snacks.

“So… you know about Kamoshida,” Ann began, “Well… that was him, on the phone, he’s been pressuring me for a while to do… things… that I don’t want to do. He’s been really on me about going over to his place after school, and I’ve been able to come up with an excuse each day, but this time he said if I didn’t, he would take Shiho off the team.”

So, Kamoshida was an even bigger scumbag then he thought. Honestly, that was surprising. The bar was already set so low. It was getting impressive how low he could go.

“Well, don’t do it then. Shiho is good at volleyball, I saw that, and you know that. There’s no way he can kick her off the team, and if he does? I’m sure there’s other schools that have good volleyball programs that will take her in next season.”

He didn’t know that. That was a lie. Who knew about the strength of high school volleyball programs? Why was volleyball even such a big deal here? Was this a Tokyo thing?

Where he was from, volleyball was maybe the fourth or fifth most popular sport, behind baseball, basketball, soccer, or track.

He really didn’t give a shit about volleyball, but he wouldn’t tell Ann that.

Her smile warmed up however, so it worked he assumed.

Looking at her, Akira couldn’t help but blush slightly. This girl was beautiful, no doubt. He hoped his lack of female interaction wouldn’t bite him in the ass at some point in this conversation. He was doing good so far.

“Yeah! That’s what I’m saying! How could he take her off the team! She’s his best player! But,” The smile left her face, “Kamoshida’s a controlling asshole. He might not take her off the team, but he could easily sideline her from most games.”

“Yeah, he could, but when they don’t make it to nationals, then what? Who’s going to love the ‘okay’ volleyball coach who sat their star player for unexplained reasons. He’d lose all power in Shujin.”

Ann laughed, and her smile lit back up after that. She seemed brimming with happiness.

This girl was very expressive, kind of like Ryuji. She wore all of her emotions on her sleeve.

“You’re right! He couldn’t sit her for divisional games or against the good teams! She’d easily be able to show her skills there and get a scholarship to play at University!”

Her smile brought about a weird, mushy feeling in his stomach. Why were his hands so sweaty? His body was betraying him.

She was looking at him with intense admiration now. It felt good, but also weird. He wasn’t ready for this. He swallowed slightly and tried to think of anything to say to continue the conversation.

“Uh, yeah, I assume that volleyball is important to her, so you know, just get through this shitty situation and then she can go anywhere.”

Ann’s smile dropped after he said that.

Damnit. He said something wrong. He wasn’t ready for this at all.

Why did the first girl he had a long personal conversation in years have to be this good looking? Like, damn dude, he wasn’t ready for this.

“Yeah… I’m just… worried for her. She keeps getting bruises and cuts all over the place. It’s small stuff, but she doesn't smile as much anymore. One time… one time I found her crying on the roof. I tried to help, but she said it was just allergies. What am I supposed to say to that? She just, left, after that.”

The weird warmth in his stomach was quickly overwhelmed by the white-hot rage he normally felt.

Kamoshida was hurting Shiho? One of the only people to have been nice to him yet?

The school was only a few minutes’ walk from there. He could be back before their practice ended.

He grabbed a nearby knife and squeezed.

Thoughts raced through his mind, he could be back, get into practice, and slide the metal weapon between his ribs before he could respond. A few hits in the right spot would end this whole thing. He’d seen it before.

He could do it too. It wouldn’t be pretty, but the man wouldn’t expect it. He could--

He stopped. The rage had almost overtaken him again. He dropped his knife. Killing the man in broad daylight wouldn’t help him at all, he needed to find another way to end this man.

A more discrete way.

Thoughts for another time.

He was good at hiding his emotions, and he didn’t want to scare Ann. She seemed to have noticed his knife grabbing, but wasn’t overtly shocked or scared.

“Sorry about that, the bastard, he just makes me so… so mad. All this shit he’s doing, and what he did to Ryuji,” He let slip out, “I just, I just hate that man.”

“I understand.” She replied, “I’ve felt the same way sometimes. A rage directed just at him. He’s such a piece of shit.”

“Yeah.” He didn’t have much to add, but luckily, she didn’t seem to notice that he was thinking about going to kill the man. Well, he said he would, but he had never killed anyone before. There was a big step between fighting people and killing people.

But he would have hurt the man. Hurt him bad.

“So, you and Ryuji are close huh?” She asked.

“Yeah, we met on the first day. He helped me find the school and we hit it off.” He lied slightly “He didn’t judge me like everyone else in the school did, so we’re friends.”

“He’s a good guy. Thank you for being his friend, he needs some.”

Ann somehow looked even sadder after saying that.

What had he said wrong this time?

“It’s just… he didn’t have many friends since last year. Well, he had no friends. No one would talk to him, and after he dyed his hair, people wouldn’t even look at him. He was always boisterous, but then he got worse and started coming off as a delinquent. I feel even shittier after saying that. I mean… we kind of used to be friends. We went to middle school together, we talked a lot then. But then we drifted apart. I never thought much of it, but I really should have said something to him. I just… did nothing. I’d see him eating alone, and I’d just move somewhere else.”

So, Ryuji was even more alone than he had let on.

He didn’t have anything to add to that. He could have tried to comfort her, but he wasn’t sure what to say. Was it okay to have ignored him? It wasn’t his place to forgive her or not. He was uncomfortable with the thought of trying to comfort someone as well. He was already pushing himself to his social edge.

He finished eating his donut to cover his silence.

“Well… look at me just dwelling on my mistakes.” She laughed, but it had no warmth to it. “You said you hated Shujin? I mean, I understand why, but like, do you want to talk about more? What do you think of Kawakami sensei?”

Thankfully she was good at carrying a conversation. He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breathe.

“You can probably already see most of the stuff I would complain about. It gets pretty frustrating when every single student talks about you, behind your back but in front of you, about how you killed a yakuza boss or tried to assassinate the prime minister.”

Those were actual things he had heard throughout the day. Shujin students didn’t get out much it seemed.

“But, the teachers can be the worst. The Principal clearly doesn’t like me, which is weird because he let me in, Kamoshida’s a prick, and every other teacher either ignores me and is standoffish, or they outright don’t want me there. Kawakami is among the weirdest though. She both seems like she doesn’t want me in her class, but also wants me there more than any other teacher.”

He had more to say about her, but he didn’t want to open up too much.

“Yeah, sorry about that. I didn’t realize it was the teacher’s too. I saw Kawakami look at you really weird the other day, but didn’t think anything of it.”

Akira chuckled.

“I forgot to mention something else about Kamoshida. Near the end of the rally, after I dropped off Mishima at the nurses, he pulled me aside and threatened me. Hit me right in the gut too. Nothing I could do either, dude’s an asshole.”

Ann’s jaw dropped in surprise. She fumbled with her words for a second before responding.

“He hit you? I mean, I’d expect something like that from him, but no one’s ever outright said anything. Jeez, just more proof that he really is abusing those students.”

Akira nodded and they both fell silent. Ann finished up the last of her eclair and picked up her satchel.

“Thank you for helping me with this. I’m sorry, again, for judging you so much before I got to know you. You’re actually a super nice guy. I’ll tell that bastard no and let’s see what he tries to do. If he kicks Shiho off the team, maybe I’ll even go show the police his texts. I’ll get my parents involved too. I’m not trying to brag or anything, but we have money. We can go after the school if we need to.”

“That’s a good idea, but I doubt it will come to that. Kamoshida’s an asshole but the most he can do is sideline her for a game or two. A few losses and she’ll be in the starting lineup again. And, I doubt Shiho would ever be happy with you doing anything with Kamoshida for her.”

Ann gave him a huge smile and his already quickly beating heart only beat faster. He desperately hoped he wasn’t blushing.

“You’re right. I believe Shiho and I can overcome this. Maybe even someone will come forward and get him fired soon too. Who knows? I gotta go though, my parents are expecting me back before late. Let’s trade contact info though, we should hang out again sometime.”

Akira, once again, fought back sweaty palms and tried to seem as confident as possible. Standing next to Ann, she only came up to his chin. They traded phone numbers and said quick goodbyes before Ann walked back towards the train station.

Once again, it was in the same direction as his, but he had to go the other way first to avoid the awkwardness.

He was proud of himself though, he made it through an entire conversation with the girl without stumbling over his own words or sweating through his clothes. She was very cute, and the first girl his age who he had talked to, that wasn’t also the little sister of a woman who would ruin his life if he said anything untoward her.

Ann was also easier to talk to and much more open than Makoto, while Makoto made him look impressive by being even more awkward than he was. Ann was more socially aware than Makoto which both hindered and helped him. She could talk her way out of a potential awkward silence and was good at continuing a conversation.

All great things when Akira really didn’t know what he was doing.

He had also just gotten his first number from someone whose life he hadn’t saved.

Well, he had stopped her from potentially going to Kamoshida’s place. So, he kind of saved her life.

Damnit. 0-4 on people giving him their number out of liking him without him saving them.

Maybe he’d make a friend who just wanted to talk about… uh… he didn’t have any hobbies right now, so… yeah maybe he’d make a friend one day for some not life altering reason.

He went to another subway station down the road and made his way home.

___________________________________________________________________________

“Hey! You! Over here!” A childlike voice called out.

Looking around, Akira didn’t see any child calling out to him, so he kept walking down the crowded street.

“Wait! You! Aki… Akira!” The voice called out again.

So, it was looking for him. That put him on alert. He didn’t know any children.

Scanning the crowd, he looked for anyone that matched the voice. Maybe it was a girl? Just with a high-pitched voice? Something bumped into his ankle.

“Hey, what’s up?”

It was a medium sized black and white cat.

This was weird.

“Nothing much, how’s it going?” Akira responded.

“Eh, it could be, wait! That’s not what I’m here to talk about!”

“Then what is it?”

Why was he even humoring this? He was talking to a cat. People were looking at him, with good reason too.

“Whatever it is, let’s talk about it somewhere else.”

He put his arm down and Morgana quickly got the hint. He, she? jumped onto his outstretched arm and climbed up onto his shoulder. He was assuming it was Morgana, the implications if it wasn’t scared him. Akira walked past Leblanc and continued onwards toward an empty side path with an open bench.

He took a seat and Morgana hopped off him and onto the ground in front of him. It was a little awkward being forced to stare down at the cat to make eye contact.

Why was a cat even talking to him in the first place? Why wasn’t that his first question?

He was getting desensitized to weirdness.

“We need to talk about the metaverse. I overheard you earlier today talking to that beautiful blonde woman. You want to do something about Kamoshida right?”

Yeah. He did.

“How did you overhear us?”

“I was following you in order to talk about this, but then you and that majestic creature started talking.”

“Uh, can you not call her a majestic creature, it sounds weird.”

The cat somehow looked bashful at that.

“I apologize, I’m not very good with common phrases yet, I’m still new- wait! We’re getting off track! We have to talk about the metaverse! You want to do something about Kamoshida, right?”

“Yeah, but what do you have to do with that?”

“Well, we can change his heart by stealing his treasure.” Morgana said with a flourish.

He seemed to be expecting a reaction, but Akira made no move. Morgana coughed into his(?) paw. Actually, she was probably a girl. He couldn’t tell cat genders by sight though.

“Um, you’re supposed to react.”

“What’s a treasure?”

The cat tsk’d at itself, “I thought I explained that. A treasure is the personification of a person’s corrupted desires. When someone’s desires become distorted enough, they form a palace, and inside that palace is a treasure, which acts as the focal point, the heart, of everything. If we take that treasure, we take the distorted desires away.”

Now that was interesting. Akira leaned forward and patted on his thigh for the cat to hop on. He wanted it to be closer for this conversation, privacy could be important. Morgana got the hint and hopped onto his leg.

“That’s something I can get behind, what goes into stealing a treasure?”

“First, we have to find it. It should be at the center of the palace, so we’d have to fight our way there and then we could steal it.”

“Is that it?”
“We have to get the treasure to manifest as well. That will be more complicated, but the first step is to find where it will form.”

“That’s not that bad, assuming getting it to manifest isn’t too hard. There’s nothing else to it?”

This could be an actual solution to their problem.

“Well, I’ve never done it before,” Morgana said reluctantly, “So, I think so?”

That wasn’t helpful. He’d rather not go in blind when doing this.

But this still sounded like a good plan.

“Are there any other side-effects”

Continuing with her hesitant look, Morgana responded. “Well, I don’t know. I don’t know how many desires would be stolen. It could be just the distorted ones, or it could be all of them. Like the desire to eat, the desire to breathe. Everything.”

“So, he’d die?”

“Well, yeah, but! I don’t think that will happen! Almost sure of it!”

So, steal Kamoshida’s desires and possibly kill the man, or let him continue doing what he was doing.

Akira didn’t advocate for murder in any way, he had been around enough murderers to understand what kind of person kills another human being. He had a strong moral foundation, at least in theory.

He was willing to bend the rules to get what he wanted, in many cases even willing to break them. Juvie had taught him that life wasn’t fair, and sometimes he needed to do what needed to be done to get ahead. Trickery was within his playing field.

Killing though, was that a step he was willing to take? He hated Kamoshida, it burned him up inside to think about it. The man had, his shadow had, tried to kill him. That was something he would never forget.

Kamoshida’s sins were numerous and grievous, but did they deserve death?

He was torn inside. The man definitely deserved imprisonment, but death? Could he say? Could be do it?

He hated Kamoshida, but he didn’t think he could kill the man. Fantasizing about killing him, and acting on it, were different things.

He didn’t want to become someone he hated.

“I gotta think about it. Why didn’t you talk to me when I was with Ryuji?”

“I didn’t think he would take too kindly to me being there. We didn’t exactly ‘get along’ when we first met. You seemed more approachable. And, if you agreed, or even decided to think about it, maybe you would help me talk to him?” Morgana smiled nervously, “He’s a loudmouth, but more people would make a huge difference in the palace.”

But did he agree? He wasn’t the same child who had entered Juvenile hall for a crime he didn’t commit, but he wasn’t far gone enough to murder a man.

“I really have to think about it. Killing someone… well, even if they are an asshole like Kamoshida, killing someone is a big step.”

“I really don’t think that will happen!” Morgana defended.

“Yeah, but it’s still something to think about. We can talk to Ryuji tomorrow and see what he thinks, but I don’t think he will be on board.”

Morgana sighed and swatted at the air with her tail. They fell into a silence, and seeing as the conversation was over, Akira got up to leave.

“Wait! Where are you going!?”

Akira turned towards Morgana.

“Uh, home?”

“Are you not going to offer me a place? Someone has to take care of me.”

That was unexpected. Could he even take care of a cat? He doubted Sojiro would be okay with it, considering he lived in a restaurant, and he doubted Sae would at all. She might actually throw him back in Juvie for that. Was this a bigger or smaller deal than using Makoto’s toothbrush?

“I don’t know if I can do that. I’m not really in a great place to take on a pet.”

“I wouldn’t be a pet! It would be a mutually beneficial relationship where I teach you and you feed me. I don’t need much, I’m very independent.”

Morgana looked proud of herself.

“I still don’t know.”

“I’ll stay quiet! I swear! And I could die out here if you don’t help me. It's scary out here out alone.”

Morgana turned her cuteness up to 100, showering him with a pair of sad eyes that could melt anyone’s heart. What was he supposed to do?

“Okay, okay. I’ll ask Sojiro and see if it’s cool. If he says yeah, we’re good.” For some weeks anyways. “There’s another problem with this, but let’s just see if Sojiro’s okay with it first.”

Morgana accepted his answer and traversed back onto his shoulder. She perched on him, kind of like how a bird would.

This was going to be difficult.

__________________________________________________________________________

“You’re making this hard for me, but oh he’s just so cute, does he have a name?”

So, Morgana was a guy. How could Sojiro tell?

“Morgana.”

“Did you come up with that? That’s terrible. That’s not a guy cat name at all, something like prince would be better.”

Sojiro stopped petting the underside of Morgana’s chin, to his disappointed purr, and stood up straight.

That cat could act when it needed to. If he didn’t know it was a potential shadow demon thing from the cognitive world, he would have been drawn in too.

Sojiro continued. “I’ll let you keep him, on two conditions. I will never see him down here during business hours and I won’t take care of him in any way.”

Akira nodded, thankful, but also a little upset. It would have been so much easier if he refused. Now he had a roommate.

Sojiro sighed, “I’ll even talk to Sae about this. I don’t think she’s allergic to cats, but it’s also never came up in conversation. If she says you can’t have him you’ll have to give him to the pound, cause I can’t take him full time. But, I’ll try kid.”

Akira nodded again, extremely thankful. He didn’t even need to ask for help with Sae. That was one problem out of the way.

“I see you still haven’t done any shopping, I’ll make you some curry for tonight, but you really need to go get some stuff tomorrow. Here’s your week’s allowance from your grandfather. It’s not much, but you can get some stuff.”

Sojiro took out his wallet and handed him 10,000 yen. It really wasn’t much. He could feed himself for a week on that, but he’d have to be cheap about it. No eating out or anything.

Well, he would have been forced to, if he hadn’t made triple that in the two times he went into the cognitive world.

He thanked the man again for his hospitality and headed upstairs.

Sojiro was becoming more and more likable. Akira was still cautious around the man, as he seemed to have a few things that really set him off. But, when he wasn’t aggravated, the man was very kind.

He entered his room, he really should put some kind of cover over the staircase leading to his room. It was awkward waking up and hearing people talking downstairs. He needed some privacy.

Morgana hopped off his shoulder and rested on the banister.

“This place… this place is disgusting!”

Looking around, Akira could see where he was coming from. There was dust and trash littering every corner. He had been too busy to deal with it yet, and honestly it didn’t bother him too much.

He shrugged in response.

“We have to clean this!” The cat continued, “I refuse to live in these conditions!”

Akira didn’t mention that Morgana could live somewhere else for all Akira cared.

“Yeah, maybe tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow!? We have to do it now! Let’s go, hop to it!”

Like a drill master, Morgana began swatting at his heels with his tail.

Akira sighed. Not like he had anything else planned for the night.

It took an hour or two, but with Morgana using his tail to help dust they were able to get the whole thing done relatively quickly.

The room was a lot nicer now, there was an open desk to study at, a few bookshelves to hold things he didn’t own, and a ton of empty room for things he didn’t have.

The place looked empty now. His meager amount of clothing was resting in a cardboard box they found.

“Well, at least it’s clean.” Akira mumbled

“See! Isn’t everything better? We’re gonna be a productive pair if you keep listening to me.”

Akira doubted he would. Who lets a cat tell them what to do?

“Kid!” Sojiro called from downstairs “Foods ready!”

Perfect timing too. It took a lot longer to make than usual, maybe a customer came in or something? Didn’t matter.

He went downstairs and was greeted by a delicious looking plate of curry and rice.

Sojiro really knew how to cook. Well, he knew how to cook one dish, but he was really good at it.

It was the best food he’d had in over a year, but he really needed to eat something else. He didn’t want to ruin the meal for himself by eating it every night.

Akira muttered another gratitude, which Sojiro waved off, and dug in. He was so starving it only took him a few minutes to finish most of the meal. Sojiro apologize for the wait and explained he had to go home to take care of some stuff, muttering under his breath about not being appreciated. There was no bite in it, so it was probably more of an inside joke than anything serious. Akira didn’t say anything back, knowing how the man’s home life could set him off.

He hadn’t eaten much for lunch. Not wanting to blow all the money he earned on overpriced school bread, he ate less than he needed to for lunch.

“So… kid. I heard about the accident. The school called me about you being late, and then called back later and explained the situation.”

Akira froze.

“Kid, if you want to talk about it, I’m not the best person for this,” He rubbed the back of his head, “But, I can try. You’ve been through a lot, seeing what happened on the news is shocking. I can’t even imagine what it was like in person. They say it was the most devastating case of a mental shutdown so far. The city's in an uproar.”

Silence overtook them while Akira thought about what to say.

“Thank you sir, but I’ll be fine. I was out of the direct path, and so there’s not much to talk about.” He lied.

“Don’t try to play tough now. This is serious, and you shouldn’t downplay it. I’m not kidding, if you want to talk I’m here. And just call me boss, I’m too young to be called sir.”

“Okay Boss, but really, I’m fine. It wasn’t that big a deal.” Akira lied again.

He was incredibly uncomfortable with the look of pity the man was sending him. He couldn’t tell if Sojiro saw through his lie or not, but Sojiro let out a sigh.

“Alright, but really, if you ever want to talk about it, I’m available. Look, here’s my contact info. I probably should have given this to you a few days ago, but it’s not too late now.”

They traded contact information and went silent again. Akira finished up his meal while Sojiro did some work behind the counter. After a bit, Sojiro’s phone went off.

“Yes… yeah… you already ate… There’s more ramen in the cupboard… All you do is follow the instructions, it takes minutes… Just… I don’t need… Fine. Fine. I’ll be back soon.... Yeah yeah.”

It seemed like the mysterious person wanted Sojiro back. That was fine, if he tried to talk about Akira’s feelings again there was no more food to hide behind.

Sojiro grabbed his hat and picked up a few items before saying a quick goodbye and leaving. Akira went to clean his dish, and before he could finish Sojiro had text him.

Sojiro(Boss) - Hey kid, can you flip the sign to closed? I forgot to do that.
Sojiro(Boss) - Lock up too.
Sojiro(Boss) - Start doing that from now on. I also don’t control your nights so do whatever you want after I leave.
Sojiro(Boss) - Just to clarify, that doesn't mean anything. If anything is out of place, or I can tell that anyone came over. I’ll let Sae fry you.
Sojiro(Boss) - You already know about what happens if you get in trouble.
Sojiro(Boss) - But leave for the night for all I care. Just be sure to lock up.

Another day another confusing Sojiro. He was getting better at understanding him though.

The man was a hard ass. He put on a big front, but in reality, he was a lot softer and nicer than he tried to come off as.

But, this was good news. Being able to go out at night was a big thing. That opened up a whole new world of possibilities for him.

He liked the man, but not enough to open up to him. There wasn’t a person out there he was comfortable enough with doing that.

Time to go to sleep though, he had nothing to do that night, so he went to bed.

____________________________________________________________________________

(Warning: Possibly disturbing Content)

April 14
Thursday
Midnight
???

All she could hear was screeching.

She sobbed uncontrollably in a ball on her bathroom floor.

Her parents had gone to bed hours ago and no one was there when she came inside.

That was good.

She didn’t want anyone to see her like this.

It had started in… his… car. The sobbing.

Thinking of the man made her vomit.

She didn’t have the will to move and lay there next to it.

She deserved this.

She had to do this, she had to so Ann didn’t.

She hated herself more than ever.

She had hated herself for a while now.

She hated how she looked. How big her breasts were. How narrow her hips were.

That… man… had always made sure to tell her how she was lacking.

She vomited again.

This was for Ann.

She tried to think of how she would be strong, how she could come out of this better.

She couldn’t think of anything.

Maybe, maybe if she disappeared it would change him. He would leave them all alone.

She lay there for another hour, sobbing, before sleep consumed her. It wasn’t peaceful, and she wasn’t asleep for any more than thirty minutes at a time.

She hated herself.

(Warning over)

____________________________________________________________________________

April 15
Early Morning
Friday
Foggy

The beeper on his phone went off, loudly, stirring Akira awake. It was 5:30am, the same time he woke up every day in Juvie.

They would start the day early, and finish early. He had been a night bird a long time ago, but he was an early riser now.

The last few days were a wake up to Akira. Even though he was out of Juvie, it didn’t look like he was going to get a break from fighting anytime soon. He needed to stay in shape if he wanted to keep up.

The near fight with Kamoshida stirred the rage within him. The man was fit and had a height advantage on him. If, more like when, they came to blows again Akira would need to be in prime physical fitness to win. He needed to keep up the routine he had in Juvie, he even needed to add to it.

That required him to wake up early. He would be busy everyday all day from now on, so it looked like he would be getting fit in the mornings.

5:30, wake up, 7:20 breakfast then shower, be on a bus by 8:10 for a 10-minute ride and he would be at school early.

Morgana kept sleeping though, Akira had warned him about his plans, but the cat didn’t intend on joining him.

That was fine. He wanted some alone time.

He changed into his one pair of workout clothes, he would need to buy more, and got started. He did a few warm ups before begging his body weight exercises. He had learned and practiced a ton in Juvie. They didn’t let the prisoners use weights after… that incident, but it wasn’t a big deal.

About six months into his sentence, a fight had broken out in the weight room. Someone got killed, their head was bashed in, and no one was allowed to use the weight room ever again.

Akira had been there that day, but ran away when the fight started. He wanted no part in that.

Either way, he was forced to read some books and ask the people in Juvie who were, at least, tolerant of him for help. He learned a lot of weight training exercises that only required resistance movements.

He was working out his arms and back today. Now that he was out, he was also planning on joining a real gym soon. He felt like he had taken body weight training as far as it could go and really needed to get some weights.

After an hour Akira jogged to the corner store and purchased a tub protein powder. It was a little expensive (nearly 2000 yen), but would be invaluable in the long run.

Walking in, Sojiro told him to clean himself up and get ready for school. Akira quickly made a protein shake with some tap water and did just that.

Luckily, for him at least, there were no customers in right now. He had arrived in a lull during the morning rush, so he was able to walk around more comfortably.

The morning rush was never that busy though. For a coffee shop, Sojiro really should expand his food options. Who wanted to eat curry for breakfast?

He would never bring it up to the man, but Sojiro should offer something like scones or pancakes. Curry was fine for lunch, but was probably preventing himself from a lot of potential morning traffic.

The man probably didn’t care though. He had never seemed bothered by a lack of customers. Akira had been there for a few days and Sojiro never seemed anxious when people weren’t there.

Not his problem though, maybe he had a crazy amount of business while Akira was gone.

That reminded him, what happened when he was gone? His door, which he lacked, was always open. Anyone could go in his room anytime, anyone could look into his room if they walked past the bathroom and angled their heads right.

That made him feel… unsafe and dangerously open. He would really need to talk to Sojiro about putting something, even a piece of plywood, over the opening.

He turned his brain off after that and got ready for school.

Sojiro didn’t make him breakfast this morning, looked like the free ride was over, and Akira left. He still had some time left before he had to catch his train, so he purchased a to-go breakfast and lunch from the convenience store.

Morgana had caught up with him at one point and forced him to buy the cat some food as well.

Morgana had paid for his meal however, giving him the yen he had kept somewhere.

Well, he kept his word, he wasn’t mooching.

Akira caught his train soon after that.

____________________________________________________________________________
Shujin was the same. He had met up with Ryuji before classes and hung out. They made a plan that Ryuji would talk to other students about Kamoshida’s doings.

Even though he was the second worst liked student in Shujin, Akira was the first. By a massive margin.

There was no way they were going to get anything out of anyone with him there.

Classes were the same, boring and long. Every teacher focused in on him every time it seemed like he was drifting off, asking him more questions than they did anyone else. He did his best to answer correctly every time.

They always noticed him about to daydream, but never noticed the cat sitting in his desk.

These teachers were morons.

Kawakami was the only one that didn’t grill him. She was still looking at him weird however.

He disliked her more than the rest. He hated being pitied.

Class went by slowly until lunch. He then made his was to Ryuji and his usual meeting place, the table in the courtyard.

He glared at everyone already sitting there and they quickly left. Good. This was his spot now.

“Yo dude!” Ryuji called out to him, waving. He wasn’t smiling though.

“Bad news?” Akira asked.

“Yeah, not a single person was willing to speak to me. You could kinda tell they had stuff to say, but Kamoshida’s really gotten to them.”

That wasn’t good. Without them they had nothing.

‘A manifestation of his self-conscious admitted that he did it’ wouldn’t hold up in court.

They discussed their next moves for a few moments before a set of quiet foot falls alerted him.

Shushing Ryuji, Akira looked over as Ann, the beautiful girl who sat in front of him, paced over.

“I know you guys are doing something to get Kamoshida. Let me in.” She exclaimed.

Not one to mince words huh.

Ryuji sputtered for a moment and was about to say something before Akira cut him off.

“What? I have no idea what you’re talking about. We’re just eating lunch.”

She laughed.

“The two biggest troublemakers in Shujin? Just casually eating lunch together? I’m not stupid, everyone heard about Ryuji asking around school.”

Oh yeah, they really had no way to defend themselves after that.

“Just back off Takamaki.” Ryuji butted in, “This is none of your business.”

“None of my, none of MY business! Don’t talk to me like you know me! Anything to do with Kamoshida is MY business! Now let me help you take him down!” She stomped her foot for emphasis.

Akira was unprepared for this. Wasn’t she supposed to be Kamoshida’s girlfriend or something? That was the rum… oh. Rumors had ruined his reputation at this school, did they ruin hers too? The student body seemed to love any kind of drama they could get.

But what was her relationship with Kamoshida?

“Yeah right, you’re gonna rat us out the second you can. We actually want to take him down Takamaki, we’re not playing around.”

Damnit Ryuji, they were supposed to deny they were doing anything. Well, cat's out of the bag now. Literally and figuratively, as he looked at Morgana staring at Ann with awe.

“Let’s get out of here dude, we have no reason to talk to her.” Ryuji grabbed his meal and left.

Ann sputtered at them and yelled for them to come back, but was ignored. If she was serious about wanting to take Kamoshida down, it was best to just let the three of them do it. They were saving her from herself.

____________________________________________________________________________

The two of them split off after that. They didn’t want to draw any more attention, so Ryuji went to his class to eat and Akira went to the rooftops.

The door was unlocked again, the janitor, or whoever, did a bad job of keeping that secure, and he took a seat against the wall.

He got a few bites in before nearly leaping in surprise.

Sitting next to him was Shiho. How had he not noticed her!? Why hadn’t she said anything?

He waved towards her, but she didn’t respond.

She had a dead look in her eyes.

Jeez, what had happened to her?

Akira wasn’t one for talking about his, or anyone’s, problems, but he had a pit in his stomach over this.

He said her name and waved at her, but was ignored. He repeated her name a few times, before clapping his hands to get her attention.

She nearly jumped out of her skin in fright.

“FUCK! What do you want!” She yelled.

He didn’t expect that kind of language from her and was momentarily stunned.

“Oh… uh, I just saw you there and you weren’t responding. Are you okay?”

She clammed up at that and looked away. She was incredibly pale.

She didn’t say a word.

“I’m probably not the best person to talk to, but I can keep a secret. Are you doing okay?”

She pulled her legs to her chest and rested her forehead against them, staying silent.

Akira looked at his watch, he still had twenty minutes for lunch.

He sat down across from her and pulled out the rest of his lunch. He tried to offer her some, but she didn’t look up or respond in any way.

God, what had happened to her? He was worried for this girl.

She had been nice to him, more so than anyone else at Shujin. He felt the need to try and help. Should he get Ann? He didn’t know where she was and didn’t want to leave Shiho alone.

“I guess I’ll talk then, kinda weird though, I’m normally the quiet one.” He said with a laugh.

She didn’t laugh back, and he quieted down. Okay, don’t try comedy. He wasn’t very funny anyways.

“How about I’ll tell you a story, let me see, how about how I got sent to Juvie?”

The other inmates always loved to share stories of how they got in there, the more violent and dangerous the better.

It worked too. Shiho raised her eyes above her knees and stared at him with her cold, dead eyes.

Yeah, there was no way he could leave her now. He was afraid of what would happen if he left this roof.

He told her the story of the man with orange glasses, of the ‘assault’ and the ensuing trial and incarceration. It kept her attention throughout, although she never made a word or asked any questions. When he finished she put her head back down onto her knees.

He subtly looked at his watch. He still had ten minutes until lunch was over.

“Yeah, it was a real mess.” God, he was fumbling this. He needed a happy story, to cheer up her mood.

He didn’t have any, so time to make one up.

“But, one good thing came out of it.” She looked up, “I got this little guy now.”

He motioned for Morgana to come join them, who hesitantly slinked towards them. He had been there the whole time, but had felt the mood and stayed quiet.

“He was just a little alley cat when I met him on my first day in Tokyo, but now we're inseparable. He’s my best friend.” A lie, but a nice one.

Morgana didn’t argue with him at that, still understanding that now wasn’t the time, and curled up next to him. The guy could act. Akira stroked his back and Morgana let out content purrs.

“You wanna pet him?”

She did nod her head at that, only slightly, and Akira made a motion towards Shiho. She reached a hand out gently and barely touched Morgana, but he was a showman and let out an exaggerated purring noises.

Shiho liked it, and got more confident with her petting. Morgana weaseled his way into her lap and she softly pet him, to his extreme overreactions.

“He really likes you huh?”

“What's his name?” She asked.

Her voice was dead, but at least she was speaking.

“Morgana.”

“Why?”

“Well, I thought he was a girl at first,” Morgana gave him a venomous look but didn’t stop purring, “And I had just read a book on legends. It stuck, and then I realized he was a guy, but the name had already stuck.”

Morgana's reaction continued to indicate that he didn’t appreciate Akira viewing him as a girl. So, he was a guy after all.

Shiho continued petting him in silence, a small smile appearing on her face once or twice, while Akira ate. He didn’t say anything else until the bell rung for the next period.

“Can I walk you to class?”

Shiho nodded, still not saying anything, and got up. Morgana slipped off her lap and disappeared back into his bag.

Shiho smiled at the sight, a light laugh on her lips. Her eyes were still dead, but her posture was more encouraging.

He would tell Ann to watch out for the girl later.

They walked to class together in silence, the crowd parting for them. It was convenient.

Down the hall Kamoshida came around the corner, but turned the other direction and approached a student against the wall.

A sharp pain erupted in his back. Shiho grabbed his arm for dear life, nearly wrenching it out of his socket, and clung to his lower back, grabbing his oblique. She hid behind him, but pushed him forward.

To anyone else it could look like an intimate gesture, but Akira could feel her trembling.

Kamoshida turned around and looked at them, but the fiercest glare Akira could give made the man sneer and turn back around.

Good. If the man came near them Akira probably would have killed him.

They reached Shiho’s class, Ryuji’s class too, and she ran inside the door, nearly slamming it shut before Akira could slide in.

Most students weren’t there yet, Ryuji wasn’t, but all that were there looked at them.

Shiho’s trembles had subsided only slightly. She quietly stalked to her seat with an impressive speed and pulled out her pencil and paper, preparing for class.

She must not have noticed him following her, but didn’t make any reaction as he stood in front of her.

Kamoshida had done something to her to make her like this.

This was too far.

He was forced to quiet the rage inside of him. Now wasn’t the time.

He took her pencil from her desk and began writing a note. He didn’t want everyone in the class to overhear.

‘Here’s my number, call or text me anytime you want to talk. I’m very free and always available. You don’t have to say anything, we can just make small talk. You can even hang out with Morgana more if you want.’

He looked to her for confirmation, and she gave a small nod of recognition.

He should probably get her number too, he doubted she would send the first message.

He continued, ‘I don’t have many friends here, so maybe I could get your number too? We can work on homework together.”

He put the pencil down and waited. She hesitated for a moment, before grabbing the pencil and jotting down her number. Akira quickly added it to his phone and sent a quick text, and was happy when her phone buzzed.

He took the pencil again, ‘Alright, I’ll message you later, thanks for chatting. Morgana really liked you, so we have to meet up again to let you play with him.’

She nodded but made no move to grab the pencil. Her body language wasn’t encouraging.

He was worried for her.

He would not only have to talk to Ann, but also he’d need to start escorting her around school. The thought of what Kamoshida could have done to her to turn her into this sent him into such a rage he almost went to the man’s office to kill him.

He could have too. They could force him to take a quick trip to the metaverse and he could gut Kamoshida like a fish.

He had to calm down though, he couldn’t do that.

But he wouldn’t leave Shiho alone in this school with that predator around.

He made it back to his class and sat down.

He had no reservations now though. He would steal the man’s treasure, whether or not it caused Kamoshida’s death.

Ann walked in right before the bell sounded, he would approach her after class.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

The day went by quickly after that. He had to study with Makoto after school, but he had more pressing matters to attend to.

Thinking of Kamoshida throughout the day had gotten him to the point where he was about to break. He needed to go to the metaverse later to let off some steam, and Ryuji had agreed.

He grabbed Ann’s arm subtly before she could leave and made a quiet motion with his head. She got the message and they left together.

He had asked Ryuji to stick with Shiho until he could talk to Ann.

They made it to the rooftops quickly.

“So, are you going to let me in on your plan?” She questioned.

“No, it's better the less you know. This isn’t about that though, we need to talk about Shiho.”

Ann’s posture immediately turned defensive, rather than her previous aggressive.

“What about her!? You stay away from Shiho! If you have a problem with me, you better-”

“It’s not that. I mean her no harm. Have you seen her today?”

“No... “Ann quieted down “She hasn’t answered my texts, but I didn’t think anything of it, is she okay?”

Akira let out a breath. He really wasn’t someone who liked to deal with all these emotional problems. He loathed it.

“I don’t think so. I think... I think something happened between her and Kamoshida.”

Ann’s entire body clammed up at that, jaw slamming shut, she looked at him with wide eyes.

He continued, “I went to the rooftops after our meeting this afternoon and she was there. She had this dead look in her eyes and barely spoke a word to me. I sat there and talked to her the whole time and then walked her to class, but when Kamoshida came near she froze and grabbed me with ridiculous strength. She was trembling really hard. He never saw her, and I got her into class, but I think somethings wrong. You need to talk to her.”

Ann was frozen. Her face held trembled, like she was about to cry, before erupting into a terrifying fury.

“That motherfucker.” She whispered.

“THAT MOTHERFUCKER!” She yelled.

“I’m going to rip his ass apart! I don’t care about your plan, I’m going to go kill him right now!” She was about to rush down the stairs, but Akira managed to grab her shoulder and stopped her. She ripped his hands from her, violently, and glared at him with an intensity that would have cowed most men.

“I wanted to too. Trust me, I nearly killed him right then and there. I know what, what we think happened. But trust me, I have a way to get him. A way to destroy him. If you go kill him now, you’ll get kicked out of school and no one will be there for Shiho.”

That stopped her. She let out a long breath, and shoved him. Hard. He stumbled backwards before catching himself.

“Then. Tell. Me. What. It. Is. You. Dumb. Bastard!” She emphasized every word by shoving him some more, until his back was against the wall, but she kept shoving even when her words stopped.

Fuck, what did he do? He grabbed her hands as she shoved him and pulled her close to his chest.

God damnit, this was the last thing he wanted to do, but he was worried about Shiho.

“Look, meet me after school and I’ll show you. Get Shiho home, and come back, I have to study with Makoto and then me and Ryuji are going to work on our plan more.”

She ripped her hands out of his, but nodded. She still looked pissed.

“If this plan doesn't destroy him, I’m coming into school tomorrow and I’m going to put him down. I don’t care what happens to me.”

She finished it off with one last, hard, shove, before pushing her phone into his face and making him give her his contact info. Once he did she text him to confirm it, making his phone buzz.

She nodded, shoved him again against the wall, and stalked off quickly.

But, before she got out of reach, she turned around, and shoved him once more. Happy with herself, she left.

Damn, that had hurt. He might have a bruise or two from where she had hit him.

He had better text Ryuji and tell him to get out of her way. He sent a quick message saying, ‘leave Shiho now’ and leaned back against the wall.

What had he just done. Was he really going to show the Metaverse to another person? Didn’t he want to just keep it between the three current members?

But, he had to. If he didn’t then Ann would do something to Kamoshida and get kicked out of Shujin. As angry as she was Akira doubted she would do enough damage to keep the man out of school, and then Shiho would be alone.

That one moment where she was polite and kind to him had sent him down this track. Now, he was putting himself in danger for someone he barely knew.

He checked his phone and saw a few unread texts.

Ryuji: Why?
Ryuji: Ok, but something’s wrong with her
Ryuji: Oh, that’s why. Thanks for the heads up
Ryuji: Ann gave me this weird look when she entered though, did you say something to her?

Akira let out a breath. God, what had he done. He quickly responded and said he’d explain later. He didn’t want to do any more emotional talking. Might as well just surprise the guy when they met up.

Luckily, Morgana hadn’t been there for any of it. He had gotten bored in between classes and left to go explore.

Now he had to go study with Makoto.

He really, really, didn’t anticipate ANY of this to happen when he imagined life outside Juvie.

____________________________________________________________________________

A/N

Hey guys, I’m back!

First off, sorry it took so long to get this out. I actually had a lot written out, but school consumed me, and I was never able to finish editing and writing the final sections. It took me a little over a month to get this out, which isn't ideal but what can you do.

I have not given up on this story and have a ton of things I want to write. Life and school just take over sometimes and I can’t get anything out.

Now to talk about the plot. A lot changed from the game, which I think is fun. The deviations are getting wilder and I only hope to add more.

Ann and Akira’s relationship starts differently because I also thought it was weird how, in the game, you don’t know this girl, but you hound her around the subway to try and figure out what’s wrong with her even though she told you to leave her alone. It was kinda weird in game, so I wanted to make it seem more natural.

Morgana’s introduction also went differently which is fun.

Now Shiho is the wildest one. I still don’t know how I feel about the part I wrote from her perspective.

(potential spoilers).

I know a lot of people with depression. They hate things about them and they can’t stop themselves from it. They blame themselves for the horrible things that happened to them, even if it’s not their fault. Shiho’s psyche is destroyed, and I wanted to emphasize that. I hope it didn’t come off as grandiose or unnecessarily edgy. I really want her to be a bigger character in the story so having a section from her POV is important.

If anyone has any thoughts about it please DM me, I’d love to know what I could do better / if it goes too far.

(End potential spoilers)

I'm very torn on how her section went so please DM me if you have any strong opinions.

That's all for now, I’m going to start writing chapter 5 soon and I hope to get that out to you guys faster. There’s still so much happening in this story and were only a few days in lol. Hope you all enjoy and stick around for the ride. Please share your thoughts and I’ll see you later!

Chapter Text

Pre- A/N

There will be a description of a location later in the chapter, when you get to it you’ll know. It might be hard to visualize so I drew it out and posted it on imgur. Here’s a link to find it for when you reach that part.

imgur.com/a/32KYX

 

April 15
Afternoon
Friday
Cloudy

What a mess.

He took a few deep breaths to calm down. Ann’s harsh shoving had nearly set him off, but he had barely managed to hold himself back. It wasn’t the time or place to get angry or lash out.

He’d have to find somewhere to do that later.

She hadn’t actually hit him that hard, he might have been overreacting in his mind. She hit a lot lighter than the people who he was used to hitting him. He understood her frustration as well, he was the first person that understood the need to hit something to take out your anger. Next time he would have to make sure that frustration wasn’t directed at him though.

He would have never taken that aggression in the past. But, this was the first time that the aggression had been from a girl. What was the proper response to that? He wasn’t going to deck her like he would his fellow inmates.

Then, there was how she looked. He hated to think about how much cute girls flubbed his every instinct. He had never gotten to go through his awkward phase in the beginning of high school, spending his time in a jail cell instead.

Looks like that lack of social development was going to be an issue.

He probably could have told her to stop, but that might have set her off more, better to have just taken the beating and moved on. Wouldn’t be the first time.

He swallowed the building frustration with everything he had.

He really needed to find a place and just take a break, but life had other plans.

Thinking back, why had he told her to meet him later? There was no way he would be able to make a cohesive plan that didn’t involve the metaverse in an hour, one guaranteed to succeed. If he tried to lie, Ann would probably just hit him again and go find Kamoshida.

He was a moron.

The overwhelming desire to smash his head against the wall was building.

If he didn’t tell her about the metaverse, she would go after Kamoshida and everything he did would be for naught.

He stared at the wall longingly.

If he messed up again today he might just put his head through that wall.

He let out a breath and looked at his phone. Class had ended twenty minutes ago, he was late to see Makoto. He rushed over.

Makoto was in the same place as usual when he entered.

And, per usual, everyone stopped working to stare at him. They started whispering to each other, and a few even got up and left.

The students here acted like he was going to have a breakdown and murder them every time he stepped into a room.

He took a seat next to Makoto and began to unpack his things.

She didn’t look up from her work, “I thought you said you were going to be taking this seriously.”

“I apologize. I was talking to Ms. Chouno about the English homework and lost track of time.” He lied.

Makoto let out a sigh and put down her pencil. “That woman is so chatty, just, just don’t do it again. I need to be as productive as possible, so I can’t waste time.”

At least she didn’t try to chew him out this time.

They worked on problems together for the next hour, giving Ann enough time to take Shiho home, make sure she was safe, and come back.

Thinking about that situation was leaving him incredibly distracted, slowing his down progress immensely. He kept checking his phone every few minutes to see if he had somehow missed a message from her.

After a while, his phone finally went off. A hurried glance revealed that Ann was on her way back and would be at Shujin in ten minutes. It was time to end studying for today.

He sent a quick message to Ryuji to head to the meetup point.

“Hey, I have to head out. I gotta run some errands before I go home. Sorry to have to cut this short.” Akira said as he started to pack his belongs up.

“We’ve only been going for an hour and you haven’t even gotten through all of the assigned problems yet, are you sure?” She questioned.

“Yeah I need to run chores before it gets dark. I’ll finish up the rest of the problems at home, can I text you if I need help?”

“That’s acceptable, I might not answer though if it gets too late. I do stop working sometimes.” She joked.

He smiled slightly, so she could had jokes?

“You don’t just study all night? That’s a shocker.”

Where had that come from?

Makoto’s smile grew slightly.

“I have to sleep occasionally, probably less than I should get but I do sleep.”

Akira chuckled, but he couldn’t think of anything else clever. Talking to girls was difficult.

Sometimes it felt like his brain just stopped working in these situations.

“I can’t study tomorrow by the way. I have to get ready for, the thing, but I can Monday.” He said, defaulting back to conversation about work as it was easier.

He didn’t say he was moving in with her either, not wanting all the eavesdroppers to know that they were living together. He was sure it wouldn’t look good for Makoto.

She probably was already being harshly judged for talking to him.

She sighed, but nodded her head, obviously disappointed.

“Alright, I know I said we could get a lot done in an hour, but you really need to study as much as possible. I’m here every day until six, then I study more at home until it gets too late. If you want to pass classes, you need to put more hours in.”

Jeez, that was a crazy amount of studying. She most likely had entrance exams soon however, so it was warranted.

“I will, I will. Once I get settled in I’ll put my nose to the grindstone, don’t worry.”

She nodded and went back to her work, saying nothing more.

Seeing as how the conversation was over, Akira got up and went to the door. He waved to her as he left, but she didn’t make any motions to look up or address him.

She was a busy person. He was lucky to be getting her help at all. If their relationship stayed professional more than anything, he wouldn’t care.

He did feel slightly closer to her though.
____________________________________________________________________________

Akira went straight to the meetup point.

Ryuji and Morgana had arrived early it seemed. They were too occupied with a shouting match to realize he had arrived.

“-We don’t even need you here, so why don’t you scram!” Ryuji shout, leaning down face to face with the cat.

“Don’t need me!? You’d be dead without me!” Morgana screamed back, placing his forehead against Ryuji’s.

They looked stupid. Especially Ryuji.

Morgan was the first to notice him approaching, “Akira! Look, tell this idiot how valuable I am!”

Akira exhaled, somehow, he was getting more exhausting. He would sleep well tonight.

“We need Morgana Ryuji, he can heal and knows a lot of stuff we don’t. Could you guys not fight for a bit? We have a more pressing concern.”

Morgana looked smug, while Ryuji tsk’d and kicked the air.

He wasn’t excited for this part. He was about to be a hypocrite.

“I don’t really have a segway for this, but, I let Ann know about the metaverse.” He hadn’t, but it made the story easier.

That changed their faces in seconds, Ryuji to outrage and Morgana, surprisingly, to a mix of shock and delight.

“Dude! What the hell!? I thought we were going to keep this a secret!” Ryuji shout.

He was right.

“I’m going to be a hypocrite, but, yeah. This is a onetime thing, something happened between Ann, Kamoshida and Shiho. Ann was about to make a big mistake and I had to tell her we have a plan or she’d make a mess of everything.”

“So? Come on dude! Wasn’t there any other way? We’re not even sure what this place even is yet, we shouldn’t share it!”

Before he could respond, Morgana chimed in, “I don’t think it’s that bad, we need a girl in this group anyways.”

Ryuji turned his anger to Morgana, “You moron! We don’t need a gender balance! Plus, you’re our girl, we’re fine!”

“I’m not a girl! Why does everyone think I’m a girl!” Morgana raised himself to his tip toes and hissed.

Akira sighed, again. They continued to yell at each other, but Akira didn’t care enough to step in.

He was upset with himself. If he were Ryuji, he’d be beyond pissed. They hadn’t officially said to keep the metaverse a secret, but it was an unspoken rule.

“Is… is Sakamoto arguing with a cat?”

That was Ann’s voice. Looking over his shoulder, he saw her watching the chaos of Ryuji, face to face, with Morgana having a screaming match.

It must have looked ridiculous if you couldn’t hear Morgana. And insane. Mostly insane.

“Yeah, it’ll make sense in a second.” He turned to address the two, “Game time guys! Let’s get this started.”

They stopped arguing and turned towards him. Ryuji spit and looked away when he saw Ann, while Morgana put on his cutest face. Suck up.

Ann crossed her arms and looked at him, pissed off. “This already seems stupid. You have ten seconds to give me a reason why I shouldn’t leave.”

Ryuji was about to jump in and say something, but Akira raised his hand to quiet him. The best way to do this was to just jump into it and explain later.

He pulled out his phone and said the words.

____________________________________________________________________________

Akira could barely believe what had just transpired.

A toilet demon, Ann, Ann’s latex suit, a ton of fire, Ann’s latex suit, what had happened?

He had to rerun through the last few hours to really get it.

Ann had been amazed and shocked, reasonably, at first. She rattled off a million questions, about what was going on and why they were there. To her further amazement, the cat that Ryuji had been arguing with, Morgana, had answered most of them. He had told her it would all make sense in a second.

Well, it still didn’t to be honest, so he had kind of lied.

A lot of her questions were also about what drugs they had given her, but Akira assured her that they most likely didn’t drug her.

She didn’t find that funny. He had to remind himself that wasn’t funny.

Morgana then explained their plan, with Akira’s assistance. It calmed her down and stopped her from leaving, not that she knew how.

They were going to find the treasure, manifest it, and steal it.

They explained how taking a treasure steals a person’s desires. The idea that it could make Kamoshida grow a conscience and confess was well received. The idea that it could kill him as well went over okay too.

Ann was ecstatic at the idea, every part of it. Somehow, she believed them. Akira really thought it would take more convincing.

She clarified that even if their plan failed, she could still complete her original plan, so why not just try this? This place was already outside the realm of reason, so why couldn’t the idea that they were going to steal someone’s desires be real either?

Ryuji was less ecstatic. He was uncomfortable with the idea of killing Kamoshida. He hated Kamoshida’s guts, and with good reason, but he wasn’t sure if he could kill him. It took some convincing from Ann and Akira before he came on board. He agreed to help them find the treasure, but didn’t know if he could steal it with them.

Ann and Akira didn’t explain their driving force. Neither was comfortable talking about what had possibly happened to Shiho. Ann just said that Kamoshida had done something that could never be forgiven as her motivation and left it at that.

Afterwards, they took Ann into the palace, taking out any enemies in the way. Their battle strategy was simple, Akira stayed in front, Ryuji was behind the whole group to prevent anyone from sneaking up on them, while Morgana positioned himself near Ann, so nothing could even get close to her.

They didn’t plan on showing her much, just enough to get her on board and to leave it up to them. It was all working, but they pushed too far. They entered a large candle lit room, looking for treasure, and the doors slammed behind them.

Kamoshida proceeded to enter in from across the room on a balcony, with his fake Ann at his side. Guards came pouring into the room from doors to their side, and next to Kamoshida. Kamoshida began to taunt the real Ann about everything he could. He went after her looks, her place in school, and finally, about Shiho.

By that point, he had enraged her to where he wasn’t able to say anything more than Shiho’s name before Ann exploded into a ball of fire.

Ryuji, Morgana, and himself were able to jump away from the explosion of fire at the last second, but the tidal wave of fire she sent out obliterated the nearby guards. Her attack incinerated the entire force, and nearly even killed Kamoshida before her transformation died down.

It did kill the fake Ann however, who turned into black smoke.

The real one now sported a bright red, latex, skin-tight, suit with feline features. Her mask was a bright red cat mask with tiny ears at the top of it. Completing the look was a long tail that trailed behind her.

Her weapons were an extremely long, red, whip that seemed to change lengths at whim, and a mafia-esque tommy gun.

Her persona, Carmen, was a hyper sexualized dominatrix. She had much smoother features than any of their personas, with many more ‘curves’ and a massive rose studded dress to finish her look.

Two men with hearts for faces floated around her everywhere she went.

None of that was to say Carmen wasn’t as terrifying as the others. She was more so in some ways. Her human-like face was able to portray a much deeper expression of cruelty. Her eyes, while filled with fire, didn’t have the same animalistic rage that Arsene’s had. This creature wanted to take you, she wanted to hurt you. She wanted to play with her food before killing it.

Carmen scared him more than any of the other persona’s. The thirst in her eyes, a lust for pain and death, was unlike any other. She seemed to radiate that everyone else was an insect to her. It was deeply intimidating.

Ann didn’t notice, or care, about that however. She immediately used her new whip to strike Kamoshida across the face, bursting open his forehead and hitting him across the eye.

Were this real life, Kamoshida would almost certainly have been blinded and would now sport a massive scar. Seeing as it wasn’t, the man just screamed in pain and fled for his life, using a giant toilet demon as a distraction.

Unfortunately, for said demon, he was weak to fire. It didn’t take long for Ann to roast him alive, knocking the demon to the ground. In a display of cruelty and rage she approached the demon and proceeded to empty a clip from her new tommy gun into the demon’s brains.

He approved of that, even if the demon was dead halfway through the clip.

Ann was dangerous.

But, like always, the post-awakening exhaustion overtook her and forced them to exit.

Akira couldn’t help but wonder, was there a way to access that hyper-powerful state? Even with the same, exhausted, drawback?

He’d have to test that out, it could be invaluable. There were few situations where being able to unleash a tsunami of fire wouldn’t be helpful.

It only took them a few minutes to make it out after that, Akira letting Ann rest, draped over his shoulders, the whole way there. He was brought out of his distractions as he helped her stumble out into the courtyard. He helped her reach the wall, which she rested her head against and relaxed. They gave her a few minutes to catch her breath.

Ann let out a huge sigh, and stood up straight.

Then realized what she was wearing and hunched over while covering her chest.

“What the hell am I wearing! Stop looking pervs!” She shout, embarrassed.

He felt his body get hot, and his face hotter. He whipped his head in the other direction.

He could see that Ryuji didn’t listen though. Neither had Morgana.

At least Morgana was a cat, come on Ryuji.

“Don’t worry about it, we’re all wearin somethin weird.” Ryuji said.

“Yeah, but not this! You don’t have your chest poking out of your shirt, do you!” She shouted while stomping her foot.

Ryuji waved her off, “Quit whinin, it’s not that big a deal. It’s not like we haven’t seen that kinda stuff a million times online anyways. There’s swimsuit catalogs all over the place, this is basically the same.”

Well, Akira hadn’t. He hadn’t seen any ‘intimate’ skin in over a year. Before he went to Juvie he had ‘read’ the catalogues and seen pictures online, but that was so long ago.

And it was a lot different in person.

Ann seemed to agree, gawking at Ryuji’s statement. “This is not at all the same thing! Those girls are ready for that! And who said I want you to even see me like this!”

Ryuji seemed to take offense to that, stepping up slightly, “What are you tryin to say!”

“I wasn’t being vague, you heard me.” She replied, also stepping up while keeping one hand over her chest.

“For the record,” Morgana cut in, “I think you look purrfect.”

Morgana looked very proud of himself.

Stupid cat puns.

At least it distracted them from a potential argument and let Akira jump in. Hopefully his mask would cover his blush.

“Alright, alright. We’ll try to not look at your, um, chest. Well, I won’t at least” he said shooting a glance at the other two guys of the group, “Sorry that your outfit is so, that. We really have no choice on how we form, at least it’s not even more like your persona.”

The thought of Ann with Carmen’s extremely cut out dress didn’t help with his blush.

Ann stood still for a moment, before erupting in laughter.

She must have noticed his blush, which only made it deepen.

She kept laughing, wiping tears from her eyes, and walked towards him. She stopped covering her chest, and to his disappointment with himself, he couldn’t help from taking a quick glance.

His blush got even worse somehow.

“Aww, look at the big bad thug,” Ann said with a baby voice, “The terror of Shujin is embarrassed by a little skin? Oh that’s so cute.” She started to pinch and pull on his cheek.

God damnit. Why?

Ann’s laughter re-erupted, sparking Ryuji and Morgana to join in too.

He was never going to live this down.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s just” Ann said mid-laugh, “You’re this super imposing, scary, dude. And you’re embarrassed by a little cleavage? It’s just too funny.”

His mouth was dry. No response was coming.

Her laughter died down and she straightened up.

“Well, I feel a lot better now.” She continued, “It’s great that I’m not the only one embarrassed by my outfit. You know I’m never going to let you forget this right?”

Yes.

He turned his head and walked away slightly, making her laugh again. Someone please stop this.

Ryuji was chuckling too “So, what do we call ya? We all have code names, what's yours? Babe, Beaut, Dominatrix, Sexy Cat?” He grinned wickedly.

She was still smiling, “How about one that isn’t demeaning.” She responded “Like, uh, I don’t know. What do you think Akira?”

“Kitty woman.” He mumbled.

It got a laugh out of Ryuji. Maybe he was funny.

“No! These are awful! I’m so not cool with this!” She stomped her foot for emphasis.

“Well, what do you want to be called then?” Ryuji asked.

“Something cool, cooler than just ‘cat’, how about… panther? That’s pretty cool, right?”

That wasn’t bad.

“I like it.” Akira said.

“Me too, but why?” Ryuji asked.

Ann grabbed at her tail and started stroking it, “I don’t know, it’s kinda ferocious.”

“What about cougar?” Akira tried teasing to get a little revenge.

Ann gave him a look saying just how funny she didn’t think he was.

Couldn’t win them all.

“Alright! Then it’s settled! We’re Mona, Joker, Skull, and Panther! And we’re gonna take Kamoshida down!” Morgana ended his sentence by jumping and flinging one hand in the air.

As corny as that was, it did make him feel excited. Four people was going to change everything. This was possible.

They turned to walk away.

“But daaaamn” Ryuji muttered from behind the group.

“Hmm, what’s up?” Ann asked, turning around.

Ryuji’s eyes shot up, “Nothing, just thought of something for later, nothing.” Ryuji said quickly.

He was a bad liar, but either Ann was oblivious or too exhausted to care and just ignored him while following Morgana out.

Akira would never say it, but he agreed. Not like he needed to say anything, she already knew how he felt.

She looked incredible in her skin-tight latex suit. He was not ready to talk to a beautiful girl dressed like that. He wasn’t nearly suave enough, after not even seeing a girl for nearly a year.

Conversation went fine when it was solely about topics he could handle, Kamoshida and the metaverse. When they began to talk about anything else he made a fool of himself.

If she flirted with him, that would have been his end. He knew his reaction would destroy any ‘cool’ or ‘dangerous’ credibility he had. The little that was left.

They made it back to the real world where Ann and Ryuji traded numbers. They were all exhausted, so they split apart and agreed to meet up soon. Morgana jumped on his shoulder, and they went ‘home’.

___________________________________________________________________________

Akira entered LeBlanc as quietly as possible.

Sojiro stopped working and looked up, “Kid you look exhausted. You alright?”

Well, no, but it wasn’t like he could explain.

“Yeah, I might be getting a little under the weather. I’m not used to Tokyo.”

Sojiro grumbled slightly and looked back at his work, “Understandable. Stay away from the kitchen.”

Still a hardass.

There was only one customer in the cafe right now. A beautiful woman in a booth near the door. Jeez, how many beautiful women were there in Tokyo? It must have been something in the water.

She had a ‘punk-rock’ look and was quietly sipping a coffee. There was a dangerous, no-nonsense, air about her.

She was wearing a leather jacket over a low-cut blue dress with a large spiderweb on it. She had torn yoga pants covering parts of her legs and, most-notably, a black studded choker on her neck.

She looked young, probably early 20s but had a mature air.

She was good looking, but it wasn’t a good idea to talk to her with Sojiro there.

Not that he’d know what to say. ‘Hey, I’m the teenage boy living in the attic, what’s up?’, not the best pickup line.

However, she finished her coffee as soon as he entered, so talking to her wouldn’t be a problem.

She stood up and placed some yen on the counter, “Thanks for the coffee, I’ll see you later.”

“Come back again.”

She passed him on made her way to the door, not sparing him a glance.

She paused before the door, “Oh and kid,” She said, not looking back, “Come see me, if you still feel sick tomorrow.” She walked out the door.

What? See her tomorrow?

“Who was that?” He asked Sojiro.

“She’s the head doctor at a local clinic. Rumor has it that she gives pretty crappy evaluations and sells some weird homemade medicine on top of that. I’ve never gone, I have actual healthcare and go to a real hospital. She’s nice though, comes in often. I wish people would lay off of her, she’s not hurting anyone.”

Akira nodded. A shady doctor, that could be useful. Sojiro said something else about dinner, but seemed exhausted. He kept working for a few moments before yawning and putting his things down.

Sojiro muttered a halfhearted goodbye, grabbed his hat, and left.

Finally. Time to himself.

Akira took a much-needed shower while Morgana went to their room.

He needed to buy some body soap. He was using the hand soap that Sojiro kept there to clean his body. It probably wasn’t good for his skin.

He stayed in the shower longer than necessary. The warm, rushing, water felt good on his skin. He hadn’t had his own shower in so long that every time he was in this one, he just seemed to melt away. He could just stand there, alone, separate from all of his life’s problems.

Showers were becoming something of a safe haven for him. A sort of drug as well.

But, he couldn’t stay in there forever. After a few extra minutes he forced himself to get out.

He dried off and peered down at his phone. There were a few new messages, from two separate people. It looked like life wouldn’t leave him alone today.

He opened Ann’s text’s, they had been sent around ten minutes ago.

Ann: Hey, thanks for everything today.
Ann: You’ve given me hope that Kamoshida can be taken down.
Ann: That means a lot to me.

Don’t worry about it.

The bubbles at the bottom of the screen to indicate that someone was typing appeared immediately.

Ann: Really, I can’t say thank you enough. For this, for Shiho, for everything.
Ann: Thank you for warning me about her. I’m going to try to sleep over at her place tomorrow, but she won’t answer my texts.
Ann: I hope it’s not asking too much, but can you help me look after her? I don’t know anyone else I can ask.
Ann: At school, I mean. Not at home or anything lol

Yeah, I was planning on doing that anyways. The thought of leaving her alone in school with Kamoshida makes me so mad I wanna pop.

Ann: I feel ya.
Ann: Thanks for being such a good guy.
Ann: Everyone’s wrong about you.
Ann: Sorry about hitting you on top of the roof btw.
Ann: I was just so upset about everything that I lashed out. It wasn’t right of me. You were trying to do the right thing.
Ann: You didn’t deserve that and I’m really sorry.
Ann: How about lunch on me next time? To make up for it.

I can understand. I get that feeling often.
Fair enough, I’ll hold you to that.

Ann: Great!
Ann: I’m going to sleep, but I’ll see you tomorrow if I can. I’ll probably spend most of the day with Shiho. But let’s plan out our next moves soon.
Ann: Night

Night

Akira left it at that.

He opened the other message.

Hanae: Hello. This is Hanae Oda, the mother of the child you saved in the train station.
Hanae: I need to once again say thank you for your help. Shinya and myself can never say thank you enough.
Hanae: To try to do something in reparation, would you like to come to dinner this Sunday?
Hanae: I’m preparing Sashimi and we would love to have you.
Hanae: If you need a ride, I have a car and can pick you up.

What the hell?

This had been sent nearly an hour ago. It must have been when they were inside the metaverse, which makes sense why he never received these messages.

It still left him floored, he didn’t expect the offer of dinner to have been serious. He thought it was more of an ‘in-the-moment’ kind of thing.

How should he respond?

A better question, could he reject free food?

Thank you for the offer.
I’m happy that you two are safe, you don’t need to say thank you for that.
I would appreciate dinner; however, I should be able to take a subway to your place.

The bubbles to indicate a response appeared immediately.

Hanae: No, we can never say thank you enough.
Hanae: I live far from anywhere, north of Shinjuku, are you sure? There’s a subway station, but it's a ten-minute walk.
Hanae: Plus, however long and expensive the subway ride would be.

It’s fine. What time would you like me to arrive?

Hanae: Are you sure? It would really be no problem to pick you up.
Hanae: We were thinking 7, does that works for you?

It does. I’ll be there Sunday at 7.

Hanae: Thank you, thank you so much.
Hanae: If you change your mind about the ride just message me.
Hanae: You won’t regret this! I make great Sashimi!

He closed his phone.

He had a lot to think about.

Ann’s addition to the group was unexpected, but welcome. Fire spells, a long-range melee weapon, and her dangerous tommy gun would all come in handy. It opened a lot of battle possibilities that would make a huge difference.

Hanae’s message was intriguing. Honestly, he wasn’t looking forward to the dinner, or even feeling particularly comfortable about going.

But free food was free food. That would also be his second night at Sae’s, and anything to get him out of there would be great. He doubted he was going to enjoy his time there, it would probably be incredibly awkward and tense.

Sae might not even let him go, she could possibly be much stricter than Sojiro. He’d ask when he saw her tomorrow.

Sae slightly terrified him. He was 50/50 on whether she was going to try to throw him back into Juvie by the end of his week. He had a feeling that the woman had it out for him.

There wasn’t much left to do tonight. He was physically and mentally exhausted. He didn’t have a nightlife anyways, so lacking anything else he made his way back to his room, got in bed, and drifted off to sleep, with Morgana laying on his chest.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 16
After School
Saturday
Clear

Akira was making his way back to LeBlanc after a day that can only be described by -

Exhaustion.

Today had been even longer than yesterday somehow. And it wasn’t even over.

On top of his everyday duties, waking up, working out, finding food, he now had an extra duty of protecting Shiho throughout the day.

Not that he minded.

The girl was still mostly unresponsive, barely uttering a word most of the time and clutching him with her surprising strength when startled.

She had only been left alone during classes, neither Ann nor himself were able to watch her then. However, Ryuji was kind enough to help out, even though he was still in the dark as to why. They had only told him to watch for Kamoshida and to alert them if he showed up during classes.

Ann watched over Shiho at lunch. They sat on the roof together and talked. Ann told him that it was mostly her talking. He liked Shiho, he really appreciated the small kindness that she had shown, but it was probably better to leave her alone with her best friend whenever possible.

He did help escort Shiho between classes. Ann had specifically for his help so that the two of them could keep Kamoshida away.

Kamoshida had almost approached them once while they were walking down the hall, but the look Akira and Ann gave him forced him to retreat.

Kamoshida had seen Shiho with them. He knew that the two of them knew what he had done.

His brief look of fear and anxiety gave him away.

Kamoshida knew he was caught.

But then he had the gall to go back to smiling. Like nothing was wrong.

Akira had to physically restrain Ann from attacking Kamoshida, which was hard with Shiho practically glued to his back.

The hardest part however, was that every bone in his body was screaming at him to let her go, to even join her and assault the man.

But, he had to hold himself back. Shiho was there and if they both got expelled, nothing could protect her.

His life would be over, and Ann would, at least, be suspended and out of school.

But staying strong seemed almost impossible.

The weekend was finally here and maybe it would give him time to relax a bit.

Which wasn’t likely considering he would be spending it with Sae.

Now he was heading back ‘home’. Morgana-. Oh right. Morgana.

How would Sae handle him? If getting a ‘pet’ somehow interfered with his probation he would kill the cat. He wouldn’t put it behind the woman to throw him back in Juvie for something so simple just to get him out of her hair.

If he messed up in any way it was a win for her. She would have much less work, just at the cost of the rest of Akira’s life.

He had to be careful.

He wouldn’t go back. No matter what, he was not going back.

He didn’t care what he would need to do to stay out.

Going back to Juvie wasn’t an option.

The trip to LeBlanc only took a few minutes afterwards. He entered the café with a ring of a bell. Sojiro looked towards him, smiling kindly, only for said smile to drop when he realized it was just Akira. The cafe was empty again.

Sojiro grunted, “Kid. You’re off today, last I’m going to see you for a week.”

Akira nodded.

Sojiro continued, “I talked to Sae for you and she’s torn on Morgana. She told me that you can talk to her more about it when you see her, but it wasn’t an outright no which is as good as you’ll get with someone that stubborn.”

What? That was amazing! Words couldn’t express how much he appreciated that.

“Thank you sir.”

Akira felt disappointed with himself for that lackluster thank you.

Sojiro sighed, “It’s Boss. I’m trying to be less formal kid, can you put in some effort too? Either way, go find something to do. She told me to tell you to arrive at six, on the dot. There’s a subway that goes there, you know the route, right? Here. I drew you a map anyways.”

He pulled out a labeled subway guide from under the counter. It had the proper routes to take, when they would be arriving, and anything else he could need. It also included the best way to get to Sae’s from Shujin and vice versa.

This, this was incredible. This information was invaluable.

“Thank you sir, I mean Boss.” He amended hastily “I really appreciate this.”

Sojiro responded by waving nonchalantly at him.

“It’s not a big deal, don’t get all emotional on me. Now, go shopping or something. You got a good hour or two before you have to get going.”

Then he went right back to brewing coffee.

This was inconvenient though. He wished Sae would have told him earlier that he needed to come at six, he would have stayed at Shujin with Makoto and studied.

Well, it gave him free time to go shopping. He doubted Sae was going to give him any food or any daily provisions.

Akira spent the next hour shopping at the local market. He purchased many of the necessities he would need for the next few weeks, hygiene products and such, as well as a new set of workout clothes. He only had a little bit of money left, all of which he saved to go grocery shopping once he was at Sae’s.

He packed up the rest of his stuff, using a duffel bag he found in the attic that Sojiro had kindly let him keep, and left.

Sojiro only gave a halfhearted ‘goodbye’ before Akira was gone.

As confusing as he was, his time with Sojiro was the best treatment he’d had in a year. His own room, good food, and a begrudgingly nice person. He didn’t think Sae’s would be as good.

Morgana popped his head out from his backpack.

“So, we’re off to our new place. This is good, it’s not safe to stay in one place for too long.” The cat said.

Morgana was paranoid it seemed.

“Yeah, our new ‘home’.”

Morgana ignored the way he spat out the word home, “How do you know this woman? Is she a family friend? Why are we living with her?”

That gave Akira pause. It was a good question. Was she?”

“Uh, kind of? She knew my grandfather in some way, so she decided to become my probation officer and now we have to live with her.”

“What’s she like? Is she nice?”

Akira couldn't help but chuckle.

“No, no, not really. She’s intimidating, she will evaluate your entire life with a glance. I get the feeling she hates me too, so be prepared for the worst.”

“Wait, what does that mean for me? Is she going to kick me out!” Morgana asked quickly.

Almost certainly.

“There’s a small chance. If it happens, we’ll see what Ann or Ryuji can do.”

Rather than complaining more, Morgana started purring. That was surprising, considering Akira had just told him that he might not have a home soon.

“Lady Ann, that wouldn’t be so bad. Well, let’s go! Onwards!” Morgana said, punctuating his statement by slapping Akira’s back lightly with his tail.

Akira released a deep sigh. He should have seen that coming.

Hopefully, Sae would just kick the little guy out. Then Ann could deal with him instead. He liked Morgana, kind of, but the cat could easily grow to get on his nerves. Knowing his luck though, he’d be stuck with the domineering feline for a long time.

____________________________________________________________________________

Here he was. Sae’s apartment.

Sae’s apartment building was in an upper-class neighborhood of Tokyo, decently far out of the way but not too inconvenient. It was an upscale apartment complex that must have been quite expensive to live in. The street in front of the building was wide, with a sidewalk on either side. Each sidewalk had a large amount of walking space. A large two-lane road cut between the two sidewalks. Everyone in the area was well-dressed and fashionable, and the entire area was extremely clean, lacking any litter at all. Upscale apartment complexes, similar to Sae’s, lined both sides of the street.

There was much less foot traffic compared to Yongen-Jaya, but also less restaurants and stores. It was almost entirely residential, there were only a few cafes scattered around that he could see and a small store down the street that he passed. He was sure there would be more, but he would have to explore around first.

The area was nice though, there was a much calmer vibe to it in comparison to the bustling, packed, streets of Yongen-Jaya.

This was the nicest area he had ever lived in, and probably the nicest he was ever going to.

He looked at his phone. It was 5:55, he was a few minutes early, but he’d have to walk upstairs and that would take some time.

Did Sae want him to get buzzed in at 6? Or be at her door at 6?

He really didn’t want to mess this up. He was getting too nervous. It was just ringing a door bell. But it might have been the most intimidating thing he had done ever. Even fighting demons wasn’t this bad.

Licking his lips, they were chapped, he went for it. He pulled out his phone, entered in the code Sojiro had given him, and hit the call button.

There were a few, terrifying, moments where all he heard was a loud buzzing sound, before the front door clicked.

He let out a breath and walked inside.

The entrance to the building was very nice. He entered in one of the two front doors and into a large lobby.

A few chairs dotted the room along with a bench on one side. On the exact opposite side of the entrance were two elevators placed side by side. It was nice inside, there was an aristocratical and comforting feeling to it.

Sae lived on the top floor of the seven-story building. She must have been paid very well to afford to live on the top floor of a place like this.

Morgana was silently perched on his shoulder. The cat wasn’t wracked with anxiety like he was, and why should he? If he got kicked out, maybe Ann would take him in. Unappreciative little brat.

Akira called the elevator down. Entering the box, he moved to a screen on the wall where he had to input another code to gain access to the top floor.

The ride only took a few seconds, but he was growing even more anxious and tense.

When he arrived, he was surprised to find that the hallway to Sae’s apartment was quite sparse. There were only four doors, two on each side spaced far apart. He was used to a lot of rooms being on a single floor, his old apartment complex had dozens upon dozens of rooms on each floor, and that was in a smaller city than Tokyo.

No time to dwell, he walked to the back of the hallway. Sae’s apartment was the final door on the left.

Looking at his watch it was 5:58. He waited out the last portion before 6, staring at the ornate painting next to her door. It looked expensive.

Looking down again, it was time. He knocked on the front door.

One one thousand.

Two one thousand.

His heart felt like it was beating out of his chest.

Three -

It opened.

There was Makoto. She stood with a single hand on the door and a light smile on her face.

She wasn’t wearing her Shujin uniform. That made sense, but he had never seen her in anything else.

Instead, she was wearing a loose, white dress blouse that went down to her mid-thigh with a black belt on her hip, black capris that ended mid-calf, and a pair of white socks.

With him in shoes, and her shoeless, he towered over her. The top of her head barely reached the top of his chest.

She looked incredibly cute though.

Sae approached the door from behind Makoto. She was wearing a black business suit, with a black turtleneck, black slacks, and black socks to finish off the all black look. The suit was extremely crisp looking, like it had just been tailored to fit her body perfectly. Combined with her expensive looking jewelry she appeared opulent.

Standing next to Makoto it was easy to see that Sae was taller than Makoto by a few inches, but she was still shorter than him.

She was stunning.

At least the woman who could, and might, ruin his life would be good looking. He had to appreciate the small victories.

“Sae-san, Makoto-Senpai.” He bowed after saying each name, “Thank you for your hospitality.”

Neither responded verbally, Sae only nodding, while Makoto’s smile became a bit more strained. They stood in silence for a moment.

He felt incredibly awkward. This was going poorly.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Sae waved him inside.

He entered, walking past Makoto who was holding the door open. He made his way to the edge of the tile floor.

“You can leave your shoes in the rack there.” Sae pointed to a wide, smooth, wooden, two level stand that held nearly a dozen different shoes. All of them were stylish and lightly worn, some were even polished so that they glistened.

He took his ratty, old, shoes off. They had small holes near the toes he hadn’t noticed before. They barely fit, being from before he went into Juvie. He placed them next to a sleek set of black flats.

He was even more embarrassed now. His socks were dingy, and both had tears at various points on them, showing bits of his feet. He hadn’t considered purchasing new ones as his school shoes hide the holes.

If they noticed, which they certainly did by the way that Makoto’s eyes were darting from his feet to his face, they didn’t say anything.

Sae continued walking inside and waved him towards the living room.

He stepped from the tiled entrance to the shining hard wood floor. He moved past the entrance hallway to the apartment proper.

There was one large central room that was composed of four separate sections.

The first section was a kitchen area located on the left of the entrance hallway. It took up the entire bottom left corner of the room. A wooden bar came out from the leftmost side, pretty far into the room but a few feet before a door. It went out a good distance before coming to a stop. The space between the end of the bar and the end of the entrance hallway was the only opening to the area. It was very modern looking, with several appliances lying around.

Moving past the bar, a few feet further into the room, was the second section. A large black dining table that could seat six-eight people comfortably filled the area.

There was a small path in between the bar and the table that lead to dark brown door.

To the right of the entranceway was the third section. It was a living room area, with two couches and a glass table. The glass table was in the center of the section while the large couch was facing a wall with a TV mounted on it, and a smaller side couch was facing the back wall of the apartment. The furniture was of modern design, clean and sleek, with hard edges. On both sides of the mounted flat screen TV were bookshelves stuffed to the brim with various books or trinkets.

Near the back wall, furthest in but on the same wall as the TV, was another dark brown door, curiously it had several locks on the outside of it. Next to that door was a calendar with a stamp hanging from it.

Closer to the front wall, but still on the same wall as the door with locks and the TV, was just a normal dark drown door.

On the back wall of the apartment were two doors divided by a decent amount of room. One door was the same dark brown as the rest, and was located on the right side of the back wall, near the door with the locks on it. The other door was a see through, sliding, glass door that he could see led to a patio.

Overall it was an incredibly stylish apartment, it might be the nicest apartment he had ever been in. The entire place oozed upper-class aristocrat, from the modern furniture, to the various expensive looking baubles placed around.

“Woah…” Morgana piped in.

Akira could only nod his agreement.

A quiet squeak came from behind him. He turned around to find Makoto with both hands covering her mouth in embarrassment, a light blush on her cheeks. Sae was unfazed. Morgana must have startled Makoto.

Sae spoke. “We can begin there. Your cat. Morgana. The rules of your probation do not prohibit pets, and neither do the rules of my complex. I have no problem with you keeping it, however, I do not want to ever see him, hear him, smell him, anything to do with him. If it bothers me or Makoto, even once, it’s out of here. Appreciate that I am being extremely generous with this.”

Akira nodded, a weight off his shoulders. It was stupid, but he was paranoid that owning a pet would be against the rules of his probation. If he was sent back to Juvie for that stupid, he didn’t know what he’d do.

“Next,” She continued, “We need to set some ground rules.”

Alright, everything was going about as expected.

“First, some rules about your arrival time. Do not arrive here, ever, before six pm. I don’t get home until six and you will not EVER, and I repeat, EVER be home alone with Makoto.”

“Sis!” Makoto butted in, “I’m not a kid! I can handle myself!”

She tried to say that with confidence, but her body language gave her away. There was apprehension all over her face, and her arms were wrapped around her chest protectively. She was trying to seem tough, but she appreciated this rule.

She feared him. Just like everyone else.

Sae continued, ignoring Makoto, “I am frequently home later than that, so I will text you when I’m coming back those times. I will not change my work schedule to fit you. It’s up to you to fill time until I leave work.”

That was inconvenient, he would need to travel light from now on it seemed.

“If I’ll be at work all night, don’t come back until at least ten thirty. I’ll tell you when that happens. I have lax nighttime rules. I don’t care what you after dark. You can go out, and stay out, as long as you want. I don’t have the time or energy to watch over everything you do. However, if you wake one of us up when you come in, there will be hell to pay. This isn’t a free pass to never live here either. You see that calendar over there.” She nodded her head to the calendar by the locked door, “Every night when you come in you will stamp the calendar, and write the time you arrived.”

Sae walked away from him, towards the back wall of the room. She crossed her arms and leaned against it.

Makoto, seemingly instinctively, walked over and pulled a chair from the table to be next to her.

“Once you enter the apartment every day, you can’t leave until I do. Remember that, you will not be coming and going from here. You come here, you sleep, you leave. You never interact with either of us.”

These rules, and Sae’s attitude, were reminding Akira of the worst time in his life. He had to actively try to keep the anger from rising his face.

“You must leave the apartment by 6:00 am every day. I will lock your door at 6:15, when I leave every day. If you’re still in there you won’t be getting out until I get back, consequences be damned.”

So, he was a potential prisoner now.

“If I don’t see a stamp on that calendar, if you miss a single day, I will be sending you back to Juvie.”

Akira couldn’t stop his jaw from clenching.

“When you are here, you will go to your room immediately. I have done you another favor by giving you a microwave and mini fridge to use. You will pay me back for those later. You may only come out of your room if you have to use the oven or when you leave in the morning. I don’t want to ever see you using the living room. I cannot stress that enough.”

Holy shit, how many rules would there be.

“Do not ever enter any room but those two to the right.” She nodded her head towards the right side of the room. “The one with the locks is your bedroom, while the other is the laundry room. I’ll lock your door every morning, but if you force me to use the locks for any other reason, I’m sending you back to Juvenile Hall.”

There was a massive amount of locks on that door. They were of serious strength, ones he couldn’t break with his current skill level. He had practiced lock picking before but was still an amateur.

“Never use any other door.” She waved her hand towards the door on the back wall, “That’s my office, and this one,” She gestured to the door in between the table and bar, “is the door to Makoto and my rooms. There are locks and an automatic alarm on these doors. If you try anything while these doors are locked, an alarm on my phone will go off. So don’t even think of trying anything.”

She pointed to the ceiling where a small, black, dome rested.

“That’s a camera. They are placed here, in my office, and in the hallway between Makoto and my bedrooms. Remember this, I’m always watching. This is a smart apartment, and a small one too. I get a notification if even a light goes on. I am watching everything, never forget that.”

She took a breath and circled around him. Makoto quietly stood up from her seat and followed Sae, slightly behind her. While Sae approached his ‘bedroom’, Makoto took a seat on the large couch.

Akira stayed where he was. This place was a prison.

“A few more rules.”

Like there weren’t enough.

“No friends over. Ever.” Sae started to unlock his many locks, “I’m already doing you a huge favor with everything. Don’t push me. If I ever see that a friend over, if I see anything at all, I’ll haul your ass back to Juvie. No ‘friends’ either. Don’t even try to bring back some sloozy girl or sketchy guy.”

She finished unlocking his door and walked back towards him. Makoto sat still, her head down, staring at her twiddling thumbs.

The rage was begging to build, even with all his efforts being directed to stop it. He was becoming a prisoner again.

“I shouldn’t even have to say it, but if I ever catch you with something illegal, any illegal substances, any alcohol, any drugs, any weapons, I’m locking you in that room and sending you back. Don’t think of tying anything, because I will find out.”

She reached into her pocket and fished out a single key. She approached him and reached over to hand it to him, but when their hands touched, she grabbed his open palm and squeezed with all her strength.

Even though the top of her head only reached his nose, she was the most intimidating person he had ever met.

“The most important rule is simple. Never talk to Makoto. Never look at Makoto. Never interact with Makoto. Never be in a room alone with Makoto. If you break any of these rules I will destroy everything you’ve ever been and everything you ever will be. I will use everything I have built in my career to make sure you never see daylight again.”

A chill ran down his spine.

“This apartment is Makoto’s and mine. We will continue using it like we always have. We will have dinner at seven and be in bed by ten thirty. You will do everything to stay out of our way. This is not your apartment. You just sleep here too.”

She let him go.

“You arriving Saturday isn’t convenient for me. I have work that sometimes piles into the night some days and occasionally I don’t even come home. I could be stuck at work all Friday. The only day I’m always here is Sunday morning, a department rule about non-essential personal going home to their families. The rule may change, but for now it would be better if you would start arriving Sunday morning. Come at 6:00 am. I leave for work at 6:15 and if I’m gone, you can’t come in. The front door has two locks on it. I gave you the key to one of them and Makoto and I have keys to both. I lock the both locks when I leave the apartment.”

She walked over to the couch and leaned against it, arms crossed. She cocked an eyebrow, looking expectant.

What, was she waiting for questions? That was very thorough.

Makoto had shifted to the other, smaller, couch and was pointedly looking away from him.

He missed Sojiro’s.

“Thank you for the hospitality.” He replied curtly, but didn’t bow.

He had his pride.

She accepted that and waved a hand towards his door.

Seems as though they weren’t going to give him dinner, another reason to miss Sojiro.

He kept his face tight, expressionless, and went into his room. Opening his door revealed a semi-spacious room, smaller than his at Sojiro’s.

There were also no locks on his side of the door.

A few feet across from the entranceway was a wall that went on for a jutted out from the wall for a few feet, then cut deeper into the room. Walking around the corner of the wall revealed an entrance a small closet, with a minifridge and microwave on the left inner side. There was no door on the closet. All the way inside was a mesh rack high in the air that wrapped around every side of the closet, above the fridge, to rest items with a bar alongside its bottom edge to hang clothes from.

He turned around and looked to the other end of the room where there was another door, and his bed.

His bed was to the right of the door and was on a short stand that’s sides reached to the floor, blocking any access under the bed. The mattress was a futon with a single pillow, a fitted sheet, and a comforter.

To the left of the bed was a door that led to a bathroom.

There was nothing else in his cell.

He turned on the lights of the bathroom and walked in. Directly in front was a small sink. To the right of the sink was a toilet, and to that’s right was a small shower/bathtub combo. Everything was very stylish in the room, with tile floors and granite countertops.

The shower/bathtub was simple. A standard sized tub with a simple hose head with a long tube protruded from the wall high up. A valve to release water was down below.

Next to the bathtub was a seat that he could use to wash himself before he took a bath. There was another hose head near the seat and some drains on the ground for cleanup.

There was a medicine cabinet near the mirror and a towel rack with a single towel near that.

If he wasn’t being treated like a prisoner this would be a very nice place to live.

He unloaded his few possessions, he rested his clothes in the closet on the mesh rack, and placed his few toiletry items in the bathroom. Sae had only given him the necessities, luckily, he had gone shopping beforehand

He turned off the lights and made his way back to the living room. Morgana was hiding in his duffle bag. The rage was building rapidly in his stomach as he regarded Sae, he needed to get out of here.

He would never hit either one of them, but smashing something in his anger wasn’t ridiculous. He had punched his fair share of walls in frustration before.

Sae was sitting at the dinner table while Makoto worked in the kitchen.

“I’m going out to get some dinner.” He announced.

“Don’t come until 10:30. It’s.” She looked at her watch, “6:30 now. So you have four hours to kill.”

Makoto, once again, stared away from him.

Akira nodded once and moved out the front door.

He hoped they didn’t notice how he had basically sprinted out of there.

He managed to make it onto the elevator before the rage overtook him.

He got down a floor before he couldn’t stop himself from roaring in frustration.

A guttural, animalistic, noise.

He slammed his fist like a hammer against the sheet metal wall, sending a loud clang rocketing through the elevator shaft, and denting the wall.

He grabbed the wooden railing and squeezed and twisted as hard as he could, doing everything in his strength to snap the railing.

Frustratingly, it didn’t even budge.

The door opened at the when he reached the bottom with a chime. He threw his hands from the railing and stalked out.

It was colder out than when he arrived, and he had no jacket. He had left his school over shirt in the cell and was just wearing his nice white undershirt.

It didn’t matter. The rage was keeping him warm.

He was getting farther and farther gone rapidly.

He needed to find somewhere to let it loose before he exploded on someone.

His blood pumped in his ears, deafening him to the world.

The only sound that he could hear was Arsene screaming in his mind.

It was unintelligible, but the pure feeling was unmistakable.

Arsene was calling for destruction. For blood and death.

Akira buzzed with energy. His entire body shook.

People that saw him cleared a path, some even tripping over themselves as he strided down the street.

How dare that woman imprison him.

He had never committed a crime. No matter what anyone said he was innocent. He didn’t deserve to be treated like this.

He was growing angrier and angrier as he thought of the many ways he had been betrayed by the world.

Sae was just the culmination of an entire justice system working against him.

He could hear mumbling. He looked towards Morgana, the cat’s mouth was moving but Akira couldn’t understand what he was saying.

He just thought of his treatment for the past year, and his treatment minutes ago at Sae’s, and it sent him spiraling even further into a rage.

He needed to go, he needed to find something to distract himself, to ware him out.

He started to run.

He made it a block before he found a gym. It was large and advertised itself as a combination of weight lifting and mixed martial arts.

Perfect.

He went inside and swiftly paid the uncaring front desk woman enough money for a month’s membership, filling out the short amount of paperwork with haste.

Finally done, he went to the back to find heavy bags. There were boxing gloves nearby that fit him well.

Nothing mattered now. No one in the gym would disturb him.

He walked up to the bag and finally let his rage overtake him.

____________________________________________________________________________

Something swatted at his leg.

He looked down to find a concerned morgana.

Why did he look so worried?

Akira looked outside, it was dark out now.

How long had he been punching at the bag?

Everything had been a red haze.

He’d been so enraged he hadn’t noticed the passage of time. He peered down at his phone. It was almost 8:00 now. He had been doing this for over an hour. He had a few messages, but he would look at them later.

“Hey… Are you alright?” Morgana asked hesitantly.

No. No he wasn’t.

But he nodded anyways.

He went back to where he found the boxing gloves to return them.

His arms were more fatigued than he had realized, taking off the gloves was difficult.

Of what he remembered, he had spent the last hour or so smashing the bag, only taking a break when his arms got so tired that he couldn’t raise them. They would hang loosely at his sides until the second he recovered enough stamina to get back to his routine. He practiced everything, alternating between light hits, heavy hits, uppercuts, crosses, jabs, and much more.

He had worked up a serious sweat, his nice school shirt was soaked.

And his pants were gross too.

Damn.

There was no school tomorrow, so he could do laundry during the day. Somehow. He wasn’t sure what the rules were involving that, he might need to just do it somewhere professional.

He walked out of the building, Morgana in tow. He waved at the front desk woman on his way out. They had changed shifts at some point in the hour and this girl was a lot cuter. She smiled brightly at him as he left.

“You sure you’re okay?” Morgana asked from beside him.

“Yeah. I’m just… frustrated.”

The cat nodded its head in understanding “Yeah. I’m sorry that she’s treating you like that. I didn’t think it would be this bad here. You’re basically a prisoner.”

He hit the nail on the head.

He had just got out of hell, and now he was going back to it.

At least his jailers were better looking.

Time for the constant stress that if he even messed up once, his life would be over.

What was this world and its fascination with locking him up? He also had that prison within his dreams too, the one with the children as guards. Why did his life have to revolve around prisons?

Akira spoke up, “I’m being treated like a criminal. Don’t be heard, don’t be seen, don’t look at us. You hear the part about no drugs or sleazy women? Like she expected me to be involved with either one. I’ll be monitored every time I walk in the door by those stupid cameras. I have no freedom.”

“Why don’t you just leave?”

If only he knew how badly Akira wanted to.

“It’s impossible. Just based on physical appearance it won’t work. I’m too tall for it, I’m in something like the 99th percentile for height, I wouldn’t be hard to find. Japan’s too organized, I mess up one day, and I’d be caught. That’d be it.”

Morgana was quiet after that, not sure what to say.

“It’s fine.” It wasn’t, “It’s one year. In exactly one year I’ll be done with Sae, done with all of this and I can get out of here.”

Morgana looked at him cautiously, unsure of if he should say anything. He didn’t, and turned away.

Good. That was enough confessing for the day.

He immediately regretted trying to comfort Morgana. He didn’t like people knowing his plans to leave as soon as possible.

The two of them continued walking, away from Sae’s apartment. He didn’t know the area, he was relying on finding a restaurant somewhere around here. He needed to soon, he was freezing.

Walking around in a thin, wet shirt when it was 10 degrees Celsius outside wasn’t a great idea.

The shirt was way too tight too, but it was the largest size Shujin had on hand. It left little to the imagination.

Not that he had been in the right mindset to make a good decision anyways.

It took ten minutes, but he eventually found a small restaurant and rushed inside.

The warmth rejuvenated him.

The waitress seated him immediately and gave him a menu.

Now that the rage had been exercised out of him, a cold, empty feeling overtook it.

That cell he had been given was going to be hell.

There was one door, no windows, no escape.

If he ever overslept and got locked in that ‘room’, he would go insane. He knew it.

He was terrified of who he would become if she locked him in there for 12 hours.

He couldn’t be put away again.

There was no way he would stay in Tokyo after that, he would be out Sae’s front door and gone the second she let him out.

He needed to think of anything else to distract himself, but he always came back to how small, cramped, and locked away the room felt. He was a prisoner.

No mingling with the wardens, quiet hours strictly enforced.

He hated Sae.

She was his enemy. No way around that. She wasn’t someone he could fight in his traditional way, or any other way. She was just someone he had to watch out, and plan, for.

She was gunning for him, trying to ruin his life. He had to be ready for it.

He needed to get off this train of thought. He placed his order, a steak with a side of greens and mashed potatoes, and an uncooked tuna. Morgana thanked him from his quiet, hidden, spot near Akira, then sneaked out, saying he would be back soon for food but he was bored of the restaurant.

Akira had some free time so pulled out his phone to check his missed messages. He had a few from… Ann, Ryuji, Sojiro, and Makoto.

It seemed everyone wanted to talk to him.

Ryuji: Hey What’s up?
Ryuji: Wanna go that weapon shop I told you about tomorrow?
Ryuji: We can get some new gear

Yeah sure, we can go around noon

He opened Sojiro’s

Sojiro(Boss): Did you find Niijima-san’s place?

He was nostalgic for the man’s indifference to his existence. He was harsh, but not at all close to Sae’s level. Sae made his ‘Parents’ seem like godsends now.

Bad thought. Think of something else.

I found it fine, thank you.

Time to respond to the longest message chain, Ann. The messages had been sent around 7:20, when he had been in his haze.

Ann: Hey, I don’t mean to bother you, you probably have a lot going on tonight haha
Ann: Not trying implying anything bad or mock you, it’s just its Friday so people party and stuff
Ann: Nevermind, I was just messaging you to say thanks for today.
Ann: Shiho… Shiho’s not doing good. I took her home today and stayed with her all day, I’m sleeping over now, but… I’m scared Akira.
Ann: I don’t want to think about it. I’m not even mad right now, I’m just terrified.
Ann: What’s going to happen to her? She will barely talk to me. She just lies in bed.
Ann: I tried to hold her hand, but she flinched really hard and started sobbing.
Ann: She’s getting worse and I don’t know what to do? Do I tell her parents? Do I take her to the hospital?
Ann: I’m sorry to text you for advice… but I have no one else to talk to.

Akira took a deep breath.

The bubbles to indicate someone was writing kept appearing, then disappearing. Looks like Ann still had more to say, but couldn’t figure out what.

It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
I honestly don’t know who to tell.
Maybe you should just tell her parents?
If you don’t want to explain the situation you can say she’s sick maybe.
Just so they let her stay out of school or not go to practice anymore?

The bubbles reappeared instantly.

Ann: Yeah. I thought the same thing.
Ann: I just don’t know what to do.
Ann: If she doesn’t get better in the next few days, I’m going to take her to the hospital.

He didn’t know how to respond.

He didn’t know either one of them, he barely knew Ann and he knew Shiho even less. He couldn’t be expected to make such an important decision like this.

It was too much for him.

Alright. If you need any help send me a text.

Ann: Should I try to keep her in school?
Ann: With Kamoshida there I don’t like it… but I don’t want to leave her alone.
Ann: I can’t watch over her every day like this… maybe I can miss school for a day or two by pretending to be sick, but after that I would need to start cutting classes and my parents would kill me if I did.
Ann: If I try to get her out of school she will be alone most of the day.

He really should extricate himself from the situation. This wasn’t his problem and he was not capable of handling it.

But, like always, something pulled on him to do the right thing. Something forced him to try to help.

He didn’t get that feeling with everyone. He wouldn’t just help any random people on the streets. Not anymore. There were exceptions to that rule, like with Shinya, but he tried not to get too involved with anything, if he could help it. He often couldn’t.

If he saw someone he knew in trouble, he would step in and help.

He couldn’t stop himself from sticking his neck out.

It was the quality that had made him so many friends through childhood.

But it was also the reason he had lost them all and ruined his life.

I can help watch over her during school hours.
I can keep helping you keep Kamoshida away.
If you want to keep Shiho in school that is.

Ann: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Ann: This means more to me then you will ever know.
Ann: I don’t know what to do, I’ll think about it tomorrow
Ann: I’ll leave you alone now. One last thing though
Ann: Would you mind coming over tomorrow and bringing Morgana?
Ann: Shiho talked about him a bit and smiled, so I want to see if he can make her feel any better.

Yeah. Me and Ryuji are going to a weapon shop tomorrow at noon. Afterwards I’ll head over.

Ann: Perfect! There’s a park nearby we can meet at, I’ll send you the location.
Ann: See you then!

Looks like he had even more plans for tomorrow.

He hated harping on one idea, but he really did just want to keep his head down this year, not deal with any of this drama.

He looked at the last set of messages, the ones from Makoto. They were sent at 6:35.

Makoto: Hey, sorry about Sae. She can be pretty harsh.
Makoto: You can come back if you want, I made dinner.
Makoto: You can have a plate if you want

There was a long break between messages. The next messages were at 7:35.

Makoto: I guess you aren’t at your phone.
Makoto: I’ll leave you a serving in the fridge. You can grab it later if you want.
Makoto: It’s a chicken stir fry, just microwave it whenever.
Makoto: Sorry about Sae’s rules again. I tried to tell her they were too harsh, but she wouldn’t listen.
Makoto: She’s kind of strong willed, which I’m sure you noticed.
Makoto: Do you want to study together again Monday?

That was nice of her, he appreciated the free food.

Yes. Monday sounds good. Thank you for the meal.

But, he didn’t believe for a second that she tried to talk Sae down. He saw how she looked when Sae was rattling the rules off, anxious, awkward, but also slightly relieved.

She didn’t want him there either.

That was fine. He didn’t want to be there.

No one wanted him.

That was fine.

He was used to being unwanted.

He put his phone down and stared at the wall.

There was no more rage left in him. Just an overwhelming emptiness.

He couldn’t fight this. He couldn’t resist.

It was Juvenile Hall all over again.
____________________________________________________________________________

Makoto put her phone down on the kitchen counter.

Akira had finally responded after an excruciating amount of time.

Honestly? She wasn’t crazy about living with him.

There would always be an awkwardness in the living room, but thankfully he wouldn’t be able to be there very often. It wouldn’t stop the feeling from pervading the apartment though.

She wouldn’t be able to run to the fridge in her underwear anymore either. Her nighties might be too short too. That was inconvenient.

She felt bad about how strict the rules were for him. They were even worse than hers, except for the late-night rules. She would never be allowed outside after dark.

She did hate how they had cameras watching them now.

They were only in the living room, Sae’s office, and the hallway between their rooms. Nowhere super private, but it felt weird to know that everything you did was being monitored.

That hallway didn’t exist until a few months ago when Sae had first learned she would be Akira’s probation officer. She had it put up the immediately, creating the hallway. There was more open space before, but she didn’t mind it.

There was a photo of Sae and herself that she saw each time she opened the door. It made her happy whenever she saw it.

Then she thought of how uncomfortable she was being monitored every day, was that how Akira felt? Probably.

She portioned off enough food to feed her twice.

He was way bigger than her, he probably needed that much.

That size was one of the reasons she was happy with these rules. They were draconian, but necessary.

She knew aikido, and if she could brag, was pretty good at it too. The style was built for people like her, shorter, to fight people like him, much taller.

But she’d never tried it out in a real fight, only in spars, and she didn’t want to start.

He was very muscular, she could see that through the tight white undershirt he had left the apartment in. It was much too small for him. She blushed slightly as she thought of it.

He was good looking, but the blush was more for how… risqué it was. She had rarely, if ever, seen someone around her age that looked like that. Everyone dressed much more modestly, and the guys at Shujin weren’t exactly studs or buff. When they were in just the undershirt, it just looked baggy and normal. Seeing someone in such a tight shirt that it hugged all their muscles was… an experience.

She had seen magazines of ripped guys, she might have stared at a few for too long as well, but it was different to see it in real life.

Akira was different. She didn’t know if she would call him a stud, but he was pretty muscular and attractive.

That also meant that he would be more powerful than her, and if he got the advantage in a fight there was little to nothing she could do.

Overall, she was at a severe disadvantage if he came at her.

Not that he would!

She was getting paranoid, he had done nothing so far to indicate that he was dangerous in any way.

She let out a sigh. She really didn’t need this drama in her last year of high school.

She portioned out two other plates of food.

She had made a simple chicken stir fry, hopefully Akira liked that.

Sae was sitting at the table, reading through some of her cases.

Makoto placed the two dishes down and looked at her phone.

Nothing else, looked like Akira wasn’t going to be joining them.

She felt kind of happy he didn’t. It would have been awkward.

She doubted that Sae would even let him. It was really good that he didn’t come. She would have felt awful if he had come home, just to eat dinner in his room alone.

Sae looked up from her work.

“Smells delicious Makoto, good job.” Sae said. She picked up her briefcase and began putting her files away. “So, how’s school? We haven’t caught up in a while. I know school only started a week ago but it’s important to stay on top of things.”

“It’s going good, I scored the highest in my class on our first quiz.”

“That’s great Makoto, keep that up and you’ll go to any university in the country. How are your extracurriculars? Being student body president doesn’t interfere with your studying time, correct?”

Makoto walked back to the kitchen to grab some utensils.

“No, I’m used to it by now. I set everything up well in my first year so it’s all going smooth.”

It was her second year of being student council president, a position she regained with ease. The principal loved her, and she had done such a good job her first year no one ran against her.

Sae nodded, leaving unsaid how she had been student council president for all three of her high school years.

As well as an athlete, the school’s best softball player. Her picture was still in the trophy shelf next to the national title the team won that year.

The same year that the national women’s softball team had won the gold medal at the Olympics. Sae had been scouted to play for them, but was forced to turn down their offer to play.

She wouldn’t have been able to keep her job if she had to practice with the team, and they wouldn’t pay her. It wasn’t possible to do all of that while also cramming for university.

Stop.

She had to stop comparing herself to Sae.

It sometimes hurt too much to think of all the ways she was inferior.

Stop.

She wasn’t inferior. She was just different. She had different talents, different skillsets.

Besides, it wasn’t like anyone could ever match Sae.

She was the best.

“How’s work?” Makoto said, trying to change the subject.

Sae let out a long exhale, “It’s frustrating. I’ve had a very rough week. Thank you for the food by the way.”

Makoto nodded her head and handed Sae some utensils.

Sae continued, “Do you remember Mori? I mentioned him once or twice. He got promoted to assistant deputy director yesterday. A position I deserved. He’s okay at his job, he’s not a bad prosecutor, but I’m better. When I asked around about the job, my name wasn’t even on the list for who was being considered for the position. The higher ups just said that it was a seniority thing. He’s only been there three more years than me, and I’ve done just as much in that time.”

Makoto frowned, but began eating.

This was becoming monthly. Sae would come home, upset, and later reveal that another promotion was handed to someone else.

Every week she would come home and say that the better case was given to someone else too.

It was disheartening to see her sister so upset.

But, just like Sae always does, she somehow overcame any adversity and performed her job better than anyone around her, completing the more difficult cases in record time.

“I’m sorry sis, but I’m sure it’ll all work out. There’s no way they can’t promote you for much longer.” Makoto said.

“I wouldn’t put it past them.” Sae muttered under her breathe and began eating.

They ate in silence. The room was devoid of energy since Akira had arrived.

It was relatively infrequent that Sae would eat dinner with her, Sae’s busy schedule keeping her at work for long hours.

Sae wouldn’t even come home some days.

Most days though, she would just come home very late. Those times she would eat in her office, even if Makoto was in the living room.

How was that going to work with Akira here? Sae couldn’t be so late with him here.

Maybe there was a hidden benefit to this whole situation. Sae would be forced to spend more time at home while Akira was living here.

On that note, Makoto had a few questions about the arrangement that she’d never worked up the courage to ask. No time like the present, right?

“Sis, can I ask you a few questions” Makoto asked.

Sae stopped eating for a moment to respond, “Yeah, go ahead.”

“It’s about Kurusu-san though.”

Sae let out a breath, but nodded anyways.

“Why don’t you care about how late Kurusu-san stays out?”

Sae pushed her food to the side and met Makoto’s eyes.

There was no hostility there, but Sae had a way of evaluating you just by looking in your direction that could put anyone on edge.

“I don’t want him bothering you at all this year, and so if he wants to stay out late so be it. Ideally, he will only be here to sleep. I don’t have time to watch over him, and I’d prefer him to not be here as much as possible. I’d section off his entire part of the apartment if I could.”

That made sense, but Makoto still had to ask, “But, what if he goes out and does something, I don’t know, bad?”

Sae lightly chuckled, “I wouldn’t fret about that. If he does anything, I’ll find out immediately. You don’t have to worry.”

Sae was confident as ever.

“Why don’t you want him leaving after he arrives here too?”

“Well, he should only arrive after I arrive, and that will be late. I’ll probably soften up on that and let him leave after he arrives, but I don’t want him thinking he can come and go as he pleases. This is our home, not his, and he won’t ruin that for us.”

The final question was the most important, “I don’t mean to sound rude, but, why did you even accept the job as his probation officer? You’re way above the station where that’s necessary.”

Sae sighed, “That’s, that’s a longer story. But, you deserve to know.”

Sae leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms.

“Twelve years ago, after Mom and Dad died, we were in a very bad place. We were broke, we were going to lose the house and had nothing to use to get an apartment. Our parents didn’t save money well, more like didn’t save money at all, and we were going to be homeless.”

Makoto remembered that. They were the scariest days of her life.

Her big, strong, sister had just cried and cried. At the time, she had never seen her sister even show weakness. Those events were world changing.

Makoto didn’t think she had ever seen Sae cry again.

“Meanwhile, I was a part of a junior detective program. They paired us with actual detectives, so we could get on a fast track for police work. My supervisor was Kurusu Keigo, Akira’s grandfather. He gave us money for an apartment and helped pay for everything for six years. Even when I got a part time job, he still gave us money.”

Sae got up from her seat and began pacing the room, face tense. This was clearly difficult for her to talk about.

“I hated that I needed to accept the money, but, even living on the bare minimum, and with income from the government, we couldn’t afford what we needed. Every time we almost ran out, he was there to give us some money. I hated it every single time. The feeling of needing someone else’s help. Of not being able to support your own family. I never wanted to feel that again, and so the day I graduated from University, I got my job as a prosecutor and never looked back.”

Sae sat against the back of the couch. Arms still crossed. Her posture didn’t portray her usual confidence. Her shoulders were slumped, and she seemed shaken.

“I had stopped working with him when I graduated high school, but he still would help us meet ends meet. He never asked for anything in return and was always polite, but it always made me feel… worthless. Like a bum, I couldn’t do what I needed to do. We stopped talking when I graduated University, I cut off all contact with him. Then, eight months ago, he calls me out of the blue. I actually didn’t pick up the first few times, I was afraid he was finally going to ask for something back. I wasn’t wrong.”

Makoto had no idea ANY of this had ever happened. It was shocking.

It all finally made sense how they had paid for everything all those years.

A lot of her life questions were being cleared up.

“He asked me if I would be his grandson’s probation officer. He wanted someone who would watch over his ‘little Akira’, who knew he wasn’t a bad guy. Who knew he was innocent. I said no each time. He called every day for a month, asking every time. And then, he died. At that point, what could I say? The last dying wish of the man who had saved our lives was for a favor. I finally related and put in the paperwork.”

Sae exhaled loudly and leaned back farther, sticking her arms behind her to support herself.

“And, and that’s why he lives here now.”

Sae got up and went to the fridge.

She pulled out the bottom drawer and grabbed a bottle of wine. Sae didn’t normally drink, but she poured herself a big glass this time.

This story was tough on her.

Sae walked back over to the table. She placed a hand on Makoto’s shoulder and rubbed it softly.

“The food was great Makoto, but I don’t really have the energy to eat anymore.”

Makoto was still so surprised, she almost didn’t respond.

“Um, that’s alright. I’ll see you tomorrow then?”

“Yeah. I’m going to my office for a bit, can you get my plate?”

Makoto nodded.

Sae smiled and patted her on the shoulder appreciatively.

Makoto liked the feeling.

“I’m going into the office in the morning, but I’ll see you tomorrow at dinner.” Sae said, walking towards her office. She swiftly reached the room and disappeared.

Makoto stayed at the table.

This was, this was, Wow.

She had never seen her sister like that before.

Her sister barely opened up at all sometimes.

It was hard to process, had her sister just shown, vulnerability?

She seemed extremely uncomfortable with what had happened.

It made sense though. Sae was an extremely proud person. Accomplished, respected, admired. To have to admit she needed someone else’s help, for years, must have been excruciating.

But wow, Akira’s grandfather, he had done so much for them and she had never known.

She wished she had, she would have tried to go to the man’s funeral.

It took a bit, but Makoto finished up the last of her food, not particularly hungry after that but she did anyways, and cleaned both of their dishes.

This was… this was a lot to take in.

Sae had seemed so… frustrated. More than Makoto had ever seen her.

This was a lot, she wasn’t ready for it.

She had a quiz tomorrow, but she would just have to study before school. She was too emotionally drained to do anything else tonight.

She went to her room, put on her pajamas, and went to sleep.

____________________________________________________________________________

11:00

Time to go back.

He was absolutely freezing.

He arrived at the apartment and opened the door quietly.

Inside, all the lights were off, and he didn’t dare try and turn them on. He closed and locked the door before using his phone’s flashlight to find his way to his cell, stamping the day and time on the calendar on his way.

God, he was tired. Morgana was so exhausted he didn’t even tell Akira to go to bed today, just passing out himself on the mattress.

Akira went to the bathroom and turned on the shower. He did a quick test by walking into the living room to see if it was quiet enough to use.

It was, he couldn’t hear the water running at all.

He went back to his cell and took a shower, cleaning off all his accumulated grime from the day.

He didn’t have time to enjoy the shower as he had to be up in six hours to get ready for the day.

He would have to do some warmups in his room when he woke up, then he could go to the gym down the street at 5:30 am to work out. There were showers there he could use, and it was close to a subway station too.

Having a routine distracted him from how much he hated this.

Living like a prisoner.

Sae didn’t want him in the apartment as much as possible.

It was why she told him he couldn’t leave after he arrived, so he would never come back.

Well, he didn’t want to be there.

After showering off, and using the old towel Sae had lent him, he got in bed.

Today had been awful, and tomorrow might be worse.

He got under his bed’s covers. The mattress was comfortable, better than Sojiro’s, but the sheets weren’t great, and his singular pillow wasn’t very comfortable.

The bed was barely long enough for him, he had to place his head nearly almost against the wall or his feet would dangle off the edge. Another disadvantage of being so tall.

What was he doing.

Don’t think about it. Ignore it.

He tossed and turned under his covers, doing anything he could to get comfortable.

Who was he trying to kid?

Don’t-

But he was right, who was he trying to kid?

He wasn’t a student.

He was a caged animal.

What was he trying to do here? Pretend to be normal? Get rehabilitated and reenter society? Did he even want to be a part of society?

Why was he even trying?

He was a criminal. He wasn’t always this way, but things change. He could never go back to the student whose main goal in life was to become a salaryman.

He would always be different.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he did beat that man. Maybe that was the first instance of his rage overtaking him.

Akira shot up.

“No. No. I didn’t do it.” He whispered.

For a second he had almost fallen for the lie that society had been trying to shove down his throat for the last year.

He had not beaten that man. He was innocent.

The second he ever truly doubted himself, was the day he would be done with Japan.

It wasn’t the first time he had doubted himself, doubted reality, but he could never fall for it.

He was scared to find out what he would become if he did.

He curled back up, under his slightly too small comforter.

His desolation was overwhelming. His lack of control for anything in his life was bringing him to the point of breaking.

Stop thinking about it. Don’t think about how you feel.

Just like always, when his rage couldn’t solve a problem, an empty void overtook him instead.

He quickly fell asleep.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

A/N

First note, the canon name for the Persona 5 protagonist is now Ren Amamiya, how that will factor into the story I don’t know. Message me if you have any feelings on which name you prefer or leave it in a review.

I have a few ideas on what to do, but if you guys are bothered by the name Akira and would rather me just change every instance to Ren I would like to know.

Second, if you didn’t see the top, I drew out the layouts of Sae’s apartment and Akira’s bathroom. Here is the link,

imgur.com/a/32KYX

Important question for all you AO3 writers on here, does anyone know how to get messages to be aligned right also be colored? I tried for hours and I could get it, but it would look weirdly spaced and the code was a mess. If someone knows please email me at Kaladin7144@gmail.com, I'd appreciate the help.

About the texts. Sorry to include so many, but they are there for two reasons. Number 1, to show where the relationships are. The texts are sometimes formal and curt, or they are relaxed. It shows how the characters feel about each other. Two - I love writing conversations. It’s my favorite part of writing.

I do think the texts are important though, so they will continue to be in here.

About the Ann pushing scene last chapter, a few people have messaged me about it or done something similar. In my head I knew that Akira wasn’t responding because he was holding himself back, but also I saw some of the shoving as a funnier moment. I probably shouldn’t have included the bruising part as that makes it more serious than how I imagined it. I added in some parts to further explain/ rectify the situation. I hope my helped with that.

There was a huge amount of info dump from Sae this chapter, I tried to avoid a lot of it, I even trimmed it down quite a bit, but there was a lot to go over. I hope it wasn’t too bad.

The whole story won’t just be doom and gloom too, there will be more fun and happy moments later on, a lot of those moments are what excite me to write. Don't think Akira will stay awkward the whole story too, he just has to improve his charm stat first.

Makoto and Shiho have been the only ones to get a viewpoint other than Akira, but I plan on changing that soon. Don’t worry, there will be others, they just have the most relevant and plot necessary viewpoints to show so far.

This is my longest chapter by far too, I didn’t mean for it to balloon up so much, but there was a lot to go over. That, and me going on break from school and taking a vacation, were why this chapter took so long to get out. Hope it wasn’t too long for you guys.

I hope to get the next chapter out as soon as possible so look forward to that.

Well, this is a long A/N but thank you for reading! I hope you like the work and leave a review please! DM me if you wanna talk about anything story related and I hope to see you guys again soon!

Chapter Text

April 17
Early Morning
Sunday
Clear

Akira woke up at 5:00 am and left before Sae could cause any problems.

He wouldn't be coming back until at least 6:00 pm, so he packed everything he needed for the day.

Leaving the apartment lifted an immense pressure from his shoulders. No worrying about if Sae was going to kill him for breathing her air would do that.

Morgana left with him, not wanting to get locked inside, but was exhausted. The cat split off from him immediately to go find a place to sleep.

The two of them agreed to meet at the Shibuya train station at 1:00 pm, how a cat would know how to get there was beyond him, but whatever. It wasn’t like Morgana made sense anyways.

Akira went to the gym to pass the time, using his phone to help him find exercises when he couldn’t think of any.

He felt productive. After showering, he went and got breakfast at the same restaurant he had eaten at yesterday.

Funds were running dangerously low. He had enough for possibly a few more meals, but that was it. He might have to go back into the Metaverse just to make some more cash.

It was almost 10:00 am now, so he had about an hour and a half to kill before going to see Ryuji.

He spent the time exploring the neighborhood.

Akira strolled the streets, looking for any interesting, or useful, stores in the area. There were a few cafes, a few small stores, and some knick knack locations. The most useful place was a cafe that specialized in pastries, if he ever wanted to get something for Ann here was the place. There was also a bookstore, somewhere he could get self help books or to get something interesting to read.

Akira’s year in Juvie had given him a new, deep, appreciation for books. They were among the only things that could be reliably obtained for entertainment while incarcerated.

He wasted time until he had to leave for Shibuya, then left.

____________________________________________________________________________
April 17
Morning
Sunday
Clear

“Dude! Over here!”

Akira looked towards the voice to find Ryuji frantically waving his arms in the air near a large platform in the station square.

He was wearing a yellow muscle tee with two shoe prints and the words ‘on my mark’ printed on the front. He also had on a pair of white cargo shorts and a white belt with a large belt buckle. A pair of light blue running shoes finished the look.

Akira felt like a slob in comparison. It wasn’t that Ryuji was wearing anything particularly expensive or fashionable, but they looked better than Akira’s barely fitting clothes. He had run out of clean cloths this morning and was forced to wear his ratty white t-shirt that revealed his stomach any time he lifted his arms, and the tight pants that restricted his every movement. His nice Shujin blazer rested over the outfit, unbuttoned, helping hide some of the tears in the shirt.

“Yoooooo! What’s happenin?” Ryuji said, initiating a handshake as Akira approached. Ryuji fumbled it up just as badly as Akira did. “Lookin good dude, I like the non-conformist look, like you don’t care about society’s dumb rules.”

“Thanks, exactly what I was going for.” He lied, “Where’s the store?”

Ryuji smile brightened “Over here dude!” He started pacing towards a wide street lined on both sides with stores. “So, you’ve been here a bit now, how you likin Tokyo? You ever visit the big city before?”

Akira liked the city, it was kind of nice here, other than the shitty people. Easy to disappear into, and a lot to do.

“I’m liking it. I’ve never visited Tokyo before. I’ve always lived in a seaside city, Sumaru City, you ever heard of it? It’s smaller than Tokyo for sure, but, then again, which city isn’t?” He mulled.

“Yeah I feel ya, I grew up here, so It’s all I’ve ever known. There’s always something to do though, which is nice. How was Sumaru City though? I’ve heard of it but never known anyone from there. Whatchu do for fun?”

Good question, what did he do for fun? His ‘parents’ were pretty strict. His old ‘friends’ did fun things, he was normally invited but could never go.

Man, was anything from his old life good?

“Uh, sometimes people went to the beach. I would go once in a while, but other than that I just studied a lot.”

That was all true. He had gone, but only once, after lying to his ‘parents’ about what he was doing. They found out and he was never allowed outside of their watch ever again.

“Is that it dude? Man, I gotta show you some of the stuff around here! We got arcades, baseball, bowling, movies, we got everything dude! There’s never nothing to do! Oh! We also got Shinjuku,” Ryuji said with a smirk, “We really have to go there one night. That’s something I bet you don’t have at home.”

“What’s in Shinjuku?”

“Dude! Do you not know!” Ryuji said, agast, “It’s got, like, the biggest nightlife in Tokyo!”

He had never done anything related to a nightlife before. That did sound interesting.

“Also,” Ryuji continued, “It’s got a MASSIVE red-light district.” He smirked, “I think us two bros have to go explore that one night, know what I’m saying? We can conquer this city together.”

A red-light district? Akira blushed slightly, making Ryuji laugh.

He would like to say the idea of a red-light district didn’t interest him, but that would be lying. Spending time with scantily clad women excited him, more than he wanted to admit. He would like to explore there one night.

Akira coughed into his hand to try and distract Ryuji. It didn’t work, but it also didn’t matter because they pulled into an alleyway. Right around the corner was the store they were looking for, ‘Untouchables’.

It made sense for a store like Ryuji described to be here. There was nothing else in the alleyway, just some trash cans and a few bikes. People probably rarely walked down this way. If someone were doing something shady, this would be a good place.

Ryuji grabbed his shoulder and started speaking, “Let me warn you first man, the guy running this place, he’s intimidating. He’s gonna ask you some questions and just try to keep your cool. I did, but he still almost booted me from the store. Just-”

“Woah! Is that, is that Sakamoto boys?” A voice yelled, cutting Ryuji off.

Walking towards them, from the only other entrance to the alleyway, were three high school aged teenagers.

They were all about the same height, average for Japanese men, the front one was a few inches taller, but he was still significantly shorter than Akira. He was probably eye to eye with Ryuji.

“Wait, wait, sorry, I meant bitchamoto.” The front one said, laughing. The two behind him started cackling along with him.

That wasn’t even clever.

Akira’s hand still clenched into a fist and he felt his rage ignite.

Ryuji took a protective step backwards, “What do you assholes want?”

The one in front, the leader Akira assumed, stepped towards Ryuji. He didn’t make it far as Akira stepped in his way.

The teen, still smiling, looked up at a glowering Akira. “Could you move aside?”

When Akira didn’t bulge, the leader raised his hands in a calming, surrendering, motion, a smug smile on his face.

The leader continued, “We were passin through and saw our old buddy there, what were we supposed to do? Ignore him?”

He tried to take another step forward, but Akira stood firm. He tried to maneuver around Akira, but every direction he stepped in, Akira followed. The leader’s smile fell from his face, a glare took its place.

He stepped back, tense. His body language was threatening, ready to spring.

Akira hoped he would.

“You gonna let me through big guy, I wanna see my friend?”

“No.”

One of his lackies grabbed the leader’s shoulder and pulled him back. He whispered something in his ear, making the leader’s eyes grow wide.

The leader stepped back up, slightly in front of Akira, “So, you’re that new transfer student. The Monster of Shujin. Did you really murder someone? That’s pretty badass.”

Akira didn’t respond, he just kept watching for any sudden moves.

“We could be buddies you know, I think us hellraisers would get along well, what’s your number?” The leader continued, pulling for his phone.

Akira knew this guy’s type. A loudmouth. He would try and act all ‘buddy-buddy’, pretend he was the suavest guy on the planet. Then he would take a swing when your guard was down.

They almost always came in two varieties. Weaklings who liked to pretend they were strong, or sociopathic douchebags who just liked to mess around.

This guy seemed like the first choice.

This fight wasn’t going to be easy though. The guy was up close, getting rid of Akira’s reach advantage. That would be a problem if he went for blows, but Akira could take him to the ground and deal with him there. He was sure he could overpower him.

“You gonna say anything?” The leader asked.

“Just screw off!” Ryuji shout. He stepped up beside Akira, obviously pissed off.

Akira glanced at Ryuji for a second, he tried to hide it, but looked scared. He was ready to bolt if need be.

These two had a history. Thinking about it was getting Akira’s blood boiling.

“Wait, wait, wait, did I just hear that?” The leaders voice dropped, trying to come off as threatening.

This guy wasn’t shit. Akira had met many people more naturally intimidating than this guy. His tough-guy bully schtick was wearing thin.

The leader took an aggressive step towards Ryuji, only to get blocked by Akira, their chests colliding.

“You trying to start something?” Akira asked.

The leader tried to push forward, but Akira was a rock.

The leader took a small step back and tensed.

He was going to swing.

Akira was ready to go all out.

Akira knew what to do. He would dodge the swing, bringing up his arm to block in case, and then rush the guy. He would overpower him, grab him, and tackle him into the trash cans behind him.

That would keep the leader down long enough for Akira to pummel the other two. One on two was tough, but Akira knew that he could do it. A quick uppercut to the jaw, a kick in the chest, anything would take the two out. Then he would finish the leader.

His body was buzzing with energy.

Arsene was softly screaming in the back of his mind.

They had no idea who they were messing with.

“HEY! STUPID BRATS!” A loud voice screamed. “THE FUCK YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?”

Akira paused and looked towards the shop.

A man was leaning out the door. He was tall, taller than anyone else Akira had met outside of Juvie, but still slightly shorter than him. He was wearing a long grey trench coat with a red peace symbol on the left side, blue jeans, a black turtleneck, and combat boots. He also had on a grey hat with a pair of yellow headphones resting on top of it.

His most defining characteristic was the gecko tattoo on his neck.

Akira quickly turned back towards the three bullies, upset with himself for looking away, but they were fleeing out the way they came.

Wimps.

The rage died down a bit.

Akira was slightly disappointed. He could have gone for a good back alley brawl to let out some of his frustrations. Those three wouldn’t have enjoyed it, but someone always had to suffer.

“I said what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” The man reiterated.

“I’m sorry sir! It was those guys. They’re kinda assholes, but we were just messin around.” Ryuji exclaimed quickly.

“Messin around? It looked like there was about to be a brawl in front of my shop, and that’s not good for business.” The man said slowly, with a deep gravelly voice.

Now, this guy was intimidating.

“I’m sorry sir, we didn’t mean to cause any trouble.” Ryuji said quickly.

The man let out a sigh, “Whatever. Wait, aren’t you that kid from the other day? Didn’t I tell you to never come back?”

Ryuji had the right instinct to look sheepish and start rubbing the back of his head.

The man let out another sigh and walked back inside his store.

“I think that’s an invitation to come in.” Ryuji said, as he moved to enter the store.

Akira followed shortly after.

Opening the door revealed enough arms to supply a small army.

On every available surface were weaponry, or items related to weaponry. Knives, brass knuckles, pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, anything a person could think of was here.

It was both terrifying and exciting.

He doubted the guns were real though, otherwise the police would have shut this place down long ago.

But he did think that the knives, brass knuckles, and so on were real. That would be valuable.

Maybe he had even more real things in the back.

“Whatchu want?” The man grunted out, behind the counter. His feet were resting on the counter while he leaned back in his seat, as if there wasn’t a care in the world.

His body language was relaxed, but his face wasn’t. He was staring Akira right in the eyes, not blinking, not moving.

Akira stared right back.

“I’m, just, uh, showing my buddy here where I found the cool stuff I was showing him the other day.” Ryuji fumbled out.

The man responded by shifting his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.

“So, uh, we’re gonna browse a bit. If that’s cool with you I mean!” Ryuji said, grabbing at Akira’s shoulder and trying to move him.

Akira didn’t bulge. He knew how this worked. If he showed any weakness, the man would never respect him.

He wanted the weapons in here. He needed them. Not just for the metaverse either. He needed the man to respect him enough to sell him the stuff he could use in real life.

His pride also didn’t let him appear weak.

“Bro, let’s go-”

“So tough guy, what’s your deal.” The man said, addressing Akira, “Trying to impress your friend?”

Akira kept eye contact, “No, only dealing with a problem the best way I know how.”

The man let out a short, hollow, chuckle. “Yeah, yeah, okay Mr. Big and Bad, go do your ‘browsing’, and stop watching so many action television shows. You’re gonna your ass kicked if you keep that up and end up in juvenile hall.” The man finished with another laugh.

The man pulled out a magazine from under his desk. He was mocking him. The rage already built up in him made Akira respond.

“I just got out of Juvie and I have no plans on going back.”

The man didn’t look towards him, just smirked and nodded his head lightly, still reading, “Yeah, yeah, sure. South Tokyo for some shoplifting, right? Daddy get you out in a few weeks huh?”

Akira’s blood started to boil.

“North Tokyo.”

The man had an immediate attitude change. The smirk fell from his face, and he lifted his feet off the counter and placed them on the floor. He put the magazine back under the counter and was evaluating Akira with more seriousness than before.

“No shit, really?”

Akira nodded, prompting the man let out a light whistle, “Maybe you are a tough guy, or just a psycho. You got any proof?”

Ryuji had stopped pulling on his arm and had moved farther into the store to watch at a distance.

Akira pulled out his wallet and showed his old North Tokyo ID.

The man gave him a more considering look and continued, “I did some time myself years back, West Tokyo. Shitty place, but we always joked about how ‘at least it wasn’t North Tokyo’. What the hell did you do to get placed there?”

“Assault.”

The man waved him off, “That it? Half the dudes I knew in West were in there for that. That doesn’t get you sent to North Tokyo, what else you do?”

“That’s it. Judge decided to send me there. Not like I had much of a choice.”

The man nodded slowly. He started moving his toothpick around in circles. He finally broke eye contact and put his feet back up on the glass display.

“Maybe it’s not as rough as what I remember.” He said, pulling out his magazine, “Maybe East Tokyo or somethings the new dangerous one. Go do your browsing, tough guy.” He waved Akira away who went with Ryuji.

Well, mission accomplished. He had gained at least some respect from the man.

“Dude, what the hell was that?” Ryuij muttered as he hurried Akira to the back corner to show him where he found the pistol.

Akira didn’t respond, not feeling like explaining his reasons in front of the owner.

Ryuji didn’t ask again, and the two browsed. Akira spent some time looking at the brass knuckles and knives specifically. Some of those knives were seriously dangerous looking, the kind that would probably get him arrested just for being seen with them.

They only browsed for a bit before Ryuji, obviously overly intimidated, tried to force him to the door. Akira let Ryuji lightly push him, amused at how scared his friend was.

“Kid.” The man behind the counter spoke up.

Akira looked towards the voice. The man was staring him directly in the eyes, magazine in his lap.

Don’t break eye contact.

“I got some work I need done. You up for it?”

That surprised Akira, but he couldn’t let it show.

“I’m always up for a job.”

“Good. Take this bag.” He said as he pulled a small brown paper bag out from under the counter, “Bring this back next week, we can go from there. Don’t open it.”

He handed the bag to Akira. “Now get out.”

The man leaned back in his chair and rested his feet on top of the glass.

No point in pushing it.

Akira broke eye contact, put the bag in his backpack, and left. Ryuji moved like he couldn’t get out the door fast enough.

Akira enjoyed the store in a weird way. He felt... comfortable in there. No pretense of civility, he was just some thug trying to get a weapon, and he was treated like it.

Ryuji swiftly pulled him into another alleyway. He was breathing harder than normal, but finally stopped when they got to a secure location.

Ryuji took a deep, calming, breath before speaking, “Dude, what the hell was all that? What was that between you and Jiro? More importantly, what was up between you and that shop dude!?”

Akira scratched the back of his head, “Um, well he was threatening you, so I tried to do something. Sorry if you had it handled, I was just trying to help.”

Ryuji didn’t have Jiro, the leader Akira assumed, handled. There was no way Ryuji had that situation under control, but no point in offending him.

Ryuji let out a breath and leaned against a wall, “I guess it’s no problem. He’s just an asshole. He’s probably the biggest bully in Shujin and, you know, I’m kind of at the bottom of the social ladder, so you know what that leads to. Just, don’t mess with him. You’re bigger than him, but dude went to regionals for boxing. He can fight, you shouldn’t try anything.”

Akira nodded, even though he would disregard the warning. It Jiro ever came at them again, Akira would still beat his ass.

He really shouldn’t be getting into fights, but he couldn’t avoid it. Life, and his personality, made it hard.

Juvie was just around the corner if he got caught though.

The thought frightened him, but probably wouldn’t dissuade him. He knew himself too well to know that he really did want to fight.

Ryuji continued, “But what was that between you and the shop dude!? He was crazy aggressive with me a few days ago, but he offers you a job? What the hell!?”

“That was just something I picked up on in Juvie. Don’t show weakness. He seemed like the kind of guy that respected that.”

On the job note, what was in that brown bag he had been given. Akira pulled it out from his bag, only for Ryuji to swat it down.

“Dude!” Ryuji whispered aggressively, “What if its a bomb!? Don’t open it!”

“If its a bomb, why are you slapping it?” Akira responded.

Ryuji let go of the bag and jumped back, frightened. Akira chuckled, Ryuji could accidently be pretty funny.

Akira opened the bag and looked inside.

There was a gun.

A pistol to be precise.

Akira speedily closed the bag and shoved it back into his backpack.

This would be a problem.

“What was it dude? A bomb!?” Ryuji whispered.

“No, just a gun, nothing major.” Akira replied, trying to play it off.

It didn’t work, judging by Ryuji’s bulging eyes.

“It really isn’t,” Akira continued, “I’ll shove it in some locker and pick it back up in a week,”

Ryuji nodded his head rapidly. He looked like he wanted to say something, but every time he opened his mouth to speak, he would pause, then look away.

He was easily frightened it seemed.

“Look dude,” Akira said grabbing his shoulder, “It’ll be fine. We need this guy’s help anyways if we wanna survive the metaverse. So, I’ll deal with this for a week and get it back to him. Maybe he’ll even start selling us the good stuff he probably has in the back.”

Ryuji nodded along with his words, not speaking. It took him a few moments before he collected himself enough to respond. “Yeah. Yeah. We don’t have much of a choice. If you got this, then we’re good. It’s just potential jail time. No big deal right? Right!?”

Ryuji took a deep breath and calmed himself.

Seeing how Ryuji was now ‘fine’, Akira nodded and let go of Ryuji’s shoulder. He really couldn’t comfort him on this. Akira wasn’t good with his words in the first place, and this wasn’t as big a deal to him as it was to Ryuji.

He had even already rented a locker to put his stuff in this morning. It was across the street from his gym, a semi public location. A man worked a desk at the front, but he didn’t seem to care about anything.

Akira had a dirty pair of gym clothes resting in there. It wasn’t like adding a brown paper bag would do much.

The lockers also stressed how ‘private’ they were. He could easily see the place being a location for storing drugs and the like. No one would be looking in his locker, and at the weapon, any time soon.

Especially not Sae. If she found it, she would kill him.

That shop owner was intimidating, but not as intimidating as her.

Looking down at his phone it was almost 1:00 now. He needed to meet Morgana. He muttered a quick goodbye to Ryuji, who didn’t seem to notice at first. When it finally registered, Ryuji muttered one back before he sped off in another direction.

Akira sent a quick message to Ann that he was heading to the park, and was gone.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 17
Afternoon
Sunday
Clear

The ride was short.

Morgana had been waiting right where they planned.

How the cat knew the directions for the Tokyo subway underground didn’t make any sense. But, neither did anything with Morgana.

He really needed to stop getting so surprised at that.

On the ride over he filled in Morgana about his upcoming role in comforting Shiho. He had forgotten to discuss it the past night. Morgana took it in stride, luckily, not complaining at all.

He seemed a little excited too. Probably thinking of how Ann might pet him too.

The cat was so bratty any time he talked to Ryuji or himself, but was a perfect gentleman to women.

It wasn’t the most endearing trait.

Ann had responded to his text that she would be late. Shiho wasn’t feeling well, and Ann needed to motivate her to come.

That was fine, it would give him time to walk around the park.

After he arrived, he spent some time planning where they would hang out. He found the most scenic location in the park to set up.

There were some teenagers already sitting in the spot, but some fierce glares and an aggressive posture scared them off.

Sometimes being scary paid off.

He took a seat on the bench overlooking the lake.

The whole park was, at most, as big as a city block. A small city block at that. The lake was probably only thirty feet across.

A walking path lay behind his bench. About fifteen feet in front of his bench, the land dipped down and slowly slid to meet the lake. He could nearly see the entire body of water from his spot. Dotting the rim of the lake were trees that shot up in no order or pattern.

It was peaceful.

There was little noise in the area, the only sounds coming from kids in a playpark nearby and the small amount of traffic going through a nearby street.

This was more of a pedestrian area, with a few stalls and walking stores set up nearby.

It was a very pleasant place. He would have to come here more often, or find somewhere like this nearby Sae’s.

He checked his phone, Ann had sent a text that she was on her way. The two of them would be arriving in a few minutes. He sent Ann his exact location and waited.

He passed the time petting Morgana, rubbing the cat’s head. It was a little weird at first, just something he would naturally do for a cat, but Morgana purred. He had protested for a second before giving in. It was kind of weird being able to hear words come from the thing he was petting.

Maybe he was just preparing for the show he was about to give.

“Hey! That you!? Akira!?” A feminine voice shout.

Looking towards the voice he found Ann and Shiho walking down the path.

Shiho walked behind Ann, grasping at her lower back protectively.

Ann wore a black tank top with the words “U2O” on the front over a white shirt. Red sunglasses hung from the middle of her chest. She wore blue denim short shorts with a red plaid shirt wrapped around her waist, black cropped socks, and red sneakers. She had a small picnic basket on her left arm.

Shiho was wearing long, loose, black, track pants, an oversized white hoodie with the hood pulled over her head, and a pair of black tennis sneakers. Only parts of her face and hands were showing.

Seeing the two approach, Morgana leapt from Akira’s hands and rushed towards them. He rubbed against Ann’s leg, purring, and then darted between Shiho’s legs.

Damn. The guy was a good actor.

Maybe he wasn’t acting so much though. It was Ann he was getting affectionate with.

Shiho let go of Ann to scope up Morgana, who began purring loudly, and repeatedly, at her every touch.

“You owe me so much for this Akira, you know you do, you’re going to pay my weight in fish yes you are.” The cat kept repeating.

The two of them continued to walk to his bench. Ann sat next to him, in the middle, while Shiho sat on Ann’s left.

“The little guy really likes you huh?” Akira asked.

Shiho nodded and continued to play with Morgana.

She didn’t seem too talkative, which was fine. He could understand that.

Ann smiled at him and put her picnic basket on her lap, “Sorry for being late. We were about to head out the door and I realized you might not have eaten! So, I whipped this together real quick, I hope you like ham and cheese. I would have done something better but we were already late.”

His stomach growled, making Ann laugh, and Shiho to smile slightly.

He blushed, but accepted the basket.

Ann continued, “Softy,” She mumbled, “I brought this blanket for us to lounge on, if you want that is.” She pulled a large blanket out from underneath the food.

Akira thanked her quietly for the food, before moving to spread the blanket out near the lake.

The blanket was large enough to fit a group of 10 people on it. It had a simple red background, with a white flower petal design. Ann and he placed rocks on its four corners to keep it from moving.

After they situated themselves, Shiho got up from her spot on the bench to join them, Morgana in her arms.

Morgana leaped from her arms and scurried around the blanket, making sure to keep coming back and touching Shiho every few seconds.

If he didn’t know better, he would have thought that Morgana was the cutest cat in the world.

Akira sat relatively far away from Shiho, nearest the lake, while Ann sat in between them.

Feeling hungry, he opened the picnic basket to find several sandwiches, all plastic wrapped, a few bottles of water, and a couple bags of chips.

This was very thoughtful.

“So,” Ann started, “How was your morning?”

Akira pulled out one of the sandwiches and started eating.

How to start? With the almost brawl, the shady store owner, or the gun given to him by said shady store owner.

“Nice, Ryuji and me hung out for a bit. He can be a cool guy sometimes. He showed me this interesting store in Shibuya.”

“Sounds like Ryuji. Occasionally cool.” Ann snorted, “Hey! Don’t hog all the food! You’re bigger than us, but we still need to eat too!” She teased.

He reluctantly handed over the basket, but not before stealing another sandwich.

The day continued like that for a few hours. The two of them making small talk, and Shiho occasionally joining in.

They never talked about school or sports.

Most the conversation was driven by Ann. She talked about what TV show was in, what designer was going to be the next big hit, or where to get the best pastries around here.

Normal things, things he couldn’t reply to well.

He hadn’t seen a TV show in over a year.

And he wasn’t crazy into fashion before he went to Juvie either. He never really had the money to buy anything nice.

Apparently Ann was a model too? It made sense he guessed, modeling was also a common high school side job, at least according to anime. Did that apply to real life? Akira had no idea.

But Ann had the looks to model, he had blushed fiercely when she had first mentioned it, drawing laughter from the two girls.

He really had to get better with this kind of stuff.

They stayed to happy topics, never discussing Akira’s situation or past.

They did discuss workouts for a bit, something Akira could actually talk about.

Ann mentioned wanting to work out with him sometime, wanting to see how he got so strong and if she could use any of his workouts. He would be her motivation to start working out more. She got Shiho to, reluctantly, agree to join them, but on the condition that they did so at Shiho’s apartment’s gym.

Shiho was opening up more as the conversation progressed, growing more comfortable.

Akira didn’t feel like opening up much, so it was good someone else was.

Shiho played with Morgana the whole time, who was saying full sentences to her, and responding to their comments. Neither he nor Ann could respond to that however, which seemed to be ticking the cat off.

He mentioned how much Akira owed him quite a bit too.

He was having a good time, but it didn’t alleviate the pit in his stomach. Akira felt awful for Shiho.

She seemed so… out of it. Depressed, emotionless, slow. Overall, she seemed like a completely different person than the girl he met almost a week ago.

He wished there was anything he could do to help her more. But, he didn’t know her well and didn’t want to impose in any way. Better to just let Ann tell him where to help and what to do.

Akira and Ann had moved back onto the bench a few minutes ago, at Ann’s subtle request. Shiho and Morgana were playing some game on the blanket with a long leaf, Shiho swirled it while Morgana tried to grab it.

Shiho couldn’t hear, but the cat was getting very frustrated with his lack of success.

He really did owe the cat big time for this.

He settled down first and she sat next to him, much closer than necessary or normal. Most of the bench was left available for them. Their thighs touched, in no way even slightly flirtatious, but he still blushed.

“Thanks for this.” Ann whispered to him.

Oh, that’s why she got so close. His blush died down.

“It’s no problem.” Akira said, whispering back.

“Don’t say that. It probably was, and you really didn’t have to. You could have said no, but Shiho’s having a great time, which is all I wanted. So accept the thanks” Ann said and shivered.

It was getting cold out.

Akira pulled off his school blazer and handed it to Ann.

“Thanks.” Ann said, draping the blazer over her legs. She took the red shirt off of her waist and put it over her black tank top.

“Oh, your shirt! You have to be freezing!” She said, noticing his thin, torn, shirt. She tried to take off the blazer and give it back to him, but he placed a hand over the blazer, stopping her.

“Don’t worry, I’m not cold at all. You can get more use out of it than me.” He lied. He was a little cold, but he would feel bad if she was too.

“Well… alright. But you have to let me take you shopping! You can’t be walking around looking like that, your clothes barely fit! As your friend, I have to make sure you look good!” She proclaimed with a smile.

Akira nodded in response, smiling. He would have to take her up on that offer, needing nicer clothes.

They sat in silence for a few moments.

“Shiho’s not doing good.” Ann whispered. The mood dropped.

Akira was unsure how to respond.

“Did you tell her parents?” Was the only thing that came to mind.

Ann shook her head from side to side, “No, Shiho specifically told me not to say anything to her parents.”

“Okay, what do you think of that?” He said, trying to not come off as accusatory.

Ann sighed quietly, “I don’t know. Her parents are weird, they care about her don’t get me wrong, but they are constantly distracted by work and don’t really like her messing with that. I don’t know how they would react. Would they yell at her to just get over it? Or would they try to help? It could go either way, they’ve done both before. I… I really don’t know what to do Akira.” The last part came out very forced.

Ann wiped a tear from her eye.

Akira didn’t move, frozen.

Ann continued, “It wasn’t supposed to go this way. I was supposed to be cheering for her at games. She was supposed to win nationals. We were supposed to go to parties, have fun, flirt with cute boys, not, not this.” She rapidly wiped at both of her eyes now.

Morgana had gotten the nonverbal cue and had increased his movements and noise, keeping Shiho completely distracted and facing away from them.

“I don’t know what to do Akira. Any decision I make could be the wrong one. I hate thinking about this stuff, what do I do if I make the wrong choice? What do I do if I decide too late? There’s too much pressure.” She said, lightly sobbing out the last bit. She was sniffing hard by the end.

“This wasn’t the high school experience we dreamed about. Fucking Kamoshida.” The last part came out in a quiet full sob. Ann kept wiping the tears away, using her cufflinks to dry her nose. She kept her crying silent and muffled by one of her hands.

Akira did what came naturally and wrapped his arm around her back. He lightly rubbed her opposite shoulder, and she shoved her face into his side.

He could hear her take quick, deep, muffled, breaths and felt her warm breath and wet face on his side. After a few moments Ann composed herself and pulled away, before rubbing the rest of the tears and mess from her face.

She gave him a small, heartfelt, smile, before leaning in and giving him a deep hug with her face shoved completely into her side.

He responded by squeezing her opposite shoulder tighter, and pulling her slightly into himself.

She released after a moment and went back to Shiho to see what game she was playing with Morgana.

Akira felt an overwhelming sadness.

He was relieved that his attempt to comfort Ann up had worked. He was unsure if they were close enough for that kind of thing, but Ann had clearly appreciated it.

His relief and happiness at being able to help didn’t stop the sadness however.

Two people he was growing to care about more and more were hurting, and he had no real way to fix it.

There was nearly nothing he could do.

They had to steal Kamoshida’s treasure. They needed to do it as soon as possible.

Would stealing it even solve all their problems though? This was deeper than that.

Even if Kamoshida was reformed and felt regret for his actions, that wouldn’t fix the scars he had left on people.

No, don’t think about that.

He’d become too sad.

Stealing the treasure would do something, he had to believe that.

He moved towards the three of them, picking a new leaf for Shiho on his way there, and sat down across from Ann.

___________________________________________________________________________

April 17
Night
Sunday
Clear

He was freezing.

He was nearing Hanae’s apartment. He had left Ann and Shiho almost two hours ago, walking them home before leaving for a subway station.

On the way to the subway station he stopped at a laundromat to clean his school pants and undershirt. He was forced to steal detergent from another patron.

Then he stopped at a market to purchase Morgana whatever fish he wanted.

The bratty cat abused that reward. Akira was basically broke.

Then the cat had the nerve to ditch him to go find something ‘more exciting than a boring family dinner’.

Whatever. Wasn’t like he wanted the cat there anyways.

But, he couldn’t complain much. Morgana had done a good job today.

Akira would just have to earn some quick money, if he wanted to keep eating at least.

He had enjoyed his time with Ann and Shiho. Ann was a good conversationalist, and he had learned a lot more about fashion and what was going on in Tokyo reality television.

He doubted he would ever watch ‘The Real Housewives of Tokyo’ though.

Hanae’s apartment was pretty far from the station. The walk to get to her neighborhood was over ten minutes.

Her neighborhood, compared to Sae’s, was pretty beaten down. The restaurants were all chain restaurants, there weren’t any upscale cafes. The grocery stores he passed was a little depressing, with faded colors and beleaguered patrons.

Overall, it was a moderately poor area. Nothing too awful, it didn’t feel dangerous or anything, it was even a little nicer than his old neighborhood, but nothing like Sae’s.

The complex itself was pleasant, it looked closer to what he was used to. Every floor had about ten apartments on them. There were large walkways on each floor that all connected to a staircase on the left side.

The building was made completely out of a dark grey stone. The handrails on every floor were also made of the thick grey stone, with white, rusted, steel bars that ran a few feet, breaking up the monotony every few feet in a steady pattern.

Hanae lived on the third floor, which he took the staircase to. He didn’t trust the dinky looking elevator to not break immediately on him.

He pulled out his phone and checked himself out.

He was wearing his clean school uniform. He still wore the useless glasses, as they did take a little edge off. His hair was still a mop, he was never particularly good at styling it.

He looked good enough.

He took a deep breath and knocked on the front door.

He was a few minutes late, he hoped Hanae didn’t mind.

It only took a few moments before the door was nearly flung open and a smiling duo stood in front of him.

The first he noticed was Hanae. This would be the first time he actually got a good look at her.

She looked young, she was probably only in her late twenties. She had long, light brown hair, that was partially pulled into a top bun. The rest hung across her back. She was wearing a conservative light pink cardigan with a white undershirt, a long blue skirt, and white socks. She had several pieces of jewelry on, a necklace and stud earrings.

She was attractive, with delicate features and few blemishes. She had a few stress lines on her face, but nothing that detracted from her appearance.

She was about a foot or so shorter than him, the top of her head only came up past his shoulders. It wouldn’t be as drastic once he got out of his shoes.

Hanae gave him a very warm smile.

In front of her was Shinya, who was probably only ten or so. He was wearing a pair of light brown slacks and a blue tee shirt with the word ‘Pwnd’ on the front. He had a red hat with the words ‘get smoked’ on top of his head.

He only went up to Hanae’s shoulders, making him much shorter than Akira.

Shinya’s face lit up into a massive grin.

“Come on in!” Shinya said loudly.

Shinya pushed his mom aside and back into the apartment so Akira could walk in.

Hanae laughed and let him push her.

Akira followed them. The entrance was normal, a small, square, tiled entrance to rest his shoes. He placed them at the edge between the tile and the wood flooring. He wearing his nicest pair of socks. He turned right to enter the apartment proper.

The apartment was small, a lot smaller than Sae’s. On his immediate left was a small kitchen that filled the entire corner. There were a few appliances, a fridge, a tiny oven on a counter, and a few other items. There was a rectangular island in the center of the area, creating an L-shaped walking path. Dinner rested on the island.

In the center of the room was a medium sized, glass circular table. Three spots had been set, with decorative silverware at every spot. A small flower centerpiece rested in the middle.

Only three spots being set surprised him. Akira guessed that meant that Shinya’s father wasn’t coming to dinner, or he wasn’t in the picture.

A standard sized flat screen TV rested on the leftmost wall near the back of the apartment. Some kind of game system was attached to it. Across from the TV was a couch big enough to fit three people comfortably. Lastly, there was a lounging chair nearly touching the backmost wall. It was angled to face the television.

Further along, on the back most wall, was a sliding glass door that led to a patio.

On the rightmost wall were three doors, evenly spaced apart. The closest one to him had stickers of various videogame characters on it, while the one farthest from him, nearest the back most wall, had a photo of Shinya and Hanae at a park hanging down at eye level. The center one was left blank.

The photo cemented that the father wasn’t a part of this family.

All in all, the apartment was cozy. It was much smaller than Sae’s, but it seemed comfortable for a small family.

“Welcome to our apartment. I apologize for the walk, but I did offer to pick you up.” Hanae teased.

“It’s no problem, the walk really wasn’t that bad.”

“That’s good, Shinya why don’t you give Kurusu-san here a tour?”

“Um,” Akira interjected, “Just Akira is fine.”

Hanae gave him a smile before turning around to go check the oven.

“Akira! Ok so here’s the kitchen, mom cooks everything there. Over there is the TV. I have a PS4 we can play later if you want. Come over here, I’ll show you my room.” Shinya said with pride.

Akira followed the youth into the room with video game stickers on the door.

Shinya’s room felt kind of cramped. Every surface was stuffed with various toys and action figures.

In the back-right corner was a futon resting on a slightly raised platform, sheets tucked in. The sheets had various Super Sentai on them, and even though Akira had seen the show in a decade, the outfits hadn’t changed much.

In the back left corner was a small desk with a computer on it. It was a rather advanced looking gaming computer.

Finally, to the right of the door, was a large, wooden drawer cabinet. On top of the cabinet were dozens of various action figures and collectables.

“So this is my room,” Shinya began, “That’s my computer, I play games on that mostly, my drawers, my action figures. We also can play with those later. Do you watch Super Sentai?”

Akira shook his head, and Shinya began a rambling explanation of the series while leaving his room.

Akira wasn’t feeling extremely comfortable with the level of familiarity he was being treated with.

He was kind of regretting coming.

Shinya kept speaking, “This is the bathroom,” He opened the center door on the right wall, “We share one, so all the girly stuff is mom’s.”

Akira looked in from behind him. There was a large bathtub on the back wall, with a seat nearby it to wash oneself on. The showerhead was near the seat.

A toilet was across from the seat, and a sink and mirror were nearest the entrance.

It was kind of cute. There were clearly kid brands and adult brands of every toiletry item. The towels were a dark red and a bright baby blue.

Shinya closed the door.

“That last room is mom’s, but we can’t go in there. The door over there leads to the patio. Mom hangs out there a lot. There isn’t much of a view, but its nice.”

Akira nodded.

Shinya took as a sign to continue, “Wanna play PS4 while we wait for my mom to finish cooking?”

Should he? He looked towards Hanae who was watching to two.

“It’ll take another fifteen minutes to finish this. You two can play if you want.”

So it was fine, but did he want to?

He was feeling out of place.

“Come on, we can boot up street fighter! Have you ever played?”

“Uh, yeah, but like, Street Fighter 2 years ago.”

“Well I got Street Fighter 5, I’ll show you what to do. It’s kinda the same I assume”

Shinya went over to the TV and got the system set up.

Akira moved to sit in the lounge chair facing the TV. He wasn’t comfortable sharing the couch with Shinya.

If the kid noticed, he didn’t say anything. He just handed him the second player controller and booted up the game. He was very clear that it was the second player controller.

It was a little beat up, but still seemed to work properly.

Shinya’s controller looked fine though.

Shinya got them into a match quickly. Shinya then kicked his ass for the next fifteen minutes. He was a good teacher however, and Akira was rapidly getting better. On their final match, he almost managed to get Shinya’s character to half health once.

“Dinner’s ready!” Hanae called from across the room.

Shinya hopped from his seat and rushed the few feet to the kitchen.

Akira got up slowly and followed. He was growing even more uncomfortable with how familiarly they were treating him.

He wasn’t ready for this. His ‘family’ had never done family dinners, opting to eat alone.

He made his way to the island where all the food had been placed out.

There was tuna sashimi, white rice, miso soup, various tsukemono, grilled fish, salad, and some chicken udon.

“Shinya, why don’t you ask our guest if he wants a drink?” Hanae said.

“Oh yeah, do you want a drink?”

“Shinya! More politely.”

“I’m sorry mom, Um Akira, would you like something to drink?”

“Uh, sure, I’ll just have water.” Akira responded.

Shinya nodded before going to get some ice, “All we have is tap water, is that okay?”

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

Hanae handed him a plate and bowl, “Our brita filter broke a few days ago, I still have to get a new one. Take however much food you want. There's enough for all of us and more.”

He accepted the two and took a bit of everything, starving from a long day. Ann’s sandwiches had been tasty, but not nearly filling enough.

He pulled out a chair from the table, at the spot where his back faced the backmost wall.

Hanae sat across from him and Shinya to Akira’s left. That left the spot closest to the television open.

“So Shinya,” Hanae began, “Tell Akira-san about how you helped.”

Shinya smiled, “I made the Chicken Udon! Mom helped, but I did most of it.” He picked up his utensils and went to begin eating, but Hanae put a hand on his. He got the message and put his utensils down.

“Itadakimasu.” Shinya whispered.

“Itadakimasu.” Hanae repeated.

Akira muttered it, before snapping his chopsticks apart and starting to eat.

“Sorry if you don’t do that before your meals, it's just something we do.” Hanae said.

Akira’s family didn’t.

The food was actually pretty good. Hanae didn’t lie, her sashimi was pretty good. He tried every bit and the rest of the meal was tasty too, nothing extraordinary, but good.

Sojiro’s curry was probably better, but this food was a strong second.

“So, Akira-san, how’s school going? Are you in high school or university?” Hanae asked

Akira swallowed before responding, “High school. I go to Shujin Academy.”

“Shujin huh? I heard you guys have a pretty good volleyball program.”

Kamoshida. He accidently snapped his chopstick.

“Oh dear. Here, let me get you another one.” Hanae said, getting up and going to the kitchen.

“Sorry about that, my hand slipped on the plate.” He lied.

She smiled at him, either having bought it, or deciding not to press the issue.

“It’s all right, it happens. So, how is high school? I remember that being tough.”

He accepted the chopstick she handed him graciously, “It’s fine. The teachers are smart, and I’m learning a lot.” He lied.

“I can’t wait to get to high school!” Shinya added, “Grade school is stupid, all of my classes are easy.”

“Are you in any clubs or sports?” Hanae asked.

“No, I was thinking of joining one though.” Akira lied again, he wasn’t.

“That’s nice. I was a part of my high school track team years ago. I was never good, but it was fun just hanging out. I ran the 200 meters.”

Akira nodded, and got back to eating. He probably could have kept the conversation alive, but nothing was coming to him.

It only took a few moments before Shinya chimed in, “Do you play any video games?”

“Uh, I used to, a long time ago. But never much, just at friend’s houses sometimes.”

His ‘parents’ had never sprung for any kind of entertainment like that. He had to wait until he was allowed to visit friends, which almost never happened.

“There’s this new game, Gun About, it’s pretty new but it’s so good, the best weapon…” Shinya dominated the conversation for the next few minutes, going into extreme detail about the weapons systems, classes, everything about this new game ‘Gun About’.

Which was fine, as Akira didn’t have to make any conversation.

Hanae cut him off, “Honey, I’m not sure Akira hear that much about Gun About, but what about any Television shows? You have any favorites?”

All these questions did was remind him how little of a childhood he had.

“I don’t watch much TV, I’ve seen the Real Housewives of Tokyo a few times though.”

Thank you Ann for explaining everything he needed to know about Tomoko-chan and her life.

Hanae seemed surprised, “Really? That doesn’t seem like a show you’d like. I was thinking you would watch some Yakuza show instead.”

He had met potential, and current, Yakuza in real life at juvie. It kind of ruined the mysterious and romantic air of organized crime. Yakuza were a very common trope in television and movies, but the real Yakuza members he knew weren’t misunderstood bad boys with a heart of gold.

“No, but again I don’t watch much TV. My friend watches the show a lot and made me watch a few episodes. What about you Shinya-san?”

Anything to change the subject.

“Oh! Have you seen the new Super Sentai season! So, the Blue Super Sentai and the Red Super Sentai are best friends right, but the blue Super Sentai doesn’t…”

Akira went back to eating. He listened in with half an ear as Shinya explained everything about the Super Sentai. He really didn’t care much about who hated who.

Dinner progressed like that for the next twenty minutes. Akira was so hungry he even went back for seconds. Most of the conversation was Shinya explaining his favorite series.

“... you wanna play some more Street Fighter?”

Before he could respond, Hanae spoke up, “Shinya, honey, why don’t you go do some homework first.”

“But mom-”

Hanae crossed her arms, “No buts, go do some homework. It’s getting late and you have school tomorrow. If you get enough done, you can play some video games.”

Shinya sulked, but nodded, “Alright, I’ll get it done quick and then we can play Call of Duty!” He pushed his chair out and sped to his room.

The door slammed shut.

It was just him and Hanae.

He could feel his hands start to sweat.

She put her elbows on the table and leaned in, “Would you like a glass of wine? I know you’re underage, but I’m sure your parents have slipped you a glass or two?”

No, they hadn’t.

But he was curious how wine tasted.

“They let me drink semi-often, I can have some.” He responded.

“Perfect!” She said and clapped. She got up, taking her plate to the sink.

He tried to not watch her walk away, and followed her with his dishes.

“Oh, just leave that in the sink. I’ll get to it later.” Hanae said, as he went to clean them.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, it’s fine, do you prefer red or white?”

He had no idea.

“Red.”

Hanae pulled a full bottle of red wine from her fridge and placed it on the island. He could see that there was another, half finished, red wine also in the fridge. Afterwards she pulled two wine glasses out of a cabinet, popped the cork, and started pouring.

“Little adult advice for you, if you drink liquor at home you’re an alcoholic, but if you drink wine you’re fancy.” She said with a chuckle.

She finished pouring the two glasses and handed one to him. She immediately started sipping her glass.

He put it to his mouth, smelling it. It had a very strong scent. Tasting it, he had to stop himself from making a face. It was nearly painfully bitter.

It felt warm, in a weird way. His throat burned a bit. He took another sip, enjoying it a little more.

“Would you like to go outside?” She asked, before taking a small sip.

There was something to her look that excited him, “Sure.”

Hanae led him to her balcony. This probably wasn’t a great idea.

Once outside, he realized that Shinya didn’t lie, there wasn’t much of a view. There weren’t any balconies particularly close to theirs, and all of them were empty. The sound of cars beeping and people chatting made a comforting white noise.

The walls on either side of the balcony were raised, going up in a slope from the front wall until they reached their peak near the door. It was probably for privacy, such that it would be hard to look in on them from either side. The wall in the very front was at about waist height.

There were two chairs outside, both made of a hard, brownish, plastic. In between the two chairs was a small glass side table, only big enough to rest a few drinks, and possibly a small plate, on.

He sat in the chair to the right and put his glass on the table. Hanae joined him, resting her drink and the bottle of wine down. She slid the blinds closed on the inside so that no one could see in or out. Probably to keep Shinya from bothering them.

Once she was in her seat, she picked back up her glass and started sipping.

The chairs were facing the same general direction, but angled 45 degrees towards each other.

Hanae spoke up, “So, Akira-san, what did you think of my sashimi? I didn’t lie did I?”

“You can just call me Akira. But it was really good, you told the truth. I think I ate almost all of it.”

She chuckled and sipped her wine.

He joined her, finishing nearly half his glass.

“Thank you, I’ve never been much of a cook but I pride myself on what I’m good at. What about your parents? Do they cook much? Do you?”

He sipped his wine some more to give him time to think. She had asked a lot about his parents tonight.

He wasn’t comfortable talking about his ‘parents’, and saying anything about Sojiro felt weird. The man was the stranger he lived with, not a parental figure.

“They cooked a bit. I cook when I can.”

Hanae nodded and sipped at her wine. He sipped some of his to fill the time.

He was about three quarters the way through his glass, but he wasn’t feeling the buzzing like TV shows and movies said he would.

He needed to change the subject before she asked more about his parents.

“What do you do for a living?”

Hanae took another sip, finishing her glass, and began to pour herself another.

“I work as a receptionist at a big company. You know Okumura foods? I work in their main building. The pays okay, the hours can get hectic, and my boss can be a dick, but it's a good job for someone without a college education. We make do.”

Akira finished the last of his wine and poured himself another glass.

Hanae started speaking again, “You seem so mature for your age, is there a reason for that?”

“Life, I guess. I’ve had to be mature since I was a kid.”

Hanae nodded, “I was the same way. Growing up in Tokyo was… rough sometimes. It's tough having to be an adult so young. I don’t want Shinya to have to deal with that.”

She was opening up. He was feeling more uncomfortable, and so he gulped down nearly half of his new glass.

Hopefully it would make him feel better.

“You don’t seem very keen on talking.” Hanae added.

Akira paused, unsure how to respond. He wasn’t the most talkative guy with people he knew.

Hanae quickly raised her hands in mock surrender, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I was just noticing. Not to be pushy.” She drank nearly all her glass afterwards.

“No, no, I like talking, it’s just… me and my parents don’t have a good relationship is all.”

Hanae looked extremely worried for a second, “Oh my god! I’m so sorry for asking about them so much.”

He drank the rest of his glass of wine.

He was two glasses in now and was starting to feel it. His head felt lighter.

“It’s fine, I’m just mentioning. I do like talking to you.”

That was true. She was very cute, and very welcoming. The alcohol was making it easier to talk too.

“What? With an old lady like me?” She laughed.

“Old? You’re not old at all. How are you old?”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No, you look really good for your age.” He blurted out, nearly immediately regretting it.

Maybe the alcohol was affecting him more than he thought.

They both blushed and Akira took another sip of his wine.

Hanae sipped her wine and shifted in her seat, skirt sliding up a bit showing more of her thigh.

“Well, thank you. I still go to the gym pretty often, I probably don’t work out as much as you though.” She said and laughed, slapping his shoulder lightly.

The excitement he felt earlier nearly erupted, his head felt light, but his confidence was nearly to the moon.

“It shows.” He said and sipped his glass

“Does it really? I try to stay as fit as possible.” She said and jokingly flexed her bicep, “Check it out.”

She reached over and pulled his hand to her flexed bicep.

It was actually hard, she had some serious arm strength built up.

“How about this?” He said, flexing his arm.

She reached over and grabbed his bicep, squeezing and stroking it.

“So you do work out every day.” She whispered.

Hanae’s hand moved up to start rubbing his shoulder. She had shifted her chair closer so that their legs were touching. He looked over and saw that she had finished her glass. He grabbed the wine bottle in a gesture that asked, do you want more? He poured her some when she nodded.

She took a sip and spoke, “I just have to say, thanks, again. I know you said I didn’t have to, and I needed a few drinks before I could bring it back up, but thank you. You’re a great person and I don’t like to think of what could have happened if you weren’t there.”

Why did that make him feel like shit?

He drank the rest of his glass.

They had finished half the bottle now.

He was feeling very light headed.

“I’m… I’m not a great person. There’s a lot not good about me. Please don’t call me a great person.”

Hanae began rubbing his shoulder again, in a very personal, semi-romantic, manor.

He would normally be extremely uncomfortable with this kind of contact, but with a few drinks in him, and with an attractive woman, he liked it.

The more he looked at her, the better she looked. Cute face, nice hair, and the bits of skin she was showing were enticing. Their flirting, and he knew it was flirting, was driving him mad.

“You’re wrong. There were, what? One hundred people in that station? Not a single one of them tried to help Shinya. I… I didn’t even try to help Shinya. I was so terrified I couldn’t move.”

She stopped speaking and pulled her hand from his shoulder to wipe her eyes.

He did what worked earlier, and started to rub her shoulder instead.

She let out a short chuckle, shifted her chair closer to his, and grabbed his hand.

“Thanks.” She muttered, “I have nightmares about what happened. I know it was few days ago, but it feels like it was just a few seconds ago.”

He took his hand off her shoulder and picked back up his wine glass.

“You know,” She continued, “Shinya won’t stop talking about you. If I didn’t know better I’d say he had a crush.” She laughed.

That made him feel like a bigger piece of shit.

He wasn’t someone that people should look up to.

Hanae spoke back up, “I can see why too. There’s a lot to like.”

And just like that his mood was back to elated.

Hanae continued, “He hasn’t had any positive male role models, really ever. His dad left a few years ago, and wasn’t even very active with us when we were together. Since then, it’s just been me and him.”

Akira drank the rest of his glass.

He was a few glasses in now and it was hitting him.

He was feeling great.

“Sorry, this is a lot, I don’t mean to put this all on you.” She said, resting a hand on his lower thigh.

They had scooted their two chairs so close that much of their legs were touching.

It had been a small, subtle, thing, but here they were.

There was a definite energy to their conversation.

He outstretched his left arm and wrapped it around her shoulders. She leaned into him.

Her hair smelled great. He had spent the last year getting used to the stench of other men, this was a definite upgrade.

He really didn’t expect this to happen when he agreed to come over for dinner.

Hanae continued, “It’s just, I don’t have any people I can talk about this stuff with. About anything with really. All of my high school friends don’t associate with me, and I don’t have any work friends. My life is just me and Shinya. Which isn’t a problem!” She laughed, “I made the choice that life would be just me and him awhile back. It’s just, nice, to talk to another adult for once.”

She looked up at him and winked. It was more of a teasing wink than a flirtatious one.

But it still made butterflies in his stomach.

“It’s fine. I’m used to talking to people about serious stuff.” He replied.

Hanae grew a gentle, caring, smile.

“Yeah, you seem like that kind of guy. Here, I’ll go grab us something to nibble on.”

She got up to go. But stumbled on the leg of her chair.

She started falling backwards, so Akira stood up and grabbed her by instinct. He grabbed her by the waist to support her.

The fire inside of his nearly exploded at the touch.

“Sorry.” He said, keeping his hands there for support.

She laughed, making him blush. She leaned into his grasp a little, he could feel her butt and back rest against the front of his body.

He hoped she didn’t notice his ‘problem’.

“It’s fine. I should be saying sorry.” Hanae said. She pulled out of his arms, stumbling again but catching herself on the railing.

She was slightly bent over the railing. Her skirt was surprisingly tight, he could see all her curves. The sight made him almost pray for her to lean back into his arms. But, she righted herself and faced him.

She reached over and grabbed his hands softly. She started to rub the tops of them with her thumbs.

Akira felt like he would explode at any second.

His body was starting to feel like it was out of his control.

She looked up at him and bit her lip. She had a sensual look, one filled with desire.

His body felt indescribably hot.

She unexpectedly dropped his hands, shaking her head rapidly from side to side before quickly walking into her apartment.

Akira let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding and sat down.

He had almost leaned in and tried something he shouldn’t have.

This alcohol was affecting him more than he thought.

Why was he so disappointed?

It took a minute or so, but Hanae came back out with a cheese and crackers. She placed it between the two of them on the glass stand and scooted her chair farther from his, so their legs weren’t touching.

She didn’t refill her glass, and so neither did Akira.

They spent the next twenty minutes making small talk about life and Tokyo. Hanae had a lot of tips for cool places for him to check out.

She didn’t ask him anything about school, or about his parents.

But, everything needed to come to an end. It was getting late and he needed to head back to Sae’s if he wanted to be ready for school in the morning.

Hanae walked him to the door, “Are you sure you don’t need a ride?”

“I’ll be fine,” He said, pulling on his jacket, “Should you even be driving?”

She laughed, “I didn’t have that much!” She said, slapping his shoulder lightly, “Shinya! Come on out!”

Shinya’s door flew open seconds later and Shinya rushed out, “Are you leaving!? We didn’t get to play any games!”

“Next time honey,” Hanae said then turned to address Akira, “You’re free to come over anytime you want. We would love to have you again, I had a great time and I’m sure Shinya did too.” She said, grabbing Shinya by his shoulders and holding him still.

Akira nodded. He had really enjoyed the time on the balcony. He might have to take them up on their offer.

“Thank you for inviting me. Dinner was lovely.” Akira replied, trying to be polite.

“Well, we appreciate you coming. You will have to come again soon. Our door is always open.” Hanae said.

“Yeah! I can teach you more about Gun About next time too!” Shinya contributed.

They smiled warmly at him.

He nodded, thanking them again, before grabbing his shoes and heading for the door.

When he reached it, he waved goodbye, and left.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 17
Midnight
Sunday
Clear

The ride home took awhile.

He had stopped at big bang burger to get something to eat. The internet said the best way to sober up was to eat something greasy and drink a lot of water.

It worked. His body felt back to normal.

He also put the gun in his private locker. The worker at the front didn’t even acknowledge him entering.

He was sober as he walked into Sae’s apartment.

Everyone was asleep, which was convenient. He didn’t have to be too stealthy.

Morgana had been waiting outside of his apartment, pissed off at how late it was. Akira had no response but to ask if the cat had a good time.

Morgana had, and went into vivid detail about his exploits.

Once they were in the apartment, Morgana slipped past his legs and sprinted to the bed.

Akira went to take a shower first.

Finally, he let himself relax.

What had almost happened at Hanae’s?

The alcohol had made him feel good, great even, but what had it almost encouraged him to do?

If Hanae hadn’t gone inside, what would have happened? The way she bit her lip, was she thinking the same things he was?

There was no way she wasn’t thinking the same things he was.

She was being so touchy, so flirtatious, something was up.

But, why with him?

It was frustrating, in more ways than one.

He ‘dealt’ with his frustrations in his, longer than necessary, shower.

When done, he brushed his teeth, and passed out.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 18
Morning
Monday
Clear

Akira was exhausted.

He had woken up and gone to the gym, even though he had only gotten six hours of sleep.

He was on his way to school now, Morgana resting in his backpack.

A voice called out from behind him, “Yo! Dude!”

Recognizing it, he turned to see Ryuji jogging at him.

“What’s up man? You ready for gym day?”

What?

“Gym day?” Akira asked.

Ryuji’s face lit up in recognition, “Oh yeah! You’re new. Well, every Monday that asshole Kamoshida teaches gym. Each grade has it at a different time, it’s a schedule nightmare. But, because today’s the first gym day, the whole school is coming out at once. He treats it as another pep rally and always plays Volleyball. But, we have shorter classes which is nice.”

That wasn’t too bad. The pep rally was boring, but he could sit in the back again.

The day continued normally, teachers ignored or interrogated him, students walked the halls, terrified of him. The time to head to the gym came right before lunch.

Ann split off from him after leaving Kawakami’s classroom to go find Shiho. Akira went his own way, meeting up with Ryuji in the locker room.

When he walked in, Mr. Ushimaru was there to begrudgingly give him a pair of gym clothes.

He had just worn his normal school uniform at the pep rally.

These clothes were way too small on him. It made Ryuji laugh at how much of his stomach was constantly showing. You could see almost all of his legs; the shorts only went down to mid quad.

He checked the tags. The clothes were size small. He normally wore a large or extra-large.

Was this a joke?

It was a good thing he’d stayed in shape.

He walked out into the main room, Ryuji at his side.

He was a little nervous about his appearance, but tried not to think about it. Why should he care what these idiots thought?

The room was packed. Every grade in the school was in here. Some students were playing basketball, others were chatting, a few just passing a volleyball in a circle. In the very center of the room was a big, square, box covered in a tarp. It looked to be the size of a stage or something. It was probably used for graduation or something like that.

He looked around, using his height to see over everyone's heads. He couldn’t find Ann or Shiho, but he wouldn’t blame them for cutting class. He did find Makoto however.

She was leaning against a back wall, alone. While most people had found their friends and were doing something, Makoto stood alone.

No one was approaching her, or even looking her way.

Where were her friends?

She looked mildly uncomfortable.

She was wearing the Shujin gym uniform. It looked good on her. A loose white T-shirt, with a baggy red jacket, finished with a baggy pair of red pants.

How come she had gotten pants and he had been given shorts?

He thought about approaching her, but then remembered Sae’s rules.

But, they met his eyes and she waved at him. Her mood seemed to flip instantly.

Damnit.

Sae never said, but he assumed ‘Don’t look at Makoto’ was also a rule.

Makoto had an awkward smile as she pushed off the wall and approached them.

Damnit.

“Yo, what’s the prez doin?” Ryuji whispered to him.

Akira sighed.

“Akira-san. Sakamoto-san. How are you today?” She asked, hesitant.

She looked awkward, but seemed more comfortable than before.

He understood her problem, having been in similar situations. More than once there had been a big school event, and everyone else went to go find their friends, but you had no one.

You could feel everyone’s eyes on you, watching, judging you for being alone.

She had probably seen him and latched on.

He felt bad for her.

He shouldn’t have been her best option for a friend.

“Fine. I got these cloths from Mr. Ushimaru, but they’re a little tight.” He said, raising his arms slightly for emphasis. His shirt nearly rose past his belly button.

Makoto blushed, but laughed with Ryuji.

“You look like an idiot bro.” Ryuji laughed out.

Makoto coughed into her hand, “They’re just… a bit small. Maybe all they had were uniforms for middle schoolers?”

He smiled slightly, “Nah, I just that Mr. Ushimaru wanted to see me in tight clothing.”

Makoto gasped lightly, surprised, before giggling, “You shouldn’t say that about a teacher.”

Akira shrugged, “If the shoe fits.”

Ryuji was laughing, “So he’s pervin on you dude?”

“I think it's the only reasonable explanation.”

Makoto was about to say something, but a whistle cut her off from across the room.

They looked over to find Kamoshida standing at the gyms entrance, with a bright smile on his face.

“Alright students! Welcome to the first gym day of the year!”

A round of applause sounded through the room.

That pissed him off more than it should.

“I got a treat for you guys today too! Now, I know a lot of you were looking forward to Volleyball, but I have something else, something great, planned! Come on out guys!”

Three students came out from behind Kamoshida, then stood in front of him.

It was the three students that had tried to bully Ryuji and him yesterday.

All four, Kamoshida and the three students, pulled the tarp off of the platform. It revealed a large boxing ring right in the middle of the gymnasium.

Akira had an awful feeling about this.

“We’re going to put on a show today! Boxing! One of the longest running and most popular sports of all time! And lucky for us, Jiro here, is one of the best boxers in the area!”

Kamoshida rested his hand on Jiro’s shoulder. He recognized him as the leader from yesterday.

“How about we put on a showcase bout before we get to the good stuff! We’ll need a volunteer from the audience however! Hmmm, how about…. You! Akira! Come on up here!”

Kamoshida was smiling brightly, nearly giggling.

Akira walked towards him, looking back he found Makoto looking extremely worried, while Ryuji appeared slightly frightened.

He steeled himself.

“So, do you wanna box? It’s just for fun.” Kamoshida asked, as if he had a choice.

If he refused, the man would ask Ryuji. Ryuji was a hothead, but he wasn’t stupid. He would refuse, and he would become more of a laughing stock. Kamoshida would do something to make Ryuji look even worse to the school.

Akira refused to let anyone laugh at his friend again.

He could see Jiro’s smug face, standing behind Kamoshida.

The thought of pounding that smug grin into the ground was more than enough to make him accept.

“That’s great! Why don’t you go change,” He opened the bag on his shoulder and pulled out a pair of pants, boxing gloves, a head protector, and a mouth guard, “And come back out. You and Yamamoto can start.”

‘Yamamoto’, the shortest one, waived at him, mockingly. Akira accepted the gear before stalking back to his group. No one said anything, but Ryuji followed him into the locker room.

He handed Ryuji his mouth guard as he entered, “Can you go wash that out? I don’t trust Kamoshida to not have spit in it or something.”

“Will do.” Ryuji said solemnly. He hesitated to grab it for a moment, “You know, you know you don’t have to fight these guys, right? Like, no one will care, and if they do it’s not a big deal.”

Akira nodded, “Yeah, but smacking those dicks around for a bit could be fun.”

“Phrasing, but still man, like Jiro’s actually good. You’re bigger than him, but he’s not just a bully. He’s actually got practice. Yamamoto is no slouch either.”

“Don’t worry. I have practice too, just go clean that thing. I’ll just get beat Yamamoto in a round or two and leave.”

Ryuji still hesitated to grab the mouth guard, but finally nodded and steeled himself.

Good.

Akira changed into his new outfit. He was shirtless. The pants Kamoshida had given him still only went to mid-thigh, but they were very light. They were Shujin Red, as were his gloves and facemask.

He put everything on and popped in the freshly cleaned mouth guard. Before leaving, he took off his glasses and handed them to Ryuji.

He really didn’t have to fight if he was being honest with himself.

He could have said no, people would think the worst of him and move on. Ryuji would be mocked, but nothing too bad would happen.

But he really wanted to fight.

He wanted to destroy something.

His rage, the fire inside of him, was bubbling out. He could feel it igniting his muscles, driving him forward.

Fighting these assholes would be the best thing to happen to him since leaving Juvie.

He flung open the locker room door and walked into the gymnasium.

____________________________________________________________________________

A/N

Finally! I finished this chapter!

This chapter took forever to write. I knew what I wanted to happen the whole time, but I went on break from school and was with my family, and then next I went back to school and everything’s been a mess.

The next chapter should come out faster as my life gets back into order.

Well, a few events happened in this story.

Iwai was introduced, him and Akira are developing a dynamic.

Some OCs were introduced, I know a lot of people hate OCs, but don’t worry. I want to include as little as possible, but sometimes I have to make some. I hope people don’t mind too much.

I was actually on the fence about including the Shiho and Ann section, but there was actually a lot of character development in there that I thought was too important to cut out.

Hanae and Shinya were the biggest change. There isn’t any official artwork for Hanae, only a 3D character sprite that shows up about two times in game. So, I changed her look slightly and gave her some backstory.

Remember that they are meeting MONTHS before they meet in game, so things are different.

What will happen? Well keep reading.

I actually really enjoyed writing out those scenes and I hope you all like reading them. What was up with Hanae and Akira? I plan on expanding more on every character’s relationship so keep coming back.

Gym day doesn’t happen in game, but I added it for fun. I’m excited to add more.

Next chapters going to be a good one and I’m pumped to write it!

So, thank you for reading, and please leave a review or PM me! Reviews are one of the main reasons I write, I love hearing people's thoughts.

I hope to see you guys soon!

Chapter Text

April 18
Afternoon
Monday
Clear

All eyes were on him.

Well, they were on the dude in front of him.

Akira’s presence dwarfed everything in the room.

There was a vacuum, and Akira was at the center.

He seemed to tower over everyone.

Ryuji knew Akira as the kinda shy, easily embarrassed, but kind dude. It had been easy to forget that the rumors about him came from somewhere.

Akira radiated an animosity that nearly terrified him.

Akira moved like a predator through the crowd. He glowered at everyone in his path, nearly snarling.

They all flew out of his way.

Akira looked like a different person once his glasses came off. His face seemed more angular, angrier, more rugged. A lot of this was hidden by the bulky, oversized, glasses.

He had no idea that Akira was this fit too.

Once Akira took off his shirt, it was obvious that he had some serious muscle built up. Akira wasn’t a bodybuilder, but there were no visible pockets of fat. He was pretty cut, with a six pack, a well-defined chest, and big arms. He had broad shoulders and a fit back. He could hear people, noticeably quite a few girls, whispering about it in the crowd.

He had a lot of little scars, what looked like puncture wounds, a couple jagged scrapes, and a big, nasty, scar on his side. Most of them looked like they hadn’t healed right.

He looked dangerous, like the thug people made him out to be.

The two of them walked up to Kamoshida, who looked much less enthusiastic.

Ryuji could understand why.

Akira loomed over Yamamoto, dwarfing him.

All the trepidation, for his friend and for himself, vanished.

This would be a slaughter.

Akira was doing the same thing he did in ‘untouchables’, making direct eye contact and never looking away.

Ryuji could see Yamamoto glancing in every other direction, trying to ignore him.

His buddies were trying to pump him up, but everyone could see how this fight was going to go.

Akira’s smirk looked devilish.

Ryuji hesitated, before attempting to pat Akira on the back. The hesitation cost him, and Akira was in the ring before he could say any words of encouragement.

“Alright!” Kamoshida shout from the center of the ring, “I want a good clean fight! Let’s give everyone here a great show!”

The crowd gave mild applause, some cheering Yamamoto’s name. No one cheered for Akira.

He had to try, “Let’s go dude! You got this!”

Akira ignored him.

“Is he going to be okay?” Someone asked.

Turning around, Makoto was approaching him. Her arms were crossed, scared.

“Who?”

Makoto bit her lip and dug her arms further into herself.

The only good thing about this was that he would get to see that asshole Yamamoto get his ass kicked. He’d been one of the many guys to bully him over the last year. Ryuji got a grim satisfaction knowing what was going to happen.

He didn’t like wishing bad things on anyone, but he couldn’t help hoping that Akira would get a few good blows in for him.

Time to wait and watch.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 18
Afternoon
Monday
Clear

He squared off against Yamamoto.

The guy must have only weighed around 145 pounds.

Akira had about 50 pounds on him, and nearly a whole head.

He would take this fight any day of the week.

Yamamoto was an average looking guy, short black hair, narrow figure. He wasn’t particularly good or bad looking. He had a light amount of muscle, but nothing extreme.

He was scared. Akira could see it in his posture.

Yamamoto regretted this.

Akira couldn’t stop smirking.

Kamoshida blew his whistle.

Akira closed the distance in a second.

In a normal fight he would go to grab Yamamoto under an arm and leg, then slam him to the ground. Wrestling him to the ground would let him make full use of his superior size and strength. He could unleash blows on the guy until he was out.

But, this was a boxing match, so he couldn’t grapple.

Instead, he swung a wide right haymaker.

Yamamoto sprung back, bringing up his arm to block the blow.

The blow slammed against his arm. His feet weren’t well placed and he was sent stumbling to the side.

Akira let loose a left jab that connected, hard, with Yamamoto’s face.

Yamamoto stumbled backwards, trying to flee. He didn’t get far, meeting the ropes.

Akira started swinging. Rapid lefts, rights, uppercuts, he had Yamamoto pinned to the ropes. He was feeling more agile than normal, but it was probably the adrenaline.

Blow after blow landed on Yamamoto who could only turtle his body. Any time he tried to move to a side, Akira would throw a blow that stopped him.

A couple blows were sliding through his defense, none especially damaging, but he couldn’t keep this up forever. Yamamoto would be done soon.

Akira’s rage was cool. He could feel it flowing through him, driving him, but he still had control over his actions.

Yamamoto had no way to respond, the reach difference between the two was so great any retaliation punches he threw fell short.

Kamoshida was a moron for setting this up.

Someone grabbed his arms from behind, stopping him from throwing his next punch. “Hey! Akira! Watch the low blows! We’re supposed to be having fun!”

Kamoshida. Yamamoto took the opportunity to get out from the ropes and reorient himself.

That was a lie. Akira had never gone low.

Kamoshida released him a second before Yamamoto reached him.

Yamamoto didn’t wait for Kamoshida to blow his whistle.

He started throwing fast, quick, punches to Akira’s midsection. He tried to catch Akira off guard by weaving in a few uppercuts to his jaw.

The only reason that Akira didn’t immediately start swinging back was because of how surprised he was.

His body was reacting faster than it ever had before.

He was able to avoid, weave away, or block, nearly every blow.

It was so easy too.

He had never been this agile before in his life.

It wasn’t a small change in ability either, it was a dramatic shift.

What the hell was going on?

He ducked under a high right hook by instinct, not even thinking about it.

This reminded him of… of being in the metaverse.

What the hell?

He paced backwards to get some space, he needed time to think.

He wasn’t stronger or faster, his workouts had proven that. He still lifted the same weight and had the same mile time.

Nothing had changed about him physically, but his reaction time was incredible.

Yamamoto stepped in and went for a short right jab to his face. Akira dodged, stepping into his guard and unleashing a brutal uppercut. It was an unconscious motion, his body just reacted.

Yamamoto fell to the ground, butt smacking the pad.

Silence filled the room.

Yamamoto sprung up before Kamoshida could even begin a count.

Kamoshida blew into his whistle, “Round 1! Done! Retreat to your corners!”

Had it been three minutes already? He was getting tired.

He stalked back to his corner, He could see Ryuji running in from the back.

Ryuji hopped onto the mat and hung himself over the ropes, passing him the water bottle.

“Dude! What the hell was that!? You looked amazing!”

Akira took the bottle, downing a quarter of it in a few seconds.

He had wasted a lot of stamina dodging so much.

“I honestly have no idea.”

“What!? What do you mean you have no idea?”

Akira ignored him and looked towards an approaching Makoto.

She pulled herself up, standing on the other side of the corner, towel in hand.

She reached out, awkwardly, to wipe at his chest before stopping, pulling back, then going forward again. Her embarrassment nearly made him laugh. She tried one more time, before going for his forehead instead. She awkwardly dabbed at his wet brow.

He awkwardly grabbed the towel from her hand and actually dried his forehead. She coughed into her hand, blushing fiercely and looked away.

“Thanks.” Akira muttered.

“It’s no problem. Just, uh, just don’t get hurt or anything. And don’t hurt him either. You two shouldn’t be fighting in the first place.”

Akira took another swig from his bottle.

“Don’t worry. I’ll finish this next round. I’m done messing around.”

Makoto looked nervous, before nodding and stepping off the platform. Ryuji took the bottle and left with her.

Kamoshida blew the whistle.

Yamamoto rushed in once again, trying to get a good body blow in.

Akira didn’t dodge this time.

Instead, Akira threw a left faint. Yamamoto brought both hands up to block, eyes following the punch that never came.

Akira unleashed a full power right hook.

Yamamoto never stood a chance. The blow connected and his whole body seemed to float for a second, before crashing on the mat.

This time, he didn’t jump back up.

Kamoshida slid to the youth, shaking him lightly.

He looked dazed for a moment, before shaking his head and straightening up.

He tried to complain to Kamoshida, saying he could still fight. Kamoshida kept shaking his head from side to side.

“No. You fought well, but this is over.” Kamoshida said, placing a hand on the youth’s shoulder.

Nearly everyone in the room cheered, celebrating Kamoshida’s maturity and care.

But Akira could see the truth. He saw the intense rage behind his eyes.

Whatever, wasn’t his problem.

He took off his facemask and gloves, before going to step out of the ring.

“Wait! Akira! Congratulations are in order!” Kamoshida called out, smiling like a fool.

He walked over, clasping Akira on the shoulder. He was one of the few people that wasn’t just taller than Akira but towered over him.

His grip was much much tighter than necessary, threatening.

“Let’s hear it for our champion!” Kamoshida called, grabbing Akira’s left hand. He raised their hands together, squeezing as tightly as he could.

Akira would have squeezed back, but there was no point. He had won. He didn’t need any trouble now.

No one cheered.

Well, Ryuji gave a whoop and clapped, but no one else moved. Makoto looked like she was going to do something, but never did.

Kamoshida dropped his hand, “So, champ, that went faster than I thought it would. How would you feel about going again? Daisuke over there would make for a great match! All friendly of course. You’re not too tired are you?”

The man was grinning like an idiot, but Akira wasn’t fooled.

Akira had nothing left to prove.

Looking towards Daisuke and Jiro, he saw the duo smirking. Like him demolishing their friend had meant nothing.

Jiro’s smug smile was particularly aggravating.

He couldn’t help remembering the guy call Ryuji ‘bitchamoto’. No matter how bad an insult, it reignited the fire inside of him.

He nodded.

Kamoshida was happy, “Alright! Daisuke step on up!”

He’d rather fight Jiro.

Whatever. He’d pound this guy’s head in and move on.

Daisuke stepped into the ring, gear on, ready to go.

Daisuke was about the same height as Yamamoto, maybe an inch or two taller. He had black hair, and a distinctive cut running across his cheek. He was slightly more fit, with more defined muscles.

He held himself with a more confident posture and a better stance. He wouldn’t get caught off guard like Yamamoto did.

Good. This was getting exciting.

Kamoshida blew his whistle, signaling the start of the fight.

Neither of them even tried to touch gloves.
____________________________________________________________________________
April 18
Afternoon
Monday
Clear

Ryuji could barely believe what just happened.

Akira moved so swiftly. He had no idea Akira had that kind of agility.

Yamamoto was no slouch either, he had seen the guy in a few fights before. He was a novice, but he wasn’t bad.

Ryuji was a little happy to see him get knocked on his ass though.

“This is so stupid. Why is Mr. Kamoshida doing this? How is this teaching us anything, how is it even fair?” Makoto mumbled to herself.

She was right. This was stupid and proved nothing.

“Don’t worry prez, it's not that big a deal.” He responded hesitantly.

She sent him a stink eye, huffing and recrossing her arms.

Akira could fight, better than Ryuji ever imagined, but would it be enough? He had already seemed pretty tired after just one round with Yamamoto.

Akira and Daisuke were trading blows now, he could almost hear Makoto’s teeth grinding.

He couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Dude, why are you so worried?”

She shot an extremely fierce glare his way.

He raised his hands in mock surrender.

“Are you stupid or something?” She spit out, “Can’t you see how this is bad?”

Wow, jeez, harsh, words fumbled out of his mouth, coming out more as mush than anything coherent.

Makoto sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Kamoshida doesn’t like Akira, you know that, I know that, everyone in school knows that. Everyone agrees with him. All Kamoshida has to do is get Akira to break one rule, just one, and he’ll do everything he can to get him expelled. This is probably him trying to get Akira to break that rule.”

“Wait, but how would that be breakin any rules? Kamoshida set it up!”

“Yes, this is a bad plan, but maybe Akira throws a punch that’s too hard, maybe he hits Kamoshida by accident, something, anything. I don't know. Just, just tell him to stop soon before he hurts someone.”

The two of them winced as Akira’s fist smashed into Daisuke. He hit Daisuke so hard in the stomach that the guy was carried off the ground and forced to stumble backwards into the ropes. Just like the last match.

Kamoshida blew his whistle to stop the round.

Wait.

Ryuji looked at his phone.

That was way less than three minutes. He’d been timing.

It had only been two minutes and seven seconds.

Kamoshida was cheating!

They should have expected this.

He tsked himself before jumping onto the side of the ring.

Akira looked exhausted. He must not have slept well last night or something.

He handed over the water bottle, which Akira chugged.

“Dude, you’re looking exhausted! Is something wrong!?”

Akira shook his head, taking a few quick deep breaths, “No, there’s just something… wrong with my body right now. Its taking more out of me than I’m used to.”

Makoto pulled herself up beside him and handed Akira the towel.

She gave him a dirty look while Akira wiped his forehead.

Why did she do that? OH! Right.

“Dude, you have to stop this fight! Like, Kamoshida is going to do something to get you in trouble!”

Akira nodded, handing back the towel to a blushing Makoto.

She was trying to hide it, but he could see her looking at Akira’s abs.

So, the president was a closet perv, he couldn’t stop himself from snickering.

Akira, distracted, ignored them. But, Makoto saw. She flushed scarlet and punched him in the shoulder.

Ow! Jeez, she had a solid punch.

“I know.” Akira said, “It’ll be over soon.”

He turned around, stepping back towards the center of the ring.

The two of them got off the platform and found a spot to watch the match.

“Let’s just hope…” Makoto mumbled.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 18
Afternoon
Monday
Clear

Daisuke was fast.

His blows came out in quick, short, jabs. But, he was weak.

All his punches were easily deflected, and any direct blows didn’t hurt. He had no power.

The only reason Akira hadn’t won already was Kamoshida. The fight would have been over if Kamoshida hadn’t called the round prematurely.

Whatever. Akira was loving every second of this.

Daisuke looked so scared, so hesitant. Every move was a little sluggish, as if he was regretting it immediately. The smug grin had been wiped off.

Arsene screamed in his mind. It was a weird, pleasant, scream. He was happy.

Akira stepped in, Daisuke raised a protective guard immediately, not even trying to counter.

Akira threw a vicious left-handed uppercut, blasting his guard into the air.

Daisuke was wide open.

He could almost taste Daiske’s fear.

His body reacted faster than anyone could defend. His right hand shot out in a full power haymaker, so quickly and aggressively that Daisuke never had a chance.

It hit true, smashing the front of his face in.

Daisuke fell back, hard. His back thumped the platform, mouth guard flying out.

He rolled onto his side and clutched his face, screaming into his gloves.

Akira must have broken something.

Kamoshida rushed over to check on him, calling out for someone to get the nurse.

Impressively, Daisuke pulled himself to his feet, clutching his nose the whole way up.

He ripped his gloves off, throwing them to the ground. Kamoshida reached over and tried to comfort him but was slapped away. They muttered quiet, quick, angry, words before Daisuke stomped out of the building.

The crowd was silent.

And Akira was done.

His thirst for violence had been quenched.

“Wow! What a match guys!” Kamoshida shout, trying to save face, “Akira here is actually a much better fighter than anyone thought right!?”

Idiot.

No one said anything.

Of course he looked like a great fighter. He was fighting people several weight classes below him.

You couldn’t give him an easier fight.

Akira took his gloves off, handing them to a relieved Ryuji.

“So, Champion! You want to go again?” Kamoshida called out.

Akira looked at him. Jiro was standing behind Kamoshida, smug smile on his face, but Akira could see the fear in his eyes. Jiro refused to make eye contact.

Akira had broken him mentally.

That was all he needed.

“I’m fine.”

With Makoto’s help Akira stepped out of the ring.

“Why, too chicken?” Jiro’s voice called out.

Akira looked back, meeting his eyes. Jiro looked away instantly.

Did this guy only have bad insults?

“I just don’t think there’s anyone strong enough left.”

A few voices oohed from the crowd.

That ticked Jiro off.

Something changed, a new confidence emerged. His back straightened out and the fear left his face.

“Well if you don’t want to fight, how about you Sakamoto? You’re always talkin about how you’re gonna beat my ass.” Jiro said, laughing.

The atmosphere in the room shifted to excitement. The crowd started cheering, getting enthusiastic for a fight between the two.

Ryuji stared, surprised. It took him a second to process it.

“Screw off dude!”

Jiro laughed, and the whole crowd started laughing along. Laughing at Ryuji.

“Too pussy? Ha! Bitchamoto strikes again, I’ll be sure to tell your mom all about this later.”

The crowd went wild.

Kamoshida turned and quietly started reprimanding Jiro. He tried to look stern, but Akira could see the smile tugging at the edges of his lips.

“HEY! KEEP MY MOM OUT OF THIS!”

Ryuji jumped into the ring, pacing up to meet Jiro.

Damnit Ryuji!

Jiro took a swing at Ryuji, a wide hook. The blow would have missed by a few inches, but the threat of it caused Ryuji to stumble back. His back leg, his bad one, gave out and he fell onto his butt.

The crowd erupted in laughter. He could hear people mocking Ryuji, jokes about his mom and his limp coming out the loudest.

The rage inside of him boomed.

He could feel the blood pounding in his temples.

Jiro started to do a mock limp around the stage, something Kamoshida did nothing to stop.

Ryuji scrappily pulled himself up from the ground. He moved towards Jiro, but was stopped by Akira’s grasp.

“I got this.” He whispered in Ryuji’s ear.

Ryuji was enraged, but also on the verge of tears. He whipped his head in the other direction and stormed from the platform.

Arsene was screaming for blood.

“HEY!” Akira shout, he rarely raised his voice, “IF YOU WANT A FIGHT, YOU GOT ONE.” That shut up everyone in the room, “IF YOU EVER WANT TO LAUGH AT RYUJI AGAIN, COME FIND ME FIRST! WE CAN MEET IN THE RING AND TALK ABOUT IT!”

Akira hadn’t been this mad in a long time.

His blood thrummed inside of him.

He needed to destroy.

Kamoshida ignored the threat, more excited to see Jiro beat up Akira.

The absolute moron still thought Akira would lose.

Akira picked up his gloves from the corner and slid them on, punching his hands together.

His body felt light, it was buzzing with energy.

He was ready to destroy.

He popped in his mouthguard.

Kamoshida blew his whistle before Akira was able to get his head mask on.

He tried to spin to face the ring, but Jiro was there. He spun right into Jiro’s hard left hook.

Spittle flew from his mouth. It had been the hardest blow he’d taken so far.

Jiro didn’t let up, pounding away at Akira’s unprepared defenses.

Jiro was bigger than the other two, only half a head shorter than Akira. He was much stronger too; his blows were very heavy.

He had dark brown hair and was in great shape. He was smaller than Akira, but looked like he trained often.

Akira threw a desperate jab to try and get some distance. He was trapped in his corner.

Jiro dodged it and swung as much as he could. He was fresh, while Akira had just fought four rounds. His new heightened senses had been a drain on his stamina. Normally he would still have a decent amount of energy left, but his dodging had taken an unexpected amount of energy.

Combined with his lack of sleep, and not having eaten anything today, he was drained.

Jiro had gotten the jump on him and was dominating the first interaction.

Akira tucked his arms in, absorbing any blows that came at him.

For the first time all day the crowd was going wild.

Something smacked him in his cup, hard, sending him down to one knee. Jiro took the opportunity to hit him with a hard right hook to the ear, sending him crashing to the ground.

Akira groaned, disoriented. His left ear was ringing.

Fuck that hurt.

He could hear Kamoshida counting, fast too.

He struggled to pull himself to his feet as Kamoshida hit six. He looked disappointed.

Kamoshida looked at his watch and blew his whistle.

Wait. Had it really been 3 minutes!?

Jiro bumped his shoulder as he moved back to his corner.

“After I beat the shit out of you,” He whispered, covered by the crowd’s roar, “I’m going for Sakamoto.”

Akira felt the blood vessels in his head about burst.

He clenched his fists so hard it felt like his knuckles might explode.

He was losing control.

There was a loud ringing in both his ears.

Louder than anything else was Arsene, screaming bloody murder.

The noise was growing louder.

He moved back to his corner.

Ryuji was there, but Makoto was gone.

He couldn’t be bothered to look for her.

Ryuji kept trying to say something, but he couldn’t hear it.

Akira rested against the ropes.

His hands shook. His body protested the rest.

He was barely hanging on right now. His vision was almost entirely red. His whole body was pulling him to go destroy the two people in front of him. He could feel the blood pumping through his body, moving faster and faster.

His breathing was out of control. He could only take deep, quick, pants.

He forced himself to stay under control, if only for a few more moments.

Once Kamoshida’s whistle went, he would be unleashed.

__________________________________________________________________________

April 18
Afternoon
Monday
Clear

“DUDE! CAN YOU HEAR ME! MAKOTO LEFT TO GO GET THE PRINCIPAL, JUST STOP FIGHTING MAN OR DO SOMETHING ELSE, JUST LAST FOR ANOTHER MINUTE!”

Akira made no motion that he heard anything Ryuji was saying.

He was breathing heavy, really heavy. His eyes were glazed over.

God damnit! What was he doing!

Fuck. Fuck!

This was his fault.

Why was he so stupid!

He should have ignored the stupid taunts, Jiro had been doing them for so long! He should be used to it!

But the whole school was laughing at him, everyone was making fun of him. The humiliation was too much, he couldn’t do nothing.

His only friend was watching. How could he live with himself if he did nothing!?

But Akira stepped in instead.

And look at the beating he was getting.

If it had been him, god he would have been knocked out already.

As soon as the fight started Makoto ran to argue with Kamoshida. She was enraged by the taunting, the dirty hit, and the non-reaction by a teacher. She yelled at him about blowing the whistle early and not stopping Jiro. He had never seen the prez with that much fire in her. She was normally a very passive person.

Kamoshida just waved her off.

She left immediately to go get the principal, scared for Akira.

Good thing she did. This was getting nasty.

“DUDE, JUST GO ON DEFENSE OR SOME-”

Kamoshida’s whistle cut him off.

Akira shot up.

Something had changed. The hairs on the back of his neck rose.

Akira didn’t even look at him, but something instinctual was telling him to stay out of the way.

Jiro swaggered forward a few steps, pumping up the crowd as he went to fight the ‘Demon of Shujin’. He kept playing with his mouthguard, hanging it out the side of his mouth.

The crowd was going crazy.

Akira roared, a deep guttural sound.

Like an enraged beast.

He rushed forward, arms splayed out, no care for defense.

What the hell!?

Jiro stumbled backwards, caught off guard.

He swung a sloppy right hook. It connected, right in Akira’s face. The impact blasted his head to the side but didn’t stop his stride.

Akira stepped into Jiro’s guard, leading with his left foot. He crouched, low, his hips twisted and his backhand erupted forward, landing directly in Jiro’s stomach. He continued the motion, twisting his hips farther and pushing Jiro off the ground slightly.

Spittle flew from his mouth, Jiro desperately tried to throw a left hook as he stumbled, but Akira slid underneath it, right foot forward now, and threw another vicious uppercut to his stomach.

Akira growled.

Jiro was sent backwards, smashing against the corner post. More spittle came out. He lashed out with a flimsy jab that connected with Akira’s forehead, pushing it back. The rest of his body continued moving forward as his fist plowed into Jiro’s stomach a third time.

His mouth burst open in pain.

God damn, Jiro’s whole body shuddered from the blow.

Jiro wasn’t prepared for Akira’s fist to collide with a devastating left hook to his jaw. It sent his mouthguard flying into the crowd.

For a brief moment everything froze.

Ryuji saw Kamoshida rushing in, terrified, but he was too far away.

He saw Jiro’s eyes wide in horror. All-consuming dread on his face. His eyes begged for someone to stop this monster. He was trying to say something.

He saw Akira’s back, muscles flexing, as his back fist swung upwards.

Akira roared and the moment passed.

Jiro’s head snapped back like a rocket.

He saw the blood spray out, landing on the crowd and covering people’s white shirts. It was darker than the Shujin red.

Ryuji went deaf.

A big piece of his tongue flew out and landed in a girl’s hair. He saw her screeching her brains out as she attacked the top of her head, trying to get it off.

Kamoshida tackled Akira to the floor, punching him in the side of his head of the way down, and pinned him to the mat.

His vision blurred.

It took a bit, but when he came to, the world was different.

The crowd was screaming in horror. People rushed to the bathroom to get the blood off them. Others were petrified, watching Jiro lay on the floor. He was cradling his jaw, trying to mumble something through the blood. He didn’t seem fully cognizant.

There was so much blood pouring out of his mouth. It soaked the white mat.

Kamoshida was screaming for someone to call an ambulance.

“KAMOSHIDA!” The principal bellowed.

What the fuck? Ryuji had never even heard the principal raise his voice.

The man shoved through the crowd, using his massive weight to shove aside the horrified students.

Kamoshida hopped from Akira, rushing to meet him.

“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!?”

Kamoshida leaned down and tried to mumble something to the man, but the principal grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hauled him away.

He watched them leave, walking past Makoto. She was standing in the back of the room, horrified, hand over her mouth.

No time for that.

His friend needed him.

Ryuji rushed into the ring and pulled Akira to his feet.

He snapped a few times in his face, “YOU OKAY!?”

The crowd was so loud, everyone screaming about what just happened.

Someone kept screaming that Jiro was dead.

He really hoped not.

Akira nodded, which Ryuji took as a sign to drag him away.

The crowd split from them, student’s falling and clawing across the ground to stay out of their path.

Akira’s earlier threat came to mind.

No one would be bullying him anytime soon.

Makoto rushed towards them, but stopped halfway. Her eyes darted between Akira and Jiro. Jiro was surrounded by his friends and fellow students. They had pulled him to a seated position and were trying to do something to get his attention. But he just kept mumbling, sending blood pouring to the ground. His eyes were dazed.

The nurse burst through the door.

Makoto made up her mind and jogged to them.

She placed herself under Akira’s other arm and helped drag him away.

He seemed out of it.

Ryuji really hoped he was okay.

They ignored the normal boy’s locker room and pulled Akira outdoors and into the main building.

No one was in the hallway. Makoto rushed ahead, opening the boy’s bathroom door and holding it for them.

No one was in the bathroom. Once they were in she barricaded the door with a trash can.

Ryuji rest Akira against the counter, “Dude! Are you alright!?”

It took Akira a second, but he shook his head a few times and straightened up.

“Never better.”

That was a lie.

Akira pulled himself from Ryuji’s grasp, immediately collapsing, but caught himself on the bathroom counter. He turned the nozzle on full blast and shoved his head under the faucet.

He dry heaved for a few seconds, gasping. He ripped the mouthguard from his face and threw it against the wall.

Makoto and he stood quietly. Terrified.

For what was happening now, and for what would happen later.

Akira could go back to Juvie for this.

“I fucked up.” Akira garbled out from under the water, “I lost myself, after, after he wouldn’t just shut up.”

Akira dry heaved again, then spit up something.

Makoto walked towards him. She pulled a few paper towels out and started dabbing at the sides of his neck. There was blood there.

“Yes. You did.” She said, “You shouldn’t have done that. I… I don’t know what’s going to happen. I told the principal what I saw, but… I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Akira nodded, head still underwater.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize dude.” Ryuji chimed in, “This is my fault, if I hadn’t fallen for his taunt’s, you wouldn’t be here.”

“No, it’s mine.” Makoto said, “I’m the school council president. I should have stopped this before it started. But I got nervous and did nothing. I failed you guys, I’m sorry.”

Akira lifted himself from under the water.

Both of them froze, unable to say anything.

Akira’s presence dwarfed everything.

“No.” He said, “Neither of you just… just did that. Neither of you made me fight. I lost control, I fell for his taunts, I boxed even when I didn’t have to. I failed. I’m… I’m sorry.”

No one said anything.

The loudspeaker buzzed, “Kurusu Akira, come to my office immediately.” Kobayakawa demanded.

Akira sighed.

“Here.” Makoto took off her red jacket, handing it to Akira, “You can wear this.”

Akira nodded, gracious, and slid it on. It didn’t fully fit.

“I won’t lie for you.” Makoto continued, “But, I told the principal if he doesn’t do something I would get my sister involved. I don’t know if that will do anything, but I said something. If you need me to I’ll tell him what I saw again.”

Akira nodded, gracious.

He walked out of the bathroom, solemn, and headed up the stairs.

Today was the worst day he’d had in a long time.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 18
Afternoon
Monday
Clear

“Hey you stupid fucking brat!” Kamoshida whispered, stalking up to Akira. He stopped right in front of him, glowering.

He reached for Akira, who ignored him, pushing through the attempt.

“Hey, retard! Get back here!” Kamoshida went to grab him again, but froze.

“MR. KAMOSHIDA,” Kobayakawa said, stressing every syllable, “DO I NEED TO SAY MORE!?”

The principal stood in the hallway, glaring daggers at them.

Kamoshida flipped around and stormed away.

“In my office.” The principal pushed the door aside and lead Akira in.

The room was empty. The man circled Akira to reach his chair, plopping down in it.

He was trying to be intimidating, but the whale of a man looked comical.

If there wasn’t the chance that his life could be ruined, he would have chuckled.

“What you did back there was, in one word, horrifying. I cannot believe the stories I am hearing. Everyone is saying that you were an animal, that you were trying to kill Jiro-san. Mr. Kamoshida has corroborated these rumors. What do you have to say for yourself? Jiro-san is being rushed to the hospital right now thanks to you.” The man lectured.

His anguish drained away.

Who did this man think he was? What about Akira’s injuries? What about how he was doing? What about Jiro’s dirty hits!?

What about Kamoshida not only cheating but punching him at the end of the fight!?

His ear was still ringing.

Hatred flowed through him.

This reminded him of his trial. It was just another authority figure who was going to ruin him.

“I slipped. I didn’t mean to throw that last punch, but accidents happen, it’s boxing. Mr. Kamoshida should have stopped the match way earlier. Jiro kept playing around with his mouthguard, which is illegal by the way. He put himself into danger and ended up getting hurt.”

The man bristled, “So that’s what you’re saying!? That it’s not your fault he’s getting emergency treatment, but his and Kamoshida’s!? Do I need to remind you that you’re on thin ice!?”

Akira leaned back in the chair, confident.

Yeah, he might get expelled for this, but he would fight it the whole way. This wasn’t his fault, and even if it was he would never admit it.

“My punch was perfectly legal. The ref is supposed to stop the match after a mouthguard falls out, but Kamoshida was clearly unprepared. I had no idea it even fell out, I was in just as much shock as anyone else. I thought it was a friendly match, even with Jiro fighting so dirty and recklessly. Kamoshida was unprepared to be a referee. You should probably look into that.”

The tub of lard was getting angrier, good. Akira was seething too, “Are you not going to take any responsibility!? One call! One call is all it takes, I’ll have the police here in a second to haul your ass away!”

Akira leaned forward, hunching over menacingly., “For what? A legal hit in a school sanctioned event? Me and Sae have gotten pretty close and I think she’d take my side, maybe she’d investigate this more.” He lied.

“The nerve!” Kobayakawa slammed his hands on his desk, but looked shaken “Your nerve! I expected you to come here, begging for forgiveness! Who do you think you are!?”

“There’s nothing to beg for. I did nothing wrong.” Akira straighten up, sitting as tall as possible, “I’ll tell anyone, and everyone, I did nothing wrong. I’ll tell any news outlets that want to find out how a convicted criminal was put in a full fight with a fellow student, under the careful watch of an esteemed professor. Maybe they think there’s more to the story and ask some questions, who knows what someone might say.”

Kobayakawa clammed up, face scrunching up angrily, “Are you threatening Shujin?” He whispered.

“Not at all,” He replied, leaning back, “I’m just saying, the media might look into how this happened. It’s a human-interest piece. ‘Human Scum hospitalizes rising boxing star, how a celebrated Olympic gold medalist let this happen’, maybe they ask a student or two something. Maybe one of them speaks up, I happen know of one student who has A LOT to say about Mr. Kamoshida.”

He couldn’t stop smirking.

Kobayakawa’s jaw grinded, enraged. Good. Fuck him.

No one gave a shit about how he was getting injured. He would get his story out there somehow.

“Get out of my office.” Kobayakawa whispered.

“Am I in trouble sir?”

Kobayakawa looked ready to explode. He was ready to launch over his desk, massive weight and all, to crush Akira.

“No.” He spit out, “You’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t talk to ANYONE about this. It was a simple boxing mishap. A mistake happened, and no one can be blamed for it. Shujin is not at fault in any way.”

“Can I get that in writing?” Akira added. He was feeling spiteful.

Kobayakawa tore a piece of paper out of his printer, sending the printer crashing to the ground spilling papers everywhere.

He scribbled a note saying that Akira wasn’t in trouble and signed the bottom.

He threw the paper at Akira, who picked it up and walked out the door.

The loudspeakers buzzed, “Mr. Kamoshida, come to my office immediately.” Looks like Kamoshida wasn’t done getting ripped apart today.

Good.

Akira felt… good. Everything had worked out for him.

The hallway was clear, everyone had left.

Classes were still going on, so Akira went back to the locker room to get his clothes. He had gotten a few text messages, but he would answer them later.

His plan had worked.

He would never ask Shiho or Ann to talk to the media about Kamoshida, but Kobayakawa didn’t need to know that.

He had taken a risk. Did Kobayakawa care more about the threat to his school, and to himself, or about punishing Akira.

“Hey, that went well.” Morgana said.

What? The cat wasn’t in his backpack, where-

“Over here, behind the window.” Morgana said, from the outside window. “I got curious and watched, you handled yourself well in there, I’m proud of you.” He was beaming.

Akira smiled, “Thanks. Hey, could you do me a favor? Can you watch what Kamoshida and Kobayakawa talk about? They could talk about something that might help.”

“You got it! I’ll catch up with you later!” Morgana said, hoping away.

Everything was working out. A smile beamed on his face. He just felt good, for the first time in a while.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 18
Afternoon
Monday
Clear

People didn’t just clear a path for him anymore. They cleared an entire hallway.

He walked to every class in almost deserted pathways.

The rest of the day was interesting. People pushed their desks as far away from him as they could. The teachers stayed quiet, most didn’t even look at him.

He took a sick pleasure in Mr. Ushimaru fearfully ignoring him.

Kawakami would glance his way, sending sad, confused, scared looks. She was the only one that made eye contact with him.

Whatever.

He strolled out of school. Ann had left to go find Shiho as soon as the bell rung. Ann was the only person who didn’t scoot away from him.

She had heard what he’d done. She just didn’t care.

There were more important things to worry about.

Ryuji had met up with him, briefly, after school. Makoto wasn’t there.

Akira showed him the note Kobayakawa had ‘given’ him.

Ryuji whooped, happy for him.

Ryuji had given him a quick bro-hug, something Akira was unprepared for.

Ryuji told him mid-hug, “Thanks dude. It means a lot to me that you stuck up for me there.”

The words stuck with him.

Ryuji had left after that.

He had a few texts from Makoto, apparently, she was feeling sick and couldn’t study like planned. He doubted they were ever going to study together again.

She was probably terrified of him.

Word was that Jiro would be getting his mouth sewn shut. He was getting emergency dental work done now. His jaw would require some work, it was broken in places, and he would have a lisp for the rest of his life, but he should be okay. It was a miracle his mouth was open for the last punch.

His tongue had acted as a makeshift barrier for his teeth. The doctors said that if it hadn’t been there, Akira would have knocked several teeth out and caused even larger lifelong injuries. He still might have problems with his teeth later in life, but nothing immediate.

He wouldn’t be back in school for a long time.

Good. Keep that scum away from him.

Daisuke just had a broken nose.

The ringing in his ear had stopped, but his body felt sore all over. He was on the train back to Sojiro’s to find that ‘quack’ doctor and get a checkup. Morgana was resting in his backpack.

The subway car was mildly full, but Akira was able to get a seat.

“So, I learned a lot of interesting things from Kamoshida and Kobayakawa.” Morgana whispered from his backpack.

“Like what?” Akira muttered under his breath.

“Kobayakawa is pissed at Kamoshida. He’s terrified of Sae, he said something about Makoto threatening to get her involved, and then you threatening to get her involved, and I thought he might have a heart attack. That woman can be scary. He was furious with Kamoshida for starting this, he berated him like crazy for his stupid plan.”

Akira laughed, startling the person next to him.

Morgana continued, “Yeah, and then he said something about how you had one student who has a lot to say and Kamoshida froze up but denied it. Kobayakawa just yelled at him more. He kept going on and on about Makoto and Sae. I don’t know, but the way he talked about Makoto made me a little uncomfortable.”

That was something to think about.

But the principal was just an uncomfortable person too.

“The only thing is,” Morgana said hesitantly, “They were really talking a lot about discrediting you. I think they’re gonna try to get you expelled or something. Both were pretty pissed.”

He expected that.

He was used to having enemies.

He was getting a little thrilled thinking about how he was going to ruin them. His vindictive side was out in full force today.

Changing Kamoshida’s heart would bring the two of them toppling to the ground, and then he’d be free for the rest of his probation.

Soon, he’d be free.

As soon as they arrived near LeBlanc, Morgana spit off from him again, opting to find Sojiro and get some free food.

Akira made his way to the doctor’s.

The clinic was virtually empty. The waiting room was long and rectangular. There were a few, red, torn apart, seats resting on either side of the room, and a potted plant directly to his right. There were many medical posters on the walls, and a stand containing pamphlets about personal health and STD awareness.

On the back most wall, only a few feet in front of him, was another blue door. On the other side of the room, also on the back most wall, was a blue bathroom door.

Far to his right were chains set up to block anyone from reaching the corner opposite the bathroom. Behind the chains was some torn apart paneling, revealing tubes and gages.

The waiting room was beat down. The fluorescent lighting and grey, muted, colors gave a very somber mood to the room. It was kind of depressing.

To his left was a small window with the woman he met the other day sitting behind it. She was wearing a lab coat this time.

Why was there never any business at these Yongen-Jaya stores?

“What are you here for?” She asked.

She was reading some magazine, obviously bored out of her mind. She had dark blue hair in a messy bob-cut with blunt bangs and brown eyes. She was wearing a typical white lab-coat over a short black dress. He could see a red belt on her waist. Around her neck were multiple necklaces and, most notably, a studded choker.

“Just here for a checkup, you offered one to me the other day.”

She pondered, tapping her finger against the magazine for a moment, before recognizing him, “Oh yeah! You’re that criminal Sojiro took in. Well, come on to the back, not like I’m doing much.” She huffed, annoyed.

Standing up, the top of her head reached his nose. He saw she was wearing strappy black platform high heels.

She waived for him to go through the blue door opposite the entrance. It led to a single checkup room.

To his right was a bed, and to his left was a small room covered by a curtain. The examination room was filled with various medical devices and on the back wall there was a long curtain that blocked his view of anything else.

Maybe there were more examination rooms back there?

The room he was in was way nicer than the waiting room. It was extremely well maintained; this woman obviously took pride in it.

He took a seat on the available chair in the room.

The doctor came out from behind the curtain near the entrance, closing it on her way out, and leaned against the entrance door, “So, what are you here for? You still feeling sick?”

He shook his head, “No, I got hit in the ear earlier and I wanted to make sure I was okay. I’m a little sore too.”

She looked surprised, “Hit in the ear, how?”

“I was in a boxing match and the other guy got a good hit in.”

She snorted, “Yeah, yeah, ‘boxing’.” She didn’t believe him, “Whatever, I need to do some tests.”

She took a few quick measurements on him, writing them down on a chart, before peering into his ear.

“Looks fine to me,” She muttered, device in his ear, “the eardrum is intact, no holes. You’re good kid.”

She put her instrument down and leaned against the wall.

“Let’s check you out, would you mind taking off your shirt?”

He nodded before slowly, and painfully, taking off his shirt. He had gotten worse since school ended. His body felt battered and his arms were ridiculously sore.

“Don’t you have some kinda school nurse that can do this?” She asked, but proceed to prod at his body anyways.

Well, they did, but she had been preoccupied with Daisuke’s broken nose and Jiro’s tongue.

He had done pretty good today.

She leaned away from him, “You have a few bruises here and there. Nothing serious. It doesn’t look like you have any damaged bones or anything. Your body’s just fatigued. You can put your shirt back on.”

She moved over and leaned against the exit door.

It was subtle, but she had cut off the only exit.

“So, how are you planning on paying for this?”

Wait, pay? He hadn’t even considered that.

He was broke.

“Uh…”

She pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed, “You’re broke, aren’t you?”

He nodded.

She lightly tapped the back of her head against the door in frustration, “Should have expected that. Why would the juvenile delinquent have any money” She mumbled.

He was about to say something, but she cut him off by raising her hand, looking thoughtful.

She was contemplating something.

“Would you be willing,” She started, “To make a deal?”

“What-”

“This would need to be kept quiet,” She continued, “But I can wave your fee for today if you do.”

So something shady.

“Is that all?”

She scoffed, “Is that all he says? Do you have any other way of paying? I run a clinic not a charity.” She reached over and locked the door, “Well?”

He was feeling gutsy, what could he get out of this? Sojiro had mentioned something about homemade medicine, “If I do this, would you sell me some of your ‘special’ medicine.”

Her eyebrows raised in surprise, before scoffing, “Where’d you hear I sold ‘special’ medicine. What rumors are going around about me?”

She didn’t deny it.

“What would someone like you even need ‘special’ medicine for?” She asked.

“I’m a boxer.”

She chuckled, “Yeah, in a ring that just so happens to be in an alleyway.”

Silence filled the room. Both were trying to stare the other down.

“If,” She started, “if, you help me with this. I’ll consider selling you the drugs, but there are three conditions. One,” She raised a finger, “If I ever need your help for anything related to this deal, you come, no questions asked.”

He nodded.

“Two,” She raised a second finger, “Never show the drugs to your friends or do anything where the police would find them and it could be traced back to me. Finally, if I ever hear even a peep that my drugs have been resold. I’ll find you, and I’ll make it look like an accident.”

She stared down at him, unflinching.

“Alright.” He replied.

She nodded and unlocked the door, “Then let’s get started, no time to waste.”

Now? She walked over to a cabinet and pulled out a small beaker. Inside was a dark red liquid that sloshed around unnaturally.

She handed it to him, “Drink this.”

“What is it?” He said, shaking the beaker around.

She grabbed his hand and hissed, “Don’t shake it moron! And that wasn’t part of the deal, now drink.” She let go of him.

He sniffed it.

And nearly vomited on the floor.

It reeked of death. It smelled like dead fish.

“Are you going to drink it or not?” She began tapping her foot impatiently, “The door is right there if you can’t. I’ll send the bill to Sojiro.”

God that would be bad.

“This smells disgusting. What the hell is it?” He mumbled and pinched his nose shut.

“Medicine. It’ll make you grow five feet and get covered in muscles. All the girls will love you. It’ll make you not so stupid and ask less questions. Now will you drink it already?” She tapped at her clipboard, “I have other things to do today.”

Bleh.

He just wanted a checkup.

He brought the beaker to his lips. He really hoped this wasn’t poison.

He downed the beaker in one gulp.

It was so bitter and disgusting he almost immediately spewed it back up. The only reason he kept it down was a strong stomach built up from a year of eating gruel.

“You actually drank that!?” She said, surprised.

What!? He whipped his head towards the shocked woman.

“Every time I even tried to sip it I threw it up, great job kid.” She gave him a little golf clap.

He dry heaved, “What… what was that?” His stomach burned.

“It’s a medicine, stop making me repeat myself. It’s not going to make you grow five feet, but it’s just as valuable. How are you feeling?”

She sat down next to him and placed her hand on his forehead.

He felt hot. Outrageously hot.

He was wearing too much clothing.

He leapt up and ripped his jacket off, tearing the buttons.

His body was so hot.

He tried to tear his shirt off, but he couldn’t coordinate himself well enough. His vision was swimming.

He grabbed the front of it and ripped with all his might. He felt the collar give way and could hear a seam being torn. He threw the shreds in a corner.

He was still too hot.

“Are you alright-” Her voice became increasingly distorted and cut out.

The world started swimming. Colors blended together, the room was shrinking and expanding.

What the hell did she give him!?

His hands, no, they were Arsene’s hands. His arms were Arsene’s!

They erupted into flames, showering the room in blazing embers.

He looked at the doctor. She was normal for a second, then her face bent and twisted between Sae’s, Makoto’s, Ann’s, and Kawakami’s faces. The faces rapidly shifted, never staying on a single one.

He was dying.

He reached out to grab the woman. She had poisoned him, he was going to die. He was so weak, he only managed to grab her arms.

He focused, forcing her face to return to normal. The world faded into darkness around them.

This psychopath had killed him.

He felt his body melting away. He was dying,

His hands came to her throat, but he had no strength. All he could do was loosely flop his arms around her neck, pulling her into an impromptu hug.

She was trying to say something, but she wasn’t speaking in any language he knew.

She had killed him.

The last thing he heard was a deep chuckling in the back of his mind. Then darkness took him.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 18
???
Monday
Clear

He woke up.

Where was he? What time was it?

The last thing he remembered-

He tried to jump up but was pulled back down. There were handcuffs restraining him to the bed.

He was a prisoner.

His rage exploded.

He thrashed, using every bit of his strength to try and break free.

“WOAH! HEY! KID,” The doctor came flying into the room, “Stop! You’re gonna hurt yourself, and more importantly bust my bed!” She grabbed at his wrists in a futile attempt to stop him.

“Then why the hell am I handcuffed to it!” He continued ripping at the restraints. He could feel them digging into his wrists, tearing at the skin. He also could hear the bedrails bend.

The woman’s hands pushed down on his chest, hard. He continued pulling his arms towards him, making the metal screech.

“STOP! You’re fine! Look, here!” She pulled a pair of keys out of her pocket, calming him. “If I do this, you won’t freak out right?”

Maybe, but he nodded anyways.

She unlocked his arms, revealing that he had deeply reddened them, cutting the skin in a few spots.

He sat up and rubbed at his sore wrists. He was still shirtless.

She took his wrists and rested them on his lap. She pulled out some ointment and began applying it.

“Sorry, I left my fuzzy cuffs at home.” She winked.

He didn’t smile, and she awkwardly coughed into her arm.

He wasn’t in the teasing mood.

“Why did you handcuff me to the bed?”

“You were freaking out,” She said, beginning to wrap his wrists, “You started hugging me then you collapsed. I had to move you up onto the bed, and you’re not light. You kept thrashing, so I handcuffed you up for your safety.”

It wasn’t the full answer, “Why did that happen?”

“So that-” She started, “That was part of an experimental new medicine I’ve been making. I can’t get approval for human testing and I can’t drink it, because of my weak stomach. Preferably I would also be able to observe the effects, so thank you because I didn’t know that would happen.”

Still not enough to get on his good side. He stayed quiet.

She continued, “How about I give you a pretty good discount on items? I’ll even sell you some stuff I’m not supposed to.”

“I’ll think about it. We’re even for today.”

She finished bandaging his wrists. He went to grab his shirt, finding that it had been sewed back together. It wasn’t great, but it would work.

He didn’t feel the need to thank her for it.

“Look,” She started, “I’m sorry about what happened. But I need someone to help me with this. It’s time sensitive, and I don’t think I can find anyone else that can help. I’ll even make you a better deal, just help me with this. I’ll find a way to get you something you need.”

He finished getting his shirt on and went to pick up his folded jacket from the desk. The buttons had also been poorly sewed back on. She grabbed his outstretched arm.

“I need you. We can make a deal. I’ll be your personal doctor, whatever. I never say this, but please.” She begged.

She looked incredibly sad, nearly on the verge of tears.

God damnit.

He sighed and pulled his arm from her grasp, “Alright alright, I’ll keep helping. We have a deal, just next time try to make it so I don’t get sent on an acid trip.”

A smile blossomed on her face. The sadness had been a hoax, and he’d fallen for it.

But she was pretty cute.

Not that he cared in the least right now.

“Thanks, I’ll make sure. Next time, try not to give me a hug either, It was appreciated, but I’m not the most touchy-feely person.” She chuckled.

Well, he wasn’t going for a hug.

He felt kind of bad about what he was about to do in retrospect.

But she did poison him.

So he considered them equal.

She coughed awkwardly into her arm again, “Not very talkative are you?” She mumbled, “Alright, let’s trade numbers. You live around here, so I’ll message you about coming in again soon my new ‘Guinea Pig’.”

They traded numbers before she showed him to the exit. He couldn’t get out of there quick enough.

He needed this medicine hookup, it would be invaluable in the metaverse and in real life.

Having a personal doctor would be useful. No more expensive medical bills.

He just had to keep poisoning himself for it.

Well, nothing in life worth doing was easy.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 18
Night
Monday
Clear

It was late. Sae had sent him a text earlier that it was okay to come home.

He was on the subway back to her apartment.

His phone buzzed.

He pulled it out, frowning, it was just Makoto.

Makoto: Hey.
Makoto: So, I heard Jiro is going to be okay.
Makoto: Well, for now he is. He might have dental problems in a few years.
Makoto: I’m sorry, but I just have to ask, did you mean to hit him?
Makoto: When his mouthguard fell out I mean.

He actually didn’t mean to.

He was so out of it that he didn’t even realize the mouthguard had slipped out. He was just trying to destroy what was in front of him.

But he probably still would have, even in the right state of mind. He might have even gone farther.

Akira: No.
Akira: I didn’t see it fall out.
Akira: I was watching his fists for the return blow, I kept leaving myself pretty wide open.
Akira: Kamoshida should have stopped me the second his jaw even came open.
Akira: If I saw it happen I would have pulled away.

He lied.

The bubbles at the bottom of his screen started, stopped, then started again several times.

Makoto: Okay.
Makoto: Thank you. I believe you.
Makoto: I just needed to know.
Makoto: I’ve never been in a real fight, I guess it's easy to get lost.
Makoto: It happens in the movies sometimes.
Makoto: I’m feeling better now. If you want to study together again, we can tomorrow.

His eyebrows raised in surprise.

Akira: Yeah. I’m free after school tomorrow.

Makoto: Good. I’ll see you then.
Makoto: Also, just to warn you, Sae got a call from the school today.
Makoto: I tried to explain it to her, but she seemed kind of mad.
Makoto: I would just be careful.

Oh. Shit.

That wasn’t good.

Panic skyrocketed within him.

Morgana looked apprehensive, “Is that bad?”

Yes. Very much yes.

The rest of the trip back was an adrenaline-fueled nightmare. Breathing was hard. Every second seemed to last forever.

He couldn’t sleep there tonight. She could trick him into thinking everything was fine, then lock him in the room.

Wait, but he could go to the metaverse if she did!

But, where did he exit to? Every time he went into the metaverse, he exited in the exact same place.

He would need to test that, but the metaverse was out.

He had a better idea. He would leave morgana outside the complex. If he didn’t return within an hour, the cat would bust him out. Otherwise, he would come down and they would find somewhere else to stay.

He was still broke though, and he doubted Sojiro would be okay with him staying in his restaurant on his off week.

He could sleep in the streets if need be.

If Sae did lock him away, he would leave Tokyo. His life would be over. Morgana could join him, but he would leave everything else behind.

He could use the metaverse to make money and avoid the law for the rest of his life. He would move to another country, maybe America, and disappear.

He took the elevator, heart pounding out of his chest.

Opening the front door was difficult, his palms were so sweaty and shook so hard he could barely put the key in.

Walking in revealed Sae sitting at the dining room table. She was facing the doorway, doing paperwork.

Makoto was sitting on the couch, scrolling on her phone but with a few papers in front of her.

Makoto’s head jerked towards him and she jumped to her feet.

“Akira! Hey, are you hung-”

“Makoto.” Sae chimed in, not looking up.

Makoto sat back down. She bit her lip and resuming scrolling through her phone.

Sae continued working on her paperwork, never looking up.

Akira stood at attention in the doorway. He kept his shoes on in case he needed to make a run for it.

His fingers dabbed at his palms. They were soaking wet. His white undershirt was probably disgusting.

He stood there for what felt like hours, although it was probably only minutes. Sae had yet to acknowledge that he had arrived.

He should have grabbed the gun on his way back. If Sae threatened him, he could have used it to buy some time. Even if it was fake, it looked real enough to make them hesitate.

He needed every advantage possible.

She finally looked up from her work, but didn’t rise, “So, you got into a fight today?”

“A boxing-”

“A fight. You got in a fight. A school sanctioned fight, but a fight. I hear another student is in the hospital because of it?”

He stayed quiet.

She leaned back and crossed her arms, “So, if I heard correctly. You were asked to participate in a ‘boxing match’, which you stupidly accepted, and then they have you fight three people in a row. You then break one’s nose and put another in the hospital. Very impressive.”

She gave him a mocking golf clap. Her eyebrow raised, seeming to ask if he had anything to add.

He stayed quiet.

“For some reason you just kept fighting. You could have said no after one fight, or two, or even before any really, but you fought every time. I hear that you became ‘an animal’ in the last fight too, the one where you put someone in the hospital.”

Hopefully she couldn’t see the sweat pouring down his brow or his shaking.

“Now that’s not something I like to hear. I’m your probation officer, you’re supposed to be getting better, not worse. Staying out of trouble should be your number one concern. Then you go back to committing assaults again? Do I even need to tell you how bad that looks?”

He shook his head from side to side, “No mam.”

The polite demeanor his parents beat into him came out.

“Nice manners. I don’t want you here. I never wanted you here, now less than ever. The only reason, the only one, I haven’t called the police and sent you back to Juvie tonight was that this was a school event. If what Makoto told me is true, which I doubt, you didn’t even mean to hurt the kid. The school backs up this story when I pressed. I doubt it, knowing you. Makoto even tells me that you were standing up for your friend. Now, for a normal teenager that would be fine and dandy, even respectable. But, you’re not normal, are you?” She fixed him with a fierce glare.

He nodded.

“I shouldn’t have to tell you, but this can never happen again. Never. Next time, I’ll have your ass hauled to jail and I’ll prosecute you myself.”

She reached over to a coffee mug and took a sip from it.

Makoto was still sitting on her phone, biting her lip and looking away from them.

“I’m opening a case into this ‘Mr. Kamoshida’ too. I don’t appreciate the extra work and drama he’s given me. Be happy there’s someone else to share in my irritation.”

She nodded towards his room, “Now go. I’ll be monitoring you closer than before, you’re on an even shorter leash.”

He nodded, ducking his head and walking to his calendar before marking that he was here.

No one spoke.

He went into his room, closing the door and placing his bag down. He went to take a shower.

If Sae was going to lock him away, while he was in the shower would be the perfect time.

He had been outrageously stupid. How hadn’t he considered that she might call the police!?

There was no way she would try to apprehend him by herself with Makoto in the apartment. Of course she would have called the police.

They could have taken him away right there.

His shower was short, and not enjoyable. He never heard his door lock. He collected his stuff and left the room.

The two of them were still sitting in the living room, doing work.

He looked towards Makoto, who offered him a gentle, awkward, smile, before going back to her phone.

Sae didn’t even look up, “Don’t talk to Makoto.”

He hurried out of the apartment.

He stayed the night in a budget hotel with money lent to him by Morgana.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 19
Morning
Tuesday
Rainy

“Come on Shiho, could you please come open up!” She knocked lightly on the bedroom door again.

The bedroom door didn’t have a lock, but she didn’t want to intrude.

Shiho hadn’t been doing well yesterday. After the gym event she completely shut down

Ann took her to the park, not wanting to leave her friend alone. They sat on a quiet bench for a few hours before Ann took her home.

It had been an awful experience. Shiho hadn’t said a single word the entire time.

Shiho was at rock bottom.

When they got in, Ann promised that she could get more Morgana time, which gave Shiho her first smile of the day. She stayed with Shiho for the next few hours. It took the whole day to get Shiho talking and laughing, even slightly.

Ann left her that night around midnight after Shiho finally confirmed that she was alright.

She couldn’t do this every day. It was too much.

Ann would tell Shiho’s parents after school and hopefully they would start getting her professional help. There wasn’t anything else she could do.

Why was she taking so long to open the door!?

Well, Ann had arrived nearly an hour early.

She hadn’t slept well last night, she had constant nightmares about Shiho.

She had nearly taken a bus to Shiho’s apartment, only stopping when she realized it was 4:00 am.

She was regretting not taking that bus now. A knot grew in her stomach.

She checked her phone, it was 6:00 am, Shiho’s parent’s left for work maybe fifteen minutes ago.

She couldn’t take it anymore, “I’m coming in!”

She pushed the door aside to find a perfectly clean, empty, room. No Shiho.

“What the hell?”

The knot in her stomach twisted painfully.

She sprinted to the bathroom, nearly falling over herself, and flung the door open.

Right there, lying in the bathtub in just her underwear, was Shiho. Deep cuts ran horizontally across her wrists. Her eyes were slightly glazed over.

A bloody razor rest next to the bathtub.

Tears streamed down Ann’s face.

Shiho slowly looked towards her, surprised.

“Oh my god....” Ann whispered, raising a hand to her mouth.

She whipped out her phone, calling 119 as quickly as possible. A quick, panicked, conversation later and an ambulance was on the way.

She shakily walked towards Shiho, slapping aside the razor with her foot, before falling to her knees and cradling Shiho’s head.

Oh god, oh god, tears fell freely from her eyes.

She needed to do something… there!

She ripped a towel off the wall and lay it on the bath’s edge. She grabbed Shiho’s wrists, pulling her body so it angled towards her, and pressed the towel to the two cuts.

The blood was a dark red, which was good apparently. The woman on the phone had said to look at the color, dark red meant she didn’t hit an artery.

Shiho just stared at her blankly.

“Shiho… why?” She sobbed out.

Shiho finally broke down and tears started pouring down her face, “I didn’t mean for you to see me like this Ann, I’m sorry,” she sobbed, “It wasn’t supposed to go like this, but this is goodbye.”

Ann pressed the towel harder, “Don’t say that! It’s going to be okay, the ambulance is on it’s way, you’re going to be okay!” The words came out in a sobbing, jumbled mess.

Blood ran down her arms, covering her white undershirt.

Shiho sobbed harder. Her head fell into her chest, “No, I’m not, this is it. I love you Ann. I’m sorry I’ve been a bad friend.”

Ann pushed herself up, resting her forehead against the top of Shiho’s head. “No, no! You’re going to fine, I love you too, this is all going to be okay! We can fix this.” She sobbed into Shiho’s hair.

Shiho pushed into her, “I’m sorry… I just… I’m sorry Ann. I love you. Goodbye.” Shiho sobbed loudly.

Ann pressed the towel down harder. “Don’t say that, it’s going to be okay, it’s okay. It’s just some light cuts, it’s okay.”

They weren’t light. The white towel was soaked red now. She was losing a lot of blood.

Shiho continued to sob “I took some of those pills too.”

Ann looked at the counter, spotting various bottles, “Which ones!?”

There were some pills in there that Ann knew would kill someone if they took too many and doctors could do nothing about it.

She nearly vomited.

“I don’t know, my mom’s medication. The big one.”

Ann breathed in deeply, trying to speak clearly “How many did you take!?”

“I don’t know, a lot, I’m sorry Ann. I’m so sorry. I love you Ann.” Shiho said, weeping. Snot and tears flowed down her face.

Ann could feel the same flow down hers. She moved the soaked towel over, to the last part that wasn’t dyed red.

“I love you too. It’s going to be okay.”

She repeated those lines for the ten minutes it took the ambulance to arrive and for the EMTs to carry Shiho away.

They were the worst ten minutes of Ann’s life.

They couldn’t take Ann with her, as she wasn’t a family member.

Ann had to stay in the bathroom. Covered in Shiho’s blood.

Only one EMT talked to her. He just asked her a bunch of questions.

Ann answered them as well as she could. She showed him the bottle that Shiho said she took pills from, and all the other possible ones.

The EMT just nodded. He wouldn’t answer any questions about if Shiho would be okay. The only thing he would tell her was that if Shiho hadn’t bled out yet, she wasn’t likely to anymore.

But he wouldn’t comment of the pill issue or her lasting health.

It made Ann cry more.

The EMT left soon after.

She needed to do something. She needed someone to talk to. But who could she talk to!? Who would understand?

She needed to tell someone what happened. She needed anyone right now. The hospital would tell Shiho’s parents. Ann needed someone for herself.

Her parents!? No, they were out of the country.

They didn’t have that kind of relationship either.

She didn’t have any other friends.

Except… she felt awful for doing this, somehow feeling worse. But, Akira was her only option.

Ann: Hey. Something really bad happened to Shiho.
Ann: Can you come to her apartment?
Ann: I’m here.
Ann: Just. Please.
Ann: I’m so sorry. But please.
Ann: I need someone.

He responded immediately.

Akira: Yeah, I’m on my way.
Akira: Should I get Morgana

Thank god for him. She stifled a sob.

Ann: No. Don’t bring him at all.
Ann: Just please. Hurry.

Akira: Be there in 15.

Thank whatever god there was out there for Akira.

She had 15 minutes.

She let go and sobbed uncontrollably.

____________________________________________________________________________

A/N

What a chapter.

So, this came quicker than usual. That’s because I’m back at school and back in my comfort zone. I have a planned-out schedule and I’m not being dragged around all day by different family events.

This chapter was a good one to write. I had a lot of fun with it.

For clarification about Akira now. There is some bleeding effect from the metaverse. He’s not any stronger or faster, but his reaction time is greatly improved. He’s not going to be pulling off any extreme stunts or anything, it’s not that ridiculous, but maybe he catches the chalk thrown at him or something.

Again, it’s nothing extremely superhuman. He just has a peak human reaction time now.

I think this is reasonable as his perception of reality has changed. The way his brain processes things doesn’t change from the metaverse to reality. He can use the third eye in game, so there’s a bit of a precedent for stuff like this.

Akira losing himself in the fight had been planned out from the very beginning. It has always been planned to show the bleeding effect, and to show Akira completely enraged.

Ryuji and him are friends, and he won’t let people make fun of his friends. He’s a guy who doesn’t have many positive relationships in his life, so he will defend the one he has.

Akira is a complicated dude. I don’t want to get into too much analysis, because I’d rather show it in story than explain in in an A/N, but he’s not just a brooding, angry, thug. There’s more to him. Although he is all 3 of those as well.

His relationship with Tae starts off differently too. The power in the relationship is flipped. She is actually one of my favorite side characters and will play a huge role in this story.

Sae is just as savage as ever.

Finally, I needed somewhere to put a good ending. I think I found it. Shiho’s suicide attempt has been planned since before chapter 1. It took more days to get to it in game, and the change will lead to a lot. It was pretty dark, but I’m excited to write more.

So, thank you for reading! Please leave a review, they give me the drive to keep writing. I answer basically all reviews, so if you have a question or just want to share your thoughts, leave one! I always love talking to people.

Can’t wait to see you guys again soon!

Chapter Text

April 19
Early Morning
Tuesday
Rainy

The rain soaked through his shirt.

He should buy an umbrella.

It was comfortable though, relaxing even.

He was on his way to Shiho’s apartment. He was at the gym, about to work out, when Ann text him. It seemed serious, so he rushed over.

He really hoped it wasn’t too serious.

He arrived at Shiho’s apartment quickly. The front door to the complex was propped open so he let himself in.

He checked his phone for the apartment number. Ann had sent it and told him to just let himself in.

Were Shiho’s parents home? He hoped not, that could be awkward.

He found apartment 511 and let himself in.

The apartment was very standard. A small, wooden, square at the entrance with a shoe rack to one side led into a small living room. There was a decent sized couch, a loveseat, and a flatscreen TV on the wall.

To the right of the entranceway was a long hallway with the kitchen on the right side and a door at the end on the left. You had to go a foot or two down the hallway then turn right to get into the kitchen. At the end of the hallway, on the wall opposite the kitchen, was a closed door.

To the left of the entranceway was another, shorter, hallway which also had a door at the far end, this time on the right.

On the far back wall of the living room, behind the love seat, was a sliding glass door that led to the balcony.

“Akira?” A voice called out from behind the door to the left.

Ann peeked her head out. Her face was a mess. Her eyes were red and puffy, and snot trailed from her nose. Her hair was down and damp, like she had just gotten out of the shower.

He never realized but she had really long hair.

She rushed out and ran up to him before deeply embracing him. She immediately began sobbing into his chest.

Unsure of what to do, he patted her back lightly. It seemed to work, as she dug her face further into his chest.

She took a deep breath, then pulled away from him, “Do you want something to drink?” She said, sniffling and wiping her nose.

“No, I’m good thanks.”

He looked at her shirt. It was soaked in blood.

Panic shot through him.

Why the hell was there so much blood!?

“What the hell-”

“It’s not mine.” She interrupted, “I’m not dying, don’t worry.” She joked, but there was no heart to it. She seemed even sadder after saying it.

Well, at least she was okay.

Looking down, his own white shirt was now soaked in blood too.

God damnit.

But where did this blood come from?

He knew the answer, but didn’t want to hear it.

“Sorry about that, hehe.” She wiped her nose, “I’ll clean it for you later if you want.”

He sighed, “It’s fine. More importantly, who’s blood is this?”

Ann took a deep breath, “Shiho. She’s, she’s in the hospital.” Her mouth opened and closed, constantly on the verge of saying something, but couldn't.

Just like he thought.

She went to the couch and sat down. He could see the blood stain the cushion.

She sat in the corner seat and pulled a pillow to her chest, “She.. she did something bad. I… here, just, just look at her phone.” Her legs came up to her chest, locking the pillow to her body.

She handed him Shiho’s cell phone, unlocked. He looked towards Ann, who nodded, and he immediately went to her text messages.

The first message was from Ann, asking her to come out. The next person was labeled, Yuuki Mishima (Kamoshida).

His heart sank.

There was a stream of over thirty messages in the past twelve hours. Even more if he went back further. Shiho never responded to them. Her last message was about a week ago. It was her confirming she was walking outside.

The messages over the past twelve hours were extremely aggressive. It all started around 1:00 pm. Right after Kamoshida and Kobayakawa finished talking.

His whole body sank. An overwhelming feeling of anguish came over him.

Was… no.

He read through the messages.

They were either threats or him begging. He repeatedly threatened Shiho’s life, to come after her if she said anything, he threatened to go after Ann too. He threatened to ruin them if she didn’t respond.

It wasn’t the first time he had threatened to go after Ann, it was just the most aggressive.

The other messages were him begging her to talk to him. Begging her to let him explain himself, just to give him a chance. He was sorry and he needed to see her today, he needed to talk to her. There were a few ‘I love you’ messages in there.

It was disgusting. It literally made his stomach hurt.

The last message had come at 2:02 am. It read, ‘Please Shiho, I need you. Please, just talk to me and let’s sort this out. I’ll go find Ann if you won’t and maybe she’ll be more willing to talk. I’m going to bed, but please respond.”

He felt sick. Physically sick.

It was overwhelming.

Too overwhelming.

He ran to the sink and vomited.

“Yeah, I did the same thing.” Ann murmured from behind him.

Bleh.

He wiped his lips. He could taste the medicine from yesterday.

He spit.

He chugged water from the faucet to try and get the taste out.

Ann began rubbing his back.

“Thanks.” He mumbled from under the water. He took a deep breath before standing straight.

He couldn’t be consumed by depression right now. He needed to do something.

“What’s the plan? Do we go find Mishima?” He asked.

She shook her head from side to side and walked back to the couch. He followed her, plopping down on the loveseat and turned towards her.

“No, he’s a wimp. We can get him anytime. We need to go after Kamoshida.”

“Do we show these texts to the police?”

Ann took a deep breath and pulled her legs into her chest, “I… I don’t know. Is that legal? I don’t want to show the police and it turns out that’s against the law or something and we ruin the evidence. We need to get a lawyer, do you know any?”

Well, Sae. But as important as this was, he doubted she would help them. She was too busy and might get mad at him for even asking. He shook his head from side to side.

“I thought so.” She pulled her legs further into herself.

They sat in silence.

What could they-

The investigation into Kamoshida!

He sprung up, “Wait! Sae said she’s starting an investigation into Kamoshida! When the police arrive we can talk to them!”

“Sae?” She said, perking up.

“She’s my parole officer! Sae Niijima, She’s a prosecutor and was pissed about the fight. She said she was going to start an investigation into Kamoshida! We use this to ruin him! We’ll change his heart and have physical proof of his crimes!”

Ann shot up, throwing the pillow aside, “Are you serious!?”

“Yes! We just have to wait for the police to come, we tell them about what’s happened, and then they can officially take the evidence or something! Even if they say they can’t, they can get us help and then they’ll have to look into it more! Someone in school will crack, this will destroy him!”

He was buzzing with energy.

They could ruin him.

Ann looked like she was feeling it too.

She got up and jumped at him.

What!? He caught her on instinct, and was forced to spin with her for a second. He held her around the waist while her head rested in the crook of his neck.

It felt nice to hold her like this.

Her arms were wrapped around his back, hugging him. She pushed her head further into the crook of his neck.

He held her tight for a moment. She squeezed back. He slowly lowered her to the ground, but didn’t let go. Neither did she. They stayed there for a moment, before she finally released.

He really wanted her to hug him again.

She wiped at her nose again, smiling.

“Okay, let’s do some laundry. We can’t show up to school covered in blood now can we?”

They spent the next hour and a half making small talk. Ann was apparently growing pretty big in the Japanese modeling industry. She had three shoots planned this week, but she might have to cancel so they could go to the metaverse.

Ann was very surprised to find out that he lived with Makoto. The two had only interacted once or twice, but knowing he lived with the stoic and quiet student council president was interesting.

Ann didn’t think very highly of her. She didn’t explicitly say anything, but he got the feeling she was upset about Makoto’s lack of action about Kamoshida. He explained how she had helped him after the boxing match, which did sway her opinion, but Ann still seemed to hold some resentment over the president’s inaction.

It made sense, although neither were at fault. Akira doubted Makoto knew anything more than the rumors, and she could do little with just that. Maybe she had tried to do something and had gotten nowhere, he didn’t know. He couldn’t blame her, the school was corrupt.

Ann was obviously in a bad state of mind and needed someone to lash out at. He wasn’t going to try and fight her about it.

The school also didn’t have a high opinion on Makoto. It wasn’t that they disliked her, just most people didn’t think anything of her. Most students didn’t care about student government and didn’t care about the quiet, shy, hardworking, president. Apparently Makoto didn’t really have any friends.

There were a lot of rumors about the two of them too. Rumor had it that Makoto was using him, that she was actually interested in doing something illegal or getting drugs. The quiet rule obsessed girl wanted to do something bad.

He could never see Makoto doing anything like that. It was almost comical.

Ann also really hated the principal, calling him a variety of names that he hadn’t heard since he left Juvie. She had quite the explicit vocabulary. She knew he was helping cover everything up.

She wore Shiho’s cloths while she washed her uniform. They were about the same size, and although it was a little weird mentally, it worked.

He wore Shiho’s dad’s shirt and pants. It was really weird. He was very uncomfortable. And not just because they were too small.

Sitting in another person’s apartment, with someone who didn’t live there, doing laundry in their laundry room, wearing their clothes, twelve feet away from where someone had attempted suicide. It was one of the weirdest experiences in his life. Only the Metaverse could beat it.

It took a long time for all the blood to all finally come out. Once it did the two of them left for school, rejuvenated.

Ann was smiling, but he knew she must have been dying inside. She surely felt the same way he did.

She blamed herself.

He blamed himself.

He was the reason Kamoshida had sent Shiho all those texts that pushed her over the edge. His dumb threat about how he ‘knew of one student’ had done this.

He wanted to say something, but now wasn’t the time. He couldn’t tell Ann about it.

He didn’t want her to blame him. He couldn’t handle it if she hated him.

He hated himself more.

He was an idiot. He should have just said nothing. He was already ahead, but he just had to push the man.

He was going to fix this. He would make it right.

He would do whatever was needed to help Shiho.

The rain uncomfortably slapped against his head.
___________________________________________________________________
April 19
Morning
Tuesday
Rainy

They arrived at school together, trying to feel better than they should.

They had to, if they thought about it to much depression would consume them.

He, especially, had to stay strong. This was Ann’s best friend. If anyone were to break down, it should be her.

But she was strong. Stronger than he might have been if the situation were flipped.

He never had a best friend, but he imagined losing them was devastating.

His raged at Kamoshida was helping him ignore his feelings as well.

People stared as they walked. Mouths agape, whispering among themselves.

The constant mention of ‘monster’, ‘murderer’, ‘demon’ were fine. It was the whispering of ‘Whore’ and ‘slut’ that were getting to him. He wanted to lash out, but Ann did nothing, so he quelled his anger.

Class for the day went by fast. He saw Kamoshida once or twice, but kept himself together. The man was doomed, even if he didn’t know it.

It was approaching lunch, Kawakami had just left to go answer a phone call.

Morgana was still gone. He wasn’t worried, the cat could take care of himself. He also owed the little guy a good amount of money and didn’t want to be reminded right now.

“Akira!” Ann said, flipping around in her seat, “Shiho! I mean, look at your phone.”

He pulled out his phone.

Ann: Shiho woke up!
Ann: Her parent’s said she’s doing good.
Ann: The pills were deadly if untreated, but they gave her something that fixed it.
Ann: She actually didn’t lose that much blood either, the cuts were shallow.
Ann: It just looked like a lot.
Ann: She’s on medication now and can’t leave the hospital.
Ann: But we can go visit her!
Ann: If you want to I mean.
Ann: The ride is super short from here
Ann: We could make it during lunch and be back before class starts!
Ann: We would only have like five minutes with her, but it would mean a lot.
Ann: I’m going for sure, you can come too if you want.

Should he?

He would feel bad if he said no.

Akira: Yeah, sounds good.

Ann: Great!
Ann: I have a taxi coming exactly when class ends.
Ann: It’s like a 10 minute ride, so one is coming at the start of lunch and one twelve minutes before classes restart.
Ann: That give us 18 minutes to find Shiho and say hi.

He put his phone away. Kawakami came back soon after.

She looked exhausted, more exhausted than before.

He honestly thought she might end class early to go take a nap.

But, she pressed on and taught them about something. He didn’t pay much attention.

Lunch came quickly. The second the bell rung Ann grabbed his wrist and pulled him out the door and out the building.

He would likely hear rumors about this later.

And he would ‘have a talk’ with anyone who shared them.

The taxi was perfectly on time. Ann shoved him into the back seat, telling him to hurry up the whole time.

She was bouncing with excitement.

Or maybe anxiousness? He couldn’t tell, it was probably both.

He was worried this wouldn’t go well.

They arrived at the hospital quickly, but were still a minute behind schedule apparently.

The woman at the front desk directed them to the correct floor, which lead to Ann sprinting to the elevator. He jogged after her, embarrassed. He shouted an apology to the woman and to anyone he passed.

Ann tapped her foot aggressively all three flights up. When the doors finally opened, Ann sprinted away. Akira once again jogged after her, offering quick apologies to the doctors telling them off.

They had about eleven minutes before they had to leave.

He caught up to her. She was standing still outside Shiho’s door. She looked back to make sure he was with her.

She looked scared. Really scared.

He was about to say something, he didn’t know what, but her face hardened and she opened the door.

There were two beds in the room. Shiho rest on the far one. The one closest to them was empty. The curtain that could give her privacy was open wide.

Where were her parents?

She wore a hospital gown. Her skin was pale and sickly looking.

She looked at them, but didn’t react. Her eyes were hollow.

“Shiho…” Ann mumbled. She ran to Shiho and pulled her into a deep embrace.

Shiho still didn’t react. They must have put her on some heavy medication.

“Ann, what are you doing here?” Shiho murmered.

“I’m here to see you silly,” Ann said, wiping at her eyes, “I was worried.”

“Well, thank you, but I’m fine. I’m taking some medicine and I’m feeling much better. I’m sorry for what happened earlier.”

Ann hugged her again, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s all going to be fine. Me and Akira have a plan to take the bastard down. We can fix this.”

Ann couldn’t see it, but Shiho’s face grew horrified for a second.

Why?

It went back to neutral soon after, “What do you mean?”

“We have your phone, we have evidence. You can tell the police about that bastard and we’ll ruin him. We can destroy him Shiho.” He could see Ann’s face grow a bright smile.

Shiho’s face stayed neutral, “Can I see my phone by the way? I need to talk to my parents.” She said then stretched her hand out.

“Oh, yeah, here you go. But really, we have him. So get this, because of Akira some detec-”

“It’s gone.”

What?

Ann froze. Her face was a mix between hesitation and surprise, “Wh-What?”

“It’s gone, the texts Kamoshida sent, they’re gone.” Shiho said, face neutral.

She handed the phone back. Ann nearly ripped it from her hands, desperately scrolling through it.

Akira didn’t want to be here anymore.

“Where, where did they go!? They were just here!?” Ann nearly screamed out.

“I deleted them.”

Ann’s head shot up, “Wh-what? Why?” She took a step back.

This was a mistake. He never should have come.

He quietly retreated, trying to fade into the background.

“I want this to go away. I don’t want it in the news, I don’t want an investigation, I don’t want the school to do anything, I just want it to go away. Please Ann, just let it go away. I’m going to drop this whole thing, so don’t tell my parents anything. I’m just going to say I was depressed. I don’t want any more trouble with Kamoshida.”

Ann took another step back. He could see a tear roll down her face.

“Sh-Shiho…”

“You don’t understand Ann. I love you, but you don’t, and I hope you never will. I don’t want to deal with this anymore. I want it to go away. I just want everything to go away. Don’t tell anyone about this, don’t say a word. I’m done. You need to be to. It’s done.” Shiho said, face unmoving.

Tears flowed freely down Ann’s face, “Shiho, you can’t expect me to do nothing!?”

“Yes, I can and yes, you will. This isn’t your problem. I’m not reporting anything and there’s no evidence. This is done. Just. Just do this for me. Just don’t talk to Kamoshida and leave this alone. I’m sorry Ann, I love you, but I can’t deal with this anymore.”

Ann tried to say something, but a sob came out instead. She tried again, but still couldn’t make words.

She ran from the room, arm covering her face.

He really shouldn’t have come here. He needed to leave now.

“I’m sorry Akira. We don’t know each other well and I’ve put you in an awkward position, but thank you for trying. Can you go talk to her? I’ll be fine by myself.” She said, raising her hands slightly.

Her arms were strapped the the sides of the bed.

“Thank you for coming,” She continued, “I’m sorry it ended like this, but I’ll be here for a few days. Tell Ann I’m sorry, but I just need this to go away. Thank you guys so much for trying, but it’s too much. She’s still my best friend. Just forget this ever happened.”

He nodded.

He didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing.

Her face was still neutral, unmoving, emotionless.

He slid her curtain shut and walked out the door.

He found Ann by her cries. She was sobbing in the family bathroom.

He didn’t know what to do.

He knocked lightly on the door.

She didn’t answer.

He knocked again a little harder.

She interrupted him after the first knock,“Just give me a goddamn second!” she shout aggressively, “I’m busy!”

That stung more than it should have.

But he did.

He went and leaned against the opposite wall. He scrolled on his phone to pass the time. They had six minutes before the taxi arrived.

It took her five to stop sobbing. She opened the doors slowly, eyes red and puffy.

He said nothing. He didn’t want to try and hug her, afraid of how she might respond.

She shuffled up beside him.

“I’m sorry.” She mumbled, “I didn’t mean to yell, I just, you know.”

“It’s fine.” He replied. He had never been in a similar situation, but he could empathize. Well, he was trying.

“We have to destroy Kamoshida. We will change his heart and make sure he never sees daylight again.”

He nodded.

She moved to leave. He followed. He stayed a few feet behind her.

She took a deep breath, “Thanks. You’ve been the greatest help I could imagine through all of this and I can never thank you enough.” She said, before turning around and hugging him tightly.

He awkwardly hugged her back.

She wiped her face into his shirt. She liked ruining his clean clothes.

The elevator arrived and they seperated, heading down.

The taxi was at the front of the building and they were soon back in school.

________________________________________________________________________

April 19
Afternoon
Tuesday
Rainy

Kamoshida was there.

Standing at the top of the stairs, he was there.

He could feel rage flowed through him like a rushing river.

“You’re late again Kurusu, and you too Takamaki? Are you being a bad influence Kurusu?” He mocked, “I might need to bring this up at the next school board meeting.”

The tension in the air could be cut with a knife.

Ann stepped forward, head bowed, “You motherfucker.” she whispered.

He looked towards her, she was shaking.

Kamoshida eyes widened. He had heard her.

He looked scared for a moment, before his mocking smile came back.

“Takamaki! And here I was about to let you two off with a warning, come to my office we need to talk about disciplinary actions.”

He left before they could respond.

Ann nearly ran after him, taking the stairs two steps at a time. She brushed past Ryuji, nearly shoving him to the ground.

“Woah! What was up with that? Oh, Dude! Where you been! You’re not answering my texts!” Ryuji shout, walking out the entrance.

He didn’t have time to explain it, he rushed past him and followed Ann.

“Dude! Wait up! What’s happening!”

He followed Ann to the office, Ryuji on his tail.

The hallways were empty.

“Akira! What’s happening!?” Morgana’s voice called out from behind. He looked back to see Morgana poking out of Ryuji’s backpack.

He was surprised. He didn’t expect them to be spend any time together.

He would ask about that later.

He entered Kamoshida’s office right after Ann. The only people there were her and Kamoshida.

Kamoshida didn’t look phased by her anger, “So, the whole peanut gallery is here.” He laughed out.

“You motherfucker.” She spoke quietly, “How dare you make jokes!? HOW DARE YOU!?” Ann screamed, getting louder each word.

Her rage was intensifying his.

Arsene was starting to growl in the back of his mind.

His muscles tensed.

Kamoshida stopped laughing, his face turned serious “Takamaki! You can not say that to me! Do I have to report you!?” He stood up. He towered over them.

Ann stormed up to him, hands balled into fists, “How dare you stand there acting like you did nothing!?”

His rage was escalating.

He was breathing heavier.

“I have no idea what’s going on Takamaki, would either of you do something and stop her. Can someone explain what’s happening? Is she okay?” Kamoshida pled.

Kamoshida tried to look confused, but the smile wouldn’t stop growing on his face.

His eyes were evil.

Akira felt like he saw them flash gold.

His body hunched slightly, getting ready for action.

His blood pumped rhythmically. He could feel it pound in his temples.

“You motherfucker!” Ann shout, swinging.

She was too far from them to stop her, or to join in. The throw was flimsy, and Kamoshida caught the fist easily and roughly. He flung her to the side, trying to make it look accidental.

She tripped over her feet, thrown off balance, and fell. She hit her side against a desk and cried out. She fell to the ground, taking a trash can with her. Her head nearly hit the floor.

Akira moved immediately to help her up. He could see she had scraped her knee.

Every muscle in his body was ready to spring.

Red began to haze his vision.

The screaming was getting louder.

He could taste Arsene’s bloodlust. It felt intoxicating.

“Takamaki! I’m so sorry! What is going on!?” Kamoshida said, shifting to the opposite side of the room.

He was positioning himself for an easy exit. The only one in his way was Ryuji.

“Kamoshida! I’m done!” A new voice called out.

Akira looked towards it. He found that same small guy he had helped to the nurses office the other day.

That was… Mishima. The same Mishima whose phone had been used to text Shiho.

His rage grew. He forced himself to stay in control, just barely able to.

“I’m done helping you! I heard about Shiho! I’m done helping you destroy lives.” He shout, trying to sound tough. Akira could see his hesitation.

Kamoshida sighed, “This is a really confusing day. I’ll have to bring this up at the next school board meeting, we can’t be having student’s coming in late and starting fights with teachers. Expulsion might be the only option. Four students ganging up on a teacher? That can’t happen.”

“Expulsion?” Ryuji whispered.

“You bastard! You know what you did to Shiho! I’ll kill you!” Ann shout and pulled herself to her feet.

Kamoshida tried to look shocked, “Woah woah woah! Takamaki! Did you really just say that!? I, I can’t even believe you think I had anything to do with what happened to Suzui! She was one of my best players, and my favorite people in the school! I would never!”

“You liar!” She spat out, “You think you’re so fucking clever! You did the same shit to me and I have proof!” She edged forward threateningly.

“That is enough!” He bellowed, “I will no longer stand for this! You four are DONE at this school!”

Akira took a step forward, Ann moved in front of him inadvertently.

She might be even angrier than him.

Mishima spoke before anyone else could, “Expel me, whatever, but I’m not helping you anymore Kamoshida! I’m done bringing girls to you!”

What?

They all turned towards him.

What had this short, meek, weakling done?

Kamoshida spoke angrily, “I have no idea what you’re talking about Mishima! Why don’t you tell these guys about how you spread Kurusu’s criminal record before you start taking any high roads.”

What.

This. This was the person who had ruined his life.

This was the person who had helped make his life into more of a living hell.

Mishima’s body turned towards him. He retreated a few paces, trying to put distance between them.

“It’s not my fault! Kamoshida made me do it!” He begged.

The rage was boiling over.

The bloodlust flowed through every part of his body.

He nearly smacked his lips. He might explode right now.

He could take everyone here to the metaverse and solve this problem.

Arsene agreed, he pushed pleasant emotions into his mind.

Akira looked back towards Kamoshida, ready to pull out his phone, but he was gone.

Fuck! He had distracted them and left.

Ann noticed too, cursing and rushing out to go find him.

Ryuji looked between them, unsure of who to follow.

Mishima was still there. “Akira, I swear I didn’t want to help with anything! He made me! He said he would take me off the team if I didn’t! I didn’t have a choice!”

Take him off the team?

Take HIM OFF THE TEAM!?

Akira stood up straight, glowering at the smaller student.

He towered over him.

He could feel his body start to shake. He clenched his fists.

Hate poured into his thoughts. Not anger, but a cold hate.

“You ruined my life, Shiho’s life, and numerous other lives, so you could be a backup on a high school volleyball team?” He whispered.

He was breathing heavy.

His blood pounded rhythmically, like a violent drumbeat, inside him. He could nearly hear his heart thud in his chest.

“Well, I mean, yes, but it’s not like that! I didn’t know, well I didn’t want to! I swear!”

Mishima dropped to his knees, head sinking and hands coming together, raising in the air into one big closed fist.

Ryuji moved to stand between the two of them. He looked worried.

Akira could feel the blood vessel in the back of his eye nearly pop.

If Ryuji wasn’t in his way, he might beat this weakling to death.

“I swear I didn-”

“Get out.” Akira growled.

His head rose. They met eyes.

“Wha-”

“I SAID GET THE FUCK OUT!” Akira roared.

Ryuji wrapped his arms around his stomach, ready to hold him back. Morgana pumped onto Ryuji’s back, ready to try and help with his small body.

Mishima fell backwards, hitting his butt. He turned around and scrambled out of the room. He fell on his face in the hallway, but managed to pull himself together and get out.

The door swung shut.

His every muscle was straining.

He need to destroy.

Ryuji let go. He took a hesitant step back and said nothing.

Akira stalked towards the door and kicked it as hard as he could. It flew open and smashed into the wall. It nearly came off the hinges, he saw one of the screws at the top pop off.

It swang back, nearly closing. There was a large circular crater right in the middle. He had nearly kicked through it.

His life was over.

He would be expelled and sent back to Juvie.

He threw open the door and ran out.

He lost control of his body. He kept running until he was outside the school. He kept going, taking off down the street. The rain soaked through him.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 19
Afternoon
Tuesday
Rainy

He went back to school soon.

He snuck back in by hoping over the wall and going in through a back door.

He didn’t have the energy to deal with another teacher.

He gave a weak excuse when he got to class about having stomach troubles to Mr.Hiruta who didn’t bother him about it.

The rest of the day went by slowly. Too slowly.

His life was over.

Kamoshida would have him expelled.

He would lie about what happened.

And everyone would believe him.

He wanted to retreat inward. He wanted to run away.

He tried to focus on the intense anger that filled him. He would change Kamoshida’s heart and make him pay for what he had done.

He had about two weeks before the faculty meeting where Kamoshida would make his case.

He would make things right.

He would bring this school to its knees.

Shujin would fall.

He would take everyone with him.

Thinking about that helped, but not enough.

He needed to be alone. He needed to get away.

He was becoming emotionally overloaded.

School took forever to finish. And he still needed to meet Makoto to study.

People cleared the hallway for him, some whispered about Ann as they left. He shot those individuals a glare that made them scurry faster.

He arrived at the library. As soon as he entered people began getting up and leaving. Soon the only ones left were him, Makoto, and the librarian.

The librarian left soon as well, asking Makoto to watch over things for a second.

People were particularly afraid of him today.

Maybe they had heard about what happened?

Word traveled fast here.

“Hey…” Makoto whispered. She hesitated before putting her pencil down and looking at him. She bite her lip and her eyes dropped to her paper.

She looked sad.

“What’s up?”

“Are you okay?” She asked, concerned, “I heard about… Shiho.”

Panic shot through him.

He didn’t want to talk about his feelings.

Makoto continued, “I know you two had some kind of relationship, I don’t know how close you were, but it's sad either way.”

He was deeply uncomfortable. He didn’t want to deal with this right now.

“I’m fine.” He lied, “She’s doing better now, and we weren’t that close anyways.”

That didn't alleviate her worry, she pulled into herself more, “But you went to the hospital to see her today, right? With Takamaki?”

How did she know that?

“Wha-”

“It’s just a rumor!” She whispered quickly, “I’m not saying its true or anything!”

He let out a sigh, “It’s not like its a bad thing. Yes, I did go see her. Ann asked me to and I would have felt bad saying no.”

Makoto seemed to relax some, “Okay, that’s good. Can you send her my best regards? I wish I could do more.”

“Yeah, no problem. We all do.”

He started pulling his books out of his bag. He was severely behind on the work she had scheduled. He had no free time over the past few days. Luckily, he picked up on concepts quickly, but he couldn’t rely on that forever.

“Hey, Akira?”

“Yeah.”

Where was his pencil?

“Are you getting expelled?”

He nearly dropped his bag.

He whipped his head towards her, shocked.

Had Mishima told everyone this too!?

“No. Where did you hear that?” He tried to ask calmly, but he could feel the fear leaking into his voice.

“Someone in school said you were and now everyone’s saying it. Is it true?” She asked. She wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“No. Me and Kamoshida had a disagreement, but it will be cleared up. It’s nothing.” He lied.

She didn’t look like she believed him, but nodded anyways.

He continued, “Let’s start working. This school has a big rumor problem, I mean I’ve heard people say I’m an active Yakuza member. Rumors start about me constantly.”

She nodded. She looked like she believed him a little more.

He had to change Kamoshida’s heart soon.

Not today. Today he needed to rest. He needed a break from everything.

They spent the next two hours studying before Makoto had to leave. She needed to run a few chores before it got too late.

After she left, he went and found the school rulebook.

He found the expulsion section.

He learned a few things. He couldn’t be expelled without direct Principal approval. Kobayakawa would need to step if he was to be expelled, something he doubted the man would do quickly.

It would look bad on the school if they failed to ‘rehabilitate him’ only a week after he arrived. They would look stupid and weak. Akira was sure the man cared more about appearances than anything.

He was probably scared of Sae too. The investigation into the school might stay his hand. The star teacher being investigated and the criminal being expelled? That would cause a media firestorm.

But, should Kamoshida bring it up at a faculty meeting, it would succeed. By then he would have been in Shujin for almost a month. It would look like Shujin had tried, but failed. He was too violent to be rehabilitated.

Kamoshida would be running a smear campaign for the next few weeks. He would be trying to get each and every person to work against him. Teachers, students, anyone who could speak up.

He would get the whole school calling for his head.

The principal was weak and he didn’t want him here. If he had the every teacher, and many parents, screaming about how deranged Akira was, he could be expelled and Shujin would save some of it’s image.

Thinking about it was firing him up. He was getting mad.

These people wanted to ruin him? Just like so many had before?

He wouldn’t stand for it. It would never happen again. He would never lose again.

He would drag Shujin down. They would regret ever messing with him.

He had until the next school board meeting to fix this.

He wasn’t fully confident, but he should have time.

He needed to be alone.

He left school and headed to Shinjuku.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 19
Night
Tuesday
Storming

It was nearly 7:00 pm now.

He had found a backstreet bar that didn’t ask for his ID.

It had taken a few tries, more reputable places had kicked him out, but this place didn’t seem to care. It was in a bad part of town and wouldn’t be getting bothered any time soon.

He was finally alone.

The rage had faded slightly, a numbness overcoming it.

He sipped his mixed drink, a gin and tonic.

He had ordered it because he knew its name. He remembered some show or movie character ordering one.

His regrets were fading. It was getting harder and harder to feel bad about the things that happened today.

Like how he might have pushed Kamoshida into harassing Shiho more.

He took another, long, drink.

He signaled to the bartender and laid down another 1,000 yen. There went more of the money Morgana lent him.

He hadn’t originally planned on drinking, he was just going to walk around the city, but it had made him feel good a few days ago so why not try again?

He was about to start his fourth drink.

He would be here for awhile.

He had a few messages, but he just couldn’t find it in himself to care.

No one cared about him, so why should he care about everyone else?

Why did he care so much about everyone else.

He wasn’t outgoing, he didn’t make friends, why did he have to care so much?

Caring had ruined his life. He needed to stop caring.

He finished his drink.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 19
Late Night
Tuesday
Stormy

This place was so sketchy.

She hated coming here.

But she sadly had been coming here more often than ever.

It was made worse by this ridiculously harsh storm.

Avoid this alleyway, make a wide turn.

She would never make those mistakes again.

She clutched her bag closer, fingering at her pepper spray just in case.

It was safer to turn left here and go the long way. There would be more homeless people, but it was better lit.

She was getting close. Only a few more minutes.

Drunk. Another drunk. A homeless man. A homeless woman.

She pulled her hoodie farther down her face.

Another drunk. Wait.

She stopped and backed up. Was that? Was that her student across the street? It couldn’t be.

Yes! That was Akira Kurusu, ‘the demon of Shujin’.

What was he doing here? This was a really bad part of town, he shouldn’t be here. She shouldn’t be here either.

Well, if it would be any of her students here, it would be him.

Whatever, not her problem.

She needed to go to her job.

She would be late otherwise.

But she crossed the street anyways.

He was her least favorite student, possibly ever. She had dealt with class clowns, delinquents, loudmouths. But Akira was different. He attracted more problems to him than anyone she had ever taught before. He was smart, but she hated the drama associated with him.

He was lounging on a concrete bench, arms resting over its back.

A massive brick building lay behind him. The same style building lined the streets almost as far as she could see on both sides. A dim, flickering, yellow street lamp illuminated the bench, giving him a creepy vibe. This whole part of town was creepy.

“Kurusu-san?”

His head whipped towards her, surprised. His glasses were off and his face was intense. She clutched her pepper spray tighter.

He took a second before he spoke up, “Kawakami-sensei? What are you doing here?”

His breath smelled of booze, but his words were clear.

“I should be asking you that! Is that alcohol on your breath!? You’re way too young to be in this part of town, especially on a school night!” She scolded. Well, tried too. It didn’t come out too confident.

He didn’t flinch, “Which you’re teaching.”

He ignored the alcohol comment.

She blushed slightly, he was right. “I’m an adult, I’m allowed to be out late in this part of town. Why are you out here? Is there something we need to have a talk about?”

He frowned deeply, looking upset. He didn’t usually show emotion, he was normally very passive.

She fidgeted her pepper spray.

She continued, “Do I need to get someone from the school to help? We have people who you can talk to.”

“Like Kamoshida.” He spat out, looking pissed off.

She knew the two had some kind of problem. Kamoshida wouldn’t shut up about how Akira attacked him. He went on and on about what an awful person Akira was.

She didn’t particularly like Kamoshida, especially with the rumors, but he was her fellow teacher. She trusted him more than she trusted Akira.

“Well, yes, if I need to.” She replied.

His frown deepened, before his body shifted. She placed her finger on the trigger of the pepper spray and unlocked it. Then he began slowly chuckling.

It startled her. She nearly sprayed him, “Kurusu-san! What is so funny!”

He wiped at his lips, then snorted. “Nothing. Nothing, I just thought you might be, I don’t know, different. I don’t know why I did, but you seemed different than the other teachers. You didn’t outright hate me at least.”

She couldn’t rebuke that. The other teacher’s did hate him.

“It’s fine.” He said after a few moments, “I’m used to it.”

That wasn’t something a teenager should be saying.

Her stomach hurt.

“People don’t hate you Kurusu-san.” She said weakly.

He chuckled, “Do I even need to argue with that?”

Well, it wasn’t like they didn’t have good reasons. Especially with what Kamoshida was saying.

“Well, if you didn’t want that, why don’t you change? Mr. Kamoshida was talking about how you tried to fight him today, and you sent Jiro to the hospital. You’re not giving people a lot of reasons to like you.”

“Yeah. What if Kamoshida is lying? What if Jiro threatened my friends? Why are they the victims? If I didn’t stand up for myself I could be in the hospital instead.”

Kamoshida wasn’t the best person, but was he a liar? Jiro was a bully though, she knew that.

“Well, still, why do you make so many problems for everyone?”

He leaned forward, chin resting on his chest. His hands came together, forearms resting on his legs, “Maybe things haven’t gone my way in life and I’m just a troubled teenager?”

Her voice caught in her throat.

She had never considered that.

He looked so vulnerable. So weak.

He didn’t look like the criminal she always imagined him to be.

Just someone beaten down by life.

Someone like her.

She had to leave.

She turned around and walked away.

She would forget this ever happened.

She would be late, but hopefully her boss wouldn’t be too mad. Hopefully someone still needed a maid.

Avoid this alleyway, she had been-

“Well hello there.” A chilling voice spoke out from behind her, “What do we have here.”

She sped up, chills running down her spine. She grabbed her pepper spray, moving it out of her purse.

Another man walked out from the alley in front of her.

He opened his mouth to say something, but she let loose. A wave of pepper spray came out, blasting the man right in the eyes.

He screamed and cursed like a madman, falling to his knees and trying to protect his face.

Someone tackled her from behind, scattering the things in her purse everywhere, but more importantly sending her pepper spray flying.

The wind was knocked out of her, she tried to flip around and protect herself. She weakly managed to get on her back and tried to put up a fight, but her arms were slapped away. She cried out in pain. She struggled all she could, but the man on top of her was strong.

“FUCK! KILL THAT BITCH!” The man she sprayed earlier screamed.

The man on top of her slammed her wrists to the ground, “What’s an old lady like you doing with a maid out-” He was cut off as a heel slammed into the side of the head, launching him off her roughly.

She rolled to her stomach and scanned the ground for her pepper spray to defend herself.

Where was, where, there! She tried to sprint to it, but stumbled over herself. She barely made it without skidding onto her face. She picked it up from the gutter and turned around, falling onto her butt but ready to attack.

In front of her was Akira, looking like a man possessed. Pure, terrifying, rage on his face. He was ready to kill someone.

There were four men total, two standing, the one on the ground Akira had kicked, and the one she had pepper sprayed.

Her heart thudded in her chest.

Adrenaline pumped through her.

She breathing quickened.

Thunder pounded in the background.

The rain hit her face, wetting her bangs and covering her eyes. She wiped at it hurriedly and crawled backwards to put some space between herself and her muggers. She sat in a puddle, soaked through, but her arms were raised towards the action.

She watched as Akira grabbed one of the two men standing by his throat and slammed the back of his head into the wall. Before Akira could do anything else, he was hit in the back by a 2 x 4 and forced to drop the man, the first man. Akira stumbled forward, reaching for his back as the dropped man scrambled away, clutching his throat.

Akira turned around as the man, the second one, with the 2 x 4 swung again. Akira caught the 2 x 4 under his right arm, then swung a brutal left hook that connected with the man’s jaw, sending the man to the ground. He landed in a puddle, sending dirty water flying.

The force of his swing threw Akira off balance, allowing the first man to grab him from behind. The man hooked his hands underneath Akira’s elbows, locking him in place.

The third one, the one Akira had kicked originally, rushed in. He threw a sloppy haymaker that Akira managed to partially twist with, but it still scrapped his face.

Akira kicked out like a shotgun blast, striking the third man directly in the sternum and sending him collapsing backwards. The third man landed and rolled into the rain filled gutter. He stayed there, gasping for breath and clutching at his ribs.

Lightning cracked, sounding like an explosion, and illuminated the scene.

Akira flung his head backwards, crashing the back of his head into the first man’s nose. From the crunch, it seemed like he broke it. The man let go, clutching at his nose and hunching over.

Akira turned around and punched upwards into the man’s face. The man stumbled backwards, then tried to flee. He didn’t get far as his back hit the wall. He tried to squirm away but Akira grabbed him by his throat again and slammed him back against the wall.

Akira unleashed several huge, heavy, blows to his stomach. He was in complete control.

He roared like an animal.

Thunder erupted, drowning out all noise.

The second man had gotten up from Akira’s hook. He tried to tackle Akira from the side by wrapping around his waist, which forced him to release the first man. His attempt failed as Akira traveled with him until his back was against a street lamp.

Akira’s hands locked together and rocketed down like a hammer. The second man held on for a few strikes, but the damage to his spine finally made him collapse to the ground, groaning.

Akira punted the man in the stomach.

A rock flew at Akira, fast. It dinged off his forehead, leaving a small gash.

She turned towards the man who threw it,the third man. He clutched at his ribs from the gutter, but he had another rock in the other hand.

She needed to help. The first man, the one Akira had slammed against the wall, was moving towards him. Akira wasn’t watching.

She got to her feet and moved to intercept him. When she got close the noise drew his attention and he looked towards her. She unleashed her pepper spray on his open face.

He fell backwards, screaming and scrapping at his eyes.

She wiped her bangs from her eyes. Only one of her muggers was moving now.

The third man threw another rock at Akira. It went wide left. He tried to get up, and managed to prop himself up to one knee.

Akira approached him.

The third man pulled out a small pocket knife. He clicked it open.

Oh no.

Thunder boomed.

She looked for an escape, pacing backwards. Akira moved forward. He placed his body in between them. He bent down and picked up a loose broken brick from the ground and started tossing it up and down.

The threat was clear. The guy holding the knife looked between them rapidly, judging his chances, before he clicked his knife shut and scrambled away.

“KANESHIRO’S GONNA HEAR ABOUT THIS!” He shout as he ran.

She let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

The others took the note to leave. They fled down different alleyways, making sure to stay far away from them.

Soon they were alone.

Akira breathed heavy, “You okay?”

No.

She sighed, “Yes. I’m fine. Are you?”

He was bleeding from a cut on his forehead and his lip had been split open.

He wiped at his lip, smearing the blood across his cheek. He looked monsterous, no glasses and face coated in blood. His eyes were intense, evaluating her.

A wet, drool filled, line of blood hung from his chin.

The rain pushed his hair into his eyes, covering them partially.

He looked like a demon.

But he had just saved her life.

“I’m fine.” He said, “This is nothing.”

She accepted it.

The rain poured heavily, his shirt was soaked through and muddy. Blood splotched his white Shujin shirt.

He stood in front of her. He towered over her.

She moved away, putting space between them, before starting to pick up her things that had been scattered. She found her wallet, untouched, her keys, her phone, but where-

“This yours?”

She looked towards him. He was holding her maid costume. It was disgusting. It was soaked, covered in mud, and had a large shoe print on the, formally, nice white frills. One of her muggers must have run over it while fleeing.

Tears brimmed at the edges of her eyes.

She snached it from his hands, turning her back to him and examined it.

This… this was awful. It would take her a whole day to get these stains out. She would need to buy a new outfit from her boss if she wanted to work today.

But that meant she wasn’t going to make any money. She might make 500 yen total after accounting for the massive cost of buying a new outfit. If she made any.

She needed this money. She had accepted this extra shift for it. She was so far behind on her payments, and customers weren’t coming in very often.

Rent was coming up.

She hadn’t had a good meal in so long.

She needed money.

She would… she might need to take the extra shift with their companion maid service. The more involved one.

She was terrified of this day. She knew it could happen, but never thought it would. But she needed the money.

She held back a sob. She was an adult. Adult’s did this all the time. This wasn’t anything.

Everyone had to make sacrifices. It would be a one time thing, and then she would go back to being a normal maid. Just one bad night, just one.

“Are you okay?” Akira asked, peering around her.

His breath stunk of alcohol.

They stood under a dim street light.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” She replied, trying to portray confidence. The rain would block any tears.

“Is your outfit?” He asked, nodding his head at her costume.

“It’ll be fine.” She replied curtly.

They were quiet for a moment.

She continued, “I have to get going, thank you for the help but please don’t follow me anymore.”

He nodded and reached in his pocket. He pulled his wallet out and stuck a few thousand yen towards her, “For a new outfit.”

What? She looked at him, stunned.

She didn’t know what to say.

She wanted to refuse, but she needed that money.

Tears fell from her eyes. The rain would cover it. She managed to hold back any sniffling.

Where was she at in her life where she needed to accept money from her students?

Where had someone who had just gotten out of Juvie and was on probation even get this kind of money?

She took it and put it in her wallet.

“Why?” She fumbled out.

“I don’t know.”

He walked over to his backpack, which he had left under a different streetlight, and left.

Was Akira the monster everyone said he was?

She ran the rest of her way to the maid service.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 19
Late Night
Tuesday
Rainy

He was pretty drunk.

He had drunk more than he thought.

Now he was broke again too.

His goddamn bleeding heart. Why did he have to help people so often?

But, Kawakami looked like she was going to break down after seeing that maid costume ruined. She honestly looked like she would just collapse and die.

It made him uncomfortable watching it. He didn’t want another suicide on his conscience.

Giving her the money helped alleviate that.

He could get more and she obviously needed it a lot. She didn’t even try to say no.

She must have worked at a maid service. If she was doing that maybe she needed it even more than he did.

It also helped alleviate some of his anger. Thrashing a few punks quieted his nerves.

It even made him feel a little nostalgic.

He would need to borrow more money from Morgana. The cat had crazy interest rates on his loans, but he needed to eat.

The Bank of Morgana was unforgiving.

It was nearly 11:00 pm. He went into the store and got some gum and bread with the last of what he had.

He ate the bread on the way to Sae’s, feeling more and more sober as he went.

Morgana jumped on his backpack as he walked into the building, curling around his neck. The cat mumbled something about needing sleep.

He’d have to ask about Morgana’s day with Ryuji later.

He chewed some gum on the way up the elevator, if anyone wanted to talk to him it would mask his breath.

No one was in the living room. He could hear a shower running lightly, so someone was awake. He rushed to his room.

He marked himself on the calendar.

Morgana hopped off his back and jumped in bed. After a quick shower, Akira joined him. He left his clothes to dry on the shower rod. The blood would be an issue, but he’d cover it with his coat.

Morgana moved to sleep on top of his chest, like a real cat would. Akira scratched his back, making him purr.

He joined the cat and fell asleep.
____________________________________________________________________________

A/N

This is a shorter chapter than usual. I actually had like 3 or so more scenes written out, but removed them all. So like 5000-7000 words were taken out. None of them felt like they meshed with the tone of the chapter, so I got rid of them. They will probably be in the next few chapters.

So I changed around a LOT with Shiho. She’s awake and that changes quite a bit.

Just so people know too, as I know pairings are important to many readers, the story has had many Ann / Akira moments, but comparatively much fewer Akira / other girls or Akira / his friends. But at this point in the game / story, Ann has the most emotional and involved storyline. It’s her best friend who tries to commit suicide, it’s her that has been sexually harassed, she’s the one who is going through the most. So it makes sense that she’s currently the deuteragonist.

--Future spoilers--

Moments with other characters are coming. The pairing is still not set, I want to let it grow naturally and seeing what happens. For all you Makoto / Tae / Ohya / every other girl fans I’m not ignoring them. They will all get their time and we’ll see what happens, it’s just that right now Ann is getting the most attention. It’ll become more balanced as more characters are introduced / become closer.

--End Future spoilers--

On Kawakami, She’s another great character in the game and one of the girls I wanted to romance most. But I need to talk about her character a bit.

A lot of stories I’ve read have her immediately hating Kamoshida from the very start. Like, she already knows he's disgusting and wants nothing to do with him. We, as the gamer, know that he is, but she shouldn’t. In game it's just a bunch of rumors and ‘he said she said’. Kamoshida is a well respected teacher within the school, she may not think he’s all that great a guy, but there’s no reason to hate him.

I might have even gone too far with making her not a huge fan of him. In their one interaction they seem perfectly fine with one another, perhaps even friendly?

Kamoshida has gotten this far by being a successful, charismatic, guy. If he were so unlikable and creepy then he’d have been taken down way before. He’s dangerous because he’s a likable, charming, evil person. Sociopaths are known for being likable and having magnetic personalities.

Kawakami doesn’t like Akira because he’s a problem child. In game he’s just on probation, but in the story he’s also an ex-con. It changes the dynamic a lot.

On Akira. It may seem like he’s getting in a lot of fights, but that’s just who he is. Someone else might try to talk their way out of a situation, call the police, or run away, but Akira’s first instinct is to start using violence.

On a bigger note, we’re at or around the midpoint of the Kamoshida arc! Hell yeah! Only, what 100k words? Nothing.

I got some big things planned for the next few chapters so I hope to see you again! Please leave a review with your thoughts, feelings, or questions!

Chapter Text

April 20
Morning
Wednesday
Rainy

The phone was rang loudly. His eyes snapped open.

He forced himself to lean up.

He struggled to rise to his feet.

He was exhausted.

What time was it? 6:00am.

Wait. It was that late!? He jumped to his feet and scrambled through the room. He threw his clothes on and grabbed his backpack.

Wait, was he bleeding? He went and looked in the mirror. There was a dark red line running up his lip. It wasn’t particularly noticeable, but he would need to be careful. His forehead had a light new scar, but if he brushed his bangs down it would be covered.

His lip would fade in time, but he hoped his forehead scar would to.

He went to leave, but stopped. He needed to look put together if Sae was outside.

He opened the door.

She was.

She was sitting at the dinner table going through her briefcase. Her hair was wet, but her makeup was on. Even at home, and not even completely ready, she looked impeccable.

She turned her head towards him, evaluating him, before going back to her work.

Good. He took the opportunity to flee the apartment.

He really didn’t want her to ask him what he had been up to.

He made it downstairs and checked his phone. He had the most missed texts he had ever had.

Most of them were from Ann, apologizing for getting them in trouble and disappearing. She wasn’t sorry for attacking Kamoshida, but for the trouble it had gotten them in.

She was really worried if he was okay.

There were a few from Makoto asking if he wanted to study after school today,

The final texts were in a group chat composed of him, Ryuji, and Ann. Ryuji was wondering if they wanted to go into the Metaverse today.

Ryuji also said he had heard about Shiho. He was all in now.

Good. They would need his help.

Ann said she was free today, and he replied that he was too. They would go into the metaverse today.

He told Ann privately that he was fine, he just needed some time alone. He left it at that and didn’t look at any responses.

He didn’t want to discuss it further.

He agreed to meet with Makoto after school. He was already falling behind in school. Without her help he probably wouldn’t have even started his first assignment.

He went and worked out before school while Morgana found a place to sleep.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 20
After school
Wednesday
Rainy

The library was a lot busier than normal.

Normally everyone left after Akira arrived.

But today, everyone stayed. People even came in and sat near them.

Not at their table. Her table. But at the table next to them.

If she was honest with herself she really missed the isolation. Having the whole library almost entirely to herself was nice. And once Akira left for the day, she had it all to herself.

The library patrons were even whispering among themselves. She could hear them mumbling, mostly about Akira being expelled.

The rumor had already taken over the whole school.

There was a massive shift in attitude.

People stopped running from Akira. They wouldn’t clear the hallways when he entered. The braver ones would talk about him, almost to his face.

The bravest one had tried to bump shoulders with him, but had been knocked to the floor. The story went that Akira’s glare nearly made the boy piss his pants. She didn’t doubt that rumor much.

People had stopped being so brave after that, but it was still a big change from before.

She had no idea if the rumors about him being expelled were true or not. But, if she was forced to admit, she believed them.

She had overheard Mr.Kamoshida talking about it when she went to the principal's office earlier. Was it definite? Probably not, but it was surely in the works.

Akira acted like it wasn’t getting to him, but Makoto saw otherwise.

He wouldn’t stop fidgeting. When someone got too loud he would squeeze his pencil sharply, nearly cracking it.

He was tapping his foot rapidly on the ground, something he didn’t normally do.

“Are you actually getting expelled?”

It came from a boy in the back sitting at one of the desks. He was hushed repeatedly by his giggling friends, but everyone went quiet and paid attention.

Akira finally snapped his pencil, “If I am, I can’t get in any more trouble.”

His body language was incredibly threatening. His glare was sharp and fierce. The boy who spoke up cleared his throat and went back to his work. The crowd began whispering again.

She needed to do something, “Everybody needs to focus on their work! The next person to cause any trouble will get an after school detention.”

Everyone quieted and went back to there work, seeming cowed.

Everyone but Akira, he didn’t seem to care. His shoulders were hunched menacingly.

She turned towards him to get a look at his work. He was actually a lot smarter than people gave him credit for. He picked up lessons quickly, a lot quicker than most people she knew. If he applied himself he could have been at the top of his class.

But he probably had bigger problems than school. Part of those problems were her fault, inadvertently. She couldn’t do anything about those problems, namely being alive and living with her sister. But she still felt bad about how Sae treated him.

Akira was an okay guy, he wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought he would be. But he was still scary and she could see why Sae took the precautions she did.

He was a big upgrade from the tattoo covered, musclehead freak she thought he would be. Before they met she was terrified of what he might be. She would have to lock her door every night just in case, but what if he broke in? It had given her a few nightmares.

But then it turned out he was just an quiet, but angry, person. Very polite too. He was kind of cute, which was weird to think.

He was fit, ripped even, and tall. He was attractive. He wasn’t a hunk or a model, but there was something that drew people’s eyes. She had overheard a few girls talking about it in the hallways, so she wasn’t alone in these thoughts.

But she didn’t think of him romantically. She didn’t forget the anger he hid, or what he did to Jiro. Akira’s face was still injured from the fight. His busted lip looked like it was healing well though.

He had a rage simmering inside of him that was terrifying. She couldn’t let her guard down around him much.

“Is Kurusu-san here?” A voice called, interrupting her thoughts.

It was Kawakami-sensei. She was his homeroom teacher right? Makoto had never really talked to the woman. She had her Japanese Language class last year, but that was the extent of their relationship.

She looked really tired.

Kawakami looked tired last year, but it wasn’t too bad. Nothing particularly noticeable.

But even with her makeup on, Makoto could see the exhaustion.

“Kusuru-san, would you mind coming with me?” She asked.

He nodded and closed his books.

“Sorry Makoto, I’ll have to cut our studying short today.”

That was inconvenient. She really wanted him to stay and keep the library quiet.

“You sure? You could come back after the meeting, I’ll be here for awhile.”

“I have to be somewhere after school, sorry.”

She sighed. Akira really needed to come in more. He was smart, but you needed to work hard and be smart to get ahead. He was okay for now, but he would fall behind soon if he didn’t change his work ethic.

What plans did he even have? She was a little jealous, if she could admit. How did someone who got out of Juvie a week ago already have friends and plans and she didn’t?

She had been here for three years and didn’t have any friends. Actually, Akira was probably the closest she got to having a friend.

That was really depressing to think about.

She hoped she could do better in University. But, was she wasting her High School life? If she didn’t learn social skills now, would she ever?

Akira got up and started packing his bag.

“What are your plans?” She asked hurredly. Hopefully he didn’t notice

He paused, looking surprised, “Uh, Me, Ann, and Ryuji are going to hang out.”

Those three were getting close, “Where are you guys going?”

“Um, to get food? I think Ryuji has somewhere he wants to show us.”

“Oh, cool, sounds like a fun time.”

He nodded, then finished packing his bag, “Yeah. It should be.”

Can I come?

Was what she wanted to say. It was on the tip of her tongue, but she nodded instead and went back to work. It was too awkward to ask, especially with Sae’s threats. What was he supposed to say, yes? When spending time with her might get him thrown back in Juvie.

But she did want to go along.

He left soon after.

The whole room exploded into hushed whispers. She tried to glare at them, but no one paid her any attention, continuing to whisper.

She looked to the librarian, but she was on her phone.

She cleared her throat a few times. A few looked towards her, but no one stopped whispering.

No one respected her authority. The little she had. She couldn’t actually hand out detentions. She could go get a teacher to do it, but she was already unpopular. She didn’t want to make it worse.

She went back to her work. Too embarrassed to try again.

It was just another day where no one respected her.

She was used to it.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 20
After school
Wednesday
Rainy

He followed kawakami to the faculty office. She peered in, not revealing herself to the room. He looked over her shoulder, curious.

There were probably a dozen desks crammed uncomfortably tight into the room. Every available surface was stacked dangerously high with papers or books. Several people stood in the room, students and teachers, working on various projects.

She silently closed the door and brought him down the hallway.

She began whispering midwalk, “Too busy, meet me on the roof in a few minutes.” They round a corner, “Be stealthy, make sure no one sees you. There’s a hidden staircase to the roof on the other side of the building. Room 315, I’ll leave the door unlocked. There should be no one there. Enter quietly.”

She looked around, there were a few students watching them. They kept moving, trying to avoid eavesdroppers.

She continued, “It’s no problem Kurusu-san, you’re welcome for the help. I’ll see you tomorrow in class!” She said, louder than necessary. They seperated and she left in the wrong direction, passing the eavesdropping students.

He followed her instructions, and took a long route to the other building.

The third floor was empty, it was primarily for first year students and most of them had either gone home, or were at a club meeting. Most clubs used lower floors, or the other building, while people primarily studied in the library.

There were a few stragglers who were coming in and out, so he waited a moment and tried to look busy. Once they left he swiftly snuck into the staircase.

He walked up the short flight of stairs and onto the roof.

The spot was very private and small. Bordering the entire area was a waist-high brick wall with a fence situated on top. It would be nearly impossible for someone to see up here. A person would have to try hard to be spotted.

A large, grey, box containing the staircase jutted up behind him, making the area even more secure.

The only items of note on the roof were the several large air conditioners attached to the floor. They made a constant mild hum.

There was only one way in and one way out from the rooftop. Unless someone wanted to hop the barbed wire on top of the fence they were cut off from everything.

Kawakami was sitting on the edge of one of the air conditioners, looking at her nails. She peered up as he closed the door.

“Kurusu-san.” She nodded towards him, nervous. “How’s it going?”

“Alright.”

Other than, well, everything.

She took a deep breath, “Did you tell anyone about what happened?” She asked and bit her lip.

Right down to business.

“No, have you?”

Who would he even tell? What would he tell? He got drunk in a bad part of town and beat up some thugs? That would be a quick trip back to Juvie.

She could report him to Sae, and he could report her to the school. It was mutually assured destruction.

Some tension left her, “No and I think we can come to an agreement to never talk about it.”

He nodded.

A bright smile grew on her face, “Good. Now, do you need a maid?”

What?

Her smile dipped as he took a moment to respond.

“Look,” She added hastily, “I know you have money, and how did you make that much money on probation? Wait, that’s not the point, you have money. I need money. And I’m sure you can use a maid. Your room must be a mess, let Becky come clean it!” She ended with a huge fake smile.

She was trying her best to look and sound cute.

It came off as more awkward and forced than anything.

“Uhhh.”

He didn’t actually own anything. She could clean his, what, four shirts? Well, he did need the white one covered in blood cleaned. He was wearing it now too.

But he didn’t own anything else.

Her smile dipped further.

“Okay, okay, well how about help with other stuff!” She continued, “I can help with your homework!”

“Maybe, Makoto is doing a good job so far.”

Her fake smile was now completely gone. A nervous look took its place.

“Look, we can make some kind of deal. How about access to this roof? I don’t know. Just, how about hire me once. I’ll show you I can be useful and we’ll go from there!”

She awkwardly shifted from one foot to the other while her left arm scratched at her right shoulder.

She looked desperate.

God damnit.

“Okay I-”

“Great!” Her fake smile turned real and her posture became more confident, “Here’s my phone number, personal and professional, I’ll text you when I’m on shift! It’s 5000 yen for a session so be sure to have the money!” They traded numbers.

Wait. 5000 yen!?

He was almost completely broke after drunkenly giving her too much money last night.

It hadn’t even been his money!

God damnit.

He was going into the metaverse today, but a good chunk of what he made would be going to Morgana.

He didn’t even need a maid.

Maybe he could use his extra cash to get her to finish his homework? That could be useful when he fell further behind.

It couldn’t hurt to have a beneficial relationship with a superior either. He had been on good terms with a few Juvie guards and that had gotten him out of some sticky situations before. It even got him special privileges sometimes.

“If that's it, I’m going to get out of here before someone notices I’m gone. We can meet up here if we need to talk again. I’ll give you the keys to this place after you hire me. There’s no cameras or anything up here and the ones on the third floor got busted a while back and were never fixed, so just be careful coming up. It’s a pretty good place for secret meetings, and no other teacher really uses it.”

Her face turned serious, “But, uh, thanks for last night, I don’t even want to think about what almost happened. I found a better way to travel in that area so it won’t happen again.”

He nodded, “No problem.”

A small, real, smile grew on her lips. She gave a quick wave and went downstairs while he waited. She sent him a message that the coast was clear and he followed her down. She was gone by the time he arrived.

He text the group chat. It was time to enter the metaverse.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 20
After School
Wednesday
Rainy

“CARMEN, AGI!” Ann shout, backflipping as her persona launched a ball of fire underneath her. It hit the green skinned fairy, Silky, that was rushing towards her head on. Silky was sent flying back, obviously injured.

It wouldn’t stay down for long. Moments after bouncing off the floor the fairy was already struggling to rise. Ryuji interrupted her by charging into her, wrapping up her midsection, and carrying her away. He ran like an wild animal, with no regard for his own health and safety.

The fairy hit his left arm with an ice spell that slipped him up, sending the both tumbling. He fell on his face, bouncing and skidding. He regained control quickly and sprung forward, faster than she did, and roared as he leapt above her. He slammed the frozen fist into her head, shattering it, and cracking the back of her skull on the ground.

He landed on top of her, legs wide and to her side. Silky clawed and scratched at the air, trying to hurt him and get him to leave. She managed to dig into his chest, drawing blood. It didn’t stop Ryuji as he pulled out his metal pipe and swung brutally, trying to bash the creatures head in.

She put her arms across her face and howelled. It did little as Ryuji slammed down over and over again, breaking her arms. He could see them bend and crack.

Could he just kill it already!?

Akira barely dodged another massive swing from the ‘heavenly punisher’. The only reason he hadn’t been killed yet was the long buildup this monster needed for each attack.

Their plan was simple, but stupid. There were five enemies to start, four now. He would distract the big one, and his teammates would kill the other four. They had gotten one, but had stalled since.

The Shadows didn’t play along. The big one did focus him as Akira peppered him with tiny blows, but the other shadows hit Akira in the back everytime they could. He only had a few more hits in him before he might collapse.

Silky’s screams alerted him that she was still alive.

“WHY! WON’T! YOU! DIE! ALREADY!?”

Goddamnit Ryuji. Hurry up!

The Bicorn was staggering to its feet. Their plan needed to change.

He rushed towards Bicorn, slid under the It’s rushed kick, and sprung up. He grabbed one of its horns and swung himself on top of its head. Before he could situate himself it started bucking with all its might. He couldn’t set his feet to attack.

“Joker!”

Morgana came to his rescue by shooting the bicorn several times in its left eye. The hits made it charge towards the new threat and gave Akira the balance he needed to place his feet.

He unleashed. He stabbed downwards into its other eye as much as possible. He ignored its screams and powered on until it collapsed. As it went down he jumped off and skid to a stop near it. He emptied half a clip into its skull and it finally disintegrated.

He heard Ryuji’s shotgun going off behind him. He turned around to find the Succubus on the ground, on fire, and Ryuji standing over her.

He emptied every bullet he had into it’s head, killing it.

Finally, just the Divine Punisher was left.

But they had given him time to charge up. It swung, this time going for Morgana.

The cat wasn’t fully prepared and only managed to put up a weak defense to stop it. The sword’s side swipe was too powerful and sent him careening into the far wall. He cracked the bricks and fell to the ground, unmoving.

He wouldn’t be getting up soon.

“MONA!” Ann screamed.

She rushed over to help him, leaving herself open for an attack. The creature saw the opportunity and rushed at her, charging another blow.

That would kill her.

Ryuji jumped in its path. It wasn’t done charging, but was forced to pivot and upswing his sword with one hand to stop Ryuji’s downwards, overhead, swing.

The two blows collided, sending shockwaves through the room. Their strength was evenly matched for a moment, but the creature soon began pushing Ryuji’s weapon back.

“ZIO!”

Captain Kid flew in from the sky in an instant and placed the barrel of its cannon on the Angel’s head. A deafening blast exploded throughout the room.

That would have killed most creatures. Ryuji’s spells became stronger the closer they were. No lightning got lost due to the close proximity. He rarely managed to get an unguarded, upclose, attack in though.

Smoke covered the creatures head.

Ryuji had pushed as much power as he could into that move, but did it do enough?

“ARRRGGHHHH!” The angel roared and gripped his sword with both hands.

It overpowered Ryuji immediately and sent him tumbling into the air. It had charged up while they waited to see if it was okay.

The angel launched forward, following Ryuji in the air. It’s helmet was deeply cracked. In a moment it had caught up to him and was prepared to finish Ryuji off.

But a massive fireball caught his wing and sent him spiraling to the side.

The creature crashed into the statue of Kamoshida, sending it toppeling to the ground.

There was some kind of irony in that.

It was up in a second, roaring it’s displeasure. It vaulted towards Morgana, who was just beginning to reorient himself, and glided through the air at an incredible speed.

But it was Akira’s turn.

He stood in his path and unleashed the last half of his clip into the creature’s open face, making every shot. The hits sent the angel off course and into the wall instead. His head went through the bricks, trapping him.

Before he could pry himself out, Akira froze his neck and head in place using a Bufu from his own Silky. He ran forward and switched back to Arsene, draining him slightly.

He felt power flow through him. Arsene’s bloodlust amplified his strength even more so in the metaverse.

He sprung onto the creature’s back and let the rage overtake him. He used his blade to rip and tear at every spot he could, trying to do as much damage as possible. He would have stabbed its throat, but he had used too much power in the bufu and the ice protected it.

The creature thrashed, screaming in pain. It did all it could to rip its head from the wall.

It finally managed to free itself after a few moments. It attempted to fling Akira from it’s back by violently shaking from side to side.

Akira lodged his blade into the creatures shoulder blade, giving him a good hold. He timed it and pried loose. He swung through the air and grabbed the creatures arm. He looped himself around, underneath the arm, dodging a blow from the creatures other hand, and flying into the air. He sunk his blade into its jaw, catching himself.

His body kept swinging while he held himself in place. He was underneath its jaw and he took the opportunity to put every bullet he had into the underside of the creature’s unprotected jaw. The bullets blasted through its skull and into its brain.

That finally did significant damaged the creature. It stumbled back, injured, and tripped from a well timed whip blow, falling to its butt. Akira fell to the floor as well but landed on his feet. His knees nearly gave out.

Ryuji came up behind it. He bellowed in rage and delivered a full power, two-handed, baseball bat-like swing to the side of its head.

It’s skull crunched. It was a brutal sound, but that killed it. It crumpled to its side and disappeared.

Thank god. Akira stumbled backwards, panting like a dog. His back hit the wall and he slid to a seated position.

The back of his head rest against the wall. He ripped his mask off and flung it aside.

That was the closest they had come to losing and dying so far.

Every other major fight someone had an awakening to power them through. This was the first fight where they didn’t get that boost.

And it showed. If the creature had swatted him out of the air, or one of Akira’s counters had failed, or anything else had gone wrong, they all would have died.

He looked to his side as blood streamed down from a deep cut. He touched it with his ungloved hand. The blood was still warm. It was surrell seeing so much of his own blood pouring out and not be dead.

He must have gotten hit earlier and not even noticed.

Ann leaned over him and rubbed his shoulder.

She was damaged too, not as badly, but she had taken a few good hits. Her suit was covered in rips and tears.

Healing spells didn’t fully regenerate their suits. The spell would get rid of any frayed edges, but they would still have the skin showing where they had gotten hit. The suits would stick to their body like normal, but had battle damage.

Jagged cuts would repair jaggedly, leaving weirdly shaped holes in their outfits.

Smooth cuts would leave smooth slits in their outfits.

It left them in various states of disrepair.

Ryuji was missing the entire right sleeve of his outfit. It had been blown off by a Jack-O-Lanturn’s fire spell. Along with that he had a few other rips and tears that had been smoothed out.

Morgana was healing him now. The cat seemed alright, he must have healed himself first. His outfit was mostly fine, as it was his fur, but his bandana was torn. It wasn’t anything significant.

Ann had some skin showing, more than normal at least. There was a big slit going across the outside of her left thigh where she had been sliced.

He saw the blow happen, and the resulting blood that poured from it. He only remembered the panic he felt when he looked at the revealed flesh.

That blow would have killed or permanently disabled her in real life. Here, it was just a bloody wound that was healed with a few words.

He took a deep breath and felt a wave of energy and strength wash over him. He could feel the gash in his side quickly closing. Ann rubbed at it, trying to make him feel better. It did nothing to help the healing, but did help comfort him.

They could heal the wounds obtained in the metaverse, but not the ones obtained in real life. He would need to test it more, but it was apparently because of cognition.

He had gained the wounds in the metaverse, and his mind knew that, so they could be healed. The wounds in reality were from reality, and thus couldn’t be healed by cognition.

It made sense, but was inconvenient.

Hits in the metaverse hurt way less than real life. Debilitating, life threatening, injuries became more of a nuisance than anything. An incubus had sliced him open across the stomach earlier. In real life,his guts would have fallen out and he would have died.

Not rip one of its wings off and feed it to Arsene.

The others noticed it too. Ryuji especially. The guy relied on it and fought like a tank. Akira would buff him with a defense boost and he would go wild. There was no form, he would just run at the Shadows and use his reflexes to dodge.

If he got hit, he would try to ignore it and keep going, or if it was too much he would back off and use Captain kidd’s lightning bolts.

If the attack worked, he would buff his strength and swing his pipe like a madman. One of the hits would cripple the shadow and let them take it down.

His style wasn’t elegant, but it worked. It also drew the attention off the other three and let them do their thing.

He was a little jealous of Ryuji’s weapon. He would have liked one. The pure power it had, the strength behind the swings, its versatility. It was a useful weapon.

But there was something about Akira’s knife that called to him. The damage it could do was nearly unparalleled.

There were situations where a larger, blunt, weapon would be prefered. But he didn’t feel right using a seperate weapon. Maybe he would look into getting a bigger knife.

If Ryuji was the close range brawler, Ann was the long range Mage. She could launch out more spells than any of them, more powerful ones too.

She would stay a long distance and strike out with powerful fireballs from Carmen, or with quick sharp whip stikes. If an enemy got too close she could use her submachine gun to stop them.

She was deadly. She probably did the second most damage after him. She could also heal them, not as well as Morgana, but it came in handy.

Her main weakness was that she took more damage than them. Blows seemed to hurt her more, so they all had to do their best to keep the enemy focused and away from her.

Morgana stuck to a support role. He fought from mid range, casting heals and cure ailment spells more than anything. His short blade and small stature made it hard for him to get in close.

Even when he got in close his blade wasn’t the best at dealing damage.

His small size also made it hard for enemies to hit him, so he frequently dashed around the field drawing fire away from Ann.

He used his slingshot and a few wind spells to do damage. The benefit of his slingshot over their weapons was that it was nearly impossible to run out of ammo. He could shatter a brick and get a whole new supply of bullets.

The rocks weren’t as powerful as Morgana’s homemade ammo, but they still worked. He kept most of the homemade stuff for the bigger enemies and just used rocks for the smaller ones.

The slingshot hit a lot harder than he thought too, and it was deadly accurate. Morgana had knocked enemies vision out more times than Akira could count.

His healing spells were also an amazing boost.

Akira was the ‘wildcard’ of the group. His ability to use multiple personas allowed for him to target enemy weaknesses as well as perform any role.

He was also the strongest by far. His physical strength was higher, his instincts were sharper, his versatility was higher. For the things they beat him in he made up for it in other places.

Ryuji was faster, but Akira could launch himself harder.

Ann had stronger spells, but he could use a wider variety of spells.

Morgana had more knowledge, but he learned quick and his instincts were sharper.

He out damaged them greatly.

He was sneaky too. He would routinely get close to the enemies without them noticing and surprise them from behind.

He was the team’s assassin or rage filled tank. Those were his favorite roles, but he could do any.

The downside to his ability was that switching personas drained his ‘Spirit Points’, or mana. Morgana said the correct term was Spirit Points, but that felt weird to say. They just used both.

His ‘Spirit Points’ were drained a little every time he went from one to the other. He had to be careful not to switch too many times or he would run out entirely.

He had the second least amount. Ann had the most, Morgana second, and Ryuji last. Ryuji’s was incredibly low. He could barely fight at a distance.

Another benefit to Akira was that he could fuse new Personas.

Fusion was unnatural and made him extremely uncomfortable originally. It involved using a guillotine to cut off the Persona’s heads and that would fuse together.

Igor said they felt no pain, but they screamed the whole time. The new persona never brought it up, so maybe they didn’t. He didn’t know.

Every persona could be fused to make a new one. Except for Arsene.

Arsene was different. As Igor explained, and showed, fusing Arsene with another persona just resulted in a stronger Arsene.

He nearly had a breakdown when he forcibly showed Akira Arsene’s ability. His two tiny guards went into his cell and beat him for acting up.

They were more powerful than he ever imagined. Their strength was mind-shattering.

And Igor was even more so. If he trained for years, maybe he could beat the twins. But he could never beat Igor.

If the twins were on a different level, Igor was in a different dimension.

There was an unspoken, monstrous, air about him. It was terrifying.

Arsene couldn’t learn most skills, just spells of curse, fire, a few physical attacks, and some buffs.

It was limiting, but the flipside was Arsene had more potential than any other Persona.

His special status came from their connection. It was a little relieving. Arsene was more a part of him than any other persona. Their emotional bond was strong.

Ryuji let out a loud yawn, “That’s the last of them, what do we do now leader?” He asked.

They had made it far today, but not far enough. However, they couldn’t continue on.

“We go back. It’s getting late and according to the map we still have another few halls to go. We can finish this up next time.”

Ann chimed in, “Whatever you say, I need to go take a bath anyways.”

They would be able to reach the treasure room with one more push. They just needed to rest. There would be stronger shadows ahead, and they were all low on energy and out of ammo.

They needed to talk too.

They would need a good alabi next time they came to the metaverse. They needed to train.

There had been way too many problems. If this happened again, someone would die.

It was hard to admit, but he wasn’t a good leader. The others never called him out on it, but his strategies were incredibly simple, not well executed, and dangerous in some cases.

The only thing he was good at was taking command. He would need to study strategies to stop putting them in so much danger.

But he doubted there were any battle strategies for people with superpowers. He would need to think outside the box.

The only scheme they stuck to was keeping enemies away from Ann, and then relying on instincts from there. It worked for weaker enemies, but when it failed, it really failed. Ann almost lost her leg when it did.

They all had crippling weaknesses.

Ryuji’s was too reliant on instincts and lost himself. He would frequently get wrapped up in what he was doing and get out of position.

Morgana thought way too highly of himself. He thought he was stronger, faster, and smarter than the rest of them. He would try to fight stronger enemies alone and fail, requiring one of them to come to his aid.

When they both did this at the same time, the results were deadly.

One fight they left Ann wide open so they could fight their own battles. Akira had to try and stop two enemies from attacking her at once.

He failed and she nearly lost her leg. Her submachine gun was the only reason she was still alive.

He chewed the two of them out after that.

He had never felt so disappointed and angry. It was a new form of rage he had never experienced before. He never had people to be disappointed by.

The two straightened up and didn’t make that mistake again.

Ann’s problem was her rage. She would get mad and try to rush in closer.

It was dangerous and he had to tell her off as well. She couldn’t take those risks. She was the only one whose weapon couldn’t be used to defend herself either.

They all had solid steel weapons to block with, but if an enemy rushed her the best she could do was put up her gun, which didn’t make for a great shield and was a slow process. It took a few seconds to get the gun out, a few seconds that could mean life or death.

Her lack of defense and health meant she needed to stay back. She operated best at long range and needed to accept it.

All said, they had done good today.

They retreated from the palace, encountering no opposition on the way.

A curious thing happened every time they beat a significant shadow. Everytime they took one down, all the weaker persona would flee from them when they returned.

It made traveling back to their old stopping points much easier.

They could still hunt the weak ones for items or money if they needed to.

The strongest shadow in an area was almost always by a break room as well, making it even more convenient.

They were soon back in the real world.

Noticeably in the same exact spot as they left. He had left a mark with his shoe when they went in, and his shoe was in the exact same place.

Even though they exited the metaverse in front of the school, they were now a few blocks away in an alley.

He would need to test that more.

What was the range on entering the metaverse? Could he exit from other locations? He would look into it when he went home.

“I’m soooo hungry.” Morgana moaned and lay on his belly, “Someone take me to get foooood.”

Akira was starving too.

“Alright alright, I’ll take ya.” Ryuji said. His stomach growled in agreement and he smiled sheepishly, “Any of you guys wanna come.”

“I’d prefer if Lady Ann took me.”

“Yeah? Then never mind, I’ll just go by myself.”

“It was just a joke!” The cat said, panicked, “Lady Ann! You’re coming as well right? My treat, well, Joker’s treat!”

Oh yeah.

The cat glared at him.

Most of his money would be going to the cat.

Money was split up simply. A four way split. Everyone could do whatever they wanted with their money, it was their problem.

Ann nodded, “Yeah sure, you comin too Akira?”

Well, he had nothing else to do and was starving. He nodded.

“Great!” Ann said clapping. “Where do you guys wanna go?”

Ryuji jumped from foot to foot, “Ooh, ooh, there’s this new ramen place that just opened down the street!”

Morgana groaned, “I need fish, let’s go somewhere with fish!”

“Yeah, but you’re a cat so you have to go where we want.”

“I’M NOT A CAT! I demand respect! Akira! Carry me.” He leapt up onto Akira’s shoulders. He stared down at Ryuji, “I look down on you peasant.”

Ryuji growled and was about to respond.

“How about,” Ann cut in, stopping the fight. “Let’s just walk and see what we find.”

They agreed and managed to find a chain restaurant a few blocks away.

They were quickly seated in a booth near the back. A light hum of conversation filled the air.

“So, Akira, how are you and the prez?” Ryuji asked with a sly smirk and eye wiggle, “I’ve been hearing some rumors.”

He coughed awkwardly into his hand. If Sae ever heard an inkling of those rumors, he might get murdered.

Before he could speak, Ann jumped in “What about you Ryuji,” She said with a teasing smile, “I’m not hearing any rumors about you and any girls.”

He blushed brightly, “Hey! I’m trying my best, alright!” He stammered out.

“Come on Ryuji,” Morgana joined in, “And don’t say you have a girlfriend we’ve never met?”

“Hey! It’s not like you’re doing any better!”

Morgana laughed, “I’m not even in my human body and I’m doing better than you! Girls are constantly calling me cute and asking to pet me, when's the last time a girl called you cute?”

Jeez, this was a murder.

He brought it on himself though.

“No, his girlfriend just goes to a different school guys. That’s why no one’s ever seen her.” Ann teased and elbowed Ryuji in the ribs.

Ryuji was taking it well, “Ugh, well, where’s your boyfriend huh? I don’t see any guys with you.”

Ann’s face turned deadpan, “Really Ryuji? I’m a professional model, I have more guys interested in me than I could have ever wanted. If I wanted a boyfriend, I could get one in a heartbeat.”

Ryuji opened and closed his mouth a few times.

She was right. Akira had no doubt that Ann could date anyone she wanted.

Ann burst into laughter while Ryuji hung his head, beaten.

Ann wiped at her eye, “But for real Akira, what is Makoto like? Is there something going on there we didn’t get to talk about? She is cute.” She finished with a teasing smirk.

“Uh, she’s fine. She’s really smart, as everyone knows. She’s pretty helpful. She’s nice I guess, I don’t know, we don’t talk about anything but school.”

Ryuji chimed in, “She inta bad boys?”

He flexed his biceps, drawing a laugh from Ann and Morgana.

Ann continued, “Calm down Ryuji, you’re the least ‘bad boy’ at this table, including me.”

Ryuji deflated, head sinking.

Ann continued, “You live with her though, like, what's she like out of school?”

Ryuji’s head shot up, “You live with the prez!? How did I not hear about this!?”

Ann shushed him and slapped his shoulder, “Keep it down dimwit! Akira doesn’t want people knowing!”

“Why?” Ryuji asked confused.

He spoke up, “I just don’t want her to have to deal with that drama.”

Ryuji’s seemed to understand, “Gotcha. But why do you live with her?”

He sighed and leaned back, “Her older sister is my parole officer. And, I don’t really live with Makoto. I never interact with her, I see her once a day, maybe? And only for a few seconds.”

“Why?” Ann asked.

“Her sister, Sae, doesn’t want me spending any time with her.”

They all got the messaged. Morgana already knew this though.

“That really pisses me off dude.” Ryuji added and crossed his arms. “Like, everyone thinks you’re this awful guy and it really bugs me.”

Ann spoke up, “Yeah it gets to me too. I just wanna tell those idiots in school to shut up.”

He readjusted, “Don’t worry about it.”

He didn’t want to talk further.

Luckily, the waitress interrupted them to get their orders. That derailed the conversation and the other three began to bicker and make jokes.

Akira felt comfortable, but he wasn’t sure how to add. He hadn’t had friends in a long time.

Ryuji and Ann clearly had a dynamic. They had known each other for years and were easily reminiscing and making jokes about past experiences.

Morgana was a loudmouth who butted into the conversation and easily blended into the group. He had already formed his own dynamic with the two of them.

But Akira… he wasn’t used to this. He hasn’t had a real friend in a long time, possibly ever. Having a good friend in grade school was different from high school.

He could come up with threats quickly, he was used to that, but not friendly conversation.

Luckily they didn’t seem to mind, or were understanding. They would ask him a question once in a while to drag him into the conversation.

But he didn’t mind being on the outside. He was used to it. Maybe with time he would get better with this, but for now he was fine just watching.

This continued for awhile, making jokes at each others expenses, before the waitress came back and they paid their checks. He paid for Morgana and his.

“That hit the spooooot.” Ryuji said, stressing the last word. He patted his stomach in appreciation.

“I am stuffed.” Ann added, emphasizing every word “Ugh, I wanna go to sleep. I’ll catch you guys tomorrow, I gotta get going.” Ann scooted out of the seat and trudged away, exhausted.

“Same dude, I’ll text you later. I think my mom wants you to come over sometime soon for dinner, so let me know when you’re free.” Ryuji followed her out.

He didn’t expect that. This wouldn’t be like the last time he got dinner with someone’s mom, he would make sure of it.

Morgana hopped into his bag and they were off.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 20
Night
Wednesday
Rainy

He was broke again.

He needed to find a better way to make money. On a whim he called a few places that were advertising part time work in the train station. A flower shop, a convenience store, and a beef bowl restaurant.

All three had responded positively and the flower shop had asked if he was available to come in the next day.

He needed some quick money to get him through the week, until he could go back to the metaverse, so he accepted.

He was currently resting in ‘his room’ with Morgana. He was exhausted, but he needed to test a few things.

“Okay, you ready?” He asked Morgana, who nodded.

They were going to test the entrance and exit rules of the metaverse. Morgana had told him that every palace had vastly different rules for everything. He needed to find the limits of Kamoshida’s, and if they could be abused.

He hid in the bathroom while Morgana was in the closet, paws over his ears.

He said the words and was teleported away.

After some testing he had come to a few conclusions.

One, he could enter Kamoshida’s palace from far away places and would arrive in the metaverse where he entered. He could leave from anywhere outside the palace too, but he would always end up where he entered.

Two, distance was distorted in the metaverse. It was quicker to travel to the palace than away from it. It didn’t make sense and was sort of inconsistent.

Three, time traveled simultaneously between the metaverse and real life.

Four, Kamoshida didn’t have to know the location for it to exist in the metaverse. Kamoshida didn’t know ‘his room’ or Sae’s apartment, but they existed in the metaverse. There were many missing details, but the general structure was there.

Five, the battle damage they took only lasted the session they were in. Going in a second time fixed all the tears and rips in his clothes.

Six, his fatigue carried over. He was just as exhausted in the metaverse as he was in reality. Coming back was even worse too, it was an exponential exhaustion. He nearly collapsed to the floor coming back.

He needed to test one last thing.

“You ready?” He asked. He was lying in his bed, ready to go to sleep.

“This isn’t smart Akira, but yes.”

Morgana ran into the closet again.

He said the words.

Then exited the metaverse.

He blacked out.
_________________________________________________________________________

April 21
Early morning
Wednesday
Rainy

His phone went off.

He shot up, panting and clutching at his heart.

Wow.

So three times in the metaverse was his limit. Hitting three would make him blackout.

His muscles hurt. Way more than they did after leaving the metaverse just once.

Way more than even going in twice.

He was still tired, even after hours of rest.

Maybe more training could make this easier? He doubted it. The act of exiting by itself was draining.

Morgana yawned awake, then moved off to the side to sleep more.

He got up and got ready for the day. He was tired, but he needed to go to the gym anyways.

He left the apartment quickly, hopefully before Sae or Makoto could get up.

He took the elevator down. Morgana lay asleep in his backpack.

The door slid opened and he looked out. Makoto sat on one of the couches of to the side.

That wasn’t good.

He took a step back, maybe she wouldn’t-

Nope. Her head whipped towards the dinging elevator.

God damnit. There was no escape

“Waiting for Sae?” He asked. He really hoped Sae wasn’t there. The room was small, but maybe she was hiding? There wasn’t anywhere to hide, behind the couch? No, that was paranoid and stupid.

But what if?

“No, she leaves in an hour. You’re here a lot earlier than I thought you would be.” She said, checking her phone.

What? Was she waiting for him?

A blush erupted on her face, “I mean, it’s not a problem, it’s just I thought you might sleep in more.” She stammered out.

Awkwardness filled the room making him very uncomfortable.

“Right.” He responded slowly, “Well, I work out before school. I’m busy after.” He scratched at the back of his head awkwardly.

He went to leave. Sae could come out the other elevator any second.

“I usually go after.” She said rapidly while standing, “But, I wanted to try going before. I’m having to cram more after school than I’m used to and get tired.”

Uhhhh.

This wasn’t looking good.

Makoto awkwardly shuffled her feet while he stood in the lobby.

Was she expecting him to say something? Shit, he should say something.

She spoke up, “I was just, uh,” She stammered, “Can I come with you? I assume you go to the gym down the street.”

She gave him an awkward smile.

He should say no.

But it would be incredibly awkward to reject her. He had nowhere to hide or run of to, she had him cornered.

And she had been tutoring him every day, free of charge.

But her sister also could ruin his life.

A difficult position.

“Uh, sure.”

“Great!” She said, smiling and straightened up. She walked towards him and they left together.

He took a good look at her. She was wearing work out cloths. She wore a clean t-shirt with some brand name on it, a pair of tight yoga pants, and some stylish running shoes. She looked good, and ready to work out.

She looked like she was in really good shape too. He had to avert his eyes before she could catch him staring at her. But, once or twice, he ‘accidently’ let his eyes droop down to peek. She must have done a lot of lower body workouts.

He had just rolled out of bed and was wearing one of the few ratty T-shirts he owned. It had a few tears in it, but it was fresh at least. His gym shorts were a little too small, but that came with using year old clothes.

He wasn’t wearing his glasses. There was no point to it right now. He didn’t think he would be interacting with anyone this morning.

They awkwardly walked together to the gym. Neither spoke the whole way. His eyes ‘accidently’ fell down once or twice when he would walk behind her. He didn’t regret letting her come along as much.

They entered and scanned in. He went to the back, where the free weights were. He really hoped she wouldn’t follow him.

She followed him.

“So,” She began awkwardly, “What are you working out today?”

He held back a sigh, “Uh, it’s arm day, so probably curls and some other things” He finished and walked to the rack containing barbells.

Makoto followed.

He continued, “So, what are you working out today?”

“Oh,” She looked surprised, “Well, I normally do cardio or Aikido. We do a lot of bodyweight exercises with it, but sometimes Sensei takes us to work out with the free weights. I’m not super well versed in them though, can you show me some?”

He nodded. So she was joining him today.

He grabbed the 120 pound barbell and walked to the mirror. Makoto grabbed the fifty pound and struggled to follow.

That was too much weight for her.

She couldn’t even get the bar to budge.

He spoke up, “You can go lighter. It’s not a big deal.”

A lot of people were embarrassed not lifting huge amounts. He was too when he started, but he got over that after nearly dying trying to squat twice his bodyweight.

That was a really dumb moment. Luckily, he had a gym partner then who saved him from himself. This was all before the weight room got closed off.

She blushed and returned the weight. She brought the 25 pound barbell back with her. She was able to do a few sets with him, neither said anything.

He had told her she could go lighter, but he was pushing himself. His arms burned as he placed the weight down. His body was so sore, but his pride was making him show off.

They moved to a bench to do lying tricep extensions. Makoto spoke up “So, uh, how was the restaurant Sakamoto-san wanted the show you?” She asked.

He switched to the 100 pound bar and she kept the 25.

He had to think for a moment before he remembered his lie, “It was good. Nothing spectacular.”

She nodded as he started his set. She stood over him to make sure he didn’t drop the weight on himself. It was a little awkward at first, but he soon got over it.

They spent the rest of the workout like that, switching off spotting when necessary. They made small talk, but it wasn’t consistent.

She was giving it her all, which was driving him to work harder too. She was a good work out partner.

They finished the workout and seperated. Both needed to shower. Not together, obviously. Not that he would have said no. He needed to stop this train of thought.

He finished before her and waited. They were going to the same place after all.

Sae should have been at work already, so they wouldn’t run into her.

Makoto eventually came out, dressed in her Shujin uniform. She looked immaculate.

How? He never looked that good after the gym. Well, he never looked that good in general.

“Ready?” She asked.

They left together and walked to the subway station. The ride to school was even more packed than usual.

He stood, blushing, as he was pressed into Makoto.

He tried to give her some space, but with so many people on the train they were still closely touching. People would bump into him and push them closer together. She was clearly blushing as well.

More people entered. She was pushed up right against him. There was no room in between them. Her head was resting against his chest, and he could feel hers against his abdomen. They were both blushing brightly.

They rushed out as soon as the subway stopped.

Their walk to Shujin was relatively silent. Makoto would comment on a restaurant or store they would pass, and he would try to respond. The conversation never led anywhere.

She wasn’t as easy to talk to as Ann. To be fair, Ann dominated the conversation and didn’t expect much from him. Makoto seemed to rely on him to carry the conversation, something he couldn’t do.

But he tried, “So, uh, how’s Aikido.”

She perked up “Oh! Aikido!” She started enthusiastically, “It’s great!”

He waited, but she didn’t continue.

“So,” He tried again, “When did you start?”

“A few years ago. Sis wanted me to learn self defense, because I would be traveling to school alone soon, so she enrolled me in a class down the street. I loved it and have been going ever since. Do you know any self-defense?”

Well, kind of.

“Mostly just basic boxing and grappling techniques. I just do what feels natural and go from there.”

He knew a lot of dirty fighting too, but he wouldn’t mention that.

She smiled, “You should come to a class with me, Sensei always accepts new students. The first lesson is free too.”

Maybe. New ways to fight could be useful. But he should spend as little time with her as possible.

“I’ll try.”

“You should, it’s a lot of fun. I’m sure sensei would love you.”

She seemed genuinely interested in this topic. This was the best conversation they had so far.

“Sometime soon-”

He stopped as he overheard a conversation about them.

“What’s the president doing with him.” One girl whispered.

“I guess she does like bad boys huh, can’t blame her.” The other whispered, giggling.

He looked at them and they twisted away. Good.

They arrived at the school’s entrance. Makoto hesitated before entering the building, “So, will I see you after school today.” She asked.

“Not today. I have something after school, but tomorrow.”

She looked disappointed, but nodded, “Alright, catch you later.” She walked inside.

That wasn’t too bad. It had been incredibly awkward and forced, but was bearable. If Sae found out he would get shot, but he had… enjoyed himself.

It would make his mornings much more difficult if she wanted to join him again. He couldn’t say no and he didn’t want to get up earlier to try and avoid her.

Hopefully this was a one time thing.

Makoto was nice, and really cute, but the constant threat of her sister would always keep a distance between them. Maybe in a different world, with different situations, they could become better friends. But not in this one.
___________________________________________________________________________

April 21
After school
Wednesday
Rainy

“Hey there! Are you the new part-timer?” A polite voice called out.

It came from a young woman, mid twenties or so, wearing a formal white shirt, a brown skirt with blue jeans coming out the bottom, and solid black sneakers. Her brown hair was pulled into a tight, neat, bun on the back of her head. Only a few strands of hair lay across her forehead.

“Yes, I start today right?”

She was taller than most girls and came up to his chin.

She smiled brightly, “Yup! I’m Hanasaki, the owner of this place! So, since today’s your first day me and the other temp will do everything and you just watch! Here’s an apron, can you go change in a bathroom nearby?”

Oh. Shoot.

His undershirt still had blood stains.

There was a clothing store nearby. He would buy a new shirt and no one would know.

He went and got bought the first clean, white, dress shirt he found. It was tight on him, but looked good.

He tightened the cuffs and flexed. It did look good.

He went back to the flower shop with his apron on.

It looked like the other temp worker was there.

She was a girl about his age. She had chin-length curly light auburn hair and brown eyes. She wore a wore a tight long-sleeved white shirt, blue jeans, and an apron. She had black, platform shoes, on instead of sneakers.

She was really cute. She held herself with an elegance he was unaccustomed to.

He had met a lot of cute girls outside of Juvie. Was everywhere like this?

She smiled brightly at him, so he tried to smile back.

They met eyes and her smile fell. Fear took over her features.

That couldn’t be good.

Was his smile that bad?

“Akira! You look great!” Hanasaki said, not noticing the girl’s fear. “This is your superior, Haru. Just do everything she does just like she does. She’s the best temp I’ve ever had, if you listen to her you’ll go far! I gotta run for a sec to get a delivery, I’ll be back in 10.” She finished and scurried away.

He walked towards Haru slowly. The fear was gone, but replaced with agitation. He noticed that he was much taller than her, she only reached the tops of his shoulders.

“Hello Haru-san, I’m Akira. I hope to learn a lot from you.” He said with a bow. No point in being rude.

“Oh, yeah. Uh, well, just, uh… so with flowers-” She stumbled out while fidgeting with the hem of her apron.

Why was she so-

Oh. She must be a Shujin student.

“You go to Shujin right?” He asked, interrupting her.

She nodded and bit her lip.

He let out a sigh. Why did life do this to him?

He crossed his arms and leaned back, “Alright. Well, the rumors aren’t true. Any of them. Trust me or don’t, I don’t care. But, just don’t tell our boss about my past. I need this job.”

He did. At least until he went back to the metaverse. This place had the best pay per hour as well.

It was also a useful cover if anyone ever asked how he got so much money.

She looked torn, so he continued, “I won’t bother you. I don’t need to talk to you, I’ll do my thing, you do yours. I won’t get in your way.”

That seemed to calm her down. Which was good, he didn’t want any problems.

“I’m sorry Akira-san,” She said with a very gentle voice.

His heart shot into his throat. She was going to tell their boss.

She continued, “I didn’t mean to come off so judgemental. I’ve never met you and your past is your past, I didn’t mean to make you so uncomfortable.”

Oh, good. He calmed down.

She kept going, “I won’t tell if you don’t anyone that I work here. I like this job and I don’t want any problems.”

Why would that be a problem? Maybe something to do with her parents?

Well, he wouldn’t pry. It wasn’t his problem.

He nodded, and she smiled again. She had a really cute smile.

“Well,” She started, “Now that’s over with, let’s try this again. I’m Haru, nice to meet you.”

“Akira. Likewise.”

They bowed to each other. Afterwards she immediately took control of the situation and began telling him everything he needed to know.

She was incredibly knowledgeable about plants. He could barely keep up. She offered to send him a cheat sheet she made a while back, when she started working, so they traded numbers.

He just got a person’s number whose life he didn’t save or he didn’t live with. He was moving up in the world. And from a cute girl too.

The boss came back and took over with Haru. He couldn’t do much, but made himself useful by lifting the heavy boxes in the storage room. Apparently it was a two-three person job before he came.

His muscles were incredibly sore, but he pushed through anyways. He needed to be useful.

 

He blushed brightly when they cheered for him as he carried a heavy bag of fertilizer from the back.

Haru was one of the nicest people he had ever met. It was nearly ridiculous how easily she ignored his past and just talked to him.

Hanasaki left halfway through his shift to go do inventory, leaving the two of them alone.

They made small talk about Shujin and classes. She was a third year student and had a lot of advice to share. Most of it was useless. He would never be able to get on a teacher’s good sides, but he appreciated the effort.

She was funny too. She made little, sly, jokes that poked fun at him. She made him laugh a few times, something he wasn’t used to.

He wasn’t good at replying. She was a lot quicker with quips than him.

They both worked until closing.

“Great work today guys!” Hanasaki said, “Akira, really, great first day! You’re strength is gonna come in handy! Text me next time you can come in, I’ll catch you guys later!” She said and waived as she left.

“I’m going to go change, would you mind waiting for me Akira?” Haru asked.

He nodded. She smiled and he felt his face heat up.

He really wasn’t good with girls.

She came back a few minutes later. She now wore a long white pair of tights with stars on them, a slightly unzipped pink turtleneck cardigan with short puffed sleeves, a long-sleeved white undershirt, and a Shujin skirt with the same shoes.

She looked very fashionable.

She smiled at him again, which sent a weird warmth through his stomach. She nodded towards the exit and he followed her.

She spoke up, “You really did do good today Akira, not many temps even put in half as much effort. Even if you don’t know what a tulip is.” She finished with a sly smile.

He blushed brighter, “I know what a tulip is. I just, didn’t know they looked like that.”

“Then why did you hand me a daffodil?”

He blushed more, “I got confused.”

She giggled, “Okay, okay, I’ll let it go. For now.”

He let out a fake sigh of relief.

“Why did you decide to work at a flower shop if you don’t know much about flowers?” She asked, genuinely curious.

“They would pay me.”

She mouthed a silent ‘Oh’, “That makes sense. I wanted to work here because I love gardening, if you couldn’t tell.”

He could. She knew everything about the subject.

They cleared the staircase and made it to the main street. Sae hadn’t text him to tell him that he could come home, so he was going to go find dinner. He was unsure where Haru was going.

A horn honked loudly across the street. He looked to find it came from a limo. Why was a limo honking?

The window in the back rolled down slowly. A well groomed man’s face stuck out, “Haru! My dear! Would you please hurry!” A voice called from the limo. There was an edge to the voice, he was getting upset.

He caught the man’s gaze. The man’s eyes widened drastically, before he opened the door and strolled out, a fake smile plastered on his face. He strolled up to them, calm and confident. His attitude screamed smug and arrogant.

Who was this guy? He looked towards Haru who was blushing deeply.

She seemed to shrink into herself.

“You weren’t supposed to come here.” She spoke softly.

His fake smile grew, “How could I not come pick up my darling bride after a day of shopping-”

“Fiance.” She interrupted softly.

His body stiffened and his fist clenched.

“I meant fiance, yes.” He said agitated, “And who are you?”

Akira got a good look at him. He was wearing a white business suit, a violet undershirt, black tie, and black dress shoes. He had brown, well maintained, hair and brown eyes.

He only came up to the bottom of Akira’s nose, even with his height-enhancing dress shoes.

He was angry. Saying the wrong thing here would set him off.

Normally this was where Akira shined. But this guy struck Akira as the kind of person who would sue him for even looking at him wrong. That had already ruined his life once. He would need to keep himself contained.

He went to speak up.

“He’s a friend from school.” Haru cut in anxiously.

“Oh, just a school huh, what’s your name?” He spoke mockingly.

He really shouldn’t give this guy his real name.

“Mishima.”

Not his problem.

“Well then, Mishima, would you leave me and my fiance alone, we really need to chat.” He stressed the words harder as he reached the end of the sentence.

The man grabbed Haru’s wrist, harder than necessary, and went to pull her away.

Before Akira could step in, Haru yanked her wrist out, “You’re not supposed to be here. We talked about this.” She whispered angrily. She was trying to argue, but was clearly intimidated. She hunched over and let the man tower over her.

Akire could still overhear.

“We did, and then I find you’re spending time with another man? What are you two up to? Maybe I need to watch over you closer.” He replied in a hurried whisper.

She blushed brightly, embarrassed. “We’re not doing anything! I would never do anything! We’re just friends!”

He got closer to her. His forehead almost touched the top of her head. Haru looked at their feet, not meeting the man’s eyes. “And we talked about that too. You’re making a fool out of me, let’s talk about this more on the ride home. Some people,” He spat out, “Might overhear and misinterpret this lover’s quarrel.”

He glared daggers at Akira.

Akira didn’t glare back, but met his eyes until the man looked away.

But not every problem could be solved with violence. Starting a fight wouldn’t help her. He didn’t want to make the man angier and more abusive.

But he really wanted to start one.

“Look, Mishima.” The guy spoke up and took a step towards him. He was now between Akira and Haru. “Don’t talk to my Fiance again. Find some other girl to share your pervisions with. I’m sure you can find another.”

Haru blushed fiercely, “We’re just friends! We met today!”

The guy scoffed, “Yeah, met him today, maybe in the bathroom.”

Haru stammered, extremely embarrassed.

Akira needed to speak up.

Arsene was rumbling in the back of his mind.

“We did just meet today. Nothing happened and you need to leave her alone.”

That enraged the man, “Yeah? Or what?”

He tried to step forward threateningly, but Akira stepped forward too. The guy stepped back instead and tsk’d.

“Just get to the limo. We need to get going.” He strode back to the limo.

As he got in he shot Akira a fierce glare.

Akira ignored him and looked back at Haru.

Haru was blushing fiercely, “I’m sorry Akira. I really didn’t want that to happen. He’s not like this normally. Just… well I’ll see you next time. I’ll text you the cheat sheet.” She spoke extremely softly and jogged to the limo

That was clearly an unhealthy relationship. He wanted to do more, but he couldn’t solve everyone’s problem instantly. He couldn’t even solve his own.

He watched the limo drive away.

He could feel the man’s eyes on him the whole way, even if he couldn’t see through the tinted glass.

He squeezed his fist until it hurt. The man didn’t know how lucky he was. If they met again the man wouldn’t get off so easily.

He needed to eat. He walked away to go find dinner.
__________________________________________________________________________

A/N

Another chapter down!

I wanted to just get this one out, as I won’t have any free time for like 3 days and it was basically done. I edited it a lot, but not as much as usual. If there's any significant problems I’m sorry but DM me or leave a review and I’ll try to address it.

This chapter wasn’t as action packed as the others, but there’s nothing I could do. It did let me get through 2 in-game days, so that’s good.

The cliffhanger wasn’t the strongest, but there’s really big plans for the next few chapters. This one was already at 11k words and had a lot of events. I thought about adding more, but instead I’ll just save it all until next chapter.

The next one should be out in the same timeframe. I hope to get it out quicker, as I finished with most of my applications and tests, but no promises.

The arc is speeding along and things are only getting better.

There was a lot of metaverse development this chapter. I hoped to set some more rules for the metaverse, some that are understandable, and some that are just assumptions. The metaverse is wild though, so don’t expect the rules to always stay the same.

This was also the first metaverse battle I’ve ever written. I hope it showed that everyone has different fighting tactics. They don’t perfectly match the game, but they are important for lore and battle scenes.

I gave everyone a different fighting style based on personality and weapons.

There’s a lot they need to work on in the metaverse too. I went over a lot of it, but they aren’t amazing fighters or even well coordinated. This whole thing is new, so why would they be good?

I actually didn’t think I’d like writing metaverse fights, but it was actually a lot of fun. I plan on adding more later.

Any metaverse fight I add will be story relevant though. I don’t want multiple pages dedicated to a worthless fight. Maybe it would be cool, but there’s other things I can use to fill that space.

Makoto and Akira are spending time together. Where’s that gonna go?

Also Haru got introduced. It’s not the most original place to introduce them, but it’s also the most logical.

I also feel like Haru has a teasing side to her. She didn’t get a lot of screen time in game, being relegated to a secondary role in nearly every situation. But I feel like she's the kind of person who would take friendly jabs at people.

I do love Haru too though.

Well that’s it. I hope you guys like the story. The next few chapters will be great and I’m super excited to write them! So I’ll see you guys next time! Please feel free to leave a review! Reading them always makes my day and drives me to write more! Knowing someone likes my work is always a great feeling!

See you next time!

Chapter Text

April 22
After School
Friday
Cloudy

“Akira-san?” A voice called out.

He turned to find Haru walking towards him. She was wearing her outfit with a pink cardigan, the same as yesterday.

“Hey, what’s up?” He responded.

They hadn’t left each other on a good note yesterday.

“Oh, nothing. Just saying hi. And that I’m doing fine after… you know. Nothing’s wrong or anything, I’m not in any trouble or danger. But, please don’t tell anyone about it either.”

She shuffled her feet nervously.

There was nothing he could do, so he nodded, even if he wanted to do something.

A bright smile grew on her face and they began making small talk about life in Tokyo.

She didn’t seem to care much about what people would think of her talking to him.

He imagined she was one of the more popular girls in school. He could easily see an attractive, nice, funny girl like herself being well liked within the school.

Which made it weird that she was talking to him.

“Akira-kun?” A new girl’s voice called out.

He turned his head towards it. It came from a girl he had never talked to.

She was attractive, probably one of the more attractive girls in school. Beautiful even. She had long silky black hair, wide eyes, and a cute smile. She was small, smaller than Haru, and thus he towered over her.

Who was she, he had never met her before.

He looked at her expectantly.

Was he supposed to say something?

She wasn’t fazed by the silence, “You can call me Mitsuko, how’s it going?”

Mitsuko, he knew that name. She was one of the popular girls in school. He regularly heard her name came up in conversations she wasn’t a part of.

But he wasn’t alone in his confusion, Haru’s face mirrored his.

“Good.” He answered slowly.

“That’s great!” She responded swiftly while smiling brightly, “I was just wondering, are you free this Sunday?”

That caught him off guard.

He looked confusedly at Haru, who looked back just as bewildered.

It took a moment to catch himself, “Why?”

She continued to smile at him, she had a very nice smile, “I was just wondering if you would go with me to a party at the Downtown Tokyo Yacht Club? Actually, Haru, you’ll be there too right?”

Haru?

He looked at her and they met eyes. She broke the contact and looked back towards Mitsuko before hesitantly nodding.

The new girl continued, “Great! She hasn’t asked you to come already, has she?”

He shook his head no.

“So, you’re free then? I can have a driver pick you up? What’s your address?”

“Wait. Why are you asking me?”

This was all very confusing and seemingly out of nowhere.

Her smile intensified, but her eyes shot towards the ground. She shyly made circles in the ground with her feet. “I’ve actually thought you were pretty cute since you first arrived, but I didn’t have the guts to say anything. I thought Haru-Chan was going to ask you out, so I stepped in. Sorry if you were Haru-chan.” She finished and flashed a weak smile at the girl.

The meekness didn’t seem to fit her well. It seemed a bit like an act.

“I wasn’t, don’t worry.” Haru said.

“So then you’re free Akira-kun?”

They were both looking at him expectantly.

“Uh, yeah. I guess I’m free Sunday.”

She clapped her hands together in excitement, “Great! Here! Let’s trade numbers and I’ll get the details from you! Do you have a suit?”

He shook his head no.

“I’ll have my driver get you one. He’ll take you to a tailor and get a rental, and I’ll even have them make you one for you!”

This girl was doing a lot to get this date. She seemed extremely giddy.

He had no idea why, but a free meal, a free suit, and a trip to the famed Downtown Tokyo Yacht Club? That place was supposed to be extremely ritzy.

His interest pushed him into accepting.

They traded contact information and she seemed to skip away.

It looked like he had a date for Sunday.

Something he never thought would happen.

He looked towards Haru, “Can you tell me about this party?”

Haru let out a sigh, “It’s a big formal gathering. Mitsuko's from a very rich family and so they get invited to these a lot. For me, it’s just another one of the things that my dad makes me go to.”

She didn’t supply any more information about her father, so he assumed she didn’t want to talk about it.

He wouldn’t push, but this meant Haru was very rich.

She continued, “You should have fun. Mitsuko is a… nice girl.”

Haru seemed like she had something she really wanted to say, but couldn’t bring herself to.

He wasn’t one to pry however. It was probably about her father.

He would accept the free meal and suit and then move on with his life.

He checked his phone. He would be meeting with Ann and Ryuji soon to get lunch and go over metaverse things.

He had to cancel on Makoto again. It didn’t matter if he finished his homework on time if he was expelled.

On that note, he saw Makoto walking down the hall and around a corner. She seemed to not notice him, so he ignored her.

He needed to get going. He gave a quick goodbye to Haru, telling her he was excited to see her Sunday, and walked away.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 22
After School
Friday
Cloudy

She rounded the corner.

What was Akira doing with the two richest girls in school? What was he getting himself into?

Two weeks in and he was definitely more popular than her.

Haru was nice. She stuck to herself, the two of them had never interacted, but no one ever said anything bad about her.

Some people around school even loved her, especially the faculty. She was incredibly kind and polite. If she was more outgoing, she would be the most popular girl in school.

But she stuck to herself instead. Makoto understood, doing so herself. Sometimes people preferred to be alone.

But Mitsuko was much different. She was the among the most popular girls in school, if not the most popular, and that was all she cared about. Image was the most important thing in the world to her.

So why was she talking to Akira? He couldn’t help make her more popular. Or could he? She didn’t understand how popularity worked sometimes.

Makoto didn’t know, but she didn’t like it. She had read enough student complaints to know the girl was bad news. She hid behind her beauty, money, and charm, but the girl could get real nasty, real quick. She could be a bully.

Akira should stay away from her, but he probably didn’t know that. Maybe she’d tell him later. Maybe. He might not want to hear that, or he already knew. She didn’t want to offend him.

That was a matter for later however. Right now was something more important.

She took a deep breath and steadied herself. She knocked on the door and heard a male voice call out for her to come in.

She entered the office.

There were a handful of coaches and students in there. Around five or six. But the most important one was in the corner.

Kamoshida sat there reading through a notebook. He sat hunched over and barely noticed her as she moved towards him, only turning towards her at the last moment.

He looked a lot more tired than usual. There were deep bags under his eyes.

“Niijima-san? To what do I owe the pleasure?” He asked, smiling weakly.

He swiveled his chair towards her and sat up straight. Their eyes were equal, even with him sitting.

He was really tall.

She cleared her throat, “I needed to talk to you about something important. I think it might be better somewhere more private. Could we go to the student government room?”

He frowned, “I can’t. I’m heading to an away game in a few minutes. I can drive you to a subway station though, we can talk on the ride.”

She was really hoping to talk to him on school grounds. She wasn’t fully comfortable being in the man’s car, even if she didn’t fully believe the rumors.

“Um, can we talk about this at school?” She asked.

Her feet shuffled uncomfortably. She tried to stop herself from fidgeting, but couldn’t.

He spoke up and stood, “I’m really sorry but I gotta go. If this is quick then we can just chat on the way. I’ll drop you at the station down the street? It’ll take five minutes.”

Well, five minutes wasn’t bad. It was just a drive to the subway station.

She wasn’t entirely comfortable, but the man had never actually been reported for anything and this was important, so she nodded.

He smiled brightly, “Alright follow me!”

____________________________________________________________________________

April 22
After School
Friday
Cloudy

“-So then this chick is asking me what school I go to and-”

“Ryuji.” Ann interrupted, “You swear this happened.”

She looked at Ryuji skeptically, something Akira was doing too. He didn’t think his friend was so lame or awful that a girl wouldn’t be interested in him, but he also knew Ryuji wasn’t good with girls.

“I swear. Scout’s honor. So we traded numbers and I forwarded her like 2000 yen yesterday for a taxi and we’re meeting up today!” He smiled brightly.

And there it was.

All three of them, him, Morgana, and Ann, all looked at each other. Which one was going to burst his bubble and ruin his day.

He felt bad for Ryuji. It was going to be hard to live this down.

It looked like Morgana was about to, as expected, when Akira’s attention was pulled away.

Was that Makoto? Walking with… Kamoshida!? What the hell!?

He walked towards them, trying to get a better look.

It was them! But why were they together?

Ryuji spoke up, “Why’s the prez going to the faculty parking lot with that asshole?”

Akira looked towards his friends. They were just as puzzled as him.

That was something he needed to investigate. Him and Makoto weren’t good friends, he would describe them as colleagues, but he wouldn’t wish Kamoshida on almost anyone,
__________________________________________________________________________

April 22
After School
Friday
Cloudy

The car started up.

“So, what did you want to talk to me about?” Kamoshida asked and adjusted his mirror.

Makoto sat awkwardly in his passenger seat.

She was beginning to regret getting in the car, but she had come this far. “I just, I wanted to talk to you about the rumors of Akira being expelled. I just wanted to know if they’re true.”

She watched him closely. His grip noticeably tightened on the steering wheel. Anger flashed in his eyes.

This was a bad idea.

“On second thought-” She said as she reached for the door, but they started to move. “Um, Mr.-”

“He put you up to this?” He asked gruffly.

She had never heard him talk so curtly.

She reached for the door again, but they were still moving.

“Uh, no sir, just wondering. I wanted to say that I think Akira is an excellent-”

“Yeah,” He cut her off, “Yeah, I understand. I hear you loud and clear. If he’s threatening you I will be sure to add it to the pile of complaints we’ve gotten about him.”

She was taken aback, “No, see I just wanted to talk about-”

“We’ve gotten,” He interrupted again, “Hundreds of complaints. Daily. About him. It’s ruining my life, and the lives of the other teachers too.”

That sounded a little far fetched. She spoke up again, “Well, sir, it’s just I was going to talk about his positive traits and- Could you slow down a bit sir?” She jiggled the door handle, but it was child locked.

He let out a short, harsh, laugh.

They were parked at a stop sign. She fumbled with the child lock, but right when she got it he sharply swerved left, sliding her closer to him. She hadn’t worn her seatbelt and so she bounced of his side.

Her breath caught in her throat. She tried to move away, but his arm came around her shoulders, pulling her closer.

She sat frozen, barely able to breathe.

“You know, ever since he showed up my life's gone to shit.” Anger burned in his eyes and she could see his teeth grinding together, “Volleyball team’s been losing, Principal’s been on my ass, and some cops even came to my apartment the other day!? Mine!? They came fucking twice too!”

He laughed again. His eyes were wild. She tried to wiggle out of his grasp, but he was strong.

“Please, Sir, can you-”

He slammed on the breaks, sending her flying forward and stopping her from struggling.

She couldn’t breath. Her head was an inch away from the dashboard.

“Good thing I had a hold of you, your head almost hit the dash. Imagine what could happen if I wasn’t.”

Every self defense lesson she knew fled her mind.

Her breathing restarted in short deep gasps.

She tried to wiggle away again, but he wrapped his arm around her tighter and farther, nearly touching her breast.

She looked at him, wide eyed, terrified.

“You know, we should be enjoying life. How about we enjoy life, together? For a bit. Then, maybe, we can talk about this whole Akira thing. Maybe we can come to an agreement about his future. I don’t think I’m asking for much.”

He smiled at her, but his smile was hungry. Predatory.

His eyes were wild, evil. They were looking up and down her body intently.

She felt disgusted. She felt terrified.

She felt tears start to flow down her face. This was exactly what Sae had warned her about growing up. But she was too fucking stupid.

Never get in a stranger’s cars. Sae had told her that repeatedly, but Makoto didn’t think her teacher was a stranger.

She should have trusted the rumors.

She tried to push away, her hands tugged at his arm, but he was strong.

He was starting to get angrier.

He began squeezing on her arm tighter.

She let out a pained gasp “Please- My shoulder-”

A crack and a crunch reverberated through the vehicle.

Kamoshida let go and slammed on his breaks.

She barely caught herself with the meat of her forearms before her head could hit the dashboard. His windshield was deeply cracked.

She didn’t question the miracle. The child lock was undone. She grabbed her bag and threw herself from the car, scraping her hands and knees as she hit the rough ground.

She could hear Kamoshida cursing loudly behind her.

She was free.

She scrambled to her feet and looked around. There were a few Shujin students down the street, and a few others nearby.

“Makoto!” An unfamiliar voice called out, “Are you alright?”

It was Takamaki. She looked back and saw Kamoshida leaving his vehicle. Takamaki was looking at her with concern in her eyes.

“Are you alright?” She repeated.

Makoto didn’t say anything as she let the girl guide her away.

They quickly made their way down the street and into a subway station.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 22
After School
Friday
Cloudy

“Fuuuck.” He groaned, clutching his ribs.

His body curled on the ground, head and knees propping his stomach into the air so none of his chest was touching the group.

That was the stupidest fucking thing he had ever done.

Why didn’t he just throw a trash can, or a rock, or anything.

But, like a moron, he threw his body instead.

He was one stupid fuck.

Arms grabbed him and hauled him up

“Dude,” Ryuji quickly whispered, “You actually did it!? What the hell dude!? I thought- God damn dude you’re badass as hell.”

His vision blurred, and he nearly collapsed. He didn’t feel badass. Ryuji threw himself underneath Akira, barely catching him before he hit the ground.

He looked up. Ann and Makoto were quickly retreating away.

Makoto moved without purpose, nearly stumbling along as she followed Ann.

A small smirk of satisfaction grew on his lips. His plan worked, no matter how stupid it was.

“FUCKING- YOU FUCKING- DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT THIS IS GOING TO COST!” Kamoshida raged in the background, hands pounding the hood of his car.

The giant of a man spotted them and stalked towards them. He stopped when he realized who had thrown themselves in front of his car.

He stood still for a moment, mouth wide open.

Akira wanted to punch his slack jaw.

Kamoshida regained himself in a moment and the fury reignited, stronger than ever. He was angrier than Akira had ever seen him.

He took a step towards them, murder in his eyes.

“Woah! What the hell is going on over there!” A few students shout out. He watched as they begin running in their direction.

Kamoshida noticed too. He glared death at Akira, promising pain. He only had eyes for Akira. He didn’t care about Ryuji or Morgana, just Akira.

Akira met his gaze with a rage of his own.

The man broke eye contact and stomped back to his car, too angry to put on his caring, friendly facade for the approaching students. He drove off before any students caught up and saw what had happened.

Ryuji tried to push him up, to get some of Akira’s weight off himself. Akira pulled his arm off Ryuji and tried to take a few ginger steps on his own.

His knees wobbled, but he was okay. Adrenaline, and the rage, flowed through him right now. He would be okay until one of them ran out.

Step two of their plan. Makoto and Ann would already be heading towards Sojiro’s.

He would reroute them to Tae’s. He had been injured more than he thought he would.

Which was stupid in retrospect. What did he expect from jumping in front of a car?

He was strong. Not invincible.

Ryuji stood near him, ready to catch him if he fell, but Akira waived him off.

He would be okay for now.

They walked towards the train station, Ryuji following his orders to redirect Ann and Makoto. Then were soon on their way.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 22
After School
Friday
Cloudy

“Yeah, these are definitely fractured. They aren’t large, but you have two clear breaks here and here,” Tae said, pointing at his x-ray. “You got lucky. They’re pretty clean so you should be good in, I’d say, about three weeks?”

Three weeks!?

She noticed his shocked look and smirked, “Maybe you should be more careful when you cross the street next time?”

He blushed, making her laugh.

His friends had left at his insistence. He didn’t like their attempts to comfort him. He especially didn’t like the thanks and weird looks Makoto kept giving him.

Ryuji, Ann, and Morgana went to go get something to eat at LeBlanc, while Makoto went home.

He spoke up, “So, how much will this cost?”

She sat back in her chair and leaned towards a cabinet. She opened it with an outstretched hand and casually lifted out a vial of blue mixture.

He sighed, expecting this.

She smirked at him. “Don’t look so glum. Its blueberry flavored this time.” She handed him the vial, which he reluctantly accepted.

He sniffed it. It smelled aggressively of blueberries, disgustingly so.

He nearly gagged.

“If you can’t,” She continued, ignoring his disgust, “I’ll have to charge you one hundred thousand yen. The guinea pig discount only applies to guinea pigs.”

One hundred thousand!? He had maybe a small fraction of that.

Guinea pig discount. He scoffed in his mind, he was being taken advantage of.

But free health care was better than no health care.

He lifted the cup to his mouth and downed it.

It tasted like what he expected bleach to taste like. It burned like liquid fire. He couldn’t taste the blueberries.

He nearly vomited, but forced himself to keep the liquid down. He didn’t want to do that again.

Tae only nodded, a content smile on her face.

Her face wasn’t distorting this time. A small victory.

He didn’t feel anything yet. Tae seemed just as surprised as him.

“Guess I did a good job this time, huh?” She said with a light smile.

He got up. If everything was working, he could leave.

Then his stomach felt like it was going to collapse in on itself.

Nearly overwhelming nausea overcame him. He collapsed back onto the bed and covered his mouth with both hands to stop for vomiting.

The world began to swim.

Colors blend together. The room’s furniture warped and bent to awkward shapes and impossible angles.

He looked to Tae for help.

She looked at him like nothing was happening. She wore an extremely teasing smile that seemed out of place.

Was she mocking him? The thought infuriated him. He wanted to yell at her, but could only clutch his stomach as a new wave of nausea overcame him.

Her face turned from teasing to flirtatious in a few seconds. She slid to her feet with a dancer’s grace and strode towards him in short, meaningful, steps. Her hips swayed with each motion.

His face burned as he watched her slowly slide her jacket off.

He barely noticed that the world around her had turned black. She was the only thing in existence.

This all made sense for some reason. Everything happening was perfectly natural.

She finished her slow walk towards him, shaking her hips more and more as she got near him. Her white jacket didn’t make a noise as fell from her into a black void.

He couldn’t look away. He didn’t want to look away. Tae’s normal outfit did little to hide her impressive figure, and with even less clothes that figure was promoted to stunning.

He sat up, the pain alleviating as his brain focused on other things.

She slid on top of him, shapely thighs straddling him. Her smooth thighs rested tightly against his hips.

His eyes were locked onto her face. She bit her lower lip as her eyes trailed up and down him hungrily. Her hands rubbed circles on his chest, occasionally moving to his biceps to squeeze them.

The straps on her tiny black dress began sliding down her shoulders, seemingly without any help.

He ran his hands along her revealed thighs. They were smooth, very smooth, soft, and firm. They felt a lot different than what he expected. There was some give when he squeezed, but they weren’t as squishy as he thought they would be.

His eyes peered down from her face to said thighs. He gave them another squeeze, appreciating the feeling and sight.

He felt her lips touching the top of his head, softly laying little kisses.

His eyes slowly climbed her body, admiring everything. Her arms massaged his back and chest, running over his whole upper body.

His eyes continued up, stopping at her chest for a moment to admire her nearly completely revealed breasts.

He kept looking up, past her neck and to her face.

Carmen stared back at him.

While he was surprised, she looked at him with her usual hunger. Like she expected this.

Her face turned from aroused to ravenous in a second. Her head snapped towards him faster than he could react. Her teeth sunk into his throat. He felt them sink into his flesh, ripping and tearing.

He could see his blood fly as her head whipped back. A large chunk of his flesh rested between her teeth, dripping blood onto her nearly completely revealed breasts. They were still Tae’s breasts.

She came back, attacking the other side of his throat. She shoved him down onto the bed as she mauled him.

It wasn’t just her mouth. Her hands punched holes into his chest, shredding skin and muscle like it was nothing. His bones broke, offering no resistance as they snapped and cracked.

Blood poured down his face, getting into his eyes. They stung as he became blind to the world.

He felt everything as he died.

He woke up.

He roared and flung himself to his feet. Rage flowed through him, nearly as much as he had ever felt. He immediately slipped on smooth ground and nearly fell headfirst to the floor.

He caught himself on the table in front of the bed, sending several vials crashing to the floor and nearly sending his elbow through her x-ray display.

He pushed himself up, stumbling and moving towards the exit. His legs wobbled, unable to properly move.

His ribs hurt more than he could believe. He had banged them on the table on his way down.

His knees gave out and he had to support himself with the table.

“HEY BE CAREFUL!” Someone shout from the other room.

Where was he? His fight or flight instincts had taken over.

He was ready to fight the second someone came through that door. One on his hands fell to the ground to grab a broken vial.

He took quick deep breaths and staggered to his feet, one hand clutching his throat, the other the broken glass.

The woman from his dream ran into the room, “Come on, look what you did. That’s going to take hours to clean up, not to mention replacing all those trials. That was runs 1, 2-”

She let out an aggravated sigh, obviously flustered at the broken glass and spilled liquids.

She ran a hand through her hair, “I should have expected this,” She mumbled to herself, “This is what I get for not locking you to the bed.”

This was, Tae. Yes. Tae.

He had almost killed her. A burst of pain in his ribs had saved her. Otherwise he would have taken her to the ground right there.

His hand fell from his throat, but his breathing stayed heavy. He placed the glass on the table and maneuvered back to the bed, falling face first onto it.

“You okay kid?” She asked, seeming to notice his plight.

He rolled onto his back, uncaring of how it looked, and took a deep breath. It was just a nightmare. He sat up straight and brushed his hair out of his eyes.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

She didn’t seem to believe it. “Any visions this time?”

He felt his face redden and coughed into his hand.

“The same as last time.” He lied.

She sighed and turned around frustrated. She wrote some notes in a small notebook. “A pretty severe reaction. Maybe it was just as bad last time, but the restraints stopped it. Hmm, do I restrain him next time or do I need more open conditions-” She mumbled to herself, quieter and quieter until he couldn’t hear her.

He waited a moment. He needed to ask, “Why me?”

He rubbed his throat unconsciously.

She didn’t look from her notes, “Because you’re big, bigger than anyone else I could find, and you were able to take that first dosage. This medicine is for a little girl, if I gave her this medicine right now she would die. But, you’re a tough guy, so you can handle it.” She said the last part mockingly.

He wasn’t sure if he was comfortable taking a drug that could kill someone smaller than him.

“On top of that,” She continued, ignoring the dying comment, “You have a very normal body. No allergies, no serious prior illnesses, a few surgeries, but nothing life changing. I couldn’t ask for a better guinea pig.”

She finished her statement by wheeling over to him and pinching his cheek.

He accepted the teasing without any complaints, too worn out to do anything. It prompted her to let out a small chuckle.

She finished chuckling and pulled a small white bottle from her jacket pocket.

“So, back to the original topic, you need to take two of these a day, one every twelve hours. They’ll help a lot with the pain and should speed up the healing a bit. I made them myself, so they aren’t approved by any federal organizations, but don’t worry about that.”

He uncapped the bottle and took one of the medium sized white pills. The pain in his ribs calmed from an intense ache to a small, dull, pain. That was incredibly fast acting.

He stared at the bottle amazed.

He could get used to that.

She spoke up, “You’re actually the first person to try those out, other than myself. I’m giving you my best stuff. There’s benefits to being my guinea pig.”

He stood up, flexing and rotating his shoulder. It made his ribs ache, so he stopped.

She continued, “Just because they help get rid of the pain doesn’t mean they fix the cracked bones, you still need to be careful with any movements. You don’t want to re-injure them and slow down your healing.”

He nodded and grabbed his jacket from the corner of the room. After getting it on he went to leave.

“Last thing. A few warnings.” She started. “Only take one every twelve hours. Do not take any more than one every twelve hours. I don’t know what would happen if you did, but it wouldn’t be good. You understand? On top of that they can be a little addictive, like all painkillers, so you don’t want to overuse them. Once you’re no longer in any pain, return the rest to me.”

He nodded.

“Do you drink?” She asked.

When he nodded, she continued, “Not much I hope, but I won’t judge, don’t take a pill within two hours of drinking. I found that out the hard way.” She grimaced and crossed her legs.

“I only occasionally do. For dinners.”

She nodded, but didn’t look like she believed him.

Whatever. Not his problem.

He felt exhausted, his body hurt, and he didn’t want to talk anymore.

He checked his phone. Sae had said it was okay to come back to her apartment.

He sighed and left, ignoring Tae’s questions about when he would come back. He wasn’t feeling like coming back very much.

The vision was worse than last time. He wasn’t sure he could do that again.

He needed to never get hurt again so he could avoid her. Or get some money so he could go to a different doctor.

Both unlikely to impossible.

Morgana came dashing along, catching up to him. He muttered that he was heading back to Sae’s and ignored the cat’s recount of lunch events.

He was too tired to do any more. When he got to Sae’s apartment he sped to his room and immediately went to sleep.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 23
After School
Saturday
Clear

“So you just take the integral here…” Makoto said, rambling on an explanation for the complicated problem.

Akira scratched the back of his head with a pencil, slightly confused. He nodded along like he understood what she was saying.

She gave him a small smile as she finished the explanation and went back to her work.

This was the first time they had spent time together since Wednesday morning, when they went to the gym. If he didn’t count yesterday’s car crash.

He wanted to sigh, and went to check his phone.

Surprisingly, there were some texts from Hanae, Shinya’s mother.

He really didn’t expect them their last interaction.

There were also a few from Ann and Ryuji, asking how he was doing. They would be taking a short metaverse break today while his ribs healed.

They couldn’t wait long, they only had about a week. He wanted to go in today, but the other 3 wanted to wait at least a day. They needed to play it safe as he couldn’t fight to his full capacity.

He pulled up Hanae’s texts.

Hanae: Hello Akira-san.
Hanae: I’m really sorry to bother you, but could you possibly do me a favor?
Hanae: I need to stay late at my job today, Mr. Okumura is really busy with some upcoming party and he needs me to stay late today.
Hanae: But I normally pick up Shinya from school.
Hanae: I’m extremely sorry to ask, but is there anyway you can pick him up?
Hanae: I’ll pay you back for subway fare and more.
Hanae: I don’t like him walking home alone if I can help it.
Hanae: He’s an independent kid, but he’s in grade school. He’s never taken the subway home by himself either, I pick him up everyday.
Hanae: He’s in an afterschool program until 5:30, could you get him then?

5:30? That was in less than an hour.

He probably shouldn’t, he needed to focus on his schoolwork.

But he also remembered how nice the family was to him. And the time he spent with Hanae on the balcony.

Akira: Yeah, it’s no problem.

Hanae responded immediately.

Hanae: Thank you so much!
Hanae: I’ll send you the address!
Hanae: I’ll cook you dinner again sometime too!

He received the address. The school was pretty close to him, around half an hour away.

He would need to leave soon to make it.

He had almost no motivation to study today anyways.

Makoto looking at him when she thought he wasn’t paying attention and then lightly smiling wasn’t helping either. They hadn’t talked about yesterday’s events, and he didn’t want to either.

The admiration in her eyes made him uncomfortable. It was such a stark contrast to the distrust and fear that marked her face when they met over a week ago.

She seemed happy to help him with questions, not frustrated.

He didn’t like it. He wanted their relationship to go back to the original work-based relationship, not this quasi-friendship. It made things much too complicated.

He closed his books and started packing up.

“Are you leaving?” She asked warmly.

He nodded.

“Alright, there’s still a lot more to do but we can finish it tomorrow.”

He nodded again and continued packing. His ribs ached dully as he moved around.

Makoto was biting her lip pretty harshly, clearly holding something back. She anxiously twiddled her thumbs.

He really hoped she wasn’t going to ask about yesterday. As he got up to leave, she did too and walked in front of him out of the room.

God damnit.

She pulled to a stop in a quiet, studentless, spot. Her fingers still twiddled and her eyes stared holes into her shoes.

He waited, wanting to leave but unable to do so.

She took a deep breath.

“Um, before you go, I was just wondering, if you’re not too busy, and I understand if you are, would you like to come to dinner tonight?”

That caught him off guard.

She continued, noticing his surprise, “Today’s, uh, my birthday. Me and Sis always go to this sushi place nearby and I was wondering if you wanted to come along. You know, living with us and all.” She finished with a weak smile.

It was nice but, he couldn’t. That would break all of Sae’s rules.

He was already pushing it with that one workout session and these study groups. He wouldn’t push farther.

Before he could reject her offer she spoke up, “I’ll talk to Sis!” She quickly amended.

She took a deep breath then continued, “Just, don’t say no yet. I’ll talk to Sis and make sure it’s okay, I’ll text you about it later. You can say no then, if you want, or no now if you already know you can’t. I’m rambling, but if she says you can come I’d love for you to be there.”

She finished with an unsure smile. Her eyes still looked at her feet.

He held back a sigh, “Sure. Just text me later and I’ll let you know. I’m running a favor and I don’t know how long it will take. Don’t count on me being able to make it.”

She nodded, a bright smile on her face, “Alright, I hope you can come by. We’re paying so you don’t have to worry about that. I’ll send you the address later.”

He nodded, and she scurried back into the library, clearly embarrassed.

Even more drama. Sae would definitely say no however. There was no reason to worry about going.

Morgana jumped onto his backpack as he left, somehow knowing that Akira was leaving.

The cat was a lot smarter than Akira gave him credit for.

The two of them walked to Shinya’s school.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 23
After School
Saturday
Clear

He felt like a massive creep standing outside Shinya’s school.

He had already gotten a few stares, but they must have assumed he was someone’s older brother and left it at that.

Or they had called the police and they hadn’t arrived yet.

Maybe he should leave.

But he had already told Hanae he was here.

The front door opened, relieving a grinning Shinya. “Akira!”

Shinya jogged towards him, and past the few boys and a teacher standing in the doorway.

“How’s it going?” Akira asked.

Before Shinya could answer the teacher spoke up, “Are you Akira Kurusu?”

He nodded and responded positively.

She accepted, asking no more questions or asking for any identification. She shuffled the other students back into the building. They looked awed for some reason.

It was curious. He really didn’t know why.

He spoke up, “Is it normal for teachers to let people pick up their students that easily?”

Shinya looked at him with a bright smile, “No, but Mom put up a huge fight about it. I could overhear her and Ms. Nakamura arguing like crazy. Ms. Nakamura even went to the principal's office about it.”

Huh, he had no idea Hanae was so strong willed. She probably pissed the teacher off enough that she didn’t care who was picking up Shinya.

Shinya spent their walk prattling off everything about his day and about the newest video game he was playing.

Akira slightly toned him out, nodding along to whatever he was saying. He felt bad, but he also didn’t care about the newest Super Sentai game. He tried to pay attention, but the various details and strategies the boy went on and on about weren’t easy to follow along with.

“-will end the game. You’re coming to dinner again soon right? We can play Gun About! Mom had a really good time to, she talks about you sometimes and how she had fun and-” He continued on as Akira nodded.

Wait. He rewound the conversation in his mind.

Hanae talked about him? And the fun she had?

He blushed lightly. Shinya was too absorbed in his chatter to notice though.

Well, he had fun too. He thought she was embarrassed by what had happened. Apparently not.

Maybe he had seen the situation wrong the whole time. Maybe she had enjoyed their time too. He thought it was a drunken mistake.

His blush deepened as he thought about it more.

He needed to think of something else before Shinya saw.

He spent the rest of the walk listening to Shinya talk about his day. Midway through Morgana left, telling Akira he was so bored he couldn’t stand it.

He didn’t blame the cat. He wished he could to.

They finally made it back to the apartment and he dropped Shinya off.

Hanae hadn’t come home yet, so he didn’t follow the boy up. He would like a reunion, but he also wanted more time to prepare.

He said bye to the boy, who made him promise to come back again soon. He would show Akira all his new games.

He watched the boy enter his apartment and then left. He checked his phone as he walked down the street.

He told Hanae he had dropped the boy off, who immediately sent back a few texts of thanks. He quickly responded, saying it was no problem. She also made him say he would come over for dinner again soon.

There were also some messages from Makoto.

Makoto: Hey Akira.
Makoto: So, actually Sae actually can’t make it to dinner.
Makoto: But, I’m already here.
Makoto: Would you like to come? I’ll still pay.
Makoto: There’s a 0% chance Sae can come.

They were only sent a few minutes ago. It was already 6:30.

She would see that he read her texts, so he couldn’t ignore her.

Could he reject her on her birthday?
___________________________________________________________________________

April 23
Late Afternoon
Saturday
Clear

Makoto looked nervously at her phone. Her foot tapped rhythmically under the table. Akira had seen her messages, so he should respond soon.

Or he could ignore her. He had no reason to answer. Maybe she had over thought their relationship, why would he want to be friends with her? He obviously had other options.

She went back to Sae’s messages to distract herself.

Sis: I am so sorry Makoto.
Sis: I got a massive break in this case I’m working and I need to be here.
Sis: The lead could be gone tomorrow.
Sis: I’m really really sorry, let me take you out tomorrow, we can go anywhere.
Sis: We can go to that Health food place you love so much.
Sis: Respond when you can, I have to get back to work. I’ll see you at home later.

Makoto had never responded.

She probably should have expected this. Sae was so busy recently. She had thrown herself into her work harder than ever after being passed over for promotion so many times.

Sae didn’t really do celebrations either. Not like they had many things to celebrate.

Sae expected the best grades. Being the top of her class was just supposed to happen. Why celebrate things like that?

Makoto didn’t have any sports accomplishments to celebrate either. She was good at Aikido, she had even reached the second Kyu, the second highest rank a beginner could reach. She did it in an amazingly short time span, according to her sensei at least. If she passed the next two rank tests she would become first Dan, a first-degree black belt.

She was extremely proud of that, more so than anything else. Good grades were great, they would let her do whatever she wanted in life, but Aikido was her passion more than anything. It had taken years of hard work and dedication to reach this rank, and it was something she did by herself for herself.

Good grades were helpful for a future she didn’t know what she wanted to do with yet. Go to the University of Tokyo, then what?

With Aikido, she knew what she wanted. She wanted to be third Dan, the highest rank in Aikido. It would take years and years of dedicated practice, but it was the one thing she new she wanted in life.

Aikido was hers. It wasn’t Sae’s, no one told her to take it this far. Yes, Sae did sign her up, but that was just for a few self-defense courses. She was the one who pushed the limits. She was the one who drove herself to success.

She was losing herself in her thoughts. She checked her phone.

Akira had messaged her back!

Akira: Yeah.
Akira: I’ll head there now.
Akira: I’ll be there in twenty minutes.

Her whole day brightened. She really thought he was going to say no.

Maybe they were friends? No, she shouldn’t think too much into it.

But maybe. It wasn’t unreasonable.

What had happened to her life?

A small chuckle slipped out.

A week and a half ago she hated him a bit. He was someone she didn’t want to spend time with or help in any way.

He was the terrifying ex-con living in her home.

He could still be scary, but she knew he had a soft side too.

He got run over by Kamoshida for her. She could count on one hand, on two fingers, the number of people who would do that for her.

Thinking back to it, she could never thank Ann enough either. She barely knew the girl, but her comforting words had helped Makoto more than anything else could.

Makoto didn’t like to think of what her mental state would be like if Ann hadn’t been there to talk about it and sympathize. The girl had been a shoulder to cry on when she needed it most. She wanted to see the girl more now, but she didn’t know if the girl wanted to see her.

How had Akira gotten such good friends in a week?

She wanted to be friends with him too, badly, but there was one thing that wouldn’t stop nagging her. She needed to know why he went to Juvie.

“Um, mam, are you waiting for someone? Or would you like to order?”

Makoto looked towards the waitress.

“Oh, yes, my friend is coming. It’s my birthday, he’s on his way.”

A strained smile grew on the waitress’ face. Makoto had been there for over ten minutes without ordering. “Happy birthday! Could I get you something to drink to pass the time?”

Makoto shook her head no and the woman begrudgingly accepted and left.

She was a little embarrassed. The waitress was getting annoyed.

Maybe she would get a soda for the twenty minutes and sip on it.

She wished Sae was there. She understood her sister was busy, but it was her birthday. Akira could come, and he barely knew her.

She really hoped she wouldn’t be too awkward. She was just so bad at making small talk. Her lack of friends was really starting to limit her social abilities.

Time passed quickly as she thought about the last time she had tried to make friends. It was her first year of middle school and some girls had invited her over for a sleepover.

Sae didn’t let her sleepover, but she did let her visit with them. Only after a long argument, which consisted of her pushing her point and Sae stubbornly saying no. She remembered getting so frustrated she cried and Sae finally relented. She could go over, but only for a few hours.

It was fun, but she missed out on a lot after she left. The other girls became close friends after that night, bonding during the sleepover. She was never able to get into the friend group after that.

Sae didn’t help with the problem either. Makoto didn’t like arguing with her sister, so she never pushed Sae to let her go out more. Eventually, it just became normal to not have any real friends. She was too busy now, and too far behind socially, to start.

She had no idea where even to begin-

“Makoto?” A familiar deep voice called out.

Startled, she whipped her head to the side to find Akira standing there.

She took a deep breath and lowered her hand from her chest. “Oh, Akira-san. It’s good to see you.”

He nodded and sat opposite her in the booth.

They sat in the back of the restaurant, in the booth that Sae had reserved.

It was an upscale sushi place. Too fancy to eat at regularly, but Sae loved it so Makoto chose it for her. Not that it mattered anymore.

It was mildly busy today, not enough to be uncomfortable, but enough to supply a constant hum of noise.

Akira was wearing his normal Shujin outfit. She doubted he owned another nice outfit. It looked good on him though, if a little snug.

His hair was still a mop, but it looked like he at least tried to style it. He wore his glasses, they really did change his image a lot.

They were so dorky it distracted from his intense eyes.

He looked good.

They sat there for a few seconds, neither saying anything. An awkward silence was developing.

“So,” She started, trying to avoid the awkwardness, “How was your day? How was that errand?”

“Good, a little boring if anything.”

Silence overcame the conversation again.

“What was it?” She tried asking.

He looked a little taken aback. Did she ask too much?

“Oh, uh, nothing really. Just grabbing something for a friend.”

Well. That was vague. She wanted to press more, but she doubted he would like that.

The waitress approached them again, distracting from the already dead conversation. “Are you ready to order?” The waitresses asked.

Wait, what did she want? She looked at Akira, who was looking at her expectantly.

Her cheeks reddened, she hadn’t looked at the menu yet. She opened it quickly, “Uh, I’ll uh, take a Volcano Roll.”

She picked the first one she saw that she had eaten before. She forgot to ask Akira if he was ready to order.

Her blush deepened.

“I’ll have the Green Dragon roll.”

“Alright, and two waters?”

They both nodded, and the waitress left.

They sat quietly, unsure of what to talk about.

“So,” Akira began, “This is a fancy restaurant.”

She nodded, “Yeah. It’s the best sushi place nearby.”

He nodded.

God this conversation was dry.

“So,” He began again, “Who’s your least favorite teacher?”

What? That caught her by surprise. But she had an answer.

“Oh, Ms. Usami easily. She’s the only teacher to not give me the highest grade in a class, I still got an A. But, more than once she took points off my problem for not ‘Showing enough work’, even though my math was right, I just do some of the easier math in my head sometimes.”

“A little arrogant to assume you deserved the highest grade.”

She blushed brightly and looked away, anxiety filling her. Had he taken that wrong? She hadn’t meant to sound so arrogant!

She looked towards him, extremely embarrassed.

He gave her a teasing smirk.

He was only joking.

Relief flooded through her.

“Well,” She began, “I’m just saying. I get the highest grade in everything else, why not her class?” She tried teasing back.

Her face felt so hot.

“Fair enough, but what if you did the problem wrong?”

She scoffed unconsciously, “I didn’t do the problem wrong. Zero percent chance.”

Now that was arrogant. She knew that she must have looked like a tomato right now.

But Akira laughed. It was just a small chuckle, but it was a laugh.

A faint smile grew on her face. She was feeling much better.

They continued talking about school, discussing favorite and least favorite teachers.

The conversation was flowing a lot better than ever before. She had no idea why, but she wasn’t going to complain.

The waitress came back with their waters.

“Wait,” Akira said before the waitress could leave, “Could you get me a glass of Sauvignon Blanc? On a separate tab. I’m twenty, don’t worry.”

That was a lie, but the waitress nodded. He could pass for twenty if he wasn’t wearing his glasses, a young twenty.

But, Akira drank alcohol?

That shouldn’t be so surprising.

This was technically illegal, but no one ever followed the drinking age laws.

The waitress looked at her questioningly.

Was she expecting her to order a drink?

Akira spoke up. “Don’t feel pressured Makoto. I just like a glass of wine with dinner sometimes.”

The waitress nodded and was about to leave, taking her silence as a no.

“No, I’ll get a drink too.” She said and pulled out the drink menu from the end of the table, “I’ll take, hmm, the Sakura Martini. What’s in that?”

This was illegal. She was breaking the law. But she didn’t want someone a year younger than her to be drinking alcohol when she wouldn’t.

She didn’t want to look like a loser.

“Oh!” The waitress said, clapping her hands together, “That’s my favorite! It’s a cherry blossom infused sake, with fresh lemon and grapefruit juices, and some other great things. It’s so good!”

“Then I’ll take that.”

The waitress nodded and left. She slide the drink menu back to the end of the table.

She had only ever had sips of Sae’s wine. She didn’t like the taste much. She had never tried a martini before.

It was kind of exciting. High class women in movies ordered Martinis.

It was something an adult would do. And Sae had never told her she couldn’t order her own drink. So she wasn’t really breaking any of Sae’s rules.

But Sae had never told her it was okay to order her own drink either.

“You didn’t have to order a drink, I probably shouldn’t have ordered one in the first place.” Akira said.

“Don’t worry, I only turn 18 once. Might as well celebrate.” She replied with a smile.

They continued talking about school after that. It was one of the few things they had in common.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 23
Night
Saturday
Clear

Akira sipped his glass of wine, it had just arrived.

He watched Makoto nervously sip her bright pink drink. She looked really good tonight.

She was wearing a tight black dress with a dark green jacket over her shoulders. The only skin showing was her collarbone, but the dress was tight enough to show off her well-developed curves. She wore a gold necklace and a pair of gold earnings. A light amount of makeup was on her face.

She looked like she belonged in this high-class establishment.

He forgot how good looking she was most of the time. Normally she was just the girl whose sister was going to kill him.

He felt a little bad about accidently peer pressuring her into buying a drink. But, what’s done is done.

Maybe a drink in her would help conversation too.

Akira had gotten a drink before he came to dinner for that exact reason. It was outside his two-hour window for the medicine, so he had a quick mixed drink before coming over.

He wasn’t proud of it. It was the action of an alcoholic. But it would also save him from an awkward night with Makoto, and improve her birthday. So, he actually did a good thing.

He didn’t want to ruin her birthday with his inability to make small talk and he was much more comfortable a little drunk, just buzzed in this case.

But his buzz was starting to fade, so he ordered another drink to keep it going. He didn’t mean for her to order a drink too.

But, she looked to be enjoying it. Now she was taking confidant, proud, sips of the girly pink drink.

This was good. When they had spent time together working out or studying there were problems or exercises to distract them. At dinner, those weren’t there.

“How do you like it?” He asked, genuinely curious.

“Really sweet.” She replied, “I like sweet things, so it’s pretty good. Do you wanna try it?”

She blushed immediately after offering. He blushed a bit too.

But she pushed the drink towards him. It was a bright pink liquid in a tall cocktail glass.

He brought the drink to his lips, near where she had drunken from.

Makoto had a scarlet blush from the near indirect kiss. He hoped he wasn’t too, it really wasn’t that intimate or anything.

“It’s really sweet.” He pushed the drink back to her, “Want to try mine?”

She hesitated, but nodded. He pushed his glass towards her and it spinned slightly on it’s way there. She picked it up took a small sip, from near the same spot he had drunken from, seemingly on purpose.

“Bleh,” She nearly spat out, “That’s bitter.”

He let out a little laugh as she pushed the drink back towards him. She was blushing fiercely, but he imagined he was too.

“Have you ever drinken before?” He asked.

She sipped her drink, “Just small bits of Sae’s wine when she would let me. Never much. How about you?”

“Just a bit, same as you but with my parent’s. I don’t drink often, but I’ve grown to appreciate a drink with food sometimes.”

That wouldn’t hold up if she questioned him. He had been in Juvie up until a week ago, did he drink wine with dinner when he was 14?

It was possible, but improbable.

But she didn’t question it, she only nodded and kept sipping.

“So,” He started, “This is your first full drink.”

She nodded, “Yup. It’s kind of exciting.”

She kept sipping her drink and they fell into a comfortable silence.

“Um, Akira.” She started while swishing her drink around nervously, “I just, I don’t mean to pry, but I really need to know, what did you go to Juvie for?” She finished and immediately looked away.

He sat for a second, surprised, then let out a sigh.

He was surprised this hadn’t happened sooner.

“You probably do deserve to know.” He said and told her his story.

He stopped at his arrest. He didn’t talk about the next week of panic, of being locked away without the money for bail, the horrible trial, or the hell that was Juvie.

But he explained how he didn’t do anything. How society had worked against him.

Makoto looked shocked. Whether she believed him, or was just pretending, he didn’t know.

“That’s… that’s horrible. How could someone do that? How could that happen?”

She sounded genuine, but he couldn’t fully trust her.

“I don’t know.”

She took another sip from her drink, stunned into silence.

It took a moment before she spoke up again. “Um, how was Juvie? Awful I imagine, but did you have a roommate or anything?”

He sipped his wine the spoke, “It wasn’t that bad. And, yeah but he wasn’t like, dangerous or anything.”

He took a big drink from his glass.

That was a massive lie.

Juvie was hell and his roommates were incredibly dangerous.

His first roommate was okay. A bit of a psycho, but he helped Akira a lot before he… before he… died.

It was hard to think about.

His second roommate was one of the most monstrous people Akira had ever met. If true evil existed, if the devil was real, he might be him.

His second cellmate had been sentenced to Juvie for multiple homicides. In a loophole in the law, he was too young to go to jail and could only legally be sent to Juvie until he was an adult.

He was out by now, which terrified Akira.

His roommate had broken into an older couple’s home and murdered the husband while the wife slept. He did… awful things to the wife before murdering her too.

The police were called when a neighbor heard the wife scream, but they arrived too late to save either one.

The reason he gave at his trial? He wanted to see someone die.

A pure psychopath. He should never see the light of day again.

However, he was a charming person and even managed to get a few people to speak kindly about him at trial.

His fondness for extreme violence and his charming personality had made him popular in Juvie, with both the other inmates and the guards. He had been recruited quickly into a big up and coming Yakuza clan.

Kameshino? Kamino? No, Kaneshiro.

He remembered that guy who tried to mug Kawakami the other day had shout his name.

He learned in Juvie that Kaneshiro wanted to keep his name quiet, but it was hard to do that when he recruited over a quarter of the inmates into his Yakuza clan.

His detention hall served as a recruiting ground for big Yakuza clans. If you wanted soldiers, soldiers who didn’t have any moral quandaries with violent, deadly, crimes, his detention hall was the best place to go.

Dangerous people filled the cells. The worst of the worst Japan had to offer. If the prisoner was known to be extremely dangerous, they were sent to North Tokyo.

It was a miracle he was still alive. There were many times when he should have been killed, but one thing or another had gotten in the way and he survived.

Sometimes, he couldn’t help but wonder if there was a god out there who kept him alive for some higher purpose. But why would a god torture him by putting him in Juvie in the first place?

Religion was a difficult subject for Akira. He didn’t know what to think. Staying on the subject too long made him uncomfortable.

He didn’t make any friends in Juvie. He never allied himself with any Yakuza clans, the most he would do was stay out of their way and they would stay out of his.

Any inmates that messed with him however would be responded to with equal or greater force. He had been given solitary many times for that.

Solitary was actually a godsend. A day or two where no one would try to fight or kill him? It was great.

Other than the time he had gotten solitary for nearly a week. He thought he might go insane being locked up with no human contact for so long.

He didn’t fight for awhile after that.

But, eventually someone set his temper off.

He sipped his drink more, nearly finishing the glass.

“How are you and Sae?”

He needed to change the subject.

She let out a sigh and relaxed into her chair.

“I don’t know.” She swished her half-drunken glass, “I thought we were doing good, but you never know with her.”

He nodded, not knowing what to add. He never had siblings, or a close relationship with his parents.

She took another sip from her drink before continuing, “Sae’s just, she’s difficult. She’s the best. At everything. I feel like she doesn’t understand people who aren’t born being the best. She thinks working harder will fix every problem or anything is possible if you work harder, because that’s always worked for her. She’s never had a problem she couldn’t solve by working harder.”

He nodded and sipped the last bits of his wine.

“But,” Her arms slipped in between her legs, shrinking into herself, “I can’t just work harder. I’m not as smart or talented or anything. I can’t just… work harder. Along with- nevermind. This isn’t a fun conversation. How about we talk about something else?”

She gave a small weak smile, sadness in her eyes.

If she didn’t want to talk about it, he wouldn’t push.

He didn’t want to talk about it either.

“So why don’t you tell me more about Shujin teachers? Any good gossip?”

Her smile grew happier, “Well, I don’t like to gossip, but…”

They spent the next hour making small talk about school and some about sports. Dinner arrived at one point, two plates of extremely fancy sushi.

He could count on one hand the number of times he had eaten food this fancy.

It was good too, and so was the conversation. Makoto didn’t lie either, she paid for their dinner. Half card, half cash.

She told him that she thought ahead incase he came. Sae could see all her purchases and would ask why she got two dinners. Better to just pay for one dinner with cash to hide it.

Very smart.

He paid for their two drinks with his own, very limited, money. He shrugged her off, claiming her drink was a birthday gift.

She gave a very cute smile at that.

He used some of Morgana’s money to pay for it.

He was bringing his leftovers back for the cat. So Morgana wouldn’t be too mad.

They got up and left.

They stood outside the restaurant. The street was quiet and lit only by streetlights, giving it a comfortable atmosphere.

They stood there quietly for a moment. He wasn’t sure what to say.

“I had a really good time.” Makoto spoke up first, “We should do this again sometime.”

“Yeah, I did too.”

She smiled lightly and brushed her hair back with one hand.

She was really cute.

“I’m happy Kawakami asked me to tutor you. I didn’t think we would become friends, but now, here we are.”

She looked nervous, like she had said something controversial.

He needed to be careful with what he said.

“Me too, it’s been awhile since I’ve had a friend.”

A little mushy, mushier than he was comfortable with, but her expression made it worth it. Her smile beamed, happier and brighter than he had ever seen her.

She blushed, and her feet shuffled, “Same.”

They stood quietly for a moment.

“Well, I’ll head home first. If Sae is there, I’ll tell her I had a good dinner. You can come back a bit later and no one will know.”

He nodded, he was planning something similar.

“Alright, well, see you at school tomorrow.” She said.

She stepped towards him hesitantly and went to give him a hug. It was unexpected and extremely awkward at first.

He quickly responded by wrapping his arms around her lower back. She was tall enough in her heels.

He could feel the curves of her hips and waist. He blushed thinking about it. Even with Ann’s ‘friendliness’, he still wasn’t used to this.

They stood for a second before releasing. He could see the blush on her face. She turned the other way, waived, and left.

He let out a breath and went to go find something to do for an hour.
________________________________________________________________

April 23
Late Night
Saturday
Clear

The door clicked open.

She took a confident step in.

Her night had been amazing, she was sitting on cloud nine.

She had a friend for the first time in forever.

“So,” A startling voice called out from the dark, her hand shot to her chest, “How was your night? Was Kabuto’s good?”

It was just sigh, she let out a breath, “Don’t scare me like that Sis. Kabuto’s was good as always, I got the volcano roll. When did you get back and why are you sitting in the dark?”

She flipped the light switch. Sae was sitting at the end of the dining table, arms crossed and looking right at her.

“That’s a really nice outfit to wear to eat out by yourself.”

Her pulse quickened, did Sae know? No way.

“Well, I thought you were coming.” She said without stuttering somehow.

“You don’t normally wear something that nice even when we go out. You did your makeup, wore jewelry, and is that one of my pairs of heels?”

Her pulse quickened more and she had to keep from swallowing. Sae didn’t know anything, she couldn’t.

“Well- I wanted to dress up. It’s my 18th birthday, that doesn’t happen often.” She tried joking.

“Hmm, so, how were the green dragon rolls? I’ve never tried them before.”

Her heart stopped. Her whole body stopped working. Sweat poured down her back.

“I had the volcano rolls- what are you-”

“Makoto.” Sae seemed to tower over her, even while sitting, “Do you think I’m stupid?”

“What, Sis-”

“I said. Do you think I’m stupid?”

Sae arched an eyebrow expectantly, like Makoto could answer that somehow.

“No, why-”

“Why did you get dinner with Akira?”

She couldn’t stop tears from brimming at the edges of her eyes, “I didn’t-”

“So you do think I’m stupid. You know I have a tracker in that cell phone I gave him, and we have an app that tells me where you are at all times.”

Oh. Fuck.

“Sis, you have to-” She started desperately.

“I don’t have to do anything!” Sae stood up, furious. “Who do you think you are telling me what I have to do!”

Makoto took a protective step back, “I didn’t mean it like-”

“How old are you Makoto? Are you a child? Do I have to hold your hand and punish you like a child!? I thought I could trust you.”

Sae began striding towards her, fury on her face.

Makoto had never seen Sae this angry.

“You can Sis, I didn’t do-”

A tear fell from her eye. She never cried, but fear forced them from her eyes.

“But you did. I gave Akira a very specific set of instructions, and I gave you some too. I trusted you, I would see you both at the same place in school, but I trusted you. Makoto’s a good girl, I told myself, she would never betray your trust. They’re just both in the library at the same time. I was stupid.” She finished with a sneer.

Sae stood over her, naturally taller, and with them both in heels Makoto had to look up to make eye contact.

“Did he touch you?”

Her brain stopped for a second, not comprehending the question.

“What? No, we just got dinner!” She shout, taken aback.

Sae’s eyes were intense. “Makoto, he’s not someone you should be getting dinner with. He’s not safe! I warn you and warn you, but you don’t listen. Are you sure he didn’t touch you, you can tell me, I swear I won’t be mad.”

She tried to sound comforting, but the anger in her eyes was ruining it.

“No! Akira would never do that! Why would you even ask that!?” She defended.

She took another step back and her backside hit the wall. Sae took a step forward to match her.

“You don’t even know the half of what he would do given the chance. I tried to keep it from you Makoto, but I guess I shouldn’t have. Makoto, he didn’t just go to Juvenile hall for assault.”

“What?” She mumbled, shocked. He had just explained why he went to Juvie.

“He went to Juvie for first degree Assault and Battery and attempted murder. He’s a psychopath who snapped one day and beat an innocent man nearly to death. There are witnesses and police reports to confirm it. He was so violent they couldn’t even share the man’s name in court for fear Akira would seek him out and finish the job.”

Her mind stopped.

Her body stopped.

Her heart stopped.

What.

“What?”

Tears began flowing freely from her eyes. She couldn’t believe it.

“Makoto, he’s dangerous. No matter what he tells you, no matter who he pretends to be, he will always be the man who could snap and do that again. Makoto, he’s scary. I’m scared for both of us. I keep my gun on me every time he’s here.”

He didn’t mention any of this.

What was going on? What was real?

“It’s okay.” Sae said and began stroking her hair, “I knew this was a mistake. I’m sending him back to Juvie tonight. I don’t care anymore.”

That restarted her brain.

“Wait, Sis you can’t! What about his grandfather!”

Sae walked back to the table to grab her phone, “He was a great man, one of the best men I’ve ever met, but he was wrong. Akira is dangerous. We paid our debt and I won’t let him stay with us anymore. He’ll go back to Juvie for a year and then be a free citizen to do what he wants. It won’t be our problem anymore Makoto.”

She tried to stand taller, “You can’t! I was the one who invited him to dinner! I was the one who invited him to study! I’m the one you need to punish! Not him!”

Her emotions were running wild. Adrenaline flowed through her. She had never been this defiant.

Sae met her gaze until Makoto dropped her eyes to the floor.

“I will. Don’t worry, I will. But, not before I punish him. He knew the rules. He can’t live with us anymore.”

“Please Sae! He didn’t do anything wrong! He’s not a bad guy!”

“Not a bad guy? Did you not hear what I just said? I’m sending him back tonight.”

Sae’s hands went back to her phone. She was going to call the police.

Makoto did the only thing she thought she could. She dropped to her knees, hands locked together begging, “Please, Sis, please don’t. Please. It was me. Please don’t ruin his life.”

She didn’t even know how she felt about Akira anymore, but she owed him her life.

“Get up. You’re making a fool of yourself.”

Her hands slid to the floor and her head fell with them. Her forehead hit the ground with a thud, but her body didn’t even register the pain. “Please Sis-”

“Get. Up. You’re ruining your dress.”

“Please.” She mumbled into the ground.

She could hear Sae’s foot tapping impatiently.

“Get up. This isn’t proper.”

“Please.”

She sunk further into the ground.

She was ashamed of herself. All the self-respect she had gained for herself was gone.

Sae would never look at her the same again.

That hurt more than anything.

She tried to choke back a sob, but it broke through.

Sae would never see her as an adult after this.

Sae would never forget her sobbing on the floor.

She was mortified and humiliated.

She would never recover from this.

“Okay, okay, just, just get up.”

She peered up and Sae had slid her phone back into her pocket. She looked deeply uncomfortable.

“You promise?”

Sae sighed deeply and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Yes. Just, go to your room. I’ll talk to Akira when he comes in.”

“But you promise-”

“Don’t make me repeat myself.”

Sae looked at her. Makoto wanted to curl up and die.

Sae looked down at her with a light amount of disgust in her eyes.

Sae would never do this. She never begged. She barely even bowed to people.

Something inside of her hurt. It hurt so much she wanted to vomit.

She wanted to die. If something killed her right now, she would thank it.

Makoto stood up slowly, wobbling as she caught her balance.

Makoto quickly scurried away to her room, hurriedly wiping the tears from her eyes.

When she got inside she immediately locked her door and fell into her bed, sobbing.

Nothing would ever be the same.

Sae would never respect her. She could spend the rest of her life working towards it, but Sae never would.

She had lost her friend.

Her ex-friend was a violent psychopath who lied to her face.

She lived with the deranged maniac she always feared.

Or did she?

Akira never seemed like the person Sae said he was. He even said the man he ‘nearly killed’ had made it everything up.

What did he have to gain jumping in front of a car to save her from Kamoshida? Why would he do that? To get closer to her?

She couldn’t trust anyone.

Sae told her one thing, Akira another. Who was right? Who could she trust?

Her emotions swirled wildly in her mind.

Who could she trust anymore?
____________________________________________________________________________

April 23
Night
Saturday
Clear

The door clicked shut.

Sae was sitting at the table. She stared at him expectantly.

She knew.

His heart stopped.

He needed to leave.

“You okay Akira?” Morgana asked from behind, happily chewing Akira’s leftovers.

“Akira. Why did you break my rules?”

She knew.

No point in lying.

“Makoto told me it was her birthday and asked me to come to dinner.”

“But I told you to never look at her. So why’d you do it Akira? Or better yet, Ren?”

What?

His brain stopped.

He took a step back, ready to bolt.

No one had called him that since-

“Ren Amamiya. Born in Sumaru city to Touma and Aiko Amamiya. Father’s whereabouts, unknown, presumed deceased. Mother, in and out of rehab. Currently eight months ‘sober’, but who knows with her. Whereabouts, presumed Tokyo.”

He hated talking about his birth parents. Nobody was supposed to know.

A cold fire surged within him.

“What does this-”

“Abandoned at nine.” Sae continued, “Bounced around orphanages for a year until you were adopted by Okawa and Kimura Kurusu, who changed your name to Akira Kurusu. A very old couple living on disability and a government stipend. Your adoption was a surprise, in the adoption paperwork barely anyone had even a mildly kind thing to say about them. Shut-ins, grouchy, unfriendly, words used to describe them often. But, they passed the background check and you were adopted.”

The fire grew, along with something else.

He hated this feeling. His stomach hurt. It hurt more than it should. It wasn’t his ribs either.

He wiped at his eyes. He could feel the hot, angry, tears starting to form. But he never cried.

He looked around, was Makoto here to see this?

There was a small crack at the door to Sae and Makoto’s rooms. But he couldn’t see inside.

“Why-”

“I bring this up.” She cut him off, “To bring validity to the theory that you ‘snapped’. I researched this intensely when before I took you in. An orphan from a broken home, passed around from orphanage to orphanage, finally adopted by an older couple who didn’t have anything positive going for them? All these could easily lead to someone with severe emotional problems, someone who is prone to ‘snapping’.”

“I didn’t-”

“That’s not even getting into your history of violence in Juvenile hall. You spent a month being normal, being how your teachers described you. You were in one fight, but apparently you were normal for the first month. Quiet, nice, peaceful. Then, you snapped again and started fighting every chance you got. You were among the more violent inmates, someone who even the guards knew to watch out for.”

He felt one of the tears stream down his face. He hated people bringing up his past. He hated anyone even mentioning it.

He didn’t want anyone knowing about his painful past.

He hated confronting it.

“That’s not fair, the-”

She slammed one hand on the table.

Akira saw something in her other hand.

A gun.

A gun was in her hand.

He had good vision, better than ever after going into the metaverse, he could see every detail.

The safety was off.

If he moved she would actually kill him.

It wasn’t just a what-if anymore.

And no one would ever punish her for it.

Fear. Genuine fear, the most he had felt in a very long time, overtook him.

He nearly took a step back, but stopped himself. He was afraid any move could be seen as a threat. He had to keep himself from gulping.

“I’m being as fair as I can be. I take you into my home, I give you a few simple rules, I try to be kind, and this is how you repay me?”

“I’m sorry.”

He didn’t mean it, and he thought she could tell.

“I don’t give warnings. I should send you back to Juvenile hall right now.”

His heart stopped. His stomach tightened even more.

Bile rose in his throat, he had to swallow it down to keep from vomiting.

“But,” She continued, “I won’t. However, there are new rules. You will never be in the same room as Makoto. At school, you won’t even walk in the same hallway. I see every move you make thanks to that phone, and don’t even think about getting rid of it. If I even think, for a second, that you don’t have it on you, or that you let it die, I will put you in the ground.”

He nodded. Fear still ran through him.

She wasn’t kidding. He doubted she had ever killed someone, but she seemed the kind of person that would if necessary.

Angry tears still slipped from his eyes. He didn’t wipe them, for fear that the motion would be seen as aggressive.

His eyes were locked onto her gun.

He had to stand still.

He was in hell.

“Good. You will start coming in after nine. Don’t stay in the living room for any longer than a few seconds. You won’t cook anymore, anything you want to eat has to be microwavable.”

He nodded again.

“Now that we understand each other, get out of my sight. I’ll have your things sent to Sojiro’s. Don’t sleep here tonight.”

He nodded.

He went to leave.

“I know everything about you. I know every one of your secrets, and I’ll find anything you try to hide. This won’t happen again.”

Tears flowed freely down his cheeks. He held back a quiet sob.

He left.

He tried to get angry, he tried to fill the void in his heart with anger.

It wasn’t working. He just felt cold, alone, scared.

He thought of his father. His birth father. It hurt. He hadn’t heard about the man’s new status. He couldn’t believe it. His father was…

He thought of his mother. Pain flooded through him. He thought she had gotten better.

It hurt so much.

Painful memories flooded into him. Things he had desperately tried to forget. His adopted parents, his real parents, everything.

All his efforts to strengthen himself. To toughen himself to the world. They failed. He was just as weak as ever.

He wasn’t the badass he took the persona of. He was pathetic.

He got into the elevator and let out a shuddering sob. He sucked in air, quickly and painfully. It felt like his lungs were about to burst.

He was so uncomfortable in his own skin. He wanted to be anyone else.

He didn’t want to be Ren Amamiya. He didn’t want to be Akira Kurusu.

Both lives were shit.

He ran, ignoring Morgana’s questions. He put the backpack down near a light pole. He needed to be alone.

Morgana ran after him, but the cat couldn’t keep up with Akira’s desperate sprint.

He knew what he had to do.

He ran with purpose.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 24
After Midnight
Sunday
Clear

“Subway to Shinjuku Expressway will be arriving at station 3 in twenty minutes.” A voice called over the loudspeakers.

That was his line.

He checked his ticket.

He was leaving.

Morgana never caught up. Or he stopped caring and went to find Ann or Ryuji to feed him instead.

He saw no reason anyone should care about him.

The station was nearly empty. It was far from Sae’s apartment, he didn’t even know where it was. He just ran until his legs quit on him and went to the first subway entrance he could find.

He took a seat near a wall and waited.

Sometimes he wished he had been killed in Juvie.

This was one of those times.

“What’s someone as young as you doing here?” A voice asked.

He looked next to him. He was so out of it he hadn’t even noticed a man taking a seat next to him.

There were dozens of open seats around them, but the man sat next to him.

Akira didn’t care. He got one good look at the man before looking at his ticket once more.

He had long, black, hair, that ran past his shoulder. He had a plain face with a mildly long beard and a jagged scar running across his nose. He wore baggy, nondescript, clothing that showed nearly no skin. His irises were pure black.

The man coughed into his hand, “I said, what’s someone like you doing here?’”

“What?” Akira mumbled, only hearing half.

“What are you here for. A late-night rendezvous to see a girlfriend perhaps?”

The man smirked and wiggled his eyebrows, but it didn’t faze Akira. He didn’t care.

“I’m running away.”

The man let out a breath.

“Running away huh? Why?”

There was no humor in the man’s surprisingly soft voice. It had a bit of a rasp, but lacked the edge he imagined the man would have.

“I can’t be here anymore.”

“Trouble at home?”

Akira nodded and went back to looking at his ticket, hoping the man would get the message to leave him alone.

“Well, if I’ve learned one thing in my life.” The man continued, ignoring his attempts to end the conversation “It’s that running away never works. You have to confront your problems and beat them down.”

Akira looked at him wearily.

“I can’t beat my problems.”

The man let out a small chuckle, “There’s no problem you can’t beat. And running away only makes them stronger and harder to beat.”

“These aren’t problems I can fight anymore.”

“But giving up doesn’t help anyone.”

Akira let out a sigh, “I don’t think you understand the scope of my problems.”

“I may not.” The man admitted, “But I have my own, very large, problems. I tried running from them for a long time, most of my youth, and all I got was pain and misery. I eventually attacked my problems instead and that’s the only way I’ve got anywhere with them.”

“I... I can’t anymore. I thought I could, but I don’t have it in me anymore.”

“Would running away help? And what about the people you leave behind? Would it help them?”

He thought about Ryuji. About Ann, Morgana, and Shiho.

Without him, they all might die.

Ryuji, Ann, and Morgana wouldn’t give up on Kamoshida. They would enter the metaverse without him and be killed.

If Ann died, Shiho would die too.

His heart hurt.

He just wanted to escape.

He wanted to leave so badly.

“No. It wouldn’t.”

“Then go attack your problem instead.”

He couldn’t. He couldn’t beat everything society had placed on him.

He couldn’t beat his own past.

He also couldn’t leave his friends behind. He couldn’t doom them all to death.

He couldn’t leave with Kamoshida still around.

A hate grew in his heart. If Kamoshida never existed he wouldn’t have these problems. A dark, powerful, hate grew within him.

Rage, nearly overwhelming consumed him.

Without Kamoshida he could leave. He could escape this hell.

But he was being dragged back into it kicking and screaming. He couldn’t leave until he defeated the man. Even if he had to kill him.

He stood up. His blood pulsed. His fist’s clenched.

The hate was working. Rage was overwhelming his depression. He focused on Kamoshida, desperate to keep the anger going to drown out his memories.

He would leave Tokyo. But, not today. He would defeat Kamoshida and never see this hell again.

“You’re right. Thank you, Mr.?”

“Miki. Ryo Miki.”

“Akira Kurusu.”

He nodded to the man who only smiled at him.

Akira blinked. Had the man’s eyes flashed a sick gold for a second? No, that wasn’t possible. He was stupid and tired. The man’s eyes were clearly black.

Akira went to leave. He had been too hasty. He would defeat Kamoshida then leave forever.

He could do this.

He left to go find a Motel.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 24
Very Early Morning
Sunday
Clear

He left the train station, deeply annoyed.

His target never showed up.

He was incredibly pissed off at the lost opportunity.

Akechi strode back to his nearby motel.

It was a beaten down old place, but it had no cameras or security. All things he required for his job.

It was close enough to the station that he could enter mementos from it too.

He took an elevator up. There was a man in the elevator with him.

He was drunk.

This man was a nobody, a nothing. Akechi could easily see that this man was alone and would be alone until he drank himself to death.

Maybe he could help the man along? Speed up the process? It would do the world a favor.

No.

He needed to stop thinking that way.

He was getting too trigger happy.

But it would be so easy to pull the man into the metaverse. No one would ever find out.

He stopped himself.

When he started this, he promised himself that he would only kill those he needed to. And he had stuck to that promise, more or less.

Rage built inside of him as he thought of his target. He could have killed that man, then killed that Kurusu fellow to clear up any loose ends.

It would be fun too. He’d find Kurusu’s home, find his schedule, then he would time it so he could kill him in real life or in the metaverse. So many options, especially if he had a shadow. People like him usually had shadows.

Kurusu would be a fun kill. He looked like a fighter.

He stopped. This was getting dangerous.

He had only recently grown to enjoy killing. He had begun actively seeking out bigger challenges, his old easy targets were too boring now.

His boss might need to get a new assassin for the smaller jobs.

He got back to the subject at hand. The wasted time and effort.

He had planned it out so perfectly. The man would show up, take subway line five, the driver had a shadow, and Akechi would kill the driver and that would kill his target.

He had forced the man to need to take a train at night, he had forced a driver with a shadow to be working that night, everything had to go perfectly. There was only a small window.

And it was a waste.

He would have to do it all over again.

He would need to call in more favors, rearrange schedules, create havoc somewhere to change events. A ton of tiring work.

Or, maybe his boss would just let him kill the man outright. That would be easier.

But his boss wanted it to look accidental.

He let out a sigh as he walked into his bathroom, consumed by thoughts of how to create another opportunity.

He wiped off his makeup, pulled off his fake beard and wig, changed clothes, and took out his contacts. He would destroy them all in the metaverse later.

Such a waste of a costume. That was a good one too, but he had used it once and now it was worthless.

He’d have his boss commission another.

He never used a costume more than once.

He kicked the side of his bed in frustration. He could go kill the man who had been in the elevator. He was probably passed out drunk in his room right now. It would be easy.

But, no. He had to keep his promise to only kill those that were necessary.

Even if he made extra people necessary. He had made Akira Kurusu necessary to kill. There was no reason to talk to him other than to make him necessary to kill.

Wait. Idiot! If he had talked to the man in the elevator, he would have needed to kill him too!

But that would mean Kurusu was necessary. He just had reasoned out that Kurusu wasn’t necessary. He was really reaching at this point for a reason to kill.

He growled in frustration.

He plopped down on his bed, head in his hands.

There was something wrong with him. It was getting worse and worse.

That first kill had been so hard. Now, he was getting upset he didn’t have more people to kill?

When this was all over he needed to fix himself. He nearly laughed at the thought.

Would this ever be over? He wanted to scream.

Instead, he got ready to go to sleep.

He had another outfit for when he left tomorrow. He had work with Sae and couldn’t be spotted leaving a shady motel.

He had everything planned out, he was ready for every contingency.

His bedroom door was locked, not that anyone would come for him.

Who would, the police? The Yakuza? His boss had them both in his pocket.

And no one could ever tie him to his past crimes anyways.

He turned to his side, ready to fall asleep.

Akira Kurusu. He felt that he knew that name, but couldn’t put his finger on it.

The boy’s face floated in his brain for a bit.

No matter.

If it was important, he would figure it out later.

Maybe he would have to kill him anyways.

No time for that. For now, he needed to rest.

He had a long day of setting up another assassination attempt tomorrow.
___________________________________________________________________________

A/N

Sorry for the long wait guys! This chapter took about a month to write and edit, but it’s a super super important one for backstory and character development.

I actually had my birthday in-between the last update and now too.

These were some of the most important scenes of the arc, so I needed to take my time with them.

I had a few tests and a lot of family stuff these past few weeks, so I’ve had to just cram in hours of writing whenever I could.

I think it came out good though, I expanded on some important side characters, and set up a lot of backstory/worldbuilding.

I know many of you were looking forward to knowing more about Akira’s time in Juvie, so there you go.

So, Akira, Haru, and an OC are going to a fancy party? What can happen there?? Who knows.

Makoto was basically the focus for the rest of the chapter. But, it was her birthday. I planned out a lot of this stuff since day 1. Kamoshida is clearly shaken by all the things Akira has been piling on him, making him act irrationally.

I’m sure he’s afraid of a lot of things coming to light.

Sae, Makoto, and Akira. Now that was a fun scene to write.

I’ll go into my thought process and reasonings for this scene, so skip if you don’t want possible spoilers.

I know Sae might come off very aggressively in this, but I also added a lot of reason for her to. We all know Akira, we know how his brain works and we know his personality. He’s not a bad guy.

All Sae knows is what she’s read, and what she’s read hasn’t been good. Who wants their little sister hanging out with someone that dangerous / that much baggage? Akira doesn’t have a good track record and that caught up to him.

Also, there's no way someone as careful as her wouldn’t be watching him. She’s smart and bugged his phone.

There may be reasons for his violence, but Sae doesn’t care about those reasons. All she knows is that he has a history of snapping and assaulting people.

End discussion of that scene.

Akechi showed up too. His first scene and we’re already getting a look inside his head. There’s gotta be more to his assassinations than the game shows, not everyone has a shadow so he’s gotta plan it out very well to get his target on a subway with a conductor with a shadow.

I’ll go over more metaverse rules later, when appropriate, to explain more.

But that’s it! Hopefully the next chapter comes out quicker! I’ll be working on it soon! Until then, please review and share your thoughts! I’d love to hear them!

See you guys next chapter!

Chapter Text

April 23
Night
Saturday
Clear

The door quickly and quietly shut.

She let out a long-held breath and leaned back in her chair, finally able to relax. She stayed there for a moment, breathing slowly, before forcing herself up and slinking back to her office.

She carefully placed the gun on her cabinet and tried to ignore it. She hated that... thing. It was a tool for a person who couldn’t solve problems with words.

But she wasn’t a fool. There wasn’t a chance she would ever be without protection when confronting someone as dangerous as Kurusu.

She slid the bottom drawer of her desk open and pulled out a large, half-empty bottle of brandy. A quick trip back to the kitchen gave her the glass and ice she needed to make her drink.

She let out a sigh as she leaned back in her office chair. No one was around so she allowed herself a small spin in her seat.

She should have sent Kurusu back to Juvenile Hall.

But she didn’t. Makoto’s pleadings and the small part of her that wanted to believe the tales told by his grandfather had stopped her. The rational side of her hadn’t managed to crush those intrusive thoughts.

Those stories clashed with her knowledge that no one who went to North Tokyo Juvenile Detention Center was a good person. Nearly ninety percent of its inmates were back in a correctional facility within five years. Nearly one hundred when you expanded it to ten years.

Leaving out all the inmates that die or disappear obviously. They weren’t the kinds of people who could stay out of trouble.

She had read the reports. She read every shred of news, any interview, any court records, any information she could about the boy. She knew him better than he knew himself.

Tall, strong, angry, awkward, uncomfortable in society, prone to violence, and intelligent. Some of those traits didn’t mean much individually but combined profiled for some of the most dangerous people in society.

Even if she completely believed his grandfather’s stories, no one could come out of North Tokyo Detention Center the same. It wasn’t logical to think that he could be the same soft-spoken, kind, youth he had been reported to be.

She took a big swish of her brandy, nearly finishing the glass. She liked the burn in the back of her throat.

She wanted to scream.

This wasn’t in any of her plans. She should be the deputy director of the Special Investigations Unit and be getting groomed to become head director.

She put the hours in. She got the convictions.

Every barrier life put in front of her, she had conquered and destroyed.

Every problem she faced, she came out stronger. Better.

She had cut out nearly all distractions from her life. No romances, no friends, the only person she had regular contact with outside of work was Makoto. Even that was growing more limited as Makoto became more independent.

And all that effort could go down the drain. She downed the rest of her glass, shaking her head side to side to ignore the burn, then poured herself another.

She looked at her gun. The sign of weakness.

Every time she looked at it she was reminded of one of the few times she had been powerless in her life. In her days as a beat cop, the few months she had been forced to, her partner and herself had been attacked by a crazed man when entering the subways.

Luckily, her partner had a gun and was able to talk the man down before anything happened. No one was seriously hurt, but she still had nightmares of the blade flashing in front of her face, nearly close enough to cut her bangs.

When she moved up to detective she pulled every favor she had to get a license to own a handgun. It came with dozens upon dozens of restrictions and qualifications, but she had managed to obtain one. It always sat in her gun safe at the back of her office. The only time she had ever removed it was when Kurusu had arrived.

It was a massive hassle. She reminded herself often how stupid it was to have one and the time she wasted getting recertified, retested, having her safe examined, and the numerous other things she had to do.

But dealing the scum of society day in and day out reminded her how dangerous the world could be. If she ever needed it to protect Makoto, it would be worth the years of trouble.

Thoughts swirled in the back of her mind, fighting for attention. Her vision blurred then focused on an image of Kurusu walking into her office.

“What are you-” She started, leaping to her feet and towards her gun, before realizing nothing was there.

Panic fled her. Her heart calmed. She fell back into her chair and took a swig of her drink. It burned. Her mind raced. Why did it have to be Kurusu?

He was handsome, apparently charming if he had managed to get Makoto’s attention, and secretive. The guards said he never joined any Yakuza gangs or any regional cliques, but no one could survive in there if they didn’t. It didn’t make sense.

He was hiding something, and she was doing all she could to figure it out.

She wanted to read his text messages, but she was already pushing her limits as a parole officer by monitoring his location. The terms of his probation were no advise and guide him, she could make an argument for some monitoring but not all she wanted to do. She was seriously considering getting a warrant to read his messages.

She needed to keep Makoto safe. If she couldn’t figure out his secret soon, she would read his messages, with or without a warrant.

He was dangerous, she saw the look in Kurusu’s eyes. The same one the guards had reportedly seen. Intensity and simmering rage. Dangerous eyes. The look of a man who could, and would, fight like a cornered animal when pushed.

But they also held an intense sadness that was never mentioned.

That sadness nearly tripped her up, but she had to stay steadfast. He needed to know that she had the power in their relationship.

Then why did she regret how the conversation went? She had grilled witnesses before and said worse things. She had seen stronger looks of anguish before. Why did his look of sorrow affect her? Maybe because of his grandfather?

She needed to stop.

She had to focus on the facts.

She downed most of her glass. It burned, but she held back a cough.

Kurusu was a dangerous criminal. He had beaten an innocent man nearly to death. He was sentenced, in record time, to the worst detention center in Japan.

Those weren’t the actions of an innocent, reasonable, man.

The system wasn’t wrong. If a judge had sentenced him to go to North Tokyo, there must have been something wrong with him psychologically that she didn’t know.

Which didn’t make sense because she knew everything about him.

But it must be true. Otherwise, there was no reason to send him to North Tokyo instead of, the more merciful, West or East.

She sipped at her drink, the light burn comforting her.

Her mind didn’t leave Kurusu for the rest of the night.
___________________________________________________________________________

April 24
Morning
Sunday
Clear

LeBlanc’s bell chimed.

“You’re late.” Sojiro said gruffly.

Akira checked his phone. It was 7am. He had gone to the gym before coming back to LeBlanc, or he would have been there even earlier. He shrugged, not willing to apologize.

Sojiro continued to stare at him, “Your stuff’s upstairs. I moved it up there for you.” When he thanked the man, Sojiro waved him off, “What are you doing today?”

“I have an event later. I might go to Shibuya too.”

Sojiro’s eyebrow raised, “An event? Didn’t expect that. Well, until then you’ll be helping me out around here. Got it?”

Akira nodded. The man probably wanted him to lift boxes. He went upstairs and put his bags down.

His ‘room’ was still the same. Sojiro had been nice enough to put his things on the shelves though. It looked like Sojiro had replaced the bed frame too. A closer look revealed that the mattress now rested on actual supports rather than just a few boxes. The bedsheets were the same however.

He appreciated it. He voiced as much when he went downstairs but was ignored.

“Put this on.” Sojiro said, handing him an apron. He went back to feeding Morgana some tuna, who greedily ate it up.

He adjusted the apron, which was a little small, but did the job. “You want me to brew coffee?”

Sojiro let out a soft chuckle, “You think I’d let you anywhere near my machines? I don’t think you’re even ready to do inventory. Let’s get through some easier things before you think of trying to do anything important.”

Good. He didn’t want to mess anything up and upset the man.

Sojiro continued, “There’s some cleaning supplies in the back closet, clean the tables then…” The man listed off several detailed tasks.

Akira spent the next few hours doing the work. He avoided talking to customers as much as possible.

He enjoyed the busy work. It kept his mind occupied. When he thought too much, he remembered last night’s nightmares.

Carmen killing him. Captain Kidd electrocuting him. Zorro piercing him.

Along with the pain in his ribs, he hadn’t slept well. The medication was helping a lot, but the area was still tender.

After the cafe calmed down, going from two customers to zero, Sojiro pulled him aside and placed a plate of curry and rice, big enough for two people, in front of him. He immediately began shoveling the food into his mouth.

Sojiro looked at the food proudly, “Hungry huh? It is good curry. You’re doing a decent job-” He cut off as his phone rang.

Sojiro’s eyes drooped when he saw who was calling, “Yes?” Sojiro sighed out, “Yes… I’ve told you a hundred times… I’m working… It’s just three buttons on… Look. I can come home in an hour. If you can’t wait, come over.... No one’s here and I’ll make you some curry… Yes, no one… I’m sorry, I have to prepare some coffee for brewing... I can come back in an hour, at most... Okay… okay, see you soon.” He finished with a huge sigh.

He slumped over and seemed to forget Akira was there as he muttered about becoming a personal ramen chef.

His eyes scanned the room and widened dramatically when he saw Akira. “Oh. Oops. She will not be happy. Get upstairs kid before-”

The bell rang at the entrance, and a soft voice spoke up “Sojiro? You-”

Akira looked towards the door.

A girl with glasses about his age was there. She was very short compared to him and had long orange hair that ran to the bottom of her back. She wore a white shirt with some logo on it, a dark green jacket, a pair of black short-shorts, black thigh highs, and black knee-high boots. On her head was a set of headphones with red earpads.

She looked at him like a deer caught in the headlights. Her face showed fear so strong that one would think he had a gun to her head. Without that horrified expression she might be cute.

Sojiro let out a deep breath, “Futaba, this is Akira, Akira, Futaba. This was going to happen eventually, but I didn’t expect it like this.” He mumbled.

Akira nodded towards the girl who only flinched. An extremely awkward air filled the room. He coughed into his fist, “I’m, uh, going to finish this upstairs.” He said, then grabbed his plate and rushed to his room.

He ate quietly at his desk. He could easily overhear their whispered shouts. Futaba was very upset that Sojiro lied while Sojiro was trying to apologize and emphasize that it wasn’t a big deal.

Eventually they calmed down and Sojiro tried to get a conversation going. Futaba barely responded, she only seemed interested in asking about him, but Sojiro didn’t share many details. Something Akira appreciated.

Futaba finished her meal rather quickly, in less than twenty minutes. He heard her rushing out of the cafe and onto the street as soon as she finished.

Akira quietly walked down the stairs. He peered around the corner to make sure she was gone.

“You can come down.” Sojiro said in his usual gruff voice, “She’s gone.”

Akira straightened up and walked the rest of the way down. “Sorry if I-”

Sojiro waived him off, “No, It’s my fault. Futaba doesn’t like people, she really doesn’t like people. I forgot you lived here for a second. It’s not a big deal, maybe it’s even a good thing. She was forced to meet a new person. I wish I could help her meet more.” He finished with a mumble. He seemed to retreat in on himself, shaken up.

It was surprising, the man always seemed unflappable.

Sojiro’s eyes hardened when he looked towards Akira, “Just because I introduced you doesn’t mean I want you talking to her or about her. She exists, you’ve met her, don’t expect to see her again. I know how boys your age are, it might be better just to forget she existed.”

Akira nodded. There was the man he was used to.

“Good.” Sojiro said and handed him Futaba’s dirty dish, “Clean this.”

Akira went back to work, cleaning dishes and scrubbing floors.

The monotony was broken up by Sojiro speaking again, “You said you were going to Shibuya, right?”

He nodded, “Yeah, I need to run an errand.”

“Perfect. I need you to go and talk to the owner of a small bean shop. I buy most my product from him and I need to be sure this week’s shipment coming in. I’ll text you his address.”

Akira nodded and grabbed his things. He was soon out of the cafe and away.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 24
Afternoon
Sunday
Clear

He walked down the familiar Shibuya back alley. He took a deep breath when he arrived at ‘Untouchables’.

His errands had been run. He had the man’s gun. It was time to return the illegal weapon.

His ribs hurt, but he schooled his expression and opened the door.

The surly man barely glanced up from his paper, “You’re back.” He said gruffly.

Akira nodded and scanned the room. They were the only ones in the shop. He slowly slid his backpack off, careful to make sure the man didn’t think he was making any aggressive motions.

The shop owner watched him casually. He looked calm, but Akira saw his hand tighten on his magazine. He was ready to leap over the counter if need be.

Akira carefully unzipped his bag and slowly pulled out the brown paper bag the man had given him a week ago.

“So, you brought it back.” The man mumbled. He placed his magazine on the counter and stood up straight.

Akira matched him. He stood half a hand taller than the intimidating man.

The surly man crossed his arms across his chest, “You open it?”

Akira nodded and placed the bag down on the counter. The man peer inside, then handed it back. Confused, Akira accepted it.

The man spoke up, “It’s yours kid. Think of it as a… gift.”

Akira nodded and put it back in his bag. He wouldn’t reject the free weapon. He made to leave.

The man stopped him, “We’re not done.” Confused, Akira turned towards him, “You see that camera there.” The man nodded to the corner, “That caught everything we just did. You could get in a lot of trouble for this. I don’t think a kid on probation should be caught buying guns.”

Panic shot through him. His brain defaulted to violence. He instinctively scanned the man, did he have a weapon? He was sure the man had a knife, but he could bring them to the metaverse and have one too.

He needed to breath but couldn’t show weakness. Would he be forced to kill this man? He didn’t want to, but would he have to?

The store owner smirked, “I like that look kid. Reminds me of myself. Don’t worry, I won’t show anyone these tapes. I just need to make sure you don’t snitch to the cops, but someone like you wouldn’t.”

Akira did let out his breath. His fingers left his cell phone. He wanted to vomit.

He desperately didn’t want to go back to the metaverse. Images of his own death still flashed in his mind. He had no desire to become a murderer. The man had nearly put Akira in a very tough spot.

The man continued, not realizing what Akira had almost done, “I have some work I need done.” He said curtly, “If you accept, I can offer you a discount and access to better goods.”

It was an okay deal, but he wasn’t willing to get involved with this dangerous man for that little. He voiced as much.

The man let out a short breath, “If you do… maybe I’ll consider sliding you some more free weapons. If you want to sell something, maybe I can offer you a better deal. We can work something out.”

That was better. He eyed the deadly handguns behind the man, those could be incredibly useful. Akira agreed to work for him.

They traded phone numbers. The man’s name was Iwai, although Akira didn’t know if that was his real one. Akira told ‘Iwai’ his name was Mishima. He wouldn’t give this man another leg up on him.

He was soon out the door, new weapon in tow.

He found a cheap locker rental place nearby to store the gun. After using Morgana’s money for a payment, he was on his way back to LeBlanc.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 24
Afternoon
Sunday
Clear

Akira finished cleaning another dish. Quite a few dirty plates had piled up while he was gone. He needed to finish soon as Mitsuko’s driver was on their way.

Sojiro broke the silence, “So, kid, I heard about what happened between you and Sae.” He spoke awkwardly.

The dishes nearly slipped from Akira’s hands. He didn’t turn to face the man.

Sojiro continued, “I don’t want to talk about it, but just be more careful next time. I was your age once and I’ve dated a few girls whose parents didn’t like me. Believe me, there was this one girl whose parents would have literally- wait, that’s not the point. Just try not to get on Sae’s bad side again. You’re a good lookin’- no, that’s weird, but there’s other girls out there, girls who aren’t your probation officer’s sister. I respect the risk you took though.”

He nodded at the awkward advice and continued scrubbing the dishes.

He didn’t correct the man. He hadn’t been trying to date Makoto. They had just spent time together. Alone and at a fancy restaurant. For a semi-romantic dinner.

Out of context it may have seemed like he was trying to date her.

He quietly scrubbed the dishes, biding his time until his ride arrived. Eventually his phone rung, prompting him to nearly throw his things down and run out of the cafe.

“Kid.”

Akira stopped at the doorway and turned towards the man.

“A little advice,” Sojiro said and coughed into his hand, “When you’re talking to a girl, try to keep her talking about herself. People like to talk about themselves, so if you can’t figure out what to say just ask her about herself. Don’t be weird about it or interrogate her, but just, you get the idea. And give me your glasses, you look like a dork.”

Well, that was the point. “Thanks.” Akira mumbled, hanging the man his glasses and slinking away. He did appreciate the advice, he needed all he could when dealing with girls

He ran down the street, and as expected, a driver was waiting nearby. Unexpected, however, was that he came with a stretch limo.

Akira had expected a taxi, or an upscale van, not this beast.

The driver smiled at him and opened the door, allowing him to slide into the vehicle. He could barely say his thanks over the shock.

The interior was even larger than he expected. He only had to duck his head slightly getting in and once inside he could sit up straight comfortably the long leather couch.

The next shock was the fully stocked mini-bar across from the leather couch.

The window at the front of the vehicle slid down, “Sir, I have instructions to take you to Pecora Ginza. Are there any stops you need to make along the way?”

The driver rolled his window back up when he shook his head no. He quickly looked up Pecora Ginza.

It was one of the most famous tailors in Tokyo.

His vision started swimming. How much would a suit from there cost?

He quietly sat in the back of the limo.
___________________________________________________________________________

April 24
Night
Sunday
Clear

The limo was parked in front of a massive apartment complex in an upscale part of the city.

His driver had left a few minutes ago to get his date. He sat awkwardly and examined one of the bottles of alcohol in his new black suit and tie. It was tight on him, and slightly smaller than he wanted, but he didn’t mind. It showed off his musculature well.

The tailor couldn’t make a new one on such short notice, but they could sell him one of the ones they had in the back. All on Mitsuko’s tab.

Apparently, her family was a very frequent customer, so they were willing to bend the rules a bit for her. They normally didn’t sell anything they hadn’t made to exact specifications. They would be shipping their handmade black tuxedo to Sojiro’s as soon as it was done.

The door opened and Mitsuko slid gracefully inside.

She was absolutely stunning.

Her hair was done up in a bun with flecks of gold intermittently sparkling throughout. She wore a flowing white dress that went to her mid-calf and showed off a good amount of cleavage. It was form fitting and sheer on parts of her leg, arms, and chest showing off even more skin.

His breath caught in his throat.

She gave him a small meaningful smile and slid next to him.

“You look good in a suit.” She said, and he blushed.

His mouth was dry, but he managed to speak without stammering, “You look good in that dress.”

She smiled sweetly back at him, making him blush more. Her hand moved to his thigh and gave it a gentle squeeze.

He shifted uncomfortably but made no move to stop her.

“What do you think?” She asked him. Her voice was gentle and airy, like something out of a story.

“It’s a lot... more than I thought it would be.”

“The suit, or the limo.”

“Everything.”

She let out a small chuckle before reaching towards the bar. She had to lean off the couch to get what she wanted, giving him get a good look at how her dress hugged her backside.

He looked away as she sat back.

“Want a glass?” She asked, shaking a bottle of prosecco gently.

He nodded, “Yeah, a small one.”

She moved gracefully and with his help, poured them both a glass in two crystal flutes. She handed him his and he took a sip. It was tastier than he imagined, bubblier too.

Mitsuko spoke up, “So, tell me about yourself. I only know what the school’s told me, but there has to be more. Any juicy details?” She finished and looked at him intrigued.

He wanted to scratch the back of his head but resisted the temptation. “Well, there’s not much. I grew up in Sumaru City but moved to Tokyo a while ago.”

She frowned and looked disappointed for some reason. It only lasted a second before her face was back to it’s happy, peaceful look.

Had he said something wrong?

“Uhm,” He mumbled, “Tell me about yourself? What’s your father do?”

“My father?” She looked upset again, “He’s in real estate. He develops upscale apartments and manages a lot of properties.”

Her smile faded slightly and she sipped her drink instead of speaking. This was a bad start.

“Um,” He started, “How about your mom?” He asked, trying to take Sojiro’s advice.

Her smile dropped further and she let out a small, mocking, laugh. “That’s a good question, what does she do? Nothing, as far as I can tell.” She muttered and peered into her glass, frustration in her eyes.

He was messing this up badly.

“Um, any siblings?” He regretted saying it almost immediately as the smile further dropped from her face and a frown took its spot.

Sweat began dripping down his back.

“No. None that I know of.” She said, and sipped her drink, “How about we do something more fun? Let’s tell stories. How about… something exciting.” She finished and her smile returned full force.

That was better, “Alright, you start.”

She giggled excitedly, “Okay. Well, don’t tell anyone, but there was this one time that me and my friend were at a party right? We had a few drinks and I got curious. I asked if she wanted to become better friends. She felt the same, so, you know, we went upstairs, and I learned that I like girls a bit too.” She finished flirtatiously.

He blushed fiercely. He couldn’t help but imagining Ann as the other girl.

He tried to distract himself, but only ended up imagining Haru or Makoto as the other girl.

He grew uncomfortable and tried to subtilty shift himself to disguise the problem.

She noticed and laughed raucously. She snorted by accident and laughed harder. He couldn’t help but join in.

Her laughing slowed, “So, your turn. When have you done something you shouldn’t? Any wild times?”

No, not really. He had lived a boring life up until a week ago. There was that one time, but would a girl want to hear about that? He had to try, he had no other ideas. He needed to change a few details though.

He began, “There was this one time about a year ago, my neighbor was really into me. She was a little older than me, but pretty and unmarried. She loved to talk to me when I came around. So she invited me to dinner one night, and one thing lead to another, and I guess I found out I like older women.” He watched her carefully throughout the story. When he finished she let out another short burst of laughter, which let him relax. She liked the story.

She stared at him coquettishly, “Well, it’s a good thing I’m your senpai then, isn’t it?”

He nearly coughed out his prosecco, making her laugh again. She enjoyed his embarrassment. He hadn’t meant to flirt, but it had worked so he wouldn’t complain.

“So,” She spoke softly, “Any other stories, you ever do anything… illegal?”

He froze and looked at her cautiously. Why did she ask him that?

They sat in silence. Without thinking, he shifted uncomfortably. His elbows moved to rest on his knees and his hands made a fist to support his chin.

His eyes stayed on her and saw her smile grow at his silence. Her arm wrapped around his back and rubbed his opposite shoulder while her chest was pushing into his arm, “Can’t talk about it hmm, I like that.”

She slowly crossed her legs, showing off as much as possible. The leg that rest on top began sensually rubbing against his leg. Her dress ran up as she did, showing off even more skin.

Her hand stroked his cheek slowly downwards and stopped at his jawline. She used one finger to pull his face towards her, but glided away before anything happened.

He was disappointed. He thought something was going to happen.

She opened her purse and pulled out a small orange bottle. “You want one?”

He looked at the bottle curiously, was it a medication?

“Adderall.” She clarified, “I take one before these big parties. It makes it easier to talk to some of the old men who can’t stop staring at my chest. You’d think knowing me since I was 12 would turn them off, but I guess not” She joked.

“How did you get that?” He asked.

She scoffed, “It’s not hard. I tell daddy’s doctor that I can’t focus and he’ll sign anything, and I mean anything. I’m sure you have your own hook up, but if you ever need oxy or something just ask. I’d do anything for a cutie like you.” She flirted.

He was shocked. He didn’t think she did drugs. Not that he cared much, Adderall wasn’t a hard drug, not nearly as hard as the drugs he learned about in Juvie, but Mitsuko didn’t seem like the kind of girl who did drugs.

He was very wrong and watched her seductively stick her tongue out and swallow one of the pills. It reignited the fire inside him, which made him feel weird. He shouldn’t be attracted to a girl doing drugs, but she did have a long tongue. She shook the bottle at him, “You want one?”

He shook his head no.

She nodded in understanding, “Ah, you want to drink tonight huh? Yeah, can’t do that on Adderall. I like a good time, but I don’t want to ruin my life. There’s some really bad side effects if you mix the two, but I like being high rather than drunk when I’m with daddy’s friends, they sometimes get handsy if they think I’m drunk.”

He wasn’t sure how to respond. Luckily the limo pulled to a stop, giving him an escape to the conversation.

The chauffeur opened the door for them. Mitsuko slid out first, giving him a good view as she left, and he followed her.

In front of him was a massive ornate building lit up like a beacon. A red carpet lined the steps up to enormous front doors surrounded by security. Massive Greek pillars, taller than LeBlanc, dotted the entrance.

He nearly gulped, but Mitsuko slid her arm into his and walked forward. He walked in with her and nodded at the security guard who didn’t try to stop them.

After a short walk down a beautiful hallway lined with portraits they entered a great hall filled nearly shoulder to shoulder with well-dressed people.

He almost froze again, but Mitsuko continued forward. She rubbed his bicep in small circles and sent him tiny smiles.

They passed by people of all ages, young men, old men, old women, and young women. While there were an equal number of old to young men, there seemed to be quite a few more young women than old women.

Many of those younger women were very attractive too. A few sent him glances that nearly had him stumbling.

He wanted to stop and talk to them. Particularly the one in the very revealing silver dress.

He peered out over the crowd, which was easy as was among the tallest people in the room. Only a few of the security staff and the scarce businessman were at his height or taller. Everyone else ranged from slightly shorter than him to feet shorter than him.

“Here we go.” Mitsuko mumbled. Her eyes intensely stared at one man’s back. “No matter what happens, just stick around. I’ll make it worth your while.” She said flirtatiously.

What did she mean?

“Daddy!” She cried out, letting go of him and embracing a stone-faced man when he turned towards her.

He had greying hair and was a full head shorter than Akira. He wore thick glasses and only looked at his daughter once. His eyes moved to Akira to glare death at him.

“So,” The man spoke gruffly with his daughter in his arms, “Is he the guy you use to piss me off this time?”

Mitsuko released the man and took a step back, appalled. She slapped his chest, “How could you say that daddy!? He’s my boyfriend!”

Boyfriend? He had never agreed to that.

Mitsuko’s father ignored the slap and put his hand out for a handshake, something uncommon in Japanese culture. Akira grasped the man’s hand back in an effort to be polite.

Before he could say anything, the man squeezed as hard as he could. Akira nearly released his grip on the spot, but instinctual rage at the ‘attack’ overtook him and he squeezed back harder.

He was much stronger than the older man and had a much bigger hand. He felt the man’s hand bending inwards as he squeezed tighter. The man forced his hand away before Akira could break it.

“Your new mistake has a better grip than your last.” The man spit out, continuing to glare daggers at Akira while he massaged his hand. His companion, a larger man but still smaller than Akira, stepped up beside him. He looked like a bodyguard.

Mitsuko didn’t seem to care, “Don’t say that Daddy! Why do you always do this when I like someone!? It’s like you don’t want me to be happy!”

“Stop making a scene!” The man rumbled quietly, staring straight at his daughter now, “It’s not that I don’t want you to be happy, but why do you have to date trash like him! It’s like you want to make me angry!”

“I’m not trying to make you-”

Akira waived at the bodyguard and took the opportunity to leave. The bodyguard waived back, a knowing smirk on his face. The other two, still arguing, left.

He should have seen this coming. No way a girl that beautiful and rich wanted to date him for his personality.

Time to go back to Sojiro’s. He couldn’t waste money on a cab. Maybe there was a subway near here? He’d steal some food before he left too.

“Akira?” A familiar voice called out.

He turned to find Hanae standing there in a slim, revealing, black strapless dress that went down to mid-thigh. She spoke up, “What are you doing at Mr.Okumura’s party?”

He cleared his throat, too aware of how closely the dress hugged her curves and showed off her chest. He had felt those curves too. He needed to distract himself, “What are you?”

She looked at him blankly, “I work for him, remember? Someone in upper management asked if I wanted to go, so I took the opportunity. These places are great for trying to move up in the world. You get the right old pervert to like you and maybe when they need a new executive assistant, your name will be at the top of their list. But, that also means you have to dress like this.” She finished, waving her hands down at the dress that showed more skin than Mitsuko’s did, “It can pay off, but why are you here?”

“One of my classmates invited me. I think she’s the daughter of one of those perverts.” He tried to joke.

Hanae laughed and sipped her drink, “You want to get a drink?” She asked with a small smile.

She looked really good tonight. “I was actually about to leave-”

“You can’t!” She nearly shout, before catching herself and continuing quieter, “You can’t. There’s opportunity here, but these parties are awful. Everyone just wants to talk about themselves on and on, and anytime I mention what I do they look at me like I’m garbage. Just, stay for a bit and have a drink with me? It’ll make my night to have a good conversation.”

She looked at him, pleading.

He couldn’t say no.

Next thing he knew he was on a balcony with a drink in his hand. They rested against a stone ledge overlooking the harbor. The moon was their primary source of light.

Hanae took another sip of her drink before speaking up, “So, I never got the chance to thank you in person for walking Shinya home.”

“You don’t have to-”

“I do! It was an inconvenience. I need think a way to pay you back, maybe I’ll figure it out by the end of the night.” She finished and gave him a small, sultry, smile. It disappeared as she drank more wine.

He must have imagined it, “Whatever you think is best.” He said, just in case he hadn’t imagined the smile.

He turned towards the harbor and she moved closer to him. Her shoulder rest against his arm as they looked at the yachts.

Akira looked around, but no one was paying them any mind. Everyone else on the balcony was also with someone of the opposite sex and was more engrossed in their own conversations.

He nearly gulped.

“So, you never told me, which girl did you come here with? And where is she now? I wouldn’t imagine a girl could give up someone like you easily.”

Akira scoffed, she was just saying that, “Mitsuko something, I don’t know her last name. She’s with her dad now and I don’t think she was ever really interested in me.” He said and took a big swig of his wine

Hanae rubbed his arm meaningfully. He looked at her and she stared back with care in her eyes.

Why did so many girls touch him without asking? Not that he disliked it, but he never saw girls touching Ryuji’s arms or chest like this.

“I’m sure she is interested in you, but some of these girls are really spoiled. I wouldn’t think too much about it.”

He nodded and drank from his wine. He didn’t need to be cheered up, he really didn’t care that she wasn’t interested in him. Or so he told himself.

She rest her head against his shoulder. She couldn’t see him blush.

She let out a sigh and moved even closer to him. She pulled him into a tight hug. It hurt his ribs a bit, but he pushed down his groan.

He could feel she wasn’t wearing a bra.

“There’s just… so much going on recently. With Shinya... with his dad, with everything. I’m just happy I have your support.”

He smelled a lot of alcohol on her breath, “How many glasses of wine have you had.” He tried to say teasingly.

She laughed, not catching his intentions, “Quite a few, more than I should have if I’m being honest.”

He wasn’t sure how to respond. He had dinner with the woman once and walked her child home from school. He was uncomfortable with the familiarity. He liked her, but he didn’t think they were as close as she thought.

“Want to go find somewhere-” She began.

“Oda-chan?” A new voice called out loudly. Akira looked towards the voice. A short, pudgy, grey haired man stood at the door smiling broadly.

Hanae let go of him instantly and waved towards the short man. She whispered out the side of her mouth towards Akira, “I gotta go, this guy's a big shot. Stick around though, I’ll find you again later tonight.” She finished and walked towards the door.

Thank whatever god was out there for the distraction.

One part of his body almost took over there. He wasn’t sure if he could have stopped it, or if he wanted to.

He continued to stand at the balcony. He took a deep breath and appreciated the mega-yachts. He wouldn’t mind sailing one of those someday. He pushed himself up and went to leave again.

Turning around, a man blocked his path. A young man. Haru’s fiancé to be precise. “I thought you were just a school friend Mishima.” There was an edge to his tone. A threat. The man’s fists were balled up and ready to swing.

Akira put his hands up, placating. He wouldn’t mind knocking the man out, but this wasn’t the time. “Yeah, I am, I came here with Mitsuko. I had no idea Haru was here.” He lied.

That seemed to calm the man down, but only slightly, “Are you an idiot? Why wouldn’t Haru be here? If you’re trying to lie, you’re doing a bad job of it.” He sneered, “I’ll have to ask her about this later.”

Why did Haru have to be there? “Are you threatening her?” Now it was his turn to get angry.

The man looked taken aback, “I would never! But when you’re engaged you shouldn't tell each other lies.” The man said, taking a step back when he saw Akira’s balled fists, “You seem like Mitsuko’s type though, so that makes sense.” He said as if it were an insult.

“What do you mean?” He replied curtly.

The man offered a mocking smile, “Oh nothing. She likes bad boys, criminals one could even say. She likes to make her father mad. I do have to commend you, she’s a real looker and quite easy to get into bed if you know what to say, or so I’ve heard. Trash like you can’t do much better than someone like her.”

Akira desperately wanted to wipe the smug grin off his face and throw him over the balcony. They glared at each other.

“Sugimura?” Haru’s soft voice called out. Akira saw her scanning the crowd for them. When she saw them together, she nearly sprinted towards them. “Sugimura! What are you doing!?” Haru asked, horrified.

“Just talking to your ‘school’ friend.” He bit out.

Haru’s face twisted, “That is none of your business! We talked about this, we can have different-”

Sugimura cut her off, “That is not how this works! We’re engaged. I need to know every one of your friends.”

Haru became angry and tried to look intimidating, but it didn’t fit her well. The stark contrast to her normal personality gave it weight however, “You don’t! I’m going to tell my father about this if you don’t leave right now!”

Sugimura chuckled, his posture was confident, “And what will he say? Whose side do you think he will take?”

Haru grew more upset, “Please. Leave. If you don’t, I’ll... I’ll... I’ll scream and say you touched me.”

That seemed to shock Sugimura, “What-”

Haru interrupted, still angry, “I’ll make a scene if you don’t leave right now!”

Sugimura’s expression was angrily resigned. He spoke through clenched jaw, “Alright, I’ll go. But you don’t need this trash. I can fill your bed if you want someone. We’ll be married soon and you’ll fill mine every night anyways.” He finished arrogantly and stalked towards the ballroom. Akira nearly tackled the man and let himself loose.

Once he passed through the doors Haru’s knees gave out and Akira had to catch her before she hit the floor. He helped her struggle to her feet and rest on the railing.

She seemed near tears, “I don’t know how I just did that. It has to be the wine. I shouldn’t drink this stuff.” She mumbled out and put her head into her arms.

Akira didn’t know what to say, “Sorry.”

She shook her head, “It’s not your fault my fiancé is so awful. It’s getting really hard to argue with him when every time he tells my father about it. And then my father tells me I was wrong and I need to listen to him.” She said, growing more strained as she finished her sentence.

She looked up and wiped at the corners of her eyes. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her, for which she muttered a quick thanks.

He took a good look of her in the moonlight. She was beautiful. She was wearing a conservative, frilly, white dress with pink accents that went down to her knees. It was loose but covered her chest while also showing a good amount of collarbone. Her hair was done up in an intricate weave with pink ribbons placed sporadically within. A pair of tall pink heels made the top of her head reach about the top of his chest.

She dabbed her eyes and spoke up, “I really don’t want to be here, but I do want to talk, can we go somewhere with less people?” He nodded, and she led the way to the docks.

Akira could feel half the people on the balcony’s eyes on them as they left for some reason, but Haru was careful and took them down a side path where people couldn’t watch them. They traveled down the docks for some time before stopping at the largest boat in the Marina titled the ‘Big Bang Boat’.

It was a stupid name. It reminded him of the burger chain, something he asked about.

“Oh yeah, I never told you about that did I.” She said casually, “I’m Haru Okumura. Of Okumura foods. We own Big Bang Burger. Can we not talk about it though?” She pleaded. He nodded, now Sugimura’s statement made sense.

The Okumura Foods brand was on many the items in the grocery store. It was one of the biggest brands in Japan, possibly the biggest in food. It had grown tremendously after several other companies financially collapsed when their CEOs died.

He wasn’t the smartest, or most up to date person, but you had to live under a rock to not hear about how powerful Okumura Foods was getting. They were even expanding into overseas markets. They would soon be a worldwide name. That meant Haru was a part of one of the richest families in Japan, in the top 10 at least.

He pushed down his questions as Haru lead him into her massive Yacht. She walked him up the stairs into a large, bright, wood-paneled sitting room with enough white furniture to sit more than a dozen people.

Haru spoke up, “Who left the lights-”

Footsteps cut her off. A new voice called out from the staircase from across the room, “I have a bigger ship I can show you-” a bespectacled man in a business suit with swept back, jet black, hair came into the room. His companions were two interestingly dressed men.

The first was a much older man in a traditional Japanese outfit with completely white hair pulled back into a ponytail. He smiled at the two of them, seemingly at peace with everything. He reminded Akira of his grandfather a bit.

The second was a handsome boy about Akira’s age with dark blue hair and grey eyes. He wore a full black suit with silver embroideries intricately laid throughout. He was the tallest of the trio, only a few inches shorter than Akira. He looked frustrated for some reason as his eyes scanned the two of them. He was probably some rich kid who was upset that they interrupted the tour.

They finished walking down the stairs and the bespectacled man was the first to speak, “Haru? What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at the party with Sugimura?” He said, eyebrows furrowed.

Haru cleared her throat nervously and spoke softly, “I was giving my friend a tour of your yacht, I hope you don’t mind.”

The man looked confused, “Friend? I never said you could be friends with this boy. I’ve never met him and we’ve talked-” He got more frustrated as he spoke before letting out a heavy breath. “No matter. I was giving my associate, Madarame, and his pupil, Yusuke, a tour as well. You should have told me you were coming so you wouldn’t interrupt us.” He said angrily.

Haru bowed and appeared regretful, “I deeply apologize father, I hope I haven’t been a bother.”

The oldest man, Madarame Akira presumed, let out a short laugh. “It’s no issue child. It’s good I finally get to meet the daughter Kunikazu is always talking about!” He spoke joyfully. He really did remind Akira of his grandfather.

The sneer on Haru’s father’s face indicated that wasn’t true.

Before he could speak, the younger man broke in excitedly, “You’re perfect!” He said and clasped his hands together.

Akira looked at Haru. She was beautiful, but saying she was perfect was very forward for an initial meeting. Not that Akira could find many, or any, flaws with her.

“Not her, you.” The youth said bringing Akira’s attention back to him, “You’re perfect. Your dimensions... How tall are you? How much do you weigh? Is it muscle?” The boy said while striding towards him with a hand on his chin. The youth reached to touch him but pulled back at the last second.

Akira nearly took a step back in surprise, “What-”

“Can I paint you?”

Akira did take a step back, “What do you-”

“You must allow me to paint you!”

No he didn’t. He was about to speak as such but Madarame cut them off with another laugh. “Oh Yusuke, your passion never ceases to inspire and amaze me. I’m sorry child, he’s very passionate. He doesn’t mean to come off so aggressive.” Madarame wiped his eye, “Yusuke, trade phone numbers with the lad and discuss this later. We have to return to the party, there's a lot of people to meet before my gallery opens next week.”

Yusuke opened his mouth to argue, but only nodded and spoke quietly to Akira instead, “Would you mind trading phone numbers with me? I must capture you, please, my art needs it.”

Everyone’s eyes rested expectantly on him. Saying yes would get him out of this situation fastest so he nodded and exchanged numbers with the youth. The duo, mentor and pupil, muttered quick goodbyes and left.

Haru’s father waited until they were gone before speaking up with a quiet rage, “You almost ruined that. You’re lucky Madarame is so kind and understanding.”

Haru curtsied and lowered her head, “I deeply apologize father, I just wanted to show to my friend-”

He waived her off and scoffed, “I don’t care. So, you’re this ‘friend’. I imagine the same one Sugimura won’t shut up about.” Haru nodded reluctantly while Akira stood still. “You know I don’t want you hanging around riff raff like him. I can find you a hundred ‘friends’ that would be better suited for you. How did you even get into my party?” He finished, turning his attention to Akira.

Akira attempted to speak confidently, “I was invited, by Mitsuko.”

The man grew a surprisingly humorous grin, “Oh, with her. I don’t like my daughter hanging around people like yourself, but I’ll let it go for tonight.” His eyes scanned Akira up and down, “I see the appeal a man like yourself would have to a young woman.” He looked back to Haru, “Don’t ruin your marriage pact, and if you do, make sure no one finds out.”

A blush exploded on Haru’s face, “Father, we’re just-”

He interrupted her again, “I don’t care. There’s plenty of things you can do without breaking the arrangement, lord knows Sugimura is taking advantage of that.” He muttered the last bit angrily.

“We’re just friends father-” She started, but the man made to leave.

“The cameras are off tonight. Try to stay on the third floor, the sheets were recently cleaned and I’ll have a maid come clean them all again tomorrow.” He said and waived as he left.

Akira’s face was crimson. What kind of father talked about their daughter like that? Did he care about her at all?

Haru collapsed backwards into a chair, head falling into her hands. He could see between her fingers that she was a bright scarlet.

She started dry heaving. Was she crying? He wasn’t sure what to do so he sat next to her and hesitantly rubbed her back.

It took a few moments for her to stop, “I’m sorry.” She muttered with her face still in her hands, “My father… he’s like that sometimes. I’m sorry he’s so embarrassing. I didn’t bring you here to do anything... I just wanted to talk.”

“It’s okay, I just wanted to talk too.” He tried to reply comfortingly.

She rubbed her nose and sat up. She motioned for him to follow. They walked up a flight of stairs towards a bar. Haru reached behind it for a bottle of wine and two glasses, then kept moving towards the front of the boat. They came to a stop at a wooden door near the bow.

Haru slowly opened it and went inside. He walked into a room with the small hallway that opened up to a standard bedroom with a queen-sized bed and a footrest. A couch lay across from the footrest and a small, elaborately carved, table lay between the two.

Haru put the glasses on the table and began pouring them both a drink, “Would you mind sitting on the couch? It’s not- I would just be more comfortable if you did.” He nodded and moved across the room. She finished pouring and sat on the footrest.

She let out a deep sigh and took a very small sip from her glass, “I can’t tell you how much I hate these parties. It’s always people sucking up to me to try and get to my father. It’s so stressful when half of them want to destroy your family business.” She said and flopped backwards so her upper half lay on the bed.

She stayed that way, face blank and staring at the ceiling, until Akira broke the silence, “I’ve never been to a party like this.”

She looked at him, seeming to remember that he was there. She blushed and sat up properly, “Oh, I’m sorry if I’ve ruined it for you.”

He waived her off, it wasn’t her fault the night was a mess, “It was my ‘date’ that did that.”

She frowned, looking more upset than she should have, “I should have warned you. I didn’t want to ruin your time. I was hoping it would be different this time, and that she would see you’re more than just someone to upset her father with. It’s always really cruel and uncomfortable.”

He let out a breath and leaned back into his chair. He didn’t feel like talking anymore. This just confirmed she didn’t invite him for his personality. He sipped his wine to cover his lack of response.

Haru broke the silence, “I get so mad with how I can't just have a friend. Anytime I meet anyone my father does a background check and says they aren’t good enough. He tells me to be friends with his subordinate’s daughters, but they’re all so mean.” She finished softly and looked at her swishing her drink.

“Why do you listen to him?”

She let out a sigh of resignation, “Because he owns me. I’m 17. I have no other family. I have no money myself and if I don’t do what he says, he’d cut me off and force me to live on the streets until I do.”

“You can’t be serious.”

Haru grew a small sardonic smile, “He did it once. When he told me I would be marrying Sugimura I told him I was going to leave, and I did. I ran out of money in two days and had to come back. I was too scared to sleep on the streets.”

A somber mood dominated the room. He could relate a lot to her, his parents were also awful.

Haru spoke up again, “Sugimura wasn’t always so awful either. When we began, he was actually very polite. I even looked forward to marrying him for a bit, but then we had a fight and his true side came out. He wanted to… I just… we had a fight.” She finished and sipped her wine.

He wasn’t sure what to say. “Do you want to talk about it?” He asked, trying to take Sojiro’s advice.

Haru’s verbal floodgates opened. “It’s getting so hard to keep standing up for myself. Anytime I say no, he tells my father. It’s exhausting always being attacked by two people over everything. I don’t want to go to a fundraiser, he does, he tells my father and then I’m going to a fundraiser. It’s that way with everything. Especially… Well, I’ve held him off on that.” She finished, her words coming out in a rush. She opened her mouth to speak again, but stopped herself and drank a little wine instead.

Akira wasn’t good at this, maybe he should try relating to her? “I’m also having some problems. My probation officer seems like she wants me to get in trouble just to be rid of me.”

Haru seemed to remember he was a convicted felon and that she was alone with him. She subtly leaned farther away from him and clutched her glass tighter.

It hurt.

He took a deep breath, he needed to tell her, “I’m innocent. Of my crimes I mean. I didn’t do what everyone says I did.” He said and told her the quick version of everything that had happened to him.

Haru stared at him wide eyed when he finished, “That’s impossible, how could someone do something so awful? How could the court not realize that he was lying!?”

Normally he doubted people when they said they believed him, but Haru was so pure and innocent that he doubted she could lie. “Some people are evil. The system doesn’t always work in your favor.”

She nodded in understanding. The system was broken for her too. Being forced to spend the rest of her life with someone she hated was a punishment comparable to his imprisonment. It was worse in some ways. At least he had a chance of escape.

Both of their lives had been ruined by society.

Haru took a sip of her wine and forced out a smile, “Let’s not talk about this stuff anymore. I don’t want to mope around. I never get to spend time with anyone I like and I don’t want to waste the opportunity. Tell me about yourself, Mr. Bad Boy.” She teased.

He blushed, but told her parts of his life story, more than he had told Mitsuko. He excluded all the sad details and focused on the few good memories he had growing up.

She did the same, telling him about the good times she had with her Mother and Father, when her Mother was alive.

He tried not to mention it, but they had lived radically different lives. There were times growing up where his parents didn’t have rent money, or his orphanage was in danger of shutting down.

Haru’s stories consisted of times her family rented entire amusement parks so they wouldn’t be bothered. Or her vacations to luxurious hotels in far off fantastical places. She didn’t seem to be bragging, that was just normal for her. It was a shock she was so humble.

He was sure her slight intoxication was helping her open up as well. She told him how she never drank recreationally, but she sometimes had a glass of wine or two at these parties so she didn’t jump off a balcony.

The amount of pressure she was under was staggering. Every person at that party wanted to use her for one thing or another, and some weren’t even subtle about it.

“The old men are the worst.” She had told him, “They try to hide it, ‘Oh young lady, let me show you to your table’, then try to guide me by my lower back, lower than they should. I always have to tell them no or find an excuse, but they can be persistent. When they get drunk it gets worse, and then they don’t try to hide it sometimes. They say exactly what they are thinking and what they want to do.” She shuttered. “I hate it. They don’t understand that no means no. My ‘fiancé’ can be one of them.”

Akira had the urge to follow her around and smack the first man who tried that into next week.

They talked for a while, at one point Haru had gotten up to rearrange something and then sat next to him on the couch.

Her legs were crossed, but her long dress only showed a bit more calf. The top of her dress was tight, but he had to stop himself a few times from looking down at the bits of cleavage that showed. He didn’t want her to think he was a pervert just like the other men at the party.

She had gone through a glass of wine while they were talking and was even more open than before. Her usual meek demeanor had disappeared and was replaced by a talkative confident person.

He had two drinks so far. He had been drinking a lot recently, nearly every other day at this point, but he had good reason to. His life wasn’t going well, and he had yet to suffer any repercussions from his drinking, so why stop? He felt better when he drunk.

He looked over Haru’s shoulder when she checked her phone, there were nearly 30 missed texts and a few calls.

She sighed, obviously frustrated. “I’m sorry Akira, I have to go back to the ballroom. Sugimura is upset I’m not there to talk to his ‘friends’.”

He nodded in understanding. He stood and helped her to her feet, taking her slender hand in his.

Her skin was soft but had rough calluses on her palm. She stumbled standing up, drunker than she realized. She fell forward into his chest, catching herself with her other hand. She hit his rib almost directly, and even with the alcohol dulling the pain, he had to hide a wince.

They stood there for a moment, awkwardly holding each other for support. His hand rest on her lower back. Haru blushed brightly, but stayed for a moment before quickly moving away.

“I need to sober up. I’ve never drinken this much before.” She mumbled. She didn’t let go of his hand though. They walked to the door, holding hands. Haru wasn’t letting go, and so neither would he.

They traveled back the way they came, only stopping to grab Haru a bottle of water. They stopped holding hands as she drank nearly the whole thing, but when she finished she slid her hand back into his grip.

He was sure it was for her stability. He assured himself that going down the stairs in her heels must have been hard.

But there was no reason for them to intertwine fingers if it was just for stability.

When they reached the entrance of the yacht she finally let go of his hand. “I had a good time hanging out with you Akira. We should do this again sometime, I would love to show you some of my favorite places in the city. I could try to convince my dad to let us take a boat out too, a smaller one than this one though.” She said softly, smiling lightly at him.

He nodded and responded positively. Her smile brightened and she gave him a hug, which he reciprocated. She let go without saying anything else and walked back towards the ballroom.

It was time for him to leave. The only way out was the way he came, which would force him to reenter the throng of people. He made his way there as quickly as possible.

He pushed his way to the center of the room. He knew these people were garbage and so he didn’t hold himself back as much as he should have. His ribs were hit a few times, eliciting pain, but nothing serious. As he went to move past another woman he came face to face with a pair of familiar orange sunglasses on someone’s head.

A familiar face was under them, “Akira?”

It was the woman he had saved about a week ago. Her hair was in the same bob style and she wore a simple black dress and earrings. She stood out from the crowd as her dress didn’t look designer made or specifically tailored for her.

She gave him a toothy smile, “It’s me, Ohya Ichiko, from the train station. You remember?”

He nodded and looked towards the woman next to Ohya. She was gorgeous. She must have been one of the most attractive people in the room. She was very slender and fit. She wore a sleeveless blue dress with a slit up one side that showed a lot of leg, a pearl necklace, and a good amount of makeup. Her silky brown hair trailed to mid-back. She didn’t look happy that Akira had interrupted their conversation.

“Yeah,” Akira replied, scratching his nose, “I couldn’t forget. I was actually-”

“Let me introduce you!” Ohya interrupted, “This is Mika! She’s an up and coming model! I was interviewing her for an article I’m doing about the party, but I would love to publish your thoughts!”

The other woman, Mika, glared daggers at him. Her smile was more predatory than friendly.

He spoke up, “I’m fine. I don’t like being in the paper, remember.”

Ohya nodded sadly, but Mika seemed thrilled. She shot him a gracious smile. She really was very beautiful. She would be a successful model, probably not as big as someone like Rise, but still popular.

He went to leave and shuffled past them.

“Akira!” Ohya shout, forcing him to turn back “If you ever want to get that drink just send me a text!” To which he nodded. He overheard Mika asking something about him as he left, but he didn’t care enough to try to talk to her. No matter how beautiful the girl, he was done with tonight.

He was almost at the door when he spotted movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned instinctively towards the threat, only to see it was just a falling glass. He relaxed. That wasn’t his problem. But the person who spilled it might be.

Hanae stood over the shattered glass, terrified of what she had done. She was offering pleading apologies to whoever would listen, but most just glared at her.

A single, round, man was trying to comfort her. His smile was hungry, and Akira could easily spot the man staring at her backside as she bent to pick up the glass shard. His hand rubbed small circle down her back and was moving lower.

That set off a fire in his stomach. Rage filled him, and he stormed towards the two.

But an older woman with jet black hair stopped his strides, “I saw you about to leave, but the party’s just getting started. Come have a drink with me.” She said flirtatiously.

He replied that he couldn’t and went to move around her, but she stepped in front of him again.

She played with one of her curls, “That’s fine. I was about to leave too. My husband is out of town and I’m sure a gentleman like you wouldn’t mind walking a woman home?” She finished. She swayed a bit from side to side and tried to draw attention to her chest. “I’m just so bored in my home, all alone…”

He desperately wanted to look, but he needed to get to Hanae. “I-”

Another woman stepped in between them. She was slightly younger and had dark brown hair, “Is this old hag bothering you? Don’t trust her, her husband will be back in the morning, but mine will be gone all week and I could sure use some company.” She finished in a sultry tone.

Why did these women have to talk to him now? Where were they literally any other time in his life. “I’m sorry-”

“Don’t ruin this for me!” The first woman shout, “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been with a young man like him!? A big, dangerous, young man.” She nearly moaned out. She turned towards him and eyed him up and down like a piece of meat.

“Mitsuko does know how to pick them,” The second woman mumbled, “A good-looking ex-con like you, the things I’d do to you. The things you’d do to me. If you come home with me I’ll do anything.” She finished seductively, any trace of subtilty gone.

His face was felt like an inferno. He nearly accepted on the spot, but saw Hanae looking more and more uncomfortable as the man got closer to her.

The two women were arguing with each other over who should get him for the night which gave him the opportunity to slide around them, even if a part of him wanted to stay. Hanae saw him approaching and used the opportunity to move away from the man and towards him instead.

The man scowled, furious, then turned and left on the spot. Akira watched and made sure he didn’t come back. When they were clear he spoke up, “You okay?”

“I’m fine.” She slurred out. She wobbled in his arms.

He held her still, she was really drunk. “Can I take you home?”

She looked around the room, “I shouldn't- I- I need- Okay, yeah, let’s go.”

He held her by the waist and tried to help her walk gracefully out of the building on her own two feet. They sort of did. They made it out the massive entranceway and down the steps and Hanae only slipped once.

She was being a lot more touchy than necessary, but he was getting used to the treatment.

He caught her as she fell again, “Did you drive here?” Not that he would let her drive back.

She shook her head side to side. He didn’t want to deal with the subway system with her this drunk. He asked a valet to get them a taxi and hoped they had enough money together to cover the ride. The valet assured them that Mr. Okumura would cover the bill.

They stood for a minute. Hanae’s hands ran along his back while he held her upright. When the taxi finally arrived, he opened the door for her and then slid in afterwards.

The interior was a lot nicer than he expected. The seats were leather, and a dark pane of glass separated the driver from his passengers. The driver rolled the window down slightly to get the address, then closed it for their privacy.

He rode with Hanae’s head resting on his shoulder and her arm around his neck. He spoke up, “Are you feeling okay?”

“No.” She slurred out. She collected herself and sat up straighter, “Shinya’s father is suing for custody. He’s saying that I’ve been unfairly keeping him away from his child and that I’m an unfit parent!” She said, words spewing out.

This wasn’t what he meant. He just wanted to know if she was going to vomit and if he needed to stop the car.

She continued, “It’s not my fault he disappeared for a year. Or that when he was here he barely talked to his own child. Now, he doesn’t just want joint-custody, he wants full custody! I don’t have the money to fight this.” Not knowing what to say, he rubbed the woman’s shoulders.

She sniffed and shifted into him more, “It’s okay. I’m going to fight this. I’ll find a way. I met a lawyer at the party and got his number, he says I have a good case. It was that guy you saw me with before we left.”

Akira doubted the man would follow up with that, but he didn’t going to ruin her mood.

Her head fell into his shoulder, “Everything's going wrong Akira. Things weren’t supposed to be like this. Even in my worst nightmares it wasn’t like this.” She wiped her nose, “Thanks for helping me out, you really didn’t need to. That makes three times you’ve helped me in less than a week. That’s more than anyone in a year, maybe more.”

That was really sad, “It’s no problem.”

She stared at him intently. Her voice still slurred, “Why? I’m just a mother you didn’t know until a week ago, but you put your life at risk…” She hiccupped, “for my… for my son. You help me when I ask and more when I don’t. Do you know something about me that I don’t?”

He really didn’t know. “I just... help people.”

She smiled slightly at him, “There’s gotta be more to it than that, maybe the first time at the train station, but walking Shinya home, helping me get home, what is it?”

He shrugged, “I don’t know, maybe there’s just something about you.”

She giggled and gave him a flirtatious smile. He blushed, he hadn’t meant for it to come out as flirting. She shifted onto his lap. She sat sideways across it, but he could still feel her butt grinding into it. He really wasn’t sure what to say now.

Luckily the ride wasn’t long after that. When he helped Hanae out she stumbled into him and he had to help her reach the elevator.

She stopped in front of it, “This stupid thing’s broken again, would you mind walking me up to my door?” She asked, slightly swaying.

He nodded. She would fall down the stairs if he didn’t. He had to do most of the work on the way up. She fell repeatedly and he had to grab her each time, a few times in places that made his blush explode. She only giggled when he did and never apologized. She just said it had ‘Been awhile since someone had grabbed her like that’. His brain went fuzzy and a part of him wanted to push the situation further.

She had grabbed his chest a few times, but the alcohol helped dull the pain in his ribs. When they reached the door he reached into her purse and looked for her keys. He blushed and avoided the few condoms. He found them and helped her inside before turning to leave.

“Wait,” She stopped him, “It’s getting late. You can stay the night if you want.” She offered and leaned on the wall and bite her lip. Her arms rubbed her sides while her eyes had a look that sent a fire coursing through him. He couldn’t stop himself and he walked further inside.

Hanae stumbled to her bedroom, “Stay quiet, Shinya’s asleep.” She made a motion for him to wait so he went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. He had never had sex before and was a little scared. He hadn’t ever really kissed a girl either. He was making a pretty big leap.

He looked up advice as seconds turned to minutes.

Was she okay? He went to her room and carefully peaked in.

Hanae had collapsed on her bed, lightly snoring. She was still wearing her dress and heels.

The fire inside him died. He even felt slightly guilty for what had almost happened and a little relieved. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but he should have known she was wasted.

It was stupid, and she was the one initiating contact, but he should have known better. At least he didn’t have to worry about if he was doing good or not.

He let out a breath and searched her apartment for some headache medicine. She would need it in the morning. He poured her a glass of water and returned both items to her room.

He helped her take her shoes off and moved her under the sheets. She smacked her lips and muttered a quiet thanks before turning onto her side and drifting back to sleep. He wasn’t sure what else to do for a drunk person, so he took her house key and left. He locked her door and placed the key under the mat. He sent her a quick message about the house key.

He also had a few messages from Mitsuko.

Mitsuko: Where are you?
Mitsuko: ???
Mitsuko: I’m sorry about the thing with my dad
Mitsuko: Can you come back?
Mitsuko: Where did you go?

Akira: I left.

He put his phone in his pocket and walked to the subway station. It was dark out and he couldn’t be distracted.

A young man in a nice suit, in this neighborhood? He was nearing asking to get mugged.

He got on the subway back and checked his phone.

Mitsuko: Where?
Mitsuko: I’ll come, there’s nothing going on here anymore
Mitsuko: ???
Mitsuko: I’m heading back to my apartment if you wanna meet me there

Akira: I’m heading home. I’ll just see you at school sometime.

Mitsuko: You sure? No one’s going to be there
Mitsuko: We have a lot of alcohol
Mitsuko: We can keep the party going

She sent a few kissy winky faces at him.

Akira: No I’m okay. I’ll see you at school.

He put his phone away, not wanting to talk anymore.

He had no interest in her right now. He knew she used him and he did have some self-pride.

And it wasn’t like he wasn’t lacking for female attention either. For the very first time in his life at least.

Right now though, he just wanted to go home and go to sleep. And he did. The second he got upstairs at LeBlanc he collapsed nearly immediately onto the bed. He checked his phone one last time.

Mitsuko: U up?

She had sent a pin with her current location as well as a few photos of her in a bathroom mirror, wearing something skimpier than her dress. Even if he didn’t like being used, he would save those for later.

Even after everything that happened today, he felt like he had come out ahead. He was frustrated for… other reasons, but it was a good frustration. Maybe he should text someone? No, that was a bad idea. Today had gone well, he shouldn’t mess that up. He felt good, it was something he desperately needed right now.

He left Mitsuko on read and went to sleep.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 25
Afternoon
Monday
Cloudy

Akira sat at the back of the gym with Ryuji and Ann. It was the second gym day.

He was feeling comfortable. Life was back to normal. No girl drama, no complicated feelings, he just had to hate Kamoshida. That was easy for him.

Even though the man was under investigation, the school was letting him run these gym days. And today was basketball as the boxing fiasco could never happen again.

It was mixed genders right now. Kamoshida lead one team, while the captain of the basketball team lead the other.

It all seemed fine, people were enjoying themselves and as long as no one bothered him there was nothing to complain about. Kamoshida’s team soon won, again. That was his third win of the day.

Which was reasonable. How do you guard a 7-foot giant like him? Everyone else was a foot shorter than him, at least.

Kamoshida clapped his hands and got everyone’s attentions “Alright, new teams!” he shout, “You, you, you, and… you.” He pointed straight at Akira, “You take Yuta’s place.” He motioned towards the captain of the basketball team.

God damnit, couldn’t he just be left alone. He looked at his friends who seemed ready to argue. He waived them down. They would be infiltrating his palace later today and that would be the next to last step before they changed his heart.

This would be the last time the man had any power over them. Might as well just get it over with.

He moved to the court and joined his team. He’d let someone else defend Kamoshida, stay out of the way, and be done before he knew it.

He saw Makoto looking at him across the way. Fear, confusion, and anger fit her like a second skin. He looked away. He didn’t deserve it, but it wasn’t like he could fix it.

He also saw Mitsuko and Haru on opposite sides of the room. Haru waived at him but Mitsuko gave him a look he didn’t understand. Women could be weird.

Kamoshida started the game, as he was also the referee. Akira immediately fell back and let someone else guard Kamoshida, who had easily grabbed jump ball and was rushing forward. Akira stayed far away from the action.

Kamoshida took an easy shot, but missed and it bounced off the backboard towards Akira. He got the rebound and went to pass it away, but something collided with his chest sending him to the ground.

Pain erupted from his ribs and he gasped for breath on the floor. They were healing well but weren’t finished yet.

“Foul on me, I’m really sorry Kurusu, here, take my hand.” The man said, smiling down at him. Akira could hear a few people yelling in the background, but he couldn’t make out who.

Akira ignored his hand and pushed himself to his feet. He moved to the foul line, shoving past Kamoshida on his way. He tried to ignore the pain and took his shot. By Kamoshida’s rules, any foul earned a single foul shot.

Rage bubbled to the surface. He wanted to turn around and chuck the ball at the man. He pushed it down. He would let the man score 21 points then be done with him forever.

The world slowed as he took his shot. His body moved with unnatural fluidity as he sunk his free throw.

What was that? He had played basketball before, and was good too, but that was different. The ball seemed to glide from his fingertips.

No time to worry about it now. The other team inbounded the ball and Akira jogged back to get on defense.

The ball collided with the back of his head sending him to the ground.

“HEY!” Ryuji screamed from the back,” You’re playing dirty!”

Akira pulled himself to his knees. He desperately needed to get up before anyone realized how much that hurt, but he could barely breath. He had hit his ribs on the ground, hard. He had to resist the urge to clutch them.

Kamoshida jogged towards him, “I’m so sorry about that Kurusu, the ball slipped from my fingers. Are you okay?”

Kamoshida’s eyes didn’t his true intentions. Akira saw the unmasked hate. He was growing crazier by the day. They needed to change his heart before he went over the edge.

Akira finally got to his feet. Haru was jogging towards him, but he waived her off while muttering a thanks. He accepted the ball from another student and took his foul shot. The ball glided unnaturally from his fingertips again and put them up 2-0.

The rage was burning like a furnace. He was doing everything he could to not lash out.

The ball was inbounded to Kamoshida who made a quick drive to the rim and scored. He easily moved through the smaller students like they were nothing.

Another student inbounded Akira the ball, which he got rid of instantly. The student he passed to missed his shot and Kamoshida got the ball back.

Akira moved out of the man’s way, but Kamoshida followed him. It looked ridiculous how far the man moved away from where he needed to be to reach Akira.

In a fit of frustration Akira tried to play defense, but was immediately elbowed in the ribs for his effort.

He fell to the floor on his side, unable to stop himself from gasping and clutching at them. His glasses spilled from his face and onto the ground.

Kamoshida spoke up, “Jeez Kurusu, I don’t know what’s- woah-” He ‘slipped’ and stumbled forward onto Akira’s glasses, crushing them.

The room was deathly quiet.

Those glasses had never meant much, but they were among the only things Akira had from his old life. They were his. The rage finally exploded. He eyed the largest glass shard.

Kamoshida leaned over him, “You shouldn’t have messed with the king.” He mumbled so quietly only Akira could hear him. Akira’s fingers itched to grab the glass.

“Mr. Kamoshida!” Makoto’s voice interrupted his thoughts. Akira looked up and saw her approaching. She looked angry, “One foul, okay, two, maybe, but three! So quick! I don’t know much about basketball but that doesn’t seem right!”

Kamoshida held his hands up pleadingly, “It’s-”

“Stop fouling asshole!” Ryuji shout from the back. When eyes turned to him, he pointed to the boy next to him.

Kamoshida continued, “It’s a contact sport, things happen.”

Akira watched Makoto carefully. Her knees wobbled, sweat ran unnaturally across her forehead, she looked like she was about to vomit.

A pair of hands tried to help him to his feet. Ann was pulling him up and Haru was there with an offered hand, which he accepted, “Don’t worry about it Makoto. Fouls happen.”

Makoto looked ready to accept that and run away. But her jaw tightened and she spoke firmly, “Then can I be referee? I don’t know most rules, but it’s not fair to have a referee also playing.”

He looked at her, but she wouldn’t meet his eyes. She wouldn’t meet Kamoshida’s either. She looked close to keeling over.

“Let her ref!” Ann shout from beside him. She glared at Kamoshida.

Ryuji rushed to join them and tried to start a chant, but no one else joined.

“Um,” Haru spoke softly and adapted her usual meek posture, “I know most of the rules. I can help too.”

Kamoshida looked extremely torn. He rapidly looked at each member of the group. He didn’t expect any students to stand up to him. This would ruin his plans to injure Akira.

Akira knew he could just leave. No one was making him play. But he wanted to win now.

Kamoshida finally accepted, hesitantly nodding his head. Makoto and Haru moved to opposite sides of the court and Ann and Ryuji returned to their spots.

Akira took his foul shot, putting the team up 3-2.

Kamoshida got the ball and drove down the court again.

This time, Akira played defense. In a burst of movement he stole the ball and sped down the court for an easy layup.

The rest of the game went similarly. Akira’s unnatural grace and athleticism let him maneuver around whatever defense Kamoshida tried to put up. No other student even tried to guard him.

Kamoshida still tried to foul Akira, but he couldn’t be as blatant with two refs watching.

Akira scored, again and again and again. It was like nothing he had ever done before.

If he wanted the ball to move a certain way, it did. If he needed to make a shot, he could. Anything he thought of, he could do.

It was exhilarating.

His natural size, strength, and speed let him move around the comparatively slower Kamoshida. He made the man look like he was lumbering around, when Kamoshida had been an Olympic athlete at one point.

He made layups, shot threes, and took mid-range shots that all hit more often than they should have. Any time someone else on his team got the ball, they immediately passed it to him. And he never passed it back.

He dominated the game.

The final score was 21-8 and Akira scored all 21.

Kamoshida was visibly trembling in rage, “Free gym!” He shout and threw his headband at the wall. He stalked off and threw open the gym doors as he left.

Akira looked at Makoto who nodded towards him and walked away. He accepted it. He appreciated the help, and liked her as a person, but he would feel better if they never interacted again.

He gave Haru a quick thanks and she smiled at him. She told him it was no problem and they talked about hanging out again soon. She would be busy with work and a personal project, but she wanted to see him again.

He went back to the wall and slid down next to Ann and Ryuji. The two fret over his injuries and if he was okay, but he waived them off.

They needed to change Kamoshida’s heart. He was going off the deep end.

He sat there until the end of gym.
___________________________________________________________________________

April 25
After School
Monday
Cloudy

He round a corner in the hallway.

He almost ran into someone, “Akira!” Mitsuko stood still like she was waiting there. “Just who I wanted to see!” She was alone, which was unusual, “Can we talk?”

He had to go, and was about to voice as much, but she pulled him by the arm towards the staircase.

He could have broken her grip easily, but she had purchased him an extremely expensive suit. He could hear her out. They moved swiftly to the rooftops where they were alone.

She let go of his arm and turned to face him. She kept her face composed, but he could see subtitle signs of stress. “Where did you go yesterday? You ditched me?” She bit out. Her voice didn’t have the same airy quality it did yesterday. It seemed normal now.

“Your father didn’t want me there, so I left.” He replied calmly, leaving out the numerous other people and adventures he had that night.

She looked irritated, but schooled herself quickly, “That was the point. We upset my father, then we leave together and go back to my place. That would really piss him off.”

He shrugged. He had no interest in making enemies with powerful men or being the pawn in some girl’s teenage rebellion.

She let out a heavy sigh, exasperation painted her face, “It’s whatever. My dad’s going to another party this weekend so I’ll get you a driver and you can wear your new suit.”

“I think I’m good.”

She opened her mouth to continue, but stopped obviously taken aback, “Wh- What?”

“I’m busy for a while. You’ll have to find someone else.”

Her eyes bulged out. Had anyone ever told this girl no? “But, you got my photos right? Just come with me and I’ll send you more, maybe you can even see them in person.” She tried to flirt. It came out more desperate than anything.

“I’m fine. I really can’t go. Thank you for a nice night and I’ll catch you around sometime.”

Her jaw hung wide open. Before she could say anything he had already started down the stairwell.

That had been incredibly difficult. What teenage boy would ever want to say no? Go to a dinner with a beautiful girl and go back to her place? Where she lived alone? He would have given his left arm for that offer just a year ago.

But now he had more important things in life than to be some girl’s toy.

He didn’t think this would be the last time he saw her though. She didn’t seem like the type to give up when she didn’t get her way. That could mean problems in the future.

But he had bigger issues right now. He stalked out the front of the school and towards the meeting spot.

He had to take the final steps needed to change Kamoshida’s heart.
____________________________________________________________________________

A/N

Done! Another big chapter done!

So the main event of this was the party. I wanted to perhaps cut it up into sections, but it flowed too well to do so. Oh well.

A ton of characters were either introduced, reintroduced, or got development.

Alcohol is much more prevalent in my story than in game. I think stories do injustices when they don’t treat teenagers like teenagers. I know a lot of people growing up who drank when they were 16/17, especially ones who drank at family gatherings. Haru isn’t an alcoholic, like some characters might be, but a glass of wine with a friend isn’t much.

Sae got a scene just to help give her perspective on things. I hope it helps people understand the angle I’m trying to go with her. She’s not unreasonable, but she also thinks she knows who Akira truly is and that scares her.

Mitsuko got her storyline. She was really just introduced to give Akira a reason to go to the party. I ended up really liking her character though and I have a few fun scenes planned in the future for her, but really not much. How important her character becomes (If she becomes a full-fledged side character) all depends on audience reaction.

She’s kinda an anti-Haru in a way. Both from very rich families but went opposite routes. I’m sure a lot of people know the very popular / rich girl in high school and it’s a common character trope in media too. Rich party girl who hates her parents. Doesn’t make it less fun to write though and there can be a lot of depth to it. Haru is her nearly exact opposite. Rich, nice, and doesn’t care about popularity.

To note, no elements of the story will change based on reader reaction. I don’t change plot points based on anything but what I think is important. But, I do take reader suggestions and I have used reader’s ideas/notes in places.

I had a lot planned for Hanae and people really seemed to like her, so she’s here to stay. She’s actually one of the most fun to write for too. She was planned since day 1 and is an in-game character as well, even if she only has a few lines.

There’s a lot of characters to develop and I don’t know how people feel about OCs in general. I think they can help a story a lot if done right. I’ve read quite a few stories that have done OCs well, and quite a few that just shove them in your face and you hate them.

For clarification, no OC will become a true main character (Phantom Thief), but they can be side characters. And as Akira said, Mitsuko doesn’t seem the type to give up.

We learned more about Hanae too. She’s having some real troubles. She seems to think her and Akira are closer than Akira does. She had the most sexually charged scene yet. I’ll give a little analysis of the character, read if you want but it may have spoilers if you want to figure things out yourself.

(Skip)

So Hanae is going through some really rough life stuff she just opened up about. She’s really suffering and is downing it in alcohol. As she admitted last time, and in this chapter, she hasn’t had a friend or been intimate with anyone in a while. In walks Akira, and he can fill that role. He’s nice, is helping her out without asking, and is handsome. It makes their relationship rather complicated and makes it progress rather quickly.

Keep in mind that for the events tonight she was once again wasted. Would she do this stuff if she was sober? Who knows.

(Stop skipping)

 

I love Haru so I was really happy to give her a scene. She fights back a bit more in my story, but also this is months before we meet her. Her engagement could be completely different at this point. She’s struggling with fighting back and has traits of the meek girl we meet in-game, but she hasn’t been broken yet. She still will stand up for herself to her fiancé. I could talk about Haru all day but I’ll cut myself off.

The two women fighting over Akira was just a funny scene.

EDIT: So just to clarify, in the Ohya scene. Mika isn't an OC. She's an in-game character if people don't remember or haven't played the game.

So the next chapters release date will hopefully be in the same timeframe, 2 weeks to 3 weeks, but it all depends on how finals and moving out of my apartment goes. I got an internship this summer so I gotta move away, but it’s a really good opportunity even though I don’t want to say more.

The arc is coming to a head, how will everything play out?

I’ve laid the groundwork for many parts of the next arc in this chapter too.

But we’re reaching a supercritical point! I hope I can get things out quickly and we can really see everything come together!

I hope you guys liked this chapter! Almost all of it to basically everything never happened in canon, so we’re really going off the rails. I hope you enjoyed it though and I hope to see you guys again next chapter! Please leave a review with your thoughts!

Chapter Text

April 25
After School
Monday
Clear

“How big does this dude think Shujin is?” Ryuji muttered.

Akira couldn’t help but mutter an agreement. The four of them strode through the massive throne room. They were alone which came as a surprise. He expected another guard stationed here. The last shadow they had fought was a while ago, and it was the giant ‘phallic-shaped’ one.

That hadn’t been their best fight. They had easily won, but the way that the monster just stared (in whatever way a giant penis can stare) at Ann the whole time made him uncomfortable. He could only imagine how it made her feel. It was the weirdest thing to happen so far in the Metaverse, which was saying something.

Morgana skipped up the stairs and motioned for them to follow, “This way!”

Ryuji and Ann quickly ran to catch up with the cat while making some snide comments to each other. Akira kept his pace at a steady walk. No point in rushing.

Especially when he hurt so much. His broken rib might have been further broken while in the Metaverse. He didn’t tell anyone, as he didn’t want them to worry, but the healing spells weren’t fixing his pain.

It made him want to take another pill. But Tae had been very adamant about only taking them when prescribed. Taking them at unprescribed times could be extremely dangerous.

And he had already broken her trust by taking an extra pill earlier in the metaverse. Taking another could be really bad for him.

But he wanted the pain relief so bad.

He caught up with the group who were arguing around a warp in space. He had to stop and stare in amazement. It was a grey and black rip in the air that made him feel uncomfortable just looking at it. There wasn't a good way to describe it. Using his weird ‘Third-eye’ ability only made his discomfort worse.

He ignored Ryuji and Morgana, who were arguing over semantics. He overheard something about how this ‘tear’ was the treasure, they just had to use a calling card to get it to appear. But he could care less about details right now. He’d let the others deal with that. A leader had to delegate tasks, right?

He wasn’t sure if he was comfortable being the ‘Leader’. His role had expanded greatly from when they started two weeks ago. Morgana no longer told them where to go, he just gave advice, and Akira oversaw everything. He was sure if he brought it up the cat would take over again, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with the fallout of giving Morgana more control over the group. Ryuji would have many angry words if he did.

He left the treasure room under the guise of ‘making sure no shadows attacked them from behind’. He would let them deal with manifesting the treasure.

He wished he had a drink right now.

He stopped on the stairs. Where had that come from? He shook his head. He needed to get his mind off things.

He gingerly lowered himself onto the steps. This palace was weird. The enemies they fought today were weaker than the ‘heavenly punisher’ that attacked them a few days ago, which was a miracle as Akira wasn’t very useful today, but the rooms in this half of the palace were way weirder.

One of the rooms had thousands of books on ‘Slaves’. There was a book for every person in Shujin, with varying amounts of information in each. Some of them were hundreds of pages long with detailed records of the things Kamoshida had done to them, or the blackmail he had on them. Others, like Haru’s, were short and just contained what he thought of them or wanted to do to them.

He wanted to really hurt the man after reading Haru’s book.

He stayed away from the books on people he knew after reading that. Ryuji had read his own, and threw a small tantrum while doing so, but no one had bothered him about it. Ann had ignored hers and no one looked for Shiho’s.

There was another room, with significantly less books, on ‘Queens’. They were only the things he had done with girls, or done to them. There was a book on Ann, which everyone left alone, and a book for Shiho. It made him feel sick that Shiho’s book was the biggest in the room.

The largest room, but least important, was the room with ‘King’ books. There were tens of thousands of books on Kamoshida’s life and thoughts. They did read quite a few of those, as many were aptly named ‘Insecurities’, ‘Illegal things I’ve done’ or ‘Embarrassing moments’. They gave him a good chuckle.

The humor died as they reached the worst room in the palace. It was hidden, and they had only stumbled across it while looking for treasure. A stray, angry, bolt of dark energy shot from him as he thought about it.

It was a room dedicated to Shiho.

It was the among the creepiest and most disturbing things Akira had ever seen. It was full of photos of her, of thoughts about her scribbled-on papers, there were statements written on the walls about how much he loved and needed her. It was disgusting. There were photos of the two of them together, posing for a volleyball team picture, a fake wedding portrait of the two of them, and photos from the times he had assaulted her. Akira didn’t realize the last ones were there until he had seen them.

He couldn’t get the images out of his mind.

Ann had pushed them out of that room. He still felt sick. Ryuji had nearly vomited and Ann didn’t want to talk for a while. They all needed to take a break after that.

The rage all of them felt after that had made fighting easy. No shadow could stand up to them right now.

The only other weird thing was the ‘booty’ statues leading to the throne room. He didn’t know who’s bodies they were, but Ryuji did. He called them out once or twice until Ann shut that down. The girl was blushing fiercely as they climbed on the butts, and Ryuji looked uncertain on how to feel.

Akira didn’t know the girls, so it was easier to ignore. Imagining how Kamoshida had gotten such perfect renditions of their bodies made him feel disgusted while climbing on them.

“-So all we do is send a calling card? That’s it?” Ryuji’s voice boomed.

He could hear Morgana sigh and plop down the stairs, “Yes, for the last time, we send out a calling card, the treasure appears, we take the treasure. It’s three steps.”

“Where do we get the calling card?” Ryuji asked.

This time he heard Ann growl in frustration, “We make it you dolt! Have you not paid attention at all!”

“I have! I just want to be sure! We can’t mess this up!” Ryuji said, taken aback.

He better interrupt before they broke into another argument, “So here’s the plan,” He didn’t have a plan, “We go home, we make the calling card, and we send it out as soon as possible. When would that be?” He slowly got up and faced them.

Morgana spoke up quickly, “In two days boss! And then we infiltrate that night. It will take some time to craft them and we have to make sure he sees it, so we need to make a lot!”

That sounded like a lot of work, something he didn’t want to do. Ryuji raised his hand in excitement, “Can I make them! I got a great idea!”

Relieved, Akira nodded, prompting Ann to throw her arms up in frustration, “I’ll help. Your handwritings garbage.”

Ryuji scowled, “I wasn’t going to write it! I was gonna do that thing that kidnappers do, where they glue a bunch of letters to a piece of paper. If I wrote it they would know it was me.”

Ann sneered, “That’s going to take forever! Did you even think this out!”

“I’m gonna make one then just print a bunch, duh, I’m not that stupid.” Ryuji replied. Ann blushed. She must have not thought of that. This was one of the few times Ryuji had won an argument.

He’d give the guy some help and stop Ann before she could respond, “If that’s it then let’s go. I don’t want to fight anymore strong shadows today.” To which they all nodded.

Getting out of the metaverse was easy. Backtracking was never an issue. There weren’t any Shadow Leaders left, as far as he knew, so the grunts couldn’t raise any alarms.

Everything would be over in two days. They would change Kamoshida’s heart. He would admit his crimes and go to prison. It would end everything and people could move on with their lives.

Or… Akira could kill his shadow.

It was something he started considering when enraged. He had ignored it for a while, but after seeing the shelves of books on Kamoshida’s atrocities, the room dedicated to Shiho, and remembering the number of times the man had assaulted him-

It was becoming more and more difficult to ignore the option.

His group would never agree. Well, Morgana and Ryuji probably wouldn’t. He wasn’t sure which way Ann would lean.

When he was calm he knew that changing the man’s heart was the better option. He would suffer more by being in jail and having to live with the guilt of what he did. People would get closure and his name, and the school, would burn.

But when enraged the idea of getting the ultimate revenge on the man sounded so sweet. It would be easy too. It would only take a few seconds to get his revenge. And maybe the man’s name and the school would burn anyways once Kamoshida wasn’t there to keep the truth hidden.

And Arsene agreed. He pushed thoughts of rage and death to the forefront of Akira’s mind. He got a strong feeling of satisfaction from seeing Kamoshida crumple.

As far as he could tell Kamoshida's shadow was incredibly weak. It would just be a quick stab and Kamoshida would be gone. Permanently.

Could he kill someone? It would be easy to kill a shadow, and it was hard to imagine Shadow Kamoshida as a real person sometimes with how ridiculous and evil he was. But he knew within himself that he would be killing a real person.

No one could know he was having these thoughts. He didn’t even want to be having these thoughts.

He was scared he wouldn’t be able to hold himself back when he saw Shadow Kamoshida again. Arsene’s bloodlust was much stronger here than in the real world, and in the real world he had already seriously considered trying to kill the man when he was angry.

They needed to avoid Shadow Kamoshida when they stole the treasure.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 25
Night
Monday
Clear

Akira nodded along with Sojiro’s intense instructions. There were a lot of dishes piled up that the man wanted him to clean. He had already completed a few chores, but he could tell the man was a little upset he hadn’t been home earlier to start them.

“...And when you’re done with those, clean the tables and countertop again too. Don’t touch anything you think you shouldn’t and if you have a question, don’t ask and don’t take any risks. You live here for free so I expect you to do some chores once in a while.” The man finished.

Like cleaning his attic? Akira wanted to reply, but knew it was better to nod and let the man leave.

“I’m gonna take this little guy back to my place.” Sojiro said while scratching Morgana’s head, “I assume you don’t have any cat food.” He said deadpan. Akira nodded again and the man sighed, “And be more careful next time. Dr. Takemi almost saw this little guy and I don’t need her calling the health inspector.”

Akira nodded. That had been awkward. Tae kept sending him sly glances as he scrubbed the counter and had asked Sojiro about the new ‘cute’ busboy he had hired. She really wanted to embarrass him and seemed delighted when he blushed. Sojiro had laughed with her. Luckily, Morgana was smart enough not be been seen.

Sojiro put his hat on and quickly went to leave with Morgana in his arms. He muttered a small goodbye and was gone.

Akira was silently thankful. Morgana could be a real annoyance in large doses. He could only handle being told what to do so much before he wanted to chuck the cat into a lake.

He peered at the large stack of dishes in the sink. He wouldn’t have been suppressed if the man hadn’t done dishes all day. The store never had much business.

LeBlanc lacked a dishwasher, so he would need to do everything by hand. But he was so tired.

Everything would take at least an hour, probably more due to his exhaustion. He couldn’t do it.

Wait. He knew someone would could do it for him. He pulled out his phone and looked up a number. He found it and called from the landline. He was paranoid that Sae would see who he was calling and should Sojiro find out, the man would probably be more understanding.

It rang for a second, “Hiiiii, this is Becky- Does Master need me?” A voice said ‘cutely’.

On second thought this was really awkward, “Nevermind-”

“Oh.” The female voice interrupted, “Is this you Kurusu?” It said flatly.

“Yeah.” He sighed. This was already a mistake. He should have just hung up.

“It’s going to be 5,000 yen with the request fee. You’re good for that right?”

He should say no, but he looked at the pile of dishes, “Yeah.” There went a good chunk of his cash. Morgana hadn’t even asked to be paid back this time. He knew Akira would just ask for more soon anyways.

“Ok…” She said bubbly, “I’ll head right over Master!” Then hung up.

This was already awkward. He was unsure how he felt about his homeroom teacher calling him Master. It made him feel weird in a few different ways.

He waited in a booth for her to arrive. It took some time for the entrance bell to ring and for Kawakami to walk in.

She looked much different. She wore a full French-maid costume with her hair was pulled up into twin tails, and she had a good amount of makeup on her face.

She looked weirdly cute. Which didn’t help him be any less uncomfortable.

She looked a little upset, “This place was nearly impossible to find. Why do you live in a cafe? I wandered the block for five minutes looking for an apartment complex. I nearly went to some house down the road to ask for directions.”

Akira’s blood froze. Thankfully she didn’t. Sojiro would have been furious. Akira was working under the assumption that should the man find out, he would find out in a few weeks and Akira could talk him down. Finding out immediately would be disastrous.

He coughed into his hand, “I don’t have much of a choice.”

She huffed and put her hands on her hips, “But where do you even sleep? In a booth!?” She said aghast.

He waived off her concerns and led her to his room. It was weird bringing a girl into his bedroom. His bedroom that wasn’t a bedroom and more of a storage shed.

And the girl was his homeroom teacher dressed like a French maid.

Even if his life was much harder and the constant dangers of imprisonment and death were around every corner, his life had never been this interesting. He had never talked to, or even interacted with, this many good-looking girls either. It was a small victory.

“I expected more posters.” Kawakami mumbled. “It’s not as messy as I thought it would be too, although…” She remembered he was there and turned towards him, “So… I have to know. Why did you request me?”

He sat on the couch, “I need some things cleaned.”

She seemed taken aback, “That’s it? Really?” To which he nodded, “You’re not lonely or... anything? You just… requested me to clean? You sure?” To which he nodded. He actually had too many people who wanted to see him now, “What kinda kid are you?”

He shrugged. He was just… himself. There was nothing inherently special about him. Other than his superpowers.

She tapped her chin, “Rumor has it you and Mr. Kamoshida are in some sort of fight and you’re friends with Sakamoto, so you’re a troublemaker… but you also study with Niijima-san and Takamaki likes you. Rumor is Okumura-san does too, but you also had a date with Souma-san. And then with your criminal record I just can’t put my finger on you.”

He assumed Mitsuko’s last name was Souma. It seemed like Kawakami listened to the rumor mill. “I’m just me.”

She nodded, but still seemed to be studying him. Her face brightened and a fake smile grew large on her face, “Back to what’s important, what does Master need me to do!”

He quickly instructed her to clean the dishes and tables downstairs. She seemed a little confused that she would be working in the restaurant, but didn’t complain.

To avoid any more talking he went to take a shower.

The water was comfortable. He let himself stand there for a long time, just alone with his thoughts.

His homeroom teacher was downstairs, dressed as a maid and calling him Master. She seemed to think he had requested her for more than just cleaning. But how much more? And she had come anyways?

He blushed but couldn’t help wondering how far the situation could be pushed. Not that he would, but his mind did wander to all the possibilities. He was a teenager and she was cute after all.

Distracted by said thoughts, and other accompanying ones, he forgot that he had left Kawakami alone in the restaurant. It hit him like a train when he realized he hadn’t heard any noises from downstairs in a while.

He didn’t know the woman very well but she clearly needed money. And he had left her alone with the register.

He nearly sprinted out of the bathroom. Only a towel around his waist kept him from being fully nude.

He tore down the stairs, but there was no one in the restaurant. His ears began ringing and his vision blurred. There was no way she had cleaned everything so quickly.

She had left. And she had stolen the restaurant's money.

He saw red. His breathing grew heavy.

He knew where she worked. He would get it back.

Sojiro would send him back to Juvie.

He ran up the stairs to his room. He needed to put some clothes on before he hunted her down.

He exploded into the room, covering nearly half the distance to his bed before stopping.

There was Kawakami. Legs splayed out and lying on his bed wide-eyed and blushing. Her eyes scanned up and down his body but focused on his chest mostly.

He nearly exploded back out of the room.

After redressing in the bathroom he awkwardly walked back into his bedroom.

Kawakami was dusting the floor when he walked back in. She looked at him and the only indication that actions had impacted her at all was an almost unnoticeable blush on her face, “I finished the work downstairs.” She said curtly.

He nodded and went to sit on the couch. She worked in silence for a bit. There was a lot more dust in his room than he expected, something she voiced.

“I haven’t been here in a week. And it wasn’t very clean then either.”

She continued sweeping, “How do you live like this? I would be sneezing constantly. And where do you live other than this?”

He shrugged, “With Niijima-san.”

“It’s gotta be better than this, I bet that woman lives the high life.”

“In some ways.” He lied.

“You know she’s a big shot at Shujin right?” Kawakami asked, to which he replied negatively, “Oh yeah, she’s one of the most esteemed graduates. Her success in softball actually got us a lot of national attention, and a lot of donations. It’s how we got such a good track team, and then this great volleyball team. She has a lot of pull in the school.”

That was interesting. And morbidly funny in a way. Sae was at the root of all his problems, even if she didn’t mean to be.

After a moment Kawakami spoke up again in her bubbly voice, “Cleaning is complete!” she placed the broom against the wall, “I left it a bit messy, to keep the shabby-high schooler feel!” Before he could respond she collapsed backwards onto his bed. “Now just give me a second.”

“Uh, you okay?” He asked.

“Just… a little tired.” She said drowsily. She curled onto her side. He called out to her a few times, without any response. He finally got up to look at her. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing softly.

Well, he needed to see how she had done in cleaning the restaurant anyways.

He went downstairs. After a quick check, the place was almost spotless. She had done an amazing job. How long had he been in the shower for?

He went back upstairs. Kawakami had pulled the covers over herself.

He wasn’t sure what to do in this situation, having never had a girl in his bed. He had never had a girl in his room either. Did he poke her? That might be weird.

“Sensei.” He said softly, which did nothing. “Sensei.” He said a bit louder, still doing nothing, “Kawakami!” She groaned, but didn’t stir. “Becky!” That did it.

She popped up, “Ready to serve Master! Oh, It’s just you.” She lay back down, “You don’t get charged for time or activity. I’m not good enough for that. It’s the flat rate of 5000 yen if I’m here for 30 minutes or all night or if I clean or, well, actually, all I do is clean. So just let me sleep for a bit.”

He wasn’t allowed another word as she pulled the covers over her head. He heard her mumble about needing better sheets, and then she was asleep.

He sighed. Might as well do his homework. Without Makoto he had already fallen behind.

He spent over an hour doing problems. He couldn’t keep his mind off Kawakami. Why was she doing this? He knew it was for the money but there had to be better jobs. At least the agency she worked for wasn’t bad. He had looked it up, and while they did have a sister-company that heavily implied the girls were prostitutes, this service was just for cleaning and fanservice items.

So it could have been worse. She basically worked as an on-call Janitor in a cute outfit. She probably dealt with perverts, but it could have been worse. Maybe she made a lot of money doing this? Although he doubted it from the way she spoke.

Eventually he heard the sheets ruffling and he turned around. Kawakami was stretching her arms, hair and dress a mess. She yawned and smacked her lips, not seeming to care if he saw or not.

She pulled herself out of bed with some difficulty and walked over to him, “That my homework? Here, let me help you.” She pulled his high back chair over to help him.

She easily guided him through the problems. She was a really good tutor, something he never realized in her tired classroom lectures.

“And that’s it! If you ever need any more help, just send me a text. You have my number.” She said, then got up and stretched again, “I gotta get going. Someone might need Becky tonight! Although I doubt it.” She sighed in disappointment.

He wasn’t sure how to cheer her up. Saying nearly anything would be awkward, “Uh, well you did a great job with the restaurant. Maybe I’ll call you again to do that next time.”

Her smile brightened immensely, “Please do! Becky is here to serve! Annnnnndd if you give me a tip and let me take another nap I’ll even let you skip class sometimes.” To which he accidently scoffed, making her freeze and look confused, “What?”

He hadn’t meant to do that, but he might as well be honest, “You’ll have to do more than that to get a tip.” He barely had any money as it was, “I don’t think some free class time is worth that.”

She looked a little hesitant then sighed, “Well, there’s more work I can do. I can stay here longer and do more… stuff” She blushed lightly then coughed into her hand, “But, if I’m gonna be here all night you’ll have to pay me more! I don’t get paid hourly, but if your request is the only one I’m doing I need more cash!”

That seemed fair. And he did need help with his homework and cleaning the cafe. He responded positively.

She smiled, “Great! And just for you call me anytime! I’m always free Fridays and Saturdays, but if you’re gonna pay me more to work longer then call me any day and I’ll try to come by! I can even change up my outfit if you buy me a new one! There’s a lot I can do! I think we have a great deal in the works.”

He blushed at some of his thoughts, then nodded and walked her to the entrance.

He went to open the door for her, but she spoke up, “You know, what I said earlier, I still can’t put my finger on you. You’re not what I expected at all. And even less so after tonight. I thought you would call me for… well, I don’t know. You don’t make any sense.”

He shrugged. He was who he was. “I’m just me.”

Her smile was meaningful and genuine, “Well, we need more of you.” Her face took on the fake, bubbly persona of Becky, “Call me again Master if you need any help! Becky is always ready to serve!”

He let out a breath. She was really helpful, but he was exhausted. It was much too late for him to be up.

He rectified that by immediately going to bed.

____________________________________________________________________________

April 26
After Midnight
Tuesday
Clear

Kawakami groaned and slammed her head against the counter. Three hours had passed since she left Kurusu’s and she had received zero calls. Zero! She wasn’t that bad looking! Maybe she needed a shorter dress.

Sure, she wasn’t a knockout like some of the other girls at the agency, but she was still cute! And she did good work too! Even though most people who hired ‘maids’ didn’t care about the quality of work.

Except for Kurusu. He had actually hired her to clean. Even though she had been convinced that he had called her thinking he could somehow have sex with her, or something of the like. It wasn’t crazy to assume he would, he was a teenage delinquent.

But she had to go anyways. He was her first client in days. If he hadn’t called, her boss might have fired her, and if she hadn’t gone, he would have for sure. If he asked her to have sex or to get a blowjob she would just leave, he had paid upfront anyways. It wouldn’t be the first time she left a job because a client asked for more than they paid for.

But he never did. And what an awkward experience that turned out to be. Not only being called by a student, but by the school delinquent? Albeit, a pretty good looking one. She had gotten a good peek when he rushed out in only a towel. She saw just how well built he was, and the scars he had too.

She stopped. That thought process made her uncomfortable in a few ways. She was getting tired.

She shook her head and took a shot. The vodka burned, but it made her feel better.

Her ‘payments’ were coming up soon. She still needed over fifteen thousand yen. Kurusu’s five thousand had been a good start but she might need to sell things again to pay it.

Or… next time Kurusu called her she could take some money from the register. She would pay Kurusu back of course! But… she really needed the money more than he did.

She nearly punched herself in the face.

What was she thinking!?

She likely owed Kurusu her life, and now her job, and she was thinking of robbing him!? Of robbing his guardian!?

How far had she fallen? She sipped her chaser, a hard mixed drink.

If no one was calling she needed to get some grading done tonight. She would take some caffeine pills soon to stay up. She might not sleep tonight other than the nap at Kurusu’s. It wouldn’t be the first time.

She had really screwed up asking for a tip. She had frozen when he scoffed. If he had threatened to throw her out right then, she might have broken down and offered him anything. She needed him to request her again. Kurusu was a better person than she thought, better than the other people that requested her, and if he could bring her stable income it would change her life.

When he just asked for more services for tips she had nearly jumped for joy. For extra money she was completely willing to clean more, do some extra chores, or tutor him. As long as he didn’t ask for anything physical she would be willing to do whatever. Even wear something more revealing. As long as he didn’t touch her, he could look all he wanted. That was why people requested maids anyways.

Maybe she would try not wearing her stockings when he requested her again. Maybe it would help him decide to become a frequent customer.

She had tried to get frequent customers before but had a little success. It always ended with them asking for something she wouldn’t give, and then them never requesting her again.

If Kurusu did ask she would have to say no, or so she told herself. He was her student, albeit in the weakest sense. He would likely be expelled soon if Mr. Kamoshida had anything to say. She still wasn’t sure what to believe in that case, although she had tried to say something nice about Kurusu when the opportunity was available.

And with such a developed body, he didn’t seem like a high schooler either.

She really needed the money. She had never been this desperate before. She looked around her desolate apartment. All she had left were some cheap plastic chairs, a scratched shoddy table she obtained for free, and a few kitchen items. She had no fridge, no tv, and barely even had a bed left. Everything else had been sold.

Her AC had been broken for months now.

She nearly broke down.

She lived in the shittiest apartment complex of anyone she knew. It was tiny, her living room was also her bedroom, and that just meant there was a futon in the corner. Her kitchen barely existed, and her bathroom was a hole to squat over, a hose, and a shower drain. All combined it was probably smaller than Kurusu’s room.

Maybe she would offer him a deal. She would only get paid a bit to work for a bit, then he could let her sleep in his bed. That way she got paid and got to sleep.

She would ask him later. She really needed his support.

She put her drink down and picked up her pills. She took three of them, enough to keep her awake for another hour, and got to grading. She prayed someone would call.

Maybe she would text Kurusu tomorrow to see if he needed any chores run. Really anything he needed that would pay would do. Even if he just wanted some eye candy to sit around his room, she just needed some cash. Anything would do.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 26
After School
Tuesday
Clear

Ryuji groaned and kicked the wall again, “Where is Takamaki!”

He had good reason to be angry. They had been waiting for her near ‘Untouchables’ for over twenty minutes and she wasn’t answering her phone.

Morgana popped his head out of Akira’s bag, “Be quiet! I’m sure whatever she’s doing is more important than your time!”

Akira cut in before the two could argue. Again. “She’ll be here soon.”

Ryuji ignored the cat’s comment and groaned, “I gotta do groceries before it gets late. My mom’s gonna be PISSED if I don’t get it done.”

Akira let out a sigh. He also wanted to get home before too late. He didn’t have the money to request Kawakami again If Sojiro wanted him to do more chores.

“Hey guys! Sorrrrrry!” Ann yelled while waving her hands and jogging towards them, “I had a modelling job I forgot about, but I got my friend Mika to cover for me!”

Mika? He had met a Mika, who was a model too. He asked if it was the same person

Ann looked confused, “You know her? Or have you just see one of her photoshoots?” She asked skeptically.

“I met her off-handedly once.”

Ann’s smile brightened, “Then come with me next time I model! I’ll introduce you! She’s actually really nice!”

He nodded and began walking towards ‘Untouchables’. Iwai barely moved as he entered the store. Only the briefest flicker of his eyes showed that he recognized they were there.

Iwai grunted, “Whatchu kids want?”

Akira spoke up, “Just browsing.”

No one else in his group said anything, so the man just nodded, “Make sure the blond one doesn’t touch anything. Both of them actually.”

Akira nodded. He motioned for the two to follow. Morgana peered out his bag at the wares.

The store had everything they could need. Blunt weapons, guns, ammo, knives, and even some slingshots. There were no whips though. They would have to seek out a specialty store or purchase Ann a new weapon online.

All four had their own money to spend, although Akira had the least. He wasn’t planning on upgrading his gear this time. The free gun he got a few days ago was his upgrade, and he needed to save money.

He was only here to use his ‘employee’ discount for his group mates. They each ended up purchasing a single upgrade and restocking their ammo. Somehow they could only barely afford the upgrades.

Ryuji and Ann had been even more wasteful with their new money than he was. Each looked embarrassed as they admitted to buying new makeup or video games.

But what they purchased was their problem. He thought about making a fund to pay for future upgrades, but decided against it. It wasn’t like they would need new weapons after defeating Kamoshida.

The power of the Metaverse was amazing, and he might continue using it by himself. But he was unsure if he wanted to continue as a group. He wasn’t even sure if they would still be ‘friends’ or that without a common enemy they would drift apart. He might even run away when this was over.

He might just leave and never come back.

As they left Ryuji immediately had to leave to go grocery shopping.

After watching him go, Ann bent towards his backpack and pulled her arms in, which let her shirt drop a bit, “Hey Morgana, could you be a sweetie and do me a real favor. Could you let me and Akira here talk for a bit?” She asked bubbly.

Morgana immediately fell for it, “Are you sure?” To which Ann placed her hands together, pleading, “I mean, of course Lady Ann! Anything for you!” He finished and bounded away.

That was easy. He wished he could get the cat to leave as easily as that. Why did Ann want to be alone though?

Ann sighed and her smile dropped as she rose, “That was easy. Sorry about that, but I wanted to talk a bit and I don’t think Morgana is the most… mature person.” He nodded in understanding and she smiled weakly, “Do you wanna get something to eat?”

They ended up at a popular chain restaurant. Within a few minutes they were seated and had ordered their food.

Ann stirred her drinks and bit her lip in frustration, but stayed quiet.

Akira coughed into his arm, “So, uh, your new gun is cool.”

Ann smiled, “Thanks! It fits perfectly in my backpack too!” She opened her bag slightly to show him the disassembled parts. She closed it and took a deep breath, “I just, I need to say thank you. Before you interrupt, let me finish. Thank you, we’re finally going to take Kamoshida down. That’s something I never thought would happen. I thought I would have to live in hell all through high school. And with what he did to Shiho… I hate him. With every part of me I hate him. I only wish I could punish him more. But tomorrow, no matter what happens, Kamoshida will be gone.”

He nodded. Either Kamoshida’s heart would change, or he would die. None of them really knew what would happen if you stole a treasure. But Ann didn’t care about that, and Akira didn’t either.

“You don’t need to say thank you. I would have done this anyways.”

Ann smiled, “Yeah, but you let me be a part of it. That means a lot. I’m not just some cheerleader or some eye candy sitting on the sidelines, I get to be a part of the solution.”

He smiled back. He wanted to ask something. He hoped it didn’t come off badly, “How… how’s Shiho doing?”

Ann’s smile dropped. She played with her straw again, “I haven’t either really.” She took a breath, “Shiho won’t let me come over. She got out a few days ago and has been at home. She won’t let anyone come see her, even though it's just me. I don’t know, I could have pushed harder maybe but after the whole text message thing it's been hard.”

Akira nodded along. It wasn’t his place to interrupt.

Ann continued, “Her parents say she’s doing well. They say she talks more each day. She won’t sleep in her bedroom though, so they sleep there, and she sleeps in their bedroom. After tomorrow I promise, no, I swear, I’m going to go see her every single day. I won’t take no for an answer. I will be there for her in whatever way I can.”

“That’s good. Just try your best.”

Ann smiled at him and brushed the hair from her eyes. He forgot how beautiful she was sometimes. “Thanks Akira. When she’s better, you should come by too. I’m sure she would appreciate you, her ‘Knight in Shining Armor’, although I guess you’re more like her ‘Hound in Shining Armor’.” To which she let out a small chuckle.

A light smile grew on his face, “Thanks, I’ve been called better, but I’ve also been called much worse. I’ll just take it as a compliment.”

She sipped her drink, “It was a compliment idiot, you don’t have to take it as anything. You’re a good guy, and I’m gonna make it up to you soon. I know! When this is all done I’ll get you a new pair of glasses, can you see okay without your old ones? You look so different without them.”

Oh yeah, his glasses. They were still broken. He could see better than ever after going to the metaverse, something he voiced.

Ann looked surprised, “Oh, yeah, I guess my vision is a bit better too. I never noticed. I don’t think it's a big change though, maybe it’s not even a change.”

That was weird. His was pretty drastic. He could focus in and read the details off a bottle a few tables away if he tried.

And if he used his ‘Third-eye’ it was even better. Things moved slower too, which helped boost his already good reaction times to incredible. But it gave him a massive headache if he tried it for too long. The only other thing it did was sometimes tell him when there was a rare item in a store.

They kept talking for a bit about this and that. Ann lead the conversation and kept him updated on the world of high fashion and entertainment.

She told him all about a massive party held by the Okumura’s that Mika went to. Mika had bragged a lot about how amazing it was and how many powerful people she met. Mika had apparently met Mr. Okumura who had flirted with her and wanted her to model for some new ads that were coming out.

He doubted that. Mr. Okumura didn’t seem like a flirt. From his short time there it even seemed like Mika was among the least popular people in the room. Only the older men were giving her any attention, but they weren’t very specific with who they gave attention to.

Not that he judged her for flirting if she had. Making friends with powerful people could be important, especially for a model. He had learned in Juvie just how powerful knowing someone could be. Having a friend here or there had saved his life a few times.

He didn’t tell Ann that he went too. He would have to answer a lot of questions he would rather not if he did. Who wore what dress, which person knew who, how he got there. A lot he didn’t want to talk about.

Soon they finished their meals, and after a quick hug, were off. Ann to go help Ryuji with the calling cards, and Akira to go to LeBlanc.

He had to pause on his walk home and reflect.

How much had happened in two weeks. His life was entirely different from anything he ever thought could happen. And tomorrow, it changed even more. The calling card would go out and he would get his revenge and revenge for all the people Kamoshida had hurt.

After that… who knew what would happen after that. Right now, he just suppressed his rage. He needed to stay calm and complete his goal tomorrow.

Killing Kamoshida wouldn’t help anyone. He had to repeat the words over and over again.

It was getting harder to believe them.
____________________________________________________________________________
April 26
Night
Tuesday
Clear

“Have a nice night officers!” He said happily.

“You too, just be sure to get that paperwork together soon. We’re going to need the medical reports for every injury we have on record.”

He nodded and slowly closed the door behind them.

Kamoshida’s smile dropped. He stalked back to his room and slammed the door.

He punched the wall as hard as he could. It easily broke through the drywall. He pulled his hand out and grunted in frustration. Another hole he had to cover up before the cops came by again.

That made three times now they had come by. Each time asking for information he didn’t have or didn’t want to give.

He thought it would just be a formality thing, and after they found nothing the first time they would drop it. But, apparently, they had found something and were now hounding him.

There was a leak. There had to be.

It was Kurusu.

He saw red. He punched his wall over and over again until his hand ached.

The hole would be impossible to cover up. He had burst through to the other side.

Everything he had worked for, everything he had done for these last few years, wasted. All the hours, all the risks, everything.

Just because some no name, low-life, punk decided to take a stand.

He was going to kill him. There was no other choice. He needed to kill Kurusu, and maybe his little bitch Sakamoto too.

He might even need to hurt Ann to really get his point across. He would need to destroy everyone involved with Kurusu to make sure no one ever spoke up again.

Okumura. Mitsuko. Ann. And maybe even Kawakami. He needed to make sure anyone who had even talked to Kurusu never spoke up.

Everyone needed to know he meant business. This wasn’t a game.

He’d find Kurusu after school and kill him. He had already contacted a few low-lives who would help him out. It was all he could think about.

The rates for getting rid of a body were pretty low all things considered. It would take all his savings, but that didn’t matter.

What mattered was making sure no one could stop him.

He would have everything. He would get rid of these nuisances, get his team back, and get his life back. Shiho would come back to school and be his again.

She was perfect. She was a weak, beautiful, girl. He’d have her move in with him when she graduated. She would cook, clean, do his laundry, have sex with him, and do whatever he wanted. It would be perfect. And there would be no one to stop him anymore.

The girl he loved would be with him.

He realized some time ago that he loved Shiho. It wasn’t the traditional ‘love’. It was more of a love one has for their pet. He loved how powerful he felt when he was with her. That she couldn’t do anything to stop him.

Ann was more attractive, but he loved Shiho. Ann was rebellious, Shiho wasn’t. He’d have both by the end of this anyways.

He lay back on his bed.

He had gotten the funds together. He never trusted banks, so it was easy to collect all his cash. He would continue pushing for Kurusu’s expulsion, and when Kurusu stopped showing up to school he would have a reason.

‘Kurusu knew he was getting expelled’ he would say, ‘He ran away’. It all made sense. The cops would have to believe him.

It wasn’t like there would be a body.

He would do it soon. He would kill Kurusu soon.

He closed his eyes.

Power. Once Kurusu was gone he would have more power than ever. People would fear him. They would never say it, but people would know what happens when you cross Kamoshida.

Everyone in the school would be up for grabs. If any guy spoke out, he could put them in their place. Any good-looking girls? He’d give them some ‘private’ tutoring.

He nearly laughed at the thought. He was excited. More excited than he had been in a long time.

All it took was killing Akira Kurusu.

He did laugh at that.

___________________________________________________________________________

A/N

First off, sorry for the short chapter. I’ve been dealing with finals/ moving out of my apartment / being with my family so even this short chapter took forever to get out.

The next chapter is about giving out the calling card and that deserves its own chapter.

This chapter was hell to write / get out. It was SO hard to find time to write, and my writing process fell apart. If there’s a drop in quality this chapter it’s because the SUPER weird way I was forced to write this.

Some sections were rewritten 6 times, others 3, and just the lack of alone time really hurt my writing process.

Although some important things happened this chapter though that had to be addressed.

Some worldbuilding in Kamoshida’s Palace. A lot of that will play into later characters developments and storylines.

Akira is going through some difficulties. He’s struggling mentally as well as starting to use pills and crave alcohol. Not a good place to be going.

We got some Shiho development. Her character has a lot incoming. It was always weird to me that she wasn’t a full-on confidant in the story.

Becky was introduced. Technically, you can’t call her on Tuesdays, but also, it’s easier as a writer if I make some exceptions and also lets me set up storylines better. It would suck if I was like, yeah Kawakami is necessary to advance the plotline but technically I can’t have her show up for like 3 chapters cause it’s Monday.

That will happen with a lot of confidants. I want to stick to the game as much as possible, but some exceptions need to be made.

And then a look into Kamoshida’s mind. Not a good place to be lol.

Well, again, sorry for the long wait and short chapter! The next chapter is the climax of the arc, so I hope that makes up for it! I hope to have it out to you guys soon! I’m going to try to get some alone time to really get the next chapter to be great!

Feel free to leave a review with your thoughts! I know nothing big happened this chapter, but I still love reading reviews and I hope to see you again next time when really big things do happen!

Chapter Text

April 27
Morning
Wednesday
Clear

Akira pushed his way through the thick crowd of Shujin students. From the way they were talking, Ryuji had been successful with his calling cards.

“Who do you think put these up-”

“Does this mean the rumors are true?”

“Who are the ‘Phantom Thieves’?”

That last one was a good question. It seemed as if Ryuji had chosen their team name. ‘The Phantom Thieves of Hearts’. He would have left out the ‘of Hearts’ part. It sounded lame.

“TAKE THESE DOWN IMMEDIATELY!” Kobayakawa’s voice roared through the halls. Akira turned towards the voice to find every student fleeing from the large jogging man. “WHO DID THIS!?” He jiggled as he spoke. It was impossible to respect him.

The large man got distracted by another wall full of calling cards. Akira took the initiative and walked the other direction. He didn’t want to get wrapped up in the man’s fury.

The team had done an excellent job. Calling cards littered every wall of the building. You couldn’t turn without seeing one.

He walked up the stairs and nearly bumped into Haru. She was wearing her pink cardigan and white tights. He was sure there was some rule against it, but she looked cute, and who would try to discipline Haru?

She smiled slightly at him. “Akira! Have you seen those cards everywhere? It’s insane, can you believe it?”

He couldn’t help but sneer, “That someone put them up or that Kamoshida did those things?”

Haru looked surprised, “Well, I meant someone putting them up, but I guess both.” Akira nodded making Haru frown, “Niijima-san is losing her mind because of it. I just saw her yell at someone and run into the school council room.”

That surprised him. He looked over Haru’s shoulder towards the student council room and saw a large crowd standing outside the door. Some were pounding on the door and yelling for answers but Makoto must have locked it.

Akira spoke up, “Give me a second.” He scowled and put his most intimidating face on. He walked up to the crowd who noticed his approach and scattered.

Once the doorway was clear he gave it a short knock, “Niijima-san? It’s clear.” He couldn’t call her Makoto anymore.

After a few seconds the door clicked open and one eye peered out at him. Once Makoto realized the crowd was gone she opened the door fully. She brushed her skirt down and peered up at him cautiously, “Thank you, although it was unnecessary. They would have dispersed soon.”

That wasn’t true, but he nodded anyways. “You should probably get to class before they return.”

She took a hesitant, hunched over, step out. She cautiously looked down the hallway for more angry students. When she saw they were all gone, she straightened up.

“Niijima-san.” Haru called out from behind him.

“Okumura-san” Makoto said while giving her a small smile, “Do you know Kurusu-san?”

Haru replied, “Yes, we are well acquainted.”

The air grew slightly awkward. Akira waited a moment, coughed into his hand, and made to leave.

“Wait!” Makoto called out. He turned around and she averted her eyes. After a moment, she drew in a breath and looked at him sharply, “Are you the ‘Phantom Thieves of Heart’?”

He hoped his face gave nothing away. “No.”

The air seemed to be sucked out of her. “Well, there goes suspect number one.”

He let out a short chuckle and walked away. The pandemonium was settling down and people were getting back to their lives.

He made his way towards the bathroom before classes started. He still had a good amount of time before they began.

The door down the hall opened. An irritated Kamoshida came storming out muttering to himself with his arms full of calling cards.

His head turned and their eyes met. The cards fell from Kamoshida’s hands.

Akira’s heartbeat picked up.

Kamoshida’s irritation turned to fury. “Kurusu.”

Akira said nothing.

Kamoshida stalked towards him, “This whole ‘Phantom Thieves’ bullshit is the biggest load of crap I’ve ever seen. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Akira’s fists clenched.

Kamoshida grew angrier, “Whatever. Fuck it. No more games. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. Meet me in the alley next to Hajime’s. It’s time to end this.” He turned to leave but stopped before reaching the door, “If you aren’t there in ten minutes. I’ll go after your friends.” Then he left.

A beat picked up inside Akira. It felt like war drums were playing in his head. His body thrummed with energy. He wanted this. He needed this.

He should go to class and then change the man’s heart. The man wouldn’t have time for revenge before they could. It would be stupid to go meet Kamoshida in an alleyway.

But he made his way to the window.

“What are you doing!?” Morgana cried out from his backpack, “This isn’t part of the plan!”

Akira pulled the cat from his bag and placed him on the floor. The window was unlocked and he was outside in seconds. He ignored the cat’s calls. He didn’t care if the school camera’s caught him. He didn’t care about anything else right now.

Anger bubbled inside him. Hate filled his heart.

Arsene screamed bloody murder in the back of his mind.

He couldn’t stop. He sprinted down the street.

His breathing was heavy and erratic. His muscles clenched. He pulled his jacket over his head and avoided every odd passerby in his mad rush to the meeting spot. He didn’t want anyone noticing him.

He found the alleyway. It was dark and far from school. A dumpster rest on one side and random items scattered the empty space. There were a few puddles from the light rain the night before. At the very back the alley curved ninety degrees to the right and lead out onto another street.

Nobody was around. The noise of construction filled the air.

He took his bottle of pills out. They were good for pain relief. Something he would need. He took two. That made three for the day.

Dr. Takemi might kill him for that. The pills might kill him too. He was sure taking so many at once would be bad for him.

A few seconds after swallowing them the world shifted. Everything became a haze of black and red. The world swirled and looked like something out of some nightmare dimension. The sky became blood red and a pure white moon cast an eerie light on the alleyway.

Then everything returned to normal.

He could worry about that later.

He paced back and forth as he waited. And waited. Was this a trick? Was Kamoshida just using this as a way to get him in trouble? He would be late to his first class, than the man would expel him! That must be it!

His rage boiled. He nearly sprinted back to the school right then. If this was a trick nothing could stop him from killing Kamoshida.

“Well, well, you actually showed up.” Kamoshida’s voice called out.

There he was. Akira turned to find the man standing at the entrance of the alleyway grinning like a fool.

Kamoshida spoke up, “I thought you might wimp out. I was afraid I might have to hurt Ann-chan.”

His blood pumped in his ears. His vision became blurry. How dare this man. He took his shirt off and tossed it aside. He wasn’t playing around.

Kamoshida laughed. “Trying to show off? That doesn’t do anything for me sorry.”

The man stepped forward. He was tall, nearly seven feet tall, and towered over Akira. This would be the first fight in Akira’s life where his opponent was this much taller than him.

He would need to change his approach. He couldn’t rush the man and rely on his superior size and strength. He would-

His thoughts were broken as Kamoshida threw a left hook. It connected high up on the side of his head and sent him stumbling. The world swirled for a second.

No more thoughts. No more planning. He let his instincts take over.

Before Kamoshida could capitalize on the stumble Akira got his footing and let loose a quick jab. He was too far away for it to connect. He managed to avoid Kamoshida’s follow up jab.

Kamoshida stepped forward and pulled his arm back for a full power punch. It came out like a cannon, barely missing Akira's face as he leaned to the side.

If it had hit the fight would be over. But Kamoshida hadn’t prepared to miss. He had overextended himself. Akira unleashed blows on Kamoshida's side. His first punch smacked the man in the mouth, stunning him. Akira used the moment the man was stunned to grab the base of his shirt and pull it over his head. The man’s arms became locked sticking up and he had no way to respond to Akira’s follow up body blows.

Kamoshida tried to pull his shirt down, but he could do little as his back hit the wall after several consecutive blows. Akira swung as hard and fast as he could. The man was able to protect his head but was forced to leave his stomach open.

Akira stayed low and treated Kamoshida’s midsection as a punching bag. Any second now the man would collapse and that would be it. No one could take this much damage and keep fighting.

Kamoshida grunted. He managed to get his shirt down slightly, but still couldn’t remove Akira. This was over.

In the blink of an eye Kamoshida’s shirt fell the rest of the way down. The fight shifted as Kamoshida unexpectedly picked Akira up from under his armpits and ran.

Akira flailed until his back slammed into the sharp rim of the dumpster hard. That might have broken something. He felt his skin split open and blood pour down his back.

The wind was knocked from him. His consciousness faded in and out. The world swirled then went black.

Kamoshida dropped him and Akira fell to his knees gasping.

An heavy kick to his stomach knocked the lights back on. A follow-up punch to his mouth made the world turned white and red as blood flew into his eye. His ears rang as the back of his head slammed into the dumpster and made a reverberating clang.

He threw his hands up in a weak defense but was too stunned to mount any proper comeback.

Kamoshida’s haymaker blew threw his unsteady hands and sent the back of Akira’s head slamming into the dumpster once more. He did lose consciousness there for a second.

Kamoshida roared as he kicked Akira in the upper chest. Akira spit blood, mucus, and bile everywhere. Salava-ridden blood spilled onto Kamoshida’s pants.

His body buckled and he collapsed to the side.

Kamoshida didn’t let up. He picked Akira up and moved him so Akira was lying on his back. He began pounding on Akira’s weakly protected face and chest while yelling something about revenge.

He would die here. He would die because he was stupid and came here to fight. Then Kamoshida would murder his friends. He opened one eye and looked at his killer.

Arsene pushed murder into his mind. A tidal wave of overwhelming rage fueled him.

His hand clawed underneath the dumpster for anything. He needed anything.

Kamoshida stopped punching him and wrapped his hands around Akira’s neck. The man began squeezing the life out of him.

His hand desperately clawed for anything.

Black spots appeared in his vision.

He swung with full force.

The rock in his hand cut a massive gash in Kamoshida’s forehead spilling hot blood onto Akira’s face.

The man let go screaming and clutched at his face. He fell to his side and plopped onto his butt.

Akira sat up slightly and hit Kamoshida on the top of the face again. The man fell the rest of the way to the ground screaming.

Akira slapped away the man’s counterattack and swung his rock again. Kamoshida lay there, frozen, after the hit. Akira hurredly wiped at his eyes and cleared his bloody damp bangs from his face. He hit the man again with the rock and moved to straddle Kamoshida’s chest. His free hand slammed into the man’s mouth busting open both lips.

The man screamed. He swung one arm wildly but missed as Akira leaned back.

He swung the other arm which did connect. A sharp pain erupted in Akira’s cheek. The man had sliced his cheek.

A thin line of blood oozed down Akira’s cheek. Miraculously Kamoshida’s small pocket knife had only grazed him. But Kamoshida was preparing to swing it again.

Akira shifted his knee onto the arm holding the knife and then his other knee to the other arm. He then grabbed Kamoshida’s knife-holding forearm and crashed his rock down into it. He swung again and pinned the man’s fingers between the rock and the ground. One hit wasn’t enough, so he repeated the action until the knife fell from Kamoshida’s grip and Akira knocked it away.

The man cried out some mixture between an apology and a plea to stop. Akira got some kind of sick pleasure thinking about how Kamoshida must regret starting this now.

Akira silenced him with a punch to the face. Nothing the man could say would stop him. The man had brought a knife. Kamoshida would have killed him. There would be no half measures now.

He tossed the rock aside. It wasn't personal enough.

Bloody spittle leaked from the man's lips as he tried to mumble something, but Akira’s fist silenced him once more.

The man’s eyes grew dazed, but Akira didn't let up. Left, right, left, right. He slammed his fists down over and over again. He missed several times in his fury and pain but enough hit.

He missed again and his right hand erupted in agony. He collapsed forwards, crying out and clutching his hand in pain. On his way down his elbow accidently smacked Kamoshida’s nose, which shifted with a sickening crunch. The man groaned out. He was too hurt to scream.

Akira lay there breathing heavily. His chest drooped over Kamoshida’s face. His shirt covered the man’s mouth and eyes. Akira’s arms supported his head and kept it off the ground. Kamoshida didn't have the strength to push him off or retaliate.

After he caught his breath he leaned back up and returned to his work. Left, left, left. The full body blows came out slowly but were incredibly satisfying. He split open more gashes in the man’s face, he broke the man’s lip open more, and both of the man’s eyes were swollen, one swollen shut. The puddle of blood and water underneath Kamoshida’s head made a mess of his hair.

Akira leaned back and admired his work. The man’s face was nearly unrecognizable. Blood seeped out of numerous wounds and a few teeth were missing. One eye was closed shut and one might never open again. The other stared at him pleadingly.

“Pa-pwalese.” The man mumbled out. He was somehow conscious. “I’m sowrey.” Tears freely fell from his bruised eyes.

Anger erupted inside him. Arsene screamed, silencing the world around him. The man thought he deserved forgiveness!?

He wrapped his hands around the man's throat and squeezed with everything he had left.

The man struggled and shook, but it wasn't enough. His eyes bludged and his tongue stuck out. His face turned red then blue as he slowly lost the will to fight back.

There was desperation in his eye. Pleading for Akira to stop. Akira nearly let go. But Arsene fed his body hate. He tightened his grip.

Something tackled him.

He was sent sprawling backwards. Whatever hit him had kneed him in his already damaged ribs, sending shockwaves of pain through his body.

Words were being yelled at him, but he couldn’t hear anything. His brain couldn’t focus.

He tried to swing on the person holding him down, but after fighting so long he had no strength left. His weak swipe was batted down. The ringing quieted slightly.

“-DUDE! Ann! What the fuck do we do!?”

“I don’t know! Is he alive!?”

A child’s voice spoke up, “He’s breathing, but barely.”

The man’s voice spoke up, “I do know we gotta get out of here! Fuck! Someone could have heard this, cops could be on the way right now!”

“What if Kamoshida wakes up! He’s gonna tell them-”

“We gotta go! Here, grab Akira with me!” Two people picked him up, one on either side. “Morgana! Check our path!”

He stumbled over Kamoshida’s limp body. The man was laying on his side, blood pouring from over a dozen wounds.

He looked dead. Only the light movement of the man’s chest let Akira know he was alive.

Akira didn’t know how to feel about that.

Morgana led them down back alleys and side streets until they made it a good distance away. Ryuji used Akira’s white shirt to sop up the blood on Akira’s face. They covered the rest of his wounds by putting Ann’s jacket around him. They eventually managed to hail a cab to get them to LeBlanc.

The driver didn’t bother them or even notice that Akira was bleeding. Following Morgana’s directions, they arrived at LeBlanc shortly. The three argued momentarily about how ‘The owner’ would see them, but Morgana soon reported that Sojiro was gone for some reason. He never left the restaurant at this time of day.

It worked out for them however. They were able to get Akira upstairs and into the bathroom quickly.

He was recovering his awareness. Ryuji helped him out of his shoes and jacket and placed him in the shower. The water ran down his body, stinging him all over. Blood leaked into his eyes and dripped from his chin.

He stayed there and caught his breath.

After a minute, he slowly slid his long pants off and sat down with his back against the wall. His body was wracked with pain. His back felt like someone had stabbed him through.

He had messed up. He should have just left Kamoshida alone. His hands trembled.

The only problem was that he didn’t regret it. He had nearly killed the man, he would have to, but he didn’t regret it. He tried to, but then he thought about Shiho. Kamoshida would have killed him if he hadn’t grabbed that rock.

He should be dead right now. He had gotten lucky.

The cops would find him soon. He had an escape plan, but everything was over.

After a few more moments he pulled himself to his feet and stumbled to his room. Why Sojiro was still gone, Akira had no idea. But it was an immense help.

He stumbled in on an argument.

Ryuji was speaking, “-Well what do you want to do!? What can we do!? Akira won’t be able to move, let alone fight, like- Akira?”

Akira continued walking, pain filled his every step, until he was able to set himself down on the bed. “Continue.”

Ann’s lips slapped together a few times and she looked at the other two. Realization dawned on her face and she rushed over to him. She sat next to him and pulled out a bottle, some bandages, a cloth, and a small sewing kit. “This is going to hurt. Morgana, can you help me.”

The cat nodded and took the needle in his palms. He looked away, seeing the cat get ready to sew up his wounds was weird.

Ryuji spoke back up, “Well, we were talkin about what to-”

Pain erupted in Akira’s side. He held back a cry of shock and looked down. Ann was pouring the liquid on his many cuts. He tried to ignore it and focus back on Ryuji.

“As I said, we were talkin about what to do. Do we go after Kamoshida, or wait a bit until you can walk. Kamoshida seemed out of it when we left, so we might have some time.”

“No.” Akira grunted out. “We go now. Morgana, can we enter his Metaverse if he’s unconscious?”

The cat spoke up, “I don’t know. I’ve never had to try that before. I’ve gone into palaces when the owner was asleep so maybe? This is all uncharted territory.”

Akira spoke again, “The second this is done we go change his heart.”

Ryuji responded, “But what if his treasure doesn’t appear? And you can barely walk!”

“We deal with that if it’s a problem. If he wakes up and tells the police about me before we can change his heart, everything is over. We only have this one shot. We grab the treasure and get out, no fighting, no anything.”

The room took on a somber tone after that. Sharp pin pricks in his back let him know that Morgana was somehow stitching him up.

Ann broke the silence, “Once Morgana finishes we can go.” She put a large bandage over a cut on his side. She grabbed a damp cloth from the ground and dabbed at his head. “You can’t fight like this or you’ll pop the stitches so we have to be in and out quick.”

Akira nodded and, once Morgana was done, stood up slowly. The others followed suit and began shuffling out of the room while Akira moved his bloody wet cloths from the bathroom to under his bed and put on clean ones. He would wash them when he got back.

He went to join the others outside, but Ann walked back into the room and blocked his path. Akira opened his mouth to speak but Ann put up a hand.

Ann spoke up, “Akira. After this is all over, we need to talk. What you did- even if I’m happy someone did it- was selfish. You went… really far too. Scary far. I don’t know whether to hug you, slap you, or run away right now. I just…” She rubbed one arm, “If we can’t steal Kamoshida’s treasure because of you- I’ll never forgive you. This is the most important thing I’ve ever done, so you better pray you didn’t mess it up.”

He opened his mouth to reply, but she left.

She wasn’t wrong. This was his fault. He accepted that. If he had destroyed their ability to steal Kamoshida’s treasure he would never forgive himself either.

He would make it up to the group somehow. Even if they succeeded, he would make it up. He had let his emotions rule him and now they might suffer for it.

He had gotten his revenge and now he would do everything he could to make sure they got theirs too.

He filed outside and took the others to a quiet location he had visited his first day out of Juvie. Curious, he spoke up on the walk there, “What happened at the school after I left.”

Ryuji answered, “Well, Morgana told us what happened, so Ann told him to pull a fire alarm. Everyone evacuated outside and people started talkin and yellin and stuff, especially when they saw that Kamoshida was gone. Some of the volleyball students had already cut school and the fatass just cancelled classes today. Everyone was goin wild dude. He’s gonna try to do some damage control I bet, but that won’t do anything. I saw some cop cars outside the school when I left.”

Good. That would give him an easy alibi if anything came up.

Soon, they were at the park he had visited on his first day out of Juvie. So much had changed since then.

He walked his group over to a small quiet clearing. No one was around, and with any luck no one would be when they exited either.

This was the moment of truth. Akira spoke the words.

Reality warped as the team was transported to Kamoshida’s Metaverse.

Except this time, it was broken and shattered.

Large chunks of the world were missing. The missing space was filled with pits of darkness so dark that they didn’t seem to exist. The sky was blood red and cloudless. The bright white moon that usually filled the sky was gone.

The whole area felt wrong. This wasn’t right. Something that Morgana voiced.

“What do you mean?” Ann asked.

“I’ve never seen this before. Palaces aren’t supposed to do this until you steal the treasure. I don’t know what’s going on, but watch yourself.” Morgana replied.

The group moved from island of rubble to island of rubble. It didn’t take long to reach the school.

Looking back, the path they took was gone. Every island they had used had faded into oblivion. The oblivion didn’t look black, it looked like nothing. It was hard to believe anything had been there in the first place.

The castle was different. It was no longer a monstrous castle but rather a sick amalgamation between normal Shujin and a castle. Bits of it looked alive and pulsing. Pink veins ran along the building and pulsed occasionally.

Large piles of rubble lay on the ground where parts of the castle or school had shattered. Windows were broken and glass lay everywhere.

Hollow-faced dead students lay scattered around the entrance. Their faces were blank and expressionless. The only difference between any of them were the lengths of their hair. They looked more like dolls than anything.

A large wanted poster of him hung above the entrance with several smaller ones of his companions next to it.

‘Akira Kurusu - Wanted Dead by order of King Kamoshida’

‘Ryuji Sakamoto - Wanted Dead by order of King Kamoshida’

‘Mona - Wanted Dead by order of King Kamoshida’

‘Ann Takamaki - Wanted Injured or Alive by order of King Kamoshida’

‘Shiho Suzui - Wanted Alive by order of King Kamoshida’

Ryuji gulped, “Was- was Kamoshida going to kill me?”

“Maybe.” Morgana responded, “We don’t know if he got this way before or after his fight with Joker. These weren’t here last time though, so who knows.”

The group quieted and entered the palace. The inside was different. It was just the normal school entrance.

“Weeeird.” Ryuji whispered.

Akira agreed. The maps they had were worthless. Taking command, he led them to the right.

The similarities to reality ended there. The hallway went on to infinity. This wouldn’t work.

“If I were Kamoshida” Ann said. “I’d think my throne was the gym. We should head there.”

She was right. The team stumbled their way through the castle-school hybrid. Squishy pink veins ran along the walls pumping blood into something.

Out of curiosity they explored some of the rooms. None contained anything of importance and some even led to empty pits of oblivion. A few had more lifeless student-shaped dolls.

They needed to get out of here quick. Everything in the building felt… off.

They managed to find their to the courtyard after some difficulty. There were no shadows, but the layout of the palace made no sense. It was just guesswork and luck that got them here.

The gym’s walls pulsed like a heartbeat. They made a sickly organic sound as they expanded and contracted.

This must be it.

The team snuck in through a window near the roof with Akira going last. His body was wracked with pain and he nearly needed to ask for help to get through. Directly in the center of the gym was a square raised platform with steps on all four sides. At the very center of the platform was a beaten down old throne with a golden dented crown on its seat. The crown lacked any of its expected luster.

After scouting out the area and spotting no shadows they moved in to grab it.

Ryuji was the one to pick it up, “This wasn’t so bad.”

“Don’t say that yet.” Ann muttered.

As if on cue a shrill screech echoed through the gymnasium. Akira was forced to cover his ears. It felt like they were going to pop. The voice increased in octave and volume until it, thankfully, stopped.

“You jinxed it.” Ann signed out.

From out of the shadows Kamoshida slunk towards them dressed in his pink speedo. His sickly yellow eyes looked more deranged than ever. He lacked his usual cape.

Behind him on one side was fake-Ann wearing a very thin bikini. However, her features were deeply distorted. Her face was blurred, like it wasn’t actually her. Her body twitched unnaturally every few moments.

To the other side was a fully formed Shiho in an incredibly revealing wedding dress. It hid next to nothing, somehow being more revealing than a bikini. Lastly, unlike fake-Ann, her features were sharp and real.

“You brats thought you could just come in here and take my treasure?” Shadow Kamoshida growled out in a deep gravelly voice.

Ann’s face became enraged. “Why can’t you just get out of here you monster!” She yelled. “We’re done with you! Shujin is done with you!”

The room became deadly quiet. After a few moments Kamoshida began quietly chuckling. “Shujin’s done with me. SHUJIN is done with ME!” He roared. His face twitched unnaturally, “I’m done with IT! Before you BRATS got here I was turning Shujin into the greatest school IN THE COUNTRY! Thanks to you, everything I’ve done was for NOTHING!”

“You weren’t doing shit!” Ryuji yelled in reply. “You were ruining people’s lives for fun! You’re a monster who doesn’t deserve to be out in the real world!”

Kamoshida held a hand to his heart. “Me? A monster? After all I’ve done! Do you know how many students I helped get into University!? How many late hours I pulled helping anyone who needed it!? And all I asked for was a little reward!”

Ann stomped her foot. “Stop justifying what you did! You didn’t help anyone! You didn’t help Shiho!” She finished and glared at fake-Shiho.

That seemed to really upset Kamoshida, “What I did to Shiho? Shiho asked for it! You don’t know the first thing about Shiho do you!? She loves me and I accept it! And why shouldn’t she, after all I’ve done for her on the team? When she graduates I’ll let her stay we me.”

Ryuji voice exploded out. “It’s just a fucking high-school volleyball team! You haven’t done shit! You’re just a rapist and a monster!”

Kamoshida’s face twisted in anger. Fake Shiho tried to sooth him by rubbing his chest, while Fake-Ann wrapped herself around his legs. “Rapist… Monster… No. You’re the monster. Kurusu is the monster. He’s the one who’s the monster. I’ll put him down like the animal he is. Life will go back to normal, everything will be fine.”

Ann erupted, “This is OVER! We’re done! Shujin-”

Kamoshida roared. “I AM SHUJIN!”

The world shifted.

Fake-Ann and fake-Shiho melted into Kamoshida. The gym began collapsing in on itself while Kamoshida made an ungodly wail. Everything was slowly being dragged towards him.

“We have to leave!” Morgana yelled over the sound of grinding steel.

Akira agreed. He quickly led the team out a broken wall and onto the courtyard.

A fight was coming. A big one. He took another pill. This would be his fourth, but he needed it.

He felt a bubble burst in the back of his head. The world became dark and silent. Pain wracked his body for a moment, then disappeared. He felt nothing. He felt at peace.

He was dead. He didn’t feel as upset as he should have at that.

Then the world came back. The bright light of the world blinded him momentarily.

His pain was gone but his ears were ringing. How long had he been out?

When he could see again he peered up to find a massive fleshy mass of steel, concrete, and black tar covered in red and pink veins. Tentacles stuck out from random locations along the mass and were slapping parts of buildings, destroying and absorbing them. At the very top, high up in the air, leading up from a particularly thick tentacle sticking straight up in the air, was Kamoshida with his crown on.

Only Kamoshida’s upper body was sticking out of the ‘head’ of the mass. His hands were raised in the air as if calling for applause.

The courtyard was empty but they were boxed in. Surrounding the team on all sides were either tentacles or parts of buildings that hadn’t been absorbed yet. There would be no running.

Then the world exploded.

Kamoshida’s fleshy black and pink tentacles began whipping the ground in a fury. The team was forced to flee in every direction to avoid being crushed.

“What do we do!” Ann screamed from one side midleap. She was cut off and forced to put up a hasty guard as a six foot thick tentacle whipped her midair and sent her careening into a far wall.

“ANN!” Ryuji yelled in desperation. He tried to go to her but couldn’t as a tentacle six feet thick came flying at him too. He managed to deflect it with his pipe but he wasn’t able to do anything about the second smaller tentacle that erupted from the group, wrapped around him, and threw him into the opposite wall.

Morgana leapt in front of Akira, “His psyche is shattered!” Morgana yelled while slicing one tentacle in half, “This isn’t supposed to happen! He’s reacting to things he doesn’t accept!”

Akira leapt forward, sliding under a swinging tentacle, and hoping over the next. “What do you mean!? And what do we do!?” He needed to do something. If he didn’t his friends would die.

Morgana leapt off his back to avoid one of the massive six foot thick tentacles. So far those were the biggest. “I can explain later! Or try to, but the more important thing is we need to get his crown! If we steal his treasure everything should stop!”

But how? There was no way he could even get close. The dozens of tentacles coming at them were already dangerous and there were dozens more staying back to protect Kamoshida.

He had an idea. If it didn’t work then their chances of dying went up significantly. If it did work they still might die.

But he needed to do something. He pulled off his mask and stared up at Kamoshida. “KAMOSHIDA!” He screamed, making eye contact with the man. “I AM AKIRA KURUSU! I BEAT YOU!”

He felt himself grow stronger. Every bit of him felt more powerful. His plan was working!

He continued screaming, “I’M STRONGER THAN YOU, I’M FASTER THAN YOU, I KILLED YOU!”

Another intense wave of power and strength consumed him. It felt amazing. He felt like a god.

He flexed his bicep. It felt like it might pop he was so strong. He nearly laughed. A thick tentacle whipped towards him from the side and he threw a punch. It connected and tore the tentacle in half on impact, sending it flying off into some rubble.

This would be easy now. He braced his legs and leapt towards Kamoshida. It felt like he was flying he was moving so fast.

A tentacle came from above him and slapped him down to the ground. He tumbled for a few seconds before crashing into a wall.

He groaned and slowly sat up. He only had a moment to orient himself before he was forced to dodge more incoming blows.

A quick glance around showed that Ann was in trouble. He sprinted across the ground towards her and tackled a thick tentacle about to hit her from behind. He tumbled, then found his footing and ripped it in half. He took the end he was left with and used it to hammer another one that was attacking Ann.

Momentarily free she leapt to safety. Above her another thick tentacle was preparing to strike. It had wrapped itself around a massive pointed rock which it slammed down on the patch of grass she had just left.

Akira crouched and leapt at the tentacle holding the rock. He missed his mark but was able to grab onto the side of the tentacle. He tried to attack it, but was stopped when the creature began whipping around at massive speeds.

He had overestimated his strength. He couldn’t keep his grip and was sent careening straight through a far wall.

Straight into the all-consuming void.

A scream tore from his throat as he plummeted to his death.

A sharp tug on his calf brought him back to safety. Ann had pulled him out using her whip.

He tumbled on the ground and was nearly slapped back into the void. A massive bolt of lightning from Captain Kidd was the only reason he was alive. The hit seemed like it stunned Kamoshida as well.

Ryuji rode towards them on the back of his persona. His outfit was torn all over and his mask was split in half.

Ann slid to a stop in front of Akira. Large portions of her suit were torn and fabric hung off her. Her tail and both ears on her mask were gone.

Morgana plopped next to them, already casting a healing spell. He seemed fine, other than a few ruffles here and there.

“What’s the plan Joker.” Ann said calmer than expected.

“Call me Akira. I learned that we can influence his psyche to make me stronger. I need everyone to remind him about our fight earlier and how I won. If we can do that, I might become strong enough to end this.”

The group nodded, none questioning his leadership. “Whatchu want us to do specifically.” Ryuji asked.

“Skull, you try and get near to remind him. Bother him as much as you can. Panther, try to use your fire to defend Skull. Mona, focus on healing everyone. No one take any risks. We’re going to injure him enough that we can get close and tear Kamoshida out of there.”

Morgana spoke up, “What are you going to do?”

“I think there are a finite amount of tentacles he can form. All the ones we’ve killed either disappeared or are still lying there. He hasn’t made any new ones as far as I can tell, so if I can keep injuring him we can open up a path to his crown.”

Ryuji nodded, “Alright, but we won’t be able to help you much if you go solo. Are you sure you can fight?”

“I’m fine. We need to wear him down a bit and the second I see an opening I’ll get the crown.”

Everyone nodded. Kamoshida was almost fully recovered. Ryuji would only be able to stun the man like that a few more times, possibly only once or twice. After casting a few quick buff on everyone they split up.

Akira prepared himself. He needed to be stronger than he had ever before.

He took a deep breath and let his rage flow through him. He let Arsene in.

His hatred for Kamoshida. For Kobayakawa. For Society. He let everything inside and he let it consume him.

Power flooded into him. His skin felt hot. The world turned red and hazy. He made himself as angry as possible. He blocked everything else out. He craved the strength hate gave him.

And it worked.

He took off like a rocket. In a few strides he covered half the distance to Kamoshida. He planted his foot in the ground and leapt. He felt like a bullet speeding through the air.

A tentacle came swinging at him from the side. He barely managed to deflect it. But in that moment another came flying from the opposite and sent him crashing back into the ground.

He slowly pulled himself up. Faster. He needed to be faster.

He took off again, this time sprinting around the courtyard in a mad rush.

It was amazing. This feeling of overwhelming power. He felt unstoppable. Unkillable.

His stitches ripped and the world turned white.

Pain flooded him once more. He collapsed and skid across the ground before smashing into a pile of rubble and coming to a stop. His rage bled out leaving him alone on the floor.

He groaned and peered up, trying to ignore the pain. Ryuji was darting through the air on Captain Kidd’s ship firing random bolts of lightning. Ann was standing on the back of one of Carmen’s slaves, barely dodging tentacle swings. Her fire was damaging the tentacles, but it wasn’t doing enough. Morgana was running towards him.

They were losing. For every bit of damage they did, Shadow Kamoshida still had more tentacles. The number was going down, but not quickly enough. None of their strikes were doing any serious damage.

He had to do something. But he couldn’t fight like this.

However, in this world perception was everything. How a person viewed reality changed things physically. Kamoshida saw him as strong, so he became stronger.

He had limited control over this reality, but he could do something. He needed to change his perception too. He needed to view the damage he had obtained in reality as injuries sustained in the metaverse. If he couldn’t trick himself, everyone would die.

But it was impossible. The logical part of his brain would never let him. There would always be the small bit of him that knew the injuries were from reality. No matter how much he repeated it in his head his mind would know.

His only option would be to change that part of his mind.

Morgana finally reached him, “Akira! Get up! We gotta move, Kamoshida will notice you soon!”

He groaned, “Mona, what would happen if I let my persona overtake me.”

Morgana looked stunned, “Overtake? You mean, become you? Your persona already is you, this is complicated and we don’t have time!” The cat ran over and began healing him.

Akira let the cat help him sit up, “No. What if I shared control of my body with Arsene.”

Mona stopped lifting him. “That… No one’s ever done that before I think. That’s a really bad idea. Arsene wouldn’t want to leave. I think that would kill you.”

“But you don’t know if it would kill me.”

Morgana continued to look confused, “No, not one hundred percent, but I’m almost certain that would kill you. Your body isn’t designed to do that, and I don’t even know if it can. Why are you asking about this Akira?” He finished hesitantly.

Akira let out a breath, “I have to.”

If he died, he died. But this was the only chance he had to make sure the others survive. This had been his mistake, he had shattered Kamoshida’s psyche. And he would pay the price for it.

“Akira.” Morgana interrupted, “Don’t. I know what you’re thinking. But don’t. We can beat this guy. If we just get the crown on his head, we can take him down. Please don’t do this. Your Persona isn’t going to want to give up control.”

“I have to. We have no way of reaching that crown if I don’t. Heal me again in a minute”

“Akira, don’t-”

But Akira ignored him.

He opened himself up. It was a weird feeling, but he knew it worked.

Arsene’s rage was like a torrent. It held more hatred and anger than Akira had ever experienced. It felt evil and powerful. There was a single deep and guttural voice, Arsene’s voice, howling in his mind.

His mind clouded as more rage flowed into him. The howling got louder and louder until it drowned the world out. One voice morphed into one hundred. High-pitched shrill yells and low-guttural screams flowed through him. He felt all their rage and hate.

The world turned black and silent. He was floating in nothingness.

A being formed in front of him.

But it wasn’t Arsene.

It was massive, larger than the largest skyscraper. Blood red eyes were framed by a golden mask with two massive horns curving out from its head, one on each side, that pointed towards him. It had wings so black they were only a pitch brighter than the oblivion behind it.

It wore a what seemed to be a grey and black general’s suit with a blood red sash coming down one side. Parts of the suit resembled silver armor and had sinister looking skulls emblazoned on them. It had human fingers that turned into claws near the end.

The being was power incarnate. The strength he felt moments ago was nothing. This creature could kill anything. It was a god.

He desperately wanted to flee as the beings eyes focused on him.

This creature was stronger than almost anything he had ever experienced before. The only being that might match it was Igor.

The creature’s fury was cold and contained, unlike Arsene’s. It was ready to wipe out any threat at a moment’s notice. There was nothing you could do to stop it

It opened its mouth and spoke in a language that sounded familiar, but Akira couldn’t understand it. Nothing it said made sense, then it disappeared.

The feeling of overwhelming power left with it.

The world faded back into view and his vision cleared. He knew what to do.

He reached up and grabbed the mask that had reappeared. He tore it off, ripping skin and sending blood flying everywhere. Gusts of wind exploded off him so strong that they sent boulders flying. Dark energy hummed around him occasionally sparking off and shattering parts of the school.

He felt great. His wounds were gone. Something had healed him. Where had he even gotten them? His memories were fuzzy.

He felt like he should know who had healed him too, but he couldn’t remember. What was his name again?

A tentacle slammed into the ground and then whipped towards him. No time for names. All he needed to know was fury. He sent a bolt of energy at the tentacle, destroying it.

He crouched and shot off like a bullet. He flew across the ground, easily avoiding any rubble or whipping tentacles. He reached a massive pointed piece of rubble and picked it up.

One of the blonde ones was in trouble. He drifted off course and leapt into the air. At the height of his jump, he threw the rubble as hard as he could. It flew through the air and easily pierced the tentacle, pinning it to the ground.

A tentacle tried to slap him out of the air but he grabbed on. He pulled his knife out and hacked away. Wild bursts of dark energy flew from him, destroying nearby tentacles. He kept stabbing until the tentacle couldn’t take it anymore and crashed into the ground.

He wasn’t done. He needed to keep killing. He howled and took off.
____________________________________________________________________________

Ryuji let out a breath as the tentacle about to hit him was pierced and pinned.

What the fuck was going on!? Was this normal!?

He flew around on Captain Kidd’s ship, something he had learned on instinct. If he hadn’t figured out he could do that, he would have fallen into the void and died.

What was happening to Akira!? There was no way Kamoshida saw him as this strong and fast.

Akira, now missing his coat as well as his mask, hurled another piece of rubble at the ‘neck’ of the beast. It exploded from his grip and hit its mark sending the whole beast reeling.

The tentacles focused on Akira, who was fighting like an animal, giving the others room to breathe. The tentacles were entirely ineffective as Akira shred through them like paper.

His eyes looked wild. There was nothing but rage in his expression. It almost seemed like Akira’s eyes were on fire if he looked closely. Like Arsene’s.

Ann ran towards him, “Are you alright!?” Her suit was torn all over.

Ryuji nodded, although he wasn’t. He was tired and sore in a way that healing spells couldn’t fix. “Yeah, is Akira?”

Ann looked tentative, “I don’t know. He seems… wrong. Not like Kamoshida, but also not normal.”

Another tentacle slammed down on Akira. Ryuji nearly panicked as his friend was crushed but was relieved when said tentacle was ripped from the monsters chest leaving a gaping black bloody wound. The creature reeled again and screamed.

Ryuji was covered in the creatures black blood. He really hoped it wasn’t toxic.

Morgana leapt over to them, healing him on the way over. It reminded Ryuji to strengthen his friends again, even though Akira didn’t seem to notice.

The tides were turning. Kamoshida was on the backslide as Akira dealt more and more damage rapidly. Ryuji felt useless but he was doing everything he could.

Morgana spoke up, “Is everyone alright?” To which they nodded. “Is Akira?”

Ryuji nearly chuckled, “It looks like it.” He said as Akira killed another tentacle. There were fewer than ten thick ones now and new ones weren’t growing.

Surprisingly, a few thick tentacles retreated into the creatures body. A new monstrous looking head surrounded Kamoshida, protecting him. It was a sick looking ball of concrete and darkness with only a mouth at the front as an opening.

A ball of electricity began charging in its mouth. They only had a moment to move before a beam of electricity fired and destroyed everything in its path.

The three fled as the head swung around erratically, destroying everything in view.

Fear flooded Ryuji. They couldn’t fight that. If it even clipped them, they would die. No healing spell would save a missing limb.

After a few moments it finally stopped. Ryuji took the opportunity to look around.

Everything it had hit was gone. The void made random strips all throughout the courtyard. Land to stand on was getting smaller and smaller. The walls surrounding them were all but gone, revealing infinite darkness there too.

If any of them fell into that they would never escape and he knew it. Soon, everything would be gone and they would die.

He needed to make a plan. Akira couldn’t. “Mona, is there any way out of the Metaverse?”

Morgana looked taken aback by his leadership, “Wha- Well, yeah. We would need to retreat a bit, if there is anywhere to retreat to, and we could leave from there. But then we would lose the opportunity to change Kamoshida’s heart! And I don’t know if it would ever come back.”

Ryuji grimaced, but they needed to go, “If we don’t leave soon we may not be able to leave at all. Kamoshida deserves to pay, but not at the cost of our lives.”

Ann spoke up, “But what about Akira? I don’t know- INCOMING!”

Ryuji scrambled away as a tentacle slapped where he was standing. He needed to get everyone out of here. Akira was too busy to and someone needed to step up.

Oh god. The beast was reeling back and preparing for another beam.

A deep guttural roar interrupted his thoughts. He swung his head towards it fearfully. if another shadow had spawned that was it.

But it was just Akira. Akira who exploded like a rocket towards the beast. He tore through its side and landed far from the base of its neck. He ran like a wild animal towards the creature’s neck, and when he reached it he exploded upwards again.

He tore a hole straight through its thick neck and grabbed onto the other side. He began hacking away at the beast’s trunk of a neck. It didn’t take long for it to split like a tree being cut down. It flopped to one side and a beam of energy shot straight out into the sky from its base. Akira began climbing the still attached neck as the beam slowly faded away. He easily avoided the few tentacles left that slapped at him.

The entire beast was focused on getting Akira off of it, leaving the three of them alone.

Akira finally reached the top of the ‘head’ as the neck fused back together and propped itself back up straight. He began punching its skull with both fists, one after the other. It was like a jackhammer. The creature visibly crunched inwards.

The creature made a high pitched scream as it was beaten into submission. His view of Akira disappeared as the creature whipped its head around in a desperate attempt to get him off.

Ann quietly spoke up, “Is he going to be alright?”

Ryuji licked his lips, “I don’t know.”
____________________________________________________________________________

Every time he punched the head it regrew a bit. He wasn’t making any progress.

Enough! He shoved his claws into the creatures skull and used all his strength to pull it apart. It split and Kamoshida’s terrified visage became visible.

The creature pulled Kamoshida inwards, absorbing him.

Kamoshida was running. That only made ‘Akira’ angrier.

‘Akira’ ripped again, straining his muscles to do so. He roared as he split the head open further.

Kamoshida fell from where he was hiding and plopped onto his side. The creature immediately began reabsorbing him.

But it wasn’t fast enough. ‘Akira’ jumped onto Kamoshida and picked him up before he could disappear. The creature began to absorb him too, but a blast of dark energy sent it reeling.

‘Akira’ leapt into the air. Before he could reach the peak of his jump something snagged him from behind. He was forced to fling Kamoshida towards the ground as he was pulled backwards.

The creature opened and pulled him in. Rocks battered his descent as he was pulled farther and farther inside. Darkness filled the air around him. His mind cleared slightly as fear began to overcome rage.

An airy voice came from the darkness. “It’s better here Akira. Just let go.” It was Shiho’s voice.

Ann’s voice came out too. “He takes care of us. He loves us. Just give up and he will love you too.”

Unknown female voices repeated similar ideas from the darkness. It was comforting. It made him want to give in. He nearly let it.

But his instincts didn’t let him. He reached out for anything to grab on to. His body was pulled around too fast to get a hold on anything. He felt the fleshy mass wriggle its way up his body. He needed to get out of here.

Faster than he could react to a tentacle wrung itself around his neck and squeezed. The two tentacles dragged him through the darkness, smashing him through boulders and other bits of flesh. The voices got louder. Each called for him to give in and accept Kamoshida’s love.

He couldn’t breathe. He reached for his throat but another tentacle wrapped itself around his arm and pulled it away. He couldn’t do anything.

Rage welled inside him. He refused to die.

He called upon every ounce of strength he had left and tore his arm free. He managed to rip the one off his neck in a burst of energy.

After a quick gasp for breath he moved. One foot had miraculously found rubble to stand on, but that was all he needed. He shot a blast of dark energy in a single direction. It tore through the mass and escaped to the outside world. The hole it revealed closed soon after.

But he knew where the escape was. The voices grew desperate, calling for him to give up and let them take care of him. They promised to give him everything he ever wanted.

He ignored them and ripped himself free of the one around his waist. He pushed and clawed his way towards the exit. Tentacles tried to pull him back further into the darkness but they couldn’t stop his progress. Nothing could stop him. He was power. He was strength.

He roared as he tore himself from the beast and fell out towards the ground. No tentacles reached to pull him back in. The beast screamed and howled as it collapsed to one side and began crumple in on itself.

He landed ungracefully in a heap gasping for breath. He watched as the creature spasmed as it slowly disintegrated into nothingness.

He had won.

He had beaten Kamoshida.
____________________________________________________________________________

Ryuji watched as Akira slowly pulled himself up.

His outfit was all but gone. He only wore a single glove, his shredded long pants, and his boots.

He walked towards them like a dark god. He was covered head to toe in black blood. He looked like a being out of a nightmare.

It was easy to see now. Akira’s eyes and mouth shone weakly with Arsene’s fire. The fire danced around his face.

The power he radiated nearly made Ryuji put up his guard. Kamoshida cowered at Ryuji’s feet and curled up behind him.

Midway to them Akira stopped in place. Ryuji was about to ask if he was okay, but Akira began growling and clawing at his head.

Fire exploded out from behind him. Dark energy spewed from his sides, destroying the little ground that was left.

“DUDE! Stop!” Ryuji screamed to no avail. Akira continued thrashing around, sending more energy flying.

Morgana jumped in front of them with his weapon drawn. Why did the cat look like he was preparing for a fight?

One of Akira’s eyes lost its fire. More power spewed out from him forcing Akira to one knee, then to both knees. His body curled up on itself before one last explosion of power burst out from him.

After a few moments of silence, Akira coughed up a lot of blood and pulled himself to his feet again. His eyes had lost their fire. His whole demeanor shrunk. The power he held was gone. He seemed to be one step from falling over dead.

They stood at the foot of Kamoshida’s throne, which was the only ground left. Everything else had faded away into oblivion. There was nothing left in this world but this small patch of concrete.

Morgana had explained that this wasn’t normal. Palaces weren’t supposed to do this. This ‘Oblivion’ was only supposed to be in a place called ‘Mementos’. And that was only in certain parts of ‘Mementos’.

He also said that if they fell in that was it. They were dead with no chance of survival. Ryuji shuttered at the thought.

Akira reached them and spoke up, “Kamoshida.” He sounded exhausted. Ryuji became aware of the man again as the focused on him.

Ann was the first to speak, “Kamoshida.” She trembled with anger, “Do you understand what you’ve done.”

The man wept, “Yes, please, I know what I did was wrong. Just please, don’t hurt me, don’t let him hurt me anymore.”

Ann’s tone became sharper, “That’s not it! Do you actually understand what you did or are you just saying that!? You hurt people, you tortured them! You sexually assaulted people and you raped Shiho! Do you understand that!?”

The man curled up on the ground, “I know, I know… I just, I didn’t think I was hurting them.”

“Bullshit!” Ryuji couldn’t help but speaking up. “You beat those kids every day! What kind of person doesn’t know that was wrong!?”

Kamoshida curled up on the ground more. “ I just… I thought it was helping them. I know it’s wrong, but almost everyone was okay.”

A fireball shot from Ann out into the oblivion, “What you did was evil! The amount of people you hurt! The lives you ruined! You’re an evil person and you should regret every second of it!”

Kamoshida nodded slowly, “I… I do. You’re right. What I was doing was wrong. I feel awful for what I did to them, and especially for what I did to Shiho. I’m sorry. I promise, I will make up for this.”

Ryuji nodded. It looked like this was working.

Akira moved up to the front and squatted next to the man. “We have one more thing to cover before you go away.”

The man looked terrified, “Wh-What? I said I’m sorry, I promise I’ll fix this. I’ll tell the police everything.”

Akira shocked everyone when he pulled out his gun and cocked it. He placed it against the man’s forehead and used his other hand to grab the man by his hair. “Who put you in the hospital.”

The man looked surprised, just like the rest of them. “Uh, um, you?”

Akira’s shot whizzed past the top of Kamoshida’s head. The man squeaked and Akira cocked his gun once more, “Try again.”

“Akira!” Ann tried to grab him and pull him away but Akira shrugged her off.

Kamoshida looked scared. “Um, you? I don’t know-”

The next bullet cracked the ground between the man’s legs, only a few inches from his speedo.

“Akira, what are you doing!?” Morgana asked, “This isn’t how the metaverse works, you can’t change his memories!”

Akira ignored the cat and cocked his gun again, “This is my last bullet so no more games. Who assaulted you today. Tell me.”

Kamoshida shuttered, “Um, I don’t know? I don’t know who assaulted me?”

Akira nodded, “Good. The only thing you remember is that they were short, average looking, skinny, and had black hair. That’s it.” Kamoshida repeated the statement, “Good. Now prove it. Show me my slave book.”

Morgana spoke up again, “The metaverse doesn’t work like this Akira! You can’t do that!” But Kamoshida pulled the book out of thin air. Morgana took a shocked step back.

Akira threw the man’s head back and opened the book. Kamoshida slowly shimmied backwards until he was a decent distance away from Akira.

Akira mumbled to himself, “Car… annoying… alright. It’s not here. As far as Kamoshida remembers, today’s events never happened.”

Morgana spoke again, “But that’s not what the metaverse does! You can’t change memories! That’s not how this works!”

Akira shook his head, “It doesn’t matter. I did it. If this fails, then it does. But I needed to try. I’m done here. You guys finish up.” And then he walked away. There wasn’t much land left, so he was really only ten feet away.

Ryuji looked at Ann. She still looked furious.

Ann spoke up, “You will regret what you’ve done and turn yourself in. You made so many people suffer. You will atone for what you’ve done.”

Kamoshida nodded from the ground. Tears fell from his eyes. “I promise. I will make up for all of this. Ryuji… I’m sorry for what I did to you, and Ann… I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. I just want you to know… I love you. I’m sorry.”

Ann’s fury came back full force. She spit to the side, “I hate you. From the bottom of my heart I hate you and everything about you. When I’m not wishing that you were dead I’m wishing that you suffer in prison until you die.”

Kamoshida nodded and began fading away, “I deserve that. What I’ve done… I deserve all of it. I will fix this. Goodbye everyone.” And he faded away.

Their small platform shook for a moment before beginning to disappear. Morgana yelled, “We need to leave! Everyone! Get close and let’s go!”

In a few moments they were out of the metaverse. They would never have to see Kamoshida’s palace again.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 27
Night
Wednesday
Clear

Akira lay in his bed, exhausted. After leaving the metaverse the team quickly split up and went their separate ways.

Their note and Kamoshida’s subsequent ‘assault’ were all over the news. Even Sojiro was talking about it. Akira got the feeling the man believed he did it, but Akira’s lack of injury hurt that theory.

All of his injuries had been healed when he has fused with Arsene. Even his broken ribs were healed now. He felt great.

Except for his massive headache. Even after taking some medication his skull still pulsed. Arsene wasn’t happy to be let free and then imprisoned again, but he would get over it. He better, or Akira would have to figure something out.

He had barely managed to force the creature to give up control. He had no idea how he had done it, but he wasn’t sure he could do it again. It had been touch and go for a while. Arsene could just as easily have won and taken over his body.

That whole experience had been extremely uncomfortable. Sharing a body with another being was disturbing on many levels. It made his skin crawl thinking about it.

But he had been so powerful. It was addicting. With that much strength and rage, he could do anything.

He needed to stop thinking about that. Morgana hadn’t been lying. He could have easily died from doing that. The benefits didn’t outweigh the risks. Although, he had a trump card now if he ever needed it.

He prayed he never needed it.

Akira had asked Igor about the situation and many other questions, but the creature just chuckled. After some pestering, and a beatdown by his guards, Igor responded by promising to answer a single question for him. Akira had to think carefully on what to ask.

Akira could also feel Arsene’s emotions more clearly now, for better or for worse. His ‘Third-eye’ ability was even stronger too. He could slow time down even more if he focused.

Sometimes when he blinked the world would turn black and red. It scared him and he hoped it would fade with time. It was probably just a byproduct him fusing with Arsene.

He had seen a shadow one time when he blinked. The creature stared straight at him like it was about to attack. That had terrified him.

Other than that, he was feeling great. And just in time too, he had used every medication Tae had given him. He would return to the woman in a few days and tell her how helpful they were.

He might have ruined her trial by re-injuring himself and overmedicating. And then ruined it more by healing said injury in the metaverse, but she didn’t need to know that.

Maybe he could convince her to sell him some more medication too.

He needed to relax. But it was hard when the police would be out looking for the man who assaulted Kamoshida. In today’s world it wouldn’t take long to find him. Changing the man’s memories might have only bought him a few days.

He had desperately pondered for a way to use the metaverse to help him escape this situation, but it couldn’t do anything. The police would soon find him and he would disappear. He would begin looking for a new palace to use in the morning. When he found it he would leave the ‘Goodbye’ letter he made.

His phone buzzed. It was probably one of teammates wanting to talk about today. He opened his phone and nearly dropped it in shock.

Alibaba: Akira. I know what you did.
Alibaba: I’ve already begun fixing your mistakes.
Alibaba: Before I go any further, we need to talk.

Alibaba!? Who the hell was this!?

Akira: Who are you?
Alibaba: That’s none of your concern.
Alibaba: Look at this.

The person sent a clip taken from a security camera. It showed him sprinting down the street towards the alleyway.

Alibaba: I have many similar videos. I’ve collected every single one but I have more to do.
Alibaba: However, before I continue. I need to know something.
Alibaba: How do you disappear?

Akira’s heart dropped. Had this person seen them go into the Metaverse!?

Akira: It’s complicated. I can’t really explain it.
Alibaba: You’ll have to do better than that.

What could he say!? Did he have a choice. This person had video connecting him to a crime. They might even have video of him entering the metaverse.

If they were the police, then he was already caught and his friends would be too. If this person wasn’t, they could be his only lifeline.

He would tell slight truths.

Akira: The easiest way to describe it is magic. It lets me disappear.
Alibaba: Alright. But why do you want to disappear?
Akira: There are things I can do when I disappear.
Alibaba: Like what?
Akira: I’m unsure. I tried something and we will see soon if it worked.
Alibaba: Be more clear.

He needed to lie more.

Akira: I can fix things. Again, we will soon see if what I did works.
Alibaba: So you don’t have any real answers?
Akira: That’s all I have.
Alibaba: Then why should I help you?

Akira hesitated.

Alibaba: If you have nothing then this will have to be goodbye.
Akira: Wait
Akira: I can make people regret their crimes.

There was a brief pause.

Alibaba: What?
Akira: When I disappear I can use magic to make people regret their actions.
Akira: Kamoshida has done terrible things for years but has never faced any repercussions.
Akira: I used my magic to make him regret it.
Akira: He will turn himself in when he realizes what he’s done.
Alibaba: That doesn’t make sense.
Alibaba: I don’t believe you.
Akira: Just wait a few days. You will see when Kamoshida wakes up.
Akira: You will have to trust me.

There was another pause.

Alibaba: Okay.
Alibaba: I’ll slow down the investigation.
Alibaba: But, if you’re lying to me. I’ll give the police everything I have and more.
Alibaba: You don’t think you’re the only one I got blackmail on?
Alibaba: And if you’re not lying. I want better answers to my questions.
Alibaba: No ‘Magic’ explanations.
Alibaba: Maybe I’ll talk to one of your friends next time if you don’t tell me what I want to know.

Akira: We can talk more about this.

The message never delivered

This wasn’t good. Alibaba knew everything. If they knew, who else did?

Shit.
___________________________________________________________________________

April 28
Morning
Thursday
Clear

Akira stretched himself awake. His body was more sore than he thought. He had really done a number on himself yesterday. However, the sore felt better than broken ribs so he would accept it.

Smacking his lips he reached for his phone. Morgana was still gone it seemed. The cat had said he would be back sometime. He had to figure some things out.

Morgana had seemed really disturbed by the events of the metaverse. More disturbed than the rest of them. Akira needed to talk with him though. Igor gave no answers, but maybe Morgana could.

Either way, Morgana’s personal troubles wasn’t his problem.

He opened his phone. He had a few missed calls and a few dozen missed texts. Some were from Makoto and Haru but the bulk of the missed conversation were from the groupchat.

Ann and Ryuji were still messaging each other about something. Both seemed excited and scared in equal parts.

He scrolled to the top hoping for some explanation. He nearly dropped his phone in shock once more.

Ann: Kamoshida woke up.
____________________________________________________________________________

A/N

So that’s it! Chapter 13 done!

This one took longer to get out because I just started my internship for the summer. I’m super excited to be doing it and I’m trying to make time to write.

I had so many of these scenes planned out from day 1. Kamoshida’s real life beatdown was one of the reasons I started writing this story, and now look where we are.

That fight was supposed to be brutal, messy, and on the shorter side. Akira isn't a martial arts master and neither is Kamoshida. A real life fight wouldn't have any spin-kicks or flying punches and it would be over quickly. Akira is probably the better fighter and has more experience (which is why he knew to take off his shirt), but Kamoshida had size on his side.

So Kamoshida’s shadow form wasn’t a giant pink demon, but rather a Tentacle monster, which is still appropriate for a creature of lust. I didn’t want to rip the fight straight from the game, so I hope you guys liked the change!

This chapter revealed a lot of things that will be built upon within the next few arcs / whole story. There’s a lot of questions that were posed / new abilities used / even more that will be explained as things go on.

This was the most action packed chapter yet too. It’s just one long fight scene basically. I’m pretty proud of it though.

I don’t really have many thoughts to share for this one but please PM me or leave a comment if you have any questions.

I am super excited to continue on with this story though! There is still a LOT to come so please stick around!

I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter and I hope to see you all again next time! Feel free to leave a review or PM me with your thoughts on how this all went or thoughts on the arc as a whole! Thank you guys for sticking with me and I’ll see you all next time!

Chapter Text

April 28
Thursday
Morning
Cloudy

Akira hesitantly walked into Shujin. He knew that at any point the police could come for him. He already had an escape route planned. Morgana had mentioned a ‘Mementos’ off handedly once and while Akira had never been there he could use it to escape. Akira would get the cat in his backpack to help.

At this point the only thing that could save him were the skills of ‘Alibaba’. But he doubted that any hacker could seriously delay or disrupt a police investigation.

However, he still came to school. He needed to see this to its end. He had nearly died for it, he needed to make sure it ended.

He needed to calm down. Looking nervous wouldn’t help anyone. He pulled out his phone to reply to some messages he had ignored yesterday in his haste.

Haru: What is going on today!?
Haru: Did you hear about Kamoshida?
Haru: It’s insane! Right?
Haru: Do you think it was a former volleyball player? Or someone’s family member?

Akira: Yeah, sorry I read these but got distracted.
Akira: Kamoshida has a lot of enemies.
Akira: Honestly it could be anyone in Shujin.

He closed the chat and opened the next.

Makoto: Where are you? I don’t see you anywhere outside?
Makoto: Sakamoto and Takamaki aren’t here either. Where are you?

These must have been sent while he was fighting Kamoshida in the alley. The next few messages came a few hours later.

Makoto: Did you see the news!? Sis is going insane!
Makoto: She’s mobilizing everyone she can!
Makoto: It’s rare for Sis to get this upset.

That wasn’t good news. Time to lie.

Akira: Sorry, I was with Ann for a while. Her and Kamoshida had a ‘history’.
Akira: Not a good one. When those cards showed up she wanted to leave.
Akira: And it’s crazy. I heard Kamoshida will be at school today.
Akira: We’ll see what he says.

Akira closed his phone and walked through the halls. Ann and Ryuji met him at their pre-planned location. If their plan failed, they would fail together.

He appreciated it more than they knew. It was his fault if their plan failed. They might all experience the fallout of Kamoshida’s wrath because of him.

Shujin felt somber. Every conversation was muted and about Kamoshida. The man hadn’t told anyone anything so far, not even his volleyball team. There would be a speech later where he would address everything.

People stared at him with open fear in their eyes. They thought he was the one who beat Kamoshida to near death. They weren’t wrong, but he didn’t like that people suspected him.

The speech would start soon in the auditorium. The team walked there silently. Akira’s heartbeat picked up as they drew closer. It boomed so loud that he wondered if anyone else could hear it. His body was filled with adrenaline, but for once it wasn’t for a fight. He was ready to run the second any officer approached him.

He entered the room and spotted a few. He froze, terrified, but they ignored him and continued scanning the crowd. He kept walking, doing his best to seem inconspicuous. His palms sweat uncomfortably and he had to wipe them on his pants.

The group found a spot near one of the exits. Akira doubted they were planning on using it as an escape too. He could outrun and outmaneuver most officers, and any that tried to stop him he could deal with. A taser could be a problem, but he would figure it out.

They had guns too, but officers tried not to use them. Maybe he could take one when he was running away. Officers were trained in self-defense, so it would be risky, but getting a gun would change everything.

He had a plan. Run, avoid the police, fight if need be, get somewhere safe and use Morgana to enter the metaverse, then disappear forever.

The four waited in silence as the room filled up.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 28
Thursday
Morning
Cloudy

Makoto strolled into the auditorium and peered around. Right near an exit, just as she expected, was Akira Kurusu.

The man who assaulted Kamoshida.

She had no physical proof of this claim, but it wasn’t an insane reach. Akira, a delinquent who had been convicted of assault, had attacked Kamoshida, who was probably a criminal himself. The two hated each other so it wasn’t hard to connect the dots.

Sae had come to the same conclusion last night. Makoto had attempted texting Akira but, as she expected, he didn’t answer. It was so clear anyone could see it.

She had, regretfully, listened in on Sae’s calls about this last night. It wasn’t like she had to work hard to do so either, considering all the yelling Sae was doing.

It turned out that all security footage in 10 square blocks around Shujin had gone out. It was a ‘freak accident’ the police said. The cameras inside Shujin had failed too, which wasn’t a surprise. Half the cameras in the school didn’t work for ‘reasons’ and no one could ever answer Makoto why. The principal really avoided answering questions about the cameras in Kamoshida’s room and the gym. But where she failed, Sae wouldn’t. Heads would roll no matter what the conclusion was.

But normally half the cameras in school still worked. The weird part was that ALL of the cameras stopped working from slightly before school started to an hour after the assault. The sheer coincidence of it was mind boggling. So much so that Sae didn’t believe it was a coincidence.

Sae left after that call to go into work. She was going to get to the bottom of this. And while she wasn’t a police officer most people didn’t tell her sister no. Especially when Sae started throwing her weight around. She had the police currently desperately looking for anyone who’s cameras could have survived or could have been near the event, but they hadn’t found anything yet.

Makoto didn’t know how to feel about any of this. Kamoshida had almost… done something to her. And Akira had saved her. But Akira was also a criminal with a violent background. But he was also her friend.

She didn’t like thinking about that day. It was better to just pretend it didn’t happen.

A part of her thought Kamoshida received what was coming to him. But another part knew that the rule of law was important and that assaulting someone, no matter who, needed to be punished. She didn’t know how to feel.

She looked towards Akira stealthily. He didn’t notice her, so she got a good look at his face. No cuts, no bandages. She couldn’t see any signs of injury. Maybe he hadn’t done it?

He looked right at her.

She turned her head and ducked into the crowd. His stare was especially intense today.

No point in staring anymore. When Kamoshida came out, he would tell everyone who did it and the police would arrest Akira. She assumed that was what they were here for.

And if he didn’t, then the police would still catch the person who did it. A lot of blood and DNA was found at the crime scene. So whoever did it would be caught soon.

On that note, Kamoshida slinked out from behind the curtain. She nearly took a step back in surprise. He looked so different. His face was a mess, and it looked like a tooth or two was missing. He had numerous bandages covering his body and an eyepatch on. He looked like he should still be in the hospital. There wasn’t any pride or arrogance in his posture either. He just looked really… sad?

He reached the podium and took a deep breath. “I need to start this off with an apology. To everyone. I am… deeply, deeply sorry. For everything I’ve done.”

What!? The crowd erupted into whispers.

Kamoshida continued. “I’m guilty of everything I was accused of and more. I sexually assaulted numerous students, physically assaulted many others, and I raped Shiho Suzui and caused her to attempt suicide. I am guilty of everything. I deeply, deeply, regret everything I have done. I am truly sorry. I apologize to everyone who I might have harmed in any way, what I did was unforgivable. I know this isn’t enough, but I’m sorry.”

The whispers turned into a loud buzz of conversation. Everyone was going crazy!

Makoto couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t what she expected to happen at all. He had done everything. She always knew he had probably done something, that had been made especially clear a few days ago. But he had done more than she ever even knew... She knew Shiho was on the volleyball team, and that something had happened, but he had… raped Shiho and caused her to attempt suicide.

Oh god, she wanted to vomit. How could this have happened!? She never imagined something that awful had happened to the girl. Shiho hadn’t been at school recently… oh god.

From the corner of her eye she saw the principal running from the back of the room towards the podium. He didn’t make it as a black blur tripped him.

A single voice spoke louder than any other in the crowd, “Who else knew about this!?” It was Akira’s voice. What the hell!?

Kamoshida replied, “Akira… I’m sorry for the way I bullied you and tried to ruin your life. You never deserved any of it. I’m sorry for revealing your secrets. Kobayakawa knew. He helped me cover it up.”

The crowd erupted into roars. Makoto could feel herself about to vomit as her vision swam.

Everything she knew was a lie. She had respected Kobayakawa. He was the principal!

The fat man was up again and running towards the stage, “LIES! Kamoshida! get off the stage you idiot!” The man screamed. He tried to climb the stairs to get on stage but was stopped by a confused looking officer. No one had expected this.

Kamoshida ignored the man’s outburst. “And now, as an apology. I plan on killing myself to make up for everything. I’m sorry everyone. I’m a failure.”

A female voice burst in the crowd, “You weak asshole! How dare you kill yourself after what you did! You cannot take the easy way out! Everyone else has to suffer for what you did, why don’t you!? After what you did to Shiho, after what you did to me!? You need to spend your life in a jail cell!”

The man nodded along slowly, “You’re right. It is the easy way out. I’m sorry Ann, if it helps, I did care about you.”

The voice called out again, “You make me sick. I hope you rot and suffer for the rest of your life. The world's a better place without you in it.”

The man nodded again, “I hope I do too.”

More female voices called out from the crowd, along with some male ones too. Kamoshida had done things to a huge portion of the student body.

A police officer walked up on stage, “Mr. Kamoshida, before we take you away you promised to tell us which student assaulted you. Can you point them out so we can leave?”

Makoto's head shot towards Akira who stood there stone-faced as ever. He didn’t look guilty, he just looked angry. He had a wild look in his eyes. It wasn’t something she had ever seen before, on anyone. His eyes looked like a caged animal’s.

Kamoshida spoke up, “I lied about that. I don’t know who assaulted me, and I don’t know if it was a student. They were short, with short black hair, and… that’s all I know. They looked plain I guess. I think I attacked them first, I don’t remember, but I think I started the fight.”

The policeman sighed and patted Kamoshida down. After a moment he grabbed Kamoshida from behind and pinned him while calling for some backup. Two officers ran forward and one helped hold Kamoshida down while the other pulled a large ceremonial knife from Kamoshida’s waistband.

Kamoshida was going to kill himself. On stage!? He couldn’t, that was insane!

What the fuck was going on today!? She never cussed, but what the fuck!?

She stared at Akira. He still had that intense, wild, look on his face. She nearly wanted to take a step away from him as a few students already had. He looked so angry.

And somehow it wasn’t him! Akira hadn’t done it! Akira had long curly black hair, he was tall, and he wasn’t plain looking. It was impossible to describe Akira as such. But, then again, everyone was short to Kamoshida. The appearance still didn’t fit Akira though.

And Kamoshida admitted to starting the fight. So even if it had been Akira, who was at fault? Was it a self-defense case?

She went over the details in her head. The fight took place after she had a conversation with Akira that morning. So Akira would have needed to leave school, walk there, been attacked or started the fight, and left without anyone finding out. That would make sense why she couldn’t find him outside the school.

But Kamoshida described someone that wasn’t Akira. And Akira had no injuries she could see either. He would have injuries if Kamoshida started the fight. But there were none on his face. Maybe he had only been hit in the torso?

She didn’t know what to do.

The police started filing Kamoshida and Kobayakawa away. They were also trying to collect statements from students who were more than happy to give them. They were talking to the school nurse too, who seemed extremely chatty. Probably scared she might get caught up in this, and she probably would be. There was no way that woman would keep her job when this was all over.

“This isn’t what I expected.” She jumped in shock at the sound of her sister’s voice. She twisted around to find Sae towering over the crowd and looking directly at Akira. “I guess I could never have expected Kamoshida to admit to everything. This is going to be a hell of a lot of paperwork.”

Before Makoto could respond Kobayakawa called out, “Niijima-san! Please! Tell these people there’s been a mistake! You know me! This isn’t true!”

Sae sneered. It was rare to see someone make Sae show disgust. “I’ll take your case, and when I find what I know I’m going to find, I’ll make sure that you spend the rest of your life in prison.” Sae said and grasped Makoto’s shoulder. “Let’s go home. The officers here will do everything and I can file some warrants from my office.”

Makoto let Sae quietly lead her from the packed auditorium. They passed Akira on their way out, who gave them both a quick, confident, nod. Makoto gave one back, but Sae just stared him down.

Once they were clear Sae leaned over to whisper in her ear, “DNA comes back soon, I had it expedited. If it was Kurusu, I need to know before he comes to stay with us.”

Makoto nearly jumped out of her skin. Sae still thought it was Akira!? She wasn’t so sure about that anymore. She continued to let her sister lead her along. It wasn’t like anyone was going to go to school today.

What had happened to this school?

Entering Sae’s car sent uncontrolled flashbacks spiraling in her mind. She normally could ignore these, but after everything that had happened today she couldn’t get the invasive thoughts out. Uncomfortable events and situations played out in her mind.

Sae tried to make small talk all the way home, but Makoto couldn’t. Kamoshida had raped Shiho Suzui. She had been president of the student government and had done nothing. She knew the rumors that Kamoshida was doing something terrible, and she had sat aside. She had been too afraid to rock the boat.

She had asked the principal a few times, but that never went anywhere. He always confirmed nothing was happening and that it was just rumors. And she believed him. She trusted him. And she was too weak to push the subject. She always listened to the man and stopped investigating Kamoshida. But Kobayakawa was guilty of everything too.

She felt sick. She felt guilty. Kamoshida had tried to do something to her, and she hadn’t done anything to him after that. She hadn’t even told her sister. She was so afraid of upsetting the norm that she didn’t do anything. She should have been taken away with Kamoshida.

Sae was saying something, but Makoto couldn’t pay attention. She bit back a sob and looked out the window the rest of the ride. She had been spared from Kamoshida’s actions, but Shiho hadn’t.

They took the elevator and walked to their apartment. Makoto wanted to be alone. She made to go to her room, but a soft hand on her shoulder stopped her and pulled her aside. She let Sae gently lead her to the couch and sit her down.

Sae sat down next to her and reached over to rub her arm. Sae looked hesitant, a rare emotion for her. “Makoto, is there something you want to talk about? You know I’m always here for you and would never judge you.”

“No, I- I just need to go to my room. “She started. “I’m fine.”

Sae bit her lip, “You know, if there is anything you want to tell me, about anything that happened, I just want you to know it's not your fault. I love you.”

“I just-” Makoto couldn’t stop herself from gasping, “Nothing- I- It’s-” Another gasp came out and the dams broke. She couldn’t stop the tears from spilling freely. She shivered and leaned back into the couch and covered her face in shame.

She felt Sae’s arms wrap around her. She felt her sister begin stroking her hair and whispering comforting words into her ear. She leaned into her sister and hugged back. She needed the comfort.

After a few minutes of such treatment she told Sae everything. She told her about what Kamoshida had almost done to her, what Akira had done for her, her regrets about her lack of action against Kamoshida. She couldn’t hold herself back. She even told Sae about her friendship with Akira, how it started, about her birthday dinner, and about how they hadn’t spoken since. She only left out a few details from each story. She told Sae about everything that had happened, and Sae spent her night comforting Makoto.
__________________________________________________________________________
April 28
Afternoon
Thursday
Cloudy

Ryuji stood on top of the outside park bench and raised a bottle in the air. “And that’s a wrap folks! We did it!” He said and popped the bottle, spraying champagne everywhere.

Ann burst out laughing and clapped her hands. Morgana jumped in the air and did a trick. Akira couldn’t keep the smile off his face.

They did it. They beat Kamoshida.

Even if Mr. Ushimaru had tried to keep everyone in school, no one stayed. After leaving Akira went into a store and purchased them a bottle of champagne and some plastic cups to celebrate with. Today was a great day.

“Pour me some Ryuji!” Ann cried out happily.

“You think you can handle it?” He teased but poured her a glass.

Ann raised an eyebrow, “Have you ever even drinken alcohol before?”

Ryuji blushed and didn’t answer while he poured Akira a glass. It tasted sweet and was quite bubbly. His smile broadened. Everything had worked.

Ryuji chimed in, “This is nice, but we gotta do somethin better! We got money now, we should go somewhere really fancy! Oh, or like, rent some place! A house party anyone?” He grinned.

Ann laughed. “What money? We’re not rolling in cash. How could we afford any of that?”

Akira had a thought. “Actually, I did get an offer to go out on someone’s yacht. They’re a friend of mine. I can ask if we can take it out.”

Both Ann and Ryuji balked at the suggestion. Ryuji voiced his thoughts. “You have friends? Other than us?”

Akira glared at him jokingly, making Ann laugh again. “Yes, I have friends. I’ll send them a text right now.” He had, maybe, one or two friends. But that was friends, right? He pulled out his phone.

Akira: Hey Haru.
Akira: Today was insane right?

Haru’s response bubbles popped up immediately.

Haru: I can’t believe it.
Haru: Kamoshida was guilty the whole time and I had no idea.
Haru: Good job calling out Mr. Kobayakawa too.
Haru: Why did you do that?

Shit, he needed to make something up.

Akira: Kamoshida’s an asshole. I knew from day 1.
Akira: Kobayakawa was an asshole too, so I just thought they might be working together.
Akira: It was just a guess. Maybe someone was helping him?
Akira: I just needed to know.

Haru: Well, good job.
Haru: I can’t believe it. Still. Especially about Shiho.
Haru: Please give Shiho and Ann my thoughts. I’m so sorry for what happened to them.
Haru: If there’s any way I can help just tell me.

Akira: No problem. Ann’s with me right now.
Akira: We’re celebrating Kamoshida finally being caught.

Haru: That’s great!
Haru: What are you doing?

Akira: Drinking some champagne.
Akira: I was wondering, was the offer of a yacht ride still on the table?

Haru: Wait. Was that why you messaged me?

Shock flooded Akira. He began writing a response, then deleting it, then writing something new. What should he say to that? Was Haru upset!?

Haru: Just kidding lol!
Haru: Of course it is! Invite whoever you want! We can go anytime.

God damnit. Akira couldn’t help but smile a bit.

Akira: Yeah, how about Sunday?

Haru: Perfect! Who are you bringing?

Akira: Me, Ryuji, Ann, my cat, and maybe one or two more people?

Haru: Your cat?

Akira: Yeah, is that okay?

Haru: I didn’t know you owned a cat, but I think it’s okay.
Haru: I’ll set it up for you.

Akira: You’re coming too right?

Haru: You want me there?
Haru: I thought it was going to be a party for you guys

Akira: Well, yeah.
Akira: If you want to come that is.

Haru: Of course I do! I’ll get it ready!

Akira: Thank you! I’ll see you then.

Haru: See ya!

Akira looked back up at the group, “Alright, I got us a yacht for Sunday.” He said and enjoyed watching Ryuji and Ann’s jaws hang open. Morgana’s surprised cat face was actually pretty cute.

Ryuji was the first to speak back up, “Wha-how?” To which Akira shrugged.

Ann let out a whoop, “We got a party! We’ll get drinks, we’ll get some food, we’ll live it up! Oooh! I’ll get Shiho to come too! This is gonna be great!”

Akira could help but laugh along with the group. Even after what he had done, they were still willing to be his friends. That meant a lot to him.

Neither had talked to him about his fight with Kamoshida yet. He expected it soon, but for now he wouldn’t worry.

The group continued to laugh and drink champagne in the park for a few hours. Akira actively tried to be a part of the conversation as well, to better results than usual. The conversation eventually moved towards the events of the day prior.

“Oh yeah, Morgana.” Ryuji started, “Can you explain what happened in the metaverse? What was up with that void.”

Morgana let out a sigh. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot actually. I have a working theory right now, but I can’t confirm it. Basically, the events of the past few weeks have drastically changed Kamoshida’s worldview. That’s why the castle looked to be in disrepair when we visited it a few days and why it was mostly destroyed yesterday. His palace was crumbling as his perception on Shujin was forced to change.”

Ann cut in. “So if we hadn’t done anything his heart would have changed anyways? You’re saying his palace would have disappeared?”

Morgana scratched his head. “Not exactly. His treasure wouldn’t have disappeared, I think, but the palace would have changed. I think we were there right when it was starting its transition from a castle to something else. That’s why it was so destroyed and weird and why there was so much void. If we had tried to steal his heart a few days later, it might have been all void, if we went in a few weeks it would probably be a different kind of building.”

“So what was that void? You said it was common in ‘Mementos’.” Ryuji asked.

“Yes.” Morgana continued. “I’ll show you guys later but if you go outside within mementos, which will make sense when you see it, you get to the normal city. If you walk far enough away you reach the same kind of void. I think it was in Kamoshida’s palace because his mind was going through a reforming stage after being fractured due to stress and trauma. It would have been replaced by palace again once Kamoshida got a grasp on reality.”

“But is that common?” Ann asked, “Like, for palaces to change.”

“Not really.” Morgana added. “Not as quickly and drastically as what was happening with Kamoshida. Sometimes small details change, but never really the entire palace. Most people who can make a palace are so set in their worldview that nothing can change it. But I’ve also never tried to change a palace by changing someone’s cognition, so who knows? I’d imagine it's really difficult.”

“Geez.” Ryuji sighed out, “This is confusing.”

Morgana scoffed, “Maybe to you. Basically, Kamoshida’s palace was changing because of outside forces and we caught it as it was going through that change. We still needed to steal his heart, so we did good. Is that simple enough for you?”

Ryuji growled, “Watch it cat.”

Ann sighed and interrupted their impending argument, “Before you guys fight again we need to talk. What do we do now?”

That was a question all of them had pondered, but no one had any answer to. Their enemy had been beaten, everything had worked out, so what did they do with their superpowers now.

“I think.” Ryuji began. “I think. We should continue being Phantom Thieves. Kamoshida was a monster and no one could do anything about him, except for us. There are other people out there like him. I want to do that again to help people.”

His idea wasn’t met with much enthusiasm.

While Akira was planning on continuing to use the Metaverse, for himself and maybe for others, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a part of the team anymore. He wasn’t sure if the team wanted him to be there either.

“Well.” Morgana started. “I don’t like agreeing with Ryuji, but there is a lot of good we can do. There are many people in this world, even just in this city, who could really use our help. And we can get some treasure while we’re at it.” He finished with a grin.

Ann still looked hesitant. She bit her lip and her eyes darted between the group members. “I just. I don’t know. I need some time to figure it out. Taking down Kamoshida was personal. I don’t know if I can do that again.”

Ryuji scoffed, “Is that the problem Takamaki? You’re like, super strong. If you wanted to I’m sure you could have beaten Kamoshida by yourself.”

Ann snorted and lightly punched Ryuji’s shoulder, “Idiot. That’s not what I meant. But thank you. I do want to help people, but I need to figure things out before I do. Personal things. And group things.” She finished her sentence by staring straight at Akira.

Akira didn’t want to talk about what happened that day. It made him uncomfortable. But he didn’t regret what he had done. He coughed into his hand. “I’m on the fence too. Give me a few days to think about it.”

Ryuji sighed. “Alright, how about this. You guys figure out by Sunday. That way the Yacht party will either be a going away party, or a ‘just getting started’ kinda party. Sound good?”

That was fair. Both him and Ann nodded in response.

“Good, for now let’s just enjoy ourselves! And let me finish my story from before…” Ryuji continued his story from earlier.

This was fun. Akira was going to miss this if he left the team.
____________________________________________________________________________

???
???
???
???

His head pulsed uncomfortably.

Where was he? He let out a groan as his leg spasmed in pain.

Some woman was staring at him. She didn’t look happy. Who was she again?

She was saying something. He tried to pay attention.

“-So you were the one who assaulted Kamoshida?” She asked in a way that needed no answer. “I knew it. I knew it the whole time. I have been looking for months for a man living under my roof.” She said angrily. “But how did you do it? More specifically, how did you cover up your crimes? Someone had to be working with you.”

Someone was, but who? Not that he would ever give them up. He felt like that was a bad thing. But he couldn’t remember them anyways.

The woman spoke again. “It had to be a hacker of some sort. They got rid of the videotapes day one, and then they somehow got into the police databanks. Who was it? Are they the reason the DNA evidence always came back as inconclusive? Who hacked the police to help you!?”

He wouldn’t have answered even if he knew.

A new spasm of pain erupted in his head. He groaned again and a tear slipped out. Whatever drug they injected him with was killing him. He lay his head against the table in an attempt to quiet it.

He felt a comforting hand on his shoulder. Who? He looked to his side to find the woman standing near him with a stony look on her face.

She spoke again. “Tell me more. I care about you Akira. I need to know everything if I’m going to save you. Akira. You have to tell me the whole story.”

He would. He needed to buy himself time. But why? There was a plan, wasn’t there? He felt like he had a plan, right?

But he couldn’t remember any plan. All he remembered was the police catching him and beating him. Everything seemed fuzzy.

No, there was no plan. He never had one. He had been captured by surprise. He couldn’t rely on anyone.

He needed to get out by himself.

He needed to distract this woman and recover. The more time he had the better.

He wasn’t handcuffed to the table. Once he recovered enough strength he could get out of here. He had fought before. He had killed before.

He didn’t mind adding to the body count.

The woman sat back down and spoke up, “Now let's continue. The Phantom Thieves set their sights on a bigger target next.” She slid a photo of an old man across the table. “Tell me, how did you find out about the Madarame killings? And how did you get one of the most prolific serial killer of the modern eras to confess?”

He continued his story.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 29
Friday
Morning
Cloudy

Akira waited by the train station with Ryuji. Ann and Shiho would be arriving soon. It would be Shiho’s first day back in school since the incident.

This was going to be tough, but Morgana had already volunteered to help any way he could. He bitched about the cat, Ryuji did too, but the little guy had a better heart than most.

Ryuji nudged his shoulder. Akira looked to his side to see him grinning. “Dude, so about this weekend, you pumped? A yacht just to ourselves!? We’re gonna live it up!”

Akira couldn’t help but smile along with him. “I’ll get us some drinks for the party.”

Ryuji gave him a friendly pat on the back. “Yes dude! So, its you, me, Ann, Shiho, Morgana, and who else? Do we know anyone else?”

“Haru is coming too, is that cool?”

Ryuji’s grin grew further. “Of course man! The more the merrier! Especially more chicks, you know any other girls?”

He knew a few their age, and a few more much older than them. But he doubted Dr. Takamaki would want to party with some kids. But it was a party on a yacht… nah, that wasn’t her scene. And Hanae… well, that would be weird.

He spoke up. “I know a few girls, but I don’t know.”

“Like who?”

Makoto and Mitsuko. He had gone on separate dates with both, although he wasn’t sure his dinner with Makoto was a date, and both had ended terribly. But they were the only other girls he knew. Even though Makoto was likely out of the picture. He listed them off.

Ryuji’s eyebrows raised. “You know Mitsuko?”

“Yeah, we went to this thing a few weeks ago. It’s not a big deal.”

“Not a big deal dude!? You didn’t tell me that you went on a date with one of the hottest chicks in school! What the hell man!?”

Akira shrugged and blushed lightly. “It never came up.”

Ryuji scoffed. “Whatever. If you think it's a good idea, then invite her. And for the prez? That’s up to you too. I don’t know your relationship with her. Or even if she would be fun to have around, she’s kinda a stickler for the rules. But the more chicks the better.”

His relationship with Makoto wasn’t particularly good. There was no way he could invite her to their party considering his relationship with Sae.

His relationship with Mitsuko wasn’t great either. He had turned her down when she asked him out a few days ago. But, if he wanted this to be a real party she was their best bet. She would certainly get drunk with him. And she was hot. He knew that for a fact, considering he still had those photos of her on his phone…

Maybe he should delete those considering Alibaba had hacked it. It probably didn’t matter at this point though. Alibaba had them for sure. He hoped Alibaba wasn’t a pervert or a terrible person. He’d feel awful if Alibaba put those photos online.

But he would think about both of them. He needed to see how Shiho was doing first before he started inviting more people too.

He needed to ask Ryuji one more thing before the girls arrived. “Just to be sure. Is there anything else, more uhh, serious you want to talk about?”

Ryuji was quiet for a second before letting out a sigh. “You mean the thing that happened between you and Kamoshida? I don’t know dude, do you wanna talk more about it?”

“No, not really.”

Ryuji crossed his arms and looked away. “I don’t really know what to say. I don’t wanna give some long speech or anything. You did what I wanted to do but never could, although you went way farther than I wanted to. But, I don’t know, it was risky and you know that. You’ve had my back through this whole thing, so I’ll have yours. Just, don’t do that again. Kamoshida was a monster, but I’m not comfortable beating him to death.”

Akira nodded. He tried to say something, but words couldn’t form. He really thought Ryuji would want nothing to do with him anymore, but instead the guy had his back. They really were friends.

Ryuji scratched his head and began repeating himself “Just. I’m not comfortable with people being killed. Even though Kamoshida is alive, you get what I’m saying. It’s not like I care if you’re a street punk like me. I just want to do good and help people, but that wasn’t helping people. You get it? That cool?” He finished awkwardly.

Akira nodded again. He didn’t plan on fighting anytime soon. He still felt drained emotionally after that whole experience. He wasn’t sure how comfortable Ryuji really was too. There was a lot of hesitation in his statements, but he would try not to think about it.

Ryuji spoke up. “But what are you gonna do about the cops? That’s not just gonna go away.”

“I have someone working on it. I’m not sure if I can share more than that.”

Ryuji raised an eyebrow. “Are they doing something illegal?”

“Probably.”

Ryuji nodded. “Alright dude, tell me when you can. I won’t push it though. Just know that if you need anything, I’m ready. I’m sure Takamaki is too, even if she doesn’t seem like it right now. She really appreciates all you’ve done for her. Just talk to her and I’m sure you two will be good again.”

“Hey” A new voice called out. “Uh, Akira?”

It sounded familiar. Akira turned towards it to find Mishima standing nervously a few feet from him. His foot moved in circles awkwardly while he looked at them. The boy looked smaller than ever.

“What.” Akira responded.

Mishima looked caught off guard. Did the boy expect Akira to ignore him? “Oh, um, are you the ones who took down Kamoshida? Are you the Phantom Thieves?” He asked quickly.

This guy was pissing him off. Akira let out a fake sigh. “No. Why?” He answered shortly. He looked towards Ryuji and found him looking more nervous than Akira was comfortable with. Ryuji better not give anything away.

Mishima’s eyes locked onto his own feet. “Well, uh, I just wanted to thank the Phantom Thieves. And, uh, say that I made them a website. It’s called the Phan-site, get it?” The boy said with a hollow laugh.

Akira stared him in the eyes without laughing and Mishima looked away. “Yes. Now go away. I don’t care about the Phantom Thieves.”

Mishima took a hesitant step back. “Okay, well if you want to use-”

“I don’t care. Go away.”

Mishima turned tail and walked away quickly.

After he was out of sight Ryuji spoke up. “A little harsh huh?”

Akira looked at him. “No. No one can know we’re ‘that’ group. If they do, everything could be over. Trust me. It’s better we shut down any talk of that now before it gets out of control.”

Ryuji nodded and didn’t say anything else. Which was good as Akira wasn’t in the mood to argue about the need for secrecy.

He also didn’t like Mishima. For a backup spot on a high school volleyball team the boy had ruined Shiho’s life. How many people had Mishima helped hurt due to his desire for a role on the team? He didn’t view Mishima as a victim. Yes, Kamoshida had beaten him like the others. But which other team members had sacrificed their fellow classmates for personal gain? It wasn’t something Akira could easily forgive. He would need to look into this ‘Phan-site’ however and possibly take action.

Ann and Shiho walked out of the subway derailing his train of thought. Ann wore her usual outfit while Shiho was wearing something new. She wore the usual Shujin skirt but had long dark leggings under it. A bulky white jacket covered most of her upper body and only revealed her hands and neck.

But Shiho was smiling, which was an improvement. He gave the two a short wave, which they returned.

“Hey guys! You ready?” Ann called out.

Ryuji had a face splitting grin on, “You know it! Let's get this dumbass day over with.” Ryuji had classes with Shiho, so his job was to make sure she was okay in class. And if anyone said anything to her he needed to first, stop them, then second, tell Ann and Akira.

There wouldn’t need to be a third step.

Morgana jumped out of Akira’s backpack and jogged towards the two of them.

Akira appreciated that. Morgana never complained about spending time with Shiho. Akira joked about it just being an opportunity to get closer to Ann, but he didn’t think it was. He believed the cat actually cared about Shiho’s well-being.

The five of them fell into step and started making conversation. The school looked normal from outside, but the atmosphere was a totally different. There was a layer of hostility that wasn’t there before.

The group split up soon after getting to Shujin. Ann, Morgana and himself went to Kawakami’s class while Ryuji and Shiho went to theirs.

He hoped today went quickly.
____________________________________________________________________________

April 29
Friday
After School
Cloudy

Akira walked down the hallway alone. He had separated from his friends a bit ago.

School had been a mess. Every teacher was nervous they were going to get caught up in the scandal, and for good reason. Some of them might lose their jobs. Some might even go to jail when all was said and done.

But for now, for the first time in a week, Makoto wanted to meet up to study again. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that. He couldn’t be near her long for fear of Sae. But within school grounds his GPS couldn’t be accurate enough to detect which floor he was on, giving him plausible deniability.

They were supposed to study in the student council room today. Which was an interesting change from the library they normally spent time in.

He made it to the room and slowly walked in. The room was rather normal. There were a few tables, a couple of lockers, a few desks, some pictures on the wall, and a long window that took up most of the wall on the opposite side from the door.

Makoto was the only person in the room. She looked at him as he slowly closed the door. There was a cloth on the table for some reason.

She gave him a small smile. “Akira. How are you?”

“Good. How about you?”

“Good. Oh wait, you have something on your face.” She said and quickly got up and wiped at his cheek.

“Uh, thank you but-” He said, trying to grab her hands.

“Oops! Other cheek!” She said and wiped at his other cheek. She looked surprised afterwards for some reason.

“Is it gone?” He asked confused.

“Oh, uh, yeah. You ready to study?” She asked with a hesitant smile.

He let out a breath. “I actually can’t stay for long. For, reasons.” Those reasons being that her sister might actually kill him.

“I kinda expected that. I just wanted to talk anyways.”

That confused him. “What do you want to talk about?”

She turned her chair towards him and sat down in it. She leaned backwards and looked him in the eyes seriously. “I just had a few questions to ask you. Would you mind taking a seat?”

He met her gaze. After a moment she broke eye contact and looked away. He didn’t like doing this to people he liked but he also wouldn’t give someone else power in a conversation. He had been interrogated by people more intimidating than Makoto. “I’m good.”

Makoto deflated slightly. The Sae-like expression fell from her face. “Oh, um, well I still would like to ask you some questions.” Her confidence had taken a blow. She must have hoped he would give in. She collected herself soon after, but the serious expression didn’t seem as intimidating.

He nodded. “Go for it.”

Makoto took a breath. “Are you the Phantom Thieves of Heart?”

He raised an eyebrow. “I told you no a few days ago.”

“I don’t believe you.”

That did make him a little nervous. “Why?”

She met his eyes. Her confidence had returned. He messed up. He should have shut her down. “Well, you’re one of the few people who has an active, well-known dispute with Kamoshida. You’re one of the few people who has the confidence to do something like that. And if I’m correct, then you’re one of the few, if only, people in Shujin who has the strength and experience to beat Kamoshida in a fight.”

Everything she said was true. He needed to lie, and quick. “That’s a serious accusation. But I’m on probation and was with people when the assault on Kamoshida occurred.”

Makoto raised an eyebrow. “You mean your friends? The other members of the Phantom Thieves? It’s a plural name, so there’s probably more than one of you.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. If she put this together, Sae probably had too. “Well, I was with them at the time. I can’t say anymore. But your theory doesn’t hold up. Didn’t Kamoshida specifically say that the person who assaulted them was short with short dark hair?”

Makoto slowly nodded. “Yes. That part I haven’t figured out yet.”

“Then.” He cut her off. “Why would you think it's me? I don’t fit the description, and Kamoshida had many enemies.”

She nodded slowly. “Well, okay, maybe you weren’t the one to assault him. I can’t confirm or deny that. But, you are a member of the Phantom Thieves aren’t you? Of everyone, you knew more about Kamoshida’s crimes than anyone.”

He let out a fake sigh. She wasn’t letting up. “More than members of the volleyball team? I heard one of them even set up a fan page for the Phantom Thieves. I’m not trying to go back to Juvie. And whoever did the card thing is going to give themselves up soon, no one can ignore the fame for long.”

“But why would a member of the volleyball team, people who had never spoken up before, finally give in?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Maybe he went too far. Maybe he pushed what people were ready to accept and someone finally cracked. I don’t know who, I don’t know if we will ever know, but it wasn’t me.”

“Then why did you ask if he had help yesterday?”

Shit shit shit. “I knew about what Kamoshida had done. Everyone did. I’m friends with Ann and Shiho. I knew about what happened to Shiho. When he admitted to it I needed to find out if he had help. I got angry and wanted to know.” He felt bad using Shiho’s tragedy to guilt Makoto, but he needed the girl to give up.

It hit Makoto a lot harder than he expected. She turned away from him and wiped at her eyes. He didn’t say anything as she got up and turned around fully. He felt even worse now about guilting Makoto, but he needed the girl to stop asking questions. He picked up the cloth and silently handed it to her.

After a second Makoto spoke back up. “You’re right. I don’t know. I’m sorry for assuming it was you and all this. I… I’ll let you go. Please don’t be upset, I just needed to know.”

“It’s fine.” He said softly.

“Sae will figure it out soon anyways, and if it is you.” She said and glared at him with red puffy eyes. “I won’t forgive you for lying to me.”

He nodded. “That’s fine I’m not a Phantom Thief. Do you think I would accept that as a team name anyways?”

She let out a chuckle. It sounded fake. “I guess not.”