Akira stared at the ground in front of them, tears rolling down his face, before he looked at the ring Ryuji had given him on Valentine’s Day. The giant hole was no longer there as he could hear footsteps behind him before he felt someone put a hand on his shoulder.
“What happened Akira?” Makoto asked, her voice filled with worry as Akira turned around and hugged her, letting his tears roll freely now that someone was here.
“He took them down with him Makoto…”
“He took them?” she asked, her voice filled with dread as Akira could hear the others who weren’t directly involved in the battle approach. They had been protecting their newest member, while also fighting to keep Tokyo safe.
And while everything in Tokyo had calmed down after the hole opened up, their remaining enemies quickly making their way inside of it, it had also swallowed everyone around it aside from Akira.
“Ryu and the others…they’re gone…”
“They’re dead, Makoto. Ryuji’s dead…” Akira muttered before breaking down, hearing the remaining Phantom Thieves, who had made their way over to Akira and Makoto at this point, tear up as they lost themselves to their despair.
They had lost, for the first time they had truly and utterly lost, and that fact made sure that whatever flicker of hope Akira had felt was extinguished, along with the future he had dreamt off.
“There’s nothing we can do anymore. It’s over…” he whispered, letting his anxiety and despair take over before he felt Makoto embracing him. The battle had taken its toll on him and there was no point staying strong…Ryuji and the others…they were gone and there was no way to bring them back…
-A few months earlier-
Arc 1 - Illusions
“You got everything kid?” Teru asked as Ryuji hopped off the back of Teru’s motorcycle.
“I do, thanks again for driving me here bro! You’re the best!” Ryuji responded, bumping his fist against the one Teru held out to him.
“Have fun Ryuji! I’ll come pick you and Akira up along with the Niijima sisters in a couple of days. Oh and feel free text me, Ann or Haru…or all of us, if you need anything. We worked on that, remember?” the older man told him, Ryuji nodding at him before he drove off.
Ryuji looked around the square where Teru had dropped him off. The lawyer had offered to stay until Akira arrived but Ryuji had told him it wasn’t necessary. Akira didn’t like Teru much, Ryuji knew that, and he did not want his visit to start of negatively. Not that Akira would be straight up mean to Teru but there would be tension, tension that Ryuji wasn’t sure how to deal with and did not want to deal with, for that matter.
He nervously moved his hand through his hair. Where was Akira anyways? He had kind of expected him to be here, waiting for him, but he found himself waiting instead. It didn’t take long before he heard familiar footsteps approach him from behind though, turning around to find Akira looking at him in awe.
“…Your hair?” he muttered, causing Ryuji to laugh. “You stopped bleaching it?”
“Hell yeah! Do you like it?” Ryuji answered, excitedly. He was glad he’d been able to surprise Akira, that was obvious just from the look on his face, but he didn’t stop bleaching his hair just for that. He became blonde because he wanted to stand out, to get people to pay attention to him, but he didn’t need to anymore. Between Akira, Teru, Ann, Haru and the rest of their friends, Ryuji had enough people paying attention to him. He didn’t need to stand out. He needed people who loved him for who he was and he didn’t need to be blonde for that. His hair was back to its original dark brown color. Well, “original”, Ann had helped him dye it. He would’ve had to wait at least a month for his hair to go back to its original color and Ryuji didn’t want to wait for that, he wanted to do this to show Akira, and everyone else, how much he had grown.
“I think it fits you, really shows how much you changed over the past year!” Akira smiled, causing Ryuji to smile back brightly before leaning in to give Akira a quick peck on the cheek.
“I missed you,” he whispered before pulling his face back.
“It’s only been a couple of days, you know?” Akira chuckled. “But I’ve missed you too, Ryu. I’m glad you’re here!”
Hearing those words made Ryuji happy, an emotion he hadn't felt strongly when Akira was gone which was something that he wanted to work on as he thought back to his talk with Ann, Haru and Teru the night before he left. They were going to help him out after all, they had made that very clear.
“Are you guys really sure this is okay?” Ryuji asked for what seemed to be the millionth time. He just wasn’t very comfortable sharing his feelings with his friends yet. He was at Ann’s apartment, she had helped him dye his hair back to its original color before Haru and Teru arrived, because she had invited him. She had invited Haru and Teru too and all 3 of them had insisted that he would join them because apparently it was very important. Ryuji honestly felt like they had set him up for this but he supposed it was because they cared so he would let it slide.
“Yes Ryuji. We asked you to do this, remember?” Ann pointed out. “Just try and work with us, alright?”
Ryuji nodded. He still wasn’t sure what his friends were planning but he knew it was related to the conversation they had before Akira left. There was a serious mood in the room and even Teru, who was generally the opposite of serious, tried his hardest to look rather stern.
“So…what is it you want me to do again exactly?” he asked. He knew they had explained it to him once but he had been too overwhelmed to listen, too focused on the fact that he felt like he was nothing but a burden to his friends.
“Just tell us what’s on your mind Ryuji-kun. We know you’ve been through a lot and well…we want to help you get better!” Haru explained, sounding determined.
“We all just want to see you get better Ryuji. We don’t want to see you frown now that your hair is brown,” Teru smiled, his serious exterior cracking the moment he decided to make a pun.
“Teru-san!” Haru exclaimed with an annoyed look on her face. “Take this more seriously!”
“I am, I am! I just want Ryuji to feel at ease…” the lawyer muttered while he waved a hand in front of his face.
“I guess I’m just worried…” Ryuji muttered, causing all 3 of his friends to turn to him, concerned looks appearing on all their faces.
“Worried about what?” Ann clarified.
“Just…Kira has only been gone for a couple of days and I just stop feeling happy. It’s like, I can’t feel happy on my effin’ own and it sucks. It’s okay when you guys are there, even though it’s not the same, but when I’m alone…Bad things happen when I’m alone…”
Ryuji had to stop his explanation after that, tears threatening to fall from his eyes as his friends looked at him. Teru was the first to move next to him, they had all been sitting across from him up until that point, as he wrapped his arm around him.
“It’s okay Ryuji, let it out. We’re here for you,” he said causing Ryuji to hesitate for a moment before he allowed Teru to hug him as he started crying.
Ryuji kept crying for what felt like forever, Teru’s shirt being soaked, clinging to his chest, by the time Ryuji had managed to regain some form of composure.
“I’m sorry Teru…” Ryuji muttered, but the lawyer laughed it off before telling Ryuji it was fine.
“It’s what older bros do,” Teru reassured him. Ryuji momentarily wondered about Teru’s choice of words before Teru let go off him after giving him a final pat on the back.
“Are you feeling better Ryuji-kun?” Haru asked. She and Ann looked concerned, but they also seemed to trust Teru enough at this point to let him comfort him.
“I think so…Sorry about that…” Ryuji whispered, looking away. He felt ashamed for losing his composure like that.
“Don’t apologize Ryuji! That’s the first thing we’re going to address right now. You don’t have to be sorry for being emotional around any of us!” Ann told him sternly. She was smiling kindly though and Ryuji knew she was only being stern to get through to him.
“I agree Ryuji-kun, you can always tell me anything!” Haru agreed, before she and Ann looked at Teru expectantly.
“I mean, isn’t the fact I’m soaked in his tears kind of enough proof?” he pointed out. “But yes, of course the same applies to me. You can aim your tear cannons at me as much as you want.”
Even Ann and Haru couldn’t help but laugh at that, momentarily breaking the serious vibe in the room, before Ann seemed to get serious again.
“There’s more things though, Ryuji, based on what you said. Do you mind if we discuss those?” she asked him. “I don’t want to talk about things you’re not ready to talk about…”
Ryuji decided to take a moment to think about what Ann, and the other two, were asking of him. Was he ready to let his friends in, to let them really in? Deep down he already knew the answer though, they had proven themselves to him over and over again and they deserved his trust. To Ryuji’s surprise Teru reassuringly put his hand on his shoulder at that point.
“Come on kid, you can do this.”
“Alright Ann, what are those things?” Ryuji asked. He was around his friends, friends that made him feel safe and only wanted to help him. He could do this.
“Well…I think there’s two things we can help you with…” Ann said before Haru, to everyone’s surprise, interrupted her.
“We have to help Ryuji-kun find things that make him happy, right? He has to be able to feel happiness when he’s on his own,” she pointed out before realizing she had interrupted Ann. “Ann-chan, I’m so sorry for interrupting you!”
“It’s fine Haru, that was the first point indeed. I’m not sure how we’re going to do that yet though…” Ann pondered. “It seems to be more than just a lack of things to do. You keep busy, right Ryuji?”
“Yeah…” Ryuji confirmed. It wasn’t like he wasn’t doing anything when Akira wasn’t around. It was just that he couldn’t feel happy when he was alone and he couldn’t understand why.
“I think I have an idea, actually…” Teru chimed in, causing everyone to look at him expectantly before he shook his head. “It’s too long to explain and I want to test it out first.”
“You gave me effin’ hope for a moment man, why can’t you just tell me?!” Ryuji yelled, frustration lacing his voice, before punching Teru’s arm but to Ryuji’s surprise he just laughed.
“I’ll test it out on you kid. If it works, you’ll notice!” he smiled. “You can’t know beforehand though because otherwise it won’t work.”
“If you say so…” Ryuji muttered, unsure how to feel about Teru's "experiment. He knew he had to trust Teru, but it seemed really vague and Teru was generally straightforward.
“Come on Ryuji, just believe in me!” Teru said before giving Ryuji a pat on his back.
“There was a second thing though?” Ryuji asked, turning to Ann who seemed to be observing him and Teru as she smiled softly. She seemed to be on to something, but she probably wasn’t going to share whatever it was considering she cleared her throat before looking at Ryuji again with a serious look.
“Please don’t take offense to this Ryuji but I think you have trouble being alone right now…and that you shouldn’t be alone if we can help it,” Ann pointed out, slightly looking away when she finished her sentence. “I mean…most of your incidents happen when you’re left on our own for too long…”
Ryuji swallowed. He knew Ann was right, whenever he was left alone with his thoughts his mind got darker and darker until he just collapsed and broke down. He just wasn’t sure how she, Haru and Teru could help with that.
“Then we just have to make sure Ryuji-kun isn’t alone anymore!” Haru stated, eyes brimming with determination. “We’ll just have to see how we can fit our schedules around his!”
“W-wait…” Ryuji muttered causing his friends to laugh.
“Before you even say you don’t want to be a bother Ryuji, you’re not. We decided to do this, you just have to accept our help,” Ann told him before he could even protest.
“Besides, it’s not like I have anything better to do,” Teru mentioned, a sad look flashing across his face momentarily before he smiled. “I’ll do whatever I can to make you happy!”
“We all will Ryuji-kun!” Haru added. “We won’t stop until you’re able to be happy on your own!”
Akira and Ryuji had arrived at Akira’s house at this point, having made small talk on their way there. Akira had insisted they get to his place quickly, saying that they could have a look around the town tomorrow for a reason that Ryuji didn’t quite understand but Akira had reassured him that he would understand soon and Ryuji trusted his boyfriend.
“I like your house,” Ryuji pointed out before putting his hand over his mouth. Akira was only allowed to stay here for a couple more days, up until they’d leave together, and he’d never come back afterwards. Akira just smiled at him though, before telling him to make himself at home while he would go and prepare some drinks.
Ryuji looked around, trying to find some sort of sign that Akira had grown up here but he had trouble finding anything.
“If you’re looking for my childhood memories you won’t find them here, my mom took those with her for whatever reason,” Akira told him, having shown up behind him, as he held out a can of soda to Ryuji.
“S-sorry I didn’t mean to be obvious,” Ryuji muttered, blushing in embarrassment. He was acting like a teenage girl who just visited her crush’s house for the first time. He and Akira had been dating for a while now, this was not supposed to be so awkward.
“It’s fine, I did the same when I first visited you and your mom, remember?” Akira chuckled before sitting down next to Ryuji, putting down his own drink before wrapping his arm around his boyfriend. “I missed you a lot.”
“I missed you too, I’m so glad we get to spend some time together, just the two of us, before school starts,” Ryuji smiled, the blush on his face growing fiercer. He meant it too. He loved being around the rest of his friends but he and Akira barely got to spend time with the two of them and he was glad that they could spend the next couple of days doing just that.
“So…why couldn’t we go explore the town?” Ryuji asked after he decided to rest his head on Akira’s shoulder.
“You’ll find out tomorrow Ryu, I promise you it’ll be worth it,” Akira whispered with a smile before leaning in for a quick kiss. “Let’s just enjoy the rest of the evening for now.”
“Alright,” Ryuji relented as he allowed himself to relax in Akira’s embrace before he could feel his eyes get heavy. He hadn’t realized how exhausted he was. “Do you mind if I take a quick nap?”
“Of course not, I’ll be with you the entire time,” Akira smiled, giving Ryuji a kiss on his forehead. “We can have dinner afterwards.”
“Sounds good!” Ryuji agreed before he allowed himself to drift to sleep. He felt peaceful with Akira around and it made him really happy.
Makoto sighed when she got entered her new dorm room, looking around to see if her new squad mates were already there. She cheered quietly when she realized they were still out. She liked them, they honestly could’ve been way worse, but she was glad she finally had some time to herself as she decided to lie down on the bed that had been assigned to her.
She was exhausted, the past week had been insane, but she had passed her entrance exams and was assigned to Squad F this morning. Squad F consisted of her and two others and they were told their stuff had been moved to her their new dorm room before being given directions on how to reach it.
She, along with the other recruits, had spent the last couple of nights sleeping outside and Makoto was glad that at least she would be able to sleep in a bed from now on.
The dorm room was honestly pretty great, much better than she had expected. It consisted of two quarters, a sleeping part where she and her other two squad mates each had a bed assigned to them. There were 3 desks across from the beds as well, presumably for their studies. The living quarters consisted of a dining table and a kitchen area, much to Makoto’s surprise, which surely beat having to go to the cafeteria all the time. She could get used to this, even if it was less luxurious than she was used to.
After laying down for a couple of minutes Makoto decided to get up and start unpacking her bags, momentarily wondering if she should wait for the other members of her squad to arrive before her thought process got interrupted when she heard the door slam open.
“WE’RE HOME!” she could hear a female voice yell. “Did you miss us Mako-chan?”
Makoto sighed before moving to the living quarters, coming face to face with her two squad mates. The first one, a short red-headed girl with a pixie cut named Erika Wilson had been the one who had excitedly yelled her name. Makoto could still hear a slight accent when Erika spoke, but she was surprised by how good her Japanese was. Erika originated from the US, but she had decided to go to school in Japan for a reason that she wouldn’t divulge. Makoto figured that was fair though, they all had their secrets. She wasn’t exactly going to tell people that she used to be a Phantom Thief either.
“Do we have any grub? I’m hungry…”
Makoto smiled when she saw the second member from her squad, a tall, muscular guy named Masaru Honda. Masaru had brown hair that reached his shoulders, at least when he didn’t tie it back in a ponytail, and he looked really intimidating. Makoto had quickly figured out that Masaru was probably the most kind-hearted person she had ever met…the only downside being that he was always hungry and looking for something to eat. She wanted to ask him how he stayed in shape, considering the amount of food he ate, before wondering if that was too rude to ask. She was not used to interacting with people outside of her trusted group of friends yet.
Makoto missed them, she missed them very much even though it had only been a week but she tried not to let it get to her. The Phantom Thieves had been her first real friends, Akira being her first best friend, and it still hurt her that she was going to be separated from them for at least a couple of years. She was afraid their friendship wouldn’t survive that. Makoto had resolved to try and go home during the weekends, of course, but she knew there was a possibility that that was just going to be impossible.
“MA-KO-CHAN” Erika said, moving her face close to Makoto’s to make sure she got the other girl’s attention. “Are you okay? You seem like you’re thinking about a lot of things? Did you even hear anything me and Masaru were saying earlier?”
“I’m sorry, I spaced out. What did you guys say?” Makoto answered, her face flushing with embarrassment. She was terrible at social interaction.
Both Erika and Masaru looked at her for a moment, exchanging a worried look before they both shrugged.
“We were just wondering if you wanted to explore the shops surrounding the academy over the weekend with us. We can get to know each other better too! We’ll spent a good part of our lives together as a squad after all!” Erika explained excitedly, causing Makoto to sigh. That girl had too much energy.
“I’m sorry, I can’t…I’m going home to visit my high school friends…” Makoto muttered. Part of her knew she should go out with Erika and Masaru. The redhead was right, they were going to spend a lot of time together in the future, but Akira was coming back and she wanted to be one of the people that picked him up.
“Oh…” Erika responded sadly before her face brightened up as she grabbed Masura and Makoto’s arms. “Let’s go now then!”
“Eh…?” Makoto muttered. “Don’t we all need to unpack…?”
“We can just do that tonight when we get back! We need to spend some quality squad time and since you’re gone over the weekend we have to do it now!” Erika said, pulling at both Makoto and Masaru’s arms. It was a hilarious sight to see, considering she was tiny compared to Masaru…and even compared to Makoto, really.
“Can we get some food?” Masaru asked, his voice filling with excitement.
“As much as you want!” Erika responded happily, causing Masaru to cheer.
“I’m in then! Let’s go Makoto, it’ll be fun!” he said happily, smiling at Makoto in such a way that somehow made her unable to resist.
“I guess we can go out then, I mean I do want to get to know you guys…” she relented.
“Yaaay! It’s going to be great!” Erika cheered before realizing she was still holding both Makoto and Masaru’s arms and let go of them. “Let’s go!”
Makoto sighed in relief when Erika finally let go off her arm before realizing Erika wanted to go right now. She supposed this was a good thing though, Erika and Masaru may not be like the Phantom Thieves but at least they were making an effort to become friends with her and Makoto figured that she should too. She could really use some new friends, after all.