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Still waters clearly reflected the clear skies and overhanging rocks as Arne gazed into them. The small oasis, tucked into the base of a mountain here at the edge of the desert, was simple but it took the young half-orc’s breath away. He traveled for months to both identify and locate this place, and he could not be more pleased. Humble as it was, this small watering hole at the edge of the Antadaian Desert had borne witness to an event he desperately wished to learn more of.

Centuries ago his ancestor, Ylva the Dawnbringer, received her calling to a life of servitude as a paladin here in this quiet nook. The stories were varied as to what the event looked like, however now that he was here Arne could not picture any of the wild and fabled tales. Sheltered from the worst of the desert wind and sun, it was easy to imagine that this little oasis remained virtually unchanged. Ylva would have been young on that day, somewhere between ten and seventeen according to legend. He wondered what she had come here for, if she had an inkling of what waited for her here, could she have envisioned the significance of the events of that day, but knew there was no definitive answer for any of his questions.

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Glancing through the peephole in your door only confirms your suspicions, and for a moment you seriously consider ignoring the knocking at your door out of spite. You know better, though. If you don't answer the door, you won't get any peace until sunrise. With a resigned sigh you begrudgingly open the door and peek out. Even though you know it's Ren, it's still strange to see him out of his over-dramatic mask and jacket and in plain clothes. “What's so important you have to bother me at my home?”

If your hostility fazes him even a little, Ren doesn't show it, maintaining his cheery, canine-baring smile. “Aw, I was just coming by to introduce myself. We're neighbors after all.”

“Look, I know they say the memory is one of the first thing that goes in your old age, but you need to get this straight, you dusty relic. I hardly wanted to get to know you in the first place, and I don't even want to think about you moving into the neighborhood,” you snap. “Please just tell me what you need, or if you don't actually need something, leave me alone.”

He laughs at you and your grip on the doorknob tightens. What a pity it wasn't around his throat. “Don't be so mean, I thought after that little heart-to-heart we became friends? So, is it so wrong that I'd stop by and see how you're doing?”

You don't like when he says 'friends'. The last time you had those it was a mistake, and you weren't about to make it again. “We're not friends. I'm still not even convinced I did the right thing letting you go.” While it was true the vampire had begun to change his methods, it was still incredibly difficult for you to reconcile your morals and his. His insistence on being constantly and, to your personal mortification, not entirely unpleasant company didn't make keeping your distance any easier. All you wanted was for life to go back to normal.

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Often considered unbearably hot and tortuously humid by travelers unused to these conditions, the Isnopian rain forests were poorly charted, but such a fact didn't hinder Pachakutek in the slightest. And why would they? After the many centuries he's lived in the area he became adept at maneuvering through the thick underbrush and his natural attunement to the flow of elemental essence made tracking his way back to the capital a cinch. He rather enjoyed these little outings, though only he would consider them brief as his wandering tended to last several years at a time. Even as the de facto head of the nation, and it's Patron to boot, there was so much to see there in the wilderness. If he didn't go and reevaluate it all, who would note all the delightful changes in the ecosystem?

Besides, this time he came bearing a gift. Some sickness was responsible for killing off multiple species of small carnivores, and Pachakutek worked tirelessly to replace them. With the help of the students and faculty of his school two of the three endangered mammals were able to be saved, but there was still an ecological gap that needed to be filled. Now, perhaps it might have been wiser to more closely approximate the missing species with his magical prowess, however that was an extremely boring idea. Instead he chose to play around a little, for the sake of providing a new and in his opinion, fascinating, creature for the mortals to find and study: miniature dragons! He'd always held a personal fondness for the great dragons, but they were far too big and too strong-willed to easily befriend.

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A gentle tug of your hair summons your consciousness back from the brink of slumber, causing you to shift in Ren's embrace with a quiet sigh. He hums a wordless apology, the arm around your waist tightening slightly to hold you close as his fingers continue to run through and play with your hair carefully. Part of you wants to remain awake, to finally get your day started, but it's impossible to find the motivation to get out of bed. There's so many comforting sensations here, like the steady beat of Ren's heart, his soft, even breathing and the rise and fall of his chest as you lay against it. Perhaps most of all, however, is just how perfectly warm he is, like spring sunlight, and you can't imagine pulling yourself away and into the cold room you know waits on the other side of the covers. Slowly but surely, any resolve to get up melts away and you let yourself drift back to sleep.

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“Don't you think it's a bit too soon to celebrate? After all, you're missing something very important if you want to escape.”

Startled, you spin around on your heel to face your pursuer. You were certain you'd left him behind, but in this non-Euclidean nightmare of a palace it was hard to be completely surprised that the shadow found you. “The only thing I'm missing is some space, but if you'll be so kind as to just chill here I can fix that,” you counter in an attempt to recover your cool facade.

Shadow Ren (Or would Arsene be a more appropriate name? You're unsure but don't care enough to speak with him at length in order to find out.) laughs at your bluff. It's unnerving just how closely he resembles the real thing, barring the dead giveaway of his glowing yellow eyes. You almost wish he was more distorted looking, if only to make facing him easier. “Oh? Are you sure about that? What good is leaving this Palace without this?” As he's speaking, he pulls an item out of his coat and when you recognize it your blood runs cold. He's holding your phone.

In a panic you start patting yourself down but there's no indication that the phone Shadow Ren holds before you is anything other than yours. He's smirking at you when you look back up at him, all your confidence gone. Without access to the Metaverse App you were stranded here until one of the others figured it out, as you'd made the, now foolish, decision to come here alone.

Before you could stop him, still trying to process how he could have possibly taken your phone from you, Shadow Ren drops it to the ground and without hesitation crushes it beneath his boot. For a moment you are too horrified to even shout; that was your only way home. You recover quickly however, reaching for your mask in order to summon your persona, only to find it is no longer covering your face. Not just the mask, you discover quickly, you're no longer in your phantom thief outfit at all. “What the hell was that for!? And what have you done to me?”

“I haven't done anything, not yet. But without a way out, you're not much of a threat at all. If I don't think of you as dangerous, you aren't,” he all but purrs, taking a few steps closer to you. It takes every bit of courage you can muster to stay in place. “Coming here all by your lonesome, all to steal my Treasure; how brave. Let's see how long that bravery lasts for, hm?”

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You're not entirely certain exactly how long you've been stuck here in Ren's palace, but it's starting to wear on you. As if the strain the Metaverse normally puts on your body after long exposure wasn't bad enough, this palace was a labyrinthine nightmare. One would think that a train would be a simple place to navigate but none of the cars lined up they way you expected, and having to occasionally climb up to the rooftop only made it worse. You could go back through a door you just entered and find a completely new room. During your initial scouting visits, you'd managed to piece together a map that seemed to work, but that was on your now-destroyed phone.

When you stumble upon an empty room you can't resist the urge to sit down and rest. It's not a safe room, however you're so tired it's hard to care. There's no shadows lurking about, though since being deemed 'non-threatening' and losing the ability to summon your persona, the shadows didn't seem particularly interested in you anyway. Well, excluding Arsene, who was having the time of his life hunting you down. You're not sure what his goal is; even if you make it back to the Treasure, you hadn't sent Ren a calling card to make it materialize and thus can't even steal it. Not that you could leave with it until one of the other Thieves notice you've gone missing and finds out where you are, which would likely only be Ren himself.

“Fucking damn it!” you growl, frustrated. It's hard not to be scared, not when your only option is to try and run to the entrance to wait for help because you're stranded. The slow creeping feeling of helplessness only made it harder. You cradle your face in your hands, willing yourself to calm down again. Losing your cool won't help.

A familiar, smooth voice speaks from behind you, and you flinch. “Something bothering you, dear?”

You scramble back to your feet and turn to face Arsene, unable to disguise your nervousness. “Yeah. There's this guy who doesn't know how to take a hint and leave me alone.” He might be wearing you down physically, but you refuse to just roll over.

“Is that so? Then please, allow me to escort you the rest of the way,” he says coolly, extending a gloved hand. The shadow is smiling, but this frightens you more than anything. When he begins to walk toward you, you retreat in equal measure.

“How about you just stay right here?” you suggest, taking a few more steps back. “What are you playing at anyway? You said that you don't consider me dangerous anymore so what do you want with me?”

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You're not sure what to say. Taking on the Rusted Kushala Daora after nearly being gutted like a fish had been a monumentally stupid decision, not that it was a decision you could have made at the time. You couldn't, and didn't, regret joining the fight anyway, but seeing how worried the Ace Commander is on your behalf has you wondering. “It's not like I didn't know the risks. I just... How I could sit around and watch you all risk your lives to protect this city? Yeah, we can all recognize it was a dumb move on my part but you know why I did it.”

“I understand, but I cannot agree,” he replies, and you find yourself taking a small amount of comfort in the fact the Ace Commander looks just as uncomfortable with this conversation as you feel. His next words are spoken quietly, and with a hint of shy reluctance. “Should something happen to you it would be a cause for great concern.”

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“Is there a reason you haven't moved in two hours?”

Oh certainly, you want to say, but you're so thoroughly tired you remain silent and motionless on the couch. There's probably a name for the strange mix of emotions and sensations coursing through you, yet you can't even care enough to try and parse it out for your self-invited housemate. When you offer no response you feel him begin to poke and prod at you in an attempt to earn a reaction.

“Are you ignoring me?” Ren huffs and you almost want to laugh at how offended he sounds at the mere thought. He continues badgering you for a few moments longer before pausing and retracting his hands. Then suddenly you find yourself cautiously being rolled over until you are facing him. Ren kneels down until he's closer to being face-to-face with you as he scrutinizes you.

Without warning he stands back up all at once, then quickly scoops you up into his arms dragging out a surprised yelp from you. “What is it about you humans and not asking for what you need?” Ren asks as he begins walking back toward your bedroom. It's your turn to huff indignantly, making sure to hold on to him as he carries you. You can't bring yourself to say a single word. “I don't know how you made it this long without me, honestly. I'd hate to think what would happen to you if I wasn't around to take care of you.”

This gets enough of a rise out of you that you manage to find your voice. “I'd do just fine.”

“It talks! What a surprise; will you tell me what's wrong now?” When you go back to your silence he sighs audibly. You think the only reason he doesn't continue is because he's finally reached your bedroom. Ren gently sets you down onto your bed and crawls up next to you. He maneuvers behind you before pulling you down onto him and into his arms.

One of his hands starts rubbing up and down your back while the other combs carefully through your hair, occasionally stopping to scratch at your scalp. It takes a moment to realize he's petting you, the same way he would often have you do to him. Though, you're quickly coming to understand why; not only is he wonderfully warm, there's something incredibly soothing about the gestures.

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As soon as you manage to scramble back to your feet in a desperate attempt to flee, a swift blow to your stomach sends you crumpling back to the floor. There's no time to recover before a vicious kick to your side rolls you over onto your back, while your right arm curls around your front to try and shield you from further harm. Though you hear his approaching footsteps, you can't will your trembling body to move even as your mind screams at you to get up and run. Not that you physically could, not in this condition.

A steady pressure on your left forearm, right where it's broken causes you to yelp and then whine when you flinch on instinct, accidentally trying to pull your arm back. “Stop, please,” you gasp. “I don't want Ren to-”

“Don't you think that's the point?” Arsene interrupts, sneering down at you. To emphasize his words, he puts more weight on the foot he's using to pin your broken arm; you can briefly feel the bones grind together before the fresh pain drags an agonized scream from you. Between the tears and threat of unconsciousness you can no long keep an eye on your tormentor, but you can hear that damned, infernal smile in his voice when he continues speaking. “He knows the price of his power as well as you do. The boy's earned his own suffering in denying me. And if I may say so, love, you've made a wonderful contribution.”

A choked sob leaves you when the pain doesn't ease. You’ve sustained your fair share of injuries in fights since joining the Phantom Thieves, but this was on a whole new level. At least you know better now than to look at your arm; you’ve seen enough of your own bones today to last a lifetime.

Suddenly, and to your absolute surprise, the pressure lifts as Arsene releases your arm and steps back. For an extended moment you wait, terrified, for another attack. Except, no blow comes your way. Warily, you drag yourself to your knees, and the effort winds you. Everything hurts, you can feel your heart pounding in your chest and ears, each breath is more labored than the last. And yet, the drive to fight on that always seems so near here in the Metaverse keeps you from collapsing back to the floor. Only barely, that's for certain, but it's what counts. You can't just lay down and die here. However, even this meager amount of exertion, just enough to keep you kneeling upright, is exhausting. You realize quickly that standing is completely out of the question, much less walking.

An all-too-gentle hand cupping your chin makes you realize you've been swaying, teetering on the edge of wakefulness as the shock begins to settle in. Another realization comes several long seconds later, when you remember there's only one other person here: Arsene himself. In a wild panic you attempt to pull your face away, to no avail. And when he softly begins wiping the tears from your face you are completely ready to chalk it up to a pain-induced hallucination. “After all this, you still think it's worth continuing on?” he asks, and the quiet voice he uses is disorienting. It makes you think of Ren.

“It’s- I want... want to live.” The words come, but both your mind and mouth feel clumsy. You're so tired and afraid. You want to go home.

Arsene laughs. “Doesn't everyone?” He pulls back the hand he used to wipe the tears from your eyes. “All this effort for such a base desire? You would run and fight and cling to every bit of hope just to avoid death?”

Well, that wasn't the most incorrect statement. You really don't want to die, not here, not like this. But looking at Arsene makes you think of the one who's face he wears. “I wanted Ren to be happy.” You did. You still do. You owe him so much; you'd thought it natural to want to take this burden off his shoulders.

“How noble,” he says, and with such praise a spark of hope lights itself in your chest. What a deadly mistake. “That heart of yours becomes a more valuable treasure every moment I spend with you. Of all the fools that might have stumbled in here, truly I was blessed it was you.”

Words that might have been comforting, had he not punctuated them by placing a knife at your back. A new flash of icy fear goes through you as the tears return. “Please,” you beg softly, closing your eyes. You don’t have the courage let his face be what you see at your last moment. “Please.”

“You are too kind, sweetheart. Thinking so tenderly of your own murderer, even as he carries it out.” You want to retort that this isn't Ren's fault, and he doesn't deserve the pain this is going to cause him any more than you deserve to have gotten caught up in it, but all that spills from your mouth are more muffled sobs. “I'll be sure to tell him how heartbroken you were. He might even suffer more than you have, and heaven knows I've dragged this out quite long enough, hmm?”

Before you get a chance to process what he's said, much less consider a reply, a sharp pain in your back causes you to gasp. There is just enough time to recognize you've been stabbed, and for the pain to set in before the darkness closes over your mind for good.

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“That's no reward!” you cry, trying your hardest to bite back your sobbing. You have to hit rock bottom sooner or later, but for the the situation just keeps getting worse and worse. There's no denying that you, technically, agreed to be the sacrifice, to be voted the 'winner' in the hope you could stop this infernal killing game once and for all, but it's such a bitter end.

“I think it's quite generous. Not many people make it through two whole rounds you know,” Shuichi says, voice light. He's impressed with you, and that fact causes the bile to rise in your throat. So much for being your (almost-lover) friend. Even with the memory wipes, how could you have ever let this monster close to you, much less twice in a row? “You deserve such a special Survivor's Perk; after all, you've become a fan favorite.”

That's exactly what you didn't want to hear. The fate of being the lone survivor, and the knowledge that it's not even the first time, is too burdensome a weight to bear. You can't stop yourself as you slowly slide to the floor before hugging your knees to your chest. To hell with this game, and to hell with the fans. What did you do to deserve this living nightmare?

“Stop it, Shuichi, please. I can't handle this, it's too cruel,” you beg. “Please, please. Do you even hear what you're saying? Even if I can't remember it, I don't think I can do this again. How much suffering do you believe a person can take? And then you say there are people so heartless as to want to see this? I can't, Shuichi, I can't bear this. Please just... let me go, or something. Don't make me do this again.”

As you speak the ache in your chest only grows stronger, and you almost wonder if your heart might actually seize up in agony. The tears flow endlessly as you weep brokenly, head bowed. Would no one take pity on you, even after everything you've endured?

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You're not entirely certain what time it is when you wake up, but the soft light of early dawn tells you that there is still plenty of time left to sleep. For a moment you remain still, enjoying the last hazy vestiges of slumber, but soon enough an idea comes to you. With the utmost gentleness you roll over to face your husband who is still sleeping peacefully and you cannot help the soft smile that graces your mouth. You're always amazed at how different he looks when his guard is completely down, even after all the years you've been together. He's always handsome, but there's something special in moments like this.

Moved by a deep longing you softly reach out to run your hand through his fluffy, onyx hair, and you're rewarded by a gentle sigh from Ren. It's rare you wake before he does, so you're in no hurry to rouse him. Soon enough you move your hand down, caressing his face lightly, tracing the curves of his face. A thought strikes you, and move in to press a feather-light kiss to his forehead. One kiss becomes a second, a third, and then you find yourself leaving a trail of sweet, loving kisses down the side of his face.

By now you feel a little overwhelmed with affection, but the veil of sleep is beginning to take you again, the thought of a little more quiet time with the man you love becoming too tempting to bear. But when you go to give him a final kiss, this time on the lips, a hand swiftly finds it's way to the back of your head pulling you close with gentle, yet firm, intent. You gasp quietly in surprise, and Ren's tongue meets yours briefly as you feel him smile against your mouth before he pulls back. It takes you a moment to shake off the surprise, and when you regain your coherence you lose it again at the familiar, mischievous smirk and slate eyes glittering with mirth that you're confronted with.

“W-when did...?” You can't even finish the question, flustered as you are.

Ren laughs softly as he reaches over to lay his hand on your cheek. “I've been awake since you started petting me, but I wanted to see what you were up to. You were being so cute I couldn't help myself.”

Slightly embarrassed, but not wanting him to have the upper hand, you roll over with a pouty huff. “I can't believe it, I thought you were being cute but you tricked me! Still a delinquent after all these years.”

You're only playing at being mad, and you can tell he knows when his arm slips around you and pulls you next to him. It's when you feel a hand brush your hair away from your neck and his lips start laying kisses on your skin that you realize your mistake. You've left yourself defenseless, and when he carefully nips the nape of your neck you only just manage to stifle the surprised squeak it draws from you. “What did you expect when you married a thief, hm? Suppose you'll have to keep trying to rehabilitate me; what a shame.”

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You aren't sure what is more surprising about this: that Shuichi deigned to offer the comfort you begged for, or that you find a small bit of reassurance in it. Even if he's only doing it for his precious 'show', and regardless of the veracity of his claim that your feelings weren't manipulated, the gesture undeniably eases your heartache. And yet, you know the worst of the situation is still to come.

The hug itself is awkward. Since you're still sitting on the ground Shuichi is kneeling next to you, and you only have one arm properly wrapped around him. But that's enough to keep the boy near. You're able to shift forward slightly to reach a less strenuous angle, giving your left hand the ability to cautiously join the other at his back.

“You truly have been a wonderful cast member. Even I am excited to see you return next season,” he proclaims. Now that was the opposite of comforting, the reminder of what waits for you makes your stomach churn. Another round of this blasted killing game will surely be too painful to bear. And for what? If this really is your second 'win', what can a third do?

Trembling, you know you have to go through with this. Nothing in you wants this outcome, but you ran out of options long ago. With a quiet whine you pull Shuichi tight against you with your right arm, and with utmost care, open the knife you clutch in your left hand. Before you have a chance to be caught, or to chicken out, you drive the blade into his back. His reaction is instant, trying to jerk away from you with a pained gasp, but given his lack of physical prowess he's easy to keep restrained long enough to stab him a few more times. It's not an elegant plan, as your technique boils down to simply stabbing him enough times to incapacitate him.

Sure that the detective is no longer capable of retaliating you push him off of you. The sight and sound of Shuichi curled up in agony makes you want to retch. You have to finish this. A dark strain of willpower drives you to your knees and you crawl over to where he lay. With only minimal hesitation you plunge the knife into his throat, unwilling to give anyone the chance to save his life. When the knife deflects off his spine, however, it's so jarring you recoil from the sensation.

You fall onto your bottom, and it stuns you for a second. That's long enough for you to process exactly what you've done. Despite this being your plan, the realization that he's dead hits you like a ton of bricks.

You killed him.

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“Just the woman I was hoping to see this evening.”

You sigh, lightly pinching the bridge of your nose. “And you're the man I was hoping I wouldn't see tonight.”

The thief scoffs lightly, one gloved hand coming to rest over his heart as if wounded. “Cruel as always, my dear chatelaine,” he bemoans, ever the dramatic fool.

“Perhaps if you stopped attempting to steal from my lord I might find it in my heart to spare you some kindness, Phantom.” Truthfully, you've come to rather enjoy his presence when he comes by simply to 'bother' you, but you would sooner die than admit that to him. His ego is large enough without your input. But for the first time in months he's left a calling card and you're not going to tolerate this behavior. You pull out a small card, one side covered in a neat scrawl. “Care to explain yourself?”

Quick as lightning, he drops his facade, shooting you a cheery grin. “Come now, you know exactly that that means. You did bring me exactly what I came here for, after all.” He closes the distance between you, reaching out with a gloved hand to deftly take the card from you with a flourish.

You quirk an eyebrow in skepticism. He's gazing at you mischievously, slate eyes peeking out from behind his porcelain mask. You aren't sure what he means by that statement in the least, and you certainly don't trust his intentions. “Why would I have brought any valuables with me to chase you off? I'm not about to use possessions that aren't mine to bribe a thief, no matter how pleasant he acts.”

“Didn't you read my note?” he asks with an amused chuckle. “ I thought I was being very clear with my objective. 'Do not think I have missed your brazen taunt, leaving the grandest treasure of your household exposed and unguarded.' That wasn't a line directed to you, rosebud.”

The implication of his words doesn't entirely pass you by, but neither do you fully grasp what he's trying to get at. He couldn't mean... “What are you playing at here, Phantom?”

He takes one more step closer to you with a knowing smile. “Enough with that, dear. Call me Ren, please.”

“I want a straight answer first,” you say. Even though you aren't quite ready to believe your gut instinct, nor fully trust that he means what he's hinting at, you don't particularly object. A thief, yes, but he's never been cruel or vulgar to you in person, and none of the storied rumors portrayed him as anything other than a complete gentleman.

“Your lord is a foolish man indeed, unable to see the full value of what lay under his very nose,” he murmurs. With a supernatural grace he gently takes hold of one of your hands, grasp light enough that if you chose to break free it would be effortless. Watching you all the while, Ren bows slightly to lay an impossibly gentle kiss to your knuckles. “I've come here to steal you away, treasure.”

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With a petulant growl you firmly sink your teeth into Ren's shoulder, eliciting a deep groan from him as his fingers dig into your naked hips, continuing to hold them flush against his own despite your best efforts to continue riding him. "Move, please," you whine against his skin, willing your own body to give in to the bliss you crave through sheer determination. You were so close to release you could taste it, but your lover seems intent on denying you. "What happened to hearing me 'sing', huh?"

The man whose lap you're currently straddling chuckles quietly, and when you move to glare at him, he flashes you a roguish grin and leans in for a feather-light kiss. “Hearing you beg so sweetly is a fine song, nightingale.” He dips back in for another kiss, but this time he grinds his hips up into you and when the friction drags a moan from you he slips his tongue into your mouth. As he deepens the kiss you drag your nails down Ren's chest, earning you a husky groan. All too soon you're forced apart for breath.

“I wouldn't call it my finest work,” you pant quietly, “but if it will get you to continue, I'll beg until the sun rises.”

“Music to my ears, dear songbird. I'll kindly take you up on that offer.”

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“I'm not playing at anything. Besides, you're a thief, aren't you? You should know very well why I can't leave you to roam freely,” he states.

You can think of one reason, but it's not one you're keen to admit to. “Considering that, one, I'm currently unable to steal anything and two, you're also technically a thief, I feel like you could cut me some slack on that.” It's a really lame gambit but you're running out of options here. You can't run away forever, but you can't exactly fight him either.

Arsene looks almost amused at your attempt at diplomacy. He takes a few more steps closer to you, causing you to back away a little further. “Being a thief myself is exactly why I won't. Just because you can't leave with my Treasure now, doesn't mean you won't be back. And I know you will, with the rest in tow.” You wince a tiny bit at that. He's not wrong in the least. How could you leave this Palace standing? “Besides, you're too useful to let go.”

“Excuse me?” There's something you didn't expect to hear from him. Not that it could lead to anything good, that's for certain. The shadow's statement shocks you into retreating more. Now you absolutely needed to escape. “I can, uh, take a rain check on coming back if it's gonna bother you that much. And, you know, I'm really not that handy, actually.”

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By the time you get home you're exhausted, despite having a relatively tame day. It only entailed a few easy calls, two different possessions and small summoning mishap, and a handful of errands done to make the most of your time, but after weeks of keeping a rather exclusive evening schedule the sudden shift to being up during the day was tiring. Instead of getting home at this time, you would be closer to leaving for the day. That's the price you pay for your job, you suppose. Every career has it's drawbacks.

And you seem to have run into another one of those drawbacks. Now that you're inside your house you notice a pair of familiar shoes sitting on the rack by the door and sigh audibly. He would show up tonight. You gingerly remove your own shoes and put on your house slippers. Might as well get this over with quickly so you can finally get to bed.

“What are you doing in my house?” you question as you walk into your living room. Ren's made himself comfortable on your couch, watching some late-night shopping program. You aren't even surprised so much as annoyed; he's always finding some way to get under your skin.

“Aw, I just wanted to visit a little but you weren't home, so I thought I'd wait for you.” He gives you his best display of innocence. “So, how was work, honey?”

If you didn't want to avoid damaging your home, or worse, anger your neighbors, you might have shot at him. But you don't want to deal with any more repairs or cop calls, and especially not today. “Believe it or not, but I didn't give you a key to my house so you could show up whenever you please. If you must come and bother me, you have to call and ask first.”

He finally stands up and walks over to you, seemingly pleased as punch. Probably knows how fed up you are. “So it's okay if I come over more often?” His words make you sigh again. You walked right into that one, didn't you?

“Correction: I gave you the key in the event that if you somehow require my assistance, and then call me, and I give you permission to come over, you can do so without breaking into my home and worrying my neighbors again.” There's a headache brewing in your skull. It's been a long day and dealing with Ren's teasing is only wearing you down further and further. Sometimes he's not so bad to have around, but you just aren't feeling it right now.

Ren doesn't quip back immediately, the way you expect. Instead he's studying you, brows furrowed in concentration. He leans in a little and tilts his head to the side. “Did something happen today? You smell anemic. Are you hurt?”

Dumbfounded, you stare at him blankly for a moment. But you think you know what's he's referring to. “First of all, you need to stop saying things like that, it's weird. Seriously. But if you must know all of my damn business, there was a blood drive at the police station today. I always go if I'm eligible for a donation. That's all.”

“Blood drive?” he cries, looking for all the world like you just announced you planned to elope with Yusuke. “You have my number, don't you? If you wanted to give some blood away I'm right here!”

The vampire looks so appalled it's hard to stifle your laughter. He's reacting like he caught you kicking blind kittens. “I didn't just give it away,” you manage to say between chuckles. “It's a medical donation. You know, to save lives. Why would I let you have it?”

“I have a life, you could save my life.” Now he's moved on to giving you his best sad-puppy look. “Can't I get even a taste, dear hunter? Please?”

“I'd sooner let you tell me what to do for a whole day, so no,” you scoff. You're not eager to let him get his fangs into you, literally here, but with no exception for the metaphorical idea either. He might be tolerable on the rare good day, but you're not enthused about being a snack if you can help it.

Chapter Text

You're being mocked and with such intensity it takes every ounce of willpower in your body to not launch yourself at the grinning man who is slowly becoming your most hated foe, physical restraints be damned. No, you can't call it a simple grin; it is a look of triumphant smugness that sets your blood boiling, steel eyes alight with glee and a smile wide enough to place his elongated canines on full display. To keep from inducing a rage-born aneurysm in yourself, you turn your attention back to his latest attempt at running your patience ragged: the simple cup of fragrant coffee sitting on the table next to you.

"Ah, that's right," he says, the edge of laughter in his voice unrestrained, "How inconsiderate of me. Here, allow me to help you."

He sweeps over to where you're sitting to stand before you, picking up the mug and bringing it to your mouth. You're seriously considering refusing entirely, but you have to admit it would be unwise. No point digging an even deeper hole for yourself tonight. You open your lips a tad, just enough to take a drink. With a carefulness that surprises you, Ren tips the cup gently so you can safely take a sip. To be frank, you expected that he would just spill it all over you, so the fact that he's being so delicate takes you by surprise.

“Well, how is it, dear hunter?” he asks as he pulls the cup away and sets it back on the table. For a second he looks completely earnest, like he actually cares what you think about his coffee. You don't buy it for an instant.

You lick your lips while you consider the coffee itself. It's just shy of being too hot to enjoy, but it's... not bad, actually. Not nearly as bitter as you were preparing yourself for, given that there's no cream or sugar in it. Smooth, and rich in flavor. In another situation you would have savored this coffee immensely. However, you aren't at a nice cafe leisurely enjoying yourself, you're handcuffed to a chair in a now-dead man's apartment being humiliated by an overgrown leech. “The coffee's alright,” you state blandly.

Chapter Text

The sound of gravel crunching underfoot brings your mind back to the immediate present, though you don’t bother to move yet. “Any chance you learned your lesson?” Ah, there’s the voice you were afraid of the most.

“Yeah, I think I got it,” you groan, finally starting to try and figure out what parts of your body are willing to work. You’re… pretty sure nothing’s broken, well there is a small deal of concern for your nose but you’re warily optimistic it’s just bloodied. “I gotta move in faster next time where he can’t use that stupid lance. Body blows are where it’s at, though he hits like a log. Maybe try ‘nd knock him to the floor, see if he’s got a grapple game. Pre-load on pain-killers first because I feel like I’ve been run over.”

The amount of disappointment in Emiya’s voice when he finally overcomes his shock to reply is legendary. “I should leave you there.”

You manage to choke out a soft chuckle. “You say that like you didn’t try to fight Cu on sight.” Gritting your teeth together to keep from groaning in pain, you push yourself up into a sitting position. “Besides if he’s gonna talk shit, he deserved getting hit.”

“Even at a disadvantage, I’m the only one between us that’s in any shape to fight.” He slips his arms under yours and drags you to your feet. There’s a split second you think he might pick you up, but instead he allows you to brace yourself against him. “You’d best thank his Master when you see her next. She burnt a Command Spell to keep him from fighting to the death like he normally would.”

Your only reply to that is a guilty wince. Of course you knew it was a dumb idea, but dumb ideas are your forte.

Chapter Text

Ryuji squirms lightly under your touch and you can’t help but smile as you kiss down his abs yet again. You’re doing your best to not tickle him too badly, but it seems he’s more sensitive than you thought. When you take a quick peek up to see if he’s watching you catch his gaze and can’t stop the playful edge that your smile takes. Ryuji’s face is flushed the cutest shade of red, expression clearly torn between complete adoration and a hungry desperation. You think he’s earned a reward after all this teasing.

“You’ve been so good haven’t you?” you purr quietly. “Putting up with my mischief like a champ. How about I show you my appreciation?”

He groans as you continue south, hands gripping the sheets of your bed to keep himself from rushing you. You love taking your time with him, and despite his own ravenous impatience, he loves it too. But it’s always a relief when you finally match his speed.

“Babe, please,” he whines and the sound sends pleasant shivers down your spine. You take his stiff member in hand and give it a few gentle pumps, relishing in the unabashed moan Ryuji gives at the stimulation. You make certain he’s still watching you as you lick a stripe up his cock, though he doesn’t manage to hold your gaze for long, throwing his head back in pleasure.

Chapter Text

Hiroko is not entirely sure of just why she’s here in the first place. It’s been a full week since Takumi’s execution, a week occupied by desperately trying to decidedly not think about him, or about what he’d done. So why exactly is she sneaking all the way to his room in the middle of the night? She fiddles with the key in her pocket, chewing on her lip as she ponders her own motives. He’s dead, died a murderer, every time she thinks about him her heart wrenches in her chest and she hates it. She wants to hate him, too. Yet, here she stands outside his door with the key in her hand.

Closure is the answer she comes up with, Hiroko wants this behind her and she still can’t come to terms with why this had to happen. She doesn’t understand. The lock clicks open as she turns the key; she enters without a second thought.

She’s seen his room a few times, but even though she knows this room, it’s taken on a foreign feel. The walls are no longer filled with wrinkled maps and grainy, low-resolution photos of various cryptids. The bed is neatly made, the shelves bare, minus an envelope on the nightstand, and coated with a thin layer of dust. Two cardboard boxes sit neatly stacked in the back of the room, and she guesses that’s where all Takumi’s personal belongings have been put. By whom, she’s not sure, but Hiroko prefers to attribute it to Monokuma. The idea that Takumi prepared his room for his ‘departure’ was too much, even as she suspects it’s veracity.

The envelope almost gets ignored. She knows he left it for her, he had left the key to his room in hers, after all. However she knows what she’ll find and the young woman doesn’t fully believe she’s ready to read it. All the same, she walks over beside the bed and picks it up. It’s plain and unmarked, but not sealed properly, the flap was merely tucked into the envelope. A fleeting thought for it’s contents crosses her mind. Would it have the answers she needed? There was no mistaking Takumi knew what was in store for him, he’d admitted as much to her face. 'Think of it as me getting what I deserve. I do, you know. I never did believe I could pretend that I shouldn’t be executed long enough to escape.’

Could she even bear the weight of what he wanted to tell her?

Hiroko tells herself it’s getting hard to see because she’s tired. That she’s starting to shake only because it’s chilly. She places the letter back down where she found it and turns to leave.

Another day, she tells herself.

Chapter Text

Compared to everywhere else you were familiar with, Almia was strange. No, you shouldn’t put it like that. It is different, certainly, but strange is such a loaded word. Although, the fact that there are no trainers makes you stick out like a pink Mareep. Instead, people and Pokemon live side-by-side in harmony, far closer than what you’re used to seeing. Rangers, the closest thing to a job you recognize, request help from local Pokemon when needed. You’d gotten such a shock when you first understood how things work here that you retreated to the large, forested expanse at the northern-most edge of the region.

And now, at the tail-end of your trip, you find yourself back there taking one last rest with your Pokemon before leaving for somewhere new. It’s time to move on. While you’ve enjoyed your exploration, there’s something much more important you still have to do.

“I guess it was silly, to think he’d be here,” you say quietly, mostly to yourself, a habit you’ve picked up traveling alone for so long.

“Why?” comes the psychic voice of your Kirlia, causing you to jump. You forgot both that she can speak with you, and she’s so sensitive to your moods that she’d be awake with you. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s alright. I’ll learn eventually,” you reply with a short-lived smile. “It’s only been a year. I’ve only been to two regions outside of Unova. There’s a lot of reasons I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.”

“But why is that silly? You care so deeply that it’s natural to hope, even in the face of reason. That’s not silly.”

You remain silent, not sure of how to answer such a statement. Of course you care, and vastly so. By the time you knew what to say, you were on the edge of slumber,

You’re right, you think, knowing she’d catch it. It’s not that silly after all.

Chapter Text

As soon as you hear Diarmuid call your name you turn to face him, all your attention made his. You're ready to ask him what he needs, but the way he's looking at you stops you. His expression is caught somewhere between curiosity and suspicion. “It's not that I am ungrateful for all this attention, but may I ask what the reason is?”

Right, he would notice your sudden doting, wouldn't he? Not that you could blame him, though. He'd always been a little nervous about you falling under his 'curse', which is probably how this looked to him. You nibble on your lip, trying to decide if you can come up with a believable excuse in the next ten seconds. Well, no that wouldn't be fair to Diarmuid. After all, you've spent the whole day trying to make him happy, so how could you lie to him now? “Um, I just... I had a nightmare last night. You were... upset. And hurt.” That's not the whole truth, but maybe he'll accept it anyway.

He furrows his brow, now completely baffled. “You dreamt I was hurt? And your first course of action was to console me here?”

“Yes?” You put on your best smile, to convince him, but it just leaves an awkward mood in the air. Deflated, you avert your gaze. He was more than hurt, he was dying, angry, betrayed. You can still hear it in your head, faintly, and it makes your stomach churn.

“Master?” Diarmuid's voice is soft when he calls to you, almost as if afraid to chase you off. You look back up at him, but he doesn't meet your eyes, instead staring at your chest. Without realizing it, you've moved your hand over where his wound had been. ithurtswhywouldyoudothistomenotagain

You pull your hand back down as if burned. You can't keep playing coy. “Sometimes, when I'm sleeping, and one of you is also sleeping, I dream about you. I don't always remember much, bits and pieces, but last night's was... one of the worst,” you say, once again unable to look at him directly. It's not your fault, but it feels so invasive. “You're so kind, Diarmuid. You've never been anything but good and honorable and supportive to me. Seeing you like that just... You deserve so much better.”

Chapter Text

A tinge of shame runs through you at how easily you laugh at the jest, though you mean neither harm nor cruelty. “I hardly know you, so what is there for me to love?” Yet you're filled with tenderness at the sight of the man each and every time he visits you. You wait with eager curiosity each day, wondering if he'll arrive that evening. How many times have your thoughts drifted to the way he looks perched neatly on your windowsill, fluffy black hair ruffled by wind and action, pale skin glowing in the moonlight and warmed by the light of your candle, gazing at you with a keen fondness?

Ren takes your reaction in stride, matching your mirth with a quiet chuckle. He makes no move to speak, however, so you continue speaking. “I'd miss you, if you left. I'm smitten with the act you put on, that handsome, dashing thief you play for the world. But loving you would be as fruitless as loving the moon. You're unreachable, untetherable, always gone by morning's first light.”

“The moon, hm?” he questions with a pleased smile. “You flatter me, though I'd sooner steal her splendor for myself. I do so love pearls, you know.”

He speaks with such drama you can't help but laugh again. “You might have a hard time passing the moon for a pearl to a pawn broker. Though the headlines the next morning would be worth framing on the wall.” Even though you're both joking, there's a small part of your heart that believes if anyone could steal the very moon from the sky it would be him. Ren is the infamous Phantom, after all. The thief who steals anything he sets his sights on, without fail, without trace.

You wonder how much longer you can hold out before he takes your heart entirely.

Chapter Text

“'What's the difference?' he asks. The difference! Is that you are capable of rational thought and can be reasoned with! And that horrible monstrosity is a half-ton horror who could crush my skull like an overripe watermelon! We leave the moose alone!” you shout, unwavering in your determination. There was absolutely no benefit in going after the moose, and you weren't going to let this dumb dog of a man get you involved.

Unfortunately for you, you're completely incorrect. There is no reasoning with Cu Chulainn.

“Quit whining, how will you get stronger if you're afraid of a simple animal?” And with no further argument you're thrown over his shoulder with as much ease as a blanket.

“Hey! Put me down! You can't make me! Mitsu, make him stop, please!” you scream, thrashing about desperately to free yourself. Not that it does you any good, when he wasn't indulging you in a sparring match you weren't in possession of a fraction of his physical strength.

Without batting an eye at your struggle, he takes off, eager to hunt down the moose you'd spotted earlier. Your other companions, Mitsu and her other two servants, Diarmuid and Karna watch the two of you speed off with mixed reactions.

“Well,” Mitsu chokes out through her laughter, “looks like moose is on the menu tonight.”

Chapter Text

Heaven help you, you were trying to keep a straight face, to rein in your mirth and refrain from letting your lover see you like this when he's clearly upset. But his rage was far less than that of an adult; Arsène is the very picture of a child throwing a tantrum over stolen sweets. How could you keep stifling your laughter? The dashing thief who stole your heart from your chest, the infamous Lupin who confounded police and detectives all through France, devoid of all his mysterious charm and ranting wildly before you was too great a sight to bear.

"Bahahaha, I... I can't believe you'd..." you gasp out between laughs. It's too much, you can't keep hiding your amusement. You'd spend time soothing his battered ego later this evening, and he clearly needs some care. Later, however, when you could take him seriously again. In the meantime you plan to revel in this new side of him. A true blessing.

There is no mistaking the scandalized look Arsène shoots you for your reaction to his tale of woe. An expression so full of despondent betrayal should not be as funny as it is, and, having spent so much time in his company, you can imagine vividly what he must be thinking. What happened to your sympathetic ear? Where were your kind reassurances of his renowned prowess? And you have no doubts he was eagerly anticipating a kiss or two. (Which you will gladly provide later, no doubt about it, because although this is a display of behavior you've never gotten to see from him before it in no way diminished your overwhelming attraction to the man.)

Instead of retorting, Arsène turns away with a huff, causing you to resume stifling your giggles. Before he can make his escape and go off to sulk somewhere you follow him quickly and embrace him from behind, burying your face in the crook of his neck. He stops in his tracks, and he makes no move to pull away from you, though he pointedly turns his face away. “Oh come now, Arsène, no more pouting. If you get any more adorable I might have to take a leaf from your book and steal you away for good,” you murmur softly against his skin.

Chapter Text

Emiya isn't sure what exactly he expected to find happening in the kitchen at just past 1AM, but seeing you, his Master, leaning at the counter, one hand in a bag of chips and the other clumsily cutting of bits of cheese from a block is not it. You don't even look up at him. Instead you simply take a chip and shove the whole thing in your mouth. All the archer can do is sigh deeply at the sight. The situations he has to deal with here are absurd. “What are you doing?”

Without missing a beat you chase the chip by tossing a bit of cheese in your mouth. “Nachos,” you mumble. Another chip, to follow the cheese.

“Potato chips and shards of cheese aren't nachos. And you should be asleep, you need to rest after coming back from a singularity, not be up all night snaking,” Emiya chides. Really, you need to go back to bed, you've clearly reached a very strange mental state.

You finally look up at him with a deadpan stare and bring the hand you were using to feed yourself chips to your pocket. Out you pull a whole jalapeño. Keeping your eyes locked with Emiya's, you bring it to your mouth and take a bite out of the side. “'M hungry,” you say after you swallow it. “Y'all do a number on my stamina.”

Chapter Text

You're meticulously hanging up clothes in your shared closed when you notice a very familiar pair of boots tucked away near a suspiciously plain looking dufflebag. You don't remember seeing them around here before, though they're unmistakable. How many times had you joked about them during your Phantom Thief days? Too many to count, that's for sure. But what are they doing here? The gears start turning in your head and you begin putting the remaining clothes away faster, eager to confirm your hunch.

The instant you finish, the basket is placed aside and forgotten; there's something more important to do. You reach into the closet and fish out the boots and bag. Based on the boots, you have a very good idea what you'll find as you open the dufflebag, and you aren't disappointed. A perfect replica of his old Joker mask sits neatly on top of the clothes. Your fingers trace over it as you reminisce. It's been years since you've seen it in anything but your memories. Grown, and now married to Ren, those days seemed so far away compared to the normalcy of your current life.

Out you pull a complete costume, most what you expected: gloves, pants, shirt, and overcoat complete with the pocket kerchief. But buried at the bottom are a couple you definitely didn't expect, namely a real knife and an airsoft pistol. Though, perhaps given the astonishing attention to detail in the realism of the rest of outfit it wasn't all that surprising that he would include those too. Actually it makes you smile. Even with all the hardships it brought, you consider that year one of your finest. Not only did you meet your dear friends, including Ren, but you found out so much about yourself, enough to change your whole life. Even the worst of those days finds some value here in hindsight.

Briefly you wonder if you can convince him to tell you who he knew that could sew so well, probably one of Ann's acquaintances now that you think about it. It would be nice to get a replica of your own thief outfit, you always used to feel so wild and free in the Metaverse. Maybe you could recapture that.

Wait. Convince? That brings up a good point, actually. Why hadn't Ren mentioned getting this made? Having his old costume commissioned is absolutely the kind of thing he'd hype you up for. Goodness knows he's fully aware of your opinion on it. Perfect, dashing, and hot.

Oh, okay yeah now it makes sense. You've spoiled your own surprise, it appears. Given that you never noticed neither the bag nor boots, it's a recent addition to his wardrobe, and 'ambushing' you (if you can really call it that) in character is right up Ren's alley. So you're left with a choice. Do you own up to finding it? Or do you put it all back and pretend you never saw a thing? Neither option seems particularly appealing, and you start to feel a little guilty. At least until an idea crosses your mind, and a mischievous smile finds its way to your mouth. Ren isn't the only former trickster in this house.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ren returns home from work a scant few hours later to an oddly quiet home. You don't respond to his greeting, despite your text from earlier suggesting you were eager to show him something you found today. The thought brings a smile to his face, whatever it was you sounded excited. All the more reason to see where you got off to. You wouldn't have left the house without telling him, not after ensuring he was going to come home on time.

He walks through your shared home, ruling out room by room and growing more curious by the second. Where have you gone? Eventually he makes his way all the way back to your bedroom. Ren half expects to find you laying on the bed (in some nice lingerie, preferably), except you aren't here either. Before he gets too distracted by his thoughts, however, his world goes dark as a gloved hand covers his eyes.

“Well, look what we have here,” a familiar voice, your voice, purrs into his ear, halting his startled reaction. “The thief makes his appearance at last.”

You release him, and Ren can hear you take a step back. He turns to face you and he's once again stunned into silence. It is definitely you standing there, but you're dressed in the replica of his Joker outfit he bought, or as best you could. The pants were a pair of business slacks of yours and the shirt looked like a black tank top, and he's not too surprised that you had to improvise considering the difference in your builds. Everything else is exactly what he'd been hoping to surprise you with, from the boots to the mask. Somewhere between the natural attraction to seeing you in his clothes, and the wild, impossibly cocky aura you were giving off, he loses his mental footing entirely.

Pleased by his silence, you smirk and tug on one of the gloves you wear in the very same manner he remembers using against you on many a free afternoon spent in Mementos. “Nothing to say for yourself? That's fine, it'll make my job easier. Ren Amamiya, your days of deceit and trickery are over. I'll steal that wicked heart of yours and make you confess your every crime. It's showtime~”

Chapter Text

Each feather-light kiss Arsène delivers affects you more than the last, and a small part of you wonders how you are going make it through the evening. He starts with your fingertips, first on one hand before switching to it's twin, methodically continuing to worship your skin on his way up towards your collarbones. A deep ache forms in your chest by the time he reaches the back of your right hand, laying a firmer kiss here as dark eyes meet your own, and you have to look away at their intensity.

“Why do you continue to lock yourself away” he murmurs quietly, repeating the gesture with your left hand. The question hits it's intended mark, and you have to blink back the threat of tears. “What comfort does it bring you that I cannot offer?”

'Nothing' is what you want to say, even you know there's nothing to be gained in your fears but it's a habit so deeply ingrained you've long since forgotten how to cast them aside. Instead you remain quiet, not trusting your own voice, or your ability to present a strong face, in your hazy state of mind. Arsène waits several moments, silently observing you, before deciding to return to his task.

Chapter Text

“Oh my goodness, I thought we had this talk. Stolen goods aren't gifts, we've been through this,” you scold, glaring at the unrepentant yokai lounging on your couch. For the life of you, you can't understand why he keeps doing this. You can't keep these DVDs, and can't have him continue this bad habit. The absolute last thing you need is the police getting called to your home.

Ren snorts in derision and refuses to look at you. He's pouting again. “Who said I stole them?”

“Don't play this game with me. You don't work, so I know you didn't buy them.” This gets his attention, and he shifts to face you, expression neutral. “Don't start. Please.”

“You're so ungrateful sometimes,” he huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “I got them for you because you were talking with Ann about the series.”

You sigh quietly, pinching the bridge of your nose. “Ren, stop that. I appreciate the thought, I really do. But I appreciate not going to jail more, if you don't mind.” You get that he's trying the best he can to be nice, but there's definitely something off about his value system.

“I fail to see the problem. If they've been gifted to you, who's going to punish you?” The police, you want to snap back. “Would you rather I go back to bringing you food?”

Oh no. Oh hell no. “Do. Not. If I see another dead animal I did not personally bring in, I'm taking you to the vet and having you fixed.” The last time he brought a 'food gift' it was a whole dead duck and boy that was not fun to deal with. You'd stick to getting your meat at the market, thanks.

The threat hits home, and Ren shoots you a look both horrified and enraged. It's impossible to miss how he's moved a pillow into his lap as an instinctual protective measure. “As if I'd let you,” he growls.

Chapter Text

Given it's reputation as the cleanest and classiest bar downtown, you're not surprised to find The Echo packed. Despite it's modest size, the bar is always full, though thankfully it also maintains a quiet, mature atmosphere. You aren't much a fan of alcohol outside of with friends or at special events, but you've come to really enjoy popping in for the occasional drink after work. An event aided wholeheartedly by the choice selection of non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu, which you appreciate greatly.

The low murmur of conversation fills the warmly lit room, and you can feel yourself relax. After a long day at work this was a nice place to unwind. But tonight's visit was more than just for pleasure; for once you had some business to take care of here. Well, maybe business was a bit strong. All you are really doing is bringing a thank-you gift to the owner, in return for a favor.

Speaking of, Arsène is behind the bar tonight, a stroke of good luck as he's not always present, and you smile to yourself. There's a gaggle of women at the bar proper, which isn't unusual. If there was any person who more perfectly embodied the concept of a magnetizing personality you were afraid to meet them. As it stands, you can already feel yourself falling into orbit around him, and you can hardly blame anyone else caught up in his charm.

He's preoccupied when you first walk in, so you don't actually catch his attention until you're at the counter, but Arsène's reaction is immediate when he notices you. You might as well be the only other person in the building with the way he's beaming at you and it takes a tremendous amount of effort to keep yourself from hiding your face behind your hands. “Ah, welcome in my dear! To what do I owe the pleasure of being graced with your presence this evening?”

You stumble over your words for a moment, before you manage to assemble your reply. “Well, I've got something for you, to thank you for that wedding referral. Business has really picked up since then, and I wanted to show my appreciation.” Not that your bakery had been struggling before, but nothing boosted a business' reputation like a high-profile event. Carefully you hand over the small pastry box you'd brought with you. Arsène wastes no time in popping the lid, eagerness readily apparent.

“Macrons! Ah, you know me so well. I'll make sure to enjoy these thoroughly,” he says with great glee. They were easily his favorite treat; every time he came to visit your store he never left without some. “I'm not sure what's sweeter: you or your wonderful confections.”

Again, you have a difficult time meeting his gaze. There's a confounding balance between how casual and sincere he is when he flirts. It doesn't help that you would be more than glad to find out that he means it all. You could hope, even a little, right? “You're incorrigible. But I'm betting on the cookies; they've got a little more sugar,” you quip back with an edge of laughter to your voice.

Chapter Text

Takumi was careful to make sure the hallway was empty as he sneaked through the building. He felt a little bad, the others would be waiting for him to arrive so they can get on with the trial. The thought made his hands tremble. It will be his trial, after all.

Hurried steps carried him the rest of the way to his room and he slipped inside. He needed to hurry before anyone got suspicious or Monokuma came after him. The room he'd become so familiar with is bare, every object packed away into boxes, ready for his departure. Takumi's stomach churned as he tried desperately to not think about his impending demise. He knew he was not brave enough to confess now, but he prayed fervently to find the strength to do so before his terror killed his remaining friends. Even if he murdered for their sake, he carried no illusion of righteousness. The young man braced himself a moment, before he reached into his bag and pulled out a plain, white envelope. He placed it on his nightstand, to be easily found. With any luck, it would reach it's intended recipient, though he wondered if she'd even want to read it.

In an attempt to not lose his nerve, Takumi left his room as swiftly as he entered, taking special care to make sure it was locked. He couldn't afford to have this spoiled. A scan of the hallway revealed it was still clear, and he made his way further down until he reached Hiroko's door. His shaking hand grasped the handle as he tried to steel himself. Just a little more preparation. He just had to hold out a little longer, to leave as few regrets as possible. When the handle gives and the door opens, Takumi breaths a silent sigh of relief. Hiroko still wasn't used to locking her room consistently, but it worked in his favor.

He's seen her room a handful of times, usually because he'd barged in wanting to show her something, or hang out, but without the young woman present it feels different. Or, perhaps it was his reason for being here that lent such an oppressive air. He owed her such a deep apology, but there wasn't going to be enough time. Not to do it in person, anyway. But he would try his best. She deserved it, especially after what he will put her through in the next few hours. Hiroko deserved so much better than everything she was due to receive today.

The key to his room felt heavy in his pocket, and even weightier as he pulled it out. Should he really go through with this? Would this actually help Hiroko? No, now was no time for hesitation. Takumi swallowed thickly, trying to hold back his tears. He needed to carry this out. It would be the only way he'd be able to face her at the end. Gently, he placed the key on her nightstand, taking great care to not disturb anything else in the room as he then made his way back out, leaving the door unlocked as he'd found it.

Grim errand complete, Takumi took a deep breath, biting back all his fears. He hoped she might forgive him, some day. He hoped they all would, though he can't say he deserved it. But even as a murderer, the blackened, he wanted his friends to be happy again. Someday.

'One day, smile again. Please.'

Chapter Text

Boy, you haven't been this nervous in years, but if you could run into the Everwood to chase down a Gore Magala with no preparation, you can pull this off. You're no Garwa. And if you don't say something soon, you'll miss your chance. In the morning you'll be off again, back to Yukumo to continue your latest string of antics with the Caravan. Who knows when your path will cross with his again? Other than nights like this, after being called back to Dundorma to help defend the city, you rarely got a chance to meet up with the Ace Commander simply to enjoy his company. Here goes your best attempt to change that.

With most of the locals and hunters still inside the Assembly Hall, celebrating yet another victory to protect the city, the two of you could converse with some level of privacy. “What did you need to to speak to me about, Hunter?” he asks, breaking the night's quiet. The way the Commander's looking at you makes your heart-rate pick up. It's now or never.

“I want to ask you something but, I'd like you to hear me out, first.” You lick your lips and shift restlessly. Between you, you're the one with the social skills, so it is an odd omen that you're feeling so tongue-tied. “Remember when you asked if I'd ever given a thought to being a Guild Knight, and I said that I had, if mostly because I could I'd get to see you more often?”

He nod, though he won't meet your eyes because he's already starting to blush. You continue with the beginning traces of a smile on your lips. “Well, I think we both know I'm not capable of settling into a role like that. Honestly, I enjoy being a caravan hunter far too much to stick so close to the Guild. But I know it's where your heart is, even if you'd never say it in so many words.”

You slip a hand into your carrying pouch, trying to find a very specific item without drawing attention to the action. Thankfully, the Ace Commander isn't paying attention to much other than what you're saying right now. “All the same, even if our jobs never completely let us spend a great amount of time together, I enjoy what we do get. Moments like this mean a great deal to me, and I wouldn't trade them for anything.” Don't choke, don't choke. “And I was wondering if you felt the same.”

“Well...” He's as red as a dragonfell berry at this point and you choke back your timid laughter. You're fairly confident in your assessment that he is, but you wanted to hear it from the man himself. “I am always cheered by the sight of your beefy silhouette, as you know.”

This time you can't hold in the chuckle that rises from your lungs. His compliments were as awkward as always, but they're charming in their own, strangely straightforward way. You call his name softly, to make sure you have his attention as you pull out a set of rings. “Then, I'd like to know if you'd want to spend this time we have together... well, together. You're important to me, and life's not always long in this business, but I'd be happiest knowing you've got my back, wherever we are.”

He finally notices the rings you're holding and somehow blushes even harder, not that you can blame him since now you are blushing too. After a few moments of stunned silence he manages to stumble out “Are... are you asking me to...?”

“Ah, well, yes? In a way? It'll be years before I could imagine wanting to settle down, and I know how devoted you are to the Guild, so it wouldn't be a traditional sort of thing. But I... I, uh, I love you, and however it looks like for us, I want to spend my life with you. I'd like to be the one you always know will be there for you, wherever I am, however long it takes me to reach you. Maybe one day, I might get tired of the caravan life, or you might find your own wanderlust and we'll have a more uniform relationship but even if we don't, I can't see myself wanting someone other than you at my side. So, what do you say?”

Your heart is pounding, as you have to concentrate to steady your hands. He's stuttering, trying to process your words and you're left waiting with bated breath. It's a bold request, but given that hunters like you both live such perilous lives, you'd already decided this was what you wanted. When tomorrow was such a fragile concept, why not reach out for what you desired? But as the seconds tick by, you grow more and more nervous. What is he thinking, did you phrase something wrong, were you wrong in thinking he felt the same way? You watch as he takes a deep breath and catch yourself holding your own in anticipation as he finally replies.

He speaks your name softly, a rarity given that even after all these years he almost exclusively called you by your informal title, but hearing it lifts your spirits. “Nothing would make me happier.”

Chapter Text

...seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. Sharp turn. One, two, three, four...

Restless energy seems to crackle through you as you pace across the common room you've hidden yourself in, deep within Chaldea. Your heart won't slow, fluttering in your chest despite your best efforts. Ice has settled inside your stomach, and you can feel it's chill spread through you. The only thing keeping the intrusive thoughts you've been plagued with all morning at bay is your relentless counting of steps.

...eleven, twelve, thirteen...

Guilt sits heavy in the back of your throat. You should be training, or resting, or preparing to Rayshift into a new Singularity. Instead you're on the precipice of an anxious breakdown, dodging the whole remaining population of Chaldea in order to have some time to yourself. Honestly, you're not even sure this is what you need, but the thought of getting lectured right now is enough to wind you up even further.

...twenty-one. Sharp turn. One, two...

“Master, if you are so anxious you should consult Doctor Romani.”

The unexpected voice draws a small yelp out of you as your trance is broken. For a second you're certain your heart stops, and you whip around to face your discoverer. You should have left for another room sooner, it appears.

“Damn it, Karna, you spooked me!” One hand has come to rest over your heart in a frail attempt to calm it. “Knock, please.”

Normally you take some measure of comfort in the Lancer's uncanny ability to read your mood and thoughts, even all the way down to his often-tactless approach to bringing it up. Today, however, his calm stare is your worst enemy. “I did knock, but you were too immersed in your thoughts to hear me.”

Chapter Text

One more room’s worth of valuables remained before Arsène could leave fully satisfied with his haul. Well, more specifically, it was the small Watteau hanging inside the room that really mattered, though he had not previously been able to get a good idea of everything that it contained, so there was always the possibility of more treasures ripe for the taking. This hasn’t been his most lucrative evening, but he’s pleased with it all the same. He picks his way carefully and silently through the mansion until he finds the door he’s looking for. It’s a young woman’s room, he knows this much, belonging to the lord of the home’s niece. However, neither he nor anyone he could glean information from had seen so much of a single glimpse of the lady in question. A strange occurrence that birthed a bevy of rumors, though he remains largely unconcerned. It shouldn’t affect this trip much at all.

With utmost care, Arsène tries turning the handle, and it gives easily, clearly left unlocked. The thief lets out a voiceless sigh of relief as he sneaks in, softly closing the door behind him to not draw attention should anyone walk past. Sharp eyes scan the room, hunting down his prize. The coveted painting is his primary target, and is easily spotted hanging nearby on the adjacent wall. It would be an easy item to take. Perhaps more interesting is the second thing he notices: a soundly sleeping young lady in bed. You, the elusive niece, the talk of the town, slumbering deeply and blissfully unaware of his presence.

His first, and strongest, instinct is to ignore you, to take the painting as intended and leave before he creates any more risk of being caught in the act by waking you. Arsène has no interest in drawing unnecessary attention to himself tonight, after all. However, there is another possibility, one driven by the curiosity beginning to gnaw at him. You were without even a household portrait, a faceless mystery, wrapped in tragic rumors. He thoughtfully nibbles at his lower lip as he ponders his options and wrestles with himself to make a decision. Surely a single peek at your face would do no harm? This would be his only chance. Ah, but such a course of action could hardly be called gentlemanly, and Arsène did so pride himself on that point.

In the end, his greed wins over. Has he ever turned down a chance at something no one else might ever have the privilege to do or see? Wouldn’t a mere glimpse be harmless? He would do no more than steal a glance at your face before finishing his intended business and leaving. And besides, didn’t it seem so fated to be, what with the moonlight streaming in through a gap in the drapes? His endless quest for material wealth is swiftly, and only temporarily, forgotten as he crosses the room with stealthy footsteps. When he reaches your bedside he moves to draw back the curtains of the window on the wall next to you, so that he can get a proper look. And what a sight it is!

Illuminated by pale moonlight, you are stunning; your lovely face set in an expression of peaceful repose, framed so perfectly by your hair. Before he can completely process this, however, a second, far more powerful, realization sets in. His free hand covers his mouth before his surprised gasp can give him away, while the hand holding his bag of illicitly collected trinkets only just manages to retain it’s grip. No, it’s not that you’re more beautiful than any other woman he’s had the pleasure of laying his eyes on, though your beauty is not to be discounted in any way. But all of a sudden he’s hyper aware of just how vibrant everything appears, even in the relatively poor lighting. Arsène feels like he’s seeing for the very first time in his life, and as the understanding settles in he has a hard time believing what he’s experiencing.

Soulmate. The word resounds in his head like a church bell. There is no mistaking what’s transpired, but he’s having incredible difficulty processing it. You’re his soulmate! You’re so pretty! He has a soulmate! How could he have been prepared for this? Surely they say that everyone has one, but he’s given it so little consideration that he has no idea what to do now. Does he wake you? No, no that would be bad. He needs to make a good first impression. Should he even tell you at all? Hopeless romantic that he is, part of him is joyously sure he should, but even he can admit that he’s not the most ideal partner. But oh, it’s such a perfect story, isn’t it?

A thought to the time crosses Arsène’s mind as he debates with himself. He can’t stand here all night, he has to decide and quickly. The safest road would be to leave; he doesn’t need a soulmate, per se, and there’s no guarantee that you would even go along with him. The bond wasn’t so strong as to overrule all opposition, so if you found him and his occupation distasteful, he’d only be setting himself up for failure. He takes another glance at you and his heart turns. Maybe he didn’t need you, and he certainly doesn’t know enough about you to confidently say he wants you by his side, but this is a once in a lifetime event. Can he walk away from this as if nothing happened? As if the veil hadn’t been torn from his eyes?

At last he comes to a decision, and resolved to see this through he makes his move.

[------------]

Sharp sunlight cuts through the darkness of slumber and you’re torn from your hazy dreams. You roll over at first, clinging to the fast-fading remnants of sleep, but the visions are gone. With a resigned sigh you sit up and rub at your eyes. Mornings are difficult. There’s no point trying to go back to sleep, once you’re awake that’s it for you.

You carefully peel back the covers and shift so you’re sitting at the edge of your bed. You’re about to stand up when you notice something on your nightstand that you are entirely certain was not there when you retired for the evening. Laying there in plain sight is a neatly folded sheet of paper and a freshly cut rose you recognize as being from your aunt’s garden. Your breath hitches in your throat. Who could have put them there?

Heart racing, you can’t help but reach for the paper, to see if anything is written. The thought occurs to you that it could have been your aunt or uncle, though you can’t for the life of you think what they would do this for. Despite the fact they did not pay you much mind, they’d never gone to such stringent lengths to avoid you. You carefully unfolded the paper, finding a small note written.

Dearest rose,

Of all the treasures I discovered last night, you stand as most beautiful of them all, and as my soulmate, the most valuable. Two nights from now I will return for you at midnight, if you will allow me to steal you away. I wait with eager anticipation to see you again, my dear. And if I may say, your collection of newspaper clippings is wonderfully flattering.

Arsène Lupin

You’re left staring blankly at the letter, entirely unsure of what to process first. Did the writer mean he was the Arsène Lupin? Who’s exploits captivated the whole of France? And, and, did he really refer to you as his soulmate? Nothing has changed for you, so you’ve never set your eyes on him, so when could he have spotted you? Last night? Well, that made sense, he would have had to leave the note here in person. Could you even trust the note? Just because the author said they were the infamous thief did not mean they were being honest. But who else could have so skillfully crept in and left such a note?

You aren’t sure how long you sit at the edge of your bed, note clasped tightly in trembling hands, trying to come to a conclusion. Doing anything but reporting the note would be foolish. And yet, you can’t deny the small voice of your heart telling you to take a wild chance. It’s not that you aren’t grateful for your family for caring for you, but the idea of a life outside these walls that served as a gilded cage thrills the deepest reaches of your soul. You could be free! And, honestly, there’s no denying the downright girlish crush you had on the thief. You have the quietly hidden clippings from the Echo dè France to attest to that.

It could be a trap, your rational mind whispers. Which is correct, frighteningly so. But the sheer desire to believe in the words is nearly overwhelming. You want it to be true, and with such intensity it stuns you for several moments. You hadn’t thought yourself quite so unhappy with your lot in life. There’s time to think, two days worth, and you take a deep breath. That’s right, you don’t have to decide this very second. Another deep breath and you set the note back down. The rose that had been left with the letter catches your eye and you feel a sharp tug at your heart.

You wonder how beautiful it would appear if you could see it in all it’s glory.

[------------]

The days come and go without incident, and in the blink of an eye it’s the promised evening. Against your better judgment, you’ve kept the letter and your plans secret. Your window is left unlocked, though you’ve kept the curtains drawn shut. The author (you can’t quite bring yourself to completely believe they’re Lupin) didn’t specify how they’d come for you, so it was a calculated gamble on your part. Actually, you’ve planned a great deal of the evening, in an effort to remain as safe as possible. Though you have packed a few small bags, they’re neatly tucked away out of sight. You, too, plan to remain hidden, wanting to see for yourself if your admirer is who they claim.

An answering note sits openly on your nightstand, next to an unlit candle and matchbox. You’ve written a request that your visitor allow you a glance at them, to prove two things. First and foremost, if their intentions are as honorable as the note made them sound, they will not hesitate to acquiesce, and in this way you can begin to trust them. Second, though no less important, is that you wanted to test the claim that you are truly soulmates. You’ve heard it’s a very distinct, unmistakable reveal and you’re terribly curious. Yes, you could find it out without peeking out of your wardrobe, but you can’t fully shake off your, admittedly sane, nervousness.

When you are confident that all your preparations are in place, you head to your hiding spot and settle in to wait for the midnight hour. Your nerves keep you from succumbing to your exhaustion, it’s far later than you’re used to being awake, but with every slight noise you perk up, wondering if it’s finally time. Eventually, your fatigue begins to catch up with you and it becomes difficult to keep your eyes open. Anticipation isn’t enough to carry you all through the evening.

Right as you start to nod off, the sound of your window opening jolts you back to life and it’s all you can do to keep silent. Your hands start trembling and your heart pounds loudly enough that you’re afraid it might wake the whole household. You can’t see much besides a silhouette through the crack in the doors, but it’ll do for your purposes. They look about briefly before spotting your letter and reaching for it. With bated breath you watch them read it, only to be startled again when you hear a gentle, definitely masculine, chuckle.

“You are a wonderfully clever woman,” he says. The man grabs the matchbox and pulls out a match. “I can hardly turn down such a fair request.”

It’s only when you hear the match being struck and lit that you realize you’ve closed your eyes. This was it, the moment of truth. You’re all tension as you force your eyes back open, not sure which outcome you were hoping for most.

There is no way you could have ever been ready to experience this, and you make no effort to hide your surprised gasp. Even with the incredibly limited view, he’s so handsome! You can’t believe it. And not even just the man standing by your bedside. Everything was so much more colorful. Has candlelight always given off such a warm glow? You lean back against the walls of the wardrobe with an overwhelmed sob. There’s no point being stealthy anymore, if nothing else you’re no longer worried about coming to any harm.

You hear a soft call of “Darling?” come from outside and you remember there is far more to this night than what’s gone on already. Trembling hands push open the doors and you meekly peek out of your hiding spot. Oh! Oh no, he’s still every bit good-looking as you first thought. And he’s watching you with a wide-eyed wonder that moves your heart.

“Are you… Arsène?” you ask quietly, still trying to process your emotions. However, no longer afraid, you finish stepping back out into the open.

The question snaps him out of his reverie and he grins brightly at you. “That is correct, my lady. Arsène Lupin, gentleman thief at your beck and call.” He bows with a dramatic flair, causing you to giggle softly.

You can’t name the reason, but all the tension you’ve been carrying is melting away. Remembering you manners, you give him your name in return. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m… something of a fan, as you found out the other night. Though I never would have believed I’d make your acquaintance, much less, well, you know.”

It’s his turn to laugh. “The pleasure is all mine, love.” Arsène’s expression softens and he extends a gloved hand in an invitation. “If I may ask properly, will you do me the honor of stealing away with me?”

Chapter Text

You're sneaking through Chaldea, trying to make off with a midday snack, when you begin to hear something running down a nearby hallway. A very large something, judging by how loud it sounds. Oh no. Usually if something disastrous was happening around the complex, you were at the center of it all, so being on the other side of the fence is terrifying. Oh no, what's going on. Should you call for backup?

Shoving two of your stolen cookies in your mouth (you'll be damned if you lose out on your treats due to whatever mayhem is going on), you trot up to the nearest intersection and take a careful peek around the corner. Immediately you pull back, and slam your back against the wall. There is a dog running down the hallway. A massive beast of a dog. Where the hell did a dog come from!?

You barely get a chance to swallow your mouthful of sweets before said dog comes barreling around the corner, knocking right into you. The bag of cookies is lost to the floor as you barely manage to keep yourself upright. “The fuck are you?!” you whisper-shout, trying desperately to keep a low profile despite your shock. Now that you're able to get a closer look, massive doesn't even come close to fully describing how large this dog is easily half your height on all fours, if you could stand it up you'd be dwarfed. The dog has a wiry, steely blue-grey coat and red eyes that remind you immediately of a certain Lancer.

…Wait a second. Wait a tail-wagging second.

“Cú, is that you?” The change in his demeanor from panicked beast to overjoyed friend is instant. His tail begins to wag furiously and he jumps up, places his paws on your shoulders, and starts licking your face. He would take to being a dog naturally, wouldn't he. “Oi, knock that off ya mutt! No dog kisses. No regular kisses either!”

With obvious reluctance, he takes the hint and returns to the ground, though his tail is still wagging at a dangerous pace. “What happened to you? Why are you an actual dog and not the one I joke about you being?”

Chapter Text

You're halfway through the variety show you've been watching when you hear a knock at your door. For most people, someone coming to the door at this hour of the evening would be a terrifying event, a harbinger of bad news in some form. For you, however, it was a nuisance. Certainly you didn't get many visitors of your own, working nights had it's perks, but those that did knew better than to drop by unannounced. This was your day off, a special time to relax and unwind from a job that never really allowed much downtime. If your guest couldn't even send a courtesy text, you weren't going to give them the time of day.

Except, whoever it was obviously hadn't been taught any manners at all and continued to knock. Three curt knocks followed by a stretch of silent waiting, only to repeat the process. It's enough to drive you mad. You're petty enough that you consider waiting it out, even if the thought of enduring this violation of your 'Me Time' is enough to give you an ulcer, but ultimately you decide to get up and tell them off. Because it was an off day you regrettably weren't armed to the nines, but that was the point of magic after all. Spells didn't quite have the intimidation factor of a loaded gun, though they were just as good at keeping you safe so you give no thought to being worried.

You make your way to the door quietly, and wait for one of the pauses before unlocking it as silently as possible and opening it. Upon seeing just who's been bothering you, however, you're hit with an instant and overwhelming sense of regret for even trying. Before you stands a familiar man with fluffy, black hair, and slate eyes glinting deviously from behind his signature black-and-white mask. It's not just the mask, he's wearing the rest of his ridiculously un-stealthy 'disguise' too.

“Trick or treat!” he exclaims upon seeing you, tone light and jovial. You're frozen in disbelief, caught completely unaware, and Ren gives a pointy-toothed grin at your obvious shock.

A quiet moment passes before you take a small step back and shut the door in his face with a quiet firmness, locking it before turning to return to your seat and resuming your TV binge. Even though you'd considered that he'd pull a gag of some sort today, you found yourself unprepared mentally. Perhaps your misguided optimism for a restful evening blinded you to this most obvious of traps. You don't even make it four steps, however, before you hear the locks come undone and the door opens behind you. A soft, resigned sigh leaves you as you hear Ren enter and re-close the door. You made a mental note to get a chain lock one of these days.

“That's breaking and entering, you know.” There's no point in reminding him, he does as he pleases regardless of your intervention, but you do anyway. Besides, it's easier than admitting you were getting a little lonely.

“You say that every time I come to visit you. I even knocked this time!” he says with a laugh, walking over to where you stopped and pulling you into a quick hug. You huff quietly, but lean back into him all the same, glad he can't see your blushing face at this angle. “More importantly, you never gave me an answer. Do I get a treat or can I trick you?”

Instead of an answer you carefully pull yourself out of his embrace and walk into your dining room, with Ren following closely. There's a small convenience store bag that you left on the table, and you reach into it, pulling out a small plastic pouch filled with a deep red liquid. You toss it to your companion wordlessly, watching eagerly for his reaction. You've been sitting on this plan for almost the whole month, and you expected great things.

Red-gloved hands catch it deftly, and he takes a moment to inspect his gift. The second he recognizes the treat for what it is, his cool demeanor melts into complete dumbfounded surprise and it's your turn to laugh. You'd bought and held onto a bag of fake candy blood, just for this occasion, and his reaction was priceless.

“There ya go, kiddo. Happy Halloween,” you say with a proud smile. It's not often you get to ambush him, so you're entirely pleased with yourself this evening. He deserved a good joke at his expense every once in a while, for all the times he did it to you. Even considering the good terms you two were on, the dynamic of your relationship was still defined by a great deal of good-natured trickery and banter.

Ren recovers with a chuckle, thoroughly amused. His smile is soft and affectionate, but there's a sharp, playful glint in his steel eyes that tells you he's not going to take this laying down. Which is a very good thing; for all your bristling you'd been growing bored just vegging out in front of the TV. “I'm still quite fond of candy, but this isn't exactly the treat I was hoping for. Well, one good trick deserves another, as they say.”

“Not feeling your age yet, huh? Alright, I'm game. Give it your best shot.”

Chapter Text

“You can't be serious. How is eating a burger going to help me do anything?” you ask, completely baffled at the advice you've just been given. The worst part is you're not even sure how to fully process it. He said it with such conviction, as if he knew what a good idea it was.

Meanwhile, your companion takes the time to laugh at your bewilderment. If only you had an understanding of what he's been through. “You'll accept fighting Shadows, summoning a Persona, and trying to save Tokyo, but this is where you draw the line in trusting me? I'm heartbroken,” he says, but he's smiling at you the whole time, the melodramatic faker.

“I haven't had a whole lot of choice there, if you will recall. And you're always giving me bizarre advice. Did you know you are the only person who's encouraged me to play more video games? I still don't believe that's helped me any.” Well, no more than it's ever helped you, which has been quite a bit as this whole 'save humanity' gimmick is stressful. “I've gotta call you out somewhere, and slamming a massive challenge burger for self-improvement is it. Just because I'm in college doesn't mean my stomach is a bottomless pit.”

Seriously though, Ren gives you some of the most specific and oddest advice you've ever been told. Some of it seems reasonable enough: go to the gym, choke down healthy drinks when you can, read more books. Except, then there are days like today when he suggests things like trying out food challenges, visiting shady areas to chat up even shadier appearing people who end up being leagues more helpful than you previously expected, and the aforementioned playing of video games. It's hard not to wonder what he's been through to think these things all contributed to your success.

Chapter Text

You're panting for breath quite readily now, bent over while resting your hands on your knees. You can't keep running away like this. It's clear that in your panic you've allowed yourself to be herded, both away from any safe rooms and to whatever dead-end room this is, but you can't find the strength to try and formulate an escape plan. The shadow who chased you here has worn you down much too far. If only you'd been more careful, at any point today. If you hadn't let him steal and break your phone, if you had told someone where you planned to go, if you kept your wits about you and didn't allow yourself to be cornered, if you'd dared to fight back while you still had the energy.

If, if, if. That's all you have left to you now.

The sound of footsteps coming from behind you causes you to snap to attention, standing up quickly and whipping around to face your pursuer. Somehow your heart begins to race faster as dread begins to pool in your stomach. There's something about seeing Arsene in Ren's Joker outfit that seems so cruel. Like he's mocking you, reminding you that no one's coming to rescue you. And to think you once considered the sight of him in the Shujin uniform unnerving.

“Have I finally worn you out? Goodness, I was beginning to think your stamina might have been endless.” As Arsene steps into the room your eyes dart around, trying to decide if you have any hope of getting around him to the door. When he chuckles quietly you know he caught you. “Oh, you still want to play chase? Be my guest,” he taunts, moving to the side to give you clear access.

For an instant you nearly move on instinct, but the very real possibility that it is a trap halts you. No matter how you approach it, you would have to move past him, and you hold no doubts that Arsene would take advantage of your proximity. You remain still and silent.

His smile fades into a look of friendly concern. “What's wrong? Don't tell me you've given up? I was hoping we could have some more fun together,” he says, looking early at you for a response. When you don't offer one besides clenching your fists, his smile returns. “Cat got your tongue?”

“I'm tired of playing your games. Let me out of here.”

“The exit is right there. I won't stop you, on my honor.” As if to prove the purity of his intentions, Arsene moves further into the room and away from the door.

You hesitate again, but you take a few cautious strides towards the exit. The shadow doesn't move an inch, seemingly content to actually let you go to continue the chase. You aren't sure how to feel about that. On one hand, you don't want to turn down a chance to escape. On the other, he's enjoying this far, far too much for you to feel comfortable.

Step by step you make your way to the door, making sure to not take your eyes off of Arsene to ensure he wasn't able to sneak up on you. Once you arrive you reach for the handle, only to find that it doesn't budge in the slightest. Startled, you actually turn toward it to get a better look, but no matter how you tug and pull, both the door and handle remain unmovable. The reality of the situation begins to sink in quickly, and you shiver with fear as goosebumps break out across your flesh.

You've been trapped.

Chapter Text

“What’s that supposed to be?” you hear Ren ask, alerting you to his return. You look up from your phone at him and smile. Takoyaki in hand, he’s giving the cat plush next to you a look of mild disdain, and it’s rather adorable. You knew when you picked it as a prize you’d get an amusing reaction from him.

You pick up the doll to better show it off. “Isn’t he cute? I won it while you were off getting a snack. Not sure what I’ll call it, though. Any ideas?”

It’s easy to see he’s trying to play along as he sits down beside you, taking a moment to focus on his food. Once his poker face is back in play he responds, “Chew Toy sounds appropriate. I needed something to help keep me entertained while you’re at work.”

As he takes a bite of his takoyaki you laugh. He’s such a pouty brat! “Aw, be nice. Who will I cuddle with at night if you tear him up?” It’s funny to see the confidant yokai so jealous over a toy cat. You don’t generally have any desire to make him jealous, especially not by flirting with other men, but you can’t help wanting to tease him a little. Goodness knows it won’t hurt him to get a taste of his own medicine. “Akira’s a nice name, don’t you think?”

“I think you could do better than a doll to keep you company,” he mutters, setting aside his snack to scoot closer to you. Ren wraps an arm around you, and you don’t miss how he gently leans into you. “Not sure it’s a suitable replacement for me.”

“Well, nothing could replace you, but it gets a little lonely when you don’t come home until the middle of the night. Maybe I’ll compromise, call him Ren Jr.” you say softly. “Or Mini-Ren, how’s that?”

With a derisive snort, he plucks the plush out of your hands. “I’d rather come home earlier and see you leave this on a shelf.” As he talks he carefully places the stuffed cat on the other side of you, before pulling you closer into his embrace. You’re glad you picked a bench on a small side path, giving the two of you a small modicum of privacy. When he continues speaking, there’s a teasing lilt to his words. “Besides, I don’t think any other man could warm your bed like I do.”

“I dunno. Mini-Ren won’t hog the covers, so you’ve still got some competition. What perks do you offer?” This is too much fun. You missed getting to banter with him. You’ve been so busy lately that you haven’t had time to really enjoy his company.

“Chew Toy won’t be able to give you a massage a quarter as good as the ones I can.”

Ren has a point. There’s precious little that can compare to his back massages. You’re not sure where he picked up the skill, and he won’t tell you, but it’s a real talent. You giggle lightheartedly and kiss his cheek. “Very true. And I have to admit you’re a hard cuddler to beat. I suppose I can relegate him to guard duty instead.”

Ren reciprocates the gesture, pleased with your answer. “So long as he remembers his place, we’re good.”

Chapter Text

"Ann, I need to you calm down and explain what's going on. What do you mean the guys are 'tiny'?" you ask, not entirely certain you really want to hear the answer. Of course it would be the one day you were too busy to join the others in Mementos that something would go wrong. Though, you couldn't begrudge your friends for the interruption. It's clearly not their fault.

"We were fighting off some weird Shadows and one used this strange attack. Akira, Ryuji, Yusuke and Akechi blocked it but it made them shrink," Ann replies, clearly in a panic, though you can hear the other girls talking in the background through the phone. "None of the medicine Akira brought helped, and when they didn't change back we decided to leave Mementos, since whatever ailments we get always seem to vanish when we do. But they're still tiny!"

Well this was bad. Really bad. The wounds you incurred didn't stay in the Metaverse, but it was true that things like being poisoned or shocked didn't carry over. So, whatever this was, it was trouble. "How small are we talking?"

Ann hesitates for a second before answering. "Um... hand sized?"

"They're like Nendroids!" you hear Futaba exclaim, "I wish I could keep them like this! Well no, but an Inari Nendo would be great!"

Oh dear, talk about bad news. "Shit, where are you all right now? I'll start making my way over." You don't really know what to do, though you're glad Ann called you all the same. Finding out later would have been even worse than getting to face it now.

"We're in the square right now, trying to keep these four out of sight. But Morgana and Ryuji are bickering and it's not working out so well. Akira, Akechi, and Yusuke are taking bets instead of helping."

At least it sounded like the guys were in good spirits, or at least good enough for the moment. "Got it, I'll text you when I get there."

Chapter Text

“Shut it,” you hiss, bringing out your gun and aiming it at the man beneath you, “I don't want to hear about justice from you.”

There was no mistaking the faint telltale haze of fear on Akira's face, though you wouldn't have known him well enough to spot it before, and it made your stomach churn. You had to kill him, no matter the traitorous hesitation in you. How could you let people die for a hollow vengeance simply because you were lonely? This was the right thing to do; this was what it cost and you would bear it. In an attempt to silence the man and steel your resolve you put more weight on the foot pinning his chest.

“Hypocrite,” Akira accuses with a gasp, too exhausted and hurt to put up more than the barest struggle. He knows an opening when he sees one, however, and out of options he takes a gamble. “You're no better than me, hunter.”

Your reaction is instant, he can see the way your jaw clenches and eyes widen, but because of this he misses the pressure on his chest disappear. By the time he notices you've moved your foot, it connects with his side in a vicious kick that leaves him in agony and gasping for air.

Fury is all you can taste as you stalk over to his new position and kneel over him, keeping the barrel of your gun trained at his face. “You use your victims' crimes as an excuse for your improper judgment, going outside the law and killing them without so much as a chance to pay for their misdeeds. Don't you ever compare us!”

“And how many chances have you given me?” he spits, trying desperately to manipulate the odds back into his favor. “Am I so inhuman that I can't be offered the same?”

The finger you held on the trigger twitched a fraction and Akira's flinch was unmistakable. How dare he! Your ideals wouldn't be swayed, you were righteous! But just as you open your mouth to retort, a sickening cold settles in your gut. In the place of words you grasp your gun ever tighter, and try desperately to summon the strength to do what you set out to accomplish. Your views were irreconcilable; one of you would have to give to coexist the way your heart had begun to desire. It wouldn't be you.

A moment passes, and your own hesitation makes you flinch, warrior instincts fully convincing you to prepare for a counterattack that does not come. The chill of realization spreads into your veins as you stare down at Akira. He had been human once, hadn't he? Just like your mentor, like the people you hoped to save. Just like you. If you'd stand up for even the most wretched to face a fair trial, if you would defend the right of all mankind to a chance at redemption, then was it unthinkable that you might owe Akira the same? You didn't even know if he'd had a choice in his new state of existence, so who were you to judge him?

Slowly, you rise to your feet, though your aim never wavers. “You're right,” you say, the words leaving a bitter aftertaste in your mouth. A stoic numbness overtakes you; the strange swirl of emotion leaves you feeling distant and sick. “You're right and I hate it.”

Steel eyes snap wide open as Akira gapes up at you, clearly taken by surprise at your admission. When he doesn't move, not even to respond, you re-engage the safety on your gun and holster it.

“Why am I more deserving of life than the people you kill? Next time I see you, I want an answer. If you don't give it to me, you're dead.” As soon as you finish speaking you turn on your heel, not bothering to wait for any reply.

Chapter Text

No, no, no! Why couldn't you get this to sound right!?

The only thing that stops you from throwing your violin across the room in a fit is the knowledge of how much it cost. But oh! How you hate it right now. You hate it and you curse your own failure. What good are you if you can't even pick apart one simple melody? You can hear it, exactly as it should be, in your head; you've mused over this piece for months and yet you have nothing to show for it. Pathetic.

With a plaintive sigh you lean forward, resting your elbows on your knees and your forehead on your fists, careful not to smack yourself with either your instrument or the bow. Why was such a simple task giving you so much difficulty?

“Is there a problem?” comes the smooth voice of your fellow student, and you jolt to attention. You'd forgotten that you no longer take lunch alone back here in the east practice room. Ever since the whole fiasco with his mentor, Yusuke had been trying to avoid the worst of the scrutiny of the school's population. He stumbled in one day and the two of you came to an agreement, not that either of you ate lunch here. Most of your time was spent on your respective practices, he with his drawing or painting and you with your music.

Now you feel guilty for interrupting him. “No, I'm sorry. I just can't play this properly for some reason. Feel free to ignore me, Kitagawa-kun.”

He observes you for a long moment, thinking. Used to such scrutiny you go back to moping, only to be startled when he says “Your music is as inspiring as it always is.”

“But it's not what I'm trying to play. I can't get it to sound the way it does in my mind. How I am supposed to convey the full piece if I'm unable to play it properly?” you ask, scowling at your own inability.

Chapter Text

“B-but what if they were to come after us? I mean, it's not like we have any way of knowing who they'll come after next!” exclaimed the mousy girl standing to your left, cupping one hand around the side of her mouth as if trying to keep people from reading her lips despite her volume.

“Relax Etsuko, what kind of secrets could any of us be hiding? I know some people on that fan site of theirs say they've targeted people who aren't major criminals, but it's always someone who did something bad,” replied the boy to your right. After a moment's thought he grinned broadly and continued. “Don't tell me you're actually a major crime boss. Is that it?”

You can't tell if she looks more horrified or angry at the jest, but it takes a great deal of willpower to not laugh at her reaction. “That's not funny Daichi! I'm serious! If they're willing to just steal the hearts of whoever they're told to by some anon on the internet, who's stopping someone from putting our names on that site and making the Phantom Thieves force us to reveal everything? The police don't even know how it happens, so what could keep us safe? Aren't either of you scared about that?”

This got you to laugh, and heartily. There's no way you could admit your personal affiliation with the group, even as a joke, but the truth that you knew made her question hilarious. When you caught your breath and opened your eyes you spotted Ren a little ways down the hall, to the left, glancing your way. You can't always hang out in order to remain inconspicuous, which is why you aren't killing time with him or the others, but you managed to make eye contact with him on the down low. “Why would I be scared? They'd have to catch me first, right? Good luck with that,” you said boldly with a wide grin. As soon as you were certain he got your challenge you threw him a quick wink and returned your focus to your classmates before they noticed anything amiss.

“I've got nothing to hide except my browser history and that can be deleted, so bring 'em on!” Daichi declares, causing you to break out into laughter again as poor Etsuko cradled her face in her hands.

“I can't believe you! That's nothing to be proud of! Pervert!” One hand still covering her face in embarrassment, she turned around and walked off in an attempt to hide how flustered she was. Daichi followed right after her, and you started behind him, but not before pausing to catch Ren still looking at you and mouthing a quick 'Catch me if you can, Joker'. You'd been feeling rowdy lately, and teasing your boyfriend was the best remedy.

Chapter Text

You shift restlessly in your bonds, cursing your own weakness. For a while you did indeed manage to hold out, but there's no winning against Ren on a night you aren't fully prepared for a fight. And, to his credit, he's been entirely eager to test you, and maddeningly determined to keep his promise. Once he had you naked and bound, he'd backed off and, exactly as he said, refused to touch you directly. You have to beg me for it, he told you, and while you want to, if only so he'll finally grant you some relief, you're just as tempted to petulantly attempt to outlast him. Though, you're starting to question your own resolve.

The cold press of his gun on your cheek makes you shiver and draws you back out of your thoughts. "Ah, ah. Don't go thinking of something other than me tonight. You're mine after all, and I intend to see the full extent of that," Ren purrs, watching you intently with a wicked smirk. He's sitting at the edge of your bed as you kneel before him, so close and yet still too far away for your desires. "Besides, dear, wouldn't you rather have me instead of your thoughts? All you have to do is ask, after all. We both know I'm a man of my word."

You have to swallow thickly, trying to find the will to say something that isn't a shameless plead for him to fuck you until you can't walk straight. Damn your pride, damn it all. You'd damn him too if you weren't so desperate to have him right now. You should have known when you came home from work to find him in his replica Joker outfit that it would be one of these nights. Though, he's so perfectly handsome like this, tailcoat lost to some corner of your bedroom, sleeveless shirt revealing arms you so dearly want to have hold you. You can hardly stay even the tiniest bit agitated.

"No? Still want to play coy?" he questions with a laugh. "Maybe you need some more motivation. Why don't I show you just what you're missing out on."

It takes a second to process just what he means, but by the time you do he's freed his cock from the confines of his pants. Oh. Captivated, you watch as he gives it a few lazy strokes. He's going to make you watch, you quickly realize. You're going to have to watch Ren get himself off, and until you cave (or he does, though it's becoming apparent that's a long-shot), he's going to deny you the same. Suddenly, begging sounds like a very reasonable option.

Your attention is drawn away by the sight of Ren picking his gun back up, but this time he makes a show of placing it to your lips. Even knowing it's unloaded, and only an airsoft pistol, an instinctual shiver shoots down your body, but any fear is soon consumed by the desire raging within you.

“I don't want you to get bored, so why don't we make this fair. A show for a show, hm?” Ren says, voice low and expression hungry. “Let me see how badly you want me, love.”

Chapter Text

"I can always return for jewelry and paintings, but how many more chances will I get to see you?” Arsène breathes, leaning ever closer. “More importantly, I'd sooner steal a kiss from you, my dear detective.”

Your breath catches in your throat, and you hate it. Against every bit of your better judgment telling you to push him away, your hands curl tighter into the fabric of his jacket, subconsciously wishing he'd close the distance between you. He does no such thing. Instead he remains teasingly close, one hand resting on the wall near your head, the other perched gently on your arm. Short of forcefully pulling him into you, Arsène wasn't budging unless you play along. Noses nearly touching, he grins at you with all the smug satisfaction of a man who is keenly aware of what he's doing to you.

By all rights you shouldn't want him to kiss you, and goodness only knows if your uncle ever caught word of this he'd drag you back to England in a heartbeat. When you decided to pursue Lupin during your stay here in France it was a point of pride! A fitting challenge! And yet you've only found he is somehow even more charming than he is skilled, and there is no doubt of his professional skill. Which leads you back here, pinned to a wall desperately trying to decide if it's worth swallowing your hubris to sate the desires that have been kindling in you for weeks now.

Instead, a new idea comes to the forefront of your mind and your pinched scowl turns into a daring smirk. Games are meant to be played, after all. If he won't come to you, you'll just have to take the challenge to him. Without looking away, not even for a moment, you slowly close the distance, kissing the thief softly. You don't let it linger, pulling away before he can reciprocate, wanting to see his reaction.

And you are rewarded with an almost-bashful Arsène, blinking at you with wide eyes. It makes you want to giggle; had he really not expected you might do such a thing? His surprise doesn't last, however, and it is quickly replaced by an exceptionally pleased grin. “How daring, love, to steal a kiss from a thief. But I should warn you, I'm not keen on losing. Let me show you how it's done.”

It's his turn to kiss you, but unlike your teasing kiss, Arsène pours his all into this, finally pressing into you, one hand cupping your face and the other pulling you closer yet. It's everything you've been longing for. One kiss becomes two, and two becomes three, as you both lose yourself in the moment. Eventually you pull back, needing a chance to breathe, but Arsène simply takes this as an opportunity to begin laying kisses down your jaw to your neck. You barely catch the muffled groan of your name that he gives, but the way it sounds so much like a prayer sends a welcome shiver through your veins.

Chapter Text

When the shock finally wears off, Ren sits up with a pained groan. After all this time without engaging in a proper fight with you, he'd forgotten just how hard you could hit. For all his mocking, you were a competent spirit agent, and he can't put the realization that you were moments from ending his life out of his mind. What exactly set you off, anyway? The last time he'd seen you, sick and pouty, you seemed no more upset than usual with his teasing. How could he reconcile that memory with the image of you just now, snarling with a cold fury, pretty face shadowed with a haunted determination?

A sharp sting in his side causes Ren to flinch; you must have cracked a rib when you kicked him. Nothing he couldn't patch up with a little magic and rest, but it was a testament to the seriousness of your intentions. Gingerly, he stands up and brushes himself off. That's not the problem, he decides. He knows the reason you gave for attacking him, but he can't fathom why you felt it necessary. What did you expect him to do, not eat just because it would cost a life? Raking a hand through tussled black hair, Ren grimaces. Did you really value him less than the criminals he hunted simply because he was a vampire? Could you be such a petty person at heart?

No, if that was true, why would you have taken his question to heart the way you did? He hadn't even meant to ask it, the query was intended to hurt you and make you back off. Instead, you looked him in the eye and admitted to your mistake, even going so far as to allow him a chance to consider his options. The sight of your back as you walked away was fresh in his memory; not once had you ever given up the fight first. That was his job, neither willing to kill you nor let you kill him, while you were the one left howling for him to “Get back here and fight me!” as he fled the scene.

Chapter Text

With each kiss Arsène lovingly places upon the skin of your thighs you can feel your composure slip further and further, if you can even call yourself composed when you’re sitting at the edge of your work desk, naked as a jaybird. You squirm, trying to hide your impatience as he leisurely worships every inch he can reach on the path to your aching core. He chuckles lowly at your movement, but he continues unhurried.

“I know you’re not one for leaving your treats for later, but we could have gone back to my place,” you say before you lick your lips to moisten them. “How’m I going to get any work done in here when I’ll be thinking about this every time I see my desk?”

Arsène doesn’t reply immediately, the way you think he will, but waits until he’s about to reach the apex of your thighs, pulling away with a quiet laugh. “Well, if one wants dessert this is the perfect place to be, isn’t it? And I quite fancy the idea that I’ll be in your thoughts even when I’m away. Perhaps I’ll have to come in after closing more often.”

Before you can come up with a suitable reply, he plants his mouth on your sex, eagerly licking into you. His fervor causes you to gasp, taken off guard by his suddenness and your hands tighten their hold on the desk’s edge. Arsène’s pace is steady, too fast to be called teasing but slow enough to draw out your pleasure.

“Really? You’re gonna,” you pant, moving one hand to card through his hair, “take your time now?”

He chuckles again, and the vibrations only add to the building pleasure you’re experiencing. Pulling away only enough to allow himself to be heard, he says with obvious mirth, “Of course. Aren’t you always instructing me to savor my sweets? And as I predicted, you are the sweetest thing in the store, so all the better to take my time enjoying you.”

Chapter Text

Feeding the birds down in the local park wasn't what most people would call a good hobby, but you think it's not a bad way to unwind every now and again. About once a week, usually on a lazy Saturday, you pack up a little tub of birdseed and just chill under a tree tossing some seed out and watching the birds. It's calming, an activity with no pressure, no deadline, and no expectations.

Today's outing is no different. The park is rather empty today, given the early spring chill you aren't too surprised by this however. But neither you, nor the birds mind the weather. If the sun was out, so were they and that was good enough for you. They even seemed to remember you, well to a degree at least. None of the birds got too close to you, which is fine. The birds are still wild animals, after all, and you do your best to remember that.

A familiar black bird arriving interrupts your lazy reflection and you reach for the container of birdseed to toss out some more. Of all the birds that you see, there's only one you can pick out regularly: a crow who always arrives by itself instead of with pals. You're not sure why it comes alone, though you have a feeling it's by choice. Crows are known to be clever creatures, so you wouldn't doubt it.

“Hey there buddy, back again for lunch, eh?” you remark cheerfully, and mostly to yourself. You reach into the tub and toss some new seed out for your favored guest. Obviously you don't expect a reply, but you occasionally wonder if it understands. Either way the crow is borderline domesticated sometimes, hopping close-ish and with a very interesting habit of bringing you gifts. It started with little ribbons, or various coins (sometimes actual money, other times children's tokens), but they've slowly been getting nicer. One time it had brought you actual cash, which is when you started buying actual bird food, and ever since the crow continued to bring the odd bill here and there. A strange, if mutually beneficial relationship, you figured it was all lost money. “What'cha got there today? Looks shiny; you find some more sea glass?”

The crow looks at the birdseed for a moment, looking for it's favorites, but when it seems satisfied with what it's found, the bird hops a little closer to you. It leaves it's trinket on the ground and begins it's meal. You sit up a little more, reaching out to see what your corvid friend has brought you today. A necklace of some sort, and your first thought, before you have a chance to really look at it, is that it's probably some child's costume jewelry. Except, when you bring it close enough to inspect, it looks much too fancy to be a kid's plaything. You're no expert, but the chain looks like actual gold, and the pendant is an intricate one, with what you think are sapphires.

“Holy cow, where'd you find this?” you mutter, turning it over in your hands. “This is way to nice to have been sitting around, yeah?”

Again, you are talking to yourself, which is why you're taken complete off-guard when you get an answer.

“You'd think so, but rich tourists rarely come back for the things they lose. Rather unbecoming of them, I think.”

You're so startled you scream, actually scream, fumbling the necklace and nearly falling over entirely. Who the hell? You look up, heart racing, to see a young, brown-haired man standing near where the crow had been moments ago. He looks about your age, and is giving you a friendly smile. “You scared me! Where'd you come from?”

“Who, me?” he asks, pointing at himself. “I've been here, though I can see why you wouldn't recognize me. But I apologize for startling you, I should have been more careful with my approach.”

The stranger takes a few steps closer and offers a hand to help you up. Warily you take it and allow him to aid you, after you retrieve the necklace with your other hand.

Chapter Text

You don't know what to do now. Even after being hounded for what had surely been hours, you managed to hold onto some small amount of hope of escape, but unless you can find a way to force the door you aren't sure how you'll get out of this mess. Trapped. You feel your blood chill in your veins. You're trapped. As your hands begin to tremble, you're forced to blink back the welling tears. No, no you can't panic. Not now. You have to stand your ground if you want to make it out of here.

With a deep breath, trying to steady your nerves, you turn around to face Arsene. He hasn't moved an inch, standing right where you last saw him. Sharp yellow eyes watch your every move from behind the familiar black and white mask, though he maintains his curious facade quite well. “What's wrong? You were in such a hurry to leave. Having second thoughts?”

Your teeth grind together as you suppress your frustration. The more you display it, the more satisfaction he'll get, you're certain. Working to keep your voice even, you say sternly “Unlock the door.”

The shadow blinks at you, tilting his head. He's silent for a long beat, but a slow, knowing smile replaces his feigned concern. “I don't think I want to.”

You take it as a challenge. The fact that Arsene doesn't move is relieving, but you don't expect it to last. Unsure of what he's playing at, besides toying with you in general, you aren't sure how to approach the problem. “You said you wouldn't stop me, so let me out of here.”

“I did, didn't I?” he says, voice airy and an edge of laughter behind his words. Arsene begins walking toward you, but you're too spooked to force yourself to move out of the way. “But you made a miscalculation..”

Finally you manage to make your feet move, though you find by retreating against the wall he's not approaching the door. Instead he adjusts his path to continue closing the distance between you and you can feel your thinly-held composure begin to slip.

“There's no honor among thieves, love.”

Chapter Text

The sound of approaching footsteps breaks you from your mindless reverie and with a quiet sigh you reluctantly let your musings go.

“It's late. You should rest,” comes the familiar voice of Stocke from beside you. You hope he doesn't notice the small, involuntary flinch you give.

“Sorry, I was just having trouble getting to sleep. Thought some fresh air might help,” you reply quietly. He's not wrong; it'll be another long day tomorrow, like every day has been since you joined his motley group back in Granorg.

You can feel him studying you, and you try to remain nonchalant under the scrutiny. But it's hard; every time he crosses your mind, it inevitably causes you to think of the man he reminds you of. Though this is no time for letting the past distract you too often, you stand in the midst of a war in a world on the brink of collapse. There's a brief moment you think he'll play dumb, that Stocke will let your half-truth stand unchallenged.

You should know better by now. Not only is he an SI agent at heart, he also has a knack for getting involved in the affairs of others. Stocke means well, you know, but there's no denying his affinity for wanting to ease the burdens of those he encounters.

“Does the resemblance bother you that badly?” he asks, and you flinch again, completely called out. You know Eruca told him of his uncanny similarity to her late brother, and you can't deny that you've been very bad at hiding how this fact unsettled you. If only you were a better actor.

You spend a moment chewing at your lip, not sure how you want to respond. He's not wrong, but he's not right, either. “Did Eruca ever tell you how I knew Ernst?”

“No.”

Another beat of awkward silence passes. “I... We were to be married. It was arranged many years ago, and though neither of us were invested in the other at first we... came to care greatly for one another.” You aren't sure why you begin speaking so freely. To this day it's a sore subject, but it's one of Stocke's powers, you think. He never asks if he doesn't honestly wish to know, and from what you've seen his intentions are always beatific. And he deserves to know why you have trouble meeting his gaze, why you shy away from being left alone with him. “I know in my head you aren't him, but... Back when the grief was fresh I would... think I saw him, in the edges of my vision. Sometimes when I see you I feel the same panic, forgive me.”

You hear him let out a thoughtful hum and you risk peeking over at him. Stocke is watching you, expression composed. You never know what he's thinking, his poker face is impeccable, though you'd give a gold piece for a glimpse into his mind. If you had to guess, you'd say he looks like he's weighing his options, but what those might be you have no clue.

“You aren't to blame,” he finally says. “Is that why you joined the Resistance also?”

“Eventually, yes. It was Eruca who convinced me in the end. At first I couldn't bring myself to get involved. I... I had fallen into a deep mourning, after his passing. And if she hadn't...” your voice cracks, and it's only now that you realize you've begun to cry. Your nails dig into your palms as you clench your fists, using the pain to swallow your welling sorrow. “If she had not talked some sense into me, if she hadn't helped me see that if I wanted to honor Ernst's memory, I would have made a gravely foolish mistake. I nearly did not survive losing him, the agony was so great. But she asked me what he would say to me, if he knew. She helped me regain my focus; I owe Eruca my life and we've dedicated both of ours to the people he loved.”

Chapter Text

It's too quiet here, and in the most morbid way you almost miss the haunting presence of Arsene shadowing you, if only to feel a little less completely abandoned. You'd thought after finally finding a safe room, after climbing onto the roof from a window (a reckless move, given that Ren's palace is in the form of a moving train, and you don't want to know what happens if you fall off) and finding your way away from your pursuer, you would begin to recover your courage. Instead, after jury-rigging a blockade for the sliding door, the fear that has settled into your very bones continues to linger.

Despite being safe for the moment, you don't know if Arsene knows where you are, or what he can do if he finds you. Can he enter a safe room? You don't think so, but it's never been an issue to contend with before. Even if he can't, you have no idea how long you've been here in the Metaverse. The second school was over you booked it to get to Yongan-Jaya before Ren could have a chance to. Time seemed to move at an equal pace here as it did in the real world, and your best guess is it's been several hours at least. Longer than your usual trips last, so maybe five? All you know is you're exhausted and beyond hungry. The stress, exertion, and constant adrenaline are taking their toll.

To save what energy you have, in case you have to flee once again, you rest on a couch that looks eerily similar to the one in Ren's attic room, one that you have propped against the door. Sleep eludes you, however. As soon as you start drifting off, anxious panic sets in to shock you back into wakefulness. Oh, but what you wouldn't give for some relief from this nightmare.

You're drifting off again, attempting to will your mind into silence, you hear a burst of noise from the other side of the door, and immediately jump up into a sitting position, on full alert. Have you been discovered already? Trembling in every limb, you carefully press your ear against the door, trying to discern the identity of the ruckus. You hold your breath, not wanting to make any sound that might give your hiding spot away.

Footsteps approach the door and your shaking intensifies as you pray for your makeshift lock to hold. Someone, or something, tries the door, but it doesn't budge. Before you can thank your lucky stars, another attempt is made to open the door that fails again. Instead of a third try, you hear a wonderfully familiar voice.

“What's wrong, Joker? Is the door stuck?”

That's Morgana's voice. You'd recognize that anywhere, and you're stunned speechless. If that's Morgana, did you dare to hope that Ren has come to your rescue? No, no you have to stop right there. It could be a ruse, you can't jump to that conclusion. It could be a trap; Arsene is surely clever enough to pull something like this off. Except that sounded exactly like the cat, and you desperately want to believe help has come.

You decide to risk it, the thought that you might get passed by and left here terrifies you beyond measure. “Morgana? Is... is that you?” you call out timidly, hoping you're loud enough to be heard.

The reaction is instantaneous, you hear two voices shout your name, and someone, likely 'Ren', yanks at the door with heavy force.

“Is that you? Are you safe? I can't get the door open, but I'll get you out,” Ren says frantically, but you find no comfort in it at the moment.

“Of course it's us! We'd never leave you in danger!” Morgana chimes at the same time, eager to assure you that it's them.

All the same, the dread of being fooled lingers heavy in your mind. “I don't trust you two right now, I'm sorry.” It kills you inside to admit it out loud, but your fear will not be denied so easily. “I need to know this isn't a trick.”

Ren's hurt is palpable in his choked whine of surprise, but it's Morgana who replies first. “Then we'll prove it!”

The door wiggles a little, as if someone is pushing at it, and you hear an odd sliding sound come from under the couch. You peek under and see a blank calling card has been shoved through the slim gap. You're not sure what it proves, if anything, but when you reach under to grab it, it feels just as real as any of the others you've encountered. But, it's a scheme so hare-brained only Morgana could have come up with it.

Chapter Text

The card stock is almost soothing under your fingers, and it carries a reassuring quality. You don't believe Arsene could have conjured up such a trick, especially one that would last here in a safe room. Does this really mean that you're being rescued? You swallow thickly, considering your next choice. Even if it is real doesn't mean leaving is the safest option. But the other option is remaining here until they steal the Treasure and defeat Arsene, which is less than ideal. So, actually it's not much of a choice at all.

“You're... really Morgana, right? And that's definitely Ren with you? You're certain?” you call through the door.

“The one and only! Joker told me about this place as soon as he noticed you went missing. We've been looking for you since!” he replies. You weren't sure before this if Ren knew about his own distortion, given that you never asked, but this was a clear answer.

You take a few steps around the couch, preparing to dismantle your blockade. “I'm going to unlock the door, but I want to ask for a favor first. Of you both.”

“Anything, I'll do anything,” Ren says. The tone of his voice breaks your heart, but you're too paranoid to do otherwise. You can't be too careful right now.

“Step back and let me open the door, please.” When you hear the two agree you start shifting the furniture away from the door. It doesn't take you long, since you don't put any of it back where you found it, instead simply moving it all just enough for your purpose. As soon as you're done, you take a deep breath to steady yourself. Slowly you grab the handle and slide the door open only enough to peek out without fully exposing yourself to any danger.

First you spot Mona, unmistakable in his diminutive figure. As the realization hits, you begin to tremble again, but this time with anticipation. This means... You snap your gaze up and back to Ren, the sight of whom makes you flinch instinctively. However, it's not the glowing yellow eyes you've come to fear that meet yours, they're a familiar grey, confirming your wildest hopes.

Relief washes over you instantaneously. You collapse to the ground, your knees giving way as you start to tear up. It's him! It's Ren! You're going to be okay! Even with the thin thread of hope you've held you hardly let yourself hold it too closely. To have such desperate hope rewarded is overwhelming, enough so to let the tears flow freely. Within seconds of hitting the floor, a pair of arms are flung around you as Ren pulls you close after slipping inside the room. His comforting embrace causes you to start choking out sobbing apologies.

“I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I didn't think this would happen.”

Ren doesn't respond verbally, instead simply holding you close while you bury your face in his shoulder. He's shaking nearly as much as you are; you can only imagine what he's been through tonight, after finding out you sneaked in here alone. The thought breaks your heart. He's already been dealing with the burden of his palace and instead of easing it, you've only added to it.

Chapter Text

“Why do I get the feeling you're not looking up chemical formulas?” Ren asks you, having caught you reading something on your phone with a goofy grin.

“Because I'm not,” you reply cheerfully, moving to look at him while setting down your phone. “I was for a little bit, using that link you sent me, but then I got distracted re-reading our chat history. A thousand times more interesting, to be honest.” After shooting him a quick grin and a wink, however, you do pull up your internet browser and return to the task at hand. The sooner you finish studying, the sooner you two could relax and take some time to hang out.

It's about two hours later that you excuse yourself to the restroom, leaving your phone on the table. It takes Ren a moment to notice this, but when he does he spots that not only is your phone still on, your chat logs are open. At first glance he thinks nothing of it, but soon he wonders just what it was he said to capture your attention even after he wrote it. As it turns out, it wasn't anything special, just some banter he remembers exchanging with you a few weeks ago, but even so it's heartwarming in its own way. Something catches his eye, however, before he looks away and that is your name for him in your contacts. It takes him a second to process it because it's so unexpected, but he's pretty sure it's meant as a compliment if the sheer amount of heart emojis were any indication. You'd told him a few times that you had a special name for him, though you've never let him see it before. Before he forgets to do so, he puts your phone back where it was, and when he hears your footsteps he has to hide a grin. There's a story here, and he knows it'll be fun getting it out of you.

Chapter Text

“So, do you bring guys like me home often?” Akira asks with a laugh, leaning against the back of your couch. “Or am I special?”

You snort with derision. “What's the difference to you? Would you be jealous if I said I bring plenty of people home?” You keep walking into your apartment, heading for the kitchen. “You want something to drink? It was a bit of a walk to get here.”

“I'm certainly thirsty but I'm not sure you'll have what I'm craving in your fridge,” he says. There's a long, awkward pause as you bite back a scathing remark. As if he can hear your silent judgment, he laughs and continues to speak. “I'm fine. The heat doesn't bother me like this.”

Even though he can't see you, you shake your head. Sometimes it's hard to believe him, endlessly flippant regardless of circumstance. “You sure? That gaudy suit can't be doing you any favors.” When he doesn't answer you shrug and grab a can of soda for yourself.

“So what's so important you wanted to come all the way here for?” you ask, walking back into the living area. Realizing what answer he's likely to give you at first, you add “Real answer, please.”

Bright yellow eyes watch you as you come to a stop and crack open your drink. The mischief is plain as day on his face as you stare him down. It's not that you mind having him over; in most ways you like the young man, cryptic as he is. But he's been extra dodgy with his answers for weeks now, and it's wearing on your patience. “There's some things I can't tell you in the Velvet Room, for risk of being overheard.”

“Yeah, you've told me that before. But why here?” You're surprised he answered your question so frankly. Not that it was helpful.

“You're coming close to the truth of your situation,” Akira says. Finally standing up proper, he walks around the couch to take a seat, all the while maintaining his gaze on you. Despite the fact that he's smiling something feels off, but he's impossible to read. “And it's important to me that you don't have any misgivings or regrets.”

Misgivings? Regrets? What is he talking about? It's true your suspicions are starting to crystallize regarding a great deal of what you're dealing with, but what could you come to regret? You spend a few quiet moments observing each other as you try to decide what to say. You think you have an idea where at least some of this is going. There's a cold knot in your stomach that you can't keep ignoring the way you have for the last months, but you really don't want to address it if you can avoid it. “Again, that still doesn't answer the question. For someone who says it's their job to help me, you're being incredibly obtuse right now.”

“Because it's not important right now. Let's leave it at this: we're safe to talk here.” You don't like that reply, but it's clear Akira won't budge on this topic. With a resigned sigh you make a noise of acquiescence. No point beating a dead horse. Pleased by your cooperation he changes the subject with a question of his own. “Say, what do you think will happen if you stop the Phantom Thieves?”

“I...” You're taken off-guard by the question. It's not something you've given much thought, honestly. The only reason you'd gotten involved in the first place was because you'd simply been dragged into it. Akira liked to play up the angle of you being a hero, but it's not a way you like to look at yourself. You do this because people are hurting, and because the idea that Tokyo is collapsing under its own slow distortion is too horrific to turn away from.

At the beginning, you'd believed the Phantom Thieves were helping too, stealing hearts and setting things right, but the more you encounter them, and the more you see of their narrow focus, the more you've come to understand they aren't interested in digging into the root cause. You aren't sure why. They'd been friendly enough before you brought up the topic though their leader, Joker, shut you down immediately when you did. He especially seemed hostile to the idea, and to you once you declared your intent to find out. Were they the cause? Possible, why else would he be so defensive? If so, would beating them actually do anything? Or were they simply hiding information? Did they think you a spy? Could you ever hope to convince them to help you?

Akira's patient with you, remaining silent while you think. Eventually, you come to the conclusion that you really don't know what might happen. You haven't thought this far ahead, and you're missing too many pieces to put the whole puzzle together on your own. “I'm not sure,” you concede. “I can't decide if they're behind it, or just how much they know. I don't even know how I'll deal with them; I'm completely outnumbered. It would be bad enough if all I had to deal with was Joker himself, since he's like me, but his friends are never far away.”

Chapter Text

[The phone you are attempting to reach is out of the service area.]

Ren pays the notice no mind at first; it's not until he tries re-sending his message to you and it bounces a second time that he truly reads the message. What did it mean, out of the service area? He'd seen you this very afternoon, right before you left the school grounds. Where could you have..? A moment goes by as the words process before the implications sink in, chilling Ren's blood in his veins. There's only one place you could be that would make your phone unreachable: the Metaverse.

“Shit!” In an instant he can feel his heart sink as his mind jumps to what that means, and with a start he's furiously typing out a message to Ryuji, asking if the blond had heard from you since school let out.

“Hey, what's wrong? Morgana asks, spooked by Ren's sudden outburst. The cat is quick to hop from the young man's bed to the workbench, doing his best to catch a glimpse of the conversation.

Ren manages to mumble out something to the effect that you've gone dark, but he's too preoccupied keeping his racing thoughts at bay while he waits for a response. His gut tells him he ought to know where you are, but the idea is too terrifying to confront without more evidence. You can't be there, for your safety. You simply can't.

But when Ryuji finally answers, it isn't with good news.

[Nah man. Said she had to be somewhere after school.]
[But she ain't answering her phone, says it's out of service. What's going on?]

He takes a shaky breath. It's not just his phone, then. No. No, this isn't how this was supposed to go. But now that Ryuji was involved he can't turn back. If his worst fear is true, then Ren knows he needs to act and swiftly. You've been in the Metaverse far too long, and he doesn't believe it's by choice.

[Ryuji I need your cooperation. I think she's been in the Metaverse since this afternoon.]

[What, for real? Why would she be in Mementos so late? We gotta get her]

[Not Mementos. She's not in there.]

[What d'ya mean? Where else would she be?]

Ren knows the answer to that, but he hesitates. He's worked so hard to hide it, his Palace. He should confess it, but he doesn't want to scare Ryuji, or accidentally encourage him to do something reckless. It's late, and the only other person close enough to the location was Futaba, but he didn't dare risk her getting caught sneaking about by Sojiro.

[I can't tell you right now, but I'm close by. What I need is for you to keep this a secret for now until tomorrow morning.]
[I'll tell you everything, I'll tell everyone but please, please you have to keep this quiet. I'll find her.]

There's a pause in the rapid fire back and forth. To Ren it lasts hours, but he needs to be the one to take responsibility for this.

[You sure man?]
[Aight, I trust you. You gotta come back safe though]
[Tell me if I can help, I can sneak out if I need]

[I promise. Thanks.]

Relieved at Ryuji's agreement, Ren immediately gets to work packing his bag. There's no time to waste. He can't think of any good reason that you wouldn't have come home by now. You know better than to stay in there too long, it's taxing on the mind and body. The only conclusion his panicked mind can reach is that you're hurt, or worse, and it fuels his desperate speed. All he can think about is all the signs he missed. This last week you've been particularly curious and concerned for his well-being. He wrote it off as a friendly interest, but not only does tonight's incident help change his opinion, it's the latest day that you've been oddly preoccupied. If Ren needed to guess, he'd say you found out last Friday, because it was that weekend that you started behaving differently.

You also should have known better than to go into the Metaverse alone. It's a dangerous place in general, and Ren is acutely aware of how much more so his Palace is. Ren can't blame you, he supposes, since he's been keeping it hidden too, but he finds himself wishing you'd told someone, anyone. Maybe you'd be safe if you did.

The second he has everything he can think that he needs, Ren bolts for the stairs, but before he can make it Morgana is darting beneath his feet. He almost trips, but manages to catch himself in time.

“Are you going to listen to me or not?!” The cat cries, and Ren realizes that he hasn't been paying any attention to what Morgana has been trying to communicate. “What's going on?”

There's a palpable silence as Ren tries to gather the courage to actually speak it. He knows he has to admit it, but to give it voice feels like a death sentence. To confess he's lost control of his own heart, all while playing at being a hero. Pathetic. Disgraceful. But the only way to avoid that is to leave you to your own devices. The thought makes him nauseous. He's already terrified of what you might have seen, or what could have happened to you. He can't bear the thought of leaving you alone.

“I have a Palace and I think she's stuck there,” Ren chokes out around the lump in his throat.

Chapter Text

You stumble to the side at the last second, and watch in horror as Joker's knife sinks into the wall where you'd been only milliseconds before. Right where your head had been. A killing blow. The thought causes bile to rise in your throat as your stomach turns. You'd heard that the Phantom Thieves didn't kill, that's what they said. Reform, steal hearts, but never murder. But seeing the knife embedded into the wall only makes you think what it would have done to you.

“You won't take this away from me! I won't be powerless again,” the thief growls, his usually smooth voice dark with rage. The two of you turn to face the other. You shift your grip on your gun, not wanting to be anywhere near Joker, and he viciously yanks his knife free.

He's every bit the picture of a cornered beast, eyes wide and wild behind his mask, mouth twisted into a sharp snarl. Never before have you seen Joker look so menacing. Usually he takes great pains to present himself as composed, ever in control of his surroundings. Now there's a hunch to his shoulders that reminds you of an animal ready to pounce, and the way he holds his weapons leaves little doubt his grip on them is bruising. Any restraint he had is gone, long lost to the furious panic your insistence on defying him creates in his heart.

You wonder how long ago Joker threw away his humanity to become such a foul demon. You wonder if there remains any chance to save him, too.

Chapter Text

A quiet chime from the bell above the door in the front of the shop draws your attention while you're in the back of your little bakery moving a few trays of bread out of an oven and into a resting rack to cool enough to package. This is the slow part of the afternoon, after the small lunch rush and before schools and businesses released for the day, so you're used to using the downtime to restock.

You call out a polite “I will be with you in a moment.” but the customer doesn't reply verbally as you finish up your small chore. Once you're done, you close the oven and make your way to the hand-washing sink. A quick, yet thorough, scrub and drying of your hands is your last task before you make your way back to the storefront.

“Thank you for your patience,” you say while you walk out. “How can I help you?”

No sooner are the rote words out of your mouth do you finally get a good look at your patron and straighten up in mild surprise. It's the young man from the other day, at the park. The one who very thinly implied he wasn't completely human, a claim his odd disappearance seemed to back up. But here he is, wearing a very similar suit but this time in possession of a plain briefcase. As he notices you in turn, his expression brightens up and he smiles at you.

“Ah, hello there! Fancy running into you here,” he chimes. Despite his words, you get a very faint feeling that he wasn't taken off guard in the slightest, though you can't place how or why. He scans the room with a keen yet pleased look before bringing his attention back squarely to you. “Do you run this place all by yourself?”

“Umm...” You aren't sure what to say at first. He's so unnaturally casual it's hard to maintain your formal work persona, even though you know you ought to. You wonder if it would be acceptable to ask about your previous encounter. “Yes. Yes I do.”

The brunet gives an impressed nod at your answer. “Admirable! I routinely walk past on my way to and from work, but today's the day I gave into my temptation. Whatever you're baking smells heavenly.”

It takes a moment to realize what he's referring to, but when you do you have to suppress a quiet giggle. “A small cafe nearby asked if I'd be willing to develop a specialty whole-grain bread they can contract me to sell them, so I was experimenting. That's likely what you caught a whiff of.” You pause again to recollect your composure. His easygoing attitude emboldens you, you find. “So tell me, what kind of place hires a crow? Or are you a business owner too?”

Your question causes him to blink in surprise, but before you can second-guess your words he lets out a hearty laugh. One gloved hand comes up to cover his mouth politely as his laughter dies down, however he remains smiling. “You could say that,” he says. “I'm a detective.”

Chapter Text

On all sides you’re surrounded by sensation: the smells of various street-foods being cooked in a myriad of booths, lanterns and streamers hanging in every possible place, vendors hawking their wares, and the low roar of the pressing crowd’s endless chattering. A true party atmosphere, and one you’re quite fond of. Normally you prefer quieter places and gatherings, but festivals are the lone exception. There’s simply so much to do! So much to see! And everywhere you look are people enjoying themselves, groups of friends and family and pairs of lovers alike.

Speaking of lovers, you turn your attention to yours. “What do you want to check out next? I was thinking we could-” you start to say, but something in Ren’s posture raises alarms in your head. Worried, you furrow your brow and change the topic. “Hey, are you okay?”

He takes a second longer to reply than normal, which is another sign that something is up, but when he looks over at you he’s smiling. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” he asks with a trace of laughter. “What do you say we try to win a goldfish to take back to Morgana?”

Ren slips his hand into yours, intending to lead the way, but your gut instinct doesn’t relent. Instead, you tug him closer and start walking him to a small side street. Strangely, he complies wordlessly, following behind you until you’re both clear of the main street. Even here, outside of the central mass of people, you still see a thread of tension in the set of his shoulders, and it makes you notice just how tightly he’s gripping your hand. Suddenly, a hunch comes to you. “Ren, is it the crowd?”

Your words hit their mark and you can’t miss the small flinch he gives. With a bashful look, Ren lets go of your hand and starts playing with a lock of his hair. “That obvious, huh? Tanabata is much smaller back home. I’m not used to all this activity.”

“You should have said something then,” you chide with utmost gentleness. The thought that’s he’s been putting up with being uncomfortable for your sake is almost touching, but it’s not enough to outweigh the small swell of guilt. You let out a quiet sigh as you reach out for his free hand, softly brushing your thumb across his knuckles. “Don’t feel like you need to tough it out to make me happy. I’m happiest when you’re enjoying yourself.”

Ren smiles again, this time it’s small and sweet, and finally seems to relax. “I didn’t want to take away your fun. There are a lot of things I’d do to keep you smiling.”

Your heart turns in your chest at his words. He’s selfless to a fault sometimes, always eager to give and give without really asking for anything in return. You’d call him out for it more often if it wasn’t so relatable; there’s very little you wouldn’t do for him if he so much as hinted at it. “Don’t steal all the good lines so casually,” you shoot back, wanting to lighten the mood.

“Telling a thief not to steal,” he laughs. It’s contagious and you join in with a giggle of your own. “How rich.”

When your laughter dies down the two of you each take a deep breath to compose yourselves. “Back to the topic though. What do you want to do next? If we keep going down this street, we should get away from the main crowd without leaving entirely.”

Ren takes a moment to think before readjusting his hand in your grip to hold it properly. “We haven’t made our wishes yet. Let’s do that.”

“Sounds like a plan,” you say. Keeping a hold of his hand you start leading him towards a less populated area, eager to resume spending quality time with your boyfriend. “So, what’re you going to wish for? Better grades? A bigger stomach so you can keep cramming those burgers? World dominance?”

This gets him to laugh again, hard enough that Ren leans into you a little for support. “I thought I was being subtle about that one. And now all my devious plans are spoiled.”

Chapter Text

Being a prefect means you carried a great deal of authority around Kosei, which comes with an equal amount of responsibility. You are expected to be a role model for your peers in all walks of life, at all times. Despite the lens of scrutiny you live under, you manage to thrive off the pressure. Which would lead one to ask: why are you sneaking through the dorms with a dufflebag slung over your shoulder at just past midnight on a Thursday, breaking at least four different rules simultaneously?

The short answer is art. The long answer is a certain classmate, one Yusuke Kitagawa, having begged you to assist him in getting the perfect view of tonight’s meteor shower by helping him sneak up to the dormitory’s rooftop. You’re accustomed to fellow students asking for favors due to your position, and more accustomed to turning them down, but ever since he moved into the dorms you’ve developed a deep, if occasionally exasperated, fondness to Yusuke. The poor thing had next to no social graces, and absolutely no ability to care for himself, and so alongside the friends he spoke of often you’ve taken him under your wing. Which leads back here, fulfilling your promise that if he could ace your most recent test of his ability to balance a budget, you would smuggle him up to the roof for his stargazing.

You arrive at the designated stairwell, and for a moment you think you’ve beaten Yusuke here. Well, until you spot him blending into the shadows almost perfectly, even though he’s still in his bright white uniform and thus should be pitifully easy to spot. It’s so unexpected and startling that you jump. When, and where, did he learn to be so stealthy? Noticing your presence he walks out from his hiding spot and you see that he’s also brought some baggage, namely his painting supplies.

“Geez Yusuke, you spooked me. We’re not being hunted by police you don’t have to pull a ninja act,” you say, reaching into your pocket to pull out a set of keys to deflect from your nervousness.

“Ah, my apologies. I did not wish to bring any reprimands down upon us, so I sought to stay out of sight,” he replies.

Yusuke watches calmly as you unlock and open the door into the stairwell and step inside, holding it for him to follow. Once you’re both through the door you lock it again, to cover your trail. The two of you trudge up the flights of stairs with great care since the only light available is the dim night lights on the stairs to prevent accidents in cases of emergencies. Soon enough you reach the top of the steps. Again it’s up to you to unlock the door, allowing you both to exit into the cool night.

The roof is, as you expected, deserted. It’s not entirely off limits, but students were only allowed up here with school permission and adult supervision. Two more rules you’re willingly flouting. However, you don’t dwell on such thoughts long, distracted by the crisp nighttime air. Between the warm glow of the streetlights rising from below and the pale illumination of the moon above, the area carries a faint storybook haze, like a quaint illustration in a child’s picture book. Perfect for stargazing, or at least as perfect as one could find in a major city.

You take a deep breath and relax, no one is likely to come up here this late so you can enjoy yourselves until it was time to sneak back into your rooms. While you’re admiring the atmosphere, you hear Yusuke start setting up his easel and it reminds you that you too should get ready for tonight’s celestial show. Scanning the roof for a good place to camp out for the next few hours, you eventually settle on a spot near the middle, hoping to avoid as much light pollution as you possibly can. From your backpack you pull a blanket and spread it out on the ground. After that comes a phone stand that you can use to help you record the shooting stars, for later inspiration, and then several bags of snacks.

“Were you not going to join me?” Yusuke asks, looking at you curiously. You suppose you did tell him you were going to use this for a project also, but you guess he meant it far more literally.

“Not in painting, no. Or drawing. I don’t want to miss a second of the meteor shower tonight. My art can wait for nature.” Part of the reason you even agreed to this is that you were just as invested in getting to witness this event yourself, curfew be damned. You wouldn’t have been able to justify going to all this trouble all for yourself. True it would make for great fuel for your art, but all experiences should be so why rush and lose out on the fullness of what you’ve gone out of your way to observe.

Your companion lets out a thoughtful hum as he considers your words, but doesn’t say anything more. Instead, he focuses on preparing his makeshift workstation. Meanwhile, you take out your phone to check the time. Only about twenty minutes remained before the estimated start time. Carefully you take a seat on the blanket you laid out and place your phone on its stand. Then you lie down, folding your arms under your head as a cushion.

Now comes the hardest part: waiting.

The time ticks by slowly as you lazily watch the sky. Unlike the few times you’ve been privileged to go camping properly the sky is much less grand, all but the brightest stars washed out by the ever-present city glow. It’s late, and you’re very tempted to allow yourself a brief respite, but you know that if you so much as close your eyes for a touch too long you are likely to fall asleep. Right as you think to grab your phone to check the time yet again you spot the first shooting star and let out a gasp. “It’s starting!”

You reach over to your phone and quickly turn on the camera and place it back where it was to record as much of this as possible. A glace at Yusuke reveals he’s staring intently at the heavens, waiting for the next meteor. The shower starts slowly; the trails are faint and infrequent, but reports said it was due to last for several hours, so you have no doubt it will pick up in intensity soon enough. You’re accepting of this slow buildup, content to relax under the stars.

Unfortunately, a pained grumbling comes from Yusuke’s direction after about half an hour of this unhurried pace. The noise makes you sit up a little to check him out and make sure he’s not actually hurt. “Oi, are you alright? You hungry or something? I’ve got some gummies and chips if you want.”

“I have not been granted a single thread of inspiration, no matter how I scour,” he laments dramatically. You huff, trying not to outright laugh. For all that you enjoy his company, and respect both his talent and dedication, it’s hard to not find his eccentricity amusing.

You pat the ground beside you as you speak. “That’s because you’re all wound up. Take a load off and relax a little.”

“It will be years before we are granted a chance to see such a marvelous wonder again. I must capture it before it leaves,” Yusuke retorts. There’s a sharpness to his voice that you might have considered rude if you didn’t know the artist better, but you know where it’s coming from. Among all of your peers none is quite so fervent about their craft as Yusuke.

“Yeah, that’s the point. Get over here and watch it, will ya?” Once again you gesture for him to join you as you scoot over to make room on the blanket. “Let it inspire you on it’s own without stressing about it.”

There’s a pause in the conversation and you half expect him to object again, but with a quiet sigh he actually walks away from his canvas and towards you. He takes a seat beside you, making sure to leave a polite distance, and lies down as well. You can feel his frustration linger in the air. “See, not so bad a view, huh?” you ask quietly after a little more silence. “You get a much better view like this, all without craning your neck around.”

Surprisingly, he hums an agreement, which makes you smile slightly. Goodness knows Yusuke needs some quality relaxation, and he deserved to enjoy the little things like this too. As expected, the pace and intensity of the meteor shower begins to pick up. To help take his mind off the pressure to perform, you decide to give voice to your silly thoughts.

“That one’s going to grant a father’s wish,” you say, pointing at a quickly fading burst of light. “And that’s for a child wanting their pet to come home. Oh! A pair! Those’ll bring lovers together.”

You hear Yusuke shift in order to look at you. “Pardon?”

“I’m telling you what wish the stars are going to grant. See look there, for someone wishing for a better job.”

You don’t see the way his eyes light up with wonder as his gaze follows your gesturing, but you can hear his amazement in his voice. “How do you do that?”

A quiet laugh leaves you at the childish innocence in his belief, but you don’t intend to mock him with it. You find it charming that he’s so stricken by such simple tales. “My mom wished for me on a star. Because of that, I can see what wishes they want to fill.”

Now that all the tension is gone, you continue to amuse yourself and Yusuke by pointing out stars and making up wishes. One to bring a child back to a family, one to ease a widow’s heartache, one to help a student graduate. On and on you weave a story for each shooting star, and at each one you hear him gasp and sigh with marvel. You don’t even know why you find his sincerity so touching, but you do and it lends this silly pastime a joyous tone.

You continue on without pause, but suddenly you’re interrupted by Yusuke bolting to his feet. The abrupt movement causes you to snap up into a sitting position, trying to see what caused him to launch up so swiftly. “I’ve found it!”

“What’s-” Before you finish your question he’s gone from your side, back at his canvas with a fervent gleam in his eye.

“I beg you to continue, but I must immortalize this feeling before it leaves me,” he blurts out, already beginning to paint whatever vision had come to him.

With another small chuckle you do as you’re bid and continue to point out stars and give them a purpose, even knowing he’s hardly looking your way. But it feels good to know Yusuke was granted the muse he was so desperate to find tonight, and you wonder if it was a wish granted tonight. You are having fun, and he is being productive. A good night, and you can’t help but think even if you do get caught on the way back, this night will be worth any of the trouble you could possibly get into.

Slowly, in the same way that the shooting stars reached their crescendo they begin to taper off. By this point in the evening you’re growing quite tired; it’s been hours since you and Yusuke crept up here, and you’ve been talking through so much of it. No sooner does the thought of what time it probably is cross your mind do you let out an exhausted yawn.

For the fourth time this evening, Yusuke manages to startle you, and the adrenaline chases off your sleepy haze. “Finished at last!”

“Bloody hell, Yusuke, warn me next time!” you shout. All the same you slowly sit up and turn to face him. For all your surprise, you’re curious to see what he came up with. “You’re done with your piece?”

“Yes. I believe I have satisfactorily captured the majesty of such a magical display of heavenly beauty.” There’s a smugly pleased edge to his tone, matching his grin.

You stand up, brushing yourself off out of habit. “Can I see it?”

Chapter Text

It takes a little work to unlock the door to Leblanc one-handed, as Ren doesn't want to let go of you for fear you might pass out right where you stand, but he manages it without much trouble. Morgana darts into the shop first to make sure to keep out from underfoot. Ren gently steers you into the building and lets the door close behind you both, the small bell above it alarmingly loud in the dead silence. He knows better, that there's no danger of being given away, but he flinches on reflex, regardless. Meanwhile, you don't seem to notice either event, not reacting at all to either stimulus.

“Just a little further now. Do you think you can make it up the stairs?” Ren murmurs, observing you as he speaks.

Wordlessly, you sluggishly nod your head a few times. With a slight frown, he debates the wisdom in taking your answer seriously as every passing moment seems to sap more of the life from your body, but you straighten up slightly as he begins to walk you to the back of the room. For an instant, he wants to chide your proud insistence, though he quickly snuffs out that urge. He's the last one who has any right to say such a thing, given it was his own pride that sparked all of this. No, now isn't the time scold you for anything. You needed rest (and surely food also, but he doesn't trust that you could keep yourself awake long enough), not a lecture.

Once at the bottom of the stairwell he tightens his grip on you and slowly guides you up the stairs, ensuring you take them one at a time. It takes some doing; you're cooperative but with each step you waver. However, you two make it to the attic without incident all the same. After a moment's rest you start to shamble over to the couch and Ren has to stop and lead you to his bed.

You voice a curious noise, words slurring together into incoherency, but he gets the gist of your reaction. “Morgana and I will share the sofa. You need your sleep,” Ren says softly. A weak protest leaves you, but he has no intention of changing his mind. You deserve a proper place to sleep tonight. He doesn't have much to offer, but what he does he will do so gladly. All your suffering came from trying to help him, and Ren wouldn't let it go unappreciated.

No sooner than when you sit at the edge of his bed do you flop over with a mild snore, clearly unconscious. Ren wonders if you even waited until your head hit the pillow to fall asleep, and for an instant his expression softens. He lovingly brushes the hair out of your face, knuckles brushing lightly against your cheek. Do you have any idea how much he cares for you? But his moment of silent adoration doesn't last, the somber gravity of reality setting in once more. His feelings hadn't been enough to spare you.

With a muted sigh, Ren rolls you further onto the bed, to prevent you from shifting right off onto the floor. He hates knowing you're going to have to sleep in the same clothes you've worn since this morning, but he'd never consider undressing you, though he does at least very gently remove your shoes before pulling his blanket over your slumbering form. At least it's over for now. You're safe here, not trapped in the Metaverse, not wandering Tokyo trying to get home late and without a phone. You can get some rest and he'd explain to Sojiro as best he can why you're here in the morning. While the thought is still fresh in his mind, Ren pulls out his phone and taps out a quick message to Ryuji, assuring him that you're safe, that he and Morgana are also safe and back home. He deserves to know that all is well after accidentally getting dragged into it.

Chapter Text

As soon as the weight of the threat sets in, all hell breaks loose. “So you'd take another life for our cooperation?” Makoto accuses, shifting forward as if to protect you.

“Do you really think we'd let you do that?” Ann screams at the same time, her question aimed at Akechi.

Every one of the other Thieves exclaims something, reactions of shock and rage resounding around you. You, however, are rendered speechless by a sickening lump in your throat at Akechi's proposal. True, you went into this role knowing you might very well have to give your life, but you never expected such a literal sacrifice. To literally give yourself up in order to secure the safety of your friends, it's an abhorrent thought. A choice made even worse by the giver. Akechi is no longer a misguided foe, nor former 'teammate'. He's Ren's killer, the person who stole away a dear friend and your collective leader.

Akechi laughs at the outrage, waving his phone back and forth as a taunt. “Cry all you want, but you already know I have you beat!”

And yet, what other option is left to you? Akechi knows all of your identities and has proof of your involvement. Worst, he clearly has no qualms throwing all of you under the bus for your troubles. Your stomach turns violently. Not just you, but family and friends too. You think of Ryuji's mother, Sae, Ann's parents, Sojiro. They and so many others would be dragged under if Akechi exposed you as the Phantom Thieves. Even assuming all of you manage to escape this confrontation, you'll have no where to go and your loved ones will all suffer in your place.

Your nails dig into your palms as you clench your fists, and there's a painful ache in your jaw. One life for many. The threat of crying hangs heavy as you blink back tears. Once upon a time the idea of spending time with Akechi might have thrilled you. Now you're swallowing thickly to quell the urge to vomit. You knew he'd been fond of you, and for a while the feeling was mutual in some ways. Until you understood exactly who and what he was, you empathized with him. You could understand very well so much of his pain. But this? This is too much. He's sick.

And yet...

“You'll leave them alone if I accept?” you ask quietly. It's hard to speak around the choked sob that sits in your lungs, but you manage.

Another chorus of outrage erupts at your words.

“You can't seriously be thinkin' about it, can ya?” Ryuji all but shouts from behind you, and when his hand comes to grab at your arm you step to the side and slip out of his grasp.

“Perish the thought!” comes Yusuke's voice, equally horrified.

You raise a hand to quiet your friends, too nervous about losing your nerve to turn and shush them directly. If you don't go through with this, you won't be able to live it down. “Let him speak.”

Akechi seems pleased by your reaction, beaming brightly at you. For a split second he's the spitting image of a prince, pulled straight from a fairy tale, and your stomach turns again as your mind reminds you he is nothing more than a monster in a silken disguise. “I knew you'd see reason. You were always so much wiser than the rest. Following Amamiya was such a tragic waste of your potential.” The jab at Ren nearly drags a spiteful barb from your mouth, but you bear it as stoically as possible. You can't afford to fuck up. “But yes. For your sake, of course, and only as long as they abide by my conditions. I won't tolerate further meddling.”

You can feel the group's collective disapproval, even as they force themselves to allow you your conversation. “Can you swear on it? You'll let them go for good. That no one but us will know the truth.”

“Would I lie to you?” he questions, sounding appalled at the mere suggestion. “Come with me and I will overlook all of your past interference. I won't breathe a word, and the 'Phantom Thieves of Heart' die with Amamiya. Now, if any of you get in my way after my generous pardon, that's your fault.”

You don't realize how badly you're shaking until a hand comes to rest on your shoulder. Out of the corner of your eye you recognize Makoto. “You don't have to do this,” she whispers, and you can hear a telltale waver in her voice. “We'll find a way out of this.”

If only. Oh, if only you could believe that. But you don't. You're not sure she does. All of you expected Ren's plan to work, and when it failed, you've all been at a loss to recover. You don't want to think about what life with Akechi like this could entail. You can't, really, because the longer you let your thoughts run wild the deeper the fear roots itself into your heart. You have to hurry before your will weakens further.

“I'm sorry guys,” you whisper, once again blinking back tears as you brush Makoto's hand off your shoulder. “but I'm going to ask you to take up his offer. Ren didn't flinch from being the bait to save our skins. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do the same.”

Chapter Text

The bright, mid-morning sunlight forces you to blink rapidly to adjust to the change in brightness as you step out into your backyard. A laundry basket full of damp clothes is held against your side, your reason for coming outside in the first place. It’s a warm spring day and you figure if the weather is nice enough to hang laundry, you can spend some time working on your garden too.

Speaking of your garden as you look about you spot a familiar fuzzy beast curled up on your lounge chair and can’t help but smile to yourself. It’s the stray cat who you’ve caught roaming the neighborhood. You don’t know much about him, only that he is indeed apparently a boy cat, or so said your next-door neighbor. But you wonder sometimes. He’s a pretty thing, long and sleek with dark grey eyes, and yet his coat is always well maintained and you’ve never seen even a single tangle in it. And he’s not shy around people in the least; it’s hard to imagine this same cat running through alleyways and rooftops.

“Good morning, Mr. Cat,” you chime with a slight bow of greeting. It’s silly, but you like to think he appreciates your chatter. At the sound of your voice the cat raises his head and observes you for a moment before laying it back down to return to his sunbathing. With a quiet laugh you return to your task, walking over to your clothesline. Once you reach it you place your basket down and get to work.

Piece by piece you hang up your clothes to dry, losing yourself in the calm repetition. You can hear the low buzz of cars in the distance, occasional bursts of birdsong and children’s shouts livening up the still atmosphere. The sun is warm, but the light breeze keeps the worst of the heat at bay. You start to think your lazy visitor has the right idea on how to spend such a relaxing day. Ah, if only you had the luxury of laying in the sun for hours. But alas, even once your laundry is all hung up to dry you still have weeds to pull.

“Lucky boy,” you murmur to yourself when you do finish, taking a breath as you stretch. It really would be nice to just lounge around. Maybe later, you think. It would be a waste of a day off if you didn’t get any relaxation, right? But first, you need to tackle these weeds.

Leaving the basket right where it is, so that you can use it to collect the clothes when they’re dry, you walk back towards your small patio. There’s a small bin that you keep your gardening tools in, and you approach it and open it up to pull out a pair of gloves and a small hand rake. Before you can put the gloves on, however, something rubs up against your shin. It’s unexpected, so you’re a tiny bit startled for an instant, but you look to find it’s only your furry friend begging for attention. You laugh softly, any tension quickly melting away from your muscles.

Without hesitation, you put the gloves and rake back and kneel down to comply with the cat’s demands. As soon as you’re in reach he slinks closer, soaking up your attention like a sponge while you begin petting him. The cat’s black fur is pleasantly warm to the touch from his basking and it makes you want to cuddle him though you know better than to try. For all his friendliness, you’ve learned there is no getting this particular feline to do what he doesn’t want. If he wanted to cuddle up to you, he would. Still, you greatly enjoy being allowed to lavish him in love. You don’t have time to properly care for a pet of your own right now, and in a way this little guy helped fill that void. Although, you do worry about him from time to time. The life of a stray cat must be a dangerous one, between traffic and irregular meals, other animals and cruel humans.

This new train of thought saddens you. You do your best to keep your yard cat-friendly; you’ve made sure none of your plants are poisonous, you keep a clean bowl of fresh water available, and you’ve made a small little alcove out of some spare wood that could help keep him dry and shaded, but there’s nothing to be done to help him once the cat inevitably leaves your property. You don’t like knowing there might come a day when he’ll leave and you won’t get to see him again.

By now your knees are starting to protest bearing your weight on the cool concrete, so you shift so that you’re sitting on your bottom, folding your legs and resuming your petting before your guest can grow impatient. “I wish you had someplace to go, little guy,” you say. “You deserve a nice home to lay about, good food and a loving family.”

Obviously, the cat doesn’t answer, given that he is a cat. But he takes the opportunity provided by your new position to get closer, rubbing his forehead against your legs and sides as he walks around you. The sudden increase in affection brings a giggle out of you. If you didn’t know better, you might think he was touched by your concern, but it’s most likely the cat being in a needy mood. A theory you call confirmed when the feline climbs into your lap and curls up. It takes you off guard for a second; he’s never done this before.

After a few moments of bewildered staring, the cat looks up at you with a tiny huff and you realize that you’ve stopped petting him. With a quiet chuckle at his pout, you resume, to the cat’s delight. Apparently quite pleased with your acquiescence, he begins to purr, bringing a fond smile to your face. Well, weeding the garden will have to wait, you suppose. Not that you mind, it’s hard to think of spending quality time relaxing with a sleeping cat as a bad thing.

Chapter Text

“Are you a fan of the Phantom Thieves too?”

A quiet voice pulls you out of your thoughts and you quickly realize that you'd zoned out while watching the small TV here in the cafe instead of studying like you'd come to do. Something you've come to learn since moving to Tokyo is that the Phantom Thieves were always in the news. You can understand why, however, especially now that you've met them for yourself. They're a fascinating group, and you can't help harbor a certain admiration for what they do. But Akira's words always pull you back, and unsure of what the cryptic warning of 'You might be safest working alone, you know.' means you take each review with a grain of salt.

You can't admit to any of that though, not to a classmate you're only just getting to know, so you settle for half-truths. “I wouldn't call myself a fan yet, but I'm definitely interested in them. It's amazing how they've gone so long and kept their mission so steady. You wouldn't expect that out of a vigilante group, you know?” You turn your attention back to Ren, you find him watching you curiously, as though your answer was important to him. Which makes you wonder. “What about you, Amamiya-san? Are you a fan of theirs?”

The young man takes a small moment to reply, considering his own answer, before smiling softly. “You could say that. They've helped a couple people I know, so I'm grateful for them.”

His answer makes you think some more. It's true that you have no real concrete reason to doubt the Phantom Thieves and their actions. You wonder how many people have a story like Ren's, how many people's lives have benefited from their work? And all the world has taken notice, cheering on Tokyo's infamous group. Nothing in your few dealings with them suggested the thieves were anything less than the heroes they were said to be either.

Still, there's something deep in your gut that alarms you when you think back to each meeting. Something feels wrong. Something quiet and nameless tells you there is far more to the story than you're privy to, even in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.

Chapter Text

Adjusting to life with a formerly fictional thief from an alternate early 20th century France is interesting, to say the least. Besides the normal, expected, moments of culture shock there’s a constant struggle to explain the difference in time. They don’t teach you how to explain modern technology in a succinct manner to someone who missed half a century’s worth of progress, so it’s been a lot of trial and error. Thankfully, Arsène is a quick study and once you acquainted him with the miracle that is the internet (and provided many a stern warning about its horrors) he took up his own research with glee. But for all your effort, some details eluded his understanding, by choice or otherwise you aren’t sure, and these misconceptions often lead to some seriously strange happenings.

It’s one of these very peculiarities that has you cooped up in your workshop this very day, working on the most whimsical project you’ve attempted to date. Not that you can say you mind, any fun reason to tinker is a good reason as far as you are concerned. Trying new and weird projects is a good way to test your skills, and while you’ve worked with audio devices before, voice recognition isn’t the usual suspect. When Arsène took a positively childish interest in your little Roomba and you failed to convince him that it was hardly worth the hype, a thought ran through your mind. How could you turn down such a silly idea after it come to you?

The hours fly by as you work, music drowning out the world beyond these walls as you lose yourself in wires and lines of code, taking small breaks to sip at some water or to do a little impromptu karaoke. Even you get antsy focusing on a single thing for so long, and in the privacy of your own home it’s easy to feel safe goofing off a little. It serves a dual purpose when you finally get the speakers set up to test that the speech recognition was working appropriately.

Soon enough your little household cleaner was the proud bearer of some unique new abilities and you disconnect it from your bench with a mischievous grin. You aren’t sure just how impressed your housemate might actually be, given that you can’t be sure that he’ll even understand exactly what you’ve done, but you have no doubts his reaction will be amusing. That was the point. Machine in hand you make your way up and out of your crowded basement, ready to get the bot back to its charger in anticipation of its debut.

You don’t have to wait long once you do as Arsène returns home just over an hour after you finish. You’ve only recently started letting him wander about on his own with the main caveat being that he can’t come home with trouble, not that he didn’t kip out on occasion before regardless of your ban, and so if he wasn’t absorbing every bit of information the internet had to offer he was out and about. Better than leaving him to go stir crazy even if you’re worried every time that it’ll lead to a call full of bad news.

“Have fun?” you ask, muting the TV and turning around in your seat to peek over at him. You try to keep your expression pleasantly neutral to not give away your anticipation though you have your doubts about how well you manage to pull it off.

“That I did, but it appears I’m not the only one,” he replies with a small, mischievous smile of his own.

Well, that takes care of that problem. No point playing coy. “Yeah, I got a surprise for you. Check this out.” You prop your arms against the back of the couch and lean against it and carefully call out “Roomba, come here,” in a voice loud enough to be heard from the other room, making sure to clearly enunciate your words.

The quiet whirring hum of the machine approaching tells you that your modifications are still working exactly as intended. As the little bot turns the corner down the hallway into the living room, you look up at Arsène who is gaping with amazement at what he’s seeing. You take a second to allow yourself to bask in your pride, it’s nice to get the reaction you aimed for, before speaking again. “Since you keep wanting to treat it like a pet, I figured I could make it act a little like one. It only knows a few basic commands, stuff like ‘come here’ and 'go sleep’, but I thought you might get a kick out of it. Something to brighten your stay a bit since I can’t keep an actual animal around.”

You wait patiently for his response, letting him take in the situation as you’ve learned to let him do. Quick on the uptake as he is, you have noticed Arsène getting overwhelmed by all the things to take in. But soon enough you see his shoulders relax and his smile returns. “All for me? You are too kind my dear.”

Chapter Text

The bizarre, yet strangely unassuming, landscape of skyscrapers and sand rapidly begins to shift into one of pressing, faceless crowds and you become acutely aware of how hard it’s becoming to breathe. It’s a different sensation than being choked, more akin to wearing a shirt one size too small or being hugged a touch too tightly. Yet, while not panic-inducing, it’s impossible to ignore and even here in your dream it begins to unsettle you, but you’re unable to escape it and as your discomfort grows, you slip back into wakefulness.

Except the sensation seems to follow you even here as you slowly become aware of your surroundings it still feels as though something is keeping your from breathing properly. The thought causes a sharp sting of concern to flit through your mind and you attempt to clumsily sit up to assess the situation, only to find that you can’t. Now starting to be alarmed, you manage to open your eyes only to find the cause of your problems: a body draped across your chest. It’s Ren, slumbering deeply with you in his arms, face buried in the crook of your neck.

With a breath that you intended to be a sigh of both relief and exasperation you try to shift yourself out from under him unsuccessfully. Ren refuses to let go, however, tightening his grip and nuzzling into you, unwilling to be separated from you. You try again, this time also attempting to pull him off, but to no avail.

The effort does have some effect as Ren shifts and lets out a nearly inaudible huff. “Stop moving,” he mumbles into your skin, once again cuddling into you as if he can’t be close enough. “’M comfy.”

“Can’t breathe. You’re heavy,” you say quietly, sleep quickly calling you back into its embrace. But you aren’t going to sleep well if you don’t get him off of you, so you resort to tugging at his arms. It’s one thing when he wants to lie on you while in his cat form, but like this he’s far too big to simply drape himself over you this way.

He grumbles something incoherent, and for a second you think you’re going to have to shove him off, but before you can act Ren rolls over, pulling you with him so the two of you swap positions. Pleased with his compromise he then wordlessly wraps his arms around you, one around your waist and the other cradling the back of your head so he can run his fingers through your hair. You’ve landed in an awkward position though, so you shift in his grip until you fit against him comfortably. Ren is soft and warm, perfect for cuddling when he isn’t accidentally crushing you. Between his gentle touches and your own tiredness it doesn’t take long before you once again slip under, content exactly where you are.

Chapter Text

For what must be the twentieth time since ‘going to bed’ you check the time on your phone, squinting your eyes as the bright back-light blinds you for an instant. 11:24, still touch too early to put your plan in motion, but you’re getting antsy. You know for a fact your parents are sound asleep, that anything short of an emergency siren going of in their bedroom would go entirely unnoticed, and yet it doesn’t stop you from fearing that one or both of them will burst into your room unannounced to catch you scheming, or worse, to find your room empty as you put your plan in motion. If you get caught, you’ll catch high hell.

With a resigned huff you break those thoughts off. All the more reason to put all the training you did last year with the Phantom Thieves to work tonight. You’d get out and back inside without a single trace that you’d been anywhere except your bed. Yes, yes, that’s right. You can do this. True, it might still be early as Ren wasn’t due to call for another sixteen minutes, but there’s no point driving yourself mad by waiting.

Filled with a new resolve, eager anticipation runs through you. You check your bedroom window, making sure it’s unlocked in case you can’t sneak back in through the sliding door. There’s no worry about it making noise, during your preparations you made sure to oil it, but silence won’t do you any good if you can’t get it open in the first place. Next, you creep over to your door, pausing to listen for any sounds of activity from your parents. All quiet on the home front. Good. You hold your breath as you open the door, slinking out and shutting the door behind you with utmost care. Noiselessly, you pad through your home, keeping every movement slow and deliberate in caution.

Only once you reach the sliding door that leads into your small backyard do you relax, letting out a voiceless sigh of relief. That’s half the difficulty behind you. You slip outside and make your way to the grass, laying down to wait. It’s not the most ideal or romantic way to watch a meteor shower with your boyfriend, but neither of you were going to let a little thing like distance stop you. You two had been planning this for some time now, a way to alleviate some loneliness and spend some quality time together.

The night is quiet and you don’t know exactly how many star’s you’ll get to see tonight given how washed out the Tokyo sky is, but if nothing else the fresh air is relaxing. You bide your time patiently until your phone vibrates with a new call, indicating it is the appointed time. Eagerly, you answer it.

“Ren!” you exclaim in a hushed voice, a soft smile making its way to your face.

Ren laughs quietly in response. “Someone’s excited, aren’t they?”

“Yeah, well, I miss you.” There’s no shame in your confession here, because it’s true. These last months have been tortuously long in Ren’s absence.

“I miss you too,” he replies with a tender edge to his voice. “Graduation can’t come fast enough.”

You know that sentiment all too well. Only a few more months and he’d be coming back to Tokyo. “You can say that again. Entrance exams are killing me, and I don’t even ha-” The appearance of a shooting star streaking across the sky causes you to break off mid-sentence with a nearly inaudible gasp. “Oh, Ren! It’s starting!”

Another quiet laugh comes from his end of the phone call. “There’s been a few here, too. Probably brighter than the ones you’ll get to see, but I’d rather be by your side.”

This time it’s your turn to laugh. But the conversation trails off as you both watch the celestial spectacle, each of you imagining that it’s not a phone next to you, but the other in person. While it starts with one meteor at a time, soon there are several speeding across the inky black sky at any given time, and you’re both quietly marveling at the sight. Despite your separation, being able to hear Ren’s quiet sighs of appreciation makes it very easy to feel as if he’s close. It fills you with a sense of peace and emotional security you’ve been missing.

“Are you gonna wish for something?” you ask suddenly, curious. There’s a wish you want, but you wonder if he does too. If you had to guess, it would probably be similar to yours.

“Maybe,” Ren replies coyly, and you can hear the smile in his voice. “What about you?”

There’s no reason to be bashful about it, yet you still feel a little bit shy admitting it. “I don’t want us to be away from each other this long again. I really, really miss you, Ren.”

He’s quiet for a short moment though you let him take his time. “We won’t be. Once I get back, I’m not leaving again. I promise.”

You have to swallow a single, unexpected sob at the surety in his words. “I’ll hold you to that.” To deflect from just how emotional his declaration made you all of a sudden, you redirect the conversation. “You going to tell me what you want?”

“No,” he chimes, laughing when you huff into the phone. “It’s a secret.”

“Not fair! I told you mine, so fess up!” You aren’t mad though you play the part. But you want to know, to see if you can be there for him too.

“Be patient. It’s a good secret, and it’s for you. I want to surprise you, so I can’t tell you right now.”

You huff again, curiosity piqued to a grave degree, but you let it go. How could you deny him a chance to surprise you? “Alright, but now you better wish for it to go well. I’m dying to know what you’re planning.”

Once more he chuckles, but he goes silent again, content to resume stargazing with you. Not that you have a problem with this, watching the stars is why you sneaked out of your room in the first place. There is no way to get Ren to spill the beans if he wants to stay mum on the subject, and you have no doubts that he has only the most benevolent intentions.

Chapter Text

Inokashira Park is, unsurprisingly, rather devoid of people at this time of night, not that Ren minds. While he does enjoy people-watching, he's here for a purpose and the park being relatively deserted means it will be that much easier to go unnoticed. Ann and Makoto mentioned that they were going to come foraging, apparently even here in a city park there were some interesting reagents that popped up, and Ren was curious and asked to come along. However, this would be an awkward thing to explain to any non-magical passersby, so all the better he had to wait until after dark.

Even though he's only here for an errand, the walk to the appointed meeting spot is pleasant, the late-fall air is crisp and cool, a breeze rustling through the drying leaves. Ren hasn't minded moving into Tokyo, the bustling city is a never ending treat of experience, but sometimes he misses the slower pace of life he's lived in smaller towns. Maybe after he has his fill of this life, he'll move somewhere quieter for a time. With all this lifespan there's no reason to shy from variety, after all.

Ren turns down a small side path next, heading deeper into the park. The first few minutes of walking is just as uneventful, but a ways in he picks up on a rather concentrated magical signature. It's muddled and he can't pick out what it could be without getting closer. He pauses for a moment, deciding if he wants to investigate, or if it's even safe to do so, but his curiosity wins out. Ren cautiously continues down the trail, stopping again once he gets a visual on what's waiting before him.

Dozens of crows are sitting or swooping about the area. His first instinct is to look for a body, because what else would attract the attention of so many carrion birds, and he finds a very familiar one among the crows. In a subversion of his own expectations, however, the body is not only still alive, and completely healthy, it's also you, sitting on the wooden fence like a high school delinquent. On your lap is perched a brown paper bag, from which you pull a handful of fries that you then toss to your corvid friends. The look on your face is a soft, almost tender, one, something Ren has never seen you display. And yet, as he continues to observe you, he's reminded that you are more than a young woman feeding wild birds. To be able to conjure this many familiars... He is well aware that you are a terrifying force to be reckoned with, the image of you standing above him with your gun is one that never strays too far from Ren's mind, but this is beyond belief. This gives birth to a whole new trepidation in him, even as he knows that you've agreed upon a truce despite your distaste of his vampiric nature.

For a long moment he debates picking a different route to his destination, a quick peek at his phone tells Ren he has time to spare. However, he decides that he wants to know what you're up to here with all these crows. You've got to be doing more than just feeding them. As he grows close, the birds closest to him quickly take notice of him, turning to face him one after the other. You, on the other hand, seem to be unaware.

Or, so he thought until you speak up. “Ignore him. Goodness knows I try to,” you mumble as your expression sours, pulling out another handful of fries without looking up at your 'visitor'. The birds actually do so, turning all their attention back to you and your offerings.

“Not even a 'hello'?” he teases, walking closer while carefully stepping around the crows. “Or an introduction? You've met Morgana, so who're all these fine familiars?”

He's not sure if it's just his imagination, but some of the crows look at him and puff up in what looks exactly like pride. “They're not familiars; I don't do those. And that's only because you made him spy on me.”

Not familiars? Ren doesn't believe that at first, not in the least. What else would cause such a spike in magical presence? He narrows his eyes and squints at you, trying to discern if you're being honest with him. “These crows are pretty powerful for normal animals.”

“Because they aren't normal. Some alchemist got sloppy with their experiments and contaminated some crows on accident several years ago. That's these guys and their chicks. Smarter than the garden variety, which is saying a lot, but they make good informants. I feed them decent food and they keep me up to date on what goes on in my district that's all.”

Well that would explain it though there remains a nagging doubt in his gut.

Chapter Text

Lies. Your life since being coerced into living with Goro Akechi has been defined almost completely by the countless, damning lies you’ve told. ‘This is what I want.’ 'I’m so happy to be here.’ 'Akechi-kun really did save me.’ 'There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.’ Falsehoods spilling from your mouth one after another without end. It’s enough to make you sick, your own guilt and self-hatred rotting your soul away like acid. But you have no choice. It’s a matter of survival, and there is no end in sight.

Even now, you find yourself uttering more lies than truths.

“You’re so loud tonight,” Goro teases, groaning against the skin of your neck, “I make you feel that good, hm?”

You moan in response as he returns to his favorite task, marking up your neck and collarbone. “Always, always.” A rare, miserable, truth to keep things interesting. But he does, in the most terrible way, even as you hate it. And yet, regardless of your inner denial, each brush of his hands and searing kiss renders you more and more powerless to stop him from creeping in deeper into your life, your mind, your bed, no matter how much you curse your own weakness.

However, despite this encroachment, there is one lonely lie you still cannot bring yourself to utter.

He slows his already leisurely pace, thrusts turning sensual, causing you to clench your ribbon-bound hands. A bad sign that you cannot recognize through the haze of pleasure. Gentleness from Goro always pairs with cruelty. Without fail. “That’s because I love you so much. More than anyone else ever could.” Overwhelmed with sentiment, he pauses to kiss you, then waits until you open your eyes to gaze at him once more before continuing. “And you love me too, don’t you?”

The question causes your breath to catch, and you can’t maintain eye contact any longer. How can you be expected to answer that? Because you don’t. You can’t. After everything he’s put you through, all the suffering and anguish, you aren’t sure you’ll ever be able to love anyone, much less him. What a wretched thought, falling in love with your captor.

Goro is persistent, however.

“You can tell me, my dear,” he says in an attempt to reassure you, running one hand up your side to rest on your chest, just above your heart. His voice wavers the slightest bit, but he too is a consummate liar, and he hides his desperation well. “Because I love you, you can love me too.”

Once again, you try to say that you do love him, but it’s as if your body physically rejects the words. They stick in your throat and choke you as decisively as Goro’s hands ever had. Your heart lurches in your chest, eyes burning with the threat of tears. You hate when he asks this of you. Isn’t it bad enough you lie about everything else for his happiness? Except you have no way to express your anger and frustration, mind still muddled by desire.

Your hesitation only serves to rile him up further. Both of his hands move to your hips, blunt nails digging into your flesh. The first, suddenly rough thrust into your heat causes you to let out a choked gasp that turns into a drawn-out moan as Goro keeps this new, harsher pace. “I love you. You understand, don’t you? I love you. I love you,” he pants, his facade beginning to slip rapidly. For a moment you expect him to kiss you but instead he resumes his breathless pleading. “What can I do to show you? I’ll never let you go, I promise. I love you.”

The young man’s desperation touches the part of your heart still filled with a twisted pity, yet it also encourages the bitter, rebellious rage that has also taken a deep root in you. 'Liar,’ it screams. 'You don’t know what it means to love.’ Not that you could bring yourself to say it. A statement far too true for your blackened tongue. Instead, you cover it the way people would perfume the dead, using the unhealthy tenderness Goro evokes to mask your twisting mentality from even your own eyes.

“Say you’ll stay with me,” A quiet beg, almost lost under your moans and whines of pleasure. “Say you want to.”

An easy task. “I will,” you say eagerly. “I’ll always stay by you. Don’t let me leave.”

Immediately, you’re rewarded by one of his hands trailing inward and you jolt as his fingers find your clit. The additional stimulation overrides everything else, your own frustration and sadness fizzle out, only able to focus on Goro and your imminent release. And when it washes over you you’re left breathlessly whining his name as you arch into his body above you.

He keeps his deep cant for several more strokes, riding out your orgasm while chasing his own, eventually peaking inside you with a moan of your name and a nearly inaudible “I love you” mumbled into the crook of your neck.

It’s practically his mantra during aftercare, whispering it against your skin. His hands soothe over your flesh reverently, running up your sides, gently cradling your face to pepper soft kisses over your cheeks. Goro also unties your hands, fingers massaging your wrists. Once free, you join him, your hands aching to touch him in return. You can feel him shiver as you make contact; he’s so sensitive when it comes to your hands roaming his body, and it always sends a small sliver of pride through you.

After a few minutes of this quiet cuddling you finally get a proper look at Goro’s face, only to find he’s silently crying. A pang of grief echoes through you and you reach up to card your fingers through his hair. “I’m here.”

Your soothing words drag a solitary, broken sob from the brunet. He buries his face into your chest, trying to regain his composure. There’s a brief instant of complete silence in the bedroom before he manages one final “I love you.”

You lean down to kiss the top of his head tenderly. “I know, Goro. I know.”

Chapter Text

“Are you stupid or something? Of course this is how the world works. It's always been this way,” the yellow-eyed woman sneers. “No reason to throw a tantrum. But a punk like you won't learn that lesson without being taught the hard way.”

You have only enough time to process her threat before her fist slams into your cheek again, sending you stumbling backwards and tumbling to the ground. Your arms come up to shield your face as you slam into the tile floor with a dull thud. Pain and shock overwhelm you for a brief instant before fading into a sharp ache.

Desperately you peek out when you finally regain your bearings, first spotting the woman gloating down at you. Next, you spot the teenage girl the woman had been harassing. She hasn't moved a muscle, instead watching the spectacle unfold with a muted terror. The woman notices your gaze, and turns to look at the girl herself, before returning her attention to you with a wicked smirk.

“What? Do you think she'll make the same mistake you did? Get over yourself, brat. You wanted to step out of line and mess with my business,” she snaps. “Hey, Maeda! Unless you want to take this dumb bitch's place, why don't you make yourself useful and show her what happens to nosy interlopers.”

There is a long pause of silence where you watch the girl, Maeda, wondering if she would really listen (and mentally begging her to run and get help), but when you see her fearful expression turn stony your heart drops into your stomach. Why is she doing this? You just wanted to help! Where did things go so wrong?

Always been this way?

You shuffle backwards, pushing your body back with your feet as she approaches. You're unable to get your brain to cooperate in helping you to your feet, so this is the best you can manage. A malignant terror takes over your mind and all rational thought leaves you. Ever since the Tokyo scenery warped around you, it's been one horror after another, and it's quickly proving too much for you to handle. You want to go back to your apartment, or better yet, wake up to find this nightmare left behind..

A world where the strong devour the weak, and the weak devour the helpless. Is that the true nature of your world?

It takes an extended moment to process that the voice you're hearing is something other than your own thoughts, and while that realization would scare you immensely in another circumstance, you're too panicked already to process it rationally. But no, no this isn't how things were supposed to be! What kind of world lets a woman beat a girl for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? What kind of world lets both gang up on someone who only wished to stop such violence? Even in a large, chaotic city like Tokyo such barbarism is unheard of.

Can you accept such a twisted world? Do as you are told and simply look away?

What kind of question is that? You don't want to, no, certainly not. But what choice do you have? It's not as though you spend your spare time engaging in fist fights, and while you might otherwise be able to defend your self in a one-on-one scuffle, you're out-numbered. If you can get yourself up, running is an option too, but you don't think you'll find any help here, in whatever fucked up area of Tokyo you've stumbled into. What else are you expected to do?

Can you live knowing others will be treated the same?

The unspoken question stings, causing you to flinch. You can accept your own fate, you're used to that. But you realize that if you are to live this way, you'll have to watch countless suffering and be expected to watch. How long then before you're dragged in to participate too?

“No.”

You hear the woman laugh, as if your denial was funny (even as she likely thinks it's an attempt to save yourself), but instead of the fear you expect to feel, there is a blinding sear of agony that washes over you. The first wave of pain causes your hands to fly to your temples, and the second makes you curl up in a useless defensive gesture. It's in your bones, making you dizzy and disoriented, taking heavy breaths.

Then swear to me! That we will not stand and watch injustice reign!

Even midst your terror and agony, the words drag a steely strength from the depths of your heart. You won't stand by and watch, ever a meek observer. No. If this is how the world wishes to be, you deny it. And you'll keep doing so, until the world changes beneath your feet.

A splendid answer! I am thou, thou art I... You, who is no longer fooled by the innocent facade of a rotting world bound to sin, let us together re-write the coming history! By word and deed, tear the wicked foundation of iniquity asunder, and glory in the demise of cruelty!

In an instant the swirl of torturous pain vanishes, and it's very much like being born anew. You feel free. Standing up takes no effort, and when you open your eyes to level your gaze at your tormentor and her only partially unwilling accomplice, you find they've been knocked back and are staring at you with a mixture of indignation and fear. Good. With a steady breath you glance around to recover your bearings. There's a prompting deep within you, demanding you unleash the quiet rage, to reveal your true self. You don't consciously understand this desire, but some deep instinctual part of you does, and your reach for your face. The discovery of a mask startles you for a second, but as you touch it a swell of power seems to course through you. Yes, that's right. You aren't helpless, and you don't need to let others remain that way either.

“What kind of trick are you trying to pull, you worthle-”

You hear the woman start to berate you, stepping forward once more, but you pay her no mind. You tug on the mask in an attempt to pull it off but it resists. When you understand that you'll need to put some force behind it, a sliver of icy fear sinks into your gut at the anticipation of more pain. However, this only causes you to grit your teeth and brace yourself. No more hesitation. In a single, swift motion you tear it off your face.

As it comes free, you briefly find yourself aware of the wet sensation of blood dripping down your face. However this doesn't last long. Power seems to sing through your very being, and your vision is consumed with a blindingly bright, blue flame. Despite how terrifyingly bizarre this should be, there is no room for fear in you. No, your heart remains steadfast as the knowledge of what is happening wells up from the depths of your soul.

“Let's set this right, Scheherazade.”

Chapter Text

At first, when you get no answer as you call out that you're finally home from work, you assume Ren is out somewhere, doing whatever it is he does in his spare time. You aren't exactly an expert at the comings and goings of youkai even though you've been living with this one for months now. But it's not unusual that he's not home, so you don't worry about coming back to an empty house. Despite the fact that he's more or less 'adopted' you as his personal human (his words, not yours), Ren is still every bit the stray cat at heart.

So it's no wonder you're taken aback when you find said youkai in your hallway, very clearly trying to sneak out of sight. It immediately raises an alarm in your mind. Ren skulking about always meant something was up. Always. And you can't say you're looking forward to finding out.

“What's going on?” you ask, narrowing your eyes and frowning.

Startled, he turns to face you briefly before trying to escape. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”

Which you don't believe at all. Ren's making no effort to act normal, and though you only got a glimpse, there is definitely a big red mark on his forehead. 'Nothing', indeed. “Then why the rush?”

“No rush,” he mumbles before slinking into his room and you can't help but sigh with frustration.

Clearly, Ren doesn't want to talk about whatever happened and you know better than to try and harass it out of him. Well if that's how he wants to be it's no skin off your nose. He'll talk about it when he's ready, you suppose, if ever.

Deciding to put it out of your mind for now, you continue on to your bedroom, eager to change and unwind now that the workday is over. But once you've done so, exchanging your skirt and blouse for sweatpants and a stretched out shirt, you come to realize how stuffy it still is inside. Now that the weather is warming up, it's been getting downright uncomfortable leaving the house shut up, and so you decide to throw open your curtains and crack the window for some fresh air.

As you do, however, you notice something unusual: a round smudge on the outside of the window. For a second you can't quite figure out what might have made it, but when the thought that someone might have tried to get in crosses your mind, you notice the flowers in the planter just below it look trampled. Another moment's thought goes by before you bark out a quick, loud laugh at the realization of what must have happened. Powerful, occasionally terrifying youkai he might be, but apparently Ren hasn't completely shaken off his past as a cat, and it's wonderfully amusing.

Chapter Text

You first meet Ren Amamiya as a young child while playing freely in your neighborhood one sunny afternoon. He appears from around a fence corner, peering at you curiously as though he wishes to join you. Bored with playing all on your own, you gleefully wave the young boy over. There’s so many more games you can play with two people. So pleased to have a new friend, you don’t even think to ask why he’s wearing a hoodie on such a warm day. No, there are more important things to talk about, like who should be the oni and how far you’re allowed to run down the street, and what time do you have to be home by. By the time the sun sets and you have to race back home for dinner, you’ve long forgotten how odd it is.

That’s a question that doesn’t get brought up for years, actually. Not until you’re in middle school and the two of you are hiding away in a little alley trading stories. It hits you all at once mid-conversation that you’ve never seen him without one and so you finally bring it up. Surely after all this time you’re close enough that it’s not too strange a question, right? But Ren just laughs, a pale pink blush dusting his cheeks as he bashfully explains that he feels more comfortable wearing it.

“Like a security blanket?” you tease lightheartedly, without a trace of malice.

He chuckles before replying, “More like a stealth outfit.”

“Somehow I feel like wearing a sweatshirt all the time is less stealth ops and more shady delinquent, to be honest.”

“What’s the difference?”

You both have a giggle at his indifference. Even though he hardly gave an explanation, you take him at his word. There’s no reason to disbelieve him. Odd as he is, Ren is still your friend.

By the time you’re in high school, you two are as inseparable as you can be, given that he doesn’t attend your school. Which makes you wonder… You aren’t sure what school he goes to, or what schools he’s graduated from. Come to think about it, you don’t know much about Ren at all. You’re pretty sure he has to live nearby, you’ve never seen his house, and he’s never told you where it is. Ren hardly ever mentions his family, beyond the occasional complaint, and he didn’t bring up any other friends or acquaintances. No one else in the neighborhood has ever talked about him either.

And yet, even as you slowly recognize just how bizarre his existence seems to be, Ren is dear to you beyond measure. Always there for you when you need the support, he has started to occupy a large corner of your heart. Who, or what, ever he is, you’ll be there for him the same way. Thankfully, the feeling appears mutual as your encounters become more frequent and begin happening outside of the circle of your neighborhood. Now you spot him at the shopping center, or lounging around at the park, and there’s something about seeing him out and about makes you inordinately happy.

So life continues exactly as it always has until one balmy evening in late spring. You ought to be in bed, but instead you’ve chosen to sneak out of the house for some fresh air. Too troubled to sleep, you lean against the fence trying to sort out your thoughts. Most people would be excited to receive an acceptance letter to their first choice university, and in some ways you are. However, the longer you sat on the news, the more another thought came to darken your enjoyment. Going off to university means leaving town, leaving the immediate presence of friends and family, but you’re now keenly aware that includes Ren. This knowledge taints your joy; you don’t want to leave him behind, but he’s remained impossibly coy about his plans.

You’re entirely consumed by your musing and fail to notice the sound of approaching footsteps. “What has you looking so glum this evening?” comes a familiar voice, but it’s so unexpected you can’t stop the small yelp of fear you let out, jumping to attention.

Speak of the devil. Ren’s amused face greets your gaze, clearly having a laugh at your shock. Now that you recognize your visitor, you let out a huffy sigh. You’d have a good laugh about it later, but for now you’re ready to pout. “The hell are you doing out so late besides scaring random people?”

He outright laughs at that. “I was just taking a walk and spotted you. Is it so wrong that I’d want to come over at chat?” With that said his expression falls into soft concern. “Something’s bothering you if you’re hiding out here so late.”

Well, he’s not wrong, but you don’t know how best to broach the subject. You’ve maintained a solid trust in him for all these years, and you don’t really want to come off like you’re attempting to guilt him into an answer. But it would be nice to know if there was still a chance to stay close. Yeah, you would still have his phone contact, except it’s not the same. Not the same and not enough.

“I got my acceptance letter today. For college.” The words are out of your mouth before you can stop them. “It’s given me a lot to think about.”

Ren blinks at you, taking a second to process your statement before beaming at you. “Congratulations! But hey, don’t worry. You’re smart, you’ll do fine.”

When his placation falls flat an awkward silence blankets the two of you. Absentmindedly you fidget, trying to form your clumsy thoughts into something coherent. Eventually you give up, resolving just to say what you felt. “I’m not worried about what it’ll be like. Well, not too much. But I…” you have to pause to take a deep breath. “I don’t wanna leave.”

“Oh.” You don’t have the courage to look at his reaction, instead turning to look down the street. There’s nothing there, but you feel too guilty to look Ren in the eye at your admission. The silence doesn’t last, however. “Is that all?”

There’s something in the way he asks that catches you off guard, something delicate and gentle instead of the patronizing pity you might except from the same question asked by another person. As if he has a deep understanding of what you mean. “Do I need more of a reason?” you retort.

“Hmm, not really. But I don’t think that’s all.”

Perceptive to the last, he is. If you weren’t so certain that his motives are always beneficial, you’d be more upset that he keeps so many secrets while unearthing all yours. Except, Ren has an uncanny knack for knowing which issues are helpful to bring to light. Reluctantly, you give him the full answer, still refusing eye contact. “I’m gonna miss you. I didn’t want to say it, but I was hoping we could go to college in the same town, at least.”

For a moment there’s only the ambient sounds of the suburbs: leaves rustling in the breeze, far off traffic, and the quiet rustling of your clothes as you shift restlessly. Then, in a voice just above a whisper, Ren calls your name and you can’t help but grant him your undivided attention. “You’d miss me?” Unsure of if he wants an answer or not, you merely nod. Which appears to be good enough. His expression turns thoughtful. “In that case, can I trust you with something?”

“Of course!” you reply with no hesitation.

Instead of the verbal response you expect, Ren reaches up to pull his hood back and off his head. Before you notice the reason why, you think it’s a very strange reaction, but even in the dim light of a nearby streetlamp it becomes apparent. Ears. There’s a very conspicuous pair of cat ears you can spot peeking out of his fuzzy black hair.

Wait…

“Are those…?”

“Yeah.” It’s Ren’s turn to look away from you. “Not having proper identification makes applying for schools difficult. Part of the reason youkai don’t associate much with humans, you all make it very hard to integrate.”

You have no idea what to feel, much less what to say. You’ve heard of youkai, but it’s a topic most people avoid if it comes up, so you’re at a loss. It’s a possibility that once crossed your mind, when you were younger and it was so much easier to believe in things you’ve never seen. All the same, it’s baffling. Explains a hell of a lot of the questions you’ve had, but still manages to leave you confounded.

But he trusts you with this. You don’t want to waste that trust.

“I’ll still miss you,” you say. It’s true. Even confused, even human. You’ll need some time to come to terms with this new knowledge, there’s still a strange disconnect between your head and heart that leaves you feeling sick. But you trust him too.

Ren turns back to face you, surprised, and while it might be a trick of the light, you could swear he’s blushing. One of his hands comes up to play with a lock of his hair as he considers his words. “Do you mean it?”

“You’re still the same guy I grew up with, aren’t you? I’ll admit I don’t quite believe it; I’ve never seen a youkai before. Not entirely sure I’m not having a stress-induced fever dream right now. But you’re special to me, Ren. You’ve been there for me, been a wonderful friend. You’re a hell of a guy, on top of it all.” Now you’re blushing too, after coming dangerously close to jumping the proverbial gun. “What is there to not miss?”

“True. I am pretty impressive, aren’t I?” A recovery so smooth you can’t help but laugh. Ren joins in softly, and when it dies down you both take a breath. Now that all the built up tension has evaporated, Ren continues the conversation. “I didn’t mean to hide it this long, but I didn’t know how you would take it. I was afraid you might not want to see me again.”

His confession makes your heart ache. You understand, in a way, why he’d fear that outcome, but you can’t conceive of a world where you didn’t meet Ren, a life where his presence in your life was missing. “That’s the last thing you need to be afraid of. But I’m glad you chose to tell me, even like this.”

Ren smiles at you, gazing at you tenderly. “Thanks. It means more than you know to hear you say that.” He pauses for a moment. “I’m not sure how just yet, but if I found my way to Tokyo around the same time you go, you wouldn’t mind, would you?”

There is only one answer for such a question. “If it would make you as happy as it would make me, I wouldn’t mind at all.”

“Good, because I’d miss you, if you left too.”

Chapter Text

You’re in luck tonight, you think with a bitter edge as you carefully push Goro into the kitchen chair you kicked away from the table earlier. He’s not always so compliant when you try to take control; more often than not it only seemed to make him more domineering and desperate to keep the upper hand. Thankfully, however, it appears that you’ve managed to take the reins successfully. Good.

“I asked you a question,” you say sternly, voice low. “Who else but me deserves your attention?”

His first attempt at an answer is interrupted by a voiceless gasp as you begin unbuttoning his shirt, but he recovers. “No one,” Goro whispers, hands flying to aid you in getting his shirt off. “I only need you, my dear, you know that.”

You hum in thought, pinning him with a stony gaze as he shrugs off his top and tosses it to the side. The admission, one he makes freely, causes a familiar swirl of revulsion and delight to run through you as you plot your course. Out of the corner of your eye you spot his tie sitting innocuously on the table, exactly where you tossed it earlier, and a grin begins pulling at your lips. Just what you need.

“Is that so? Only me?” you ask, walking over to the table with slow, deliberate steps to pick up the discarded tie. “Then why were you so preoccupied with what’s-his-name?”

You catch the way Goro snaps to attention as he notices what you’re doing. “For you! Everything I do is for you! How could I let that imbecile keep-”

While he talks you continue around behind him, cutting him off by temporarily placing a hand over his mouth when you stop behind him. “That’s more than I asked.” When you’re sure he won’t keep talking, you release his face from your grip. You are trying to make him forget, after all, so no reason to let him keep rambling. “Now, give me your hands.”

The speed with which Goro complies with your order makes your grin turn sharp. He’s so eager to please tonight you can’t help but revel in it. You take his hands and bind them behind his back and to a spindle on the chair, being careful to not tie them up too tightly. The goal is restraint, not harm. Well, not any permanent harm, anyway.

“There’s a good boy.” To go with the praise you run a hand through his soft brown hair, chuckling quietly as Goro presses back into your touch. “The only thing you need to do is focus on me. I’m the only person you need to think about, understand?”

Unsure if you want him to speak again, Goro nods enthusiastically. When your hand tightens its grip in his hair he gasps out an eager “Yes!”

Another pleased hum leaves you as you relax your hand, now leisurely running it through his hair and then down his neck. There’s a vicarious thrill that consumes you when the roles work out this way, on nights like this where he yields so thoroughly. You don’t know what causes him to submit so utterly to you any more than you can completely pinpoint what makes you push him to do it. By all rights you shouldn’t even want to fuel his obsession with you, but the alternative is beyond frightening, so you do what you’ve done for the last year and bear with it.

“If you want me, then don’t get distracted by irrelevant strangers. The only person who should occupy your thoughts is me.” As you drag your fingers across a pale shoulder, you watch a shudder course through him. It’s a simple gesture, one that you repeat just to see his reaction. “So sensitive today, aren’t you?”

Not that he wasn’t normally incredibly responsive to physical contact. Even in daylight and in public Goro was notoriously easy to fluster with even the simplest touch. But like this? As you all but demand his love and attention? Oh, that made it even less a chore. Even now you could probably ask for nearly anything short of freedom from him and he’d beg to give it to you. But where was the fun in that?

What started as a distraction, a way to keep Goro’s mind off of the poor stagehand he’d marked for a grisly fate for the ‘crime’ of taking up too much of your time while at the studio, is quickly spiraling into something far more personal. Over the year spent with him, a vicious thorn made its home in your heart, one that recognized moments like this where you have him at your mercy as the closest to revenge you’d ever be allowed. And you’re pleased to take advantage of them to the fullest.

Chapter Text

Of all the people you know, the Phantom Thieves are not a group you feel you can put any solid trust in, and first among them is Joker himself. It’s not like you have any evidence for it, nothing at all besides the cryptic warnings of your guide and a quiet pull in your gut, but it’s enough to keep your guard up and do your utmost best to play your cards close to your chest when it comes to dealing with them. Well, most of the time, at least. You still aren’t used to this Metaverse business, much less playing hero the way you’ve been asked to, so when Joker offered to give you some pointers and training in Mementos you overlooked your skepticism and took him up on it.

The idea is that you would use it as an opportunity to see what Joker is really like, a chance to observe him without his accomplices. And that’s not to mention how beneficial it would be for you to pick his brain for information on this bizarre space. There’s no doubt he’s quite knowledgeable about the Metaverse and what is going on with the Palaces, though he dodges the subject artfully every time you ask outright or pry too deeply.

But what starts as training quickly devolves into thinly veiled flirting in the guise of ‘instruction’. It’s beyond obvious in the way gloved hands linger milliseconds too long when correcting your posture while trying to teach you how to make the most out of a hiding spot and the way you catch him watching you with an appraising eye and unabashed grin. And while you know better than to wholly buy into his endless charm, it’s hard to resist the urge to return the attention. So you do, deliberately repeating small mistakes knowing he’ll step in, adding in a little extra sway to your step as you walk, and make no move to hide the equal appreciation you take in watching him fight.

Your intentions might have been noble to start but they’re all thrown to the wayside at the next safe platform the two of you reach. It’s impossible to pinpoint what set you both off, perhaps the comment he makes about seeing how much more stamina you have left or maybe the cheeky wink that is your only answer, but the change in atmosphere is instant. If it wasn’t a good idea to come here alone with a man you’ve been explicitly told you should be wary of, stuck in a place you could very literally go missing and no one would have any idea, and it definitely was not if you’re honest with yourself, it certainly isn’t a stellar move to let him pin you to the wall with his body, mouth meeting yours feverishly, but you are far past any consideration of what is prudent.

Gone is the light, breezy back-and-forth from earlier, lost to the desire that has built between you over the course of your day. There’s a force behind each one that thrills you and leaves you eager for the next. Joker kisses like he needs to leave a physical impression upon you, like he won’t be satisfied unless he can leave an imprint on your very soul. It’s tricky, what with your masks, but he makes up for the slightly awkward angle of the kiss by keeping his body pressed close against your own. Even through his clothes you can tell he’s all lean muscle, and it ignites a hunger in you that keeps your hands roaming.

Meanwhile, Joker’s hands move with far more purpose. One finds a place on your hip, the tips of his gloved fingers occasionally teasing up under the hem of your top. Each brush of cool leather against your skin is more tantalizing than the last. So much so that you pay no mind to his second hand, which is cupping your cheek in order to help keep you in place. Or so you thought.

The first faint pull on your mask goes completely unnoticed, all of your attention focused on all the other sensations that consume you. The second is quickly forgotten when Joker shifts against you, slipping a thigh between yours. It’s the third tug that finally cuts through the distraction and you realize what he’s attempting to do. Instead of reacting right away, you trail one hand lazily up his back to cradle the back of his head, tangling your fingers in his soft black hair.

Right as he pulls away from one of the countless bruising kisses you tighten your grip and pull his head back with slow force. The action drags a groan from him, one that you feel rumble through his chest. When you fix him with your best disappointed stare, he merely gives you an unrepentant grin in return. You aren’t entirely upset, mostly because your mind is far too hazed over to be angry at such low-grade trickery, but you aren’t pleased either.

“For all the clothes I still might let you get me out of, the mask isn’t going to be part of that,” you say, hoping your disapproval gets across. “Unless yours comes off first, that is.”

He laughs an easy laugh at that, leaning back in as far as you’ll let him. “It was worth a shot, don’t you think?” he asks, completely without the barest hint of remorse. When you don’t respond or ease your grip he continues, “Fine, fine. Even if I’d rather see that pretty face of yours. I won’t try it again.”

Chapter Text

“Thanks for walking me home. I really appreciate it,” you say warmly as you step inside your home, turning to face Ren who follows you in, shutting the door behind him.. It’s a routine he insists on whenever the two of you are out together; he wants to be sure you get home safe. Well, more accurately he’s always concerned about all of you in the Phantom Thieves, encouraging you all to travel as close to home in at least pairs and asking for check-in texts after going to the Metaverse for business. It’s touching, you think, and very much like him as a leader to want to protect you. You couldn’t ask for a more dependable leader or boyfriend.

Ren smiles at your words, though despite his facade he seems a little affected by your gratitude, judging by the pale pink tinting his cheeks. “I like knowing everyone gets home safe, that’s all.” There’s a short pause where he adjusts his glasses, a habit he has when he’s thinking, you’ve noticed. He seems to have come up with something important because he suddenly looks up at you with concern. “Speaking of safe, how are you feeling?”

“Ah, well…” You aren’t entirely sure how to answer that. A few days prior, during a trip to Mementos, you’d taken a nasty blow and gotten banged up as a result. Nothing too bad, but it left you an aching mess afterwards. Despite this, you hadn’t called off your workout day with Ren, even though your probably should have. You thought you hid it relatively well, but not well enough apparently. “Still a little sore, actually. I tried taking it easy today but I’ll feel it in my back tomorrow I bet.”

Ren gives a quiet sigh and fixes you with a disappointed look. He’d asked repeatedly if you were fit to go, and you’d obviously not been telling the whole truth. For a moment you fully expect a lecture of some length from him, but instead his gaze softens. “Your back, hm? Are you still bruised?”

“No, well not there. The one on my shin is still fading, but it doesn’t bother me much. It’s just residual, the pain in my back. Hitting the wall like that didn’t feel great,” you say. Now that you’ve said it so plainly you realize just how bad it sounds and it makes you feel guilty for not postponing until you were fully recovered. You know for a fact that if you’d asked to just spend time doing something more relaxing he wouldn’t have judged you, but you kept on anyway and he was back to worrying about you. “I’m sorry.”

Ashamed, your gaze falls to the ground and you miss the look of quiet contemplation Ren fixes you with. There’s a moment of silence, before he speaks again. “I want you to take care of yourself is all. You don’t need to push yourself so hard.”

You absentmindedly toy with a lock of your hair, trying to think of something to say, but you have no idea where to take the conversation. Thankfully, Ren notices and takes the lead. “But if you really want to ease my mind, you can do me a small favor.”

“Hm?” That’s not what you expected him to say, but now your curiosity overrides your shame. You finally look back up at him and catch the cunning spark in his eyes. “What kind of favor?”

“It’s nothing serious,” he replies, stepping a wee bit closer, but still maintaining a friendly distance. “I’ve been doing some… research, and I wanted to try my hand something, but I need a volunteer.”

He’s playing coy and knows it, judging by the way the corners of his mouth turn up ever so slightly, but you can’t bring yourself to care. Ren would never ask you to do anything you would outright object to and it makes you comfortable agreeing without much fuss. “If it’s something I can do, sure.”

“All you need to do is lay down on the couch, simple enough.” When you arch an eyebrow in surprise he chuckles. For a second, his expression shifts into his signature teasing as he realizes the implications of his own words, but it mutes back into pure tenderness. “Not like that, not while you’re hurting. I want to try giving you a back massage, but it’s hard to practice without a partner.”

You laugh as well, amused at your own assumption. But really, what were you supposed to think when he phrased it like that? “I can accept those terms. How could I turn down a free massage?”

Honestly though, how could you? The idea sounds heavenly, and the thought has you wasting no time. You make your way around the couch and do as you’ve been asked, grabbing a pillow to rest on and laying down on your stomach. Stretched out like this you can really feel the ache stringing through you, the pain you’d pushed to the side far more noticeable now. But Ren isn’t too far behind you, and as soon as you’re as comfortable as you can be you feel a hand come to rest tentatively on your back.

“Let me know if you hurt, or want me to stop, okay?” Ren asks gently. You nod, trying to stay as relaxed as you can.

Now that he has that squared away, Ren gets started, at first using only the barest of pressure but he quickly realizes that won’t quite do. Even without any formal training or experience he can tell how knotted your back is, how stiff your muscles must be, and he wonders how you managed to go about your day like this. His eyebrows crease in concern as he thinks about it; he’d noticed at the gym how stilted your movements got when you thought he wasn’t looking, and Ren won’t ever forget seeing you be tossed aside like a rag-doll by a shadow. His concern and love fuel his desire to do the best job he can. After experiencing how much better he felt after getting one, Ren made sure to start studying up so he could help you. And teach you eventually, if you’re game, because if he could be honest he’d rather a massage from you than Kawakami after a long afternoon in the Metaverse.

To his pleasure, Ren finds you loosening up beneath his hands, letting out breezy sighs as you all but melt into his touch. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing he’s able to help you feel better, to very literally take a burden off your shoulders. He smiles down at you and does his best to replicate the techniques he’d read up on.

A quiet snore interrupts Ren’s work, and he can’t help the way he pulls away in surprise. Are you…? A quick peek at your face tells him that yes, you’ve somehow fallen asleep despite the fact he was still present and that he hadn’t been working particularly long. He brings a hand to his mouth to stifle a laugh. Ren knew you were probably exhausted after the workout, but to think you’d knock right out like this. Adorable, simply adorable. But there’s no point in continuing because he doesn’t dare disturb your well-earned rest, and he chooses to take it as a point in his favor. He can’t be half bad if his massage got you to relax enough that you could drift right off.

With a soft grin, Ren reaches up and ruffles your hair affectionately. Though he looks around for a blanket to cover you with, he doesn’t see one here and doesn’t feel right rifling through your house for one. Instead, wanting to do something, anything, to express the fond affection that he’s bursting with he leans down, brushes the hair out of your face and leaves a delicate kiss on your temple.

“Sweet dreams, love.”

Chapter Text

A sharp wind whips across the deck ruffling your hair and clothes as the ship rolls beneath your boots a triumphant grin curling your lips. Was there any place on this great blue earth as wonderful as this? No, not by half, of this you are certain. Wild and free here on the open ocean, a rowdy crew at your back and the glittering horizon before you, soft creaks of wood and the ever-present sting of salt. All sensations that sing through you, reminding you why you once ran from your home and took up this life at all.

“Aww, what's got our captain so soft-hearted today?” comes a familiar voice from behind you, accompanied by two sets of footfalls. You turn to face your visitors, finding Futaba has returned with your new 'guest'. “Are you dreaming about treasure or the ship, hm?”

You let out a great laugh at that. Your navigator knows you too well for your own good. “What else matters in the life of a pirate, eh? If it ain't grub, gold, or the sea it best be a bright-eyed lover on shore.” Both Futaba and your raven-haired passenger have a good chuckle at that, and you're glad to see the mood so light. “You showed him about, yeah?”

“Course I did, now he's all yours, cap. If I stay up here much longer I'll fry like a fish,” she says with a wave before fleeing to find her way back below deck. And you don't doubt it; even after all this time as part of your crew the young woman was still as pale as the day you took her aboard.

Although, speaking of looks, and now that you can get a proper view at him...

“Wow, you look even worse in the daylight,” you state while giving him a long once-over. It's true; here in the light of the sun his myriad of bruises and cuts stick out against his fair skin. You knew when you rescued him off the navy ship you boarded yesterday they hadn't exactly been kind to him, but this is the first time you've seen it so clearly. “You must o' put up one hell of a fight. Or you're a hell of a bastard.”

He flashes you a cheeky grin and rubs at the bridge of his nose. “My best lighting is candlelight, anyway. Plus, if you think this is bad, you should have seen the officers who took me in.”

His easy-going attitude draws out another boisterous laugh from you. What a champ, this one. “I like you, all the better to cheat you from the Navy. Speaking of, we'll get you patched up, Ann'll see to that, but we're not going to make a special trip to shore for you. I'm no slave-driver though, so don't worry about pitching in until you're healed. Just keep out from under foot, yeah?”

“Aye, aye captain,” he replies, grey eyes watching for any chance that his teasing oversteps a boundary. It's something you've noticed about the young man, always alert and on guard. Sensing he's still in good graces, you appreciate his willfulness, he continues with the same attitude. “Is that what I can call you while I'm an honorary pirate, boss?”

“I'll answer to anything but Officer,” you shoot back with a grin before giving him your name. “What about you, sticky-fingers? You got a name of your own or is 'Joker' all ya got?”

This actually takes the thief aback and before he regains his composure you catch honest shock and your smirk grows. You'd heard the news before you left port, that the notorious thief had been caught and was being shipped off for execution. And while you had no intention of meddling, because even you would someday likely meet such a fate for your ways, when you ran into a young man matching his description in the brig of a navy ship you happened to board there was no way you'd leave the poor fool to meet his doom. After all, what was a thief but a landlocked pirate? The wretched had to look after their own. But it's nice to see your hunch proven correct.

As the surprise wears off, he relaxes again with a chuckle, playful once more. “A clever one, aren't you? Ren. Call me Ren.”

Chapter Text

After hearing tales of wild, high-seas exploits, Ren realizes he has an entirely inaccurate picture of the pirate life by the second day on your ship. The days were far slower here at sea than he could have ever foreseen, all the more so since he's still on the mend. Granted, he knew it was going to take some time to heal up and that there was little use for an injured man, but still! He's used to being able to travel as he pleases and there's only so many times one can play dice or cards before it grows old in his opinion.

So, while idly flipping through a stack of assorted books you tossed at him to keep him quiet, when he hears the start of a ruckus above him, Ren grows curious enough to peel himself off the floor. There's shouting, and his mind jumps to the thought of trouble. Long years as a thief have taught him by now to be ready for the worst-case scenario. And when he sees you dash by he feels confident in his assumption and takes off after you.

Except he forgets that rushing out from below deck into the sun is a terrible idea. He's left a blinking mess, squinting into the bright light. As such, he has no idea what's exactly going on.

“Lilies? You're sure? Send up a flare! Takumi, tell Futaba and get us over there! We've got company, lads!”

By the time he adjusts to the natural light, you're nowhere to be found but all the rest of the crew is buzzing about like bees. He can spot a ship off in the distance. Obviously that's the company you're talking about, but he can't decide if it's good company or not. It couldn't be the Navy, or he doesn't think so, not if you're willing to approach. Though you sounded almost excited when you were barking orders.

After searching about for some time he finds you chatting animatedly with Ann, near the stern.

“-hope she likes it, after that lovely set of maps she gave me last time.”

“You know how much she enjoys coffee, I'm sure she'll be overjoyed. It's hard to come by out here,” Ann replies, just before she spots Ren standing there. “Oh, hello! Were you looking for us?”

Both you and Ann turn to face him, and now he can clearly see the enthusiasm in your body language. “Almost? I came up to find out what's going on. Is there trouble?”

The second he finishes asking, you burst out into your characteristic belly laugh. “There's always trouble on a pirate ship,” you correct once you regain your breath, “but this is the kind we live for. It's not every day you get to run into friendly faces out here away from land. You've seen the ship to the port side, yeah? That's the Iron Skull.”

Despite the fact that you seem completely unfazed, the news rattles Ren. He's heard of the Iron Skull, and the pirates at its helm: Sakamoto and Okumura, perhaps some of the most famous names in the 'business'. Easily the most feared. Ren supposes it's probably not actually that odd that you might know them, he knew his own fair share of other thieves by association, but he can't wrap his head around it fully. Having only heard whispered, drunken stories of the duo, there's a special sort of awe he holds regarding them.

“It'll be good to see Ryuji and Haru again.” Ann breaks the brief silence, and the blatant familiarity leaves the poor thief speechless. “I wonder if the rumors are true that they're looking for a place to retire to.”

“Pft, I doubt it. The idea of either of those rascals throwing down an anchor? Slander I tell you,” you say, nonchalant. “Can you picture Haru anywhere but on that ship of hers? Though I suppose Ryuji was talking about trying to find a nice island to build a little paradise for them someday.”

Ren just has to ask now, he's too curious. “You know them?”

“Of course! Used to run amok with Ryuji Sakamoto back in the day, don't ya know. Never worked together though.” There's a faraway gleam in your eye, as you recall something long-past. “You've gotta tell him that tale you told us, the one about the Marquis and the three mules. He'll crack a rib. And Haru's the sweetest gal I've ever met, so remember your manners, ay?”

Hearing you call a pirate he's only known as 'the sharpest axe on the blue' a sweetheart leaves Ren reeling. “Aye.”

Chapter Text

As a major city, Tokyo rarely can be called anything but lively, even at impossible hours of the night whole districts remain flush with neon lights and human activity, people coming home after many hours of work and school or leaving to start anew, but there is one obstacle that can very well stop this round-the-clock buzz: nature. And though a storm of this caliber cannot cause a complete halt, it has left the streets empty, drowning out what little noise the occupants could make with the sound of falling rain and occasional cracks of thunder, flashes of lightning rippling across the cloudy sky in their wake. All across the metropolis people and animals forced to be outside scramble for shelter, finding any reason to delay their departures.

A perfect night for a leisurely walk home if you’re allowed to give an opinion on the matter.

Deserted streets make it that much easier to take your own pace and relax, though you have no fear with regard to wandering alone at night even at the city’s busiest, there’s a special sort of peace here on your own. It’s very much like having the whole place to yourself. The steady beat of the rain makes a music all its own, blanketing everything with a soothing hush. And, for this brief interlude, the air smells clean enough that you could be fooled into thinking you were no longer in a smog-covered city. Instead of leaving you a shivering mess, the cold wind is bracing and invigorates you like nothing else. Truly, here in the midst of a storm that leaves so many fleeing for cover, you feel vibrant and alive. Which might explain why you feel so mellow when you spot a very familiar silhouette lounging under a closed store’s overhang, taking refuge from the weather.

“Forget an umbrella, did you?” you ask once you’re close enough, stopping in place as Ren turns to face you, clearly startled. It makes you smile ever so slightly, after all you don’t often get to catch him unawares.

But he’s mastered the art of recovering, and his surprise is quickly masked by his trademark easy neutrality. “Well, not at the start, but I seem to have misplaced it on the way back.”

Only now does it fully sink in that Ren is wearing his ‘stealthy’ hunting outfit, a frankly ridiculous getup for any sort of task taking place outside of a theater, though you do note he has, for the time being, forgone his mask. Even as the sudden mental recognition of the gravity of his errand running leaves a faint sour stain on your mood, as even now there is a part of you that cannot fully accept the necessity of the lives he takes to sustain his, you’re still able to find a wry amusement in how for once his strange fashion sense might actually be of a little use.

“That overcoat is more than heavy enough to make up the difference, I’m sure.”

He snorts, clearly unimpressed with your commentary. “Only until it soaks through. After that it’s heavy and wet,” Ren remarks dryly. To prove his point, he grabs a bit of the fabric between his hands and wrings out what water he can. “What about you? Strolling about like you’re heading to a spring picnic.”

“Maybe I am,” you say with a smile, giving your umbrella a small twirl for emphasis. “It’s just a bit of wind and rain, nothing that’s going to bother me any.”

Unsure of where to take the conversation, an awkward silence drifts over you. You’re far more accustomed to the days of constant banter; now that you and he are on good terms (in your words, Ren believes this is far too modest a phrase) you struggle to keep up. Small talk has been about the only socialization you’ve had for years, so this budding relationship is unfamiliar territory. Your first instinct is to do what you’ve always done, end it here and go about your merry way. He’s a grown man, and can take care of himself. You don’t need to baby Ren.

However, your second thought chases at the heels of your first, weighing heavy on your heart. Yes, you could leave him to his own devices and know he will be okay, but while once upon a time that would have been justification enough, you don’t want that. Despite his tendency to use his benevolence to tease you, he means well when he 'meddles’, and you want to return the favor. Except there is one problem: you don’t know how to say it.

Voice laced with concern, Ren interrupts your thoughts. “Something wrong? Why the sour face?”

Only at his mention do you realize your expression has twisted and you swiftly straighten it out. You’re supposed to be figuring out how to express your concern for Ren, not making him worry for you.

“No, I just…” You swallow the lump in your throat and shift your weight from one foot to the other, trying to piece the words together without sounding like an absolute moron. Thankfully, he’s patient, allowing you time to gather your thoughts. “I uh… I was wondering if… if you wanted me to walk with you…”

What a stupid way to ask, you chide yourself as your gaze darts away, trying to focus on anything else as a distraction. Your face burns with embarrassment at your clumsy attempt. Because you’ve looked away, you miss the way Ren watches you, a proud fondness written on his face.

“Are you asking if you can walk me home?”

“W- well, yes,” you say quietly, still unable to look at him directly. “If you’re okay with that.”

He chuckles softly, amused that you even had to ask about such a thing. “I’d be grateful,” Ren murmurs, stepping near. “Besides, when would I ever turn down a chance to spend time with you?”

To keep him from flustering you more, you shift the umbrella in your grip, signaling that he can get under it. While he does move in close to you, he takes you by surprise and gently plucks the umbrella from your hand, before quickly maneuvering around you so he stood between you and the street. As you arch an eyebrow in surprise he speaks, answering the question on the tip of your tongue. “What kind of gentleman would I be if I didn’t? I’d never hear the end of it from Arsene if he caught me treating you less than perfectly.”

“You’ve already earned a dressing down about your clown suit,” you grumble, doing your best to deflect from how you are most certainly glowing with bashfulness. Besides his questionable attachment to his dramatic flair, Ren is just as fixated on his mannerisms, a trait clearly inherited from his mentor. “Really, just because you have that coat doesn’t mean a sleeveless shirt underneath it is a good idea.”

He lets out a breezy laugh as the pair of you start walking. It’s not the first time you’ve poked fun at his choice in clothing, and you both know it won’t be the last. Not that he minds, you always pout so cutely when you disapprove of his attire, although that is his secret alone.

The trip itself is pleasant, blanketed by a comfortable silence. Something you’ve learned as you get to know him is that when he isn’t being a gadfly searching for a reaction Ren is a quiet man. You enjoy that though. As far as you’re concerned it’s enough to be able to bask in his company. The sound of splashing footsteps is the only thing that carries over the steady fall of rain. Due to the size of your umbrella, large enough for two but only barely, you have to walk right beside each other. Every so often your shoulder brushes his, and despite the fact that the fabric of his coat is still rather damp you still catch yourself wanting to lean into that slight touch each time it happens.

It takes some time to even get near his place, just shy of an hour at the relaxed pace you travel at. You recognize the layout as you get close, taking side streets and moving away from any major roads. The narrowness works in your favor, keeping the wind from blowing the rain about. When you’d first tracked down where Ren lived, you rather derisively referred to it as a slummy neighborhood, but the area has grown on you over time, convincing you of a quaint, off-beat charm.

Soon enough, once you’re nearby, you make it to the small alley where his apartment was located. It’s a tiny thing, barely large enough for the set of stairs leading to the door. You’re positive that Ren can afford a nicer home (though you have no idea what line of work a vampire would hold), something better than a converted attic loft, hardly big enough for one, above a cafe tucked in a forgettable section of the city. But he insists that he wants to live here, that he enjoys the atmosphere and the neighborhood.

“Looks like this is my stop,” Ren says quietly, turning to face you while being careful to keep you sheltered from the rain. There’s that softness again, in the way he gazes at you, that makes you want to hide.

“Be careful next time, okay? I’m not always gonna run across you, you know.”

Ren lets out a thoughtful hum as he steps a touch closer. “Are you sure about that? We do have a knack for bumping into each other. And I quite like being saved by you.”

“'Saved’? What are you, a princess?” you ask, and the thought of him playing damsel-in-distress is so realistic that it flusters you once more.

“Not usually,” he purrs, and it’s too late by the time you catch the low thread of mischief in his voice. “But for you, I’d gladly play the part. After all, a princess gets to reward her rescuer, hm?”

You don’t even get a chance to retort. No sooner do you manage to process his words and try to formulate a response of your own, than you find Ren has moved in, free arm wrapped loosely around your waist pulling you close. There’s an instant where you catch the lopsided grin gracing his lips before he presses his mouth against yours in a sweet kiss. He keeps it clean, but lingers for a long moment before pulling away, watching with great glee the way you curl into him and bury your face into his chest to hide your embarrassment.

Your cry of “What was that for?!” is muffled by the fabric of his shirt and your awkward position, but Ren notes cheerfully the way your voice cracks ever so lightly. Do you have any idea how cute you are? Now that he feels comfortable knowing he hadn’t been too forward, Ren shifts his arms to hold you better. It means putting the umbrella at an angle where it doesn’t quite cover you both, but he hardly cares when the payoff is being allowed to hug you this way.

“That was your reward, of course.” When that fails to draw a reply, he continues with a teasing lilt. “Was it not enough? You’re welcome to stay over so I can express my thanks properly, if you’d like~”

The very obvious implications of his statement causes you to choke on air, and you pull back enough to let him see your reaction while trying to stammer out an answer. You’re still trying to get used to kissing him! It’s not that you wouldn’t want to do more, but the last relationship you had was while you were still in school. “Wh- I mean- I… uh-”

Mercifully, he seems to understand your plight.

“At least warm up with a cup of coffee before you go,” Ren soothes, granting you a peck on the lips. “Dry off a little bit. You’ve got quite a walk home and I don’t want you catching a cold.”

This offer relaxes you. For all that he enjoys teasing you, you’re most grateful that he knows when to let off. You do enjoy this weather, true, but it is a bit chilly now that you’re a little rain-soaked. Not to mention how good his coffee-making skills are. “That sounds nice. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

The only thing you can think about once you close the door to your apartment behind you is getting to bed. You know you ought to eat dinner, or at least take a shower, but ever since the bizarre happenings on the way home finally ceased you've been dead tired. Your muscles ache and even your very bones feel made of lead; it's a miracle you made it home without falling asleep on the way. And sleeping this off may very well be what you need, honestly. A large part of your rational mind wants to brush the day's events off as a psychotic break, because as terrifying as that idea is, it is infinitely less terrible than facing a reality where you can slip into some alternate Tokyo and be assaulted in broad daylight by random people. The creepy eyeball app that you definitely did not download at any point in your life. You don't even want to start hashing out whatever the hell happened with the weird clothes and freaky mask and that wack thing you summoned.

The name 'Scheherazade' crosses your mind as soon as you think about that moment and you immediately discard the thought. Not today; you cannot handle any more than what you have already.

You toe off your shoes and toss your book bag onto the couch as you walk by. All you want is to knock out and forget that any of this ever happened. With any luck it'll be a one-off mental freak out and you can go about your life and never have to deal with it ever again. As you walk back to your bedroom, you shut your phone off, checking one last time for that app to make sure you deleted it, so that you can sleep uninterrupted. The very last thing you do is peel off your socks and unceremoniously toss them into the laundry hamper before flopping right into your bed without a second thought. Sleep comes easily; just as you find a perfectly comfortable position your consciousness is gone, slipping quickly into slumber.

But for as quickly as sleep claims you, it seems equally swift to ferry you into a dream that feels eerily real. You've managed a lucid dream once or twice, each time about half on accident after learning there was a technique for it, however as you 'wake' you expect to see your room around you. Except you don't. Instead you open your eyes to an unfamiliar room. Most everything is this garish blue color, nearly bright enough to make your eyes sting.

You sit up, annoyed at such a superbly awful dream. Really, your unconscious mind couldn't do any better than this? Whatever happened to getting some peaceful rest? More observation reveals that instead of your bed, you've woken up on a couch of a style you have never seen before. The obnoxiously blue fabric is plush and soft to the touch at least, and there are decorative brass rivets on the backing. Not the worst piece of furniture to wake up on, but not at all what you would expect your mind to come up with. Sitting in front of you is an ornate desk, mercifully made of a richly colored wood, and a matching chair on the other side of it. There's not much on the desk, only some paper and some fancy pens that can't be easy to write with.

Before you can complete your investigation, or even process what little you've taken in, a voice from behind you interrupts your thoughts.

“Ah, you've finally arrived. Good, good,” the masculine voice says. You're so startled because you truly believed you were alone here, as this is all a dream, that you screech and fall off the couch, flailing wildly. Footsteps and laughter are your cue that your companion is making his way closer, and you try to scramble into a sitting position to get a proper look at him.

“There's a reaction I wasn't expecting,” he says as he comes into view. He's a young man, no older than you but possibly younger, though contrary to his youthful appearance his hair is somewhere between a very pale platinum blond and a cool silver. You can't place the style of his jacket, but it's the same color as all the rest of the fabric in this freakish place, though at least his pants and shoes aren't. There's more than enough blue in this room as it is. But any more detailed observation is cut short when you notice the color of his eyes: a glimmering yellow. Suddenly all you can think of is the woman from earlier, and your throat tightens with fear. For a brief instant you're afraid he's going to attack the way she did, but he simply offers you a white-gloved hand to help you up.

“Don't be afraid,” he coos, waiting to see if you'll accept his assistance. You aren't confident that it's safe, yet you do cautiously take his hand and allow him to help you back to your feet.

“Thanks.” You really don't know what else to say at this point. Today has been such a strain on your mental state, and you let yourself go on auto-pilot. “So, um, what's up dream dude? What's on the agenda?”

The young man laughs at your casual questioning, bringing a hand to cover his mouth politely. When he catches his breath, he answers you plainly, “This is no dream, honored guest. You find yourself in a place between dream and wakefulness. Welcome to the Velvet Room.”

Chapter Text

You toss open the curtains, squinting as bright sunlight streams in through the window. It’s not often that you sleep in this late, but you suppose you only get one honeymoon, so all the better to take things slow. Yes, that’s right, there is no real reason to rush. You still have plenty of time here to relax.

“Babe,” Ryuji groans as you let the light in. You can hear the rustling of sheets and blankets as he rolls over, hiding from the daylight like a vampire. “I thought you said you’re gonna go shower! You don’t gotta blind me to do that.”

Perhaps you shouldn’t laugh at his whining, but by the time that thought crosses your mind it’s too late. He’s just so adorable! How did you get so lucky? As you reply you turn around to see his reaction. “Oh come on, are you really going to miss out on joining me? And remember, you’re the one who kept us up all night. Again.”

Ryuji rolls back over to face you with a quiet huff. “Well… Course I was gonna join you. Just after a little more shuteye.” He finally opens his eyes to look at you, and it’s impossible to miss the way his gaze lingers as he takes in the sight before him. You also can’t mistake the way his lips curl into a teasing grin. Dressed in little more than a breezy robe, for modesty’s sake, you’re definitely providing him with plenty to see. “Besides, how’m I supposed to sleep at night when I’ve got a pretty wife like you?”

Hearing the word ‘wife’, and the adoring way he says it, is enough to make your heart skip a beat. That’s right, you’re actually married now. You’d only gotten used to being called his fiancee, but now you get to be Ryuji’s wife. A fierce blush creeps up your face, and you have to remind yourself to breathe. While it will take more getting used to, nothing makes you happier than to hear it. Nothing except the man who gets to say it, of course.

It’s his turn to have a good-natured laugh at your expense, but not for long. “And what am I supposed to do with husband too tired to go down to the beach with me, hm?”

Ryuji chokes on his own laughter, and you take great amusement in the way his face turns cherry-red. He sputters for a few seconds, trying to regain his own composure. You’re not the only one affected by the new terms of endearment. Eventually, he mumbles a bashful “Oh yeah, we did want to hit the beach today, didn’t we?” though by the time he’s pulled himself out of bed, Ryuji is back to his normal, perky self. “Come on, let’s get that shower and some grub so we can go swimmin’!”

[------------]

“We should probably head back to the hotel soon,” you say softly. The warm glow of twilight is starting to fade and the faint breeze now carries a cool, refreshing edge. Despite your words, you’ve enjoyed this day, as you have every other day of your honeymoon, and you aren’t quite ready to let it end. You should; to be responsible, you ought to get back and start packing now, but tucked away here in the mountains there is such a sense of peace and closeness. You don’t want to go back to the city just yet even if you know you need to. “We’ve got a long day tomorrow.”

Goro leans into your shoulder a smidgen more, and you can feel his disappointment. He’s been so relaxed, finally away from all his work, all the cameras and people watching his every move. “We can take the long way back,” he replies, but there’s an insecure inflection to his words, as if he isn’t sure you’ll agree.

With a muted giggle you turn your head to press a sweet kiss to his cheek. “A brilliant plan.” You give his hand a reassuring squeeze, noting with a spark of pride the way you can feel the ring he now wears. To your great comfort, he reciprocates the motion. While you might not be eager to get back to a ‘normal’ life, knowing you get to spend it with Goro at your side keeps your spirits up. “We should come back up here again sometime, don’t you think? Maybe for the anniversary?”

He doesn’t answer you right away, the way you expect him to. You glance over to find a troubled expression on his face, and steer him gently to the side of the path you’ve been walking down, glad for how deserted this nature trail is so late. However, before you can even ask what’s wrong Goro speaks on his own accord. “There will be an anniversary, right? Ah, no that’s a st-”

You don’t even let him finish, spinning him around and tugging your husband into your embrace. There’s no point letting him drag himself down into a spiral. He’s come a long, long way from the boy you’d met him as, light-years of difference between the man who seeks to atone for his actions and the boy who’d lost sight of everything in his quest for revenge. But Goro has so much more to go, a fact you both know and have come to terms with, and this is part of the old speaking. You’ll never forget the way he came to you the night before the wedding, crying and scared that he’d give himself cold feet in fear that it might not work, that you might leave or get hurt or any number of anxious scenarios. You hold him the same way you did that night, in a tight bear hug, soothing your hands across his back.

“Shh. Of course there will be, Goro. I promised. I’ll promise it again,” you croon, keeping your voice low and soothing in tone. The transition has been hard on him. His fears are so layered and so deeply rooted you know it’ll be a rough task for both of you. But you meant your vows, each and every one of them, and you have no qualms with living them. “I love you, and I’ll be here with you. There’ll be a first anniversary, and a second and third. There’ll be a tenth and twentieth, too. Together we’ll hit all the milestones, Goro. I promise.”

As you talk, he tightens his grip on you, pulling himself as close to you as he possibly can. He shivers in your hold and you can feel his muffled sobs just as well as you can hear them. The two of you stay like this for a long couple of minutes, allowing him the time and space needed to confront the fears that plague him. This too shall pass.

And pass it does. Soon he quiets and his breathing evens out, and you relax your arms, letting him pull back the slightest bit. His face carries a red flush, eyes puffy from crying, but the tension is gone completely and he’s able to grant you a beatific smile. “Thank you, my love. Thank you.”

[------------]

“Don’t you worry you’ll get tired of sketching me all the time?” you ask, a playful tease, while trying to stifle a yawn. If you didn’t care so much about not staying in the same position for Yusuke’s sake you would have let it out and stretched, but you do care and thus you ignore the desire. However, it’s late, very near when you typically go to sleep and you know you can’t stave off the urge forever. “It’s not like I’m going anywhere.”

Yusuke’s reply is an immediate and passionate “No, never!” You watch as he lowers his sketchbook and focuses all his attention upon you, keen blue gaze snapping up to meet yours. “I could paint you a thousand times and never tire of it.”

You choke a little, taken off-guard by his frank admission, and though you know you’ll have to fight to get back into the pose later, you can’t stop yourself from bringing a hand up to your face. How does he say these things so boldly? One would think you would be used to it by now, as he’s never been a man to mince words, and yet his earnestness never fails to make you blush. “W-well, I hope so because you’ve been seeing a lot more of me lately, and I’m not going anywhere any time soon.”

From behind the hand hiding your bashful face you are unable to see the adoring way he watches you, though you do hear the soft, thoughtful hum he gives before he calls your name gently to grab your attention. Once you meet his eyes, peeking through your fingers, he speaks. “You have always been the loveliest woman I have had the grace to meet, in both form and spirit. To me you are the embodiment of a muse made flesh; there is no part of you I do not find inspiring. And since the day we pledged our lives together you have only become more radiant by the day. I will spend my whole life endeavoring to capture even a portion of your vibrancy on canvas, and it will take me that long. So trust me when I say that I will never grow tired of trying.”

If his earlier statement was enough to leave you embarrassed, and it was, this one leaves you reeling. What are you supposed to say to that? Yusuke’s frank sincerity in all that he says leaves you speechless, and you trade your hand for a pillow to disguise your blushing face, curling up with a strangled whine. You’d call him a flatterer but you know he means every word he says.

When you hear the noise of paper being placed down on the desk, you pull away slightly from your pillow-shield to mutter a pouty “Stealing all the compliments tonight, huh?”

“Perhaps I am,” he teases, chuckling softly. The soft sounds of his footsteps approach the bed where you’d been posing and now lay curled up. Once you feel the bed dip with his weight, you peek over the pillow to find Yusuke sitting at the edge, grinning mischievously down at you. “Perhaps, after observing you for so long, I have decided that’s not all I am after.”

“You rascal! Fiend!” you jokingly accuse, bopping him on the head with the pillow. The action causes him to laugh and you start to relax. You may not be the best at accepting his seemingly endless praise, though you’re learning, but Yusuke’s ability to shift the mood is a great aid. “I’d like to see you try!”

“Then keep your eyes on me, my dearest.”

[------------]

The rich scent of brewing coffee is a powerful force, and when it reaches even to your dreaming mind there is no denying its pull. Languidly your mind comes about though you do not immediately get up. Even with the promise of a hot breakfast your body begs to stay put and drift back off. It’s cozy and you’re extremely comfortable nestled up the way you are.

Well, comfortable enough until you realize you’re in bed alone, with only the faintest hint of warmth to remind you that Ren was ever in bed at all. You roll over with a sigh; now that you’re used to sharing, it’s not the same trying to sleep in without him to curl up next to. But you know that if you want his company, you’re going to need to go out to the kitchen.

That’s all the reason you need though. For a while you feared there would come a time after the wedding where you’d grow used to his presence, that it would become banal and boring. However, to your infinite gratitude, that has not happened. While not as strong as it once was, as it was in the throes of the newness of your relationship, you have not lost any of the joy he brings you simply by being at your side.

Finally, you can no longer deny the allure of food and coffee and, most importantly, a good morning kiss. With a muted groan you pull yourself up until you’re sitting at the edge of the bed. Your shared bedroom is still dim, lit only by the first rays of sunlight. Why was Ren up so early today? You can’t remember anything important going on, and you don’t recall making any plans either. Mind still hazy with sleep, you simply can’t figure it out. Determined to see if you can’t coax your husband back to bed after a light breakfast, you meander through your home to the kitchen.

By the time you get there, however, you’re feeling almost completely awake.

“G'morning,” you mumble through a yawn as you turn the corner into the kitchen. Ren is easily spotted behind the counter, pouring coffee into a matching set of mugs. He’s still shirtless, you note, meaning he didn’t bother to dress before coming out here. Good, all the better to drag him back for more rest.

“Good morning, Mrs. Amamiya~” He looks up at you with a soft smile and watches as you approach. “Missed me already?” he asks, but the tone of his voice gives away that he knew the answer to that question.

“What I’m missing is my sleep.” Even though you say that, you don’t hesitate to take the cup of coffee he offers you. The smell alone is enough to shake of the last vestiges of tiredness, and the first sip you take is invigorating. “Did you have a nightmare?”

You know he suffers them on occasion, but he’s always awake by the time you notice something is wrong. Ren shakes his head, expression tender. “No, I slept really well last night. But I was thinking, would you like to go somewhere today?”

“Hmm.” The offer takes you by surprise. You try once again to see if you’re forgetting something special about this date, but come up empty-handed. A day out sounds nice though. You wonder if he’s been planning this or if it’s entirely spontaneous. “Did you have an idea in mind?”

“Maybe,” he suggests with a mirthful wink, causing you to giggle. “We haven’t had much time to hang out these last few months because of work, and I might have been thinking of a way to spend our first joint day off.”

Ah, yeah, that’s right. You really haven’t been able to just take a day for the two of you, not since getting back from the honeymoon. It’s been a lot of working and adjusting; there’s so many small things you’d both been so unprepared for despite your efforts. In light of that, the promise of a day where you could simply revel in being together overrides any lingering desire to sleep in.

“Well, I’ve never turned down a plan of yours yet, have I, and I’m not gonna start now.”

Chapter Text

“Now remember, if you let out any sound, you lose our little wager,” Ren says, watching keenly from his position beside you as you bend over the edge of your bed for any trace of discomfort in your expression. Finding only a cocky smirk that matches his own, he clarifies one last point. “Unless it's the safe word, of course. Understand?”

You start to reply but before you can say a word your brain cuts you off, realizing nearly too late his ploy. Instead, you settle for shooting him a deadpan stare that makes your lover's grin grow. He's not above blatant trickery in the bedroom, especially when control is the prize. Not that this evening started with such a premise, but when the topic of birthday spankings came up it was inevitable that the two of you would get feisty, especially in light of the fact that neither of you can turn down a challenge from the other.

To take the upper hand, you shift, putting more weight onto your arms as you lean forward, using this new position to perk up your rear. You can't fail to notice Ren's eyes darken or the way his fingers flex, eager to touch you. By the time he looks back at your face, you've put on the most sultry expression you can, daring him to do his worst.

A request which he obliges, standing up from his seat beside you on the bed with a dark chuckle and moving to stand behind you. You crane your head to watch him for a moment, long enough to see him take off his glasses and place them on the nightstand, but don't want to strain your neck and face forward soon enough. Besides, trying to see when to anticipate his moves would only get you blindfolded. Ren's not about to let you spoil his 'surprise'.

And a surprise it is when without any warning his hand makes contact with your ass twice in rapid succession. You expected him to drag out his first hits, to tease you until he was ready to strike. The shock of the maneuver nearly breaks your control, your hands curling into the sheets as you bite your bottom lip, hardly daring to breathe lest you let out the yelp you caught in your throat. The instant you start to come down from the first two, right as you start to unwind, he repeats himself, landing the third and fourth spanks with just as much vigor as the previous pair. You suck in a sharp breath through your nose. Alright, that's how he's going to play it tonight. Noted.

“Off to a good start tonight, aren't you dear?” Ren asks, voice low and smooth as his fingers ghost over your skin, soothing away the stinging with a cool touch. “That eager to have me as your present?”

He gives you time to catch your breath and relax the tiniest bit, for which you're grateful. With one hit for each birthday you've had so far, you still have a way to go and you appreciate the lull. Goodness knows you're going to need a handful of chances to recover your composure. Though it doesn't mean you can let your guard down, however, as his hands start to wander, tracing indecipherable patterns up to your lower back and down to your thighs.

Now that you know how he's approaching this little test of your will, you're ready for him when his touch lifts for but a moment before it returns in the form of a few more hits. These three are lighter, not enough to be called gentle but markedly different from the first set, though what they lack in power individually they make up for in the fact that Ren doesn't alternate sides this time, instead landing the trio all in the same spot.

He lets out a thoughtful hum as you shift, trying to adjust your posture to regain some comfort. There's a pause, and as soon as you think to prepare yourself his hand makes contact again. He waits a second for the pain to die down before repeating the action, a pattern he keeps for three more repetitions. It forces you to draw a terse breath. That's eleven, so far. Closer, but a break would be lovely.

“How are you holding up?” As he poses his question, one of Ren's hands goes to rest you your hip, thumb rubbing small circles into your skin. He reaches up with the other, tracing his fingers lazily up your back before threading through your hair. You shiver slightly and lick your lips. Honestly, you think you're doing quite well so far, not that you can brag about it. The pain is still rather mild, any lingering stinging fizzling off into something duller. Duller, and laced with a pleasure that will be hard to deny if asked, judging by the slickness building between your thighs.

The hand he has at your hip briefly leaves it's perch to land two more quick slaps on your rear, causing you to jump slightly. “Well, you can't be doing too badly if you're still being so quiet,” he concludes, and the edge of laughter you can hear in his voice tells you how much fun he's having. Ren always did enjoy having you at his willing mercy. “But think of how much fun we could be having right now if you'd give in. Though I wonder...”

Without giving you any time to react the hand playing with your hair cups the back of your head, holding it in place with a gentle firmness as he presses himself close and leans over you. Ren is careful not to place his weight on you, supporting himself with his free hand, making sure that while you can feel his body against yours you aren't being crushed.

A warm breath by your ear is the only warning you get before he continues speaking. “Maybe you prefer this, hmm? Bent over our bed like the naughty thing you are, having your pretty little ass smacked until it's bright red? Not even allowed to tell me just how much you love being treated this way?” A sharp nip to the shell of your ear causes you to shudder, and drags a strangled whine from you that you try desperately to quell.

Damn it, he is so cheating!

There is a brief moment you can fool yourself into thinking you either managed to successfully keep yourself quiet, or that Ren didn't hear you, but right as you convince yourself it's fine, he kisses the skin of your neck, right below your ear and you can't mistake the way he's smiling. You can't turn to look at him pinned the way you are, but you are perfectly able to picture the smug look he always gets when he's sure the game is in his favor. Well if he's going to count it a win anyway, you might as well try and defend your pride.

“Not fair,” you grumble. “That wasn't a fair move.”

“Perfectly fair,” Ren replies before laying another slow kiss to your neck. “You only said I couldn't take too long. You never forbade me using other methods to hear that lovely voice of yours.”

With the same swiftness that he descended upon you, Ren pulls back and you're able to get a glance at him. He shoots you a wolfish grin, and suddenly all your arguments are lost to you.

“Speaking of your voice, Treasure, I want to hear it this time, okay? Do that and I'll make sure you still get a wonderful surprise. Do we have a deal?”

Chapter Text

It’s not often that you get back to the dorms so early. Usually, between club meetings, the occasional part-time work, errands, and making time to hang out with friends, you don’t make it home until the evening. Today, however, is a rare oddity, and you have been left with nothing specific to attend to. You considered staying out anyway, maybe catching a movie or wandering around the mall, but the promise of a quiet day in overruled any other ideas. So here you are, ready to spend your free day relaxing on your computer.

“I’m back,” you call out as you step inside and close the door behind you. There’s no answer, and as you scan the lounge, it’s obvious why. No one else seems to have made it home yet, which actually isn’t that strange. But the sound of the television lets you know you aren’t entirely alone. Laying on the couch is Shinjiro, head resting on the armrest, asleep, and you bring a hand to your mouth to stifle a giggle. You don’t often get to see him so relaxed, even as his girlfriend. Well… not ‘girlfriend’, you suppose, since he seems uncomfortable with that level of commitment for his own reasons, but the role is the same despite Shinjiro’s avoidance of labels.

As silently as you can, you pad closer, curious to see what he was watching before he knocked out. You don’t know the name of the show, but it appears to be some kind of cooking show. A woman with a very comforting and motherly appearance is explaining how she’s making a stock for a soup. It makes you smile; Shinjiro really does love to cook, doesn’t he? You find it a charming hobby though the young man is remarkably self-conscious about how much he enjoys tinkering around in the kitchen.

Normally he keeps to himself when the rest of S.E.E.S. is around, though with everyone else at school you guess he felt comfortable enough to come downstairs and lounge about. The only thing missing is Koromaru, and you’re concerned for a moment before you remember that he’s been escorting Ken to and from school these last few weeks. That would be why Shinjiro is still sound asleep. Had Koro been here, he would have welcomed you home with a noisy round of happy barks and tail wags, and while being greeted by a loving dog is heavenly, you wouldn’t trade it for the chance to catch Shinjiro sleeping peacefully.

But in the same instant you get ready to turn and continue upstairs to your room a thought crosses your mind. Even without Koromaru here to bark, wouldn’t Shinjiro have woken up when you checked to see if anyone else was here? While you hadn’t shouted particularly loud, the door leads directly into the lounge, and you would have been able to be heard over the TV. A sharp twinge of worry shoots through you and you step closer. Upon further inspection, and before you reach out to wake him, you notice something… unusual. Despite being out like a light, his posture is oddly stiff and when you think to check you see his breathing isn’t the slow and deep tempo typically associated with slumber. Your eyes flick back to the television, and suddenly you think you might have an idea of what’s truly going on.

To see if your hunch is correct, you first walk over to the stairway, not bothering to adjust your footfalls. But once you reach them, you do not walk up the stairs, instead quietly tiptoeing back over to the couch. When you get there, you take a place behind his head and carefully lean over him to observe what he does. Part of you begs to ruffle his dusty-brown hair, you don’t get many chances to encounter him without his beanie, but that would spoil your plan entirely. A crying shame though. He’s so adorable like this.

Several long moments pass with only the sound of the television show in the background to gauge the time. You wonder briefly if your theory was wrong, if Shinjiro really is simply in a deep sleep, but when you see his body shift your lips curl into a sly grin. Slowly, his eyes crack open, to see if the coast is clear. As soon as he spots you looming over him, his eyes widen in surprise.

“Huh? Whe-”

You cut off Shinjiro’s startled stammering with a gentle kiss. It’s a little awkward, given you are technically upside-down from his perspective, but you keep it short and sweet. He’s beet-red when you pull back, grey eyes meeting your gaze for a moment before darting away bashfully.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell the others,” you say, shooting him a playful wink as he sits up and turns to face you properly. “Consider that a down payment. Sound fair, Shinji?”

Chapter Text

From the comfort of your seat you watch idly as the scenery rolls by outside. The bright early morning sunlight glints sharply off the frost-kissed grass on the rolling hills, the trees that dot them bare except for the sparse leaves that have held their place with stubborn determination through the autumn wind. A handful of small fluffy clouds dot the rich blue sky, their edges rimmed with the last rosy blush of their sunrise colors. You cannot be entirely sure, given your location, but you can imagine with vivid precision the crisp edge the air outside must carry here on the very cusp of winter. Ah, how lovely it would be to be out there right now.

You reach a lazy hand to the window, dreaming in vain of getting to stop the train for your own whims to enjoy the countryside, and note with a lazy smile the way the glass fogs beneath your fingers, giving the appearance of a frigid halo. A soft yawn escapes you as the steady rocking of the train’s movement lulls you back into drowsiness. It’s not often you travel this way, or perhaps it had not been often before these last few years given that you previously didn’t travel much at all really, and so you aren’t yet completely accustomed to how relaxing it is.

A warm, gloved hand plucks yours off the window, and it’s only as you sit up straight that you realize you were actually dozing off. You turn to face your companion with a curious glance and are met with a roguish wink as he gently tugs you closer.

“If you are still tired, there are far more comfortable places to sleep, my rose,” Arsène says. With a grace that betrays the depths of his devotion, he brings your hand up to lay a delicate kiss to your knuckles. The warmth of his lips is a stark contrast to the chill that still lingers in your skin, and it is in search of more of his warmth that you lean ever so slightly into his side.

Clearly eager for more contact, he relinquishes your hand and slips an arm around your shoulders, encouraging you to press closer. With a huff of laughter you oblige him. “Like here, I presume? Are you sure you wouldn’t mind? Someone might see, you know.”

“And who would come to interrupt a man’s time with his new bride, hm?” Arsène replies with a laugh of his own, referring to the cover story he used before your departure. All your plans of a quiet, uninterrupted holiday would be ruined, for the most obvious of reasons, if word got out. Being the wife of the most infamous thief in France was more trouble than it appeared though you would not trade this life for any other. “Not even the most brutish of fools would barge into a private compartment under such circumstances.”

“If only they knew we’ve been married for seven,” you laugh and cuddle closer, using his shoulder as a pillow. Compared to the cold that radiated in from the window, your husband is gloriously warm, and when you nuzzle into him, you can catch the unmistakable scent of his cologne, warm and earthy. The smell is comforting, and you find yourself melting into his side.

“The years matter little, Mrs. Lupin. My love for you will remain every bit as strong as it did that day,” he murmurs, and you can feel him shift closer to you.

Comfortable and content, your eyes drift shut. “As will mine. As will mine.”

Chapter Text

You hand both ice cream cones to Arsène once they're done, so you can reach for your wallet and pay the cashier. Once you're done and your wallet and change are back in your purse, Arsène hands you back your treat and the two of you continue your stroll through the park. It's a balmy summer evening, enough of a breeze to be refreshing. Due to the pleasant weather there are plenty of people still milling about, especially here near the ice cream truck, so you set a course heading towards a quieter area.

"Looks like we're not the only ones out for some fresh air," you remark cheerfully, staying close by your companion. You're glad to get to spend time like this together, away from the house and out of hiding, and not cooped up in your workshop. Now that he was growing used to modern life, it's much easier to take Arsène exploring. "How's your ice cream, by the way?"

You watch as he takes another sample, and he puts on a thoughtful, appraising look. "It's quite good," Arsène says. He turns his head to face you and you don't have time to process the twinkle of mischief in his gaze before he continues, this time in his mother tongue. "Mais ce n'est pas aussi délicieux que toi."

Without even waiting for your brain to translate, you're blushing, hastily looking away to try and regain your composure. Only a few seconds later, as you try to hide your reaction by returning to your ice cream, does the meaning behind his words click and you are left sputtering. Of course he'd choose to say something like that here, out in the open, simply to see you squirm.

Chapter Text

A shrill chime from your phone beside you has you leaping to your feet from the collapsible chair you’re lounging in, hand whipping out to silence the alarm.

“Yeah! Shuichi! It’s time!” you shout to your companion as you toss your phone carelessly into the dufflebag sitting at the base of the large umbrella you’d been resting under. While you are completely energized and ready to go, he looks a little dazed at your sudden exclamation. So you take the time to clarify what you’re trying to say. “The sunscreen is set, so we can go down now! Come on lazy bones, last one in the water is a rotten egg!”

The poor boy has no chance to reply before you set off, galloping across the beach toward the water’s edge. He’ll catch up. It takes a few strides before you really get a good pace since the sand behaves so differently under your feet. You’ll feel this in the morning if you keep running through the sand, but you’re so excited you can’t bring yourself to care. After all, how often to you get to spend a whole day at the beach with your boyfriend? Not often enough for your tastes.

As carefully as you can, you bolt to the shoreline, making sure to not run into or over anyone on the way, and soon the soft, shifting sand is replaced by dense, wet sand and you all but toss yourself into the waves with a joyful shout. The water is shockingly cold, but you’re chest deep before the sensation registers in your brain, and you have no plans to back out now anyway. The waves are still small, just big enough for a little bit of body surfing and horseplay, but you know they’ll get rougher as the day goes on.

“H-hey, you didn’t have to leave me behind,” Shuichi calls out from the shore.

You can’t stop the bark of laughter you have at his expense. “Oh, come on, it was a race! Now get out here, slowpoke! The water’s fine!”

Shuichi only inches closer, only going knee-deep in the surf, clearly unwilling to dive right in. You watch for a few moments, to see if he bothers to gather his nerve and join you, but when he doesn’t hurry his pace, you slip forward toward him, letting the movement of the water do most of the work. Underneath the surface of the water, you cup your hands and once close enough use them to squirt a jet of water at him. The sudden attack makes him yelp and Saihara brings his hands up to defend himself against any further assaults.

“That’s cold!”

“Yeah, and it’ll stay cold if you don’t just get in here,” you reply, closing what little distance remained between you two to stand next to him.

He watches you with a wary gaze before letting out a sigh of defeat. You aren’t going to give up and you both know this for a fact. Not until he’s in the water. “We can’t all be glorified selkies like you, you know.”

The familiar comparison has you giggling; it’s both fitting and one you’re fond of. But you can’t help your love of being in the water any more than he can change his height. “And who loves me anyway~” you chime, throwing an arm around his shoulders. Shuichi flinches at the touch, due to the chill you carry, but he perseveres and doesn’t pull away though his pale face turns the cutest cherry-red. “Now c'mon, let’s get swimming!”

Without further ado, you pull away for a brief moment and scoop your boyfriend into your arms. He flails around for a second, taken off-guard by your movements, but you’re already carrying him into the ocean. If he’s going to put off acclimating to the temperature, you’ll just have to expedite the process, won’t you? Once you’re deep enough that the movement of the waves makes it difficult to walk and carry Shuichi at the same time you unceremoniously dump him back on his feet, having yourself a mischievous chuckle at the way he splashes water at you in ‘retaliation’.

“I could have done that myself.” Even though Shuichi is definitely chiding you, there’s no steel behind his words, further proven by the way he willingly follows as you kick off into deeper water, dipping under the waves to get past them.

You turn and shoot him a playful grin the next time you surface. “But you didn’t!” Once again you duck beneath the water’s surface, this time circling him like a shark, popping up behind him. “So I took matters into my own hands.”

“That d-” Shuichi’s reply is cut off when you return underwater and give his leg a very light, friendly tug. You watch with amusement the way he sighs, then turn away and swim further out to see if he’ll catch your drift. Nothing to start your day like a little game of tag.

You come back up for air and scan the area. Not too many people have come out this deep into the ocean, but you don’t spot Shuichi anywhere, so you dive back down just in time to catch him swimming right toward you. With a bright smile you let him, dodging away at the last second. You lead him on, staying just out of his reach by taking advantage of his more frequent breaks for air that give you a good lead for the times you also have to breach to breathe. He’s not a terrible swimmer, but he lacks the lung capacity you’ve trained up. Oh well, he’ll get better eventually, you’ll see to that.

Eventually, when slipping out of his grasp begins to bore you, you slow your escapes and linger about for longer as he rests up. However, instead of simply giving yourself up, you have a plan. You wait patiently for him to surface, then swim deeper, allowing you to get around behind him without being easily noticed. When he dives and begins scanning the area to see if he can spot you, you carefully paddle closer, doing your utmost to stay out of sight. Once you are close enough for your scheme, you rise a touch, enough that Shuichi can see you without trouble. If you weren’t so scared of spooking him, you’d tap on his shoulder, but you know better than to risk it.

It takes him a long moment to turn back around, and when he does, you can make out the way his brow is creased in confusion at your apparent disappearance before his eyes widen in shock to see you lounging casually behind him. With a smile, you wave at Shuichi innocently. He doesn’t take the bait, instead observing you to see if you’ll dart away again, so you take matters into your own hands. You swoop in and give him a quick peck on the lips before swimming back out of reach, noticing with great glee the way he turns away bashfully.

Needing to breathe, you make your way to the surface and wait for Shuichi to join you. It doesn’t take him long, and to your joy he’s still bright red with a furious blush. Simply adorable. He tries to say something though you’re not sure what because he’s resorted to hiding his face behind a hand and it draws a giggle from you. You let him regain his composure patiently, not letting yourself drift too far away.

As soon as he is calm and collected, you shoot Shuichi a toothy grin, eager to continue your game. “Hey, I think that makes it my turn to chase you, doesn’t it? Best get swimming, sharks always come back for more after a taste you know~”

Chapter Text

Canon Ren: Please don’t fight him. He has enough problems, give this poor boy a break. You probably don’t want to fight him anyway, even if you win not only will you not feel good about it, but you’ll have to watch out for a very silent, very stern revenge.

Vampire!Ren: Please do fight him. Kick his ass, or at least try to because you’re probably outclassed. This sassy bastard deserves a good trouncing every now and again, to be honest. Besides, he’ll flirt with you the whole damn time anyway, and if you put up a good enough fight he might even patch you up and take you out afterwards.

Palace!Ren: N O! DO NOT FIGHT! Leave him be! If canon Ren has problems, and he does, this one is having the Worst Time. Can definitely defend himself, but he’s already dealing with so much, do you really want to add more to his plate? No, no you don’t.

Palace!Arsene/Shadow Ren: BEAT! THIS! FUCKER! Beat him just shy of death because while you might be able to reason with him, the chances that he will care enough to listen are next to nil. Be extra cautious, however, because this is a very dangerous foe and he will absolutely fight to kill. Consider yourself warned. The second most dangerous on this list.

Nekomata!Ren: 50/50 split that will come down to personal opinion. As a cat in a human body, he definitely has his moments where he’s earned some fisticuffs, but he’s a good guy who means well and just tries to take care of his Dumb but Loved Human. You’ll have some trouble with this one though, youkai are known to be rough foes.

Thief!Ren: Pass. He’s not particularly innocent, but this Ren is way more interested in stealing a kiss than fighting, so even if you try to bait him into a fight he’ll find a way to weasel his way out of it. It wouldn’t be that satisfying a fight anyway, unless you have a major grudge.

Velvet Attendant!Ren: Skip this one too. While a tricky gadfly, he’s also trying his absolute best to help and doesn’t deserve your ire, though he might indulge in a good-natured spar to see how far you’ve come. Be warned though, like the attendants before him he is a force to be reckoned with. Only not in the Top 3 Most Dangerous because he wouldn’t fight to kill.

Corrupted Joker!Ren: Absolutely fight this man, just please come absolutely prepared. He’s earned several lifetimes worth of beatings, but he will fight beyond dirty and this one likely comes with terrifyingly loyal backup. 3rd most dangerous Ren, but not by much.

Pocket Pal!Ren: What kind of monster are you?! He’s like, 3 inches tall at the most. Do the opposite of fighting, pamper this wee bab. Make him tiny foods, let him braid your hair and cuddle against you carefully.

Pirate!Ren: Another one that doesn’t necessarily deserve it, but would get a kick out of a solid brawl. Might get a little handsy if you know each other, and definitely won’t hit too hard regardless. Probably good for a solid workout.

Dealmaker!Ren: Nope! Walk right past this one folks, nothing to see here. You wouldn’t last long enough to regret the fight. He definitely won’t pick a fight, but he will finish every. single. one. he gets dragged into. He’s probably earned his fair share of beatings in his lifetime, but there is nothing you could do to win. The single most dangerous Ren in the bin so far. Can and will fight to the death and is the hardest of them all to even stand up against if he means it.

Casual Twins!Ren & Akira: Why? What could they have done to you? Leave these soft boys alone. You could almost certainly win, but you’d be less of a person for the experience.

Canon Expansion Twins!Ren & Akira: Again, what have they done to deserve a fight? Nothing, nothing at all, but this time they can and will fight back and unless you can fend them both off at once you’re the one in for a thrashing. However, even if you win you’re the loser, and much like with canon!Ren, there will be revenge.

Chapter Text

People often ask how long you’ve known the Amamiya twins, once they see how close you are to the brothers, and your go-to answer is all your life. Being born in the same hospital, roughly a month before they were, allows you to joke that you’ve been friends since before you were born. Your mothers stayed in touch after becoming friends themselves during their repeated chance meetings, setting in motion what you consider to be the most influential friendship of your life.

For years, the three of you are inseparable; in many ways you’re an honorary sibling as soon as you’re old enough to choose to hang out with Ren and Akira, found in their company nearly as often as you can be found with your own parents. Other friends, the neighbors, and even your parents learn to find one of you, they must look for the whole trio, and that a sighting of any one of you means the other two aren’t far away. Even as you grew up, going from precocious children to a rowdy pack of teenagers, when outsiders speculated you could not possibly remain so closely knit, the three of you were more than glad to prove every expectation wrong.

But this seemingly natural balance between you three finds itself upset one day though only one of you has any knowledge of this.

The day it happens is unremarkable on its own merit. Without any clubs to attend after school, the three of you spend the afternoon much the same way you always have on lazy days: loitering around the shopping district. Usually, this involves a lot of people-watching, and no small amount of gossip, making it a great time wasting activity for when there was nothing better to do. Except, today the whole place is dead as a door-nail. Nobody else is willing to brave the late autumn chill, or has any errands worth doing so. Thus, in lieu of your planned variety of idleness, to keep from splitting up and going home early, the three of you chat leisurely tucked away in a small walkway between buildings.

“Are you really telling us you bought a whole game because one of the side characters is hot?” Akira asks, voice cracking as he holds back a laugh. He watches you with prying eyes, and he’s eager to see how you attempt to recover.

Your friend’s accusation makes you choke on your own words. While not entirely incorrect, he’s chosen the most embarrassing part to focus on, the damn gadfly.

“No!” you snap back, turning away to try hiding your shame. “It’s a novel take on the RPG genre with a great story! That’s why I bought it!”

“Oh, then what was with that goopy expression?” Akira’s expression softens, dramatically looking off into the distance as he flutters his eyelashes. When he resumes talking, it’s in a mocking falsetto. “'And it’s so unfair! After putting in all the effort to make him so perfect and dreamy, the devs don’t even let you date him! What a waste of a good hunk!‘”

A sudden urge to throw Akira into the street nearly consumes you as you bury your face in your hands. “I didn’t say it like that, you liar!”

Your indignation only causes Akira to let out the chuckle he’s been stifling, and he turns toward Ren. “Oh come on, you saw her do it, didn’t you? ‘Thirsting’, as the kids call it these days?”

Before Ren gets a chance to reply, he watches you reach over and start swatting at his brother who deflects the halfhearted blows while continuing to laugh at your rage. Truth be told, though Akira was definitely exaggerating your response, you had given away your small crush in the softness in your eyes and the tenderness infused in your smile when telling them about your most recent addition to your game library. It’s not the first time you’ve been caught up with a fictional character in a game or movie, and it will definitely not be the last, he knows. Normally, Ren finds this adorable. You spend a month or so becoming an extra easy target for his twin’s jokes, sure, but you always seem so content with your preoccupation, as if you’ve found a real sliver of happiness.

“You talk like we didn’t catch you surfing your phone for porn during lunch last week!”

This time, however, he finds it hard to find that acceptance, and while he covers his troubled thoughts with a bemused smile at the bickering between you and Akira, Ren isn’t entirely sure why. It’s never bothered him before; they’re just harmless little crushes. He doesn’t even have to worry about if you’ve started to develop feelings for someone who might hurt you or let you down. In many ways, seeing you only show this level of affection for characters is a blessing. After all, none of them can break your heart, and while both he and Akira trust that you would never let someone come between you (and they in turn wouldn’t let anyone keep them away from you), a video game character can’t do that either.

“Why, I would never! Such slander! What would your boyfriend think?”

It’s only as that thought bleeds into a mental image of you smiling in that manner at someone else that it clicks into place and Ren needs to focus on not physically recoiling in shock. He’s jealous. He’s jealous and the poor boy has not a clue what to do with this fact. You haven’t even been spending any extra time away from him and his brother, and nothing has changed between you. Trying to figure out what is going on in his own head, Ren repeats the experiment but this time pictures you giving Akira that gentle look. Once again there’s a painful tug on his heart, not as strongly as when he imagined another one of your classmates, but it’s unmistakable.

“I’m not damn otaku! I’m not dating a stupid video game character! Besides, you’re the only one out of all three of us with a body pillow! Who’s the freak now?”

“Ahaha, and who’s the one who bought it, hm?”

The feeling is pronounced enough that Ren is forced to realize his love for you has changed. He’s always held some type of love for you, always a deeply platonic thing, but it’s never been a cause for jealousy. Neither of the brothers has ever had any reason to think you didn’t reciprocate the same deep bond they feel for you. No matter who else you took alongside you as a friend, no matter who you, sometimes reluctantly, admitted to begin feeling romantically for, and for however long those other relationships lasted, the single constant was your unwavering presence in their life.

Instead of any kind of joy, the realization only saddens Ren. It tastes like a betrayal to him, and he does his best to bottle it all up at the bottom of his heart. If you or Akira found out, he worries this newfound fancy of his would inevitably break apart your longstanding friendship, and the thought alone crushes him. There is nothing that would hurt him more than to lose your trust, or that of his brother. So he reaches a quick and easy decision: silence. Speaking to either of you about it is too risky, Ren has no doubt about that, and he isn’t even confident enough in the depth of this strange new love for you to gamble on it, and thus he resolves to put it out of his mind and pretend not a thing has changed.

After all, Ren loves you too dearly to let himself get in the way of the happiness you have now.

[------------]

The now-uncertain balance finds itself teetering again several months later, unbeknownst to either you or Ren.

With your parents gone away on an anniversary vacation for the weekend, you have free reign over your household. For the most part, you are perfectly content to chill at home and enjoy the time by yourself, but an idea took root that was too good for you to deny. Ages upon ages ago, when you were much smaller, you and the twins often got to have sleepovers, and as tends to happen when one grows older, you simply haven’t been able to in years. But when the thought came to you, you absolutely had to ask if they would come over for the weekend, for old times’ sake.

And so here you are, curled up on your couch between your two dearest friends, five and a half hours into a sci-fi movie marathon. Ren is half laying on you, his head on your shoulder, while you lay against Akira. For a while, you were the guardian of the snack bowl, but now it sits on the floor, empty save for the last crumbs of popcorn and snack mix. You intended to get more when it ran out, but you’re all so comfortable it’s hard to justify an early intermission, so it sits forgotten until the next break between movies.

Well, you and Ren are comfortable, at least. Akira, however, is struggling to even keep himself focused on the screen in front of him. Normally, he’s really into movies, good and bad alike, but for the life of him, he cannot get his thoughts into line. Not when all of his senses obstinately stay stuck on how nice you feel cuddled up against him, how much nicer it would be if he could coax you even closer.

It’s not the first time Akira has felt this specific mix of emotions, truth be told. Between the three of you, he easily has the most relationship experience (which only means he’s had a handful of girlfriends, but none that he became serious about though he’s adamant that it counts for something), so it isn’t what he’s feeling that bothers him, but for whom he feels it. You’re his friend! One of his best friends, alongside his brother! He’s not supposed to think about wanting to hold you, wanting to kiss you!

Yet, every time you shift, Akira aches with the desire to drag you into his lap and steal your attention away from the TV. And, like clockwork, every time Akira has to find a new train of thought to distract him long enough to keep his composure. It would be one thing if you were just a friend; he wouldn’t bat an eye at taking a wild swing to see if you were interested in deepening your relationship in a case like that, testing the waters to see how deep he would be allowed to go. But you’re already so much more than a friend, every bit as near and dear to him as his own twin, and Akira is well aware that even if you did, by some miracle, reciprocate his feelings, it would not mean that all would be well. What if it came between him and his brother? What if you broke up? Could you still be friends afterward? Would it ever be the same again?

No, no, he can’t and won’t risk it. All Akira needs to do is endure these mixed-up feelings for a short time. They can’t last forever, and then life can go back to normal.

[------------]

Unfortunately for the Amamiya twins, neither gets the clean resolution they hoped for in the months that pass. Ren quietly bides his time, trying desperately to not push away and hide himself, for fear that you’d figure out he is hiding something from you, and Akira does his best to channel his desires elsewhere, hoping they might find another person to latch onto. However, the pair is not used to keeping secrets from the other, and despite their best efforts, it isn’t much longer before the cats are out of the bag.

“Geez, that’s what? Number five? Don’t you have any self-control?” Ren quips at his brother, setting his book bag on his bed with a quiet sigh.

Akira’s first response is to roll his eyes, casually tossing his own bag near the small desk he calls his own with a gentle hand. Then, he turns to face his twin with a wry grin. “You’re just jealous you’re not getting the attention~”

“Ah yes, you caught me,” Ren replies, sarcasm dripping like water off his words, “I am beyond jealous of you having a different girlfriend every time I turn around.”

“Ha-ha, very funny.” Though he lets out a forced laugh, Akira can only scowl as he thinks about the event his brother is referencing. It’s not his fault that he couldn’t bring himself to keep the relationship going when he knows very well that his heart isn’t in it. “Nanami just wasn’t right for me, you know? No reason to string her along if I’m sure there’s no chance for things to work out.”

“That’s what you said when you broke up with Kanon. And Yuzuki. And Ayaka. And-”

“Alright, alright, I get it!” Akira snaps, unhappy to remember his string of failed distractions. He didn’t want to leave a string of exes behind. All he wants is to shake off his feelings for you before he fucks it all up. “But is it so wrong to try and find somebody special just because it gets a little messy?”

Ren sighs again, much louder this time, as he sits down at the edge of his bed, now able to observe Akira. “No, it’s not wrong, but maybe you might want to wait more than a week between attempts. You can’t possibly be that interested in a girl you hardly know, haven’t you figured that out by now?”

A completely factual statement like that shouldn’t make Akira mad, and yet it strikes a deep nerve in the young man. Of course he knows that! But what choice does he have, when every time he tries to find an outlet for his growing love for you, he is only reminded of how inferior they all are to you? “I won’t know if I don’t try! It’s not like you’d know! What do you know about falling in love, huh?”

The accusation hits hard, in more ways than one. Ren and Akira don’t typically fight or argue, usually in near perfect sync on all topics, but as of late they find themselves testier with one another. And, perhaps more devastatingly, once the topic of his own love life is brought into question, Ren freezes up with no idea what to say. There is no question that his own list of romantic encounters is far, far shorter, but that itself isn’t the problem. The issue is that Ren’s thoughts immediately go to you, how badly he wants to try for your heart, and his desperation to keep the whole thing undercover.

When Akira doesn’t get the barbed reply he expects, he narrows his eyes as he observes his brother, until a wild thought crosses his mind, making him bark out a harsh laugh. “Are you kidding me? That’s what your fuss is?” He watches the way his brother flinches, even without being given an explanation. Akira’s mouth curls into a sly smirk. “Jealous because you can’t catch a special someone’s eye?”

Ren’s first instinct is to deny, deny, deny. After spending months and months pretending nothing has changed, he is supremely unwilling to admit to any feelings. Except, the thought of outright lying to his own twin leaves a bitter taste in his mouth, so he compromises by remaining silent.

“Aww, come on,” Akira says, trying to coax out whatever information he can. While still rather irritated at his brother’s actions, he’s not going to hold a grudge if this is all that caused it. And besides, maybe playing matchmaker for Ren would be a good distraction of his own. “Who is she?”

“Nobody,” is Ren’s terse reply, but Akira isn’t buying it as he only steps closer with a mischievous look.

“Don’t be like that. I’d hate to see my baby brother pining away.”

With a scowl of his own, Ren turns away. “Knock it off. It’s nothing.”

“Clearly that isn’t true. If you’re going to be so involved in my love life, isn’t it fair that I should be privy to yours?” Akira is determined to have his way, now that it’s blindingly obvious that Ren is lying through his teeth.

“I’m telling you it’s nothing.”

His repeated denials only cause Akira to roll his eyes and cross the last little distance between them. He sits down beside his brother, slinging an arm around his brother in an exaggerated casual fashion. “If it was nothing, you’d do what you’ve always done and play along, so fess up already. You’ve been spending a lot of time ‘studying’ with that one girl, Hanae, wasn’t it? I could get you a d-”

“It’s not Hanae!” The words are out of Ren’s mouth before he can stop himself, and by the time he realizes what he said, he knows it’s too late to salvage the conversation. If it had been anyone but you, anyone at all, it wouldn’t be half as big a deal cough it up. The two never kept major secrets from the other, and even though Ren is certain it’ll only make trouble, the fact that he’s distrusting his own brother enough to stay silent makes the action that much more difficult.

Ren’s reluctance isn’t lost on Akira; he’s clever enough to read the way his brother’s posture stiffens, the way he can’t make eye contact, and smart enough to know it means there’s more to the story. Suddenly, Akira feels a pang of regret for being so snarky about it. “Look, I’m not going to make fun of you. If it’ll bother you that badly, I won’t even intervene, but clearly you’re having trouble with it. Let me help, please.”

A heavy silence blankets the twin’s shared room, lingering far too long. Right as Akira thinks it’s a lost cause, that it would be best to drop the subject entirely, Ren speaks. In a quiet voice, laced with shame, he says your name and admits to his secret crush.

The mood shifts wildly as Akira gapes with shock, and he pulls his arm back, dropping any pretense of over-familiarity. Did he hear that right? The news is dumbfounding, and for the first time in years, he has no idea what to say. His instincts tell him to crack a joke, because that’s what he does best with things get serious, but the realization that this means they both love you stops him. The whole reason he himself kept quiet was to prevent a situation like this, and to know that his brother has been carrying the same weight leaves a somber burden on Akira’s mind, and he has to make a choice. He can keep staying silent, play this off and try to help hook you up with his brother, but even if the idea of seeing you dating his twin is less terrible than picturing you with someone else, Akira is already suffering under his own vow of silence. He can try to talk his brother out of it, tell Ren all the things he’s told himself to see that things never change, but if there is one thing that he hates more than his own suffering, it’s the suffering of the people he loves. Ren deserves to be happy, as do you.

There’s a third option, one that Akira wrestles with for a moment before he decides that all this secret-keeping has only hurt them both. Things are bad enough as they are, and they won’t get any better if the pair don’t address them. “How long has it been?” he asks, as gently as he can.

“Almost a year?” Ren confesses while hanging his head in shame. He feels terrible, as if this is all his fault for what he is certain will happen.

But Akira just nods thoughtfully. “You’ve got good taste, little bro. She’s something special, isn’t she? It’s hard to get over someone so grand, hm?”

The casual acceptance in Akira’s voice takes Ren off-guard. He expected anger, or irritation, maybe bitterness. And then it clicks, the admission between the lines and he sits up straight with shock of his own. “Wait a second, do you…?”

“It hasn’t been as long as you, but yeah,” Akira says. He runs a hand through his shaggy hair, feeling a strange sense of relief to finally get this off his chest. “I thought I could find someone else to take her place, but you can see how well that’s been working out.”

Both boys sit for a long moment, processing all this new information. Neither had any idea the other had the same feelings for you, and both Akira and Ren know how crucial these next few minutes will be for them both. It’s one thing to be romantic rivals with a stranger, another thing to be rivals with a normal friend, but to have to compete with a brother? Would it even be worth the effort? Worth the risk of souring their own bond with each other? Worth the risk of messing up their bond with you?

“You know,” Ren mutters, breaking the silence though he continues staring across the room, deep in thought, “at least I know if she dated you, you’d finally take a girl seriously for once. Maybe you’d stop being the school bike.”

It’s such a bluntly veiled compliment-insult combo that Akira has to laugh, flopping backwards onto the bed. “Make that a motorbike and we can talk, because you need a license for this ride.” Finally, the tension in the room snaps like a rubber band, and Ren joins in the laughter, pulling his arms around him as he doubles over. When their fits of laughter die down, Akira continues talking. “Don’t sell yourself short. Maybe if you got together, she’d cure your chronic resting bitch face, and goodness knows you could use that~”

Ren reaches over and swats at his brother, who only breaks out into another set of giggles at the pout on his face. The pair revel in their newfound freedom from their emotional burdens, glad to have found their worst fears proven wrong. A much more comfortable atmosphere settles over the duo as they relax. It’s not over yet, they’re both well aware of that, but to know there are no hard feelings is a complete relief.

“May the best brother win,” chimes Akira, swinging himself back up to a sitting position so he can face his twin, extending a hand for a handshake.

“Don’t worry,” Ren replies, shooting Akira with a playful smirk as he accepts the gesture. “I will~”

Chapter Text

You aren’t waiting for it, per se, but when you hear a telltale set of knocks, you set aside your book with a pleased Cheshire grin. Count on the good detective to be punctual even when he doesn’t know it. With a speed that belays your anticipation you rise from your reading chair and sweep over to the door of your quaint little flat, pulling it open smoothly to reveal your visitor.

As you expect, an extremely annoyed grimace greets you. Before you stands Goro Akechi, a well-renowned, and well-respected, detective whom you have had the great joy to make the ‘acquaintance’ of. Though, with the way his handsome face is drawn tight into a pinched scowl, radiating such a powerful annoyance that any normal person would almost certainly wither before it.

You, however, are no normal person and gleefully feign a pleasant surprise. “Detective Akechi! What an honor to see you once again!” It is impossible to miss the way his jaw clenches further, and for a moment you jokingly think you can hear his teeth crack under the pressure. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit today?”

Goro takes a deep breath, and his posture relaxes into something slightly less aggressive, but there is no mistaking the irritation in his smooth voice. “I believe you are well aware of the reason.”

“A thousand pardons, but I must disagree,” you reply sweetly, taking the time to appreciate the way he attempts to maintain his composure. “However, I am always willing to aid a paragon of justice such as yourself, so please feel no need to be coy with your request.”

“Coy?” he repeats incredulously. There’s a great deal of amusement to be had in watching Goro fight the urge to cause a scene at your door, and you can all but see the gears turning in his mind as he decides how to approach the problem you’ve set before him. “Listen, all I want is the return of my house keys, and I will make my departure.”

You let out a good-natured chuckle at that. “And why would you think I have your keys? We hardly meet outside of when we run into each other on business calls, and I don’t recall seeing you drop them.” Contrary to your words, you know very well why he believes this, and you also know his suspicion is entirely valid. The aforementioned set of keys on your person attests to that. “Seeing as you’ve come all this way though, I can hardly send you away empty-handed. Come in for tea, I insist.”

The desire to outright refuse your request is written plain as day on his face, but as you are both aware, the detective has no choice but to play along for the time being. Once again, you have him dancing to your tune, only to be freed when you are done having your fun. It’s hardly your fault; he’s such an entertaining rival that it would be a great waste to not rile him up.

With every bit of grace he can scavenge, Goro schools his features into a serene smile betrayed only by the sharp glint of anger in his eyes. “If that is so, I must apologize for my hastiness,” he says with a palpable reluctance. “While I am very eager to retrieve my keys and return to my own home, I can hardly turn down so gracious an offer. Thank you for your hospitality.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Detective,” you croon, grin widening as you step back to open the door enough to let him pass. With a flourish to your movements, you gesture your welcome and usher Goro inside. Time for the real cat-and-mouse fun to begin.

Chapter Text

“You weren’t kidding when you said Tokyo is busier than I could imagine,” you say with a weary sigh, following closely after Ren in order to help dodge the crowds as the two of you pick your way through the square. Despite not being able to see him for months, there is neither time nor space here to really get a proper chance to reunite with your dear friend, so instead you let Ren lead you to an access-way he knows of. According to him it’s a quiet place to catch up, for now, at least.

“It’s hard to get used to,” Ren quips, and though he plays it off with an joking tone you can recognize a thread of sharp disdain in his voice, “This place never slows down.”

A frown pulls at the corners of your mouth. You haven’t exactly been able to keep up with Ren’s adventures since he’s been ‘banished’ here, but from what he’s told you it hasn’t been easy. Beyond the false charges that got him sent to Tokyo, he’s already had to deal with a teacher not only leaking his status, but rampant exaggeration of his alleged crimes and, a fact you only found out very recently, nearly being expelled. It’s all so unfair! You’ve known Ren since primary school and no matter what anyone else believes, you know he doesn’t deserve any of this treatment.

Thankfully, from what Ren has recounted to you, things might be looking up. Already he’s managed to make some friends, despite his reputation, and you couldn’t be more relieved. You’re even going to get to meet them, and excitement bubbles up within you as you think about it. That’s right, there is no need to dwell on everything that went wrong. Even if Ren can’t come home right now, his situation is getting better.

Speaking of friends, as you and Ren turn a corner into a nearly empty area, you spot a pair of teenagers keeping watch in your direction and they light up with excitement when they see Ren. You don’t recognize either of them, but you assume they are his new friends, Ann and Ryuji. Neither looks anything quite like what you expected, based on the information you’ve been given. While his bad posture gives away his delinquent aura, the bottle-blond Ryuji seems a cheerful and easy-going kind of guy. And knowing Ann as an aspiring model, you envisioned someone… flightier looking? It’s hard to really pin down what you expected, but the young woman standing before you appears to be far more down-to-earth, trendy without being overbearing.

Once you and Ren make your way over to the pair, he introduces you to them, and them to you. It pleases you to see how relaxed he appears to be now. Even having only just met Ann and Ryuji, you like them already. Anyone who can bring out Ren’s old personality here in his exile is good in your book.

“So you grew up with this guy, yeah?” asks Ryuji, who is clearly interested in your connection to Ren.

“Mhm! And even though it’s only been what, a month, I’ve missed this nerd. I’m really happy you two took the time to get to know him!” And you mean it, truly. The knowledge that he has friends now takes a great burden off your shoulders. “I’m excited to meet you both, too!”

“Likewise!” Ann chimes, smiling brightly. “Oh! Ren, has she met Morgana yet?”

Morgana? Curious, you turn to face Ren, but he’s not paying attention to you at the moment. Instead, he’s adjusting the book bag he carries. Suddenly, out of the bag pops the head of a cat who pulls itself out of the bag enough to be seen.

“Renny! You didn’t tell me you got a cat!” you exclaim in surprise, drawing closer so you can reach a hand up for the cat to sniff. “Oh my gosh, and you even taught it to ride in your bag so neatly!”

The cat lets out a long meow and presses its head into your outstretched hand. You can hear Ann and Ryuji laughing, but all your attention is on your new feline friend. What a blessed day this is! Not only do you get to visit your oldest friend, you get to make new ones and pet a cat!

“Heh, yeah, Renny here is a real cat whisperer,” Ryuji says, snickering at his own joke. You pull away in time to see the faint blush on Ren’s face at the nickname. It’s been ages since you’ve called him that, and truth be told you didn’t do it here on purpose, instead doing so out of ingrained habit in your excitement.