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a request

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“Please...steal my heart!”

In the quiet and out of the way cafe, he makes a surprising declaration. The client’s plea is heard loud and clear.

The Phantom Thieves had decided to use the day to recuperate and recover from a long week in Mementos, So they spent the day hanging out at Leblanc, Ouma brewing coffee for the crew as a refreshment. (Not as if he actually served anyone’s preferences, though). They were in the middle of a mundane discussion about school, Yumeno and Angie going back and forth in their usual banter.

That’s when the bell rings. Yumeno is interrupted from her passionate magical rambling, and a certain detective makes his appearance. He was.. a factor within the Phantom Thieves’ lives that made them incredibly nervous. See, he was as passive as celebrity detectives get. He never does interviews, and the ones he does far and few between never really get any definite or satisfying answers. Most of the adoration from the public is mostly because of his looks. He never liked to reveal himself..even the cap he always wore served the purpose of hiding his face.

Basically, this coming of age detective prince wasn’t too fond of his attention. But he was still a detective, and inevitably, his skills were trusted with the notorious Phantom Thief case. He didn’t have any active opinion on the Phantom Thieves, but he still had to do his job. So, him sparing them..didn’t seem very likely.

Most of the thieves didn’t think he’d ever catch on, given their methods revolve around the Metaverse. But the detective was smarter than they think. He was clever, focusing on things other people would normally overlook. He was interesting. He caught Ouma’s interest. Though, that may screw them over in the end. The heart is a strange thing.

Saihara Shuichi carefully steps in the cafe, eyes widening at the full house in front of him. “Oh..am I interrupting anything?” He asks politely.

Ouma decides to take the reins on this conversation, to avoid anything that might incriminate them or make them suspicious. Though, it was mostly because Saihara seemed to only be facing his direction. “Not at all, detective. We’re just having a friendly chat. Coffee?” He asks cheekily.

Saihara laughs. And it’s not like his usual television shaky and reluctant chuckle. It’s genuine and lively. He seemed really comfortable in this cafe. “Yes, please. My..usual should be okay.” He says. Despite his laid back demeanor, he seemed.. nervous today. His eyes darted from the ground to the table, back to Ouma so much quicker than they usually do. He’s hiding something.

Ouma goes to make his coffee anyways. The detective drinks it straight up black. No sugar, nothing. The silence of the thieves is a bit unsettling, though. The chatter stopped when Saihara walked in and now they’re just staring at his back. Harukawa glares at him when he makes what Saihara actually ordered.

Time seems to slow, between the sounds of coffee brewing and the occasional awkward shuffle or movement from the thieves. The atmosphere is suddenly tense. Saihara keeps his eyes trained on the bar in front of him, hat barely concealing those prying irises.

Ouma gently places his coffee in front of him, and Saihara takes a quick sip. He then clears his throat. Loudly, which makes a few of his friends jump.

“Please be honest with me.” He begs.

Ouma feels his stomach drop, looking down at the detective sitting in front of him.

“This entire group here.. you’re acting as the Phantom Thieves, aren’t you?” Saihara says, glancing at Ouma and then turning around to face his friends.

And the pin drops.

The thieves’ reactions are all instantaneous.

Akamatsu gives her worst fake giggle, denying it right away. “No way! Whatever gave you that idea!?” Followed by Harukawa’s eloquent cry of distress. “Shit.”

Angie looks like she's going to smile until she’s frozen that way, and Yumeno’s eyes are wide open with a terrified kind of surprise.

Rantaro seems mildly surprised, and Kiibo doesn’t seem to know how to react. He’s pacing on top of the table the thieves are gathered at, probably contemplating some kind of plan to get them away from the detective.

Saihara watches the chaos enfold, but he actually looks..a little guilty? Like he feels bad about telling them he knows their secret. In a panic, he waves his hands around to get their attention. “Please! Wait! Don’t freak out. I’m the only one who knows your identities..and..I’m not going to turn you in.” He placates. The last sentence gets everyone's attention, all eyes back on him.

“Listen..I came here because I have a..” He swallows, before making eye contact with Ouma. “Request.”

The famous and dashing detective prince? With a request for the Phantom Thieves, the very same group he’s been chasing for months?

Akamatsu speaks up, surprise lacing her voice. “A request? Like a change of heart?”

Harukawa interjects with distrustful eyes. “Also, how do we know you won’t just turn us in later? How can we take your word for it?”

Saihara looks down. She’s right. He can’t exactly prove he’ll be loyal. But if there was one good thing about Saihara, it was that his body language was very telling. He’s very anxious and passive, making himself vulnerable to visual signs of emotion. When he’s worn out he doesn’t pretend he’s okay, he allows his shoulders to droop and expression to look a little more than unpleasant. Ouma can tell he doesn’t want this to go wrong. He’s seconds away from chewing off his nail, and he doesn’t seem to hold malice or bitterness for the group at all.

An earnest and genuine request. The thieves look excited to jump at the chance again, but some are still wary.

Ouma finally finds his voice in the commotion. “How about this. You tell us about the dastardly fiend who's in need of a change of heart first, and we’ll decide whether we can trust you or not!” He winks at Saihara.

Saihara looks down, but Ouma can see him nod. He accepts their condition. He brings his hands closer to himself, wringing his fingers. He can’t seem to take his own nervousness anymore, and faces Ouma’s direction again- looking up at him with desperate eyes. “Please...steal my heart!”

Ouma’s first instinct is to blush, he doesn’t know how to feel about his longterm crush asking him to do such a thing- before the implications catch up with him. And he does a double take. As does the rest of the thieves.

Kiibo is the first to speak, gray tail swaying rapidly as he jumps onto the bar. “Wait, does he mean-?”

Saihara turns away to look at Kiibo, eyes wide and surprised. “Is this cat a Phantom Thief, too?” He muses aloud.

Rantaro answers a light ‘yes’ in the distance at the same time Yumeno asks, “...Does Saihara have a Palace?” Everyone turns in her direction.

“Palace?” Saihara echoes.

His inquiry goes unanswered as Angie gets out her phone to access the Metanav, eager to test the theory. “Shuichi Saihara, detective prince!” The phone buzzes with it’s usual Candidate Found! confirmation.

“We got a hit!?” Angie yells, both excitement and surprise slipping in her tone.

Rantaro adds in. “Seriously?”

All at once, the thieves gather around Angie to inspect the phone with her. Akamatsu stands next to her, pulling her own phone out as well. “I wonder what the keywords are..”

Harukawa then turns back to Saihara, seeming to just realize something. “Wait, do you know how we steal hearts?” Suspicion easily detectable in her voice.

“No, I don’t. I never figured out the method. The only reason I connected the dots of all of you acting as the Phantom Thieves was from all of your connections to the current victims. Or..should I say targets?” He says, genuinely curious about how to label the adults who have had changes of heart. “I only know that you’re capable of it. I don’t know how, but..”

He then wipes away his thinking face as he trails off, looking straight at Ouma again. “What did you mean by a Palace?”

Kiibo looks ready to explain, and starts- before realizing Saihara really doesn’t understand him.

Ouma nods to himself. So he hasn’t been to the Metaverse yet. That’s a good sign. So how does he have a Palace..? What dark secrets did this detective have? He knows he should be more on guard..but it only draws him closer. Makes him more curious. He decides to explain in Kiibo’s stead.

“Basically a Palace is someone’s distorted desires made reality. Only some people have them. It’s a cognition based on how that person views a certain location. For example, a corrupt teacher might view a school as their “castle”, and the students their slaves. At the same location of that school, once in their Palace, it might show up as a castle and the students would be actual slaves. It’s because of how they see it. It’s their distorted desires that manifested it.”

Saihara looks deep in thought, understanding, before he widens his eyes. “And you’re saying..I might have manifested something like that?”

No one says anything to that, but now they all seem so unsure. Up until now, they thought they understood everything about the Metaverse. But Saihara is an odd case.. for some reason, Ouma can feel it in his gut that the detective doesn’t abuse or use people.

So even people that aren’t inherently “bad” can have a Palace. It actually makes sense once he thinks about it. If the Palace is based on cognition, then maybe even having a distorted view on themself...could birth a palace.

Kiibo looks in his direction, sitting down and licking his paw. “You’re thinking the same thing, right?”

Ouma nods. “Yep!” He then turns to Saihara, expression serious again. “So then..we have to know. Why do you want us to change your heart?”

Saihara looks taken aback, eyes widening, getting sweatier by the minute. He’s not sure if he should take it as a sign of being guilty or just his anxiety. It’s hard to tell sometimes. “..Do I have to answer that in front of everyone?” He asks nervously.

Ouma supposes the audience is a little..overwhelming. This is the Detective Prince who does everything he can to avoid being dragged into interviews and being on TV. It makes sense. “Okaaay..then come up to the attic with me!” He sees Harukawa and Akamatsu ready to follow, but he shakes his head. “Just us. I’ll be fine, guys! Don’t sweat it.”

“Looks like Shuichi is really sweating it, though!” Angie says, giggling at her own joke.

The thieves look hesitant to let him out of their sight, but they let him. Ouma knows the detective the most, after all. He’s probably the only one that will get a straight answer.

Rantaro gives Saihara a look as he walks by. “Don’t try anything.” He says, protective instincts kicking in.

Saihara gulps, nodding and quickly following Ouma up the stairs.

The attic is well… pretty Ouma themed. The blanket and pillow on his bed have some supervillain character on it. He had a lot of toys lying about, on desks and shelves. A jack-in-the-box is on the floor next to the bed, showing signs of repeated use. And a poster with the Phantom Thieves’ logo on it. In all of it’s grape purple glory. It was pretty childish, to say the least. The leader of the Phantom Thieves wasn’t really all that threatening.

The things that really caught his eye were on the desk across from his bed. A purple placemat was placed on it, with various pieces of scrap on top. He could see a few lockpicks around the area. Was this where Ouma made these? There were several blueprints for out of this world looking weapons on the desk too. Ray guns, laser cannons.. electric swords?

Ouma claps his hands to get Saihara’s attention. “Alright! Enough sightseeing!” He says, and then lowers his voice as he asks, “What is in your heart?”

Saihara goes back into a thinking face, though a much more solemn one. He looks like he’s contemplating how to word something..eventually his eyes sink down to the floor again. “I think I’ve..become trapped under the human gaze.”

It’s an interesting way to put things, at least. He doesn’t say anything so he can give Saihara room to elaborate.

“I’ve become afraid of the truth. Even though I’m a detective. Can you believe it..? It’s so hard to look anyone in the eyes...to read what they think. To imagine what they might think. I’m so afraid of everything. I can’t even solve these cases anymore..it’s only a wonder why they put me on the Phantom Thief case...sure I’ve figured you out, but..” He reaches for his hat, pulling the cap down even more. Ouma couldn’t even see his eyes anymore.

“I’m running away. I know I am. I don’t know how to deal with people, deal with the attention I get, I don’t even  know how to be a detective anymore. I can’t get excited anymore...can’t be curious. I’m such a mess of a person now. I have to get out of this. But I can’t do it alone. I’ve become so terrified of what’s really out there. There isn’t an exit anymore. Please..you have to change my screwed up heart.” He pleads, arms wrapped around himself.

Ouma feels a twinge of something hearing the call for help...but-

He could never imagine Saihara feeling like this. This palace had to be born of Saihara’s distorted cognition of himself. Either that, or something that represented humanity in general.

“Saihara-chan..” He starts, getting the detective’s attention. Saihara lifts his head up an inch, eager for an answer.

“..I’ll have to consult with my friends. We decide on our targets unanimously.”

Saihara’s shoulders drop, but he nods in understanding. Silence fills the room for a bit before Saihara seems to have another question. “So...how do you steal my heart?”

He asks it with his usual thinking pose, hands slightly over his mouth. Ouma would love to think about how he kinda looks cute doing it, but he needs to answer the question.

“Well, every Palace owner has a treasure. All we gotta do really is get through the Palace and find the treasure room. But the treasure doesn’t manifest until a calling card is sent.” He explains.

Saihara nods, drinking in the new information. “So the calling card isn’t just for show, then..”

Ouma agrees. “A necessary step!”

Saihara smiles lightly, before slumping again. Right, the decision. Ouma tells the detective to wait right there, and he climbs back downstairs to the cafe.

His friends await him with curious faces, asking a million questions with facial expressions alone. Ouma scoffs lightly, before approaching and spreading out his hands dramatically.

“So, who wants to steal the heart of a detective who averts his eyes from the very truth he’s trying to find~?”