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Ace In The Hole

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Sunday, November 20th, 2016


How long had it been since Sae had been interrogating this boy, Ren Amamiya? And yet, Sae had so many questions. He had concocted such a tall tale, speaking of a talking cat that transformed into a bus, claiming that he and his friends were essentially like magical girls, forcing criminals to confess their crimes.

And apparently her little sister, Makoto, had been involved with the Phantom Thieves that she had been hunting for months now. Sae inhaled deeply. She had to stay focused.

"There's something that... puzzles me," Sae stated.

Sae folded her arms, before she exhaled.

"You claim to have fought these creatures through the areas you call Palaces. And yet, I doubt that you would have prevailed so easily, if you did not have someone with previous battle experience." She narrowed her eyes. "Tell me, who is it?"

Amamiya looked at her with blurry eyes, but remained silent. Sae silently cursed to herself, before she dragged her fingers through her hair. Of course. He refused to speak of his collaborators, when she pressed him on it.

But then something suddenly struck Sae.

"Hmm... maybe this would get him to talk," she thought to herself.

Sae plucked out a file, showing it to the boy. She felt a pang of guilt as she looked at Amamiya. He was young, younger than Makoto. Sae quickly stamped down that thought. He was a criminal. She couldn't pity a crook.

She cleared her throat, before tapping a fingernail against the photo. The photo showed an image of a teenage boy with light brown hair, slightly older than Amamiya.

"Shujin Academy is of high prestige. Yet, they accepted another transfer student just a couple months after your own transfer. June, to be exact. Digging into his record, he appears to have ties with the Kirijo Group somehow. Tell me... what do you know of Ken Amada?"


Monday, May 2nd, 2016


Minako was unsurprised that Mitsuru-senpai had suddenly summoned her to the Kirijo labs. The news was abuzz with the Phantom Thieves of Hearts and Kamoshida's confession earlier that morning. According to the news, the coach had done a complete 180, personality wise. Not to mention how he had confessed to his crimes—crimes that he was getting away with.

It was too strange. It almost seemed... supernatural.

Minako slowly opened the door, peering inside.

Machinery quietly beeped, the only sound in the room. Fuuka had her hands clasped in front of her, her face screwed up as she concentrated. She sat in the glass orb that made up Juno's lower body. Mitsuru-senpai was messing with the knobs of a machine.

Fuuka's eyes then shot open.

"Mitsuru-senpai," she said, her voice sounding like it was traveling through water. "Minako-chan is here."

Mitsuru-senpai turned around, her lips forming a thin line.

"Hello, Minako."

Minako entered the room, shutting the door behind her. She didn't bother with formalities—though she doubted that Mitsuru-senpai minded.

"Do you think he's connected to this?" she asked.

Masayoshi Shido had been a thorn in Mitsuru-senpai's side for a couple years now. It had started with Wakaba Isshiki's "suicide". Wakaba-san had been a former Kirijo Group scientist and had left before the fiasco with Death for unstated reasons.

But Wakaba-san had reconnected with Mitsuru-senpai, right around when the Shadow Operatives had formed. She had helped connect the dots about the missing Kirijo research that Ikutsuki had destroyed. But what Wakaba-san had been researching before her death—cognitive pscience—it was dangerous.

Mitsuru-senpai had repeatedly tried to dissuade her from continuing but Wakaba-san had been somewhat pigheaded about it. She refused and claimed it was too important to abandon.

But despite her stubbornness (or maybe because of it), Minako had liked the dark-haired woman, a lot. She was bold, bright, had a great sense of humor. She definitely marched to the beat of her own drum. Her daughter, Futaba, was absolutely adorable too, though on the shy side. She had been sad when the news came that she had died. She hoped that Futaba was okay too.

But when Mitsuru-senpai heard of Wakaba-san's death, she became suspicious and began to dig into things. But Shido's men halted the investigation before they could make much headway. Sadly, the investigation was stopped before they could find out what happened to Futaba.

She really hoped that someone who cared for Futaba was looking after her. She knew all too well what it was like when under the care of someone who just thought of you as a burden.

Mitsuru-senpai grimaced, before rubbing her temple with one hand.

"I don't see how it can't be him. His rise in power… it has to be connected to the mental shutdowns, as the media calls them."

Fuuka dismissed Juno with a flash, Mitsuru-senpai quickly extending a hand to help her stand up.

"My scans are very fuzzy," she confessed, smiling sheepishly. "I can't get a clear picture."

Minako grabbed Fuuka's hands, giving them a light squeeze.

She then chided lightly, "Hey, don't be so hard on yourself. Tokyo isn't exactly close to here."

It was halfway across the country, after all. It was honestly amazing that Fuuka's scans could reach that far, even with the aid of Kirijo tech.

Mitsuru-senpai nodded in agreement, giving Fuuka a slight smile.

"Minako is right, Yamagishi. But can you determine anything?" she asked.

"Mm-hm..." Fuuka nodded as well, before biting her lower lip. "Tokyo has a Shadow nest. Perhaps even larger than Tartarus."

Minako's eyes widened. "Are you serious, Fuuka-chan?!"

Fuuka frowned, resting her fingers on her chin. "It's strange... the structure of it is very similar to Tartarus, but..."

"But...?" Minako raised a single brow.

"It's… hard to say..." Fuuka said slowly, before she winced. "I'm sorry, this is really vague."

Mitsuru-senpai placed a hand on Fuuka's shoulder.

"You're working with what you have, Yamagishi. Even just a little bit of information is something," the older woman reassured with a small smile.

Fuuka smiled at her. "Thank you, Senpai."

Her smile quickly became a frown, though.

"But what can we do? This has to be serious if a Shadow nest has formed..."

"The news of these so-called Phantom Thieves… concern me." Mitsuru-senpai frowned as well, her forehead creasing as she mulled it over. "We have no idea what their methods are or what their goal is. Furthermore, there's the question if they're connected to these mental shutdowns."

Minako sighed deeply. It was all a mess.

Fuuka frowned, before clasping her hands behind her back.

"I don't think what happened to Kamoshida is the same as the mental shutdowns. They're kind of similar, but… what happened to Kamoshida was more positive. He confessed to his crimes. Furthermore, the victims of the mental shutdowns just… die. And then there's also these other incidents they talk about," Fuuka stated.

"Right, the psychotic breakdowns." Mitsuru nodded.

Minako winced. The news of the subway just... hit close to home. Especially since their first full moon operation probably would have killed all four of them if it wasn't for Minato taking a chance and pulling on the brakes.

"Well, yes, but…" Mitsuru-senpai grimaced, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "Imagine what would happen, if someone with that knowledge, held a grudge against someone? Furthermore, the calling card specifically states that they will steal their desires. What if that includes the desire to live?"

"Is… Is it possible for that to happen?" Minako asked slowly, her eyes widening.

That was essentially killing someone. Which would be no different from the mental shutdowns incidents.

Mitsuru-senpai just spread her hands, a wry smile on her lips.

"Minako, we've witnessed many things that defy the impossible. What's one more?" she pointed out.

"Good point..." she sighed. "We don't need another Strega on our hands."

Fuuka said slowly, "But... what can we do? This happened in Tokyo and you know about Shido's threat."

Mitsuru sighed deeply, pressing a hand to her temple.

"I know that, Yamagishi, but…"

She began to twist one of her curls with a hand.

"I cannot stand aside. Doing nothing is not an option."

"He could use your family's dirty laundry against you, Mitsuru-senpai," Minako warned. "The government still are convinced you have some evil intention with the Shadow Operatives. He could take away Aigis and Labrys for his own use."

Two years ago, the government had forcibly dismantled the Shadow Operatives in the greater areas of Tokyo. There was a bogus reason for it, but Minako couldn't remember what it was exactly. Fuuka had to hack into the systems to discover the man who was responsible for this. Masayoshi Shido, who was aiming to become Prime Minister this year. Minako shuddered at the idea of the man being in charge of the whole nation. She wasn't particularly religious, but she prayed that Shido would lose the election come this December.

And the idea of Shido getting his hands on Aigis and Labrys just made Minako cringe. Especially since both of them were forced to bend under the will of someone before.

"I know, Minako. But there has to be something…" Mitsuru rubbed her eyes.

"Maybe we could ask Naoto-kun? She's rather famous. Her cover could be that she's investigating the mental shutdowns," Fuuka suggested.

Mitsuru seemed to mull this over for a moment. Then she grimaced, before shaking her head.

"A sound idea, but we can't go through with it. Shirogane is registered as a part time Shadow Operatives under our files. Shido would most likely know it. And her fame would just make her more easily recognized." Mitsuru sighed.

Not to mention that Naoto has been struggling to find work lately. People were more interested in the supposedly second Detective Prince, Goro Akechi. Minako didn't particularly like him, if she was being honest. He just treated detective work like it was all some kind of game.

In her opinion, he seemed more interested in giving a show. Not there was nothing wrong with people in showbiz, of course. Yukari was one of her best friends, after all. And Minako had always liked Rise, too. But this was different, the boy just rubbed her the wrong way.

Minako looked at her two friends, both deep in thought. There has to be someway for them to get a feel of the situation. Shido didn't want the Shadow Operatives interfering with his plans.

But what if they sent someone who wasn't an operative?

"There's Ken-kun," Minako said quietly.

That was when Fuuka's head shot up.

"What?!" she gasped; her eyes were wide with shock. "You can't be serious, Minako-chan!"

Mitsuru frowned. "Minako… Yamagishi is right. Amada hasn't been out in the field since the Minazuki incident."

"Isn't that why Ken-kun is a good candidate?" Minako pointed out. "He left the Shadow Operatives before we were on Shido's radar."

She then tapped her chin.

"Furthermore… how do you think the Phantom Thieves identified Kamoshida's crimes?"

Fuuka's expression grew pensive and she begin to play with her braid.

"You're saying that they're students who were Kamoshida's victims?" she inquired tentatively.

Minako nodded firmly. "Yep, nothing else makes sense. How else would they know? Especially since Kamoshida was only targeting his students, unless it was some of the staff… but if that's the case then why now? They would have acted sooner, right? No, I think some students make more sense."

Minako shuddered at the thought. And she thought that Ekoda was awful, for brushing aside Fuuka's disappearance for ten days straight. Why did they allow people like that to become teachers?

"You make a good point," Mitsuru said slowly, but then she grimaced. "But Shinjiro would not agree to it easily."

"Dammit, that's right," she grumbled to herself.

Shinji was Ken's guardian now—has been since after the whole fiasco with Sho (who was still AWOL after four years). And he hadn't exactly been thrilled that Mitsuru had let Ken join the Shadow Operatives in the first place—albeit a backup member.

"I think you would have to get Ken-kun to agree to it first, if you were to convince him. He wouldn't want Ken-kun to feel forced into it," Fuuka stated.

Minako glanced at her friend. "Can't you talk to him, Fuuka-chan?"

Fuuka winced, before she continued to fuss with her braid.

"I'm just his girlfriend... I don't have that much sway over him."

Minako snorted. "You've saved Junpei how many times because he pissed off Shinji?"

"That's different, Minako-chan," Fuuka said, with a light giggle.

But then her expression became somber. She bit her lip for a moment.

"But still… I think we may be jumping the gun right now. Maybe the Phantom Thieves are a one-time thing... If they were personal victims of Kamoshida, they might not have a reason to repeat their actions."

Mitsuru let out a thoughtful hum, as she stroked her chin.

"That's true, Yamagishi. We probably shouldn't jump the gun yet."

Her eyes flickered to Minako.

"I'm not rejecting your idea, Minako. But we don't want to act rashly. We've been watching Shido for nearly two years… we can wait a little longer."


Ken was pretty sure that his teachers hated the phrase "Phantom Thieves" after today.

The news had dropped right before the period preceding lunch and it had spread like wildfire. And every single teacher after lunch had to lecture at least one student to stop talking about the Phantom Thieves.

But his classmates just could not stop talking about them. Whether it was how they were amazing for busting that coach's crimes or people arguing that it was just a hoax—the Phantom Thieves was the only thing his classmates wanted to discuss.

Though Ken had to admit that the Phantom Thieves were pretty amazing. That awful coach was getting away with his crimes, all because the school cared more about the good reputation he brought. But the Phantom Thieves somehow had managed to get him to become contrite and confess to his crimes.

Ken hadn't taken part of the conversations at school but he couldn't help but think the Phantom Thieves were right in their actions... if they were real that is.

But he had seen too many things for it to not be a hoax.

Ken sighed, staring at his notebook which had a grand total of two sentences written on the page. This has been the least productive afternoon he's spent in a while.

He might as well head home if he can't focus.

The walk back to the apartment was fairly uneventful. He unlocked the door, only to be greeted by barking. Koromaru, as usual, jumped onto Ken the moment he stepped inside.

Ken bent down, scratching Koromaru behind the ear.

"You're in a good mood today," he said with a slight smile.

"You're home early," another voice said.

Ken glanced up and smiled.

Shinjiro-san stepped from the kitchen into the living room, wiping off his hands with a towel. His guardian had been clearly cooking, judging from the smear of flour on his face.

Ken shrugged. "I was distracted from studying, so I figured I might as well come home."

"Guessing you heard about the Phantom Thieves, huh?" Shinjiro-san raised a brow.

"Mm-hm."

Ken removed his school bag and then his blazer, tossing both on the couch as he walked further in the living room. He glanced at his guardian.

"What do you think of all of this?" Ken asked, suddenly curious.

Shinjiro-san shrugged. "It's good that they busted that asshole teacher, but the way they pulled it sounds a bit fishy. It should die down in a few days. It always does."

Shinjiro-san seemed more neutral than anything. But his comment about their methods nagged at Ken. It did seem odd now that he pointed it out.

"I'm home!" Fuuka-san announced.

Koromaru quickly scrambled to her side to greet her, letting out some joyful barks. Fuuka-san giggled, bending to give him a scratch behind the ear.

"Hey, Koro-chan."

But when Ken got a closer look at Fuuka-san, he realized that she looked tired.

Shinjiro-san eyed her. "What did Mitsuru even have you do?"

Fuuka-san just giggled, standing on her tiptoes and pecking Shinjiro-san on the cheek. Before she pulled away completely, she brushed away some flour smeared on his face with her thumb.

"I didn't spend the whole day helping Mitsuru-senpai. Minako-chan came too and we decided to catch up," she explained.

"Uh-huh." Shinjiro-san rolled his eyes. "And I'm sure that Mitsuru was just dying to socialize."

Fuuka-san winced, before tucking a stray strand behind her ear. "Well, she is a bit stressed. You know, because of the whole thing with Shido…"

Shinjiro-san then scowled, his expression growing dark.

"What did he pull now?"

"Nothing in particular. It just frustrates Mitsuru-senpai that she can't do anything to handle Shido." Fuuka shrugged.

"Shido would be a popsicle if Mitsuru could actually go to Tokyo," Shinjiro-san said dryly.

Fuuka just laughed softly, a small smile playing at her lips. "That would solve all of our problems, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah, if only," Shinjiro-san grumbled.

Fuuka then glanced in the direction of the kitchen.

"So, um…" she began, obviously looking to change the subject. "How's dinner coming along? Do you need help?"

"Nah, I was nearly done when I heard Koro greet Ken." Shinjiro-san shook his head, before dropping a quick kiss to Fuuka-san's head. "You should rest a bit. Dinner should be done in a few minutes."

"Mm-hm, if you say so."

Fuuka-san watched Shinjiro-san disappear into the kitchen, before falling onto the couch and letting out a light sigh.

Ken took a seat next to her as Koromaru darted over to them, climbing the sofa to drape himself on their laps.

"Are you okay, Fuuka-san?" he asked quietly.

Fuuka-san just smiled.

"I'm okay, really. It's just been a while since Mitsuru-san has asked me to summon Juno and you know how tiring it is to summon a Persona without being in a Shadow nest. And Tokyo's rather far away."

"It's like… four or five hours away by train, right?"

"Yes, something like that." She nodded.

Fuuka stroked the top of Koromaru's head, the Shiba-Inu snuggling closer to her in response. Her eyes then flickered to Ken, unusually serious.

"Tell me, Ken-kun. What do you think of the news about these Phantom Thieves?"

"Me?" Ken blinked, before rubbing the back of his neck. "Uh… well… it was pretty amazing what they did."

He then looked to his lap; his voice quiet as he continued to speak.

"I know that their methods seem strange—almost supernatural even—given how that coach was getting away with the abuse and harassment, but… I can't help but admire them for not allowing that to continue."

He looked up to see Fuuka-san biting her lower lip. She looked almost… alarmed. He frowned in response.

"Fuuka-san? What's the matter?"

"Huh?" Fuuka-san blinked several times at him, as if she was trying to get her bearings. "Um—nothing! Nothing!"

She then smiled, a painfully forced smile.

"That is quite… thoughtful of you, Ken-kun. I… I think I'm going to take a shower. It's been a long day." She then straightened up, brushing her braid over her shoulder.

She nudged Koromaru off her lap, before quickly escaping for the bedroom she shared with Shinjiro-san. Ken just stared after her, feeling baffled.

What was that about?


Tuesday, May 31st, 2016


Another calling card had appeared. It had shown up at the gallery where the famous artist, Ichiryusai Madarame, was hosting a showcase. It was composed similarly to the first calling card… just not so poorly cobbled together this time.

It accused Madarame of his crimes of abusing his students and that he was guilty of the sin of vanity. And it then declared that the Phantom Thieves would steal his desires. Just like Kamoshida.

Though Mitsuru had to wonder how the Phantom Thieves discovered these crimes in the first place. If Minako's hypothesis was correct… how exactly did high school students discover the truth?

Mitsuru sighed deeply, rubbing her temple with one hand. She hated feeling so helpless.

This went against the entire reason why she formed the Shadow Operatives in the first place. She didn't want teenagers to have to go through what she had. But Shido had to throw a wrench into her plans, by manipulating the law. And she was still unsure if the Phantom Thieves were affiliated with him or not.

But what Minako proposed… sending Amada undercover.

Amada had wanted to wait until after he graduated from high school before deciding if he wanted to join the Shadow Operatives again. He had never said it directly to her, but she had understood his intent.

But what was nine or ten months? Amada was only a few weeks away from turning eighteen… In the eyes of some countries, that made him a near adult.

And well… she would never force him if he didn't wish to do this. She would make that perfectly clear that it was a request and he could refuse if he wanted to. She would not repeat what she had done in high school, urging her classmates to join SEES in a way that they felt they couldn't say no.

And as for Shinjiro… well, Minako was excellent at persuading him into doing things that he wasn't exactly enthusiastic about. The biggest example was how she persuaded him to cook for the dorm. (She still had no idea how Minako had managed that.) Not to mention Yamagishi's talent of calming him down and seeing the other's perspective.

As for provisions… that would be the easiest. Her family owned many properties in Tokyo, so Amada could stay there. There was also the matter of arranging Amada's transfer to Shujin Academy, but she could handle that if Amada agreed.

Her mind was made up. Mitsuru reached for her phone. It took exactly three rings before the person on the other side answered.

"Hello?"

Mitsuru inhaled deeply before speaking.

"Minako, you're right in that we need to take action,she began cautiously.

Minako's breath hitched. "Then, you want…?"

Mitsuru nodded, even though she knew Minako wouldn't be able to see. "Yes. We must speak to Amada about going to Tokyo."


Wednesday, June 1st, 2016


"We must speak to Amada about going to Tokyo, she says..." Minako grumbled under her breath. "So why am the one stuck asking Shinji?"

She glared at the door.

"But no, Mitsuru has to be all: 'you're far superior at persuading Shinjiro. You have to do it, Minako. Furthermore, it was your idea'. Like, seriously? How annoying." Minako huffed.

Minako just sighed, folding her arms over her chest. She wished that she had a better reading on how Ken felt about the Phantom Thieves, but Ken kept his thoughts on them to himself. On top of that, the few times she was able to visit with Shinji and Fuuka, Ken was out of the house—usually locking himself in the library to study. It wasn't too surprising, given that Ken was a third-year now and he had lofty goals considering his top university choice.

Ken had even given up his extracurricular activities—soccer and student council. She remembered being confused by it, but she knew that some third-years preferred to give their all in studying for entrance exams. She couldn't help but worry a little. Sometimes she wondered if Ken was lonely. He had made friends while playing on the soccer team, but Minako noticed that Ken never brought them up nowadays.

Sometimes… friends drifted apart. But it still made her sad.

Minako then shook her head.

"Come on… focus, Minako!" she chided herself.

She was a little nervous. Not just how Ken would respond but Shinji. Shinji was fairly neutral, regarding the Phantom Thieves. But… letting Ken go to Tokyo, to explore a Shadow nest. That was a entire different story. Maybe she should have brought Aki with her… maybe he could've helped her with Shinji.

She had discussed the topic of the Phantom Thieves many times with her husband and he agreed that it would be best if Ken went to Tokyo.

Then again, Aki and Shinji probably would've gotten into one of their stupid arguments.

Minako shook her head and sighed. She was just here to ask if Ken would go to Tokyo. Nothing would be finalized unless he said yes. She was getting ahead of herself.

She drew a deep breath before reaching to ring the doorbell. She could hear Koromaru's excited barking, quickly followed by Fuuka's voice.

"Coming!"

Shinji and Fuuka's relationship had been mostly long distance since Fuuka had left Port Island for a few years so she could study at Tokyo University, but… they had been living together ever since Fuuka had graduated and came back home. Shinji was saving up for an engagement ring, but add him trying to save up enough money so he could open the restaurant he wanted and Ken's expenses… it was going slow. But of course, Fuuka had no idea about this.

Regardless it was good that Fuuka was here, maybe she could help her convince Shinji.

A moment later, the door swung open and Koromaru lunged at Minako, knocking her to the ground. She just giggled, letting Koromaru lick her face.

"Koro-chan!" she heard Fuuka chide. "You could've hurt Minako-chan!"

Minako sat up and waved her friend off. "It's fine, Fuuka-chan." She petted Koromaru on top of her head. "It's been a while, huh, Koro-chan?"

Koromaru looked well. Even though he was on the older side now, he was as spry as he was in the days of SEES. Though she had to admit that Ken's old hoodie had seen better days. The poor thing had several tears and rips.

"But…" Fuuka protested. "You're pregnant, Minako-chan."

Minako just laughed and waved it off, "Pffft, it's fine. Besides, I'm barely three months along."

"I don't think that's the right attitude, Minako-chan…" Fuuka sighed.

"It's just a one-time thing, y'know?" Minako said hastily, feeling a pang of guilt.

Koromaru let out a yip, before licking Minako's face once more. He then climbed off of Minako, trotting back to Fuuka.

Fuuka just sighed, shaking her head before extending a hand to Minako so she could pull Minako up.

"That's what you always say, Minako-chan," she chided. "You need to be more careful—if only for your baby's sake."

Minako just smiled sheepishly. "Guilty as charged."

Fuuka laughed, before her expression grew sad.

"Are you really here to ask Ken-kun?" she asked softly.

Minako sighed, before running her hand through her hair.

"Yeah…" she said quietly. "It was the second calling card that convinced Mitsuru-senpai… We don't want this to get out of control."

"I see…" Fuuka bit her lip. "But Ken-kun is out of the house."

"Whaaaaat? But it's nearly six!" Minako put her hands on her hips.

Fuuka just shrugged in response.

"That's normal actually. He usually studies at the school library. And besides, I seem to recall a certain somebody not coming back to the dorm until the evening as well," Fuuka pointed out with a small smile.

Minako let out an awkward laugh, running a hand through her hair. Fuuka got her there, she had to admit.

"Okay, okay, I get your point. I'll just talk to Shinji first," she said.

Fuuka stared for several moments, without saying anything.

"Are you sure that's a good idea, Minako-chan?" she asked hesitantly.

"It'll be fine," Minako said, injecting more confidence in her voice than she felt.

Fuuka pursed her lips, before nodding.

"If you think so…"

She took a few steps back, letting Minako to come inside. She removed her shoes, leaving them by the door before following Fuuka to the living room.

Shinji was sitting on the couch, reading a cooking magazine from the looks of it. Koromaru sat right next to him, head in Shinji's lap. He looked up when he heard Minako enter. He set his magazine aside, raising an eyebrow.

"What are you craving now?"

"Uh… what?" Minako just blinked.

"Shinji..." Fuuka chastised, frowning at him.

Shinji huffed, folding his arms over his chest. "I still remember Takeba's weird ass cravings."

"It's still rude."

"Yeah, Shinji, no congratulations?" Minako put her hands on her hips, flashing him a teasing smile. "I mean, it is Aki's baby too. You know, your best friend?"

Shinji just rolled his eyes. "Should I really celebrate Aki possibly getting a little mini him?"

Minako smirked and folded her arms. "Now, now, Shinji... shouldn't you be more worried if the baby turns out to be like me?"

Shinji just sighed deeply, eyeing her warily. "What do you want, Minako?"

Minako clasped her hands behind her back.

"Well…" she began, dragging out the word, "you know about the situation in Tokyo?"

Shinji scowled, looking completely unimpressed with her.

"How could I not know? Get to the point already."

Minako smiled sheepishly.

"Ithoughtit'dbeagoodideatosendKentoinvestigatethePhantomThieves," she blurted out in a rush.

This earned her a blank stare. "Uh… what? Can you slow down?"

"R-Right... uh... I thought it'd be a good idea to send Ken to Tokyo to investigate the Phantom Thieves," she repeated slowly with a wince.

Shinji stared. And stared. Then something in him seem to snap, his gray eyes darkening with anger.

"You. Want. What?!" he ground out, glaring daggers at her.

Unwillingly, Minako took a step back. Sometimes she forgot how scary Shinji can be.

"And Mitsuru agreed?!" Shinji demanded, still looking rather pissed. "What happened to her 'I can't endanger you all' mindset?"

Minako quickly ducked behind Fuuka, despite her being half a head shorter. He hopefully wouldn't come after her if she used Fuuka as a shield.

"C-Come on, you have to admit it's concerning!" she blurted out.

"But why Ken?" Shinji continued to scowl at her.

Fuuka quickly sat next to Shinji, resting a hand on his arm.

"Calm down, Shinji. You know that Mitsuru-senpai wouldn't resort to this unless she felt there was no other way," she said gently.

Shinji jerked his head in Fuuka's direction, but his gaze softened just slightly.

"What do you know?"

"Minako-chan broached the idea the day Mitsuru-senpai asked me to come to the labs last month," Fuuka answered quietly.

"How can Fuuka-chan be so freaking calm?" Minako couldn't help think to herself. "But then again… she has Shinji completely whipped."

She then continued, "I didn't say anything because she technically said no."

Minako interjected hastily, "And this mission is supposed to be recon. We're not asking for Ken to actually fight the Phantom Thieves. We just want to know if they will go rogue. Their identities. Their goals."

"You still didn't answer my question," he said with narrowed eyes.

Fuuka came to her defense and explained, "Ken-kun is an ideal candidate because he left the Shadow Operatives years before Shido knew about us. Furthermore… Minako-chan suggested that the Phantom Thieves could potentially be high school students, with how they knew about Kamoshida's crimes. At the very least even if they aren't, they have some connection to that high school the first incident happened, I'd imagine."

Shinji was silent for several moments.

"Does it really have to be him? Can't you ask Shirogane? She's always running off from city to city with her cases anyways," Shinji suggested with slight frustration.

Minako shook her head, "Nope, Shido will definitely go after her, since she's registered as a part time Shadow Operative. Shido threatened the Shadow Operatives specifically."

"Tch… fine!" Shinji dragged his fingers through his hair as he finally relented, "You can ask Ken, but you better not pressure him or I swear to god I'll—"

"Ask me what?"


Ken probably wouldn't have expected something was up if it wasn't for the fact that he had nearly tripped over Minako-san's shoes when he had entered the apartment.

Minako-san and Shinjiro-san had been both so absorbed with their conversation that they hadn't noticed him coming in. Fuuka-san just gave him a small smile.

Ken fought the urge to sigh or roll his eyes. Adults.

"Heyyy, Ken-kun." Minako-san's voice was unusually bright.

She was energetic and everything, but she sounded too cheerful right now. Ken frowned. That usually meant she wanted something or was trying to misdirect to play a trick on someone.

"You look sooo tall! Have you grown a couple centimeters since the last time I saw you? I hope you're not studying too hard! You'll give yourself wrinkles if you work yourself too much you know!"

And now she was rambling. So that confirmed she definitely wanted a favor or was up to something.

"Minako-san?" Ken craned an eyebrow at her.

Minako-san just smiled sheepishly at him, as she was biting her lower lip.

"Well… it's just… I'm here to see you!"

Ken blinked.

"Because…?"

Minako-san rolled on the balls of her feet, before she stopped. She drew in a deep breath, which seemed to steel her.

"Ken-kun..." she said quietly, "I know that you withdrew the Shadow Operatives but… we need you to come back."

"Wait… she was seriously asking me…?" His thoughts trailed off.

She wouldn't ask him unless something serious was going on. That's when it dawned on him, there was something going on.

"Is this about the news of the Phantom Thieves again?"

Minako-san nodded. "We don't know what the Phantom Thieves want… and how they go about stealing desires is… concerning."

"There's already a site that takes requests," Fuuka-san said. "I've seen some… disturbing requests on the site."

Ken just looked away. The Phantom Thieves… he couldn't deny that he was fascinated with them. That he admired them for stepping up to the plate, when nobody else would. But he couldn't deny the truth. It was strange in how they were able to change Kamoshida and now that artist's heart so drastically.

How could he say no? Especially with what Mitsuru-san has done for him over the years.

"I… I know that you didn't want to return to the Shadow Operatives until after you graduated from high school," Minako said.

It was so rare for her to look hesitant, but she did in that moment. But then her expression grew dead serious.

"But we can't allow this to escalate. We need to find out if the Phantom Thieves are dangerous while we still can. How they change hearts... it has to be connected to Personas and Shadows. That's what Mitsuru-senpai thinks, and I agree with her."

She had a point.

Ken took a deep breath before he answered, "Okay. I'll do it."

Minako-san blinked. "Wait—really?! Just like that? You aren't at least gonna take a couple minutes to think it over?"

Ken nodded firmly.

"It's okay Minako-san. The only reason why I left the Shadow Operatives is because all I could focus on was how I wanted to fight Shadows. But it's different now."

He then rubbed the back of his neck.

"So… what do I have to do?" he asked.

"Well—"

"Back up, Ken," Shinjiro-san cut in, his voice sharp. "I'm letting you do this because of the situation… but I'm coming with you."

"Ah… I was wondering why you relented so easily," Fuuka-san said with an amused smile.

"What do you mean easily?!" Minako-san demanded.

"You know how stubborn Shinji can be, Minako-chan," Fuuka-san answered calmly.

Shinjiro-san looked unamused by their banter, shooting them both irate glares.

"I'm right here, you know," he deadpanned.

"Excuse me?!" Ken sputtered, suddenly finding his voice.

Irritation spiked sharply inside of him, as he glowered at Shinjiro-san.

"I'm not a child anymore, Shinjiro-san. I'm almost eighteen!" he exclaimed with a huff.

"Uh-huh." Shinjiro-san just gave him a flat-eyed stare, looking rather unimpressed. "And that's why you're pouting, right?"

"I am not pouting!" Ken continued to glare at his guardian.

Minako-san just giggled, pressing a hand to her cheek. "Aw, you're just so cute, Ken-kun!"

"You stop treating me like a child too!" he grumbled, folding his arms over his chest.

Shinjiro-san just rolled his eyes. "You're really not helping your case here, Ken."

He then looked at Shinjiro-san.

"What about Fuuka-san? You can't just leave her." Ken demanded.

"Ken-kun, don't worry about me," Fuuka said quickly before Shinjiro-san could even open his mouth. "I'll be fine, I promise. And besides… we've dealt with having a long-distance relationship before."

She smiled sadly for a moment.

"I'm going to miss you but it's nothing I can't handle."

Minako-san just grinned, folding her arms over her chest, "Hey, Shinji, maybe you'll have a better selection in Tokyo—!"

Then Shinjiro-san glared at her, so she immediately covered her mouth with one hand. She then lowered it, smiling sheepishly at Shinjiro-san.

"Hehe, oops…"

"Really smooth, Minako-san," Ken thought as he rolled his eyes.

Sometimes he wondered how Fuuka-san had no clue, between the engagement ring catalogues and the fact that Minako-san was a bit of a gossip. She was nothing compared to Yukari-san but still.

"A better selection? What's wrong with the pots and pans you have right now, Shinji?" Fuuka-san frowned.

Ken couldn't help but sigh in relief.

"You know how Shinji gets with his cooking tools, Fuuka-chan!" Minako-san said hastily. "He's gotta have the very best!"

"I… suppose?" Fuuka-san blinked at her.

Minako-san just let out a nervous chuckle, before continuing, "But anyways… Mitsuru-senpai and I talked about some details yesterday… Like she said that she'd work on transferring you to Shujin Academy, if you agreed… Mitsuru has a few properties in Tokyo, so she just needs to pick which one—"

Shinjiro-san just groaned. "Is Mitsuru seriously expecting us to accept charity?"

"Why are you always like this, Shinji?"

Minako-san's hands flew to her hips, giving Shinjiro-san her 'are you kidding me' look.

"It's not charity, okay? Ken-kun is doing Shadow Operative work, so the least she could do is offer a place for you guys to live! Living space in Tokyo is not cheap!she exclaimed.

"And she'll probably give us a penthouse to live in," Shinjiro-san retorted with a scowl.

Fuuka-san just laughed. "Well… to be fair, the properties have probably been in her family's name for a while."

"I don't care, it's still ridiculous."

Minako-san just rolled her eyes at him. "Fine, whatever, you can bring it up to Mitsuru-senpai."

Fuuka said placatingly, "Now, now… maybe you could talk to her about paying her if you don't like it that much, Shinji."

"Like Mitsuru will agree." Shinjiro-san scoffed.

"Again, why do you have to be so stubborn about this?!" Minako inquired with a huff.

As Minako-san and Shinjiro-san continued to bicker, Ken just felt his mind wander.

Tokyo… well, he was studying to try to get into Tokyo University.

He was just going there sooner than expected it seemed. He just hoped that the Phantom Thieves didn't have ill intentions like his senpai thought they did.