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Justice For All

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 Monday, May 2nd, 2016.


Minako was unsurprised that Mitsuru had suddenly summoned her to the Kirijo labs. The news was abuzz with the Phantom Thieves of Hearts and Kamoshida's confession earlier this morning. According to the news, Kamoshida 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 had to be... 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 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 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 minded. "…Do you think he's connected to this?"

Masayoshi Shido had been a thorn in Mitsuru'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, 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 had repeatedly tried to dissuade her from continuing but Wakaba-san had been pigheaded about it. She refused. She 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 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 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 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. "Don't be so hard on yourself," she chided lightly. "Tokyo isn't exactly close to here."

Mitsuru nodded. "Minako is right, Yamagishi," she said. "But… can you determine anything?"

"Mm." 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?!"

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

"Similar but not?" Minako asked.

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

"You're working with what you have, Yamagishi," Mitsuru said gently, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Even just a little bit of information is something."

Fuuka smiled at her. "Thank you, Senpai. But… what can we do? This has to be serious if a Shadow nest has formed..."

"The Phantom Thieves… concern me." Mitsuru frowned, 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 the mental shutdowns."

Minako sighed deeply. This was just… a mess…

Fuuka just 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 similar, but… what happened to Kamoshida was more positive. He confessed to his crimes. Furthermore, the victims of the mental shutdowns just… hurt people."

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 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…

Mitsuru spread her hands, a wry smile on her lips. "Minako, we've witnessed many things that defy the impossible. What's one more?"

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

"But…" Fuuka said slowly, "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," 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 bs'd 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 shudder. Especially since both of them were forced to bend under the will of someone before. 

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

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

Mitsuru 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."

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 a joke. 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 she had always got on with Rise, too. 

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 teal eyes 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 folded her arms over her chest. "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?"

"Yep." Minako nodded firmly. "Nothing else makes sense. How else would they know? Especially since Kamoshida was only targeting his students."

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

…Dammit, that was right. 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 Shinji," Fuuka finally said. "He doesn't want Ken-kun to feel forced into it."

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, only for her expression to grow somber. "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. "Yamagishi poses a good point." Her eyes flickered to Minako, wine red meeting scarlet. "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 Kamoshida'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 it was pretty amazing—that the Phantom Thieves were pretty amazing. Kamoshida 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. And 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 commented.

"You're home early." Shinjiro-san stepped from the kitchen into the living room.

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

Shinjiro-san just craned an eyebrow. "Guessing you heard about the Phantom Thieves, huh?"

"Mmhm." Ken shrugged off 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?"

Shinjiro-san shrugged. "It was all good that they busted Kamoshida, 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… Though his comment about their methods nagged at Ken. It did seem odd now that he pointed it out…

"I'm home!" Ken heard Fuuka-san announce. Koromaru quickly scrambled to her side to greet her. Fuuka-san giggled. "Hey, Koro-chan."

Fuuka-san came into view, looking rather tired for some reason.

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, brushing 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."

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

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

Shinjiro-san then scowled, his expression growing dark. "What did he pull now?"

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

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

Fuuka just laughed softly. "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, 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, five hours away by train, right?"

"Mm, something like that." 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 Phantom Thieves?"

"Me?" Ken blinked, before rubbing the back of his neck. "Uh… well… it was pretty amazing what they did." He looked to his lap, his voice quiet as he continued. "I know that their methods seem strange… almost supernatural… given how Kamoshida was getting away with the crimes, but… I can't help but admire them for not allowing his abuse to continue."

He looked up to see Fuuka-san biting her lower lip. He frowned.

"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." She then bit her lip again. "I… I think I'm going to take a shower. It's been a long day."

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

What was that about?


Tuesday, May 31st, 2016


Another calling card had appeared. It had shown up at the gallery where the famous artist, Ichiryuusai 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 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 was silent for several moments. "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'," Minako mimicked under her breath as she trudged towards the apartment Shinji, Fuuka, and Ken lived. "So why am the one stuck asking Shinji?"

But noooo, Mitsuru was all: you're far superior at persuading Shinjiro. You have to do it, Minako. Furthermore, it was your idea.

Minako just sighed, folding her arms over her chest as she eyed the door. 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. 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.

Maybe she should have brought Aki with her… Maybe Aki 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. She was just here to ask if Ken would go to Tokyo. Nothing would be finalized unless he said yes. She was jumping 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 calling, "Coming!"

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. 

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

"Pffft, it's fine." Minako flapped her hand at Fuuka. "Besides, I'm barely three months along yet."

"I don't think that's the right attitude, Minako-chan…" There was an almost wistfulness to Fuuka's expression.

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

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. 

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…"

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

Fuuka just shrugged. "That's normal actually. He usually studies at the school library. And besides," she tilted her head at Minako, "I seem to recall a certain somebody not coming back to the dorm until the evening as well." 

Minako let out an awkward laugh. Fuuka got her there, she had to admit. 

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

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. He looked up when he heard Minako enter. He set his magazine aside, raising an eyebrow.

"…What are you craving now?"

"Uh… what?" was her brilliant response. (But hey, it was kinda out of the blue!)

"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," Fuuka chided.

"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 mini of him?"

"Now, now, Shinji…" Minako smirked, folding her arms over her chest. "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?"

"How can I not know?" Shinji scowled, looking completely unimpressed with her. "Get to the point already."

"Uh… it's just…" Minako smiled sheepishly. "Ithoughtit'dbeagoodideatosendKentoinvestigatethePhantomThieves," she blurted out in a rush.

Shinji stared. And stared. Then something in him seem to snap, his steel gray eyes darkening with anger. "You. Did. What?!" he ground out, glaring daggers at her.

Unwillingly, Minako took a step back. Holy crap, 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!"

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

Fuuka quickly sat next to Shinji, resting a hand on his arm. "Calm down, Shinji," she said gently. "You know that Mitsuru-senpai wouldn't resort to this unless she felt there was no other way."

Shinji jerked his head in Fuuka's direction, but his gaze softened from steel to rock. "…What do you know?"

"Minako-chan broached the idea the day Mitsuru-senpai asked me to come to the labs last month," Fuuka said quietly. (How could she be so freaking calm?) "I didn't say anything because she technically said no."

"And this mission is supposed to be reconnaissance…" Minako said. "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."

Shinji narrowed his eyes. "You still didn't answer my question."

Fuuka said, "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 are high school students, with how they knew about Kamoshida's crimes."

Shinji was silent for several moments. "Does it really have to be him?" he said finally, meeting Minako's gaze. "Can't you ask Shirogane? She's always running off from city to city with her cases anyways."

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…" Shinji dragged his fingers through his hair. "Fine!" 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. "You look so tall! Have you grown a couple centimeters since the last time I saw you? I hope you're not studying too hard…!"

…And she was rambling.

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

Minako-san just smiled sheepishly at him, clasping her hands behind her back. "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 him…?

"Is this about the Phantom Thieves?"

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 softly. "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'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 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."

…She had a point.

"…Okay."

Minako-san blinked. "Wait, you'll do it?"

Ken nodded. "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 looked to Minako-san. "…So, what do I have to do?"

"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…" Fuuka-san just smiled, looking rather amused. "I was wondering why you relented so easily."

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

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

"…I'm right here, you know."

"Excuse me?!" Ken sputtered, finally managing to find 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!"

"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!"

"Stop treating me like a child," 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?" he demanded. "You can't just leave her!"

"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. "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. Sometimes he wondered how Fuuka-san had no clue, what with 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…?" Fuuka-san frowned. "What's wrong with the pots and pans you have right now, Shinji?"

"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 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!"

"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."

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

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

"Again, why do you have to be so stubborn about this?!"

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

Tokyo, huh…? Well, he was studying to try to get into Tokyo University… He was just going there sooner than expected. He just… hoped that the Phantom Thieves didn't have ill intentions like his senpai thought they did.

Chapter Text

Saturday, June 11th , 2016


"Are you sure you have everything?"

Shinjiro-san sighed, but his lips twitched into a smile. "Fuuka, stop worrying. Besides, even if we did forget anything, you could just mail it to us."

"I know, I know!" Fuuka-san sighed, before smiling sheepishly at him. "I just can't help but worry."

Shinjiro-san's eyes softened and he gave her that fond smile that he reserved only for her. "Shouldn't I be worried about you? I'm not gonna come back with the kitchen burned down, right?"

"Shinji!" Fuuka-san's face turned pink. "That hasn't happened in years…"

Koromaru trotted over to Ken, letting out a bark. Ken smiled at him, before kneeling to pet him. He was going to miss Koromaru while they were in Tokyo... He knew that he had surprised everyone by deciding not to take Koromaru with him but he felt guilty enough about Shinjiro-san... Fuuka-san needed some company.

"You'll be good for Fuuka-san, won't you?" he murmured as he scratched behind Koromaru's ears. Koromaru let out an affirmative bark before licking Ken's hand. "Hopefully Fuuka-san can bring you up for a visit for the summer..."

Koromaru let out a happy bark, before lunging at Ken, knocking him down in the process. He began to furiously lick at Ken's face.

"Koromaru!" he groaned, holding up a warding hand but Koromaru wasn't to be deterred. He continued to happily give Ken a bath with his tongue.

"Koro-chan, what are you doing?" Fuuka-san scolded, as Shinjiro-san grabbed Koromaru by the collar and hauled him off Ken.

"Thanks," he muttered as he sat up. Fuuka-san knelt to offer him a handkerchief to wipe off his face.

"Jeez, we look away for two minutes and Ken's on the ground," Shinjiro-san muttered, shaking his head. Koromaru just sat on his haunches and let out a yip. "And Koro isn't even sorry about it."

"When is he ever?" Ken grumbled, before climbing to his feet. He then folded the handkerchief and handing it back to Fuuka-san. "Thanks Fuuka-san."

The intercom above their heads suddenly crackled. "The train headed for Tokyo is now boarding at station 3," the announcer stated. "I repeat, the train headed for Tokyo is now boarding at station 3."

"That's our train," Shinjiro-san sighed, turning to face Fuuka-san, a frown on his face. "We should get going."

Fuuka-san smiled sadly, her lips trembling slightly. But after taking a deep breath, she nodded. "You don't want to miss it." She stood on her tiptoes, kissing Shinjiro-san on the cheek. "Text me when you get to Tokyo, okay?"

"'Course." Shinjiro-san dipped his head to quickly kiss her.

Even though it was just a peck, Ken couldn't help but make a face. He couldn't help but feel a bit self conscious whenever any of his senpai did PDA in front of him. It was just... embarrassing to watch.

"Don't give me that face, Ken," Shinjiro-san said, turning to level an unimpressed stare at Ken. "We could do worse and you know it. Like-"

Ken immediately clapped his hands over his ears. "I am not listening!"

Shinjiro-san glowered at him. "Really, Ken?"

"Shinji, don't pick on him," Fuuka-san gently chastised. "And Ken-kun, don't egg him on like that."

Shinjiro-san huffed. "Ugh, whatever." He reached down to pick up his duffel bag, before glancing back at Ken. "Come on, we really should get going."

"Give me one second with Ken-kun, first?" Fuuka-san asked.

Shinjiro-san raised an eyebrow, but nodded. He kissed her on the top of her head. "See you, Fuuka."

"Bye Shinji."

Shinjiro-san scooped up their bags, before heading for station three.

Ken turned to her. "Fuuka-san, what's the m-"

"Please be careful, Ken-kun," Fuuka-san suddenly blurted out. She bit her lip. "You'll be the one looking for the Phantom Thieves. You'll be the one to find the Shadow nest. Please… promise me you won't do anything reckless." She looked up at him pleadingly.

Ken swallowed hard. She was more worried than she let on... He should have expected this. They were essentially treading on unknown territory.

"I will," he said quietly.

Fuuka-san smiled at him, before squeezing his hand. "Call home often, okay?"

"I'll try..." Ken said sheepishly.

Fuuka-san frowned at him. "If I can call at least twice a week during university-"

"Why do you always pull that card on everyone?" Ken grumbled.

Fuuka-san giggled. "Because it's effective." Her eyes softened. "Bye, Ken-kun."

"Goodbye, Fuuka-san."


"'You don't need to worry about the cost, Shinjiro'," Shinjiro-san said in a mocking voice, poorly imitating Mitsuru-san. He scowled up at the building in front of them. "'It's nothing'." He scoffed, folding his arms over his chest. "Yeah right."

"It's… not the Yakushima mansion, at least?" Ken offered.

"It's still too much," Shinjiro-san grumbled, still scowling. "It's still a fuckin' penthouse."

Kikuno-san cleared her throat, but she looked rather amused at Shinjiro-san's griping. "Now, if you're done complaining, Shinjiro-san…"

"Shinjiro-san never stops complaining."

Ken quickly sidestepped to dodge the swipe Shinjiro-san aimed at him.

"Smartass," he grumbled.

"…Please follow me." Kikuno-san smiled politely.

But it was nice for Mitsuru-san to send Kikuno-san to escort them from the train station. He was pretty sure that they probably would have gotten lost. In all honesty, Ken wasn't expecting Tokyo to be so huge. It was the capital and everything, but it made Port Island look positively tiny.

Kikuno-san unlocked the door when they reached the top. Ken's eyebrow rose when he took in the living room. While it was well furnished, it wasn't in that obscenely opulent fashion that Mitsuru-san's residences usually were decorated in.

"Mitsuru-san ordered for new furniture when she decided this will be where you're staying," Kikuno-san offered as an explanation, before walking inside.

Ken removed his shoes, leaving them outside by the door. Shinjiro-san quickly followed suit.

"The kitchen has been fitted with state of the art appliances," Kikuno-san continued, before reaching into her pocket and laying down two card keys. "These are the keys to the suite, please don't lose them. And your bedrooms will be in the very back…"

The suite included a washing room, two bathrooms—both having a bathtub larger than any Ken had ever seen—and even an entertainment room.

"…And that's everything," Kikuno-san finished. She then reached into her pocket again. "And this is for you, Ken-san."

Ken raised an eyebrow, examining the card. It looked like… some kind of ticket.

"It's a train pass," Kikuno-san informed him. "You'll have to pay a couple hundred yen every time you use the train station, but it gives a discount."

"For crying out loud…" Shinjiro-san grumbled. "I could have paid for that. I don't give a shit on what Mitsuru says, I'm paying her something."

Kikuno-san just tilted her head, an amused smile coming to her lips. "Mm, I believe you'll have to bring that up with Lady Mitsuru, Shinjiro-san."

"Believe me, I will," he muttered darkly.

Kikuno-san just smiled, before curtseying. "If that is all… I must take your leave." Her eyes flickered to Ken. "…And good luck, Ken-san."

"…Thank you," Ken mumbled.

Kikuno-san then left the suite, firmly shutting the door behind her.

Shinjiro-san flopped onto the longer sofa, belly first, with a groan. "Ken, go find a place to order something for dinner," he said, burying his face into a pillow. "I'm too tired to cook tonight."

"You're willingly ordering takeout?" Ken raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, yeah, yuck it up," Shinjiro-san said coolly, before rolling onto his back. "We're going grocery shopping tomorrow after we go see the principal."


Sunday, June 12th , 2016


Shujin Academy just looked… plain, in comparison to Gekkoukan.

Though Ken supposed that most schools would. Gekkoukan was all steel and glass, fitted with the top technology. Mitsuru-san had commissioned for a fountain to be placed in the courtyard as well, in honor of her late father. And during Minako-san's third year, she pushed for a garden on the roof soon after she was elected class president. She said that the roof didn't have to be just a place of death… it could be a place for life too.

It didn't take them long to find the principal's office. He rose when they entered, a genial smile on his face.

"Ah, Amada-kun, correct?" he greeted. "We've been expecting you!"

His smile just oozed insincerity. Ken chanced a glance at Shinjiro-san. He remained silent, but he looked utterly unimpressed with the principal. He just… couldn't be bothered to hide how he felt.

"It's an honor to meet you," Ken said, before bowing his head. He didn't know how, but he managed a polite smile.

He couldn't give the principal a reason to suspect him.

"It's wonderful to meet you as well. I am Principal Kobayakawa." He nodded. "From your records, you seem to be a marvelous addition to our school. An honor student who constantly made it to the top ten, if not the very top rank, an athlete, and a member of the student council…"

…He was really laying it thick, wasn't he? Just… Was that really all he was concerned about? Though… the school did let Kamoshida get away with his crimes… He supposed he shouldn't be surprised.

Shinjiro-san looked completely unimpressed with Kobayakawa. "I'm glad that you know of Ken's accomplishments, but Ken isn't too interested in joining any clubs now," he said flatly. "He's been focusing on studying for entrance exams."

He immediately looked crestfallen. "Oh… Of course!" He swallowed hard. "Of course, entrance exams to university are very important…"

…He was just too easy to read.

"Is there anything else…?" Ken spoke up.

"Well… there's your school uniform…" He said, picking up a white box. "And your classroom is 3-D. The student council president is in your class… so if you have any questions, you should ask her. And please come to the office early tomorrow so you can meet with your teacher."

"Thank you, sir." Ken accepted the box, before bowing his head. "I hope I'll do well at Shujin."

"I'm sure you will." He nodded.

Shinjiro-san didn't take long to speak once they had left the office. "And I thought Ekoda was obsessed with reputations." He didn't bother to hide the scorn from his voice. "He was such a brown noser."

"At least he's not my teacher," Ken muttered. "And it's not surprising."

"I guess." Shinjiro-san just stuffed his hands in his pockets, scowling at the horizon. "Come on. We still need to go grocery shopping."

Oh yes, nothing like trying—key word was try—to stop his guardian from picking a fight with the butcher over just how fresh the meat was.


Monday, June 13th , 2016


Ken tugged at the collar of his dress shirt, trying not to squirm under his classmates' gaze. It was... difficult, considering that they were blatantly gawking at him.

"Class, we have a new student," the teacher announced. "Ken Amada, hailing from Tatsumi Port Island."

"Port Island?" one student repeated. "Hey, isn't that where the Kirijo Group is?"

"Forget that! He's so cute!"

"Look at how soft his hair is!"

"He's much better than the first transfer we got!"

"Isn't it kinda a weird time to transfer though?"

Ken fought the urge to hang his head. Of course he couldn't escape it. He didn't even know what about him attracted girls like bees to flowers. Though what was this about another transfer student?

Then there was the sound of a throat being cleared. "Shouldn't we find a seat for him?"

The speaker was a girl with short dark brown hair and piercing red eyes. She was pretty in that prim, bookish kind of way.

"Yes, of course." The teacher nodded, resting her chin in the palm of her hand. She looked thoughtful. "In fact… the seat next to you is open, isn't it, Niijima-san? Amada-kun can have that seat then."

"What?!" one girl whined. "But my seat is closer to the front!"

"That's enough," the teacher snapped. "My decision is final." She then smiled encouragingly at Ken. "Go ahead, Amada-kun."

Ken nodded, before shifting his school bag on his shoulder and walking down the aisle. Everyone's eyes remained plastered on him, making him feel incredibly self-conscious. Was this how Gekkoukan treated Minato-san and Minako-san?

It felt like an eternity before he reached his seat, setting his bag on the ground and then sliding into his seat.

His neighbor offered him a hesitant smile. "Never mind them," she murmured. "They just… gossip too much."

"That describes most of the teenage population," Ken replied, keeping his voice low as well.

This earned him a quiet giggle.

"Now then!" The teacher clasped her hands in front of her. "Open your book to page 101. We'll start by translating the entire page."

This earned a collective groan. Ken reached for his bag, drawing out his English textbook and then flipping it open. It didn't look that much more difficult than Gekkoukan's curriculum from the looks of it…

Ken sighed as his classmates continued to gossip in loud whispers. This was going to be a long day…


The first few classes just dragged on, so it was a relief when the lunch bell rang. But before he could even blink, he found himself surrounded by girls.

"What school did you used to go to?"

"Have you ever met Mitsuru Kirijo?!"

"Do you have a girlfriend?"

"Are you interested in joining any clubs? We have some openings!"

Ken inched his chair back, even though it wasn't much help. Did he have the words please try to flirt with me plastered on his forehead?

He managed a polite smile, before speaking. "I used to attend to Gekkoukan, and yes, I know her. We used to live in the same dorm, because of special circumstances. And no, I don't have a girlfriend, but I'm not interested in one right now. And I'm sorry, but I don't want to join a club right now."

"Hey, what do you think of the Phantom Thieves?" one of the girls demanded.

"That's enough, all of you." A stern voice, so similar to Mitsuru-san's, cut through the air. "You need to give him some breathing air."

The girls grumbled but backed away. They parted to reveal that it was his seatmate.

"Why do you have to hog him?" another girl huffed.

…What?

She just raised an eyebrow at the girls, looking at the speaker sternly. "I am not 'hogging' him. You're invading his personal space, so I'm telling you to leave him alone."

The girls began muttering to themselves but began to disperse. Ken couldn't help but sigh in relief.

"…Niijima-san, was it?" Ken asked.

She smiled at him. "That's right. I'm Makoto Niijima, the student council president. It's nice to meet you, Amada-kun."

"Likewise." Ken nodded. "And… thank you for getting the girls to back off."

"It was nothing." She waved a dismissive hand, "You looked overwhelmed… I'm not sure how none of them picked up on it."

"Because they just don't care," Ken muttered under his breath.

"What was that?" Niijima-san frowned.

"Oh, nothing…" Ken waved her off.

"How are you holding up?" she inquired. "It has to be overwhelming to start at a new school..."

Hmm… if she was the student council president… maybe she had an idea who the Phantom Thieves were.

"Niijima-san?" he began, before he could chicken out and stay silent.

"What is it?" she asked, frowning slightly.

Looking closer at her made Ken realize that she looked tired. Dark rings were under her eyes. Her skin was unusually pale.

"Ah… I was wondering what you knew about the Phantom Thieves," Ken said slowly. "Since well… Kamoshida was their first target."

Niijima-san's face became ashen. "It's… not something the faculty is proud of," she mumbled, her gaze lowering to the ground. "Kamoshida had hurt the entire volleyball team. Not to mention Amamiya-kun, Sakamoto-kun, and Takamaki-san…"

Huh… those three names… That could be a clue.

"I didn't realize his targets weren't just the club he coached," Ken said.

He remembered when Kamoshida had confessed... The newspapers had been all over that. But they had only focused on the abuse he had heaped on the volleyball team...

Then Niijima-san looked up, narrowing her eyes at him. "…Why are you so interested in them, anyways?"

"Ah…" Ken scrambled for a quick excuse because that stare was rather frightening. "It's just… the Phantom Thieves are like real life superheroes, aren't they?"

"I suppose you could think that…" Niijima-san said, relaxing her entire stance.

Ken released the breath he didn't realize he was holding. That was... a close one. He needed to be more… subtle than that from now on. He couldn't be broadcasting that he was interested in the Phantom Thieves like that.

"But if you're okay now, Amada-kun…" Niijima-san straightened her posture, before brushing her skirt with one hand. "I should probably get going… I have a lot of work to handle."

She turned to leave, but Ken found himself blurting out, "Wait!"

Niijima-san turned, eyebrow raised. "…Yes?"

"It's just… ah… you looked tired." Ken felt like facepalming. Why couldn't he be more eloquent with his thoughts? "Have you even eaten lunch yet?"

"I… didn't bring one today," she admitted with a wince. "I woke up late, so I didn't have time to make lunch."

"Well… you could always share mine," Ken offered. "My guardian always makes me too much…"

Niijima-san's eyes widened. "Oh, I don't know… That may create more rumors."

"Was what you said this morning again?" Ken raised an eyebrow. Niijima-san opened her mouth to protest, so he added, "Please. It's not healthy for you."

…Shinjiro-san was rubbing off on him.

"Well…" Niijima-san tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, before smiling shyly at him. "…If you insist."


The latter half of the day went by fast. Before he knew it, the bell was ringing shrilly, signaling the end of the day.

"Amada-kun." Niijima-san caught his sleeve, holding him in place. "I know that you're not particularly interested in joining clubs right now but… I thought I let you know about the clubs that are accepting new members right now, since you transferred later in the year."

Ken raised an eyebrow. "I'm listening."

Niijima-san began to recite. "There's newspaper club, the track team, and well… the student council could always use more help. I heard from the principal that you've been pretty active in student council since middle school."

"It was nothing, really…" Ken rubbed the back of his neck. "I only was elected in my last year at middle school and the past two years."

Though wasn't the track team disbanded? Maybe it got reinstated because of Kamoshida's confession.

But there was a newspaper club, huh? Maybe someone there could tell him just who Amamiya, Takamaki, and Sakamoto were.

"You don't have to be so modest, you know. But um… you shouldn't really talk to me…" Her voice was whisper-soft, her eyes lowering to the ground.

Ken frowned. He had noticed that people had steered clear of Niijima-san for no reason, how people had been whispering about her throughout the day. He had no idea why, since she seemed nice enough. "Why?"

"Um… it's just…" Niijima-san winced. "I have a certain reputation…"

"And…?"

"And what?" She blinked at him.

Ken sighed, before zipping shut his pencil case. "Niijima-san, believe me when I say that I know about bad reputations… My guardian was viewed as a delinquent, but he's not. Rough on the edges, yes, but not a delinquent."

Ken couldn't help but grimace. He remembered his teachers muttering about Shinjiro-san. Several times. It was... upsetting at first, but he eventually learned to ignore it. Shinjiro-san didn't really care about the rumors anyways.

"A delinquent look-a-like… who cooks delicious food," Niijima-san said slowly. She laughed, a smile tugging at her lips. "That's… an interesting image."

Ken laughed as well, nodding. "Yeah, he gets that a lot."

Niijima-san opened her mouth to reply, only for her eyes to grow wide. "Ah…! I'm sorry, Amada-kun, but I have to speak to Miss Kawakami about something urgent..."

"Of course." Ken nodded, even though he had no clue who this Miss Kawakami was. "I'll see you tomorrow."

He watched her leave the classroom, before he looked back down at his desk. The newspaper club… It could be a good lead. If not, maybe he could visit the volleyball club.

It took him a few minutes to find out where the newspaper club met, but he soon found himself face to face with a dark haired girl wearing a pair of glasses.

"Can I help you?" She frowned uncertainly, tilting her head slightly only for her eyes to widen. "Oh… you're the new transfer student, aren't you?"

"Yes, that's right." Ken bowed his head. "My name is Ken Amada."

She giggled. "You don't have to be so polite. We're the same age." She then pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Is there something you needed…?"

"Oh, I was just wondering…" Ken began.

…Crap, what should he say? Why didn't he think of what to ask first…

"…Who's this other transfer student? I was just curious, since… people keep comparing me to them."

"Yikes, that's a complicated question…" she sighed, adjusting her glasses again. "His name is Ren Amamiya, a year below us. He assaulted some bigwig and he got put onto probation. He was sent here and Kamoshida took an instant disliking to him." Her expression darkened. "He tried to expel Amamiya and Sakamoto—who was the former track star—for trying to assault him."

Was she serious? Kamoshida thought he could've gotten away with it?

…He probably would've, if it wasn't for the Phantom Thieves.

But hmm… Amamiya and Sakamoto would have a grudge against Kamoshida. Maybe they were possible Phantom Thieves.

"Amamiya is one scary looking guy though," the girl continued. "He's not super tall but he's got that aura, y'know?"

Ken's mind immediately veered to Shinjiro-san. He was on the taller side, but still. "…Yeah, I know what you mean," he muttered.

"You know… we're accepting new members," she began. "For the newspaper club. Are you interested?"

Ken offered a sheepish smile, rubbing the back of his neck. "Sorry… but I'm not particularly talented in writing."

"Oh…" She looked disappointed. "Maybe I'll see around then."

"Yeah-"

The girl suddenly grabbed his sleeve. "That's him actually—with the student council president!"

Wait, what? Ken followed her gaze to see that Niijima-san was following a boy who was probably slightly shorter than him. Though he didn't know what about him was intimidating... He had dark hair that was wavy, bordering being frizzy. His huge glasses just seemed to magnify his dark eyes. He was even carrying a cat in his bag. It was a cute cat too, its black fur sleek and its blue eyes bright and intelligent.

He looked… harmless. He didn't look too happy to be around Niijima-san though…

"I wonder why…?" the girl mused. "I thought Amamiya and Takamaki had a thing for each other."

Oh, right… that was one of the other people Niijima-san mentioned. Though he probably should follow them at a safe distance… Maybe he could discover some kind of hint.

He bid the girl farewell, before following Niijima-san and Amamiya-san. They led him to a populated walkway. Leaning against the railing were three teenagers. The tallest looked like… a beanpole. He had dark blue hair and gray eyes. The second tallest was a boy with bleached hair and brown eyes. The shortest was a girl with blonde hair that had to be natural and bright blue-green eyes. The two blondes wore the Shujin uniform, while the taller boy was wearing some kind of other uniform.

"Is that a friend of yours…?" he heard the blue-haired boy ask, only to be swiftly interrupted.

"What are you doing here?!" the blonde female demanded. She was all tensed up, her hands clenched tightly into fists. Her eyes narrowed at Niijima-san. "Ren, what happened?"

While they were distracted, Ken ducked behind a pillar. He wasn't exactly close, but whatever works… And they were talking just loud enough to hear. Though he had to wonder why the girl was being so hostile.

"She was… talking to me when I got the call from Ryuji," Amamiya-san said.

The girl immediately rounded on her male counterpart, glaring daggers at him.

…He was getting Yukari-san and Junpei-san vibes.

"Hey, how was I supposed to know that Miss President was around?!" he defended. "Why are you getting mad at me?!"

"That's why I told you to wait, Ryuji!" she snapped, smacking his arm.

…Yep, they definitely were like Yukari-san and Junpei-san. The only thing missing was a foot stomp.

Niijima-san cleared her throat. "Ren Amamiya. Ryuji Sakamoto. Anne Takamaki… All three of you were victims of Mr. Kamoshida… And you're constantly seen in each other's company. Isn't that a bit strange?"

"What's it to you?" Sakamoto-san scowled, crossing his arms over his chest.

"And Yusuke Kitagawa…" Niijima-san turned to look at Kitagawa-san. "…The former apprentice of Madarame."

Kamoshida and Madarame… Wait, she wasn't saying…

Kitagawa-san's mouth tightened at her statement, before looking away.

"Seriously, what is your problem?" Takamaki-san demanded, her stance still tense. She looked just about ready to pounce on Niijima-san.

"Anne." Amamiya-san put a hand on her shoulder. "You need to calm down..."

Takamaki-san scowled, but nodded, before dropping her arms to her sides.

"You're the Phantom Thieves, are you not?" Niijima-san calmly made her accusation.

"You sling accusations without any proof," Kitagawa-san bit out, but he looked nervous.

"Oh really?" Niijima-san smiled sweetly, before pulling out her phone. She played a recording. The voices were tinny, but obviously belonged to Sakamoto-san and Takamaki-san.

Did they really... talk about this... in public?

The other three all slowly turned to Sakamoto-san.

…So, he had a good idea who had the big mouth out of the group.

And Niijima-san was investigating the Phantom Thieves… But the question was… why?

"What?" He scowled at them, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I'm not the only one talkin' in the recording!"

"Now, I want you to listen to me carefully," Niijima-san said flatly. "This doesn't have to be released to the public."

Amamiya-san's expression was wary. "What do you want, then?"

"I want you to prove your justice," she said, folding her arms over her chest. "And we have a little problem plaguing the students of our school. Steal the heart of this criminal and I will delete everything. I will leave you alone. It is a good deal, isn't it?"

She was… blackmailing them. But why? Why was it so important for this criminal to go down?

"So who do you want us to target?" Kitagawa-san asked slowly.

Niijima-san clasped her hands behind her back. "A mafia boss."

…Well, that answered his question.

He was going to have an interesting first report to give Mitsuru-san...

Chapter Text

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016


Ren stifled a yawn, as he slowly trudged to school. He could really go for a cup of coffee right now. Maybe if he paid Sojiro, he could use the expresso machine in the morning? He had some money saved up. He had to keep the expenses in mind but… He couldn't afford to pass out in class. He'd never hear the end of it, especially from Morgana. Knowing Morgana, he'd probably climb out of his desk and claw at Ren's face to wake him up, consequences be damned. Ren made a mental note to ask him tonight.

Morgana stuck his head out of his bag. "See, this is why you have to get enough sleep!" he chided.

"Not now, Morgana," he muttered, before setting a hand on Morgana's head to push him back into the bag despite Morgana's protests. "You can lecture me another time."

Especially since he had been staying up to make tools last night… He was getting better at it, but it went so slow…

"Hmph!" Morgana grumbled, sticking his nose in the air. "I'm just saying, this is why I'm always having you get sleep when you can! Especially with Miss President's deadline coming up!"

Ugh, why did Morgana have to remind him? The deadline was just… rather slim. And they needed time to gather intel, not to mention the actual runs in the Palace. It just seemed impossible…

"I know, I know, you don't have to lecture me." Ren was careful to keep his voice low, speaking from the corner of his mouth. People already thought he was a violent delinquent. He didn't want to add crazy cat whisperer to the list.

He could still feel people's stares sometimes. Ren stifled a sigh. It was just… tiring. He had hoped that the rumors would have died down after Kamoshida was gone but nope. But whatever… the people who mattered knew the truth.

Ren stifled another yawn. Maybe he could scrounge around for some kind of soda in one of the vending machines. Or maybe grab something from the student store. He should have really eaten breakfast but he had woke up late-

"Ren-!" Morgana began to warn, but to no avail.

He smacked right into something, and the next thing he knew, he was lying flat on his back. Morgana squirmed underneath him, popping out of his bag.

"I told you to pay attention!" Morgana huffed.

"Are you okay?" A voice interrupted, before Morgana could continue.

Ren blinked, looking up. Oh… He had bumped into a someone.

"More or less," he said, pulling off his glasses to rub his face. Sometimes he wondered if he should just toss his glasses away. The unassuming look they gave him didn't even help. "It gave me a wake-up call at least."

The speaker's lips twitched into a half-smile at his quip, before extending a hand to help Ren up. Ren took it and they pulled him up with ease. He was… surprisingly strong, given that he had a more slender build. His hands were calloused too.

They were nearly eye level, with the stranger being slightly taller than him. He seemed to follow the school uniform to a T, with the white collared dress shirt, the slacks, and even the dress shoes. He had light brown hair styled in that messy-neat fashion, but his bangs curled in a ridiculous flyaway style that had to use gel.

And he… kinda looked like Akechi. It was probably the pretty boy look to him.

"I'm Ken Amada," he introduced himself after a moment of silence.

Wait, wasn't that the new transfer student? He had already heard some gossip about him, since he had apparently confirmed knowing Mitsuru Kirijo during his time on Port Island. Though that had been drowned out by Niijima busting him…

"I'm Ren Amamiya," he said, bracing himself for the usual reaction all while sliding his glasses onto his face. "Transferred here in April."

But curiosity, not fear, flickered in his eyes. "It's nice to meet you."

Ren blinked. That was a first. The only person who had greeted him kindly had been Anne, but that had been thrown out of the window when he had to lie why he was late on his first day. Luckily they had become friends afterwards but still...

Amada raised an eyebrow. "Do people hate you that much?"

Ren grimaced. "You have no idea."

Though he had heard a few rumors during lunch yesterday… More positive than what Ren had to put up with, but still.

Amada's face suddenly clouded over with confusion. "Ah…"

Ren followed his line of sight and… Shit. Shit.

Please don't ask please don't ask-

"Is there a reason why you're carrying a cat in your schoolbag?"

DAMMIT. What was even a good excuse for that?

"He's… er…" Ren combed through his mind for a good excuse. (He really had nothing.) "He's my therapy cat," he managed to spit out. "You know, for emotional support."

Morgana yowled, "I'm your what?!"

Amada looked at Morgana quizzically. "He doesn't exactly sound calm."

"He's just grumpy that I had to feed him kibble this morning," Ren said. "He's kinda spoiled."

"I'M WHAT?!" Morgana glared daggers at him. "Why are you feeding him this drivel?!"

That was when Amada laughed. "Mm, I can understand spoiled pets. My guardian always feeds the best cuts to our dog." His expression turned wistful for some reason. Maybe the dog was dead?

Out of the corner of Ren's eye, he could see other students staring. They were whispering, pointing at the two of them. Ren fought the urge to sigh.

Amada followed his line of sight, his expression immediately souring. "Seems like people just can't keep to themselves," he muttered.

Ren winced, before adjusting his glasses. "It's nothing I'm not used to."

Okay, so Mishima had spread the rumors, but Ren couldn't blame his friend. He was just another victim of Kamoshida's.

Though he had no idea why Amada was taking him so calmly. Most people gave him a wide berth or they barely dared to look at him in the eye. Yeah, he was a transfer but… He had to have heard of the rumors already.

But still… Amada looked studious. A bit of a prep. So why was he actually talking to Ren?

"Is there something wrong?"

Ren rubbed the back of the neck. "I was just thinking… you do know about my rep, don't you? The Shujin rumor mill is always running."

That was when Amada laughed again. "I think most of the student population needs to get their eyes checked if they find you intimidating," he said dryly. "The glasses make you very… unassuming."

Ren raised an eyebrow. "Thanks?"

…At least it worked on someone. But noooo, Kamoshida had to decide he hated Ren's guts for talking to Anne.

The warning bell suddenly rang, causing the two of them to look up. "Well… that's my cue to pick up the pace," Amada muttered. "It was nice meeting you, Amamiya-san."

Morgana popped out of Ren's bag, his blue eyes filled with curiosity as he stared after Amada. "There's something about him…"

"What do you mean?"

Morgana scrunched up his nose. "I don't know."

"Well, that's very helpful." Ren rolled his eyes. "Thanks, Morgana."

"I'm saying that so you can keep an eye on him!"

"If you say so, Morgana."


During their preparations for the move to Tokyo, Mitsuru-san had taken Ken's old spear. She returned it to him the day before the move. She had tripped it out so it had a portable mode. As much of a marvel it was, Ken had found that it was too light for him. Minato-san and Minako-san had always been careful to select lighter spears so that it was more manageable for him.

But when Ken had started to practice a few of his katas last night, he found his old spear nearly slipping out of his hands. Several times.

So, hunting down a new spear was necessary. Very necessary.

Especially since he was rusty with using his Persona. He couldn't control that, until he finally found the Shadow nest. But he could control using his weapon.

When he had mentioned this to Shinjiro-san this morning, his guardian had suggested looking for a weapons shop in Shibuya. After all, Shibuya was the central point of Tokyo.

So here he was, exploring Central Street.

Maybe he should try to find medicine here too… There had to be a pharmacy somewhere…

But huh… an airsoft shop… Maybe they sold weapons here too?

His eyes swept through the shop. The guns… looked oddly realistic.

A grizzled older man was lounging on a seat, reading a newspaper rather intently. He looked up when the bell attached to the door rang. He raised an eyebrow.

"What's a kid like you doin' here? You get lost?"

Ken frowned. "I know where I'm going. And I know what this kind of shop this is."

The man let out a bark of laughter. "Kid, you just look too clean. Are you seriously looking to buy a gun?"

If only he knew about the Evoker in Ken's schoolbag.

"Not a gun," Ken said, folding his arms over his chest. "I was wondering if you carry other weapons."

The man frowned. "This isn't a convenience store."

"Then perhaps you could point me to one that carries weapons," Ken deadpanned.

The man laughed again, before he smirked. "Sorry, kid, but I don't think I know of such a place."

"No surprise there," Ken muttered, before his eyes swept over the stock.

Maybe he could buy a gun…? It was better than nothing. But Shinjiro-san would kill him if he brought home a gun. Even if it was just a model gun. He better not…

"But sorry for bothering you," Ken said. "You obviously don't have what I'm looking for."

Ken bowed his head, before leaving the airsoft shop.

Well, that was a dud… Maybe he could try to look in another district…

"Hey, kid." Ken nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden voice.

Ken immediately backed up, reaching into his satchel. His fingers immediately wrapped around his Evoker. It may not be a gun, but maybe pointing it at him would cause this man to panic and run off. What kind of student would be randomly carrying a gun, after all?

"Whoa!" He held his hands up. "Take it easy… I just noticed you coming out of the airsoft shop. Iwai's got the goods, but it's not cheap. I just thought… I'd offer you a proposition."

"Not interested," Ken said flatly.

Warning bells were ringing clearly in his ears. The man just screamed bad vibes. There was no way that he had good intentions.

"Hear me out," the man pressed, taking a step closer to Ken. Ken immediately took a step back, not relaxing his stance at all. "Do you need a job? It's really easy and the pay is good." He took out an envelope. It was small, rather innocuous looking. "We just need you to deliver this to a place. And we'll pay you fifty thousand for the job. Sounds like a great deal, right?"

Ken narrowed his eyes. This was just too suspicious… Just what was in that envelope?

"So who do you want us to target?"

"A mafia boss."

What was this what Niijima-san was talking about? She had talked about this criminal plaguing Shujin students…

"What's in the envelope?"

"Excuse me?"

"What's in the envelope?" Ken repeated. When the man wouldn't respond, his face growing pale, Ken crossed his arms over his chest. "Yeah, that's what I thought. That's a definite no. I'm not an idiot."

But when he moved to walk past him, the man suddenly grabbed Ken's upper arm, squeezing hard. "Can't have you running to the police. Gotta shut you up."

Ken scowled, clenching his left hand into a fist. He may not have Akihiko-san's boxing abilities or Shinjiro-san's upper body strength, but Akihiko-san did say that he had a good left hook.

But a tanned hand suddenly grasped the man's shoulder, yanking him away from Ken. He heard a sickening crunch and then the man yowling in pain.

"You keep your hands off of him," Shinjiro-san growled, his gray eyes like steel.

"You mind your own business!" The man scowled, staggering to his feet. He could already see a shiner forming. "I'm not leaving until I shut that kid's mouth!"

"Fine," Shinjiro-san snapped, cracking his knuckles. "We'll do this the hard way."

He lunged at Shinjiro-san, but Shinjiro-san quickly sidestepped. He grabbed the man's wrist, yanking him forward before slamming his head into the man's face in a headbutt. The man stumbled back with a yelp, blood dripping from his nose down his face.

"And I can do much worse," Shinjiro-san threatened with a glare, all while casually wiping off the blood. "So, what's it gonna be?"

"You're crazy!" he shouted, but he fled from them.

"Tch. Stupid bastard," Shinjiro-san muttered, before looking at Ken. "Okay, Ken. What the fuck are you even doing here?"

"I was just looking around for a weapon shop," Ken quickly defended. "When I walked out, he came up to me, offering me this job."

"Sounds like he's with the mafia," Shinjiro-san said, before frowning. "But you came out of that?" He pointed at the airsoft shop. "And you didn't buy anything?"

"No…?" Ken said slowly. "He was only selling guns."

Shinjiro-san huffed. "I've been askin' around… and this shop apparently sells a shit ton of weapons."

"The store owner lied to me then," Ken grumbled.

"Probably because you're still underage," Shinjiro-san said. "Wait here." Then after a pause, he added, "…Actually, wait right in front of the shop window."

"Yeah, yeah…" he grumbled as Shinjiro-san opened the door to the shop.

Several minutes later, Shinjiro-san was carrying a long, slender box. "Why do you have to use spears?" he grumbled. "They're heavy."

"How much do I owe you?" Ken asked, before raising an eyebrow. "And besides, it's not like axes are lightweight."

"Nothing," Shinjiro-san said, ignoring Ken's second comment. "It's fine."

Ken made a mental note to sneak some money into Shinjiro-san's wallet when he wasn't looking. He didn't care what Shinjiro-san said… It wasn't cheap. He remembered overhearing Minako-san complaining to Minato-san once that weapons were a huge drain on their funds…

"How come you complain when Mitsuru-san pays for everything but I'm not allowed to pay for this?" he complained. "It's not cheap."

"Shut up and help me carry this damn thing," Shinjiro-san retorted. "I can't fucking believe you just went and looked for trouble like that..."

"That wasn't the case," Ken grumbled.

It's not his fault that trouble went looking for him. 


Wednesday, June 15th , 2016


"Come on, Iida…" Anne looked up at him pleadingly, twirling one of her pigtails with a finger. "Won't you tell me about that awesome job you got? I really need a job that brings in money fast."

Iida winced, rubbing the back of his neck. "Don't you model, Takamaki-san?"

Morgana poked his head out of Ren's bag. "She's doing a little better than she was with Yusuke," he commented.

"Shh, Morgana," Ren hushed. "And she's been practicing."

She wasn't stellar by any means, but Anne was improving. At least it wasn't embarrassing to watch, like how she apparently was from what Morgana had relayed to him.

"Yeah, but I don't get paid as much as most people do!" Anne said hastily. She then stuck out her bottom lip in a pout, before batting her eyes at him. "Come on, pleaseeee?"

Iida shook his head. "Sorry, but I… I can't." He then exhaled sharply, before speaking in a huge rush. "SorrybutIgottago!"

He then turned on his heel, fleeing from the classroom.

"Darn!" Anne stamped her foot, pouting at her failure.

Ren laughed, before walking over to her. Some would think of it just as immature, but he found it adorable. He tugged at one of Anne's pigtails. "Hey, at least you put up a decent act?"

"That's not the point, Ren." Anne scowled at him, before lightly swatting at his hand. "We don't have any leads now. Maybe we should check with Ryuji. He may have found something…"

Ren cradled his hand, quirking an eyebrow at her. "Your Panther is showing," he teased.

Anne's face flushed pink. "Oh, shut up. I didn't even hit you hard."

"Amamiya!" Ren turned at the sound of Mishima's voice. Mishima was standing at the doorway. "Amamiya, I think I may have something you'd like to hear."

Anne's eyes lit up. "Really?!"

"Shh!" Mishima's eyes were wide. "Come on, let's talk somewhere more private."

Mishima managed to lead them to a somewhat secluded corridor. It wasn't completely abandoned, but it was only twenty minutes after school ended.

"You know the new transfer student, Ken Amada?" Mishima asked.

"I've heard of him…" Anne said slowly, only for her to frown. "But it's kinda unfair how the students have such a positive reaction to him, and then treat Ren like dirt." At that last part, Anne looked sorrowfully at him.

Ren smiled at her. Her capacity of caring was just… amazing. It was one of the things he most admired about Anne.

"It's okay, Anne," he said, reaching out to squeeze her hand for a moment. "I've learned to deal with it. But as for Amada… I met him yesterday morning actually. He was pretty nice to me."

Mishima nodded firmly. "Okay, good, you know of him at the very least. But anyways, I heard that Amada-senpai had a run in with a member of the mafia. He had called them out specifically, apparently. I heard the mafia tried to attack him, but Amada-senpai managed to hold him off."

Anne's eyes went as wide as saucers. "Are you serious?" she squeaked out. "From what I've heard… Amada-senpai doesn't sound like he'd do that. He's like, an honor student. I heard that he was on partial scholarship while attending Gekkoukan and Gekkoukan is a pretty highly ranked school."

He had heard something similar. The Kirijo Group only chose to help people who had the potential. Though he had heard that Mitsuru Kirijo was pushing for that to be changed. So that more poorer students could receive the education Gekkoukan offered.

Though he couldn't help but feel a little bad for Amada… It sucked to have rumors surrounding you, negative or positive.

Mishima tilted his head. "Well… it's not like you can really judge a book by its cover."

Anne eyed Ren. "…Yeah, that's a good thing to keep in mind."

Ren tugged on her pigtail, unable to stifle a smirk. "Are you trying to tell me something, Anne?"

Anne rolled her eyes at him, but this time she just shifted out of Ren's grasp instead of smacking him. "Don't ask a question when you know the answer already." She turned to Mishima. "Do you know if he's still on campus?"

"Yeah, I saw him enter the library earlier."

Anne's eyes lit up, before an excited giggle bubbled from her lips. "Awesome! Come on, Ren, we need to talk to him!"

Without waiting for Ren to respond, she grabbed his hand and began to drag him off. "Thanks, Mishima!" he managed to shout even as Anne dragged him up the stairs.

Anne didn't release him until they reached the library, sliding the door open.

"Welcome to the—oh it's you."

Ren fought the urge to roll his eyes. The library receptionist was just so… passive aggressive to him. She always took on the tone of surprise when he returned a book to her.

"Hello to you too," Anne muttered, scowling for a moment. She then scanned the library. "Hey." Anne turned to look at him. "Is that him?"

She nodded in the direction of the tables. Bent over one of the desks was Amada, scribbling away in a notebook.

"Yeah, that's him." Ren nodded. "Come on."

Amada looked up when he heard them approach. Huh, he was wearing glasses now. Reading glasses, maybe? "Oh, Amamiya-san." Then he blinked. "And…?"

"This is my friend, Anne Takamaki," Ren introduced. "But I was wondering if we could talk to you about something…"

Amada sighed. "If this is about the mafia, I did not beat him up."

Ren raised an eyebrow. "You're not going to deny it?"

Amada shrugged. "Why lie about it?" Then he sighed deeply, looking down at his desk. "Give me a second. We can talk outside."

They waited for him to pack up, before taking him up to the roof. Niijima had told them it was off limits to students, but somehow Ren doubted that she'd object to this.

"What do you want to know?" Amada broke the silence.

"Well," Anne began, "we were wondering what exactly happened… Like what did the mafia try to talk to you about before attacking you…"

Amada scrutinized Anne's face, looking quite suspicious. "…Why do you want to know?"

"Um, well…!" Anne looked at Ren in a panic, with her HELP ME face.

"We just want to know what to avoid," Ren cut in smoothly. "I've heard some terrifying things about the victims. We just want to be safe, you know?"

"…I see." He didn't look fully convinced, but then he spoke again. "Well, I was looking through the airsoft shop. I was… looking for a gift for a friend. She collects gun models. But the stock wasn't what I was looking for. So I left and a man approached me. He offered a job to me. Claimed that it was very easy and the pay was excellent. He held out an envelope to me, and claimed that all I had to do was deliver it to a specific place."

"Sounds like smuggling drugs to me," Morgana piped up.

"And you said no?" Anne said in disbelief.

Amada shrugged. "It seemed off to me from the very beginning." He pressed his fingers against his chin, looking thoughtful. "If you want my opinion… I think they specifically target students who look like they need money. Like they can't afford something? They swoop in with this offer, so it's irresistible to the victims."

That… made a lot of sense. High school students didn't exactly have a good selection of jobs. And said jobs didn't exactly pay well. That's why he was grateful that Shadows dropped money… They were probably be in trouble if that wasn't the case.

"That's despicable!" Anne hissed, her hands clenching into fists. Without a doubt, if they were in the Metaverse, Anne would have set something on fire.

"Lady Anne's right!" Morgana exclaimed. "We can't let this go unpunished."

"Thanks, Amada-senpai," Ren said. "We really appreciate you telling us this."

"…Right," Amada said, all while studying Ren's face. "Try to keep out of trouble."

"Bye!" Anne chirped, before snagging Ren's wrist and dragging him off. "It was nice meeting you, Senpai!"

Once they were pretty much alone, Anne let out a happy giggle. Her eyes were sparkling with excitement. "I'm glad we found a lead! Mishima got us a good one!"

"Yeah… that's great," Ren said slowly.

Then Anne frowned, tilting her head at him. "Wait… what's wrong?"

"Yeah, Ren!" Morgana frowned at him as well. "This is great news! This puts us one step closer to discovering the palace!"

"It's nothing," Ren lied, before forcing a smile on his face. "I'm just… tired. And worried about the deadline."

He couldn't explain it but… something nagged at him about Amada. He was perfectly nice. He actually treated Ren like he wasn't a violent delinquent, which was a rarity at this school. But… why did he get the feeling that Amada knew more than he was letting on?


"I'm home," Ken announced as he stepped through the door, only to pause when he saw that Shinjiro-san had his laptop set up on the table. He was video chatting with Akihiko-san.

"Hey." Shinjiro-san turned slightly to look at him.

Akihiko-san grinned at him, giving him a small wave. "Hey, Ken! How's everything?"

Ken shrugged. "Okay, I guess."

Akihiko-san frowned. "Have you even asked about joining any clubs?"

"I can't get distracted," Ken said, walking over to the fridge and opening it. He pulled one of the chilled water bottles and shut the door.

He was glad that Shinjiro-san had kept that habit ever since he had gotten custody of Ken. He had done it especially when he attended soccer club almost every meeting back in junior high. Tokyo was just so… hot. He was honestly glad that he had transferred when it was time for summer uniforms. He'd probably die of heatstroke wearing a turtleneck in May.

"Mitsuru's not looking for this to be done in a month, you know," Shinjiro-san said. "She knows it'll take time."

"Yeah, I really don't know why you decided not to run for student council president," Akihiko-san said.

"It's not any different from me deciding to concentrate on my studies for entrance exams," Ken defended as he twisted the bottle cap off. "Besides, it's a weird time to join clubs…"

"I guess that's true," Akihiko-san said with a nod. "But still, you shouldn't just focus all of your time on your mission… You'll just run yourself to the ground." Then he glanced back at Shinjiro-san. "Oh yeah… Shinji, didn't you say you found a job?"

"You did?" Ken turned to look at his guardian, before taking a drink of water.

Shinjiro-san shrugged. "It's just being a bartender at this place in Shinjuku. Called Crossroads."

"Shinjuku?" Ken repeated, before lowering the water bottle from his mouth. "Isn't that… the entertainment district?"

"Er, well, it's not just like Shirakawa Boulevard…" Akihiko-san said slowly. "It's like clubs and bars. Party life."

"But it also has a lot of adult stores," Shinjiro-san added helpfully.

…Of course it did. He really didn't get the obsession with sex, even now.

"Shinji!" Akihiko-san exclaimed, looking vaguely horrified.

"What?" Shinjiro-san scowled at him. "Ken ain't a kid anymore. Besides, don't you remember the crap boys said in the locker room?"

…He really wished Shinjiro-san hadn't reminded him. He was scarred for life from those conversations.

Akihiko-san just huffed, before rolling his eyes at his best friend. "You don't have to be so blunt about it."

"How's Minako-san, by the way?" Ken inquired. "I hope she's not having it so rough…"

After Yukari-san had discovered her pregnancy shortly after the whole fiasco with the Abyss of Time… Mitsuru-san had decided to reopen the dorm, so everyone could help her through it. And Yukari-san was… a bit of a monster while expecting. She had mood swings like crazy, had really strange cravings, and she had morning sickness for the first four months.

Akihiko-san groaned, before hanging his head. "She's worse than Yukari, if you ask me. At least in the food department. She's been waking me up for the past two nights at like one in the morning, begging me for weird stuff like fried grasshoppers. And just this morning, I found her trying to make cheese ice cream."

Shinjiro-san grimaced. "Have fun with that, Aki."

Akihiko-san dragged his fingers through his hair. "Yeah, well, I'm hoping that it passes soon…" He then huffed. "At least she's not too moody… Though it probably helps that Mina's excited that Yukari's coming to visit with the twins soon."

Shinjiro-san just grimaced. "Have fun with the Terror Twins."

"They're not that bad," Akihiko-san defended.

"You keep telling yourself that, Aki."

"Do they even know that they're getting a new cousin in like… six months?" Ken asked.

"No idea." Akihiko-san shrugged. "I think they're more excited about Mina spoiling them…"

Shinjiro-san just snorted. "No surprise there. Minako always showers them with toys and sweets."

Akihiko-san made a face. "Well, I guess we could get in some practice while we can. Babysitting them and all."

"'We'?" Ken raised an eyebrow. "Minako-san has always been pretty good with kids."

"Meanwhile you'll clam up and give one word answers when they try and talk to you." Shinjiro-san smirked, folding his arms over his chest.

"Oh, shut up, Shinji!"


Thursday, June 16th , 2016


Makoto had counted a total of eight students who have approached her today, pleading for help with the mafia. And Makoto didn't doubt that it would increase before the end of the day.

She hated it. That she was powerless to do anything. And that principal wouldn't raise a finger to help.

Makoto sighed deeply, her eyes lingering on her pencil case. It had been a gift from her father, dating over ten years ago.

Her father would have been able to chase down the criminals. Have them brought to justice. The gang of criminals had to murder him to stop him chasing after him.

And what was she doing? Blackmailing the Phantom Thieves so the mafia would get off of everyone's backs.

Her father would be so ashamed to see her do this…

But what else could she do? The mafia were eluding the police. She needed to do something, to help her classmates. Especially since Principal Kobakawaya wouldn't do a thing to help them.

But… was she any better? She had her suspicions about Kamoshida, which were only proven correct. Why didn't she follow her instincts and looked more into that? She could have gathered information and gone to the police… But she remained silent, afraid to speak out.

How could she just remain silent? How could she allow for Kamoshida to torture the volleyball team? Allow for Kamoshida to harass Takamaki-san? For him to ruin Sakamoto-kun's future by breaking his leg? And have Suzui-san feel that the only way for her to escape was to commit suicide?

All because she was afraid of the consequences.

Was it worth it? To gain the principal's approval, so that he'll write a glowing letter of recommendation for her? Shouldn't she be trying her best to get into her school of choice by her own merit?

"What am I doing?" she whispered to herself.

"Staring off into space."

Makoto nearly fell out of her chair at the sudden voice. She whipped her head to stare at her neighbor. "D-Don't do that!" she sputtered out, clutching a hand to her chest. "You nearly gave me a heart attack…"

Amada-kun just studied her carefully. "Niijima-san…" he said slowly, "have you been getting enough sleep?"

"That's not important," she said defensively.

Amada-kun just sighed"You really shouldn't run yourself to the ground, Niijima-san…"

"I'm not," Makoto grumbled. "I just have a lot of duties to take care of."

Something flickered in Amada-kun's eyes. He wasn't… easily readable. She supposed that's why some of the girls were so interested in him. Because he held himself aloof. Though she had to wonder why he was choosing to speak to her.

"You look like you were a thousand kilometers away."

Makoto sighed. "I'm sorry… I have a lot on my mind. People are just… scared with the mafia extorting everyone."

"I don't blame them," he said quietly. "People extorting teenagers like that… is just despicable."

That was rather… odd to say. Though Makoto had noticed that Amada-kun carried himself differently than compared to his peers. Like… he had seen more than he should have. And well… he had a thousand meter stare.

"Amada-kun…" Makoto began, "what is justice to you?"

He raised an eyebrow. "That's an… interesting question, Niijima-san." He closed his eyes. "To me… Justice is standing up for the right thing no matter what. Even if your senses tell you that it's safer to look away… pretend that it never happened."

His face just clouded over at that last part. Just what had he experienced…?

Keep your head low… and focus on your studies, was what Sae had told her… But was she wrong in that matter?

"…I see," she murmured.

"You know, Niijima-san…" he said quietly. "You should form your own opinions. You can listen to others' stances, but you shouldn't let them define it for you."

Her own opinion…

If only she knew what that was.


Saturday, June 18th , 2016


"Lala-chan, another drink!"

Shinjiro eyed the dark haired woman warily. "…Shouldn't you cut her off?"

And he thought Amagi was loud when she was drunk. But Ichiko Ohya could give her a run for her money.

"Ichiko only gets louder when I cut her off this early." His boss let out an exasperated sigh.

He didn't expect to be working for a drag queen, but he liked her. She didn't put up with any crap.

"Or better yet, have your new bartender join me!" she continued, winking at him. "There aren't too many handsome faces around here."

"I'm taken," Shinjiro said flatly, shooting Ohya an unamused look.

Though he really should call Fuuka on his nights off… He had started working on Friday, but it kept slipping his mind.

"Bah." She scowled. "The good ones always are. Or they're gay." She took a swig of her drink.

Shinjiro rolled his eyes before grabbing a clean rag to start wiping down the glasses.

"Didn't you say you had a lead, Ichiko?" Lala asked, with a frown.

"Oh yeah, it was some kid I met like a month ago?" She waved a hand. "Ran into him skulking around Madarame's place. I think he'd be a good source about the Phantom Thieves."

Shinjiro frowned, his motions slowing down. A kid, who seemed to know the Phantom Thieves?

"Why did you tell him to meet you at a bar?" Shinjiro demanded. "He's underage."

"Well, where else would I meet him?" she asked in an isn't it obvious? tone.

Shinjiro groaned. There was no arguing with her.

Lala just laughed. "Just make sure she doesn't give him any booze, alright, Aragaki?"

"Why do I have to babysit her?" Shinjiro complained with a huff.

He did enough babysitting with Aki.

The door suddenly opened, revealing a kid with messy dark hair. And was that… a cat in his bag?

"Hey!" Ohya's eyes lit up with excitement. "Amamiya, right?"

Shinjiro sucked in a breath. Damn… That was the name Ken had given him… for the leader of the Phantom Thieves. They were up to some skeevy shit, weren't they?

"That's me." Amamiya nodded.

"Come on, take a seat!" She patted the seat next to her.

"Uh… can we sit at a table?" The kid's eyes flickered to Lala and then Shinjiro. He looked wary. "I'd prefer some privacy."

The cat started to meow. Like crazy. It had been fairly quiet, so why the hell did it suddenly start to meow?

…At least it was cute.

"Kid, is there a reason why you're carting around a cat?"

Amamiya just gave him a sardonic smile. "He's my therapy cat."

The cat started to hiss loudly.

"Hush, Morgana. You know it's true," Amamiya teased, with that little shit grin Minako often sported.

…If it was male, why was his name Morgana? Last time he checked, Morgana was a female name…

Ohya stood up, ushering the kid to one of the back tables, promising him to buy him a drink. After a quick glare from Lala, she corrected it to being a soda.

"Aragaki, clean the tables after you bring Ichiko her drinks," Lala muttered. "I don't know if Ichiko will slip him some booze or not."

"Got it." Lala poured him the drinks and he carried them to the pair.

"Hey, thanks!" Ohya grinned at him, before grabbing her drink. She quickly turned to Amamiya. "But anyways…"

Up close, Amamiya didn't look anything special. Dark hair, dark gray eyes hidden by a big pair of glasses… But there was something about his gaze… Shinjiro couldn't help but notice that the cat was surprisingly alert.

Gah… what was he doing? He couldn't be obvious about how he was listening in on them. Shinjiro focused on mopping up the spills on the table next to them, all while listening to them with one ear.

He could hear snips of their conversation.

"I want some intel on Kamoshida's case before I give you any info."

"Fine. I'll… get you an interview of a personal victim of his."

"Perfect! But if I'm right about the man you're looking for… his name is Junya Kaneshiro."

Junya Kaneshiro… The mafia boss that the Phantom Thieves were pursuing. So they were really gonna go after him?

Shinjiro's lips formed a thin line. He knew that Ken would be following the Phantom Thieves, but he really hoped that Ken wouldn't dragged into the mess. They were playing with fire, trying to take down a mafia. Especially given how good they were at hiding their tracks...

"Hey, Aragaki! I need a refill!"

Shinjiro couldn't hold back a groan. This was going to be a long night. He could feel it already.

 

Chapter Text

Sunday, June 19th, 2016


Shinjiro-san had wasted no time in telling Ken about what he had overheard last time. It was a bit… strange, to say the least.

"Why do you think they needed the name?" Ken frowned, all while poking at his breakfast, shifting it around with his fork.

Shinjiro-san shrugged. "So they don't have call him Asshole Mafia Boss? I have no clue." Then his eyes flicked to Ken's food, disapproval filling his face. "And stop playing with your food."

"Sorry," he muttered before taking a bite. He wasn't too hungry, but he was going to be out and about today… He needed the energy. He probably should hurry up too…

Shinjiro-san took a sip of his coffee, before he looked at Ken again. "…So what are you gonna be doing today?"

"Follow the Phantom Thieves. From what you've told me, finding out Kaneshiro's name was some sort of milestone… They may be making a move today."

Shinjiro-san just huffed. "You better not run into those punks again."

"I doubt that they will strike in broad daylight." Ken took a sip of his own coffee.

Shinjiro-san frowned. "It wasn't exactly dark last time."

"I was in an alley," Ken countered. "I'll be careful, okay?"

"You better, or else I'm kicking your ass," he retorted.

Ken rolled his eyes before standing up. "Yes, Mom," he deadpanned, before picking up his plate. He hadn't finished his breakfast, but he really didn't feel like eating anymore. He wrapped it up, sticking it in the fridge. After shutting the fridge door, he looked over to his guardian. "I'll try to be back before dark, but no promises. Bye."

He grabbed his bag on the way. While it was a Sunday, he needed to carry a few items. His Evoker, the holster to carry it around, his old spear—just in case he managed to find the Shadow nest today—and etc. And he couldn't exactly carry those out in the open… so school bag it was.

Honestly… he really wished that Shinjiro-san wouldn't hover as much as he did. He knew that Shinjiro-san just worried but… He could take care of himself. It just made him feel like he was still a helpless child.

Ken sighed, gazing out of the glass side of the elevator. It offered a wide view of Tokyo. Well… Shibuya. Shibuya itself was just so… huge.

The elevator finally reached the bottom floor, so the doors slid open. He stepped out and exited the building. He scanned the people outside, looking for a flash of blond hair. Not too many people had blond hair, dyed or not, after all.

Fortunately, he did not have to search for long. He then pulled out his phone, pretending to be reading something intently before walking right by them. He stopped behind one of those large maps that were set up so people didn't get lost.

"I've entered Kaneshiro's name into the app… and as we suspected, he has a Palace," Kitagawa-san announced. "It's not surprising, with how he's been manipulating the youth…"

He still… didn't know what a Palace was. The term had come up from time to time, but he hadn't been able to figure out what exactly it was from the conversations.

"Any ideas on what the other two keywords are?" Amamiya-san asked.

The cat in his bag began to meow. He still found it… strange that Amamiya-san carried his cat everywhere. And how did people not notice? It wasn't exactly a quiet cat either.

And it was even stranger that everyone would just look at it, like they understood it.

"I dunno, you figured it out last time, Ren," Sakamoto-san said.

"You're the one who activated the app for the first time, though," Amamiya-san replied.

"Yeah, by accident!"

"Enough bickering!" Takamaki-san sighed. "We're not getting anywhere, you know."

"Perhaps if we figure out what exactly his Palace is based off of… we can figure out what it is," Kitagawa-san suggested.

"There's so many buildings in Shibuya though!" Sakamoto-san protested.

"Come on, we've gotta try!" Takamaki-san said.

"Uh… a garden? Since he likes controlling everything."

"No candidate found," a mechanical voice announced.

"That… doesn't make much sense, Ryuji."

"Then you think of somethin'!" Sakamoto-san retorted. "I don't see any of you guys offering any ideas!"

Ken peeked from behind. Amamiya-san was quiet, but he looked thoughtful, as he toyed with his bangs. Maybe he had an idea?

"A money bath?" Takamaki-san offered. "I've seen an old cartoon about that!"

"No candidate found."

"Rats!" He could hear the pout in Takamaki-san's voice.

"What about you, Ren?" Kitagawa-san inquired. "Surely you have an idea?"

"I think Anne was on the right track," Amamiya-san said. "It has to be connected to money. So… I think it'd be a bank."

"Candidate found."

The atmosphere suddenly… felt heavy. Ken blinked. What was that about?

"All right!" Takamaki-san cheered. "Okay, so now we just need the area…"

The area? Just what was she talking about?

"What would Kaneshiro consider his bank…?" Kitagawa-san mused. "Perhaps the school? His victims have been mainly the Shujin students, after all…"

"I don't think so…" Amamiya-san said. "Kamoshida's Palace was the school."

"Maybe his hideout? That's gotta be where he keeps all of his money."

"A real bank?" Takamaki-san offered.

The cat seemed to shake its head, before meowing again.

"Perhaps we're thinking too inside the box…" Kitagawa-san said. "Palaces emanate a passionate madness. I don't think what we're suggesting captures that."

…What was that supposed to mean?

Though, artists did tend to be a bit strange. Chidori-san did say some strange things about her art from time to time, even though she didn't fit the typical artist stereotype.

"His palace is a bank. He extorts many people for criminal acts for the sake of greed. It must be something more."

"Many people…" Amamiya-san repeated, a thoughtful cadence to his voice. "Just where does he get all of his targets?"

"His targets…?" Sakamoto-san repeated.

"That is his source of income…" Takamaki-san said slowly. Then a quiet gasp. "Wait, are you saying that all of Shibuya is his Palace?!"

"Result found."

"I have a hit!" Kitagawa-san exclaimed, excitement brimming from his voice. "So all of Shibuya is truly his Palace…"

"All right!" Sakamoto-san cheered. "We're in business! Come on, let's go!"

"W-Wait, shouldn't we find somewhere more private to go inside the Palace?" Takamaki-san interjected. "It might look weird if we just… you know… disappear. And this is all of Shibuay… we could find an alley or something to go in."

…Glad to know that someone had some common sense.

"Eh, there's so many people," Sakamoto-san dismissed with a wave of his hand. He then grinned widely. "We should be fine!"

…Annnnnd Sakamoto-san just shot it. Seriously… How could they act like this was a secret when they went and pulled stuff like this? It honestly made him glad that Tartarus was only available during the Dark Hour… Who knew what Junpei-san would have done… Though he had blabbed to Chidori-san, as an attempt to impress her…

"In that case… let's go," Kitagawa-san stated. He then seemed to press a button on his phone.

"Beginning navigation."

Wait… navigation to where? But then the same wave of heavy energy permeated the air.

A black hole, rimmed with red, was pulsating in front of the group. He took a careful look around. It looked like… nobody was noticing it. Or… did they just not care? Were they really that oblivious to everything?

The portal remained open, even as Amamiya-san jumped in. Ken slowly walked up to it, before he did a quick look again. Nobody… was paying attention. They were just bustling around. Tourists were snapping pictures. Others were in a hurry to wherever they were headed to.

They were just… oblivious.

Ken shook his head. At least it was working in his favor. He took a deep breath, facing the portal. Then he stepped inside.


Fortunately, there was no falling, like how Akihiko-san had described jumping into the TV world. It was more like he had just stepped into an entirely different world...

It was Shibuya… but at the same time, it wasn't. A sickly green tinge permeated the air, something that reminded Ken of the Dark Hour. But that wasn't the odd part.

It was the ATMs walking around in the city.

In the distance, he could see figures darting around. Were those the Phantom Thieves?

But in that case… he probably should hide until they leave. Then he could explore.

…Though he had gotten here because the Phantom Thieves had used the app… That may not be a good idea, after all.

But he couldn't get caught…

That was when his phone started to vibrate intensely. With a frown, Ken fished it out of his pocket and unlocked it. A glowing red eye stared back at him.

What the…?

"I've entered Kaneshiro's name in the app…"

Was this the app Kitagawa-san was talking about?

After a moment of hesitation, Ken pressed the app. Glowing red letters appeared on his screen, surrounded by a black background.

"Would you like to leave the Metaverse?"

Underneath was a yes and no button.

The Metaverse…? Was this what the Shadow nest was called?

Well… at least he could leave whenever he wanted now. Good to know.

Ken stored his phone away before crouching lower in his hiding spot.

It took a long time for the Phantom Thieves to finish their investigation. For some reason… they had a cat with them? It looked like it had stepped right out of a Saturday cartoon. Though he had to wonder why they were dressed differently… He had to force himself to avert his eyes so he wouldn't stare at Takamaki-san. He knew that she was rather stunning, but… He hadn't expected her to be wearing a skin tight catsuit.

But once they were gone, Ken carefully stood up. He reached into his bag, pulling out his holster. He looped it around his waist, before he drew out his Evoker and slid it into the slot. Lastly, he brought out his spear, which currently resembled a short cylinder.

He needed to figure out a hiding place for his new spear…

He pressed the button in the center and the cylinder in his hand extended, reaching the length of roughly two and a half meters. And lastly… the ring of darkness, gifted to him by Minato-san. It would protect him from his weakness. When he was eleven, the ring was rather large on him, more often sliding off his thumb than not. But now… it fit tightly on his pinky finger. So Ken had taken a silver chain, sliding it on like it was a pendant. He slipped it around his neck, tucking the ring underneath his shirt. He was more or less ready to explore the Palace now.

The further he went in, the more disturbed he felt. He had first followed the sound of quiet sobbing. The source had been broken ATMs lying on the floor.

"I was conned…"

"He's completely ruined me…"

Conned… ruined…

An ATM was a source of money. And Kaneshiro's victims were the people of Shibuya, anyone his men could get their hands on. Were the victims just ATMs to Kaneshiro?

It was disgusting… but he wasn't surprised. Not in the least.

But… why had they left? They were looking to get into here for a while, weren't they? Unless this wasn't the Palace properly… But then what was?

It was a bank… But banks didn't look all that impressive… But Kaneshiro wouldn't just have any ordinary building…

And then… he spotted it. It was like a floating island, with an opulent looking building on top.

"…If only Kikuno-san could just fly me up there," he muttered.

A bullet suddenly struck the ground, making Ken jump.

A dark figure dropped down. "Enjoying the view?"


Warning bells immediately blared in Ken's mind. Ken immediately backed up, his hand curling tightly around his spear.

The person clad in black and blue wore a rather odd mask. It was black and almost resembled a sentai villain's mask. It covered most of his features, but Ken could clearly see the reddish brown eyes locked onto him. In one hand, he carried a pistol. He hadn't even heard it fire… So it must have a muffler. At his waist, he wore a sheathed sword.

Ken narrowed his eyes. "Who are you?" he demanded.

A dark chuckle. "Me? I suppose…" he let out a thoughtful hum, "…you could call me Black Mask."

Ken raised an eyebrow, despite everything. "Are you trying to be a sentai villain?"

"A sentai villain?" He let out an amused laugh, but it just made Ken's skin crawl. "No… I intend to be far worse."

Then he unsheathed his blade and lunged.

Ken quickly intercepted it with his spear's shaft. They were roughly the same height… but Ken slowly was being pushed back, centimeter by centimeter. Ken gritted his teeth before giving a hard shove, forcing his opponent back.

"Heh… not bad," he chuckled. "Though I have to wonder, why are you in the Metaverse, hmm? Did you just wander in here, like a lost child?"

"None of your business," Ken shot back, shifting into a defensive stance.

Black Mask attacked again, switching between using his blade and his gun. Ken was able to parry the sword attacks, occasionally managing to get a hit in, but he was forced to run when he fired his gun. Before long, Ken was sweating. This was worse than any drill he was forced to do in soccer club.

But then he unexpectedly sheathed his weapons, pressing a hand to his mask. "Let's see if you can withstand this…" Blue flames swept over his mask. "Come, Loki!"

Lovely. His first venture into the Metaverse and he was dragged into a fight with an obviously powerful Persona-user. Of course.

Loki flung fire at him, but Ken managed to dodge. Loki had a wide spread of attacks… Fire, darkness, and some kind of physical attack… He would be screwed if he didn't have the ring of darkness…

But he couldn't keep on dodging… He had to fight back. Ken reached for his Evoker, but his fingers were clumsy. By the time he had his Evoker pressed to his forehead, Black Mask had closed the distance between them. He lunged forward, knocking Ken hard against the ground. His gloved fingers then curled tightly around his neck.

"Maybe you were good before," Black Mask said mockingly, loosening his grip on Ken, only to press his serrated blade against Ken's neck, "but you've really become rusty, haven't you? Your movements are all sluggish."

Ken gritted his teeth. Black Mask's mockeries… were starting to really piss him off. Not even when his senpai were unsure of letting him fight… had they been condescending towards him. They hovered—they asked him if he was feeling tired or needed to go back to the bottom floor—but they did not act like he was stupid or slow.

"Why are you even here? Because of an inflated sense of heroism? Because you think you can take down Kaneshiro, like the oh-so heroic Phantom Thieves? Ha! You should keep your head down and avoid trouble…" His voice just oozed smugness. "But then again… you wouldn't be in this situation if you had done that in the first place."

Something in Ken snapped. He lashed out with a kick, his foot connecting with Black Mask's stomach. Ken then jerked his arm, knocking away the blade from Black Mask's hand. Now that he was free of that threat… Ken shoved Black Mask away.

Ken climbed to his feet. "Has anyone told you that you never shut the hell up?" Ken snarled out.

"You don't deny it." Black Mask was obviously smirking. "Admit it… people like you latch onto the Phantom Thieves because they just offer a solution. People just sit on their asses, waiting to be rescued. There is no such thing as justice. People sometimes just get away with their crimes and you just have to deal with it."

"You're wrong!" Ken retorted. "You have one of those the world just sucks attitudes, don't you?" He swiped at the air, glaring at Black Mask. "Justice does exist. The Phantom Thieves are pursuing their sense of justice. They're working to punish criminals who abuse their authority."

He had been pretending for so long that he was neutral to the Phantom Thieves. He didn't want his senpai to give him strange looks for supporting the Phantom Thieves, not when they doubted the Phantom Thieves' intentions so much. He had put aside his Persona for years, because he was trying to rush into things. But he couldn't afford to just stand aside anymore. Not when people like Shido were abusing their power. And on a smaller scale, Kaneshiro taking advantage of youth to satiate his own greed. It was wrong to just 'accept' things.

"You're so naïve," Black Mask retorted. "The law is justice. The Phantom Thieves are just twisting the law to suit their own purposes."

Did he actually believe what he was spouting? Black Mask couldn't be innocent. He… He could be the one causing the mental shutdowns. He was nothing but a hypocrite if that was true.

"Laws have been changed throughout history," Ken shot back. "Your kind of justice is flawed. It's definitely not any justice I want anything to do with!"

"It's been a while, hasn't it?" Ken gasped as a sharp pain pierced through his skull. He sank to his knees as the pain intensified. "You've kept me dormant for quite some time…"

Kala-Nemi…?

"Did you forget why you awakened to me in the first place?"

Kala-Nemi had been born out of his resolve to live for both his mother and Shinjiro-san, who they had thought would eventually die… But Nemesis… his first Persona, had been born out of his desire for justice for his mother. It had been misguided, because he didn't understand what exactly had happened. But he knew better now.

"Let us form a contract… a symbol of us working together once again. Shall we?"

"Yes," Ken breathed out.

Blue flames flickered across his face, but Ken felt nothing. His face suddenly felt heavier… like he was wearing a mask.

Before he realized what happened, he raised a hand and ripped off the mask from his face. Blood dripped down his face, as a blast of blue power flared around him. Blue flames covered his clothes, but like before, Ken felt no heat. The fire ebbed away, leaving behind some kind of study black clothing and he felt something around his neck. He could feel something drape over his back.

Ken felt the familiar surge of power as Kala-Nemi appeared behind him.

"Tch… you want to play that way?" Black Mask just placed a hand on his face, concentrating. "Come, Loki!"

Ken immediately thought to use Ziodyne, but instead another spell popped into his mind. Kouga.

Golden light slammed into Loki, sending both Persona and host staggering back.

…That was new. That would've been useful back in his days in SEES, seeing how his light spells missed so many times.

Black Mask just growled, before calling back his Persona. He pulled out another sword, before lunging forward. Ken quickly dodged, scanning the ground for his spear and Evoker. He grabbed his spear first, before pivoting around to whap Black Mask right in the face. He couldn't deny it felt good to hit Black Mask hard enough to cause him to stagger back. He located his Evoker, which he quickly shoved it back into his holster.

His body felt lighter… probably because he was using his Persona again. He and his teammates had managed to pull off stunts that they normally wouldn't have been able to during the Dark Hour. Like how Minako-san was able to pull off a back flip. And he was able to swing around on his spear and kick Shadows in the face. (Though honestly he probably would not be able to do that now.)

Ken scanned the area. It was clear that Black Mask's power level was higher than his right now… so what he really needed… was a distraction. That way he could activate the app to get out of here.

"Take him down, Loki!"

Ken ducked out of the way, but the Persona flew over his head, slamming into the pavement. He tripped over the upheaved cement, barely managing to drop his spear so he could catch his fall with his hands. His hands scraped hard against the gravel, but he rather his hands be the ones to suffer than his face.

Black Mask caught up to him, stabbing downwards. Ken grabbed his spear from the ground, quickly blocking the attack with his spear, before rolling to the side. He used his spear as a crutch, staggering to his feet, before spinning the spear in his hand. He slammed the butt of his spear against Black Mask's chest, knocking him back a couple meters.

Gah… he needed Black Mask to slow down a bit. A spell sprang to his mind.

"Snap!" he shouted, before ripping off his mask.

A whirring sound made Ken look up. The circular markings on the top of Kala-Nemi's arms were opening, bullets shooting forward at Black Mask. He heard Black Mask hiss out a profanity, but Ken just spun around and ran like hell. He needed a distraction, so he could use the app to escape. Black Mask was obviously above his level. He concentrated for a moment, allowing Diarama to sweep over him. It was a relief, especially for his hands throbbing with pain.

Ken swung around to dart into an alley. He looked around frantically. The bricks… It was risky due to this essentially being a dead end but…

"Assault Dive!"

The force slammed into Ken like a bulldozer, sending him flying against the wall. Ken gritted his teeth as his head slammed especially hard against the wall. He could feel blood tricking down the back of his head.

"You like to run, don't you?" Black Mask hissed, stalking towards him. Underneath the mask, he could see a smile curling at his lips. "Loki, Megidola!"

Crapcrapcrap-

Ken just braced himself as the almighty spell exploded. If he wasn't against the wall, he probably would've been thrown back. Dammit, he forgot just how much it hurt to be on the receiving end of an almighty spell.

"Not so tough now, are we?" he drawled, all while kicking Ken in the ribs. He then grasped the front of Ken's shirt, yanking him close. "It was a good attempt, though."

But Megidola had also worked against Black Mask. The bricks began to crumble, cascading down. Ken pushed through the pain, shoving Black Mask against the wall. The bricks fell on top of Black Mask, forming a huge pile of rubble. Of course, Ken wasn't spared from getting hit but at least he wasn't buried.

A breath of air whooshed out of him as Ken slumped to the ground. God, that had been awful. Black Mask had been clearly stronger than him. Much stronger… He needed to get back into training again… He was regretting ignoring Akihiko-san's urging him to continue training even if he didn't want to stay with the soccer club. And now he was paying for it now.

Sure, summoning Kala-Nemi had given him some boosted abilities… but it wasn't enough. He couldn't just rely on that.

Ken slowly climbed to his feet, warily watching the pile of rubble. He did a quick healing, before picking up his spear and heading for the entrance. It took him a couple minutes to find where he had left his bag. He then pulled out his phone. The red eyeball app was pulsing. He quickly pressed it.

Do you want to return the real world?

He pressed yes and another portal appeared before him. After shrinking his spear to its portal form, he stepped through.

Ken managed to stagger over to a bench, all but collapsing into it. God, he felt like shit. Like with the Dark Hour, he felt completely drained of energy. His hands were slightly bleeding from when he had scraped them… He carefully felt the back of his head. The bleeding there had stopped at least, but the area was slightly throbbing.

Shinjiro-san was really going to give him hell about this...


"...What was that about being careful?"

"Next time I'll make sure a crazy violent person isn't there to kill me," Ken said tonelessly.

Shinjiro-san scowled, before snapping shut the first aid kit. Shinjiro-san had taken one look at him, before sitting him down on the couch and insisting on tending to his injuries. He didn't hesitate on hiding his displeasure, but at least he wasn't lecturing Ken. "You looked like shit when you walked through that door," he said bluntly, his eyes narrowed. "What the hell happened?"

"One, I found the Shadow nest," Ken began, ticking off his fingers. "Two, I used Kala-Nemi for the first time in like four years. Three, this app showed up on my phone."

He reached for his phone, showing Shinjiro-san the glowing red eye app now on the device.

Shinjiro-san squinted. "What the hell is that?"

"Some kind of app that transports you to the Shadow nest, which is called the Meta-verse," Ken said. "It showed up after I got dragged into there, with Amamiya and his friends using it."

"So… it's kinda like a virus," Shinjiro-san said. He then sighed, rubbing his temple with one of his hands. "Just… be more careful, Ken. You're the one usually patching up injuries, not the one who has them."

"It wasn't intentional," Ken grumbled. "I don't go around and pick fights."

Shinjiro-san eyed him. "…Is there something you wanna say?"

"Nothing at all."

Shinjiro-san rolled his eyes. "Right." He then took out his pocket watch, checking the time. "…It's not six yet, you know. Maybe you can talk to Mitsuru before she leaves work." He nodded at the coffee table, where Ken had left his laptop last night.

Shinjiro-san was being… surprisingly mild about the whole thing. But he wasn't going to complain…

He sat down, booting up his laptop. He pulled up the video call app, before calling Mitsuru-san. He had to try three times, before someone picked up.

"Hello?"

Ken blinked. "Aigis-san?"

Aigis-san looked surprised that it was him who was calling, but she offered him a smile. "Hello, Ken-san. Are you here to report?" She then looked at him curiously. "…I'd say you look well, but you do not. May I ask what happened?"

…Blunt as always, Aigis-san.

"Aigis, who are you talking to?" Mitsuru-san then appeared. Her eyes went wide for a moment. "Oh, Amada. I didn't know you were calling today. How are you?" Then she let out a short gasp, her face growing pale. "Goodness, what on earth happened to you?!"

"I'm fine, Mitsuru-san." Ken rubbed the back of his neck. "I just wanted to let you know that I found the Shadow nest today."

"That is indeed good news." Aigis-san looked at him quizzically though. "…But did you get into a fight with a Shadow? You look rather… worn out," she said delicately.

"Er… not a Shadow…" Ken said slowly.

Mitsuru-san narrowed her eyes. "…Did the Phantom Thieves see you?"

"N-No, it's not like that!" Ken raised his hands. "Someone else… did."

"Someone else…?" Aigis-san inquired, looking thoughtful. "Perhaps… it could be the one behind the mental shutdowns. After all, they started occurring roughly a year and a half before the Phantom Thieves appeared."

"And you engaged in battle with them?" Mitsuru-san demanded, giving him what Minako-san called the Kirijo Glare of Doom.

"He attacked me!" Ken protested. "I didn't mean to get into a fight right away. I'm not Akihiko-san."

"That is very true," Aigis-san droned. "Though sometimes I fear about your role models, Ken-san."

"But honestly, Amada, first the mafia and now this?" Mitsuru-san chastised, frowning in disapproval. "You really need to be more careful."

Ken winced. He shouldn't be surprised that Shinjiro-san had told Mitsuru-san about the mafia…

"You could have been grievously injured," Aigis-san added, frowning at him as well. "Not to mention overpowered by whoever attacked you."

Ken groaned. So this was why Shinjiro-san prodded him into reporting to Mitsuru-san. Women were just… better at scolding. They had that guilt inducing I'm disappointed in you look.

"But anyhow…" Mitsuru-san looked at him curiously. "Did you observe anything else?"

"I'm not sure why Fuuka-san compared the Shadow nest to Tartarus," Ken said. "I think it's more comparable to the TV world. You know, how they told us that people who ended up in the TV world created worlds from their heart. It seemed very similar to that."

"But surely there must be a central part of this nest…" Aigis-san said thoughtfully. "You may have only found just one section."

"Maybe…" Ken frowned. "I don't know. I will have to take a better look."

"Were you able to summon your Persona?" Aigis-san inquired.

"Ah, yes!" Mitsuru-san's eyes lit up. "You were fine with summoning your Persona, weren't you?"

"Well…" Ken said slowly. "Not with my Evoker."

Mitsuru-san raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean? Were you able to summon without one then?"

"Yes… but not in the way you're thinking."

It took a great amount of skill and concentration to be able to summon your Persona in the real world without a medium. He knew that Mitsuru-san, Akihiko-san, and Minako-san were all capable of this feat four years ago, but he wouldn't be surprised if the others had mastered the ability.

"Can you please elaborate then?" Aigis-san requested, curiosity filling her eyes.

"A mask formed on my face and I ripped it off," Ken responded. "Kala-Nemi seems to have changed though."

"Changed?" Mitsuru-san craned an eyebrow at him. "What do you mean?"

"Well, I apparently have light spells that don't instantly kill Shadows, and Kala-Nemi can fire bullets now," he said dryly.

"Bullets?" Aigis-san asked. "How curious. Though I have to wonder why your Persona's abilities have changed…"

Mitsuru-san sighed deeply. "Good work, Amada. But please, be more careful. Your mission is more reconnaissance based. Your goal is to gather information. Shinjiro would have my head if you got hurt due to this."

Ken sighed. "Okay, okay…" he muttered. "It wasn't on purpose though…"

"I know." Mitsuru-san smiled gently. "I'm pleased with your work, but I don't want you to get hurt." She then looked at him sternly. "And take care so that the Phantom Thieves don't spot you. You don't know how they'll react to you."

And yet… he had met two of them already.

He fully believed that the rumors circulating Amamiya-san were just slander. He seemed perfectly nice. A bit quiet, though he couldn't help but wonder if that was just a front. And Takamaki-san… she was nice as well.

…Even though she was a terrible liar.

"Ken-san?" Aigis-san's voice yanked him back to reality.

Ken snapped back to attention, looking at the two women. "I understand," he said quietly. "I'll do my best to avoid detection."

"Good." Mitsuru-san nodded, before offering him a pleased smile. "Rest up, Amada."

She then cut off the connection and the screen went black.


Kala-Nemi

Level: 30

Affinity: Bless, Healing, Gun

Skills: Makouha, Kouga, Hama, Mahama, Diarama, Media, Snap, Recarm

Chapter Text

Monday, June 20th , 2016


"Ken, get up!" Shinjiro-san's sharp voice unwillingly dragged Ken out of the sweet oblivion that was sleep. "It's nearly 7:30!"

Ken just groaned, burying his face into his pillow. Every muscle in his body ached. He had completely forgotten just how tiring it was to fight in a Shadow nest.

"…Ken? Are you feeling okay?" He heard the door open and then Shinjiro-san's footsteps. He felt Shinjiro-san's hand press against his cheek. "No fever…" Shinjiro-san muttered.

"Just tired," Ken mumbled, before rolling over onto his back to sit up. He rubbed his eyes.

Shinjiro-san's mouth formed a thin line, before pulling back his hand. "…Maybe you should stay home today," he suggested. "You look like shit."

"Thanks, Shinjiro-san," he muttered, as he threw back the covers before sitting up. "I'll just have to push through it. Mitsuru-san never let us skip school when we weren't feeling well due to the Tartarus explorations."

And he'd know. Because Junpei-san tried pulling that card. Many times. They all failed, of course.

"Mitsuru isn't here now," he deadpanned, before gesturing to Ken's hands. "And besides that, your injuries haven't completely healed."

"It's mostly just my hands," Ken defended. "Besides that, the Phantom Thieves are probably going to go back to the Metaverse today… They're trying to steal Kaneshiro's heart and they have a tight deadline."

Shinjiro-san sighed deeply, pressing a hand to his temple. "…Fine," he relented, before narrowing his eyes at Ken. "But you better call me if you feel nauseous or close to passing out. If the school has to call me 'cause you fainted, I'm hauling your ass back here and not letting you go anywhere until you're feeling one hundred percent back to your usual self."

"Okay…" Ken muttered.

Shinjiro-san studied him closely one last time, before he left and shut the door behind him.

Ken just sighed again, before dragging himself out of bed. Maybe if he was lucky, the Phantom Thieves would be just gathering some information today…

…But he highly doubted it.


The day just dragged on and on. Ken found it difficult to focus. Thank god none of the teachers called on him to answer a question today… But now that it was after school… it was time to follow the Phantom Thieves' to their 'hideout'. Honestly, he just couldn't get over how they thought meeting up in public was a good idea.

"We need to find Kaneshiro," Amamiya-san was saying. "I think that's why the Palace is out of reach."

…That would really not be a good idea. They handled things rather recklessly…

"And how do you propose we do that?" Kitagawa-san sighed. "You had the most luck with finding his men… and that wasn't even enough. They fled before you could properly ask them anything…"

"For real…" Sakamoto-san muttered, before stuffing his hands into his pockets. "But we've gotta do it. Or else Miss Prez is gonna leak our info to the police. And then we'd be royally screwed."

"Seriously…" Takamaki-san grumbled. "She seriously expects us to take Kaneshiro down in like—a week?! She's insane!" She then huffed out a sigh, sounding rather irritated. "Are we out of luck…? Were we in over our heads?"

"No way!" Sakamoto-san said adamantly. "There's gotta be a way! We can't give up!"

"Perhaps Morgana could launch us into the air with his wind spells?" Kitagawa-san offered.

…Who was Morgana?

The cat then began to meow. The Phantom Thieves looked to it, as if… they actually understood it. Did they…? Or maybe they just had a dictionary.

"We would be splats on the ground…" Takamaki-san muttered, before she shook her head. "It's just… too high. We would need a helicopter, like Ryuji said. But that's… impossible."

That was when Niijima-san approached them and as usual, tense words were exchanged. Though he had to wonder why exactly they were so hostile with Niijima-san… Though the entire school seemed to hate her… But the Phantom Thieves had a particular grudge against her. Though he supposed with them being personal victims of Kamoshida, they'd resent her a bit. Not to mention the blackmail…

"All you do is eavesdrop on us," Sakamoto-san accused. "What's the matter—think we're gonna chicken out?"

Ken winced. If only they knew…

"We're not cowards like you," Kitagawa-san said coolly. "We will fulfill your demand. We won't back out."

"I'm not…" Niijima-san tensed up, placing a hand on her chest. "That's not why I-"

"Then what is it?" Amamiya-san said, his every word dripping with sarcasm. "Are you here to congratulate us on our work so far?"

"You're here to just check up on us, aren't you?" Takamaki-san demanded, before brushing her hair behind her back. She glared at Niijima-san venomously. "You may be the student council president and a top student… but when it comes down to what we do, you're just useless."

The word useless seemed to be a trigger. Niijima-san's eyes went as wide as saucers and she seemed to tremble faintly. "U-Useless?" she repeated softly, taking a step backwards.

"I would have to agree with Anne," Kitagawa-san said flatly. "What do you know of our work?"

Then Niijima-san's expression seemed to steel. "…You want to get into contact with Kaneshiro, don't you? You were discussing that just now…"

…Uh oh. He recognized that look. He had seen that look on Akihiko-san many, many times.

The cat started to meow. It almost sounded… concerned.

"Very well." She nodded firmly. "I'll get you into contact with Kaneshiro."

…What. Just… what. What was she planning…? She wasn't seriously going to purposefully seek out the mafia, was she?! She wouldn't… not after she's heard all of the stories from their classmates about what happened… Right…?

Ken sighed quietly to himself, pressing a hand to his temple. He hoped that she wasn't going to do anything too reckless…


…Annnnd of course she just had to make him eat his words. He didn't hear all of what she had done but… he got the gist of what Niijima-san was trying to do. Though the Phantom Thieves weren't much better. Sakamoto-san had nearly given him a heart attack, with how he had just leaped in front of the taxi…

But with them going after Niijima-san, Ken knew that this would most likely get them into contact with Kaneshiro… This meant that they would gain access to the palace… which meant that he needed to be ready to follow after them.

He hurried back to the penthouse, before retrieving his spear from his room. He checked his supplies one last time, before pulling out his phone. The palace was All of Shibuya, since it should work from here, right? He pulled up the app on his phone. There was a search function now… And there was an image of the Palace. It was labelled… the Bank of Gluttony. That was… strange, to say the least.

He pressed the image and moments later, there was a portal pulsing in front of him. It was nice to see that his hypothesis was right. Ken stepped inside.

He felt flames sweep over his clothes, a mask forming to cover his face. Wait… just what was he wearing?

He was too busy focusing on Black Mask attacking him to really notice his clothes. But this… was just bizarre.

…Okay, so it wasn't that strange. He was wearing a tuxedo or a suit—he really didn't know the difference, if he was being honest—so he had on a black blazer, a white dress shirt and orange vest underneath, topped off with a black bowtie. He was wearing black slacks. It wasn't all that different to what he wore for the Gekkoukan uniform in the winter. Though the black cape draped over his shoulders was definitely… new.

…He was really glad that Junpei-san wasn't here to see this… Junpei-san would probably laugh so hard that he fell onto the floor.

Ken then reached up to remove his mask. It was a domino mask, but unlike most he had seen… it wasn't just one color. On one side, it was black, forming the yin symbol; the other side formed the yang symbol, black lining the eye hole.

Ken shook his head, before slipping it back onto his face. He needed to find a hiding place, before the Phantom Thieves arrived. He decided to hide out in one of the alleys this time. It was the alley that led to the airsoft shop, actually. He just… hoped that Black Mask wouldn't show up again. His fight with Black Mask was a close one. If more of his attacks had landed, Ken would've been dead meat.

"W-Where are we?" The sudden voice yanked Ken out of his musings.

…Wait a minute. Was that Niijima-san? They brought her here?!

Ken decided to risk it and peered out. And sure enough, she was with the Phantom Thieves. She stuck out like a sore thumb in her school uniform, while the Phantom Thieves were all wearing costumes. They were… colorful to say the least. Though at least they seemed more durable than the costumes that the twins insisted the team wear from time to time.

…Then again, he can't really judge them with what he was wearing.

But seriously… what were they thinking? Ken grumbled to himself as he withdrew back to his hiding place. He was fairly sure that Niijima-san did not have a Persona. He hadn't seen them in action, but being in a Shadow nest was dangerous, if you didn't have the potential or a Persona.

"Oh, um…" Takamaki-san began, "just think of it as the world inside Kaneshiro's heart."

The world inside one's heart… That… really sounded like the TV world.

"T-Takamaki-san?!" Niijima-san gasped. "Wait… what are you wearing?"

Takamaki-san then let out an awkward laugh. "T-This old thing…? Um..."

"think she looks fine," Amamiya-san interjected. Ken could hear the smirk in his voice. "More than fine, actually."

Takamaki-san let out a squeak, only for Sakamoto-san to groan. "Ugh, can you two not flirt in front of all of us?"

"W-We're not flirting!" she sputtered out. "Joker's just… j—er, messing around!"

"So the rumors are true?" Niijima-san asked. "You two are together?"

A deep sigh. "We can always discuss Joker and Panther's relationship later," Kitagawa-san stated. "We should focus on the matter at hand."

"There isn't any relationship…!" Takamaki-san began to protest.

"Will you all be quiet?!" snapped a new voice. "You'll attract the Shadows."

Ken peered out again. It was… the cat. The cat was… talking. Why was it talking? How was that even possible? Was this a delayed symptom from hitting his head yesterday? Was he hallucinating?

Okay, Teddie-san usually walked around as a plush bear, but he had a human form. Somewhat. He was pretty sure that a human would not be popping out of the cat.

…Did this mean if they brought Koromaru to the Metaverse, Koromaru would start talking? Would he take on a cartoonish form? It was… weird, thinking about it.

"A monster cat?!" Niijima-san gasped out, her eyes wide as saucers.

"I am noooot!" Morgana whined, his ears flattening against his head.

"Okay, okay, enough," Amamiya-san laughed. "Come on, let's try out your theory, Morgana."

"Hmph!" Morgana stomped off into the direction of the bank, which only caused Amamiya-san to shake his head.

"This is really too strange…" Niijima-san mumbled as she trailed after the Phantom Thieves. "I just can't get my head wrapped around this…"

She wasn't the only one.

"Duuuude… what even happened here?" he heard Sakamoto-san say. "It looks like someone wrecked this entire alley…"

…Dammit, that's right. It didn't look like the Palace changed from day to day basis, like Tartarus had.

"You don't think…" Kitagawa-san said slowly, "…that the black masked figure that Madarame spoke of… was here?"

…Well, he's not wrong.

"But why the hell would he wreck an alley?" Sakamoto-san demanded. "That makes no sense, dude!"

"D-Do you think that he watched us yesterday?" Takamaki-san asked anxiously.

"What black mask?" Niijima-san asked.

"That's not important," Amamiya-san said. "Come on, Niijima-senpai."

Ken frowned, watching them approach the bank. While their backs were turned, Ken darted into another alley, closer to the bank. A flight of stairs materialized as Niijima-san came closer.

"Yes!" Morgana cheered, bouncing up and down with excitement. "I was right! Since she's a special customer, Kaneshiro will allow her access!"

…Special customer? To Kaneshiro? What did Niijima-san even do? He really hoped that she wasn't actually hurt because of this…

Ken waited for them to finish ascending the stairs, before making a mad sprint for the stairs. The stairs were starting to dematerialize, so Ken had to jump and pull himself up. Once he got to his feet, it was just a matter of outracing the stairs disappearing. It was a good thing that the Phantom Thieves had gone inside already…

Though they had just… walked right through the front door. That wasn't very… sneaky. Maybe they thought they could do it since they had Niijima-san with them?

Ken couldn't stop himself from gawking. Tartarus was more of a seemingly endless maze, with hundreds of floors. But this… was so ornate. Though this was supposed to be a bank…

Ken shook his head to shake off his thoughts. He had to focus. Especially since Shadows would be lurking about…

"Hey, who's there?!"

…Crap.

Something that resembled a security guard was rushing at him. Ken beat him to the punch, stabbing him in the shoulder with his spear. The security guard seemed to explode, three piles of black goo landing on the floor. The black goo reformed into… Personas?

They… had to be. Two of them resembled the angel Personas Minato-san and Minako-san used from time to time. One of them looked like an oni, his skin bright red.

If the angels had a similar affinity to the ones the twins had used, he probably should avoid light spells… So that left…

Ken ripped off his mask. "Kala-Nemi!"

A bullet tore through the air, sending the angel tumbling to the ground. Wait… she was weak to gun attacks, then.

Ken didn't hesitate on attacking the other angel, who joined her ally on the ground. He summoned Kala-Nemi again, firing a flare of bright light that struck all of the Shadow-Personas.

The attack killed both of the angels, leaving just the oni standing. The oni let out a growl, before lunging forward. He only managed to clip Ken in the shoulder, due to an ill timed dodge, but it didn't hurt that much. Was he at a higher level then?

Well… he wasn't going to complain.

It took another light spell to kill the oni, leaving him alone in the room.

"DON'T LET THEM ESCAPE!"

…What did they do now?

Ken quickly ran for the bench area, ducking down to hide underneath. Not the… best hiding spot, but he didn't really have a choice.

The doors slammed open and he could hear footsteps pounding on the floor.

"Come on, the exit's this way!" Morgana shouted.

…Okay, what did they do now?

He heard the Phantom Thieves suddenly skid to a stop. "There's just no end to them…" Takamaki-san groaned.

Them…?

Ken carefully peeked up. A couple of Shadows were blocking the Phantom Thieves' means of escape…

"I told you there's no way to escape. Not when I have my eye on you."

Kaneshiro?! He was here? No… that wasn't right… Takamaki-san had described the Palace as the world inside Kaneshiro's heart… so that was the Shadow self?

Wait… that was Kaneshiro? He just looked… bizarre. He was purple, of all things. But… he had the same golden eyes as the Shadow selves he had seen in Inaba.

He let out a dark chuckle. "Though I suppose I should thank you… for bring me such marvelous goods."

Goods… That's what he viewed people as…?

"But… it's time you disappear." He clapped twice, summoning a couple more Shadows. The now four Shadows formed a loose circle, surrounding the Phantom Thieves. He lazily waved his hand, his voice flippant as he spoke. "Kill them. I have no use for them."

"I-Is this really it?" Sakamoto-san muttered.

Ken pursed his lips together, fingering the edge of his mask. Should he… do something? He couldn't just let Kaneshiro kill them.

Niijima-san stepped forward. "P-Please stop!" she blurted out.

Ughhh… Niijima-san, why? At least the Phantom Thieves had their Personas. She was defenseless.

"Oh, don't worry… You're one of my goods… I can't afford to let you become damaged."

…What the hell did Kaneshiro do to her? Niijima-san didn't seem hurt, but he knew that outward appearances weren't everything…

"But Niijima…" Kaneshiro said thoughtfully, "sounds awfully familiar." His face broke out in a wide, smarmy grin. "Oh, I know. It was that dumbass cop who wouldn't stop poking his nose in other people's business."

"Dad…?" Niijima-san said faintly. "Wait, how did you…? How do you know my father?!"

"I was just protecting my business." He spoke so flippantly that Ken could hear the shrug in his voice. Ken felt his stomach churn. How could he be so… dismissive about killing someone. "He was in the way."

"How could you?!" she demanded.

"'How could you'?" he mocked. "God, you're so stupid. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, it seems." He then sighed. "Your sister probably could have made something of herself… if you weren't so dumb."

Kaneshiro then began to taunt her, calling her useless, a burden to her older sister. And then… something about working until she died…? Did… Kaneshiro manage to blackmail her somehow?

"Endure it…" Niijima-san repeated faintly. "Do as I'm told…"

Even though she spoke softly… Ken noticed that Niijima-san had stiffened, her fingernails digging into her palms. But Kaneshiro didn't notice—he just continued to gloat.

"Shut up," Niijima-san said softly, but steel underlining her voice.

"…What?" He narrowed his eyes.

"I've been listening to you go on and on…" she hissed out, her hands forming tight fists. She then glared at Kaneshiro fiercely, a fire lighting up in her eyes. "Shut your damn mouth, you money-grubbing asshole!"

"Have you decided to walk the path of strife…?" A clear, very feminine voice rang out.

"Yes… come to me."

Niijima-san suddenly let out a pained gasp, her eyes flashing a brilliant gold. She hunched over with pain, clutching her head as the voice continued to speak.

She suddenly jerked upward, a metal mask forming on her face. She gripped at it with both hands, before finally ripping it off with a cry. A blue blast of power surrounded her. Before the light died down, Ken could hearing the revving of a motorcycle.

The light faded away, revealing that Niijima-san was sitting on a motorcycle that glowed a translucent blue. Wait… was that her Persona?!

…Mitsuru-san would be jealous.

"A Persona…?" Kitagawa-san breathed.

"No dude," Sakamoto-san said in a isn't-it-obvious voice, "it's a bike!"

"I can feel it… my 'self'… me…" Niijima-san's voice was filled with wonder. Then she looked up, her gaze fastening onto the Shadows. "Gun it!" she shouted, before charging forward and slamming her Persona into two of the Shadows. They were sent flying past Kaneshiro, smacking hard into the wall before dying.

W-What happened to her…? This was the same person, right? Or maybe… she was just burying this underneath her prim exterior.

…Either way, it was somewhat intimidating.

…Wait… What was she wearing? It was very… figure hugging. Niijima-san was more toned than her school uniform implied…

…Wait, what was he thinking? Why was he looking at her like that? Ken shook his head, but that didn't stop the heat from rising in his cheeks. He wasn't Junpei-san… He did not have his head in the gutter.

"W-What was that?!" Morgana sputtered out. "I've never seen anything like this…"

"Who cares?!" Takamaki-san demanded. "It's so cool!"

Amamiya-san smirked, folding his arms over his chest. "Who knew that she had it in her."

"I am right here!" Niijima-san snapped, twisting around to glare at him.

After a threat from Kaneshiro, the Shadows lunged forward to attack.

"Panther and Skull, you're with me!" Amamiya-san barked. "Let's do this!"

"Right!" they exclaimed in unison, before leaping into action.

Two of the Shadows were the same as the oni Ken had fought previously, and the third was a similar demon—but this one was purple.

Ken watched Kaneshiro flee, further inside the Palace. Huh… so he was just using his lackeys as a meat shield. No surprise there…

Unsurprisingly, Niijima-san made the first move. She revved up her engine, slamming into the purple oni before blasting a bright blue energy that exploded. It struck all three of the enemies, but only caused the purple oni to stagger back.

Ken frowned. Just what was that? It resembled almighty magic, but… Almighty magic was powerful, but the drawback was that it couldn't target a weakness.

Amamiya-san was next to move, summoning a red plumed bird. It blasted the same spell Niijima-san's Persona Johanna had used, though it only targeted one of the enemies.

Takamaki-san and Sakamoto-san then attacked, Takamaki-san's Persona producing powerful flames and Sakamoto-san's Persona knocking the Shadows aside like they were nothing more than bowling pins.

Ken lowered himself back down. He was pushing it—he didn't want to be seen by any of the Phantom Thieves. Their attention was focused on other things, but still. And there was still Kitagawa-san and Morgana, who were sitting out the battle. They could easily notice him. Though Morgana seemed to be the mission control for the Phantom Thieves, so he was focused on the battle.

The Shadows all seemed to be more physical based, so they went after Takamaki-san who seemed to be like Mitsuru-san and Yukari-san—having a heavy focus on magic spells.

With them ganging up on her, she was soon knocked unconscious.

"You son of a bitch!" Sakamoto-san growled.

"Skull, catch!" Amamiya-san exclaimed. "Skull, revive Panther! I'll distract the Shadows. Niijima-senpai, follow my lead!"

"Got it!" was their mutual answer.

"Matador!" Amamiya-san shouted. "Swift Strike!"

Ken suddenly found it hard to breathe. Amamiya-san had summoned a different Persona before, which meant… He was… a Wild Card.

It… It made sense. Their Shadow incident had triggered the awakening of Minato-san and Minako-san. The Investigation Team had their own Wild Card in Yu Narukami. With Tokyo apparently being a hotbed of Shadow activity…

But… what did this mean? The Wild Cards he knew were all good, virtuous people. And Amamiya-san was nice enough to him…

…And yet, he couldn't let his bias cloud his judgment… Ken sighed to himself. He supposed it was just too early to decide. Though there was the matter of Shido… He had to discover if they even knew of him.

It took several minutes for the Shadows to finally fall, but there was a collective sigh of relief once they had.

"I never thought they'd go down…" Takamaki-san said shakily.

"Come on, let's get out of here!" Morgana urged. "We have a way in… so our objective has been reached today."

"But how are we going to get out?" Amamiya-san asked.

"We'll just make an exit then," Niijima-san said coolly.

Wait, what-

A loud crash cut through his thoughts. Did she just… bust a hole in the wall?

"Daaaaaamn…" Sakamoto-san let out a low whistle. "Who knew that she was a total biker babe?"

"Skull!" Takamaki-san reprimanded.

"Whaaaat?" he protested. "Just look at her! She looked like she'd run you over with that bike of hers if you pissed her off enough…"

…He wasn't exactly lying with that.

"You're unbelievable…" she grumbled.

"That power… that fire exuding from her…" Kitagawa-san sighed deeply. "If only I had my notepad…"

"Only you would think of that at a time like this, Fox," Amamiya-san teased. "Though… I suppose it's probably a good thing she was fighting with us."

"Hey, enough chit-chat!" Morgana snapped. "Let's get out of here!"

…This cat was really bossy, wasn't he?

Then there was a loud thud… strong enough to shake the ground. What was going on?

Ken cautiously peeked up again… to see the Phantom Thieves loading onto a bus. Not just any bus. A… cat bus.

Ken just sighed, pressing a hand to his forehead as he watched the bus speed away. A talking cat, Shadow selves, a Wild Card, and apparently the talking cat can turn to a bus. Would Mitsuru-san even believe his story?


Tuesday, June 21st , 2016


Even though Makoto felt exhausted… she also felt like she was rejuvenated. The memory of her summoning Johanna was burned into her mind. It felt like… she had been sleeping this whole time, and Johanna was what pulled her out of her slumber.

And… in a way, she had been. She was just so… passive about everything. She just did what she had been told to do.

But now she knew… she knew that she couldn't live that way anymore. And the first step… was Kaneshiro's downfall. She would make Kaneshiro pay… not just for her father's death, but because of all the suffering he was inflicting on people now.

Makoto entered the classroom. As it was still early, not too many of her classmates were inside yet. But Amada-kun was, sitting at his desk reading something from his notebook.

"Good morning, Amada-kun."

He smiled politely at her when he looked up, but something flickered in his eyes. It disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. "Good morning, Niijima-san. You seem to be in a good mood today."

…Was it that obvious?

Makoto flushed a bit, before tucking her hair behind her ear. "W-Well, the weather is starting to become really nice. It's the first day of summer, isn't it?"

Ugh… couldn't she come up with a better reason?

Amada-kun just tilted his head slightly, as his eyes swept over her. Makoto couldn't help but fidget a bit under his gaze. There was just… something about his eyes. Sometimes Makoto felt that his eyes looked too old to belong to someone her age. 

"It is nice," he said finally, before his eyes flickered to her face. "But Niijima-san, I was wondering…"

"AHA! I knew it! She was after Amada-kun!"

"And it worked? He's seriously asking her out?"

…What? He was what?

"…if I could help out in the student council," he deadpanned, even as pink rose to his cheeks.

…Oh.

Makoto felt her face warm up. Of course. She should have known that Amada-kun wouldn't jump to that. She shouldn't have let their peers' comments get to her. They had only met each other like what—two weeks ago?

But still, it was a nice surprise…

"We'd be glad to have you," she said sincerely. "I've heard from the principal that you've been student council since junior high."

"It's not that impressive…" He rubbed the back of his neck, looking rather sheepish.

"But, I thought you weren't interested in extracirruculars," Makoto said with a frown. "What changed your mind?"

He lowered his hand, resting it on his desk for several moments, before finally speaking again. "My guardian's best friend was calling the other day and he was asking me if I had looked into any clubs. He told me that I shouldn't limit myself to just studying for university. I've had experience with student council and frankly… you need the help."

Makoto sighed. "Is it that obvious?"

Amada-kun just scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm pretty sure it wasn't you who put up that notice about information regarding the Phantom Thieves or the mafia."

Makoto bit her lip. She still couldn't believe the principal had done that…

But… now that the Phantom Thieves had their eyes on Kaneshiro… they would be able to stop him from manipulating their classmates and any other poor soul that Kaneshiro had swindled.

She met Amada-kun's gaze. "Well… I'm sure that the mafia boss will be punished soon enough. He can't run away from the law forever."

Amada-kun just raised an eyebrow. "You've… become awfully optimistic lately, Niijima-san."

Makoto could only shrug at him. She couldn't exactly tell him the truth. "I just… had a perspective change, that's all."

She quickly turned away, doing her best not to smile in a way that would cause people to stare. Yes… she knew what she had to do now. And she was going to go through it.


Minako knew that she shouldn't be focusing on this. She couldn't exactly do anything about it. But still. A Wild Card in Tokyo… And they had no idea about the Phantom Thieves' motives.

So, to put it shortly. Minako was worried. Somewhat. Vaguely.

Oh, who was she kidding? What if she had put Ken in danger, because of her idea?

"Earth to Mina-tan!" Minako flinched as the sound of fingers snapping dragged her out of her thoughts.

"Junpei!"

The familiar sound of Yukari smacking Junpei just made Minako laugh. The former juniors—barring Aigis since she had volunteered to watch the twins—were having lunch together at Fuuka and Shinji's place.

"Making up for how you can't smack Junpei in front of Kaito-kun and Miyuki-chan, huh, Yukari-chan?" she teased.

Her best friend considerably flushed, before grumbling out, "He deserved it!"

Fuuka just laughed softly, before resting her hand over Minako's. "Is there something on your mind, Minako-chan?" she asked quietly.

"It's just…" Minako sighed, before rubbing her forehead. "Ken-kun reported in again last night…"

"Seriously?" Junpei frowned. "What did he find out this time? And how many times has he even called in since he and Shinjiro-san had moved, anyways?"

Minako took in a shaky breath, which only caused her friends to look more concerned. She was supposed to be the cheerful one, after all. "There's another Wild Card. Ken-kun saw the Phantom Thieves fight for the first time."

Yukari stiffened, Junpei's eyes went wide, and all blood drained from Fuuka's face.

"A-Are you serious?" Yukari was the first to speak. "It's been what—the fourth?" She pressed her knuckles to her cheek. "Fifth, if you count Aigis."

Minako just sighed, absentmindedly rubbing her stomach. What kind of world was she bringing her child into? A world where Shido very well might become Prime Minster?

Fuuka frowned. "I suppose it makes sense…" she said shakily. "Tokyo is having a lot of Shadow activity…"

"That's not entirely true, though," Yukari protested. "The Persona-users from Sumaru and Mikage-cho don't have a Wild Card."

"Their circumstances are different." Minako waved a hand. "But yeah, Fuuka's right. Ever since our incident… every big Shadow incident has involved a Wild Card." She shrugged. "Even smaller incidents have had at least one Wild Card present."

Junpei snickered. "I don't know, I just think the Investigation Team are Shadow magnets."

Fuuka giggled weakly. "I think Junpei-kun may have a point."

"For once," Yukari quipped with a light laugh.

"HEY!"

Minako laughed, but it quickly faded to a frown. "I'm just… worried. If the Phantom Thieves are abusing their powers… that would mean a Wild Card has gone rogue."

And Shinji and Ken were definitely not strong enough to handle a whole team of Persona-users… It was… worrying. And it had been her idea in the first place…

Fuuka sucked in a breath. "We may be jumping to conclusions, though…"

Of course, Fuuka would want to look on the bright side.

"Maybe," Minako sighed, her hand stroking her belly still. "I just hate not knowing."

"Well, that's what landed Ken-kun this mission," Fuuka sighed as well.

"Now that I wish that fan event was sooner than August," Yukari muttered, tucking her hair behind her ear. "It'd be nice to check up on Ken-kun and Shinjiro-senpai. Maybe meet this Wild Card. What was his name, Minako?"

"Ren Amamiya," Minako repeated the name Mitsuru had given her. "He's a year younger than Ken-kun."

No surprise there… she and Minato had awakened as second-years, and likewise for Yu…

Junpei lounged against the chair. "Maaaan, it's weird thinking how Ken's a third year," he said, clearly looking to change the subject. "He's older than us when the shit with Tartarus was going down."

"He's been a third year for nearly three months, Junpei." Yukari rolled her eyes at him, which only caused him to make a face at her.

"You know what I mean, Yuka-tan!" he grumbled. "But ain't it a bit weird? What made the Phantom Thieves show up after what—nearly two years with the mental shutdowns?"

"You just want the Phantom Thieves to be heroes," Yukari said dryly.

"I mean, they are pretty cool if you think about it, Yuka-tan!" Junpei protested.

"You're such a little kid sometimes, Junpei," Yukari sighed.

"The littlest," Minako added, her grin only widening at the chagrined expression on Junpei's face.

"Fuuka, they're picking on me!" he whined, turning to their friend for comfort.

Fuuka just patted his hand consolingly. "Now, now… You know they're just teasing, Junpei-kun."

"You didn't disagree with them," Junpei said flatly.

"Well…" Fuuka could only offer him a sheepish smile, which only made Yukari and Minako burst into laughter.

"I'm always ganged up on," Junpei sighed, clutching a hand to his chest. "Will the torment ever end?"

"Now you're just being a drama queen," Minako giggled.

Junpei just flashed a grin at her, before winking. "Hey, I learned from the best."

Though she had missed this… She understood that Yukari's job took her everywhere, but she just… missed spending time with her friends as a large group. It was too bad that Yukari couldn't take time off before Shinji and Ken left for Tokyo…

"But anyways! Enough serious talk." His eyes flickered to Fuuka. "Sooo, Fuuka," he drawled. "Have you told Shinjiro-san about the new occupant in the house?"

"I'm… uh…" Fuuka smiled sheepishly, "…not really?"

"Fuuka!" Yukari sighed. "Come on, Shinjiro-senpai's going to flip if he comes to visit during the summer and there are suddenly puppies in the house."

"I still can't believe Koro-chan had a girlfriend this whole time," Minako said. "Good thing that Ken-kun decided not to take Koro-chan with him, huh?"

"Shinji's been busy," Fuuka quickly defended, twisting the hem of her top. "He's looking for a day job, since he has that bartending job…" She then winced. "I don't just want to drop this kind of bomb on him…"

And fretting over Ken, if she had to guess. Shinji had a bad tendency to mother hen, but he was the worst with Ken—him being the youngest and all.

"Guessing that he's been trying to get everything settled," Minako said, before sternly frowning at her friend. "But still, you should tell him!" Then she smiled slyly as a wicked thought came to her mind. "Or should I just tell him that he can expect a new addition to the household soon enough?"

Fuuka slapped both hands on her cheeks, which were burning bright red. "Minako-chan!" she squeaked.

"I'll pay you five thousand yen to do that." Junpei's face broke into a wide grin. "And take a picture of Shinjiro-san's face when you do it."

Minako grinned back at him. "Ten thousand and you're on."

"Seriously, guys?" Yukari crossed her arms over her chest, looking rather unimpressed with the two of them.

"Seven thousand," Junpei haggled.

"C-Can you please not?" Fuuka pleaded, her face still red.

"Better get to it, then, Fuuka-chan!" Minako laughed.

Yukari just looked up to the ceiling. "Sometimes I really wonder about my choices in friends," she said idly.

"Aw, c'mon, Yukari-chan, you know you love us!"


Wednesday, June 22nd , 2016


There was a pattern to how Ren did things. He never immediately jumped into exploring the Palace, taking his time to get better equipment, medicine, and etc. But when he did, he pushed everyone to their limits to cover as much of the Palace as possible.

Though sometimes he did stop and train with Ryuji during the preparations, today wasn't one of those days. But Ryuji figured that he might as well train at the gym today. The Shadows were getting pretty tough.

But as he walked up to the gym, he could see someone just… staring at the gym sign, with his eyebrows knitted together like he wasn't sure if he should be here.

Ryuji stopped right next to him. "Uh, you lost or somethin'?"

Ryuji wasn't the best at sneaking around. Ren was always grabbing his sleeve so he wouldn't jump the gun during Palace runs. But he had apparently snuck up on this guy. He jumped at Ryuji's voice, before straightening up. He was wearing the Shujin uniform, but Ryuji had never seen him once in his life.

"No, it's not that I'm lost…" he said slowly, a weird look in his eyes. "I'm just not sure if I use this gym. The reviews I read were somewhat… mixed."

"No, this place is good," Ryuji insisted. "I'll show you the good stuff, yeah?"

"Wait, what-" he began, but Ryuji just grabbed him by the arm and hauled him inside.

"I'm Ryuji, by the way," Ryuji said before releasing him. "I don't think I've seen you 'round school, though."

"Oh, er, that's because I just moved here about two weeks ago…" he said, before looking at Ryuji. "That, and I'm a third-year."

"Ohh, you're the new transfer. Ken Amada, right?" Ryuji's eyes widened, before looking at him up and down. "My buddy Ren's mentioned you."

Though he had to admit, he was kinda expecting the new transfer to look like a total nerd. One of those bookworm types, sorta like Makoto. And while he did have that preppy, almost goody two shoes look to him, he was surprisingly built in that lean, wiry way Ryuji could never manage.

Okay, so he didn't have to know that Ren mentioned him because he was basically intel. Though there were a few rumors 'bout him anyways… Maybe he'd just brush it off.

"Oh, you're friends with Amamiya-san?" Amada looked at him, raising an eyebrow. "I hope he didn't say anything negative."

"Nah, nothing like that." Ryuji waved his hand, before he shot Amada a look. "And dude, really? Amamiya-san? You do know that Ren's younger than you, right?"

His mouth twisted at that—wait, was he pouting? "Excuse me for wanting to be polite," he muttered.

"Eh, Ren doesn't really care for formalities," Ryuji said, with a wave of his hand. "I don't either, just you know. So just Ryuji's fine, a'ight?"

Though someone being polite to him was… new. His rep at Shujin was enough to scare away most of his classmates and the bleached hair took care of the rest. But the older boy didn't seem bothered, even meeting his gaze.

"…Okay," he said after a moment, a slight smile curving at his lips.

Ryuji just grinned at him. "So, what do you wanna do first?"

His eyes then widened. "You don't have to bother-"

"Bother?" Ryuji repeated. "Dude, training with other people is fun. The more the merrier, yeah?"

He just gave Ryuji a sheepish smile. "I just don't want to impose…"

"And I'm saying you're not," Ryuji said, rolling his eyes. "Sheesh, do I have to repeat myself?"

Then he rolled his eyes, a deadpan expression on his face. "Duly noted, Ryuji-san."

Ryuji made a face. Okay, it was better than being called Sakamoto-san. Being called that just reminded him of his old man.

Training with Amada was fun though. Not that training with Ren wasn't fun, but Amada had a bit of a competitive streak. He pushed Ryuji to work harder. And holy crap, he was fast. At least Ryuji had more stamina than him.

"Were you really not part of any sport team at your old school?" Ryuji asked when they took their break.

He passed Ryuji a can of soda, before opening the lid of his own drink. "I never said that."

"But I've heard…" Ryuji began.

He snorted. "And do you really think all rumors are true?" He looked straight at Ryuji. "…And just so we're clear, I am not dating Mitsuru Kirijo."

"That one was really out there," Ryuji laughed, before taking a swig of his drink. He wiped the droplets on his mouth with his arm. "Then why are you just… not interested?"

"Well, the principal dropping huge hints that he wanted me to join a sport team killed my motivation," he said dryly. He sounded completely unimpressed when he spoke again. "Guessing he wants a reputation boost after Kamoshida's arrest."

Ryuji just pulled a face. God, that sounded just like him… But then he happened to get a good look on Amada's face, and laughed.

"Not a fan, huh?"

"What, are you?" he responded, before taking a sip of his drink.

"I don't think anyone is," Ryuji said with a snicker, before looking over to him. "Though, what did you even play?"

"Soccer," he answered. "It was pretty fun… but I just slowly dropped it." He shrugged. "I prioritized my studies and my duties at student council over soccer."

"You were student council?" Ryuji looked at him up and down. "Yeah, I can see that."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" He quirked an eyebrow at Ryuji.

"Uh, dude, have you looked in the mirror?" Ryuji retorted. "You totally look like a goody two shoes. A prep." He smirked. "Betcha you wear something dorky like sweater vests in the winter."

"What's wrong with wearing sweater vests?" he grumbled.

"Nailed it," Ryuji snickered.

He opened his mouth to retort, but then his phone pinged. He pulled it out of his pocket with a frown, studying the screen. He then looked back at Ryuji.

"Er… I have to go…" he said slowly. "My guardian… is being very insistent, after he found out about how the mafia approached me before…"

"Overprotective, much?" Ryuji laughed.

He just closed his eyes, smiling fondly. "You have no idea." He opened his eyes. "Maybe I'll see you around school? Today was… fun. I forgot how fun it was to exercise with a partner."

"Yeah, yeah!" Ryuji nodded. "I'll see you around, Amada-senpai!"


Unsurprisingly, Shido had ordered Goro to discover the identity of the Persona-user wandering Kaneshiro's Palace. Shido only seemed to regard him as a nuisance as of right now, as he demanded that Goro keep a tab on the Phantom Thieves—viewing them as a huge threat to his plans.

But… there was a reason why Shido had forcibly dismantled the Shadow Operatives in Tokyo. He didn't want any other Persona-user messing up his plans.

And unfortunately, the only lead he had was that he seemed to be Goro's age. So Goro was stuck combing through school records to see if he could find a match. He could rule out his high school, at least.

Goro grumbled to himself, as he continued to flick through the files on the computer. Why couldn't it have been any other day but a Sunday? This would have made things so much easier…

Goro's fingers brushed against his mouth as he thought. Perhaps… he should search the Shujin records next. A few taps on his keyboard pulled up the files for the Shujin student database.

His breath caught when he finally found the record.

Ken Amada…

Goro frowned at the picture. As he had transferred quite recently, the picture was of him wearing his old school uniform… the Gekkoukan uniform. Which was… mildly alarming.

Mitsuru Kirijo was an alumni of Gekkoukan High. The valedictorian, in fact, as well as being the president of the student council.

Shido despised her. Shortly after Wakaba Isshiki's death, Mitsuru Kirijo had ordered an investigation. Shido was quick to halt that investigation, and was even swifter to disable the Shadow Operatives.

Goro frowned. But still… according to this, he was literally on the cusp of turning eighteen, his birthday being on the twenty-fourth. And the Shadow Operatives' predecessor, the group SEES, had been founded in 2009. Amada would have been ten or eleven at the time. To have a Persona so young… it was impossible. Maybe he wasn't even connected to the Shadow Operatives.

But still… there was the question why Amada was wandering the Metaverse. How had he gained access to it? Was he going to be a threat? More importantly, a threat to Goro's plans?

Goro scowled to himself. He still couldn't believe that he had let his guard down so much while fighting him. Fighting a Persona-user was very different from fighting a Shadow. Shadows were dangerous, of course, but they acted on pure instinct. And there was Amada's strange resistance to Loki's curse spells, when his element seemed to be bless. If anything, he should have resisted bless magic.

He would… have to keep tabs on Amada. And not just because Shido had demanded it…

Chapter Text

Friday, June 24th, 2016


Ken groaned as the repeated notification sounds dragged him out of his sleep. It took him several attempts to retrieve his phone just to see who would spam him with texts at barely past six in the morning, but he eventually found himself holding his phone. It took him several upward swipes just to see what had triggered this.

Group Chat: Former SEES (Minako Sanada, Akihiko Sanada, +7 others)

[Minako Sanada]: HAPPY BIRTHDAY KEN-KUN!

Minako-san had added some birthday popper emojis in her message. Ken rubbed his temples. He'd be inclined to thank her if it wasn't so early.

[Akihiko Sanada]: Mina, it's not even six yet

[Minako Sanada]: you're one to talk Aki :c

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: you're gonna wake him up, idiots

[Mitsuru Kirijo]: It's not *that* early, Shinjiro. But regardless of that, happy birthday, Amada.

[Junpei Iori]: HEY HEY HAPPY BIRTHDAY KEN! Chidorita says hbd too!

[Junpei Iori]: y'know

[Junpei Iori]: if we were in Europe, we could take you out for a drink

[Yukari Takeba]: THAT'S what you say?!

[Junpei Iori]: Hey it's true!

[Aigis]: I always assumed that Shinjiro-san and Fuuka-san allowed Ken-san to indulge in alcohol during special occasions

[Mitsuru Kirijo]: …Shinjiro, Yamagishi, is this true?

[Minako Sanada]: they're reading the messages

[Junpei Iori]: HAVE YOU SEEN KEN DRUNK?!

[Fuuka Yamagishi]: …No?

[Fuuka Yamagishi]: Junpei-kun, the fact that you *want* Ken-kun to be drunk at some point is concerning…

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: what the fuck, Iori

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: 1) we give Ken one glass on New Year's and other holidays

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: 2) Ken has never been drunk because of how little we give him

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: 3) Fuuka's right why the fuck do you want to see Ken drunk

[Mitsuru Kirijo]: It's still against the law

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: You're telling me that you never broke the law?

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: never mind the reason we're even in Tokyo is because you're basically giving Shido the middle finger

[Mitsuru Kirijo]: …Shinjiro, feel fortunate that you're hundreds of kilometers away from me

[Yukari Takeba]: I think he would've gotten executed if he said that in person…

[Minako Sanada]: YOU THINK?!

[Akihiko Sanada]: You have more guts than me, Shinji…

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: like I didn't know that already

[Akihiko Sanada]: YOU WANNA GO?!

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: You can't even come to Tokyo, you moron

[Fuuka Yamagishi]: Shinji, don't pick a fight with Akihiko-senpai!

[Aigis]: When are they not fighting, though, Fuuka-san?

[Junpei Iori]: oh hey Ken's reading our messages

[Junpei Iori]: BUT HE HASN'T THANKED US

[Yukari Takeba]: YOU'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT GETTING HIM DRUNK

[Yukari Takeba]: And now Shinjiro-senpai and Akihiko-senpai are fighting over the chat

[Minako Sanada]: It's entertaining at least

[Mitsuru Kirijo]: Minako, don't encourage this

[Mitsuru Kirijo]: But furthermore, happy birthday, Amada. I arranged for all of our gifts to be sent to where you are staying

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: oh yeah, Mitsuru

[Yukari Takeba]: Yeah, happy birthday Ken-kun!

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: was that about the place we're staying at being modest?

[Mitsuru Kirijo]: …Aigis, please remind me to execute Shinjiro whenever I see him next

[Aigis]: Duly noted, Mitsuru-san.

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: And you don't even deny it

[Akihiko Sanada]: you really do have a death wish, Shinji…

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: At least I've never been stupid enough to try and peep at Mitsuru

[Akihiko Sanada]: THAT WAS JUNPEI'S FAULT

[Junpei Iori]: H E Y

[Yukari Takeba]: how did this even escalate to this point?

[Fuuka Yamagishi]: I have… no idea

[Aigis]: I do not understand why you are surprised, Fuuka-san.

[Fuuka Yamagishi]: But happy birthday Ken-kun! Koro-chan and I both miss you

[Ken Amada]: Thanks guys… though I'd appreciate it if you did it later in the day…

[Shinjiro Aragaki]: I told you that you'd wake him up

[Minako Sanada]: eh, he needed to get up for school anyways all's good

[Junpei Iori]: god I do not miss school

[Aigis]: We're all aware, Junpei-san

A light knock sounding on the door caused Ken to look up. Shinjiro-san opened the door, looking rather unamused. "Did you read the whole chat?"

"Morning," Ken greeted, before yawning. "And it was hard not to… It woke me up."

"Figures." Shinjiro-san rolled his eyes. "I really wanna know why Iori was up before you." But then he looked at Ken. "…But happy birthday, Ken."

"Thanks, Shinjiro-san." He smiled at his guardian.

"So, where do you want to go to dinner tonight?" he asked casually, stuffing his hands into his pockets.

Ken frowned. "I… honestly don't know."

Shinjiro-san's birthday present to Ken every year was basically dinner at whatever restaurant he wanted. And Shinjiro-san wouldn't critique the food served, unlike most times they went out for dinner—not that happened much, with Shinjiro-san's preference to cook.

"Well, you have time," Shinjiro-san said. "Maybe ask around to see if you can get any recommendations." Then he scrutinized Ken's face. "…How have you been doing in Shujin?"

"Fine." Ken covered his mouth to stifle a yawn. "Some of the students are the worst gossips I've seen, though…"

He still couldn't believe that some people took No, I'm not interested in finding a girlfriend and Mitsuru Kirijo is my senpai and turned it to that he was dating Mitsuru-san. Mitsuru-san was a stunning woman but just… no.

"No surprise there," Shinjiro-san snorted. "Teenagers just latch onto anything to talk about."

"Still annoying though," Ken grumbled.

"You don't have to tell me," Shinjiro-san retorted. "Look, do me a favor and take a break, for once."

Ken made a face. "You know that's out of my control, Shinjiro-san..."

And knowing his luck... the Phantom Thieves would pick today to go back to the Palace.


Annnd he just had to be proven right. Just what he wanted to do for his birthday. Fight Shadows and follow the Phantom Thieves through the Palace. The more he explored the Palace, the more he was certain that it wasn't like Tartarus. Tartarus was more like a never ending maze. How had Fuuka-san been so... off? Her scanning capabilities were a rare ability, but Fuuka-san was good at it. He had heard from Akihiko-san that Fuuka-san was able to reach them inside the TV world while she was outside. Maybe... it was the distance.

The Palace seemed to have a structured design. And he had done things he never even thought about. Like crawling through vents (he had really thought it was just something that happened in media, not real life), climbing countless ledges, and etc.

At least the palace was in Shibuya, so he could slip over to the penthouse and enter the Metaverse that way. He didn't have to worry about hiding his spear.

Though it was fortunate that the Shadows seemed to be weaker than him. It didn't particularly help him getting stronger, but it was probably better for now with how many times he had gotten caught…

"Hey, is it me or is the security level higher than usual…?"

"You're not wrong, Panther," Mona said. "It's strange… maybe Kaneshiro just gets more on guard every time we're spotted…?"

"I wouldn't be surprised, with how he taught his goons…" Amamiya-san said slowly. "Let's just be more careful. I don't have any more smokescreens on me."

"Roger that, Joker."

Ken sighed to himself, before glancing around him. Call him paranoid, but he couldn't help but feel the mysterious black masked Persona-user wouldn't give up after that one visit…He hadn't seen him since then, but… Strega had been monitoring them from a distance. It could be the same thing…

"Show me your true form!"

Ken managed to look back in time to see Amamiya-san finish ripping off the mask of the Shadow stalking the hallway, jumping backwards. Niijima-san, Kitagawa-san, and Takamaki-san leapt forward to join him. The Shadow split into three, forming into two pixie-like creatures and the red oni.

…Amamiya-san really had a flair for the dramatics. It wasn't enough to just attack the Shadow from behind apparently. And furthermore… he had no idea why the Shadows were so… different.

"Two High Pixies and an Oni!" Morgana exclaimed. "Let's get them!"

Amamiya-san then smirked, before he ripped off his mask. "Suzaku!"

Ken pursed his lips. He still... didn't know what to think with Amamiya-san being a Wild Card.

Though it was interesting to watch the Phantom Thieves in action, to contrast them with how SEES had operated as a unit.

Minato-san was considerably more cautious than Amamiya-san. He was quite talented with coming up with strategies, and Minako-san had an uncanny ability to pick up on what he was planning without him saying a word. And it looked like that Amamiya-san didn't have the ability to summon two Personas at a time. Though he supposed it wasn't too surprising, considering that only the twins had exhibited that ability.

…Though the use of the guns was a bit unsettling. Just where had they gotten those…? What kind of person would sell guns to underage high school students?

…But he probably shouldn't say that, considering his old method of summoning involved him shooting himself in the head.

"Panther, it's yours!" Amamiya-san called, holding out his hand for Takamaki-san to high-five.

"Carmen!" she cried out, ripping off her mask.

Thin tendrils of flames whipped through the air, burning their enemies.

He… didn't really understand what this Baton Pass was exactly… except that it seemed to power them somehow.

Though… it was interesting to see how differently the Thieves carried themselves in the Metaverse.

There was no other way to put it. Amamiya-san was cocky as Joker. The quiet, almost bookish boy was gone. He had that aura that all Wild Cards seemed to have, the aura that drew in people. Confidence just radiated from him, whether it was from him solving a puzzle or getting the drop from a Shadow.

Sakamoto-san was friendly, but Skull was reckless. He threw himself into danger without a second thought for his friends. He seemed to enjoy fighting Shadows—probably for the stress relief. And well… with the rumors circulating around him… Ken really didn't blame him.

Takamaki-san was nice and friendly, but Panther was fierce and passionate. It was no wonder that her element was fire. She seemed to relish sending Shadows on their metaphorical knees. She seemed more confident as Panther.

Kitagawa-san… he wasn't as sure, as he had spoke to him literally once. But Kitagawa-san was quiet, unless he was inspired by art. Fox moved gracefully but he was surprisingly fierce when fighting Shadows.

And Niijima-san… It was so odd to see his classmate carry herself as prim, polite, and very straight-laced, when he saw Queen. She didn't hold back when fighting Shadows, whether it was unleashing her almighty magic—though she called them different—or punching them into submission.

The thieves carried themselves in a way that differed so much from his first impressions of them. But… what was the truth? The civilian or the thief?


They were making good progress. Makoto's analysis of the Shadows was helping speed up the fights, so they weren't as tired. Though Ren could have gone without the cameras. Even with the Third Eye, Ren had messed up a lot and triggered the alarms.

At least smashing the electric boxes was fun.

"Hmm…" Morgana looked thoughtful, tilting his head. "I'd say one more box and we'll be good, Joker."

"Finally," Sakamoto-san grumbled.

But the familiar alarm suddenly blared, blasting their ears.

"What was that?" Yusuke looked bewildered.

"Let's find out," Ren said, adjusting the glove on his right hand. "Come on."

They ran down back the hallway, only to see a lone figure standing in the center.

The only feature Ren could make out was their light brown hair. The way it was styled—and how that they looked to be about his height—made Ren assume it was a guy.

He looked like a deer in headlights. He stared for several moments—giving them a clear view of his masked face—before grasping the railing and jumping.

And of course, Ryuji was first to react. "HEY! STOP!" he yelled, rushing down the stairs.

"Skull, stop!" Anne snapped, running after him. "You'll trigger the alarm!"

"CAPTAIN KIDD!"

"What are you doing?!" Anne screeched at him. "What part of stop don't you understand?!"

"Slowing him down!" Ryuji retorted.

Makoto just looked at Ren, confusion in her eyes. "Why is Skull running after him?"

"One sec," Ren said, holding up a hand before turning to look at Morgana. "Mona, go after Skull and Panther. Maybe jump after him?"

God, why hadn't they thought of that, instead of running around to disable the cameras? Though it was kinda risky… Jump high enough and they would be splats on the ground.

Morgana nodded, before scampering after Ryuji and Anne.

"When we had defeated Madarame's Shadow… he spoke up of someone with a black mask," Yusuke spoke up before Ren could even open his mouth. "We assume that this person is the one behind the mental shutdowns."

Makoto frowned still. "But… the mask was black and white."

"It's a bit suspicious that he bolted though," Ren said thoughtfully. "And he was carrying a spear, wasn't he? Obviously equipped to fight Shadows. And he had a thief outfit."

"But on the other hand…" Yusuke began, "it could have been just a flight or fight response. He merely chose flight."

…Well, to be fair, Ryuji probably looked a bit terrifying. He looked a complete delinquent, and his weapon of choice didn't exactly help…

"Well," Makoto folded her arms over her chest, "this explains the security level, doesn't it? You were saying how it was rising at an abnormally high rate…"

"It does." Ren nodded. "Looks like he doesn't know much about the Metaverse…"

"Well, Mona did have to teach you," Yusuke mused. "And you passed on his knowledge to us. So perhaps you shouldn't blame him as much."

It was then Anne, Ryuji, and Morgana returned, Anne forcibly dragging Ryuji along with her. "Seriously, why did you jump the gun like that?!" Anne scolded.

"I apologized already, didn't I?!" Ryuji grumbled. "God, you're such a nag."

Yusuke tilted his head. "...Isn't that Queen?"

"H-Hey, don't drag me into this!" Makoto protested, her cheeks growing red. "And I'm not a nag!"

"...Hm."

"What was that?!" she demanded.

Morgana sighed. "He got away though... He threw something to the ground and smoke surrounded him..."

"Must be something like Goho-M, since only you know about making those..." Ren mused. "But thanks for trying, guys."

"I would have liked to talk to him, though," Anne said with a frown.

"He's got a black mask!" Ryuji protested.

"It's only half black, Ryuji," Anne retorted. "And it looked he was more wandering the place. Maybe he got sucked in somehow."

"But you require the app to reach the Metaverse, Panther," Yusuke pointed out.

"Yeah, but how did Joker and Skull get it in the first place?" Anne asked, before brushing one of her pigtails over her shoulder. "I'm just saying... he might not be a threat."

"It doesn't mean he's not though," Makoto sighed.

The fact that Ren didn't know which of the stances he agreed with was… unsettling. Both had good points. Ren sighed to himself. He just hoped this wasn't going to negatively affect the Palace exploration.


Ken appeared without any warning. He looked like shit, like he was just about ready to pass out.

Shinjiro raised an eyebrow. "Rough day?"

"Tired," he mumbled, before stumbling over to the couch and falling face first with a groan.

Fuuka just giggled. "This is why you should take things easy, Ken-kun."

"Let me sleep, Fuuka-san," he grumbled.

"Sleep in your own bed, then," Shinjiro said flatly.

Ken grumbled to himself before picking himself up and trudging towards the direction of his bedroom.

"He's really working himself too hard," Shinjiro huffed once he heard the door close. "Mitsuru told him not to push himself so hard. Just a few days, he was so tired I was surprised that he didn't fall face first into his food. And you should've seen him when he found the Metaverse…"

Fuuka immediately went pale, her eyes going wide. "I didn't realize it was that bad."

"It makes me wish that Ken was only studying for his entrance exam." Shinjiro rubbed his forehead.

Ken was dedicated to his studies. Smart enough to get a scholarship, all while juggling his other extracurricular activities. Though it would've been nice if Ken hadn't wrecked his eyesight while doing so.

"Well..." Fuuka said slowly, "if Ken-kun is this dedicated to this mission..." Her expression became longing. "...Maybe you'll get to come home sooner."

Shinjiro frowned. He had talked to his girlfriend in private, and Fuuka was quick to reassure him that she understood his reasonings and that she completely agreed with him. If it wasn't pushing it already with the two of them, Fuuka would've gone with them. But... he couldn't help but feel bad. They had to do long distance for four years, which had just sucked.

"Maybe, but it really depends if the Phantom Thieves are abusing their abilities," Shinjiro muttered. He then scoffed quietly. "I know which one Ken would prefer."

Fuuka froze at that, her eyes growing wide. "Shinji...?"

"I'm not as smart as you-"

"You are smart," Fuuka quickly cut him off with a frown.

"Fine," Shinjiro rolled his eyes, "I'm not as studious as you, but I ain't blind. Ken thinks that he hides it well, but I know that he likes the idea of them."

Fuuka began to fidget. Her voice was small when she spoke again. "Um... would you be mad if I told you if I knew?"

Shinjiro sighed. "No. It's expected, with how much Ken loves superheroes." He crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm surprised Mitsuru hasn't caught on."

"Mitsuru-senpai doesn't live with Ken-kun, Shinji," Fuuka said. "And I'm sure that Ken-kun is very aware of why we're wary of the Phantom Thieves."

"Yeah..." Shinji muttered, before closely studying Fuuka's face. "You've been takin' care of yourself, right? Cooking, not just getting takeout? Not staying up too long 'cause of work?"

Whenever Fuuka had visited, he usually ended up dragging her to bed. And he had to hide the coffee beans from her. She had really relied too much on coffee to keep her going.

But Fuuka just laughed softly, her lips curving into a gentle smile. "Don't worry. Koro-chan is very insistent of me going to bed on time."

"How is he?"

"Um..." Fuuka fidgeted for a moment. "Well. Really well."

Shinjiro raised an eyebrow. "Why am I hearing a but in that?"

"Well..." Fuuka took a deep breath. "He... um... is kinda... going to be a father in a couple weeks?"

...What.

"AndItookinthemother," she blurted in a rush.

"Fuuka!"

"She was a stray, but she's really sweet and Mitsuru-senpai arranged it so a vet examined her and gave her all of the shots!" Fuuka added.

Shinjiro just groaned, pressing a hand to his forehead. "We can't take care of all of these dogs," he grumbled.

"Um, well... Minako-chan has already claimed one of the puppies," Fuuka said sheepishly. "Junpei-kun said that he wants one, but he'll have to talk to Chidori-chan to see if it's really okay. And... Kanji-kun also wants one."

...Of course Tatsumi did. Every time he saw Koromaru, all he wanted to do was pet Koromaru. Though he was so aggressive while petting him, Koromaru didn't really... like it when Tatsumi tried to pet him.

Shinji sighed. "There's nothing I can really do 'bout this now, huh?"

Fuuka giggled. "You'd spoil them rotten if you could."

"...Shut up."


Sunday, June 26th, 2016


 

Shinjiro-san had put his foot down, deeming that Ken was working himself too hard. He then proceeded to kick Ken out of the penthouse with the demand that Ken go enjoy himself today. No studying. Nothing regarding the mission.

So Ken ended up wandering Shibuya, since he hasn't properly explored the ward yet. Ken couldn't help but smile at the sight of the Buchiko statue. Koromaru really was a real life Buchiko... Maybe he should take Koromaru to see it, if Fuuka-san could come and visit... Hopefully she could visit for Shinjiro-san's birthday in August…

...Though speaking of Koromaru, Ken couldn't believe he went and sired a litter of puppies. Though Mitsuru-san had talked about breeding Koromaru before, as she was curious if the potential was hereditary. And as the oldest child of a Persona-user (that they knew well), was only five right now...

"Yen for your thoughts?"

Ken jumped at the sudden voice, turning around to see that it was Amamiya-san. Kitagawa-san was standing next to him, looking at him curiously.

"Oh, hello, Amamiya-san," he said. He let his eyes linger on Kitagawa-san. "And...?"

"This is my friend, Yusuke Kitagawa." Amamiya-san gestured to Kitagawa-san as he made his introduction. "Yusuke, this is Ken Amada. He just transferred to Shujin a couple weeks ago. He's the same year as Makoto."

"It's nice to meet you, Kitagawa-san," Ken said with a bow of his head.

"Likewise, Amada-san." Kitagawa-san inclined his head. "Though, I have to ask... Just where are you from? I can't place your accent."

...He had an accent? Though he supposed it made sense. Tokyo and Port Island were in two completely different regions.

"I'm from Tatsumi Port Island, on the outskirts of the Kansai region."

Kitagawa-san sharply inhaled, his eyes growing wide. "Tatsumi… Port Island? As in where Chidori Yoshino lives?!"

…Well, nowadays Chidori-san was Chidori Iori. She and Junpei-san had gotten married shortly before he had started his third year of high school.

"Who's Chidori Yoshino?" Amamiya-san asked, raising an eyebrow. "I've never heard of her."

Kitagawa-san sighed deeply, closing his eyes. "An artist that I admire. An artist who is woefully underappreciated. I will have to show you some of her pieces some time, Ren." He opened his eyes. "She puts in such emotion with every stroke. You should see her drawings of her husband. You can tell that she loves him very much with how she draws him."

Amamiya-san just laughed, shaking his head. Behind his glasses, his eyes twinkled with humor. "You really set him off, didn't you, Senpai?"

"It wasn't on purpose…" Ken said sheepishly.

"But nonetheless… artists like Yoshino-san are what motivate me!" Kitagawa-san continued, his hand clenching into a fist. "I must find inspiration now…!"

He would have to mention this the next time he talked to Junpei-san. He always did think that Chidori-san didn't get nearly enough attention as she should.

"Whoa there, Yusuke," Amamiya-san said, his voice suddenly stern as he grasped the taller boy's shoulder. "We were going to get lunch, remember?"

"But Ren, I must feed this fire before it goes out!" he protested.

…He was really passionate about this, wasn't he? But still, Amamiya-san's comment was rather concerning.

"Yeah, but if you pass out from lack of food, you may be out for hours," Amamiya-san pointed out. "I think getting lunch first would be better for you."

"Very well…" Kitagawa-san sighed. "Alas, if only I didn't have to rely on sustenance to fuel me…"

…Shinjiro-san would have an aneurysm if he ever heard Kitagawa-san talking about this, wouldn't he? And then he'd probably tie Kitagawa-san to a chair and forcefeed him some food…

"Would you like to come with us, Senpai?" Amamiya-san asked. "We can show you around Tokyo too after lunch."

Ken smiled sheepishly. "That obvious?"

Amamiya-san just smirked. "Yeah, just a little."

"But I don't mean to intrude…"

"If you can train with Ryuji for a couple hours, then I don't see why you can't eat lunch with us." Amamiya-san shrugged.

This caught Kitagawa-san's attention, and he turned to look at Ken, his gaze scrutinizing. "Hmm… you'd probably make an excellent model. Your facial proportions are excellent."

"Er…" Ken caught sight of Amamiya-san frantically shake his head behind Kitagawa-san, all while mouthing no. "…I'm flattered, but I'm afraid I'll have to say no."

"Why is the search for a model so difficult?" he lamented.

"You'll find one someday, Yusuke." Amamiya-san patted his shoulder. "But come on, there's this pretty good diner that I know of."

"Lead the way, then."

Maybe he could find a way to sneak some money to Kitagawa-san during lunch. He really defined the "poor artist" stereotype…


Tuesday, June 28th, 2016


Makoto had to admit, it was nice to have some company while she worked.

"So, what's the story behind the track team being disbanded in the first place?" Amada-kun asked, studying the sheet of paper.

Makoto sighed. "It was unfairly disbanded, since Kamoshida claimed that the track star attacking him was a good reason to dismantle the team. There's just some… trouble reviving it, since two of the teachers wanted to be the advisor… They seem to have it settled now, though."

Amada-kun frowned. "Just why did Kamoshida think it was okay to all of this? Physically abusing his male students, assaulting the female students…" His lip curled with disgust, and then he shook his head. "He more than deserves his sentence."

"Well, I'm just glad it's over and done with," Makoto sighed. "Everything seems to be in order…" She then reached for the manila folder, flipping it open. "Let's see… What else is there… Oh." Makoto made a face. "Right… the school trip…"

Amada-kun frowned. "The school trip? But that's always in the second semester."

"Yes, but it happens about… one, two weeks after we come back from summer break. And Shujin does this thing where it allows the student to submit suggestions for where we go. The submissions don't always get accepted, but last year's did. Last year… we visited San Francisco, I believe?"

"San Francisco?" Amada-kun repeated, looking surprised. "That's more exciting than the trip my school went on last year…"

"Where did you go?" Makoto inquired, looking at him.

"Kyoto. The temples were beautiful, but once you've seen a temple, you've seen them all, right?" Amada-kun smiled wryly. "Though I'll admit that the snacks were good."

"But some of these places…" Makoto shook her head, as she skimmed some of the submissions. "Hawaii, New York, Los Angeles—are people even interested in seeing some place in Japan?" she asked incredulously.

"Well, to be fair, this is Tokyo," Amada-kun pointed out. "A lot of the exciting landmarks in Japan are in Tokyo."

"You'd think that someone would be interested in visiting Osaka, with all of the street food," Makoto mused, as she ran her fingernail along the edge of the paper. "Or Nara, with the deer park." She shrugged. "Well, I'll submit this to the faculty office and see if they'll approve any of them as an option… And before July's exams, we'll vote on it."

Makoto sighed, before sliding it in the folder she used to keep the paperwork she would give the faculty office to review. "At least we're done for today…"

Amada-kun grimaced. "At least it's not as bad as the paperwork for the school festival…"

Makoto sighed wearily, rubbing her temple with one hand. "Do not remind me," she muttered. "Shujin always has a special guest too, so I'll have to sort through that when the time comes. Not that the guest usually agrees to come…"

"Well, I've seen some creative booths at least," Amada-kun commented. "My class did a jazz bar last year." When Makoto looked up in surprise, he just smiled wryly. "With non-alcoholic drinks, of course."

That… sounded really nice. She was always fond of jazz music.

"Better than ours…" she murmured with a shake of her head. "We had done the typical maid cafe."

At least she wasn't the one forced to dress up as a maid… God, she probably would have died of embarrassment if that costume was forced onto her.

The door then slid open and Takamaki-san poked inside. "Niijima-senpai, do you-" Her eyes widened, and then her expression became sheepish. "Oh, sorry, I didn't realize you were working still."

"No, we were just wrapping up," Amada-kun said, before standing up and looking in Makoto's direction. "I'll see you tomorrow, Niijima-san."

Takamaki-san pulled the door more open, allowing Amada-kun to leave before finally stepping inside. She clasped her hands together behind her back.

Makoto looked at her curiously. "Is something the matter, Takamaki-san?"

She took a deep breath, before bowing low. "I am so, so sorry!" she blurted after she stood up straight. "I've been meaning to apologize to you for a while but… I kept wussing out…" She bit her lip. "I was so mad when I found out that you knew about Kamoshida… I didn't think about how you were a kid, just like us… You were being used, too…" She hung her head. "I'm such a hypocrite… I hated how people would judge me because of how I looked, but I judged you so wrongly… And Shiho… she was asking—no, begging—me for help. But I didn't answer her call…"

"Takamaki-san, stop," Makoto said gently. "I may not have been as guilty as you originally thought but I… I could have done more. When I saw Suzui-san on the roof… I was paralyzed with fear. All I could think of is that I could have something to prevent this. All of that pain and suffering she went through… What you, Sakamoto-kun, and Amamiya-kun went through… I could have done something to help." She pressed a hand against her chest. "I'm sorry. All I did was reflect the blame onto you, when you were a personal victim… I shouldn't have done that…"

Takamaki-san's eyes were wide, but then she smiled. "I meant what I said before…" she said quietly. "You aren't scum. This has been weighing on you for a while, hasn't it?"

Makoto sighed. "The what ifs have been running in my head for so long," she said quietly. "I didn't want to admit my guilt. I was just… running away. I just… hate feeling worthless. Especially since that would only make me a burden to my sister…"

"Oh, right… you mentioned your sister before," Takamaki-san commented, her eyes lighting up with recognition. "She's that famous prodigy prosecutor, isn't she?"

Makoto nodded. "Mmhm. She passed the bar exam right after graduating from law school… and she sped through her courses in law school, graduating a year early. I feel… woefully inadequate compared to her."

"Hey." Takamaki-san looked at her straight in the eye. "You're you. Nobody else can be you, okay? Nobody should insult you because you don't 'measure up', and if they do? Screw them!"

Makoto laughed. That was an… interesting way to put things.

"So, um…" She shifted uneasily on her feet. "I'll see you tomorrow then, Niijima-senpai?"

She turned to go, but Makoto blurted out, "Wait!" When she turned to look back at Makoto, a quizzical expression on her face, she added, "Um… I was wondering… You visit Suzui-san frequently, don't you?"

She… She needed to apologize to Suzui-san as well…

She blinked. "Um… yeah, I do."

"Well…" Makoto shifted in her seat, "I was thinking… do you think I can come with you next time you visit?"

The surprise was clear on her face, but then she nodded. "Yeah! Of course… Shiho's recovery is going well but she always could use a couple of friendly faces. I've taken both Ren and Ryuji to visit her before."

"Thank you." Makoto rose to her feet, picking up the folder that she would have to deliver to the office. "Um… I'll see you around then."

"Yeah, of course!" She nodded, her pigtails bouncing a bit. She then hesitated for a moment, before speaking again. "And one more thing…" Her lips curved into a warm smile as Makoto looked at her. "Call me Anne."


Thursday, June 30th, 2016


The first thing Ken saw at school was a girl struggling with a bag of fertilizer. Other students just walked by, completely ignoring her. Ken sighed to himself. Of course.

He walked up to the girl, lightly tapping her on the shoulder. She jumped at his touch, but Ken just offered her a small smile.

"Do you need help with that?"

"Oh!" Her eyes lit up and she smiled at him. "Yes, thank you."

"Okay… where do you need this?"

"The roof," she answered. "There's a vegetable garden up there and they're due a new layer of fertilizer."

T-The roof? Ken gulped to himself, eyeing the bag. It had to weigh at least thirty kilograms… What had he gotten into?

But he couldn't back out… Ken sighed to himself. That's what he got for judging everyone else for not bothering to help her…

It took several minutes for them to get the bag up the three floors, but the girl barely broke a sweat. Meanwhile, Ken was all too happy to drop the bag of fertilizer to the ground, massaging his aching fingers.

At least the view on the roof was nice. Ken walked over to the edge, admiring the skyline. He could even see the Skytree in the distance.

And the roof itself was nice. Flowers were neatly organized in beds, in a large array of colors. Irises, poppies, and lilies were just a few of the flowers. There were a couple of beds dedicated to growing vegetables as well.

"You're the transfer student, aren't you?" the girl asked, looking rather curious.

Ken smiled sheepishly. "Yes, that's me. I'm sorry, I should have introduced myself sooner."

"No, no, it's fine," she was quick to reassure him. "My name is Haru. We're in the same year."

"Haru…?" Ken trailed off, not knowing her by face.

"Just Haru," she said firmly. "I'm… not one for formalities."

…That was odd. Why was she sensitive about her family? But it's not like he could force her to reveal her surname.

"…If that's what you want, Haru-san," Ken relented.

"I do," she said with a firm nod.

A silence fell between them and Ken shifted uneasily on his feet. "So, um… does your club tend to the garden often? It looks really nice."

He was an amazing conversationalist. Ugh. It was one of the things he hated most about himself, but he didn't know how to fix it…

"Club?" Haru-san's face clouded over with confusion. "Oh, you mean like a gardening club? Shujin used to have a gardening club but… it… disbanded about two years ago. I tend to the garden, because… I find it relaxing."

"You do this by all yourself?" Ken looked around. "There are so many flowers here though."

And how was weeding and lugging around heavy bags of fertilizer fun?

"Oh, it's not that many," she said with a light laugh, waving a dismissing hand. "Flowers can be… finicky, but I enjoy the work." Then she smiled, her fingers gently stroking a flower's petal. "And seeing the results is reward enough."

"It's very pretty," Ken said.

"So… um…" she began, "how are you settling in Tokyo, Amada-kun? You're from Port Island, aren't you?"

"I am." Ken nodded, before he shrugged. "Honestly, I haven't even properly explored the city. Or Shibuya, even."

Her eyes grew wide. "…Really? I thought that would be one of the first things you'd do…"

"Things have been… hectic," Ken said slowly.

Akihiko-san was right… but he just didn't know how exactly to balance things. He had no idea how Minato-san and Minako-san did it…

She nodded understandably, before she frowned. "It's… quite frightening," she admitted quietly. "With the talk about the mafia so much…" She smiled sadly. "I'm sorry that you moved at such a bad time…"

"Don't apologize," Ken said, turning to look at her. "I mean, there's always something going on. It was under the surface, but there was Kamoshida just a couple months, wasn't it?"

Haru-san just shuddered. "I'm glad he's gone."

"I would be too," Ken sighed.

"But, um…" Haru-san began tentatively, "I-I know this sounds a bit out of the blue but…" She trailed off, opening her mouth to continue, only to stop short.

"What is it?" Ken cut in, after her second attempt.

"I was just wondering…" She began to fuss with her hair. "Have you met Mitsuru Kirijo?" she finally blurted out. "I know she lives on Port Island, running the Kirijo Group, and she went to your old school…"

Ken blinked.

Okay, he wasn't expecting that… He surprisingly hadn't been bothered much about Mitsuru-san, seeing that she was a celebrity in her own right. Not in the public's eye as much as say—Yukari-san or Rise-san—but she was well known, as she was one of the few female CEOs.

"A fan, are you?"

Haru-san blushed, looking down at the ground for a moment. "Y-Yes… She's so young but… she's done so much. She took over the Kirijo Group when she was around our age… and she's shaping the Kirijo Group in what she wants, not letting anyone tell her what to do…" She sighed longingly. "And the fact that she's accomplished everything without being married… She's just so strong… it's admirable."

Ken smiled. Maybe he should mention this to Mitsuru-san some time.

"I'm sure that she would be flattered that you think of her so highly."

She squeaked, her face turning pink. "I didn't mean…" she stammered out. "You don't have to bother her about this! I was just… I just wanted to know if that rumor was true…"

"The press likes to exaggerate Mitsuru-san's inapproachability," Ken said dryly. "It's not really a bother, Haru-san… If anything, she'll probably be pleased."

"If you say so, Amada-kun…" She smiled shyly at him. She opened her mouth to say something else, but was cut off by the bell ringing. She sighed. "Oh… We should get to class…" She bowed. "It was nice meeting you," she said sincerely. "And thank you again for your help."

Ken smiled at her. "It was no problem, really."

"I'll see you around then, Amada-kun!" She waved at him before disappearing down the stairs.

Haru-san was a bit… strange, but she was nice. Though he had to wonder why she was so keen on keeping her family name a secret…


Friday, July 1st, 2016


Niijima-san was tense today. She wasn't paying much attention during class and she seemed… distracted when spoken to. Maybe… the Phantom Thieves were planning on striking today. They had cleared the Palace completely, after all…

Though he didn't completely understand what the Treasure was, exactly…

Niijima-san breathed a sigh of relief when the final bell rang, signaling the end of school. She hastily gathered her supplies, before standing up.

The sound of the door sliding open made him look up.

"Hey, Makoto, you ready to go?" Takamaki-san cheerfully waved at her.

…Huh. Were they on first name status now?

"Y-Yeah!" Niijima-san nodded, all while smiling nervously. "Let's go, Anne."

…Well, that answered his question. Though this just cemented his suspicions…

Ken hastily finished packing away his belongings, before making a beeline for the train. The flash of blonde hair made it very easy to locate the Phantom Thieves.

"Are you sure that Kaneshiro got the calling card?" Amamiya-san asked.

"Positive," Niijima-san said with a firm nod of her head. "Ryuji and I plastered calling cards everywhere. There's just no way that his henchmen missed it. And with the reputation the calling cards have… they're bound to bring it to him."

"It took forever for her to be satisfied," Sakamoto-san lamented.

…He had heard enough. Time to go back to the penthouse.

He hurried back to the penthouse. He paused at picking up his weapon. Would he… really need it? He was only going to observe, after all… Ken decided to leave it behind, before activating the app.

The atmosphere… felt incredibly heavy. It felt hard to breathe. What had changed?

…At least he didn't have to count on the Phantom Thieves to summon the stairs, once he had stepped foot inside the Palace. He hurried up the steps, heading for the heart of the Palace.

The Phantom Thieves were already fighting what he assumed to be Shadow Kaneshiro's monstrous form. It was… outlandish, to put it lightly. He was basically… a human fly.

…Though he supposed the Full Moon Shadows were rather strange, as well.

There wasn't much of a place to hide, though… This place resembled a vault…

Hmm… There was the entrance. He could go through and watch the fight. He didn't have the best view, but he wasn't here to watch the fight… He was here to discover just how desires were stolen.

The Phantom Thieves were vicious as they attacked Kaneshiro. They were giving all they had in this fight.

But Kaneshiro was far from done. Even though the Phantom Thieves had been relentless, he was only panting a bit. "Heh… not bad," he gasped out. "Guess I'll have to bring out my big guns, then!"

"Big guns…?" Kitagawa-san asked.

But what Ken had thought was just a metal door began to spin—no, it was unscrewing. It was a… metal pig.

…He had seen stranger things.

"Hehe, meet my guardian robot!"

"Is that really a pig?!" Sakamoto-san demanded.

"Well, if it looks like a pig, and probably acts like one…" Amamiya-san said dryly.

"Joker!" Niijima-san sounded absolutely exasperated, and frankly he didn't blame her.

"It's not a pig!" Kaneshiro growled. "It's my Piggytron! And it's time for you to die!"

…And that wasn't a strange name.

"Not a chance in hell, asshat!" Sakamoto-san hollered back at him.

"Fine… Eat this!"

Missiles shot from Piggytron's snout, striking all of the Phantom Thieves. It even knocked Niijima-san off of her Persona, but Kitagawa-san took heavier damage than everyone else, letting out a pained cry as he skidded backwards.

"Fox is down!" Morgana shouted. "Somebody cover for him!"

But then Kaneshiro took the opportunity to move again, firing right at Takamaki-san, knocking her down as well. Ken's eyes widened as he watched her fly backwards. Her costume being red did nothing to hide the blood spreading from her shoulder. 

"Hehehe! Time for VIP form! Goooo, Piggytron!"

Piggytron began to spin, speeding towards directly at Takamaki-san.

"Yaksini!" A purple female demon wielding two slender swords dove at Piggytron, striking hard, somehow managing to halt the attack. Amamiya-san was nothing but a black blur as he raced to Takamaki-san' side, scooping her up in his arms, and carrying her to the back of the room. Niijima-san darted over to Kitagawa-san's side, helping him up. "Mona, I need some healing now!" he barked, carefully setting her down on the ground. "Panther, hang in there…" He gingerly touched her shoulder, which only made Takamaki-san wince.

"On it!" Morgana shouted before sprinting over to their side.

Ken ripped off his mask, summoning Kala-Nemi. He cast Diarama as the same time as Morgana, which seemed to completely heal Takamaki-san's injuries.

"Wow, Morgana's powers have really gotten stronger!" she exclaimed as Amamiya-san helped her up. But then she clenched a hand into a fist. "But he's gonna pay for that!"

"But how are we going to stop it?" Sakamoto-san darted to their side. "That pig is out of control! He has us on the rocks 'cause of it!"

"I'll show you," Takamaki-san declared, before ripping her mask off with one hand. "Carmen!"

Her Persona appeared, flames exploding around her.

"Dude, a little warning next time?!" Sakamoto-san cried, jumping backwards. "What was that?!"

"Money's everything to him," Takamaki-san said, pointing to the burning yen bills. "The best way to get his attention is to destroy it."

"My money!" Kaneshiro cried out, before growling. "You're gonna pay for that!"

"Uh oh," Takamaki-san gulped. "I didn't think about this…"

"Yeah, I can see that!" Sakamoto-san retorted.

"Shut up, Skull!" she snapped back.

"Scatter!" Amamiya-san shouted. They didn't hesitate on listening to him, fleeing in different directions.

Kitagawa-san dove to the side as Piggytron rolled in his direction, before ripping off his mask. "Goemon!"

Ice crystallized on the floor, but Piggytron just steamrolled over it. It looked like Kitagawa-san's ice magic wasn't that powerful…

"Rakshasa!" Amamiya-san ripped off his mask, and a Persona clad in red armor appeared. It leapt into the air, somersaulting, before slashing with the two swords it carried. But it barely made a dent into Piggytron.

"Johanna!" Niijima-san cried out.

Johanna's engine roared as she flung an almighty spell at Kaneshiro, but Piggytron was undeterred.

"Dammit, we need a distraction!" Sakamoto-san snapped.

"Joker, perhaps you should tempt Kaneshiro with something!" Kitagawa-san shouted. "Take this! Rising Slash!"

"Eat this!" Kaneshiro fired back, before Piggytron fired missiles from his snout.

"I don't think so!" Morgana shouted, using Kitagawa-san's shoulder as a stepping stone. Blue flared around him. "Come forth, Zorro!"

Wind whipped through the air, deflecting some of the missiles, striking Piggytron instead. But some of the missiles managed to push past the wind spell.

"Fox, get down!" Sakamoto-san shouted, before he ripped off his mask. "Captain Kidd!" 

Kitagawa-san dropped to the ground, and a second later, there was a crackle in the air. Captain Kidd fired an electric bolt, destroying the rest of the missiles. The electric bolt surged forward, slamming right into Piggytron.

"But we can't throw our supplies!" Takamaki-san sputtered. "But we need them!"

"Throw money at 'im!" Sakamoto-san shouted his suggestion.

"Skull, we need that too!" Niijima-san snapped.

Kaneshiro was interested in gold… Gold…

Wait. Couldn't he distract Kaneshiro? With a light spell? Kaneshiro could think it was light glinting over gold…

Ken ripped off his mask, the still foreign word coming to mind. Kouga.

A bright light flared to life, Kaneshiro screeching to a halt as he looked around wildly. "I see gold!" he cried. "Where is it?!"

"Gold…?" Amamiya-san repeated, sounding baffled. "…Ugh, never mind. Everyone, wallop it with everything you've got! Mona, try to knock him off!"

"Understood, Joker!" Morgana exclaimed. 

"Wreck 'im, Captain Kidd!"

"Dance, Carmen!"

"Show your might, Zorro!"

"Goemon, strike!"

"Come, Johanna!"

Piggytron was struck with a dazzling display of elements, fire intertwining with electricity. Goemon's strike was hard enough that Piggytron shook violently, and Goemon followed up with an ice spell. Johanna's spell exploded, leaving Kaneshiro precariously wobbling. A blast of wind was the last nail in the coffin, sending Kaneshiro tumbling from the ground.

"We've got him!" Morgana shouted, as the Phantom Thieves jumped in a circle, pointing their guns at Kaneshiro.

"No… please…" Kaneshiro begged.

"Yes, please," Amamiya-san hissed. "Everyone, go in for an All Out Attack!"

Brandishing their weapons, the Phantom Thieves lunged forward and walloped Kaneshiro with all their might.

"No, stop!" Kaneshiro cried, staggering backwards. He tripped, falling backwards and landing flat on his bottom. "I… I yield!"

"This is how your victims felt," Amamiya-san growled out as he stalked forward. "Alone… helpless. Doesn't feel so good when you're on the receiving end, doesn't it?"

"Stop!" he cried, crawling away from the advancing Phantom Thieves. "I'm a victim too, okay!? I grew up poor. Nobody wanted me around."

"That doesn't give you a free pass to do what you did," Takamaki-san spat. "Not to mention how completely disgusting you are with women! You threatened to strip Queen naked and take pictures of her to sell to perverts!"

He… did… what? He knew that Kaneshiro was a disgusting man but this was an entirely different level…

"Panther's right," Kitagawa-san said flatly. "You're nothing but despicable. Just because you had humble beginnings doesn't mean you should turn to crime, taking advantage of youth… ruining countless lives."

"All right… all right," he whimpered out. "What do you want from me?"

"Turn yourself in," Sakamoto-san demanded. "Atone for your crimes."

"Feel remorse for the lives you've ruined," Niijima-san said, before shaking her head. "The lives you snuffed out to 'protect' yours-" She cut herself off. "Um… Mona…? Are you feeling okay?"

"TREASUREEEEE!" Morgana was on the top of the giant gold bar and there… was no other word to describe it. He was nuzzling it.

"Um… what's he doing…?"

That was a good question…

"Uh… he does that," Amamiya-san said with a wince. "Have no idea why, though."

Kitagawa-san peeled Morgana away from the gold bar. "Skull, if you don't mind?" He nodded at the Treasure.

"Yeah, of course." Sakamoto-san nodded, before picking up the gold bar with a grunt.

"That's the treasure?" Niijima-san frowned. "The source of Kaneshiro's warped desires?"

Ken frowned. The treasure… was Kaneshiro's desires…?

"It'll take on a different form in the real world," Takamaki-san said. "But we have to get out of here now."

"What? Why?"

"The treasure is the source of Kaneshiro's desires. The palace is Kaneshiro's warped heart. Take that away and…" Amamiya-san prompted.

"The Palace is going to self-destruct," Kitagawa-san finished. "So we must hasten to leave."

…What.

The Palace was going to blow up?!

"Mona, hurry up and transform!" Sakamoto-san snapped.

"Okay, okay!"

"But you know… you're using the Metaverse completely wrong," Kaneshiro began.

"What…?" Niijima-san breathed.

"There's a criminal using other people's Palaces to accomplish whatever they damn well please. They don't care about consequences… psychotic breakdowns, mental shutdowns… anything goes."

Weren't they… the same?

"Is that the same person Madarame was talking about?"

"Spill it!" Sakamoto-san stormed up to Kaneshiro, grabbing him by the lapels of his jacket. "Who are you talking about?!"

"Skull, there's no time!" Amamiya-san snapped. "We have to go now!"

"But…!"

"The place is going to blow up! That's an order!"

Why did the whole thing have to blow up? Why did the Palaces have to be so intricate? Tartarus was no walk in the park, but at least they didn't have to worry about running away after beating the guardian Shadows.

The Thieves scrambled to get inside the cat-bus. Ken sprinted after them, taking a running leap. He was barely able to keep a grip on the edge as the engine roared to life.

"Wait, there's no road!" Niijima-san said in a panic.

"It's kinda too late to turn back!" Amamiya-san snapped back.


Landing on the pavement was fun. Dammit, and his hands had just finished healing. Ah well, better his hands than his face.

…Wait a minute.

Pavement?

Dammit, so he didn't get transported back to his place… But where had he landed? Ken slowly opened his eyes… and the first thing he saw was a startled pair of crimson eyes.

"A-AMADA-KUN?!" she sputtered out. "What—how…?"

Fuck. FUCK.

He had landed right in the middle of Central Street.

The other Phantom Thieves were gaping at him. It was clear as day that they all recognized him.

"He fell from the sky with us…"

"He was in the Palace?!"

"Wait—last week when we were exploring the Palace…"

Ken didn't say anything. There wasn't anything to say. He had revealed his identity in the worst way possible.

So he just ran.

Chapter Text

 


Friday, July 1st, 2016


"Amada-kun, wait!" Makoto scrambled to her feet, but he was too fast, melting into the crowd all too easily.

"Are you serious?! Amada-senpai is really that guy Kaneshiro and Madarame were talkin' about?"

"No," Makoto said fiercely, whirling around to glare at Ryuji. "It's not possible, okay? Amada-kun would not be the black masked Persona-user, not with what Kaneshiro said about him."

Ryuji squinted at her, looking rather suspicious. "Why are you defending him?"

"Because there's no way that could be Amada-kun!" Makoto snapped.

"And besides, aren't you jumping the gun a bit?" Anne interrupted. "We just know that Amada-senpai can enter the Metaverse and was there when the Palace was destroyed. That doesn't mean that he's that black masked Persona-user!"

"Why the hell would he be spying on us then?!"

"Yeah, but you can't just go up to him and call him a criminal!" Anne retorted. "There has to be a good explanation. Haven't you heard about what he was like at his old school? He's like… a model student."

"That would give him the perfect cover!"

"That's enough, both of you," Yusuke snapped. "We shouldn't be arguing over this." He gestured to the people staring at them, hissing out the last part, "Especially not here."

"We… probably should help Morgana," Ren said, gesturing to Morgana laid out on the street—crushed by a golden briefcase.

After rescuing Morgana, they had decided to go where Ren was living at in order to open the briefcase, which turned out to be the attic of a coffee shop, which was called LeBlanc. The coffee shop itself was small and quaint, but something about it was very… homey.

But after Makoto opened the briefcase and they discovered that the money inside the briefcase was fake, the conversation quickly turned back to Amada-kun.

"You didn't mention him to me," Yusuke said with a frown. "I met him that one time but how do you all know him?"

"Well, Ren and I met with him once for intel on Kaneshiro…" Anne began. "He seemed nice. Smart and studious. Someone who would just keep his head down during all of this trouble, you know?"

"Trained with him at the gym," Ryuji threw in his input. "He's like… super polite, but it was fun once he loosened up." Then he frowned. "But man... it's really him?" 

"You're jumping to conclusions," Makoto snapped, irritation surging through her.

"Oh yeah, what's your argument, then?" Ryuji challenged.

"Well, for one, Amada-kun transferred to Shujin the day I…" She looked away. "…The day I confronted you all about being the Phantom Thieves."

Anne sat up. "Oh yeah, that's right! Madarame mentioned the black masked Persona-user even before Amada-senpai transferred."

And… she just couldn't believe that of Amada-kun. He was nice to her when everyone else had been hostile. He insisted on sharing his lunch with her when he found out that she hadn't brought one. There wasn't a motive for that… She hadn't even been part of the Phantom Thieves at that part. They hadn't even been friendly.

…Though there was how he asked about the Phantom Thieves… but that could've been just curiosity. Everyone talked about the Phantom Thieves these days.

"…Where is Amada-senpai even from?" Ryuji asked.

"Port Island," Yusuke said automatically.

"How the eff do you know that?"

"He mentioned it to Yusuke, when we ran into him last Sunday," Ren said. "Yusuke picked up on his accent, and asked him where he was from."

"Port Island…" Anne frowned, curling a strand of hair around her finger. "That sounds familiar for some reason."

"It's best known for being a man-made island and for being the headquarters of the Kirijo Group," Makoto explained. "Apparently he knows the CEO personally," she added, recalling what he had rattled off to those girls bombarding him with questions.

"So… we're back to square one," Morgana concluded with a sigh. "Though, I want to know how exactly he got into the Metaverse in the first place…"

"He could have gotten dragged along with us?" Yusuke offered. "Much like when Anne used the app to escape Madarame, but she brought me along for the ride." But then he looked down at the table, letting out a quiet sigh. "…Though there's also why he was present while we fought Kaneshiro."

"I think… he was helping us during the fight."

Morgana frowned, his tail swishing back and forth. "What do you mean, Ren?"

Ren lounged against his chair. "The flash of light," he stated, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

"The light…?" Realization then made Yusuke's eyes light up with understanding. "That's right… what distracted Kaneshiro!"

"And there was something else that bothered me…" Ren stated, now fiddling with a lock of his hair. "When Morgana healed Anne… it completely healed her injuries. Morgana's no slouch in healing, but his healing abilities aren't that good. So I think Amada-senpai had healed Anne just right when Morgana cast his healing spell."

That would make sense… Makoto hadn't been that close when Anne was knocked down, but she knew that the gun attack had hit Anne hard. Not to mention that Kaneshiro had tried to flatten her like a pancake. If Ren hadn't been so fast… Makoto couldn't help but shudder at the thought.

Makoto frowned. "But if he was aiding us in battle… then why did he run away?"

"Well, considering that Ryuji tried to electrocute him last time we encountered him…" Ren said dryly, shooting his best friend a rather sardonic look.

Ryuji grumbled. "I'll apologize to him, okay?"

"We'll need to confront him at school." Makoto tapped a finger against her chin. "I can clear the student council room during lunch and we can talk to him there. Not tomorrow though—we have a meeting. But Monday will probably work."

Yusuke frowned. "I wish I could be present."

"We could put you on speaker phone," Ren said lightly.

"Oh, that's a good solution. I approve."

"Dude," Ryuji said, shaking his head, "Ren was joking."

"A good idea," Morgana said, nodding firmly as he ignored the banter amongst the boys. "Be sure to get to him quickly, because I'm sure that he'll try to run away from you, Makoto."

Makoto nodded firmly. "I will."


Ken had ran all the way back to the penthouse. And all the while, he had run the options in his head.

Dammit, why didn't he just use the app to leave the Metaverse? He was so stupid!

…Mitsuru-san was going to be furious with him too. He couldn't be more obvious unless he had plastered his intentions on a billboard.

As he was alone in the elevator, Ken just let out a groan. How could he mess up this badly? If it was anyone else… they wouldn't have made the same mistake… They would have stayed calm and figured out a different route to escape.

The elevator doors slid open and Ken took the few steps it took to reach the door before unlocking it. He could hear Akihiko-san and Minako-san's familiar laughter, and it took only one glance to see Shinjiro-san was video calling with them.

"Hey, Ken-kun!" Minako-san greeted him cheerfully with a wave.

But Akihiko-san frowned, his eyes filling with concern. "…You look beat. What happened, Ken?"

"Did that Persona-user show up again?" Shinjiro-san scrutinized him closely.

"No… not that…" Ken slumped in his seat. "I… kinda… slipped up," he mumbled out. "And the Phantom Thieves saw me today…"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, back up, Ken-kun," Minako-san said sternly, holding up a hand. "What happened exactly?"

"Well…" Ken took in a deep breath. "I followed the Phantom Thieves into Kaneshiro's Palace and they fought him because he was trying to defend his Treasure-"

"-So he's a western dragon?" Akihiko-san quipped.

"Shush, Aki," Minako-san scolded impatiently, smacking her husband's shoulder lightly. "Let Ken-kun talk."

"-which is apparently the form of his distorted desires, which is what they mean in the calling card. They beat him and took the treasure and because of that, the Palace started to collapse. And how the hell was I supposed to know that the Palaces blow up?!" Ken glared down at the table. "They should really include in the job description—must be able to run like hell and because of that I—" Ken wavered when he realized that Minako-san was laughing.

"Must be able to run like hell!" Minako-san choked out, before she howled with laughter. "Good one, Ken-kun!"

"It's not that funny, Minako," Shinjiro-san deadpanned.

Akihiko-san just shrugged helplessly, even as his lips twitched into a smile. "I rather have this than Minako-san's… other mood swings."

"It looks like Amagi has possessed her."

"Shinji!" Akihiko-san exclaimed, shooting him a look.

"What?" Shinjiro-san snorted. "It's true. She laughs like a crazed hyena."

"But anyways…" Akihiko-san looked at Ken. "…What were you going to say?"

"There's not much else to say," Ken said with a shrug. "I had to climb onto their cat-bus-"

"—I still won't believe that until I see it," Shinjiro-san said dryly.

"We've seen weirder stuff, Shinji," Akihiko-san pointed out. "Like Teddie-Teddie's human form. Or some of the Shadow selves we ran into at Inaba."

"…Are you done?" Ken asked dryly.

Akihiko-san just offered him a sheepish look. "…Sorry."

Minako-san just giggled, having finally calmed down. "It takes forever to tell a story with us, huh?"

Ken just sighed, looking down at his lap. "And the Phantom Thieves escaped the Palace and… I came with them. So… they saw me."

"And what they did say?" Akihiko-san asked.

"…I don't know. I ran the moment I realized what had happened."

Shinjiro-san just groaned, rubbing his forehead. "Greaaaaat. Mitsuru's gonna flip shit…"

"You don't have to remind me…" Ken muttered with a shudder.

It was bad enough that the Phantom Thieves had seen him before… Mitsuru-san would have forgiven that, considering how fast he had gotten away from them. But this? This may warrant an execution.

"She won't," Minako-san said sternly, shaking her head firmly. "She cares more about your safety, Ken-kun. I know that Mitsuru would rather you compromise your identity than let yourself remain in the Palace. She'll be glad that you're more or less okay." Her eyes softened. "I'm glad that you're okay. So… don't be so hard on yourself, okay?"

"Okay," Ken grumbled. "I still don't know what to say… because I really doubt that the Phantom Thieves will just brush this aside."

"Hmm…" Minako-san tapped her chin. "Well… I'd say stick to the truth as much as possible."

"Yeah, that'll go well," Shinjiro-san deadpanned. "'I moved here just so I can spy on you because my upperclassman thinks that you could go AWOL and abuse your powers. Nothing personal, though'."

Minako-san glared at him. "Haha, you're hilarious, Shinji," she said flatly. "I meant use half-truths. Like… that you're a Persona-user, you got sucked into the Metaverse once because you were around when they used the app—that kind of idea."

"And maybe something about you being curious how they operated?" Akihiko-san suggested. "I mean, they're the talk of the nation… I mean," he quirked an eyebrow at Ken, "weren't you, before you moved to Tokyo?"

…Wait. Did they know…?

Minako-san nudged him in the side. "You're pretty good at this cover story," she teased. "You sure you really should be a cop?"

"That's only because I had to make up some stories to get that guy out of trouble." Akihiko-san pointed at Shinjiro-san.

"Me?" Shinjiro-san scowled at him. "That's real rich, coming from you, Aki. You were always beating up boys for picking on Miki!"

"Yeah, but how about the time you tried to bring in that stray cat?" he retorted. "About why it took so long to drag you to the barbershop?"

"Why was that?" Ken wanted to know.

Akihiko-san just smirked. "He kept trying to run away and I had to chase after him."

Shinjiro-san crossed his arms over his chest, looking away with a scowl. "It wasn't even that long," he grumbled.

Minako-san and Ken just laughed. "Somehow, this doesn't surprise me," Minako-san teased lightly, before she looked at Ken. "Oh, and Ken-kun?"

"What is it?" Ken frowned.

"Get some rest tonight," Minako-san demanded. "Fuuka-chan mentioned something about you nearly falling asleep at dinner? You shouldn't be doing that, Ken-kun."

…Shinjiro-san told her, didn't he?

"Jeez, your kid will be well prepared when it comes, if you're nagging Ken like that," Shinjiro-san muttered.

Akihiko-san coughed something into his fist that sounded suspiciously close to "Hypocrite!"

Shinjiro-san narrowed his eyes dangerously at the screen. "What was that, Aki?"

Akihiko-san just blinked innocently at him. "Don't know what you're talking about, Shinji."

"Like hell you do," he retorted.

"Now, now, boys, do I have to separate you?" Minako-san teased.

"They're hundreds of kilometers apart already, Minako-san," Ken pointed out.

Minako-san scowled at him. "Don't be so technical, Ken-kun."


Monday, July 4, 2016


Ken had talked to Mitsuru-san on Saturday, and as Minako-san had predicted, she was more relieved that Ken hadn't been hurt. (She really knew them so well, didn't she?) Mitsuru-san had been intrigued about what he had reported what he had seen, even though Ken didn't have the full picture. Though Ken couldn't help but feel that he had let her down… Mitsuru-san had stressed to him so much that he was to keep himself out of sight. And what did he do? He let the Phantom Thieves clearly see him. Stupid exploding Palace…  

And he couldn't help but feel on edge throughout the school day. On Saturday, Niijima-san would sneak glances at him—but that was it, really. Call him paranoid but… he couldn't help but think that the Phantom Thieves were going to ambush him at some point.

The bell finally rang for lunch, but before Ken could even move, Niijima-san's hand shot out, wrapping around his wrist. "I apologize, Amada-kun, but I really need to talk to you," she said, all while smiling politely. "You don't mind, do you?"

…Speak of the devil. 

Ken gritted his teeth. Yes, Niijima-san, I do mind, was what he wanted to say. He wanted to come up with some excuse for why he couldn't talk to her in private but everyone was staring and whispering and had he mentioned that he hated his life right now? No? Well, he did.

"As you wish," he muttered.

Niijima-san released him long enough so that they could get up but then she took his wrist again, pulling him in the direction of the student council room.

Ugh, what did Minako-san and Akihiko-san say about his cover story again? He needed to sell this well, if he didn't want the Phantom Thieves to figure out the truth. Granted, almost nobody knew that the Shadow Operatives even existed, but they didn't exactly hide their hatred for the police.

The door sliding open pulled Ken out of his thoughts. Amamiya-san was leaning against the wall, his hands stuffed into his pockets. He straightened up when they entered the room. Sakamoto-san and Takamaki-san sat at one side of the table, both messing with their phones.

"Hey, Senpai." Amamiya-san offered him a smile, but it only made Ken even more wary.

"SPILL IT!" Sakamoto-san jumped to his feet, slamming his hands palm first onto the table. It was loud enough to make Ken flinch. "Just why were you spying on us?!"

"Ryuji," Niijima-san chided, giving him a look.

Ryuji grumbled, but let Takamaki-san pull him back into his seat.

"Why don't you sit down, Amada-kun?" Niijima-san asked. She phrased it as a request, but Ken knew better.

He slowly sat down, choosing the seat across from Takamaki-san.

"Ryuji does pose a good question though…" Amamiya-san took a step forward, his glasses glinting. "Why were you there? How long have you known about the Metaverse?"

"Two weeks," Ken said, silently grateful that was the actual truth.

"Two weeks?" Niijima-san frowned. "But… that was the same time when I…"

"It was June 19th," Ken corrected. "I was walking through Shibuya when I suddenly found myself inside an entirely different world."

"June 19th…" Takamaki-san repeated, her brow furrowed. "That was when we found Kaneshiro's Palace."

Ken showed his phone's screen to them, so they could see the glowing red eye. "The app appeared on my phone and I… kinda panicked," he said quietly. "When it asked me if I wanted to leave, I pressed yes and I was back in the real world."

Takamaki-san slowly turned to look at Ryuji, her aquamarine eyes narrowed dangerously. "Nobody will see us, huh?" she asked acidly.

"How was I supposed to know?!"

"Hey, hey, not so loud." Morgana hopped out of Amamiya-san's bag. "We'll get attention if you keep this up!"

…And a cat at school wasn't attention grabbing.

"Did… that cat just talk?" He hoped that he sounded shocked enough. But he had to put up an act…

"Excuse me, but I'm not a cat!" Morgana fired back, puffing up with anger. "I'm a noble human, trapped in this feline body!"

"Uh huh…" Ken drew out, before looking over to Amamiya-san. "…So, a therapy cat, huh?"

Morgana yowled. "Do not repeat that! It was bad enough that Ren repeated it to that bartender at Crossroads…" he grumbled.

...Bartender? Wait, was he talking about Shinjiro-san?

Amamiya-san just shrugged. "It was the best I could think of at the moment." Then he smirked that cocky smirk Joker often donned. "And hey, it worked on you. Don't fix what's not broken."

"Are you really a Persona-user?" Sakamoto-san demanded. "Ren seems to think that you helped heal Anne when we fought Kaneshiro. And you're the reason why Kaneshiro got distracted."

…Wait, he caught onto that? Amamiya-san was sharp… He really had thought he had been subtle. Well… with healing Takamaki-san. He knew that he was running a risk with his light spell.

"Did you awaken in the Metaverse then?" Niijima-san asked. "I had to confront Kaneshiro before my Persona emerged."

"No," Ken said, shaking his head. "It's… complicated, but I awakened to my Persona before I moved out here."

"There are other Persona-users around?!" Sakamoto-san blurted out, his brown eyes wide with shock. "How?!"

"How did you even gain your Persona?" Morgana quizzed.

"I… rather not get into it," Ken said, looking away. "It's a long story. A really long story."

…What else could he say? Some story about Black Mask attacking him and that caused him to awaken to his Persona? Well... he supposed in a way that had happened, but they'd probably think he was insane.

"But then why did you come back?" Niijima-san asked.

"…Curiosity," Ken said. "I couldn't stop thinking about it once I left… so I tried it one more time. And… that was when I saw you entering… the Palace, was it?"

"Yeah, that's right." Amamiya-san nodded.

"I heard you guys talking… and it made me realize you were the Phantom Thieves of Hearts. And I… I wanted to know how you did it." He then pursed his lips. "And your goal… resounded with me," Ken confessed. "A long time ago… the police wronged me as well. They accepted a lie that a powerful group manufactured to protect themselves… a lie about how my mother had died. Officially, she died because of a car accident. Nobody knew the truth… I was so angry at them… that they wouldn't punish the true culprit, that they just swallowed a convenient lie."

"Amada-kun…" Niijima-san breathed. "I… I had no idea…"

Ken just shrugged. "It's… something I don't really like to talk about," he said quietly.

As much as he loved SEES, and he wouldn't trade them for anything… Ken couldn't help but wish that his mother didn't have to die. He hated it but… his memories of her were becoming vaguer and vaguer as he grew older. Sometimes he wondered if he didn't have pictures of her… he'd eventually forget her face.

"That's… That's effed up!" Sakamoto-san slammed a hand on the table again. "They just let it go?!" He looked at Ken fiercely. "You've gotta tell me that her killer was punished!"

Ha… if only he knew… Somehow he didn't think that they would take just who Shinjiro-san was too lightly.

"Two years after my mother's death… the one responsible was shot. But… it didn't make me feel better." Ken shrugged. "But because of that… I forced myself to move on. My mother would've wanted me to live, not be hung over her death."

"That's very mature of you, Senpai," Takamaki-san complimented. "Though," she frowned, "I don't think I would be able to do that, if Kamoshida went through something similar…"

"Kamoshida was terrorizing you personally," Ren said quietly, taking a few steps forward to place a hand on her shoulder. "I don't think you can compare the situations, Anne."

"He's right, Takamaki-san," Ken said. "Besides, we've all had our own kinds of suffering… I don't think it's beneficial to argue who has suffered more."

"Dude, what did I tell ya about being so formal…" Sakamoto-san groused, shooting him a look.

Niijima-san just arched an eyebrow at him. "I don't know about you, Ryuji, but I can't help but think that you could take a page out of Amada-kun's book."

"I'm fine just the way I am!" he grumbled.

"I'm glad that you feel that way, Senpai," Ren broke in, quickly rolling his eyes (though it was more fond than anything) before gesturing to his friends, "about us. That's one of our goals… to inspire people to fight back."

"Well, it is pretty noble-"

"But dude," Sakamoto-san blurted out, "why use a spear? Are you c-"

"I am not compensating for anything," Ken cut him off, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. "I've been practicing soujutsu since I was in middle school."

That was nothing new. Junpei-san had made that kind of joke a million times. Of course, Junpei-san had been referring to his diminutive height when he was younger, but he wasn't stupid. And besides that, he was taller than Sakamoto-san.

"Ryuji!" Niijima-san scolded, a slight blush on her face. "You shouldn't joke about that."

"You can't blame me for being curious!" he grumbled.

"That was really an uncouth remark, Ryuji," Morgana added. "Though, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."

"Shuddup Morgana!"

…They really didn't get along, did they?

"That's enough, you two," Niijima-san chided, frowning at them. "Morgana, don't antagonize Ryuji so much. If you claim to be such a gentleman, then you have to be polite to everyone."

Morgana grumbled. "Fiiiine…"

"But… Senpai…" Takamaki-san said hesitantly. "You won't say anything to anyone, will you?"

Ken shook his head, offering her a small smile to reassure her. She was normally such a bubbly girl… but she looked so anxious right now, her lips pursed together and a glimmer of fear in her eyes.

"You have nothing to worry about, Takamaki-san. I won't be going to the police about this, I promise."

Just Mitsuru-san, really… But what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them.

"Okay…" All tension seemed to leave Takamaki-san. "That's a relief..."

"Duuude…" Sakamoto-san gaped at the clock. "Has lunch really almost over?!"

Takamaki-san squeaked. "A-Are you serious?"

"Relax, we still have over ten minutes," Amamiya-san said, looking rather unfazed. (Ken couldn't help but wonder if that was a Wild Card trait.)

The second-years all made their farewells, before scurrying out of the door. Niijima-san just sighed fondly, shaking her head. "Those three…"

"They seem pretty close," Ken mused.

"Well… they went through a lot in April," Niijima-san said quietly, brushing some dust from her skirt. She then looked at him hesitantly. "…Amada-kun?" She was biting her lower lip, looking guilty for some reason.

"What's the matter?" Ken frowned at her as he rose to his feet.

"It's just…" Niijima-san sighed. "I'm sorry that you had to disclose that about your mother…" she said quietly.

"Don't be," Ken was quick to reassure her. "You didn't force me to talk about my mom… And besides..." He pursed his lips together. "...I heard what happened to your father."

Niijima-san bit her lip. "Well, Kaneshiro will be rotting in jail for the rest of his life," she stated, lifting her chin. "It's nothing more than he deserves. And Dad... I like to think that he's pleased with my choice."

"I'm sure he is," Ken said quietly. "And... don't feel bad about my mom, really. I just wanted to let you know how I felt."

"…I was the same too, you know," Niijima-san said quietly. "I thought the Phantom Thieves were people to be admired… Especially with how they handled Kamoshida…"

She must feel terribly guilty about that. He didn't know the full story, but from the news coverage… Kamoshida really made Ekoda look like child's play.

"More people should stand up to those kinds of injustice…" Ken mused.

He couldn't help but wonder… if people weren't so complacent… would Minato-san even need to die? Would people have called out to Nyx? He knew that Minato-san had died happy, knowing that he had saved the world—no, that he had protected his friends—but the what ifs came to his mind from time to time…

"Amada-kun… it… it's not up to me, but…" Niijima-san looked at him carefully. "I think you wouldn't make a bad Phantom Thief."

...What?

Ken looked around, before pointing at himself. "…Me? You're referring to me?" he asked dumbly, even though he knew perfectly well that he was the only other person in the room.

"Yes, you," Niijima-san laughed gently. "You helped heal Anne and you're the one to turn the tides against Kaneshiro. And well… I was sorta impressed with you when you jumped over the railing."

Ken tried not to groan, and he felt his face warm up with embarrassment. He just remembered his instincts screaming at him to run, to get as far away as possible. And it hurt like hell when he had jumped.

"I'm going to try to forget that ever happened," he grumbled, stepping closer to the door. "Hopefully before lunch ends."

Though he doubted it, seeing that there were less than ten minutes left…

"You should call me by my first name."

Ken blinked at her, pausing at the door. "…I beg your pardon?"

"Ren, Anne, Ryuji, and Yusuke all call me Makoto," she explained, tucking her hair behind her ear. "And they should call me Senpai, as they do with you. But I told early on that I would rather them just call me Makoto. I'd… like for you to call me Makoto as well."

"Well… if that's what you really want," Ken said. "And… you can do the same for me, if you want."

While he always was polite when it came addressing people (annoyingly so, according to Minako-san), he never minded being called by his first name. Out of everyone in SEES, only Mitsuru-san and Aigis-san would address him formally. The others all just called him by his first name, although the other girls did attach a honorific to his name. The Investigation Team seemed to follow his senpai in how they addressed him, as well.

Makoto just smiled at him. "I'd like that."


Shinjiro could count a total of six puppies curled up against a black shiba inu.

The screen then jostled as Fuuka moved her laptop back to the desk.

"I'm surprised about their fur colors," Shinjiro remarked.

Most of the puppies had tan and black fur, though there was one puppy with cream fur.

Fuuka let out a hum. "Well, Koro-chan is albino. It's probably recessive genes."

Shinjiro just shrugged. "You're the scientist, not me."

God, he really needed to get moving. Aki and Minako were having their first kid, and he wouldn't be surprised if Yoshino got pregnant soon. Takeba's twins were growing like weeds. Koromaru had his own litter of puppies now. Watch Ken get a girlfriend before he got the chance to propose.

…Nah, that wouldn't happen. Ken was even more uninterested than Aki, even though he actually acknowledged the fangirls.

Minako had joked about having a better selection of engagement rings in Tokyo, but they were also more expensive. But none of the rings he had seen jumped out at him. None of them seemed to fit Fuuka. He didn't want to half-ass it either and just pick out a cheap ring. Fuuka deserved better than that.

Fuuka just giggled. "Well, biology isn't exactly my specialty," she said lightly, before looking at him curiously.

Shinjiro frowned. "…What is it?"

"It's just…" Fuuka trailed off with a sigh. "I asked for a few days off this month," she said quietly, "and I was told no. I thought it would've been nice to visit, since Ken-kun will be off for the summer soon."

Tch. Figures. Shinjiro hated Fuuka's boss. On the couple occasions that he was able to visit Fuuka during work, her boss would always give him that judgmental look. He always micromanaged everything too. But he knew that Fuuka was fortunate to have found a good job fresh out of university, even with her talent, so Shinjiro kept his mouth shut around him even when he was being a bastard to Fuuka.

"Well, there's no stopping us from going to visit Port Island," Shinjiro said. "We probably should, anyways, with Obon coming up."

And besides that, it would be nice to just go back to Port Island. And to actually sleep in his bed with Fuuka. Mitsuru had (of course) fitted his bedroom with a nice bed, but it wasn't the same. He missed the feeling of Fuuka curled up to him. Tokyo was just… so big. He didn't know how anyone could see Tokyo as home.

Fuuka raised an eyebrow. "Why not make it your birthday, then? Obon is only a couple days after that."

"Yeah, I should celebrate me getting old," Shinjiro deadpanned.

"Shinji." Fuuka shot him an exasperated look. "You're turning twenty-five. You're hardly old."

"Aki is gonna rub it in my face," he grumbled.

"Akihiko-senpai is only a month younger than you."

Shinjiro rolled his eyes. "You think he cares?"

Fuuka just shook her head. "You're impossible," she said, but her voice was warm with affection.

"Love you too," Shinjiro-san said dryly, before glancing at the clock on his laptop. Damn, it was nearly six already? He really lost track of time. "I've gotta go, though. I should start cooking dinner."

"Love you." Fuuka blew him a kiss, before smiling sweetly at him. Shinjiro felt his face warm. He didn't know what he did to deserve her, but he sure as hell wasn't complaining. "Bye Shinji."

The screen then went black as Fuuka hung up the call. Shinjiro was on his feet, pushing the chair in, just as the door leading outside opened.

"I'm home," Ken announced, shutting the door behind him.

Shinjiro turned to look at him. "…Hey. How was school today?"

Ken just threw himself onto the couch with a long suffering groan. "The Phantom Thieves confronted me today," he muttered. "Managed to come up with a cover story."

Shinjiro crossed his arms over his chest. "Then why do you look so bummed out?"

Ken rolled onto his back. "One of them suggested that I could make a decent Phantom Thief," he said flatly. "I still don't know how to take that."

Ken, a Phantom Thief? Was he serious?

Shinjiro just stared. "Please tell me you're joking."

"Yeah, because I'm known for being a jokester," Ken deadpanned as he sat up.

God, Mitsuru would actually throw a fit if they actually asked Ken that. Probably freak people out too by creating a goddamn blizzard in July.

"Did they buy the story at least?"

"I think so. I took Minako-san and Akihiko-san's suggestions and managed to come up with something…" Ken shrugged. "Maybe if I'm lucky they'll just forget about me so I can continue with keeping tabs on them."

…Somehow he really doubted that, but there was no way he was gonna say that to Ken. He was being hard enough on himself, even without Shinjiro adding anything.


Saturday, July 9th, 2016


The next few days flew by quickly. Ren had busied himself with hanging out with his friends and working jobs as a way to distract himself from the approaching deadline. He had started to hang out with Makoto now that they didn't have to worry about Kaneshiro, and it was funny to see how she reacted to certain things.

But it was a relief to see the news spam about Kaneshiro turning himself in. With his disgusting, often disturbing, comments about women, Ren was more than happy to see that man behind bars.

And to see their approval jump was nice too.

If only exams weren't so close. He hadn't done too well during the last exam…

But now they had gathered in Leblanc, enjoying the day together.

"Hey, hey, what should we do to celebrate?" Ryuji asked. "We did a buffet for Kamoshida, a hotpot party for Madarame… we should do something big!"

"Hold it," Makoto interrupted, affixing him with a stern stare. "Exams are coming up in less than a week. Have you been studying?"

…You could have heard crickets chirping, if you were in the countryside.

Makoto looked from Ryuji to Anne to Yusuke to Ren, looking unimpressed. "…Are you serious? I literally asked you this a few days ago, Ren…"

"Hey, I convinced you to take a break," Ren said with a shrug. "But I'm doing okay. Ish."

"Okay-ish isn't enough," Makoto said flatly. "You should really keep up your grades." She shook her head. "We shouldn't celebrate until exams are over. You need to focus on studying."

"Whaaaat?" Anne groaned. "But I'm no good at school, unless it's English…"

"I have a scholarship because of my art," Yusuke volunteered.

"You still need to keep up your grades," Makoto said sternly. "We can have all the fun you want afterwards." She then paused, thinking for a moment. "…Within reason."

Anne sat up. "Ooh, maybe we can catch the fireworks festival! It's the Monday after exams, so it'd be perfect!"

"Did you not hear what I said?" Makoto sighed.

"No, no, I hear you!" Anne waved her off. "Though… it'd be a biiiig help if you helped us study! You're like the top of your grade, right?"

Makoto's face flushed. "It's… It's not a big deal… But all right, I'll help you." Then she looked to Ren. "…Though, what's our next move? Regarding the Phantom Thieves."

"We'll have to show you Mementos," Ren said thoughtfully.

"Mementos…?"

"It's basically a place that acts as everyone's Palace," Morgana explained. "It's how we change the smaller scale targets' hearts."

Makoto's eyes widened. "I was wondering how you were handling those requests…"

Ryuji sighed, slumping in his seat. "But man, I bet the targets are getting tougher and tougher…"

"Naturally," Yusuke remarked. "But in turn, we are getting stronger."

Morgana then walked across the table, leaping into Ren's lap. "But hey. What are we gonna do about Amada?"

"About…?" Yusuke frowned. "I thought you had spoken to Amada-san already."

"We did," Anne said. "And he promised to not tell anyone."

"Yeah, but how can we know we can trust him to keep his promise?" Morgana argued. "We don't know anything about him!"

"Well…" Ren said slowly, "we could always ask him to join us."

Five heads whipped to stare at him.

"Hear me out," Ren said, holding up a hand. "He's experienced. He helped save our butts when we fought Kaneshiro. And you have to agree that from what you've seen… he's nice enough, isn't he? Plus he does agree for what we fight for."

Makoto chuckled. "I honestly had the same thought about Ken."

So he was Ken now, huh? Just a few days ago, Makoto was calling him Amada-kun.

"I think you're just bitter about the lie Ren fed him to explain why Ren was carrying you with him." Ryuji caught Ren's eye, quirking his eyebrow at Ren, which only made Ren snicker along with him.

"That is not true!" Morgana quickly denied. "He's suspicious!"

"Or maybe you don't like that Amada-senpai seems to be a dog person." Ren was unable to resist teasing Morgana.

"T-That is not true! And why should I care about that?!"

"Hmm… it appears you're quite eager to deny that…" Yusuke mused.

"S-Shut up!" Morgana began to sulk, so Anne just stroked him on the top of his head.

"But I dunno, Ren…" Ryuji shrugged. "I think we should hold on that a bit. I mean, Morgana sorta does have a point. Wait and get to know 'im more before considering letting him in on us, y'know?"

Ren nodded. "Fair enough."


The one named Ryuji had been talking about a fireworks festival, but that wasn't what had caught Futaba's attention.

It was this other they had apparently encountered in their… thievery. The one named Ken Amada. It probably wouldn't have caught Futaba's attention, if she hadn't tried to hack into the archives of the Shadow Operatives repeatedly over the years.

Mom had always been super vague about why she was helping them or just who exactly they were, but Futaba couldn't help but wonder if they knew something about her research. But they had good security, so all Futaba managed to dig up recently was a folder of files. It was like… a profile on a person each.

Futaba didn't really know the connection the people in the folder had. It would've been age, since most of them listed were born either in 1991 or 1992, but Ken Amada stuck out like a sore thumb. He was only a few years older than Futaba, born in 1998. Though she didn't get what exactly sees was supposed to be. Were they spies?

It was… It was the least she could do… Find her mom's research…

"Futaba…" a voice hissed. "Have you forgotten what you've done?!"

Futaba looked up fearfully to see a pair of wild, bloodshot eyes.

"You killed me! You stopped me from completing my research!"

"No…" Futaba whimpered, shaking her head hard. "It's not real…" She gripped the edge of the table. "You're not real!"

"Futaba?" There was a rapping sound on her door. "Are you okay?"

Futaba bit her lip, raising her head. "Y-Yeah, I'm okay, Sojiro!" she said shakily.

"…Are you sure?" Sojiro asked slowly. "Er… are you hungry? I made curry for you…"

Futaba's stomach growled at just the mention, but Futaba ignored it. "Maybe later."

"Okay… I'll just leave it here for you. Don't let it get cold."

She heard his footsteps fade away, and Futaba turned back to the computer screen. Maybe… it was time for her to reach out to the Phantom Thieves. Futaba bit her lip. No… She couldn't… it was just so embarrassing to reach out to them.

But Ken Amada… he may have an answer about her mom's research. Maybe… if she managed to find her mom's research, her mom would stop haunting her.

Now to find out this guy's phone number…

Chapter Text

Saturday, July 16th, 2016


It was rather sad that exams was a break for him. Fortunately, Gekkoukan prided itself on its excellent curriculum, so Ken found the exams not being so bad. But still, Ken's hand had cramped a bit because he was rushing to write during the essay portion of the exam.

And summer vacation was on the horizon. They would have one more week, and then that one assembly on the twenty-fifth, but after that… he would be free for a month.

…Well, sorta. He still had to keep tabs on the Phantom Thieves, after all.

Though checking their website, it seemed that they were focusing on targeting smaller criminals right now. Of course, Makoto might tell him if he asked, but he didn't want to broadcast that he was still following them around.

A buzzing sound broke through Ken's thoughts, and he retrieved his phone from his bag. Shinjiro-san was probably asking him to pick up something that he missed during the last grocery store trip…

Message from: Unknown User

Ken made a face. Ugh. Spam. But then he read the messages. A pit began to form in his stomach.

[Unknown User]: Ken Amada, correct?

[Unknown User]: Tell me… just what is your connection to the Shadow Operatives?

Wait. What?! Ken's hands began to tremble. How did they get that information…?

No… he had to calm down. He had to handle this rationally… Pursing his lips, Ken began to tap out a response.

[Ken]: Who is this? I don't know what you're talking about.

[Unknown User]: Heh… don't play stupid. I have my sources, you know.

[Unknown User]: I also know about that group… SEES. You're some kind of spy, huh?

[Unknown User]: And… you may call me Alibaba.

Crap… this was bad. No, that was an understatement. A major understatement. This was a disaster. Just how did they get information about SEES?

"Ken?" He felt a hand on his shoulder. "What's the matter? You suddenly got all pale…"

Ken snapped to attention, turning to see that Makoto was looking at him in concern.

"I-I'm fine…" he lied. "I guess I've been pushing myself too hard with studying and I kinda… crashed." He somehow managed to muster a weak smile that wasn't completely faked. He had to cram a bit for exams, after all. "I probably should get home… I'll see you at school next week."

"Um, okay…" Makoto still looked puzzled, but she waved goodbye at him. "See you."

Ken ran all the way back to Shibuya. He fell onto his bed with a groan. Great. Once he cleared up one thing, this had to happen.

The question was… how did this happen? There was a reason why he never corresponded with Mitsuru-san outside of the penthouse…

There was… Black Mask, but… How would he know about the Shadow Operatives? He would have to working for Shido—which Aigis-san did speculate—but Shido probably kept that information to himself…

Ken pressed his hand to his now aching temple. This was just… a pain…

He sighed, before forcing himself to sit up. He then reached for his laptop. Well, time to get this over with…


"Lady Mitsuru?" There was a light knock on the door, before it opened. Kikuno stuck her head out and she was holding Mitsuru's laptop. "Lady Mitsuru, Ken-san video called. He claims it's rather urgent that you speak to him right away."

…Well. Anything to take a break from this headache inducing paperwork. Mitsuru rose to her feet, smiling at her maid in thanks before taking the laptop from her.

Kikuno closed the door just as Mitsuru seated herself again. "Hello, Amada."

"Mitsuru-san, I…" He looked nervous. "I received a message."

"From?"

She didn't know why exactly this was relevant or why this was making Amada look so anxious.

"That's it, I just don't know!" Amada burst out, his eyes wide with panic.

Mitsuru blinked. This kind of outburst would have fit Yukari or Akihiko, but not Amada. He was quite… distraught over… something.

"I… I received a message shortly after school ended," Amada got out. "And the message asked me how I was involved with the Shadow Operatives."

…Oh. Now she understood.

"Are you sure?" Mitsuru asked with a frown. "Perhaps you misinterpreted things."

Amada shook his head firmly. "Mitsuru-san, I'm positive that's not the case," he said. He pulled out his phone. "I don't know clearly you can see this but…"

Mitsuru squinted at the screen, her eyes then widening as she read the few messages. This… This was not good.

"I didn't say anything about the Shadow Operatives!" Amada continued. "I don't know how this happened!"

"Calm down, Amada," Mitsuru said, trying not to frown at how distressed he was. Amada would probably take it as her being displeased with him. "I believe you, I promise. And… I know you're not the vocal type." She tapped her fingers against her desk, as she thought to phrase her next words. "There have been several attempts to hack into our archive," she mused. "Luckily, Yamagishi is very skilled in what she does and is able to protect our data. However, they must have slipped through the firewall and retrieved something regarding you."

"You've… You've been hacked?" Amada looked horrified.

"Mm." Mitsuru nodded. "But don't worry, Amada, I'll arrange for someone to look into this. We'll figure this out." Then she looked at him sternly. "And you are to take some leisure time today. I know from Shinjiro that today was your last exam today. You shouldn't stress yourself so much, Amada."

"I know, I know…" he grumbled, but then his expression softened. "Um… thanks, Mitsuru-san."

Mitsuru smiled at him. "Anytime, Amada. Farewell."

After Amada said his own goodbye, he cut off the connection. Mitsuru lounged against her seat, glancing at the clock for a moment. It was past 4:30… Maybe if she headed out now, she would be able to catch Yamagishi before she left for work.

After quickly organizing her paperwork, she set off. Since she needed to get there faster, Mitsuru was able to ride her motorcycle. She had an image to preserve, after all, so she couldn't ride her motorcycle as much.

The ride was shorter than Mitsuru would've liked, but she caught Yamagishi at the right time. Yamagishi looked rather tired, but she perked up as Mitsuru approached her.

"Mitsuru-senpai? What are you doing here?"

"Hello, Yamagishi." Mitsuru smiled at her in greeting. "Do you have time to talk?"

Yamagishi just blinked. "Um… sure? I was going to meet up with Junpei-kun, Akihiko-senpai, and Minako-chan for dinner, but I have some time…"

"Wonderful. But do you think we could talk at your apartment? I rather have some privacy."

"Oh, sure." She nodded.

Mitsuru took Yamagishi back to the apartment, where she was greeted by Koromaru. He then whined, rubbing against Yamagishi's leg, blinking up at her imploringly.

"You're so spoiled," Yamagishi sighed, shaking her head. "Shinji really pampered you."

Mitsuru just laughed. "He's always had a soft spot for Koromaru."

Yamagishi put on a pot of tea, feeding Koromaru and his mate while waiting for the kettle to finish boiling water. She poured two cups and they settled on the couch.

"What's this about, Mitsuru-senpai?" Yamagishi broke the silence.

Mitsuru blew on her tea, before taking a careful sip so not to scald her tongue. "I need you to go to Tokyo." Confusion clouded Yamagishi's face, so Mitsuru continued. "Amada's phone was hacked or something similar. Someone by the name of Alibaba questioned him on his involvement with the Shadow Operatives. I was hoping that you would be able to discern something."

"Are… Are you sure that's a good idea?" Yamagishi asked.

"I highly doubt that we need to worry about this being connected to Shido," Mitsuru stated. "However… I am still concerned. Not to mention, it'll set Amada's mind to order. He was rather… distressed when he called me. And besides," Mitsuru added, arching an eyebrow at her, "I thought you would have been pleased with the excuse to see Shinjiro and Amada."

"Well…" Yamagishi just gave her an embarrassed smile. "…It is nice," she admitted shyly. "So… when should I go?"

"I'll book you the next train ride available," Mitsuru said. "So… probably tomorrow… or Monday."

"Oh, but…" Yamagishi frowned, as if something occurred to her. "My work…"

Mitsuru waved a dismissive hand. "Don't worry about it. I will clear it with your superiors." Mitsuru let out a thoughtful hum. "You should probably stay for about… half a week."

"T-Three days?!" Yamagishi sputtered out, her eyes wide with shock. "What—but…"

"You deserve it, Yamagishi," Mitsuru insisted. "You should get a chance to enjoy some time with Shinjiro as well. I'll handle it, I promise."

For more reasons than one… Even though she understood Shinjiro's reasonings, she couldn't help but feel guilty. They had spent most of their relationship in a long distance relationship, after all.

Yamagishi just sighed, shaking her head. "Sometimes your influence is just scary, Senpai…" Then a soft smile formed on her face. "…But thank you. I'll do my best to figure out who had hacked Ken-kun's phone."

"Any time, Yamagishi."


Monday, July 18th, 2016


Tokyo was packed as always. Fuuka had honestly not missed how crowded Tokyo was. She personally found it… stifling.

Though as she passed, she saw several posters plastered on the walls, advertising some kind of firework festival. Maybe she could talk the boys into coming out to see it. It sounded like it could be fun.

Fuuka compared the building to the address that Mitsuru-senpai had given her. And then again.

…Okay, she could understand Shinji's misgivings about this.

But it wasn't like they could really do anything about it… Fuuka rode the elevator to the top floor, showing a deceitfully plain door in a small hallway. She knocked on the door.

"Who's at the door?" she heard Shinji say.

"I didn't invite anyone over if that's what you're asking," Ken responded.

"Probably some salesman," Shinji groused, and Fuuka couldn't help but giggle at the memory of Shinji scaring away a particularly persistent salesman. She heard his footsteps approach, and the door opened. "Look, we're not—" Then Shinji's eyes bugged out, gaping at her. "Fuuka?"

"Shinji!" Fuuka exclaimed, throwing her arms around him before standing on her tiptoes to kiss him. Shinji moved his hands to rest on her shoulders, all while leaning down so Fuuka didn't stand on her tiptoes so much.

It felt so nice… to be in his arms again…

Then Shinji suddenly pulled away, confusion swimming in his eyes. "Fuuka, it's great to see you, but why are you here?"

"Mitsuru-senpai arranged it, so that I could see if I could trace the identity of whoever hacked Ken-kun's phone," Fuuka explained, before peeking behind her boyfriend, completely expecting Ken to be sitting at the table or the couch. "Um… speaking of that, where is Ken-kun? I heard him talking to you before…"

"What are you talking about?" Shinji turned around, only to groan. "Where the hell did he run off to?"

"Cleaning up the magazines you left all over the living room." Ken entered her field of vision, giving Shinji a dry look. "Wouldn't want Fuuka-san to see how many you have around the house, right?" He gave Shinji a pointed look, before shrugging. "Besides, I figured it'd give you a little alone time."

"Why do you always have to be a smartass?" Shinji grumbled, before stepping aside to let Fuuka come inside.

Well… honestly, Shinji had himself to blame for that.

Fuuka just put a hand on Shinji's arm, before looking to Ken. "Ken-kun, I need to see your phone. Let's see if I can figure out just who hacked your phone."

Ken dug it out of his pocket, holding it out to Fuuka, but Shinji snatched it out of his hand. "Not so fast," he said briskly. "First things first…" He looked at her. "…Did you even eat anything yet?"

"Um…"

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Shinji rolled his eyes. "Come on, I'll whip you up something first."

"Can we cook together, then?" Fuuka asked. "I… I missed that."

"Just don't let the food burn," Ken muttered.

"What was that?" Shinji narrowed his eyes dangerously at Ken, but Ken was unfazed after four years of being raised by him.

"Oh, nothing," he said lightly, waving a hand. "Have fun, you two."

After Fuuka had eaten her fill, she set to work. It took a few hours, but Fuuka was able to get a vague idea of who exactly hacked Ken's phone.

She entered Ken's bedroom. He was sprawled on his bed, reading some book, but he looked up when Fuuka stepped inside. He marked his place before setting the book on top of his nightstand.

"Well… I think it isn't Shido," Fuuka began, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I… actually recognize the signature."

Ken frowned. "Signature?"

"All hackers have little quirks…" Fuuka explained, "if you know what to look for, you'll be able to pick up the hints to just who hacked it. But I recognize this hacker's signature… and it is the same as Medjed."

"Medjed…?" Ken repeated with a small frown. "But… I thought Medjed was that group of hackers."

Fuuka shook her head. "You weren't really in the know, with that. But Medjed was originally one person. He or she had made their appearance about… two years ago? They pulled off Robin Hood stunts, so others took on the mantle when they followed suit. They... actually helped us out once. Shido's men tried to hack into our accounts right around Mitsuru-senpai had came into contact with Shido. But... someone had counterhacked them, identifying themselves as Medjed." 

"Wow…" Ken breathed, before he frowned. "What would this Alibaba want with me? Wouldn't it make more sense to go after Mitsuru-san or Minako-san? And why ask these questions if they had helped us before?"

"I don't know," Fuuka admitted. "But I really don't think that this is connected to Shido or his network, so you don't have to worry about that."

"I see…" Ken murmured, before exhaling deeply. "I guess I freaked out about nothing after all."

Fuuka placed a hand over Ken's, gently rubbing her thumb over the top of Ken's hand. "It's nothing. You had good reasons to be worried. And besides, it gives me a good excuse to see you."

"Are you going to come up for Shinjiro-san's birthday then?"

"I… I don't know," Fuuka admitted. "I'd like to, but I don't know how much we should push things. Though Shinji was talking about coming back to Port Island last time we video called… We'll have to see, Ken-kun." Then she squeezed his hand. "Now… how about we have some fun tonight, hmm?"

"Huh?"

"I saw some advertising about a firework festival," Fuuka explained. "I thought it'd be fun. What do you say?"

Ken looked at her blankly. "I guess… but good luck convincing Shinjiro-san."

"Oh, that shouldn't be too hard to do." Fuuka shrugged. "Shinji's been dragged to festivals before by Minako-chan."

"That and you have him whipped," Ken mumbled.

"I-I do not!"


"Just a little more… and done!" Anne showed Makoto the mirror with a flourish. "What do you think?"

Makoto just smiled, admiring her reflection—showing her wearing a yukata. "You did a great job. I don't think I could have dressed up without your help, Anne."

"It's no prob!" she said cheerfully. "But come on, we've gotta get a move on. The boys are probably getting impatient."

"You mean Ryuji," Makoto quipped.

"You know him so well already," Anne laughed as they stepped out of her apartment. "Ryuji said he wanted to eat some food and play some games before the actual fireworks too."

It really was a good thing she lived in Shibuya…

While it was hard to hurry with their yukatas, they did their best. And then she tripped over a crack.

"Anne!"

"Ow…" Anne moaned, before she pushed herself up. Nothing seemed to be torn at least.

"Takamaki-san?"

Makoto helped her up, and Anne turned to see it was Amada-senpai who had called out to her. He wasn't alone either. They looked like a couple who were in their mid-twenties.

Amada-senpai frowned in concern. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine!" Anne waved a hand, before smiling sheepishly. "Guess that wasn't the most graceful move…"

"Yeah, it was kinda hard to miss that," the older man said dryly.

"Shinji, don't be rude," the older woman scolded, before digging out a handkerchief and holding it out to Anne. "You should wipe your face," she said kindly. "You have quite a bit dirt on your face."

"Is my yukata okay still?" Anne asked anxiously.

This was a gift from her parents… and she would hate for it to get ruined…

"Miraculously," Makoto reassured, before she looked curiously at the older man and woman.

"This is my guardian, Shinjiro Aragaki," Amada-senpai introduced, catching onto Makoto's silent question. "And this is his girlfriend, Fuuka Yamagishi."

"It's nice to meet you," Fuuka-san said with a warm smile. "You must be Ken-kun's classmates, right?"

She was pretty in a delicate kind of way. Her light turquoise hair was smoothed back into a single long braid. But despite her almost fragile appearance, there was an intelligence in her teal eyes that reminded her of Makoto, for some reason. She was dressed modestly, wearing a white blouse paired with a long skirt and a pair of sandals.

"We are," Makoto confirmed with a smile. "I'm in Ken's class, but Anne is a year younger than us."

"But Niijima, huh…?" Shinjiro-san turned his gaze on Makoto.

Shinjiro-san was basically the anti-thesis of his girlfriend. Fuuka-san was fair-skinned, but Shinjiro-san was pretty tan. His thick, dark brown hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, and honestly… there was something intimidating about his gaze. He was dressed rather casually, only wearing a black t-shirt and a pair of jeans. For some reason, he was carrying an umbrella.

Though… was he really Amada-senpai's guardian? He was so… young, in his mid twenties. With the way Amada-senpai had talked, it seemed like his mom died a while ago.

"Yes…?" Makoto looked taken aback by his question.

"It's nothing," he said quickly, glancing away. "Ken just mentioned that you were the student council president."

"…Oh."

Hmm… Anne couldn't help but get the feeling there was something more to that.

"Is it just the two of you?" Fuuka-san asked.

"Oh no, we were going to meet up with a couple friends before… Anne tripped," Makoto said with a wince.

"Sorry about that…" Anne said sheepishly. "Oh, but would you like to come with us, Senpai? I'm sure the boys won't mind."

"Er… well…" Ken turned to look at the older couple.

"That's a good idea actually!" Fuuka-san interjected. "You really should spend more time with people your age, Ken-kun."

"Fuuka-san!" he complained, a whine ever so slightly present in his voice, as his cheeks reddened.

Anne couldn't help but giggle. He was just… so composed most of the time. So it was kinda funny to see him get embarrassed like this.

"She's not wrong," Shinjiro-san deadpanned.

"Like you can talk, Shinjiro-san," Amada-senpai fired back. "Sometimes I wonder how you and Mitsuru-san didn't kill each other when you started to live at the dorm."

"Now, now, that's enough," Fuuka-san scolded, even though her voice remained mild. "Come on, Shinji, I think I saw a takoyaki stand. Let's get one and share!"

Without warning, she pulled on her boyfriend's arm and dragged him away—quite a feat, seeing that he towered over her.

"Well, I guess she… took the choice out of your hands…" Makoto said slowly.

"That's… fairly tame actually," Amada-senpai said with a sigh, before offering them a sheepish smile. "Uh… should we get going then?"

Anne nodded. "Yeah!"

They led him to the agreed meeting spot and Ryuji was the first to see them.

"Finally!" he grumbled. "What took you so long?!"

"Why do you have to be so impatient?!" Anne shot back.

"Hey, it was worth it, in my opinion." Ren approached them, and as per their suggestion… he wasn't wearing his glasses. He looked… really handsome without them. "You girls look beautiful," he added, but he was looking straight at Anne.

Anne quickly looked away, managing a laugh. "Haha! You're such a charmer, Ren."

"Why is Amada-san with you?" Yusuke asked.

"Oh, well…" Makoto shifted nervously. "We ran into him earlier and invited him to spend some time with us. That, and his guardian kinda left him to his own devices, so…"

…Whups. She never gave back Fuuka-san her handkerchief…

"That's not a problem to me," Ren said with a smile. "So… what do you wanna do first?"

"FOOD!" Ryuji exclaimed. "Come on, man, I'm starving!"

Nobody objected, so they went to hunt for the food stalls. Anne wasn't super hungry but… festival food. It was just the best.

"There's so much food!" Morgana gasped, only for his ears to press against his skull. "And… And I can't eat any of it," he grumbled out. 

Yusuke looked mournfully at the okonomiyaki stand. "Alas, if only I had more than a hundred yen…"

"You… what?" Amada-senpai looked startled. "You only have a hundred yen on you?!"

"Well, I did have to pay for the train ticket…"

"Uh… never mind…" Amada-senpai grabbed his arm. "Come on, I'll pay."

"Oh, that's not necessary, Amada-san…" Yusuke began.

"I'm making it necessary," came the retort. "Seriously, you have to take care of yourself…" He then suddenly blinked. "…Good grief, I'm really turning into Shinjiro-san…" he muttered.

Anne just giggled before happily taking a bite of her cotton candy. Mmm… it was so good.

"God, how can you eat that crap?" Ryuji asked. "It's literally just sugar on a stick."

Anne stuck her tongue at him. "So? It tastes good." She pointedly took another bite.

"Ryuji does have a point, Anne," Makoto said. "Every time I see you eating, you're eating some kind of sweet. It can't be healthy."

Anne pouted. "I'm at a healthy weight! I should know—I'm weighed a lot at my job."

"Some people just have a lot of metabolism," Ren said. "I guess Anne is just one of them. Though…" he nudged her in the side, "maybe I could help by eating some of it?"

Anne rolled her eyes at him. "Sheesh, you don't have to ask me like that." She held out the stick to him and Ren gratefully took a bite. His tongue darted out to lick the stray strands on his lips. "Mm… it's really sweet."

"What's really sweet?" Amada-senpai and Yusuke had returned, Yusuke happily eating an okonomiyaki.

"That sugar on a stick Anne's been chomping on," Ryuji snorted.

"Just how many calories is in that?" Makoto wondered, her eyes on the cotton candy. "Maybe the vendor will have a nutrition menu…"

"Makoto, not again!" Anne laughed.

"What do you mean, again?" Amada-senpai asked, looking confused.

"I took her to get crepes once," Anne explained. "She kept pestering the crepe shop for the nutrition menu and got all offended when they couldn't offer her one."

"It's protocol to have one!" Makoto protested, as her cheeks reddened in embarrassment.

Amada-senpai shot her an amused glance. "I never thought you'd be someone like that."

"Is it so wrong to be concerned about my health?" Makoto grumbled. "Besides, you were the one pestering me to not skip lunch the day we met."

"There's a difference from telling you to eat when you're obviously drained to you demanding the nutrition values of a crepe."

"You… You…" Makoto huffed. "…Shut up."

"Amada-san does have a good point, though," Yusuke said.

"Guess it's pick on Makoto day," Ryuji snickered.

"We have to give you a break every now and then, Ryuji," Morgana quipped.

"Aw, shuddup!"


After they finished eating, they went to scope out the games. They were missing some of the typical games, like the water balloons and the goldfish scooping game, but they had most of them.

"Hey, check out the masks!" Ryuji exclaimed.

"Hmm… the quality is horrible," Yusuke decided. "Mine is far superior."

"Kitagawa-san, that's rude," Amada-senpai whispered to him, before shooting an apologetic glance at the vendor.

"They have so many different ones though," Ren noted. "Guess that fits us in a way, huh?"

Morgana then stuck his head out of Ren's bag. "…Hey, where did Makoto go?"

Anne looked around, scanning for Makoto's yukata. "Oh, I see her!" She pointed at the shooting game booth.

And she was looking at…

"Got your eye on the Bunchimaru plushie?" Ren teased as they approached.

"Dude, you like Bunchimaru?" Ryuji asked incredulously.

"S-So, what if I do?!" Makoto stammered out, her face turning red. "Maybe I was just testing my shooting skills a-and this is a notoriously difficult game-"

"I'll give it a shot."

Anne stared at Amada-senpai calmly sliding a five hundred yen coin across the table.

"You sure you just want one try?" the vendor asked. "Another five hundred and you'll get two more."

"I'll be fine," Amada-senpai dismissed, picking up the rifle. He then narrowed his eyes, before firing. The bullet shot out, knocking down the huge Bunchimaru plushie with no effort.

"Damn, he's a good shot," Ryuji muttered to Ren. "I never would've pegged him for that."

"My idea isn't so bad, huh?" Ren whispered back.

"You shouldn't discuss this when he's right there," Morgana scolded, though he looked rather uneasy.

The vendor grumbled to himself, before fetching the toy and handing Amada-senpai his prize.

"Marvelous!" Yusuke crowed, somehow having whipped out his sketchpad from… somewhere. He held it up, showing a quick sketch of Amada-senpai firing the rifle. "That determination… that focus! It'll be a wonderful drawing!"

"Uh…" Amada-senpai blinked at him, looking rather bewildered even as he handed the plushie to Makoto. "…Thanks?"

"You get used to Yusuke after a while," Ren chuckled, patting the older boy's shoulder.

"Though I'm surprised you're such a good marksman," Morgana said.

"Well… I was taught by a friend. She likes shooting games and she gave me a few tips."

"T-Thank you, Ken," Makoto said, before squeezing the toy tightly to her chest. "It's so soft…"

Ren glanced up at the darkening sky. "…Hey, we probably should try and get good spots. I think it's almost time for it to start."

So they headed off, but they had barely got to see any fireworks before the downpour ruined it. They quickly scrambled to find a place to find a shelter, but of course, everyone else had the same idea. Anne was wringing out her yukata, when she suddenly felt eyes on her.

Ren, Ryuji, and Yusuke were all playing the innocent, but she wasn't fooled.

"Jeez…" Anne sighed, rolling her eyes. "I guess I should be glad that someone wasn't trying to get a look."

"Honestly…" Makoto sighed as well, shaking her head.

Amada-senpai opened his mouth to say something, only to do a double take. "Haru-san?"

A petite girl—though not as small as Fuuka-san—turned at his voice. "Oh, Amada-kun!" She waved at him, before stepping closer to them and shutting her umbrella. "I didn't know you were going to the festival."

"It was… a last minute thing," he admitted. "Are you with your family?"

"Well, my father couldn't make it, so I just went on my own…" the girl admitted. "But um… who are your friends?"

"Oh, well, most of them go to Shujin actually…"

They quickly introduced themselves, and she, in turn, introduced herself as Haru. She was rather polite, but in the demure kind of way? Though the fact that she wouldn't give her surname struck Anne as rather odd. But hey, it took all kinds of people, right?

But then her phone rang. She pulled it out from the small bag she carried. "Hello, Father."

Though she couldn't quite make out what he was saying… the voice sounded angry for some reason.

"F-Father, I was just speaking to some schoolmates…" she protested weakly. Then she paused to hear what he had to say, and then she sighed. "Yes, Father…" Her voice was barely audible. "Thank Sugimura-san for me…"

…What? Either her father was extremely strict or…

No… she was jumping to conclusions. Besides, Haru was essentially a stranger, even if they did go to school together…

"I… I have to go," Haru said quietly. "My father thinks it's best I get out of the rain."

"Hold on a minute!" Ryuji burst out. "Just what the hell did your old man say to you!?"

"Ryuji," Yusuke said quietly, "you shouldn't-"

"Like hell I don't!" he retorted. "Listen, if your dad is being a shitty asshole to you, you should really report him to the Phan-site. Maybe they could change his heart."

"Ryuji-" Makoto began sternly, but Haru interrupted.

"It's okay. I know that he means well, Niijima-san." Haru bowed at Ryuji. "I appreciate your concern, Sakamoto-kun. Thank you."

She then walked off, entering the black car that pulled up to the curb for several minutes.

"Seriously, what the hell?!" Ryuji snapped. "Her old man seemed awful from that one conversation! Oi, Senpai, you know her last name? Maybe we can find something!"

Amada-senpai just shrugged. "Your guess is just good as mine," he said. "She only gave me her first name."

"Holy shit what if her dad is mafia too-"

"Ryuji, don't jump conclusions," Yusuke said sternly. "You have such a hyperactive imagination…"

"Well, I have to admit that Ryuji's right," Morgana piped up. "It's a bit worrying…"

"Ken!" Shinjiro-san and Fuuka-san came into view, both protected by the rain with the umbrella Shinjiro-san carried.

"Oh, you're soaked!" Fuuka-san immediately began to fuss over Amada-senpai, standing on her toes to run her fingers through his dripping hair.

"Fuuka-san, stop fussing," Amada-senpai sighed. "It's just a little water."

"Yeah, but that 'little water' can get you sick," Shinjiro-san deadpanned. "Here, you and Fuuka share the umbrella. Good thing our place isn't that far."

"Actually…" Amada-senpai began, before he glanced at everyone else, "I was thinking… maybe we could let them take shelter for a little bit? Until the rain dies down."

"Well, in that case, you should share the umbrella with someone else," Fuuka-san said. "You are all so soaked…"

"Mm… in that case…" Amada-senpai looked at Makoto. "Do you want to share the umbrella with me, Makoto?"

Shinjiro-san glanced at Amada-senpai, eyebrow raised. "…Is there something you're not telling me?"

"W-What's that supposed to mean?!" Amada-senpai demanded. "Her yukata is white. She shouldn't be getting wetter than she is already."

He just smirked, looking away. "Nothing."

"Ugh, forget it," Amada-senpai huffed, before handing the umbrella to Makoto. "You share with Takamaki-san. I'm going on ahead."

"H-Hey, wait up, Ken-kun!"


"This is seriously where you live?!" Ryuji was unabashedly gaping at well—everything.

"Ryuji, don't stare," Makoto whispered, nudging him. "It's rude."

"But have you seen-"

"Ryuji, I have eyes too."

They went up in the elevator, riding up to the top. Shinjiro-san then unlocked the lone door, revealing an airy room, that seemed to blend a living room, dining room, and a kitchen all in one.

"Ken, go change out of your clothes," Shinjiro-san said absently. "You'll get sick."

Ugh… lucky. Makoto rubbed her arms, shivering a little, watching Ken disappear down the hallway. Her yukata was sticking to her skin rather uncomfortably. Fuuka-san pursed her lips together when she looked at them. "Shinji, where do you keep the towels?" she inquired.

"Cabinet right by the bathroom."

After thanking him, she went down the hallway. A few moments later, she returned, carrying a pile of neatly folded towels. "Here. We can't really offer a change of clothes, but… You should at least be able to dry yourself a little."

"We'll just have to withstand it for a while," Anne said, accepting a towel, rubbing it through her hair. "Thank you."

The others gave her their own thanks, before gratefully taking a towel. Fuuka-san smiled at Makoto when she took a towel, and unwittingly, Makoto smiled back. She couldn't explain it but… she felt a draw to the woman. Like they had some kind of connection.

"So… what do you two do as a living?" Yusuke asked.

"Hm?" Fuuka-san turned to look at Yusuke. "Oh, well…" She paused, before letting out an embarrassed laugh. "…I just realized that I never got your names."

"Oh, my name is Yusuke Kitagawa," Yusuke introduced himself with a low bow.

The boys introduced themselves as Ken returned to the living room. For some reason, he was carrying a pile of clothes. "I noticed that you guys were really soaked, so I figured that I'd lend you a change of clothes while you're here."

Though… what he was wearing… was a bit of a surprise. He was wearing a simple tee shirt and a pair of sweats. A hand towel was draped around his shoulders to catch the water droplets that occasionally dripped from his hair. They were very normal pajamas but… Ken seemed so… put together.

"Sweet!" Ryuji cheered. "Thanks, Senpai!"

"It's still so weird to hear people call Ken that," she heard Shinjiro-san murmur to his girlfriend.

"Oh, wait, not that one. That's for Kitagawa-san, since he's a bit taller than me."

"Dude, enough with the formalities!" Ryuji complained.

Shinjiro-san snorted. "You're barking up the wrong tree. One of our friends has been after Ken to drop the honorifics for ages, but he always refuses."

"Well, excuse me for wanting to be polite," Ken said dryly.

"He still uses your first name though!" Ryuji continued to complain.

"Well, not entirely," Anne commented, glancing at her. "He calls Makoto by her first name."

Fuuka-san just giggled, reaching to ruffle Ken's hair. "He's always been a polite boy. Even when he was only eleven years old."

"Fuuka-san, you know I hate that!" Ken complained, quickly darting out of her reach.

He was… pouting. It was rather adorable, with that moody frown of his. It was just… endearing.

"Aw, but you have such soft hair…"

"You do?" Anne asked. "Let me feel!"

"What did I just say?" Ken huffed, even as his cheeks turned pink. "I'm not a dog!"

"My fur is velvety soft, Lady Anne!" Morgana chimed in.

"Jeez, you brought your cat?" Shinjiro-san demanded. "Did you even feed him yet?"

"I was planning on it?" Ren offered.

"Tsk… excuses," Shinjiro-san grumbled with a click of his tongue. "Give me a sec."

He then moved to the kitchen, grumbling to himself.

"You should really get changed though," Fuuka-san said to the boys. "The bathroom is the second room down the hallways."

"Oh yeah…"

"My thanks again, Amada-san," Yusuke added.

Then Fuuka-san frowned. "Hey, Ken-kun, why did you grab so many?"

"Oh, well… I was thinking…" For some reason, Ken's face reddened a bit. "I think the girls have to be more uncomfortable since their… yukatas have to be sticking to their skin, and since you're a lot shorter than both of them, I thought…" He looked away, unable to finish the sentence.

When Makoto picked up one set of clothes, a pleasant scent drifted from it. Now that she thought about it, Ken did wear cologne. "Thank you, Ken," she said. "It was very thoughtful of you."

"Thanks, Senpai!" Anne chirped, happily picking up the other set of clothes. She saw Fuuka-san pick up a towel and begin to rub down Morgana, earning some happy purrs from the feline.

They waited for the boys to return from changing before heading for the bathroom. It was a relief to strip out of her soaked yukata and to properly dry herself. The tee shirt hung on her frame loosely, so Makoto ended up tying it at the end to fit her a little better. The sweats had a elastic band, so she just pulled on the drawstrings to fit her. The clothes were very comfortable, though. 

By the time they got back, the table was covered with food.

"Uh… what is this?" Anne blinked owlishly at the table.

"It's called food," Shinjiro-san deadpanned. "You eat it."

"Shinji, don't be rude!" Fuuka-san admonished. "Honestly, and you complain when Ken-kun sasses you." She folded her arms over her chest. "You only have yourself to blame."

"Tch," was all he had to offer as a comeback.

Ryuji leaned over to Ren, whispering, "Wow, she's got him whipped."

"Yamagishi-san uses a whip on Aragaki-san?" Yusuke frowned, looking puzzled. "Why would she do that?"

"Dude, it's an expression."

"What is it referring to, then?"

"That's enough, you three!" Anne scolded in a whisper. "Jeez, don't talk about that kind of stuff when they're in earshot!"

"Um… but we did eat a bit at the festival," Makoto said slowly, as a way to distract herself.

"Yeah, and since when do festivals offer you healthy food?" he scoffed. "…Besides, I'm guessing the fireworks festival was a way to celebrate the end of exams, yeah? But the storm ruined it."

"You're a good person, huh?" Anne noted.

Shinjiro-san looked rather taken aback. "I-It's nothing," he mumbled out. "Just… Just eat as much as you want, a'right?"

"Hey, why do you have this tiny plate?" Ryuji asked.

"It's for the cat. Morgana, right?"

Morgana bristled at being called a cat, but then he perked up as he jumped onto the table, getting a good eyeball of what exactly Shinjiro-san had prepared. "Is that shrimp tempura?!"

"Uh… he likes to eat at the table," Ren said sheepishly. "That won't be a problem, right?"

"Well, considering that our dog always gets Shinji to give him the best cuts…" Ken gave his guardian a dry look. "…Not really."

"You try and say no to that face," Shinjiro-san retorted.

"Did you all not move out here?" Makoto inquired.

Their various comments made it seem that Fuuka-san didn't normally live here…

"Oh no, I live on Port Island," Fuuka-san explained. "I'm just visiting for a few days. Shinji and Ken-kun living here is… temporary. Shouldn't be more than a year."

"So… you'll be moving back eventually?" Makoto asked hesitantly, feeling her heart sink for some reason.

"No, we'll probably stick it out here until Ken graduates," Shinjiro-san answered. "There's no reason to go through another transfer. It's just a pain in the ass."

"A long distance relationship, huh?" Anne winced. "That must suck."

"It's not so bad," Fuuka-san laughed. "We video call a lot, at least twice a week. And we did this before, actually. I studied at Tokyo U after I graduated from Gekkoukan. My major was computer science."

"Is that so?" Yusuke blinked at her. "Forgive me, Yamagishi-san, but you don't seem like the type…"

Fuuka-san giggled. "No, it's okay. I get that a lot."

"You must be really smart if you got into Tokyo U though," Makoto said in awe.

That was her first choice in university, actually. Probably for most people, but…

"What do you like to do, though?" she asked.

"Oh, a lot of just about everything," Ren said with a shrug. "And hanging out with my friends."

"Reminds me of a certain someone I know," Shinjiro-san muttered.

Hm? Someone like Ren…?

"I model," Anne piped up. "It started as a casual thing, but I realized recently that it's something I really should take more seriously!"

"One of our friends is a model, actually," Fuuka-san said. "Though you'll probably recognize her more from her acting career."

"Who is it?" Ren asked.

"Yukari Takeba." Ken casually dropped the bomb.

"Dude…" Ryuji gaped at Ken. "You know Yukari Takeba?!"

"Yes…?"

"She's so hot."

Ken wrinkled his nose. "…Can you not talk about her like that?"

"Dude, do you have eyes?!"

"She's also like an older sister to me," he deadpanned.

"Any other famous senpai you have?" Makoto raised an eyebrow at him.

He hesitated for a moment. "…No."

"Not unless you count the time Aki bodyguarded for Mitsuru for an event and he sarcastically said his credentials included him wrestling a bear," Shinjiro-san said dryly. "The media really had fun with that…"

"I don't think Minako-san is ever going to let that go…" Ken said with a sigh.

Fuuka-san began to laugh, until her eyes drifted to the living room. Then her eyes turned as wide as saucers and she hastily stood up.

"Fuuka?" Shinjiro-san looked confused as she rushed into the living room. "What's wrong?"

The TV had been playing, though the volume had been turned down so they could talk.

"To the Phantom Thieves causing an uproar in Japan: do not talk about your false justice."

W-What?

"That's… Medjed's symbol…" Makoto said slowly.

"Was that… Was that what Mishima was talking about?" Morgana breathed.

"What about Mishima?" Ryuji asked.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Shinjiro-san demanded.

"I… n-never mind, it's nothing." Ryuji ducked his head.

They watched the rest of the report with horror, as Medjed essentially challenged the Phantom Thieves, demanding that they stop. 

"…It's getting late though," Yusuke said slowly. "I believe we should go now, before the trains stop running."

"Are you sure?" Fuuka-san looked bewildered.

"Yeah, I agree with Yusuke," Ren spoke up. "We should head back. My guardian will give me hell if I'm late…"

"Anne and I live in Shibuya, so we'll just head home together," Makoto spoke up. "But thank you for the meal, Shinjiro-san. It was delicious."

"And thank you for opening your home to us," Anne said politely. "We really appreciate it."

Makoto reluctantly changed back into her still wet yukata and after Anne had finished dressing, they headed back to Anne's apartment first. It was quiet on the way back, as they couldn't find it in themselves to make small talk, and Makoto barely registered Anne's goodbye.

Medjed had… declared war on them.

Just how were they supposed to tackle this?


Thursday, July 21st, 2016


Despite Fuuka-san's reassurances that Alibaba had nothing to do with Shido, Ken couldn't help but be worried.… The messages would still occasionally trickle in.

What do you know about Wakaba Isshiki? The Shadow Operatives knew about her research about cognitive psience… I need to know! 

You know how the Phantom Thieves steal hearts, right? I need someone to be targeted. Can you do it? They don't seem willing to fulfill my little request.

Ken sighed to himself, staring at the most recent messages. Just what was Alibaba after? Wakaba Isshiki… pricked at his memory for some reason. He couldn't help but feel it was important. And cognitive psience… that sounded familiar too.

Wouldn't that be connected to the Metaverse? They talked about cognition during their jaunts in Kaneshiro's Palace…

Maybe he needed to talk to Makoto about this… Besides that, it was a bit… worrisome, with the statement Medjed had released a couple days ago…

And as if his thoughts had summoned her, Makoto had appeared in his sight… talking to some boy in a tan peacoat. She didn't look very happy to see him though.

Then he came closer… and saw just who he was. Chin length, almost shaggy brown hair, bangs curling down near his right eye… reddish brown eyes…

…Oh. Ugh. Ken tried not to grimace.

He had nothing against Goro Akechi, even though he couldn't help but wonder why exactly he was so happy to give frequent interviews instead of actually looking into the mental shutdowns, like he was supposedly doing. But it was annoying when people told you repeatedly that you look like Goro Akechi or asked if you're related to him in some way.

"I hear your sister has been going around, investigating into cognitive psience," Akechi was saying.

…What? Makoto's sister was a prodigy prosecutor… why would she be looking into that?

Makoto narrowed her eyes, noticeably stiffening. "Sis doesn't really like discussing cases with me."

"Hmm, I suppose that makes sense." He cupped his chin in his hand, in deep thought. "She probably should consulting experts, after all."

Ken pointedly cleared his throat, before smiling slightly at Makoto. "Good morning, Makoto."

"Oh, Ken!" Makoto's eyes lit up, her lips curving into a smile. "Good morning."

"Oh?" Akechi turned to look at him. "Who is this, Niijima-san? A friend?"

"Yes," Makoto said coolly, her voice clipped when she looked at Akechi. "This is Ken Amada. He's recently moved to Tokyo."

"Really…" For some reason… Ken felt uncomfortable with Akechi's eyes on him.

Why did they look familiar…?

"I could have sworn we've met before!" he laughed. "Have you been to Tokyo before you moved out here?"

"Not that I know of," Ken said with a frown. "I think you're mistaking me for someone else."

What kind of question was that?

"I must be, if you're have no recollection of me." He then pressed a hand to his mouth, stifling a chuckle. "Aside from seeing me on television, I suppose. More and more people have been asking me for interviews, after all."

…Okay, he was a bit aggravating. And a bit of a braggart. Ugh. And this was the guy they were comparing Naoto-san to?

"Are you done, Akechi-kun?" Makoto looked rather annoyed herself, with her lips pursed together as if she was stopping herself from making a comment. "Don't you have an interview to catch?"

"As a matter of fact, Niijima-san," he laughed, "I doPeople are curious what I have to say about the whole Medjed incident, with the challenge they made to the Phantom Thieves." He then shrugged, before spreading his hands. "Though, I suppose Medjed does have a point… The Phantom Thieves are making a mockery of justice, after all."

Ken narrowed his eyes. "You've made it perfectly clearly that you think that the Phantom Thieves are nothing more than criminals themselves on your various interviews," he said dryly. "You don't have to repeat it."

"Oh?" He tilted his head at Ken. "And I suppose you believe that the Phantom Thieves are better than law enforcers?"

"They get things done at least," Ken retorted. "While you've been running off giving who knows how many interviews."

Makoto's jaw dropped, and he swore he saw her eyes bug out.

"My, you're a blunt one, aren't you?" Akechi laughed again. "The Phantom Thieves are vigilantes at best. Arrogant ones, at that." Makoto noticeably stiffened at his statement.

Ken had to fight to not roll his eyes. Did he really say that? Really? He could not talk about arrogance, not with how he acted like he was the high authority. Though the public's opinions of him didn't exactly help.

"For what? Stating that they'll make their targets confess—something that they do end up doing." Ken shrugged. "They're just fulfilling their promises."

"And we're really late for school now!" Makoto suddenly interjected, grabbing his arm. "Come on, Ken, we don't wanna be late."

Without waiting for either him or Akechi to respond, Makoto proceeded to drag him away and into the train that would take them to Shujin. Once they arrived, she pulled him aside, before she smacked his shoulder.

"What were you thinking?" she scolded. "Do you want people to talk about you? You have to be socially inept to not know how popular Akechi-kun is, right now!"

"He rubbed me the wrong way," Ken muttered.

Makoto just let out an exasperated sigh, before pressing a hand to her forehead. "Honestly…" she muttered. "L-Look, I appreciate you defending the Phantom Thieves, but… you didn't have to."

"I did it because I wanted to. Besides, he was being rude to you, wasn't he?"

Makoto sighed. "It's just… in his nature," she muttered. "For as long as I've known him."

"Have you known him for long?"

Makoto's forehead wrinkled as she thought. "Not as long as you think," she said. "Akechi-kun only started becoming really popular in this last year and he was paired with my older sister for investigations. I became acquainted with him when I would bring lunch to my sister. She…" Makoto winced, "has a tendency to forget lunch when she's deep into a case."

Ah, right… Since Makoto's older sister was a prosecutor, she would need a detective partner. Though he had to wonder just how old Makoto's sister was…

But still… this was a good chance to talk to Makoto, right? It was early in the morning, so they didn't have to worry about the annoying gossips rampant in Shujin. (Seriously, why were they so obsessed with gossiping…)

"Makoto?"

"Hm?"

"There's something I want to talk to you about," Ken mumbled out before he could get cold feet. When she looked at him, questions in her eyes, he spoke again. "I… I think I have a clue for the target you've been looking into. The one Alibaba has offered you."

Makoto's eyes turned as wide as saucers. "Wait… how do you know that?"

"For some reason… Alibaba reached out to me," Ken said. "Last Saturday, to be exact, but they have been sending messages to me every now and then…"

Makoto pursed her lips together. "…What kind of messages?"

"Well… the most recent one asked me if I… I knew how to steal desires," he said softly. "They seem unsure if you'll fulfill the request."

"It's just so… vague," Makoto confessed. "So we don't know if we should." Makoto sighed. "I'll talk to Ren during school and organize a meeting with everyone… We should talk about this in private."


"Are you for real?!" Sakamoto-san was gaping at Ken. "You can't be serious, man!"

"The question is…" Kitagawa-san tapped his index finger against the table. "How did Alibaba discover all of our identities? Why would go to Amada-san first? It came as a shock when Ren received the first message, but it makes sense as he's our leader."

"Maybe Alibaba had a reason to go to Amada-senpai first…" Takamaki-san gazed at Ken, her eyes filled with curiosity. "Maybe Alibaba didn't want to reach out to us at first. Look at how they seem to be holding their cards tightly to their chest."

"I guess that makes sense," Amamiya-san mused. "People are always speculating about what we do is right or wrong…"

"What troubles me is how Alibaba was able to contact you both…" Morgana said, before sitting down, curling his tail around himself. "They must be a master hacker."

"Dude, did you not see the stunt that Alibaba pulled?" Sakamoto-san grumbled. "Alibaba hit the entire school while trying to show off to Ren his abilities."

"Though, it seems like Alibaba thinks of you an honorary Phantom Thief." Makoto looked thoughtful, before looking over to Amamiya-san. "You did bring up the idea before…"

…Wait, what? What idea?

"I did…" Amamiya-san said with a laugh, before his eyes swept over to his friends. "Well? What do you guys think?"

"Well, Amada-senpai seems like he's being dragged into things no matter what…" Takamaki-san shrugged. "I think you were right, Ren."

"I agree," Kitagawa-san pronounced.

What was going on?

"You know what I think," Makoto said with a smile.

Think about what?! Will someone tell him what exactly was going on?

Morgana sighed. "He's capable," he said grudgingly.

…Wait a minute.

"Well, he did save our asses with Kaneshiro…" Sakamoto-san grinned. "I say yeah!"

"Amada-senpai," Ren began, "will you join the Phantom Thieves?"

Chapter Text

Thursday, July 21st, 2016


In the seven years Ken has known Mitsuru-san, he could count the times he had seen her shocked on one hand. This… was one of these rare moments.

Unsurprisingly, Shinjiro-san was the one to break the silence.

"You have got to be shitting me." He stared down at Ken. "They seriously asked you to join them?"

"You think I would joke about this?" Ken returned, looking at his guardian incredulously.

Mitsuru-san suddenly looked weary, as she pressed two fingers against her temple. "Is there anything else I need to know?" she ground out.

"Ken…" Shinjiro-san began, in that dangerously quiet voice of his. "Please tell me that you're not considering actually joining them."

Ken hesitated for a moment, before he averted his eyes. "…Okay, I won't tell you."

"Amada!" Mitsuru-san exclaimed, just as Shinjiro-san growled out, "That is not funny."

Ken held up both of his hands, saying hurriedly, "I have a good reason, I promise."

Shinjiro-san scoffed. "And I was thinking that you decided to catch up and become a rebellious teenager."

"Shinjiro." Mitsuru-san frowned disapprovingly at him, before nodding at Ken. "Amada, if you will."

Ken tried not to gulp. She had that neutral tone to her voice, like when she really wanted to hide what she thought… Ken shook his head. He just had to explain his reasonings.

"Well… I was thinking about what you wanted me to do…" Ken said slowly. "And I thought it would be easier to keep track of their activity if I worked on the inside. And… I still don't know everything about them. Like… how do they clear those requests on the Phan-site. And furthermore, what is the root of the Shadow nest? The Palaces just seem to be offshoots."

And besides that, maybe if he witnessed everything they did… maybe he could convince Mitsuru-san that they had truly good intentions. From what he had seen, they truly wanted to help people suffering under people in power.

"Hmm…"

"Mitsuru, don't tell me that you actually approve!" Shinjiro-san snapped, glaring at her through the screen.

"Amada has some good points," Mitsuru-san said calmly. "Though, Amada… what did you tell them? Regarding your answer?"

"They're giving me until Sunday for an answer…" Ken said. "But… that's not everything…"

"Hm?"

"Alibaba hasn't stopped messaging me…" Ken sighed. "Their last message was asking me if knew how to steal desires but… that's not what bothered me. The message before… was asking me about cognitive psience. Is that something the Kirijo Group… researched…" Ken trailed off, noticing how all the blood drained from Mitsuru-san's face. "W-What's wrong?"

"Cognitive psience?" Mitsuru-san repeated faintly, her voice barely above a whisper. "Amada… are you positive that's what it is?"

"Did Alibaba ask you about Isshiki?" Shinjiro-san had gone completely tense as well.

"…Okay, what do I not know?" Ken grumbled.

As he pulled out of the Shadow Operatives, he was kept in the dark with a lot of things. Ken understood why, but it was a bit annoying that they didn't enlighten him about this.

Mitsuru-san exhaled deeply. "Isshiki… Wakaba Isshiki… was a former Kirijo scientist, but not long after I founded the Shadow Operatives, she sought me out. She was able to enlighten me on some of the research that Ikutsuki destroyed… I got to know her quite well…"

Mitsuru-san continued to tell him the story of Wakaba Isshiki, her continued interest in Shadows… how she was fascinated if it could alter a person's mindset… How she apparently committed suicide, claiming that she killed herself because she couldn't handle raising her young daughter Futaba alone, but not before destroying her research… But Mitsuru-san had seen past that, and crossed paths with Masayoshi Shido due to the investigation.

"W-What happened to her daughter though?" Ken asked.

He couldn't help but be shaken up… after how Mitsuru-san said that she had watched her mother die, right in front of her eyes. Nobody… should have to see that.

"That… I don't know, Amada." Mitsuru-san pursed her lips together, her eyes now downcast. "I never was able to discover that, aside from the fact that she was put with family, apparently. But…" She then sighed deeply, her eyes flickering to Ken. "I'll let you go for the night, Amada," she said quietly. "You have a lot to think about…" Then she looked to Shinjiro-san. "Good night, Shinjiro." 

Ken nodded. "Bye, Mitsuru-san."

The call then disconnected, and Ken sat in silence for several moments trying to digest the story Mitsuru-san had just told him. He was then jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of a mug being set on the table.

"Drink," Shinjiro-san ordered. "Mitsuru shouldn't have dumped the entire story on you." He dragged his hand through his hair. "Not after the shit you've seen."

Ken lifted the mug to his lips and took a careful sip so not to scald his tongue. "I'm glad she did," he said quietly, lowering the mug slightly. "It's something I need to know."

Shinjiro-san looked at him carefully, his gray eyes narrowed on him. "Why didn't you say anything more about Alibaba, Ken? I thought the messages had stopped."

"Didn't want to worry you," Ken mumbled before taking another sip, this time bigger. "You have a lot on your plate."

Sometimes… he wondered if it would have better for Shinjiro-san if he hadn't chosen to take on the burden of becoming his guardian. Shinjiro-san had already made up for accidentally killing Ken's mother ages ago, when he had protected Ken from being murdered by Takaya. But for some reason… that hadn't been enough. But Shinjiro-san had to worry about footing his bills… If he didn't… maybe he would have opened a restaurant by now… Or have enough money to propose to Fuuka-san.

He was grateful that Shinjiro-san took care of him… but he couldn't help but feel like a burden sometimes…

Shinjiro-san just sighed, before rubbing his face. "Didn't wanna worry me, huh…?" he muttered, shaking his head. "Bit too late for that…" Then he looked at Ken, his lips pressed into a thin line. "Ken… Be straight with me. Are you really thinking about joining them?"

"I… I think so." Ken took another careful sip. "You heard my reasons…"

"…Right," Shinjiro-san muttered, a dark look crossing his face.

Ken frowned at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It's nothing," he dismissed, shaking his head. He then sighed. "Look, Ken, you're not a kid anymore. I can't really tell you what to do anymore. But…"

"But…?"

"…It's nothing." Shinjiro-san looked away—much to Ken's irritation. He wanted to say something, but he wasn't for some reason… "Look, just be careful if you do say yes. This is different than just following them around."

"I know…" Ken looked down at his mug. "I'll be careful, I promise." He looked up at his guardian. "You don't have to keep repeating yourself, you know…" he said quietly.

"Uh huh…" Shinjiro-san looked and sounded utterly unconvinced. "So says the one who nearly got caught up in an explosion. And outed himself because of that."

"You know that wasn't my fault," he ground out, all while glowering at his guardian. "Seriously, who just expects the place to fall apart?!"

"So you've told me," Shinjiro-san droned, before he straightened up. "But come on, let's get dinner started."

"In a second," Ken mumbled. He was vaguely aware of Shinjiro-san acknowledging that and heading inside for the kitchen.

Somehow… the invitation had just sunk in. The Phantom Thieves really wanted him to join. It was unanimous. He just… never expected anything like to happen when he had come to Tokyo…


Saturday, July 23rd, 2016


The Phantom Thieves had kept their distance these past couple days. And he appreciated it but… Ken couldn't help but feel the pressure. Tomorrow… he would have to give them an answer.

And while the Phantom Thieves were nice enough to give him a little space, he could not say the same about his former teammates. Junpei-san especially wanted to know. Though Ken wasn't surprised that everyone had managed to find out. Shinjiro-san probably told Akihiko-san, who couldn't hide anything from Minako-san even to save his life… and Minako-san wouldn't hesitate to tell everyone else.

Though he supposed it was nice that they weren't trying to sway him against this…

But what the Phantom Thieves were up against… Medjed… this was an entirely different level. And furthermore… there was the mystery of Alibaba. Just who were they? Given that they knew about Isshiki-san and the Shadow Operatives—to a degree… was Alibaba Futaba?

The fact that they were keen on requesting a change of heart… was serious. Was Futaba being abused somehow…? Maybe her guardian was awful to her… Mitsuru-san was worried about that, too…

And… what Mitsuru-san had told him about how Futaba had seen her mother die… continued to linger in his mind. Did Futaba feel scared and alone…? He remembered feeling completely alone, that nobody really cared, when his mother died… And the fact that Isshiki-san had supposedly committed suicide over not being able to care for Futaba…

It had to be worse for Futaba.

He… wanted to help her. The Phantom Thieves were dedicated to helping people like her… and Alibaba was contacting them as well.

…He had made up his mind.

Ken reached for his phone. Amamiya-san had given him his chat ID last Thursday.

Message Sent To: Ren Amamiya

[Ken]: Hello? Amamiya-san?

Ken couldn't help but fidget during the wait. It took several minutes for him to reply.

[Ren Amamiya]: Hey, Senpai. What's up?

[Ken]: I know we agreed to talk tomorrow but… I've made my decision.

[Ken]: I want to join the Phantom Thieves.

[Ren Amamiya]: Welcome aboard, then.

[Ren Amamiya]: Hm… I guess we'll just stick to the old meeting place, then.

Ken made a face. Uh, no. If he was going to be a part of this, they couldn't risk detection.

[Ken]: Actually… I'd like to offer my place as a meeting spot. It'd be safer to hold meetings in private.

[Ren Amamiya]: I guess that'll make sense.

[Ren Amamiya]: Text me your address and I'll pass it onto everyone.

[Ken]: Of course.

Ken sent his address, and Amamiya-san wished him good night. He had officially joined the Phantom Thieves…

Though a ping alerted him being added to a group chat labelled The Phantom Thieves of Hearts.

But when he checked the chat, the latest conversation was them debating whether or not he'd join.

[Ken]: …Was my joining really that important for you to discuss like this…?

[Ryuji]: cRAP

[Anne]: ummm

[Yusuke]: You cannot blame us for being curious

[Anne]: W-We plead the fifth?

[Makoto]: …Anne, that pertains to American law, not Japanese law

[Anne]: MAKOTO SHHH

[Anne]: HE DIDN'T HAVE TO KNOW THAT

[Ren]: Senpai, what color do you want to be?

[Ren]: Red, dark blue, light blue, pink, and yellow are taken

[Ryuji]: dude

[Ryuji]: how are you taking it this so calmly?

[Ren]: Eh

[Ryuji]: DON'T "EH" ME

[Ren]: Too bad

[Ren]: I do what I want

[Ryuji]: Ugh, eff you

[Yusuke]: …Forgive us, Amada-san.

[Yusuke]: We are a rather colorful group.

[Makoto]: That's… an understatement.

[Ken]: It's okay, I'm used to arguing in group chats.

He couldn't help but some of the arguments Yukari-san and Junpei-san have had…

[Ken]: And Amamiya-san, I like orange.

[Anne]: …You know, I pegged you as someone who likes darker colors

[Ken]: …Why?

[Ryuji]: Uh, maybe because you stick to the dress code like

[Ryuji]: perfectly?

[Makoto]: That's enough, all of you.

[Makoto]: Welcome to the team, Ken

[Anne]: Yeah!

[Anne]: …wait do we still stick to Senpai?

[Anne]: I don't wanna take liberties, y'know?

[Ken]: Um… just do whatever makes you comfortable? I don't mind either way…

[Yusuke]: Though, since now you're part of the team… won't you consider being my model now?

[Ryuji]: wait what

[Ryuji]: WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY NOW?

[Anne]: DON'T SAY YES KEN

[Ken]: Er… do I want to know…?

[Ren]: Anne was a past victim, so she'd know.

[Yusuke]: Why are you making such vile postulations about me?

[Anne]: YOU WANTED TO DRAW ME IN A WAY I WAS NOT COMFORTABLE IN

[Makoto]: …Wait, what?

[Makoto]: You did what?!

…Oh. He now understood why Amamiya-san had cued him to say no.

[Yusuke]: …Yes. I apologize about that, Anne… I took too many liberties with you.

[Anne]: I forgive you, Yusuke, but do me a favor and

[Anne]: DON'T ASK ANYONE ELSE WHAT YOU ASKED ME

…Well, this was going to be interesting, to say the least…


Sunday, July 24th, 2016


"…So you're kicking me out for the rest of the day?"

"I'm sorry, Shinjiro-san," Ken said, as he dried the plate Shinjiro-san had just handed to him. "But do you want them to continue to be out in the open?"

"I guess not," he relented, before reaching for a towel and drying his hands. "Especially with you joining them… Though next time, run it by me first."

"Sorry," Ken apologized again. "I will."

Shinjiro-san just sighed, dragging a hand through his hair. "Just 'reconnaissance', huh?" he mused, before he snorted. "Should've known it wouldn't be that simple."

Ken winced, but before he could say anything, Shinjiro-san spoke again.

"Don't apologize for it, Ken. You have good intentions for it. And I meant what I told you before…" He just exhaled deeply. "Just… don't drop your guard, now that you're working with a team now."

Ken nodded. "I will."

"All right… I'll get out of your hair now then. Text me whenever you're done, so I know when I can come back."

Ken promised he would, and then he bade Shinjiro-san farewell. But not ten minutes after Shinjiro-san left, he heard a knock on the door.

"Heya, Ken!" Takamaki-san chirped, waving cheerily at him.

"Still can't get over this place…" Sakamoto-san muttered under his breath.

"Good morning," Kitagawa-san greeted. "Though, your apartment has a lot to work on, aesthetic wise."

"Yusuke, be nice." Takamaki-san turned to chastise him.

"Thanks again for offering your place," Amamiya-san said, plopping down on the larger couch. Sakamoto-san and Takamaki-san sat on either side of him. Morgana wiggled out of Amamiya-san's bag, claiming Takamaki-san's lap.

"It's no problem," Ken said, with a wave of his hand. "A better hideout was necessary."

He still couldn't get over how they used a walkway as their hideout. He would have expected that someone would have pointed out the flaws in that, especially after Makoto managed to figure out their identities.

"Though, it may be a bit inconvenient…" Makoto pursed her lips together. "The target we're looking into… we think they live in Yogen-jaya."

"Yogen-jaya?" Ken frowned. "I don't think I've heard of it."

"Well, that's 'cause it's more of a ward for people to live in, instead of businesses and things to do," Sakamoto-san interjected. "RenRen lives there, actually."

"Oh I see—" Then Ken blinked. "…RenRen?"

"A nickname he came up with the day we met." Amamiya-san nudged Sakamoto-san in the side, before he smiled mischievously. "Which just so happens to work with your name too-"

"Rejected," Ken said flatly, which only caused Takamaki-san and Sakamoto-san to crack up in laughter.

"Aw, don't you wanna be special though, Ren?" Takamaki-san teased.

"I happen to be incredible and here I thought that you were aware of that," Amamiya-san said in a faux haughty voice. He then shook his head, letting out a long suffering sigh. "I'm disappointed, Anne. Very disappointed."

Takamaki-san bumped his shoulder with hers. "God, you can be such a dork!" she giggled.

Ken leaned towards Makoto. "Are they always like this?" he murmured to her.

"Take a look at Ryuji," Makoto said with a wry smile, her eyes flickering to Sakamoto-san, who was shooting his friends annoyed looks.

"Though shouldn't we discuss weaponry for Ken?" Kitagawa-san inquired. "If I recall right, you used a spear…"

"Yeah, that's right." Ken nodded, before his gaze moved to Amamiya-san. "I assume that you're in charge of weapons, right?"

"Ren is in charge with supplies in general," Makoto explained.

"That's what I thought," Ken said. "Give me a second."

Ken slipped into the hallway that included his and Shinjiro-san's bedrooms and the bathrooms. His bedroom was the first room to the left. He opened the door, kneeling down to reach under his bed. He drew out the box that held his spear. He then went to his desk, opening one of the drawers, rummaging through his equipment.

The glint of black caught his eye first. The ring of darkness… was incredibly useful. He didn't have to worry about his weakness being exploited… But… that would only cast suspicion on him. He would have to leave it behind now… At least he could give the medicine (barring the soma)… The two traesto gems he had left… He dumped them in the drawstring bag he used to carry his supplies, slid the band over his wrist before picking up the box lying on the floor.

"Catch." Ken dropped the box onto the floor, before tossing Amamiya-san the bag.

Amamiya-san opened the bag. "Medicine? And snuff souls… what are these gems?"

"It's what I used to escape the Palace," Ken answered, undoing the clasps of the box.

"Is that a real spear?" Kitagawa-san knelt by Ken. "The craftmanship is beautiful."

"…What else would it be?" Ken said with a frown.

"You've seriously been running around the Palace with a real weapon?" Sakamoto-san demanded. "All of our weapons are imitations."

…Well, that explained the guns.

"But thanks, I really needed some more items that'll restore our energy for spell casting," Amamiya-san said. "I can brew so much coffee."

…Coffee? What was that supposed to mean?

"Don't ask," Makoto said. "You'll see… eventually."

"But anyways, we should get Ken up to speed!" Morgana hopped onto the table. "We've found some interesting information since we've last spoken."

"And what would that be?" Ken asked, taking a seat onto the smaller couch.

"Alibaba is… Futaba Sakura, the requested target," Morgana said.

…Wait, what?

"Who's Futaba?" He had to feign ignorance though, since as far as they knew, he had never heard the name Futaba before.

"Oh, sorry…" Takamaki-san said, "we think she's connected to Sojiro Sakura somehow. He's Ren's guardian."

"He reacted pretty badly when we asked… so we think that he's abusing her or something," Amamiya-san explained.

Sakamoto-san nodded. "Yeah, that's why we're gonna confront him today!"

"Hmm…" Ken stroked his chin. "Well, if you want my opinion… I think you need to corner Sakura-san with this information you gathered. Somewhere he can't run away. And… And I think I have something to add to that."

"You do…?" Makoto frowned as she sat down beside him.

"Yes… because you see, Alibaba contacted me about Wakaba Isshiki… a friend of my senpai. I asked her about it, and she told me more about Isshiki-san. She committed suicide about two years ago, and she had a young daughter… named Futaba."

"S-Suicide?" Takamaki-san repeated numbly.

"Anne…" Amamiya-san put a hand on her shoulder, his eyes filled with concern.

"That's… awful…" Kitagawa-san said. "And that is rather suspicious. We should confront Boss over this as well."

"So, it's settled!" Morgana nodded firmly. "We'll confront Boss at his house this time, not LeBlanc."

"Wait, what?!" Makoto's eyes were wide with panic, as she gaped at Morgana. "We're breaking into his house?! C-Can't we just corner him at LeBlanc again?"

"Didn't work last time, so why would it this time? Besides, I'm pretty sure that he's closing up right now," Amamiya-san said. "Morgana's right, we have to go to his house. Hopefully we'll be able to talk to Futaba too."

…Good grief. Just what has he gotten himself into?


And that wasn't all. Apparently the Treasure manifested differently in the real world, and they took the money from selling the Treasure to go treat themselves for high class sushi. For some reason, he got invited too. They claimed he was a Phantom Thief too now, and that he had contributed to defeating Kaneshiro… so it made sense for him to join in.

Though… he couldn't really complain with sushi. It was delicious as always, even though Sakamoto-san almost blew their cover… He hadn't had high quality sushi in a while. The last time was… when he graduated from middle school, he believed? Mitsuru-san had ordered it for the party, and had insisted that he deserved it since he graduated top of the class.

So they had collected the leftovers and complied it in one box. Makoto had the idea of pretending to come over to give the sushi to Sakura-san (much to Morgana's dismay).

They were heading to the train station, when a voice suddenly called out to Makoto.

"Niijima-san?"

"Akechi-kun." Makoto's voice was cordial as she greeted him. "This is a surprise. What are you doing here?"

"I was passing through…" Akechi's eyes swept through the group. "Though I have to say… you have collected quite a group of friends…"

…Yeah, he was obviously lying. Ken couldn't help but frown. Just what did he want?

"Yusuke Kitagawa, correct?" Akechi asked, his eyes flickering to Kitagawa-san. "The former pupil of Madarame, if I recall correctly."

"Yes, that's correct," Kitagawa-san murmured. "Though I'm surprised you were aware of this."

He just tilted his head, smiling politely. "Well, I'd be a rather poor detective if I didn't know that at least." He then chuckled. "Fortunately, that isn't the case."

…Ugh. He was such a braggart.

"Though you could work on your modesty," Ken muttered under his breath.

"Oh?" Akechi turned to look at him. "What was that, Amada-kun?"

"Nothing. You must have imagined things." Ken smiled politely. "Though, I hear you've been officially added to the team investigating the Phantom Thieves. I'm surprised you have time to waste talking to us."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Sakamoto-san gape at him before he whispered something to Amamiya-san. Amamiya-san quickly nudged him back. Well, it was true. He couldn't explain it but… something about Akechi rubbed him in the wrong way.

"Oh, I didn't hear about that," Takamaki-san said shakily. "About you investigating the Phantom Thieves."

"Yes, they argued quite a bit over it due to my age," Akechi said. "Though, speaking of which… you're all fans of the Phantom Thieves, wouldn't you say? Have you seen the latest message Medjed posted on their website?"

"This can't be good," Makoto sighed, pulling out her phone.

"English again…" Kitagawa-san sighed. "Anne, could you…?"

"Yeah, of course…" Takamaki-san nodded, her eyes moving back and forth to read the message.

Oh, that's right… Takamaki-san looked like she had some Caucasian blood in her, though he wasn't sure to what degree. It would make sense that she would know English better than most.

"We've warned you… and you will pay the consequences," she recited. "On August 21st, we will commit the Cleanse. If you do not surrender to us, Japan will fall. Our attack will be relentless."

"W-WHAT?!" Sakamoto-san burst out, loud enough to get the attention of some passing people. "ARE YOU FOR REAL?!"

"Ryuji!" Takamaki-san hissed. "Indoor voice!"

"We're outside," he retorted.

"I believe Anne is saying that we should not garner attention with your shouting, Ryuji," Kitagawa-san said blandly.

"Oh?" Akechi tilted his head, scrutinizing Sakamoto-san.

His gaze… was really unsettling. It was almost… calculating. Akechi was… testing them, wasn't he? He at least suspected their identities. Was he searching for solid proof then? This was bad… especially since he was officially investigating the Phantom Thieves now. He had to divert Akechi's attention somehow…

"You seem rather calm about the threat, wouldn't you say?" Ken asked. "Wouldn't this be breaking news?"

"Well, Amada-kun… it could be just a meaningless threat," Akechi said. "Though I have to say—your reactions are rather interesting. And most of you attend Shujin, don't you? The same place where Kamoshida was employed…"

"Yeah, what of it?" Sakamoto-san challenged.

"Is it not odd that your group seems to gain a new member every time the Phantom Thieves take down a new criminal?" Akechi inquired.

"So, we're not allowed to make friends?" Makoto said icily. "Is that why we're under suspicion, Akechi-kun?"

He smiled thinly. "Defensive as always, Niijima-san."

Makoto scowled at him, but Sakamoto-san beat her to the punch. "What do you want, Akechi?" he demanded. "I know you didn't come over here for no reason."

"I was just curious… especially since Niijima-san has always had trouble befriending people. And now you welcome her into your group? It's a bit suspicious, wouldn't you say?"

"Yeah, haven't you heard? Ryuji's a Phantom Thief," Amamiya announced blithely, out of the blue.

…What.

"Say what?!" Sakamoto-san gaped at him. "What the hell, dude?!"

"Ren, just what are you…?" Kitagawa-san's eyes were as wide as saucers.

"Yep." Amamiya-san nodded, breezing past Kitagawa-san's question without batting an eye. "He'd be the perfect Phantom Thief, wouldn't you say, Akechi?"

…Oh. So that was Amamiya-san's ploy. It was actually rather clever.

Akechi just laughed. "You always manage to surprise me, Amamiya-kun." He quirked an eyebrow. "I suppose you'll continue to do so."

"I try," Amamiya-san said with a casual shrug, all while a smirk tugged at his lips.

"Though, I must get going. I am needed at the station."

It was silent for several moments.

"…You know, I'm surprised that you have taken a disliking to Akechi, Ken," Kitagawa-san said after a moment.

"Why wouldn't I?" Ken scoffed. "He's aggravating. I prefer the original Detective Prince."

"Wait, there's an original?" Sakamoto-san asked.

"Well, he's called the second coming of the Detective Prince," Takamaki-san pointed out. "I've heard the original was seriously a prodigy."

"Yes, Naoto Shirogane," Makoto answered. "She's the fifth Shirogane to become a detective. And Anne's right, Shirogane-san became a detective when she was thirteen or fourteen. I believe their family have been detectives for nearly two hundred years. She helped solve the Hanged Man case that took place in Inaba."

"Wait, the original was a girl?" Sakamoto-san asked, his eyes wide with shock. "Why is she a 'Prince' then?"

"I heard it was because she didn't want to be treated differently," Amamiya-san said. "So she pretended to be a boy. She made a pretty convincing boy. I remember the press freaking out when she came out as a girl."

"The criminal justice community is not… kind to women," Makoto said with a grimace. "So she had a good reason to masquerade as male. My sister… has had a hard time being taken seriously as a female prosecutor."

"Though, Ren," Kitagawa-san began, shooting Amamiya-san a stern look, "was what you said to Akechi really necessary?"

"Hey, it kinda worked." He shrugged, spreading out his hands. "I needed to do something to get Akechi to stop his little interrogation."

"And this is why you need to be more careful," Ken said flatly. "I personally think he's suspicious of all of you…"

Though… he had to wonder… why did Akechi even alert them to Medjed's announcement? What was his motive…?


Yogen-jaya was a tiny ward, mainly for residential homes from the looks of it. Though Ken had noticed there were a few small businesses. Amamiya-san had led them down an alley, stopping at the last house.

But Amamiya-san was now fiddling with the door lock with this lockpick he was carrying in his bag for some reason. Morgana was sitting on the door step, sulking at the loss of his sushi. Ken couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for him, honestly…

"Jeez, it looks it's gonna rain again," Sakamoto-san grumbled, glancing up at the darkening sky. "Looks like we may get a thunderstorm tonight."

"A-Are you serious?" Makoto said.

"Do you have astraphobia, Makoto?" Kitagawa-san inquired.

Makoto glowered at him. "No. I just don't want to get soaked again."

…Someone was being defensive.

"I think we all just lucked out, not getting sick from the fireworks festival," Takamaki-san sighed.

"Annnd here we go!" Amamiya-san pronounced, grinning proudly as he tossed away his lockpick. It landed in one of the bushes.

"What are you doing?" Ken frowned.

"Eh, I'll just make another." Amamiya-san waved him off. "I'm due to a tool crafting session soon anyways."

…What. Tool crafting…?

They entered the house, which was cloaked in darkness. Ken couldn't help but shudder. He wasn't… fond of the dark, even before he had awakened to his Persona. He couldn't sleep in absolute darkness. It was nothing crippling but… he'd rather avoid it if possible.

"Can someone find the lights?" Makoto asked, her voice unusually unsteady.

"Hang on a sec…" Sakamoto-san's voice sounded far away. "Think I've found it." He then groaned, grumbling under his breath. "I think… the lights are busted."

"Of course they are," Ken said dryly, only to pause when he saw Makoto in the dim lighting. Ken had to squint a bit to make out her features, but he could see that she had become deathly pale. "…Makoto? What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" she repeated. "Of course not! I'm fine!" Her voice was uncharacteristically high-pitched, which didn't exactly help to sell her performance. "Perfect, in fact!"

Ken stared at her blankly.

Makoto's shoulders slumped. "I may… not do so well in the dark," she admitted in a small voice.

Oh, well… he could sympathize with that. Though Makoto looked far more… affected than he was. But… what could he do to help her?

"Er… if you want… you could hold onto my arm?" he said lamely. "Only if you want to, though," he added hastily.

Didn't want her to think that he was hitting on her or anything weird…

Makoto blinked at him, before she slowly took his arm. "Um… thanks, Ken," she murmured, but he could hear the smile in her voice.

"A-" Ken stopped short, before correcting himself. "N-No problem."

Ugh, why was he so… awkward? Was it because this was a classic "subtle" move guys pulled on girls all the time? Whatever… he had to focus.

"Ren, are you positive you have the right place?" Kitagawa-san was asking. "Boss doesn't appear to be here…"

"The plaque read Sakura though," Takamaki-san pointed out. "I don't think there are many Sakura families here, let alone in Yogen-jaya."

"Hey, Futaba, you here?!" Sakamoto-san called out. "We just wanna talk!"

"Sakamoto-san-" Ken began.

"Dude."

Fighting the urge to roll his eyes, he corrected himself. "Ryuji-san, I don't think that's a good idea."

"Yeah, we probably should investigate the rooms separately…" Takamaki-san said. "Like half of us could take the rooms down here, while the other half take upstairs-"

They all froze as the familiar sound of wood creaking began to echo throughout the house. Someone was definitely here…

"W-What was that?" Makoto squeaked out, gripping his arm tightly. Ken couldn't help but wince as her fingernails dug into his arm.

"U-Um, actually…" Takamaki-san said shakily, "I-I'll check the back porch!"

"Wuss," Sakamoto-san scoffed. "I didn't know you were a scaredy-cat."

"Gr…" Takamaki-san growled, imitating her Metaverse codename. "Shut up, Ryuji!"

"Ryuji, don't pick on Anne," Amamiya-san sighed. "And Anne, calm down, okay? This isn't a horror movie… You could always do what Makoto is doing." It was hard to not hear the smirk in his voice.

"Don't tease me like that, Ren!" she huffed.

"Dude, seriously?" Sakamoto-san whined.

"Horror has such a horrible aesthetic anyways," Kitagawa-san said absently. "So much gore and they usually have horrible special effects."

The girls were rather freaked out, though. Takamaki-san looked ready to bolt, and there was how Makoto clung to his arm like it was like a lifeline. Though he supposed the thunder rumbling in the background didn't exactly help. Ken knew better than to comment on it, though. The girls would just get mad at him, and knowing that Makoto had a secretly volatile temper… it would be best to just keep his mouth shut on that subject. Especially since he would be in the perfect position to be smacked.

Ken's gaze fell onto the very wooden flight of stairs. He could see a small figure, cloaked in darkness, slowly descending the stairs.

…Oh. So that was the source.

"Hm?" Kitagawa-san turned his head. "Do you see something?"

"On the stairs," Ken said.

"D-Don't point it out!" Makoto all but whined out. "C-Can we just go?" She was all but hyperventilating. "Boss isn't here and we're trespassing and… and… Let's just go, okay?!"

Ken could feel a pair of eyes boring into him. (He was very familiar with the sensation, sadly.) Makoto must have felt it too because he felt her stiffen. She slowly turned.

And in that moment, lightning flashed, illuminating the figure. Ken could only make out long orange hair and a large pair of glasses. But Makoto didn't exactly… take it so calmly.

She shrieked loudly, the loudest sound Ken had heard her make. This only caused the girl to scream back, blasting all of their eardrums. She fled back up the stairs, but Makoto didn't seem to notice. Her fingernails dug painfully into Ken's bare skin, before she suddenly yanked him closer to her. She then buried her face against his shoulder. "I'msorryI'msorryI'msorry!" she blurted out in a rush, all while still clinging onto him.

Ken just... froze, as his face burned with embarrassment. This... This was not what he had expected. It wasn't inappropriate but... it was more... intimate than what he was used to? 

He had been hugged before, by Minako-san, Fuuka-san, and Yukari-san. But this was... different. Probably because Makoto was his age. 

Ugh, what was he thinking? Makoto was freaking out and he was more concerned about himself?! 

"M-Makoto, you need to calm down…" Ken said shakily, moving to touch her shoulder with his free hand. But this only made Makoto panic.

"Nonono, don't leave me!" she begged.

He just… wanted to comfort her… But apparently she thought he was pulling away.

"Getting cozy?" Amamiya-san asked teasingly.

"Amamiya-san," Ken said through gritted teeth, feeling a strong urge to hit the younger boy, "you are not helping."

The girl disappeared out of view, escaping down the hallway.

"Wait!" Sakamoto-san groaned. "Dammit! We were so close…"

"Do you think Futaba-chan will be okay?" Takamaki-san's voice trembled. "I hope we didn't scare her too badly…"

"Uh, what's this 'we'?" Sakamoto-san demanded. "I think she would've been fine if Makoto hadn't screamed at her!"

"Will you knock it off?" Ken hissed, his eyes flickering to Makoto. She had calmed down… for the most part though she still hadn't let go of his arm… which was starting to get numb.

"That's quite enough," Kitagawa-san admonished. "We'll just have to try again another d-"

"Futaba?!" Loud footsteps thumped against the floor, and a moment later, the door slammed open. "Futaba, are you okay?!"

"B-Boss!" Takamaki-san squeaked.

"I promise we can explain!" Kitagawa-san said hurriedly.

"Who are you?!" the newcomer demanded, groping around for a flashlight before shining the light right in their eyes. "Wait… Ren?!"

"Uh… hey, Sojiro?" Amamiya-san said weakly.

This wasn't awkward. At all.


Ken's head was spinning. Some of the information Sakura-san had offered him wasn't new to him but… the stuff he didn't know was just… overwhelming.

And the fact that Futaba was indeed Wakaba Isshiki's daughter… and that she had been suffering the whole time since her mother died…

"We were totally off the mark." Sakamoto-san shook his head. "You heard Boss… he only cares 'bout Futaba's wellbeing. There's no way that he's abusing her."

"I-I mean, that's a relief, isn't it?" Takamaki-san asked, obviously looking to look on the bright side. "Especially since Ren is under his care…" She then bit her lip. "But… poor Futaba-chan… Isn't there something we can do?"

He didn't blame her for being worried. For Futaba to have auditory and visual hallucinations… something horrible must have happened for her to be that traumatized. And he was concerned about what exactly she saw and heard…

But the question was… what had happened? And just why did Futaba think that she was responsible for her mother's death?

"Is it… possible for her to still have a Palace?" Ken said slowly. "What are the requirements to have a Palace?"

"Well, it just requires to have your desires to be heavily distorted, according to Morgana," Amamiya-san said. He then paused, his eyebrows furrowing. "…Speaking of which, where did he even go?"

"You lost him?" Kitagawa-san frowned.

"He's pretty smart," Sakamoto-san said. "And Yogen-jaya ain't that big. I'm sure that he'll find his way back here, no problem."

"But shall we test it?" Kitagawa-san inquired, already pulling out his phone. "Hm… how should we input it?"

"Let's see…" Sakamoto-san said, pulling out his phone. His voice was uncertain as he spoke again. "How 'bout… the Futaba Sakura who lives in Sojiro Sakura's house?"

"Candidate found."

"So it's a hit…" Makoto said slowly. "But the location… I think the only place would be Boss's house."

"Okay…" Sakamoto-san mumbled, before speaking into the phone. "Sojiro Sakura's house?" he said uncertainly.

"Now we just need the distortion…" Makoto mused.

"Distortion?" Ken asked.

"It's how the host views their palace as," Takamaki-san explained, brushing her pigtail behind her back. "For Kamoshida, he viewed himself as a king and our school as his castle."

"Maybe… prison?" Amamiya-san suggested.

"Candidate not found."

"Damn, of course," Sakamoto-san sighed, scrunching up his face. "I've got no other ideas…"

"We probably should speak to Futaba tomorrow," Ken said. "And probably prepare to enter the Palace…"

"Oh, that reminds me." Amamiya-san turned to Ken. "What kind of gun do you think you want to use?"

In hindsight, he should have seen this coming. But still…

"A kind of what?" Ken repeated.

"We use that to hold up Shadows," Sakamoto-san explained. "You've gotta have one!"

"They're only model guns," Makoto said hurriedly, shooting the two younger boys an exasperated look. "Don't worry. Ren just goes to an airsoft shop and buys everything there."

While he did have his Evoker… force of habit would probably have him try to shoot himself. And that would not turn out well.

"I guess… a handgun?" Ken shrugged. "I don't exactly have much knowledge on guns."

"Ren has those," Takamaki-san said. "You have to pick something else."

"Well, how was I supposed to know that?" Ken grumbled, even though he knew perfectly well that Amamiya-san used a pistol during the fights.

"Eh, it's fine." Amamiya-san waved a hand. "There are so many types of guns. What do you want him to use? A grenade launcher?"

"Okay, I guess you have a good point," she conceded with a firm nod.

"So, we're settled then?" Makoto asked. "We'll meet in front of Boss's house tomorrow morning… to talk to Futaba-chan."

"Eleven good for everyone?" Amamiya-san asked.

"Yes, I believe so…" Kitagawa-san said, closing his eyes. "I probably should bring bean sprouts to munch on the train then," he mumbled to himself.

Bean sprouts…? Yeah, Shinjiro-san would really not be happy with Kitagawa-san's eating habits. Ken made a mental note to make a lunch for Kitagawa-san. Someone had to feed him…

After that, everyone dispersed, heading for their respective homes. Well, except for Amamiya-san…

"Aren't you going to where you're staying at?" Ken asked with a frown.

Amamiya-san just offered him a wry smile. "Already at it."

"You live here?" Ken asked, unable to stop himself from staring. He then pressed a hand to his temple. "…I'm sorry if I unintentionally rubbed where I'm staying at in your face."

"Nah, it's cool." He waved Ken off with an easygoing smile. "I mean, anywhere is nicer than here… And it really was nice of you to offer shelter from the rain."

"If you say so…" Ken then paused at the door, looking at Amamiya-san. "And um, thank you for welcoming me onto the team."

Amamiya-san just grinned at him. "I'm sure you'll make a great addition." Then he paused. "Though…"

"Hm?" Ken frowned quizzically at him. "What is it?"

"You've had experience in combat, right?" he asked. "I was wondering… can you teach me anything?"

Teach him?

Ken pursed his lips together. "Well… I suppose I could teach you how to… fight in tandem?" he said tentatively. "I used to fight with a partner, so I have some experience in that. Though in return… I would like to hear more about your exploits in the past."

Amamiya-san nodded, before flashing him a grin. "You've got yourself a deal." Then he looked straight at Ken. "But you know… Ryuji is right. It wouldn't kill you to be less formal with us. We're teammates now, right?" He then wrinkled his nose. "…And besides, Amamiya-san just makes me think of my dad."

"Fair enough," Ken said. "I'll try to remember that… Ren."


Thou art I… and I am thou.

Thou hast acquired a new vow.

It shall become the wings of rebellion

that breakth thy chains of captivity.

With the birth of the Adjustment Persona,

I have obtained the winds of blessing that

shall lead to freedom and new power…


ADJUSTMENT CONFIDANT

Rank 1 (Shadow Elimination): Ken may suggest two elements when Ren targets a Shadow for analysis, if the weakness is unknown. One of these elements will be the Shadow's weakness.

Rank 3 (Fusion Raid): Two party members may perform a special co-op attack when all Shadows are all knocked down (essentially the P4G special co-op attacks)

Rank 5 (Unison Attack): Two or more party members may step in and perform a special attack, with various effects, after Ren knocks down a Shadow. (inspired by the Unison Attacks in PQ2)

Rank 7 (Co-op Attack): Chance for Ren and a party member to have a special co-op attack to knock down all Shadows, after Ren knocks down one Shadow

Personas: Ammit (level 31), Astraea (level 40), Jeanne d'Arc (level 48), Janus (level 54), Forseti (level 63), Shamash (level 72) 

Chapter Text

Monday, July 25th, 2016


"God, why couldn't they just send us a friggin' email or something," Ryuji complained, before dropping down on a seat. "That was a complete waste of time."

"Don't complain," Makoto sighed, before sitting down herself. She crossed her legs. "At least it's over now… And now we can focus on how to help Futaba…"

"Oh yeah, Morgana, where did you go last night?" Ren asked. "You had me worried…"

"Sorry, but I found it the perfect opportunity to do some snooping," Morgana said. "I discovered something important…" He took a deep breath. "Futaba was listening in on us in LeBlanc."

"How so?" Yusuke paused in eating the lunch Ken had prepared for him.

"A bug?" Ken guessed.

If they had discussed him in the aftermath of Kaneshiro's defeat… that would explain how Futaba knew about him being in Tokyo. Not that he could mention that…

"More or less," Morgana said with a nod. "She seems to be quite a technological genius."

"But… why listen in on the café?" Anne asked with a frown.

"Ren has never met her before…" Makoto mused with a tilt of her head. "Perhaps Futaba had the bug even before Ren even moved out here. Perhaps it was a way for her to keep an eye on Boss."

"Who knows?" Ryuji sighed. "She's a tough nut to crack, like Boss said."

"But either way, we will need her help…" Makoto continued, "if we are to stand up to Medjed. Her hacking abilities seem to be unparalleled, if she can so easily hack into Ren and Ken's phones."

That's true… and he thought Fuuka-san was good. Especially with how she managed to piece together the video Yukari-san's dad had made… which Ikutsuki had attempted to destroy.

Anne bit her lip. "I wonder what Futaba's Palace will be like…" she mused. "Since she's not like the other Palaces we've seen. If she has a Palace… her mindset must be a bit… warped."

"That doesn't necessarily means she's bad," Ken interjected. "Everyone has a Shadow… insecurities that they don't want to admit. I assume that people with Palaces have lost control of their Shadow, and have allowed it to rule their mindset."

Everyone else stared at him.

"Um… how do you know that?" Makoto asked.

"I… ah… studied a little bit of Jung during my spare time," Ken said, quickly averting his eyes. "You'd be surprised how much it applies to Personas and Shadows."

"She's so young though…" Anne sighed, closing her eyes. "Just what happened to her for the distortions to occur…?"

Ken bit his lip, looking down at his lap. "…She watched her mother die. I think that would be enough to traumatize anyone," he said quietly.

"…Yes." Yusuke's expression became troubled, before pursing his lips. "And… I'm concerned about the hallucinations Boss has mentioned…"

"Maybe… the shit she's been hearing and seeing… is connected to some memories that Futaba's been pushin' away?" Ryuji suggested. "I mean, Boss said she saw some creepy shit… like her mom watching her."

Anne opened her eyes, before she shuddered. "D-Do you have to put it that way?" she asked with a wince.

"Sorry, Lady Anne, but it's true," Morgana sighed. "I… I think Ryuji is right… Futaba is most likely repressing some kind of memory. The memory may have become warped due to the trauma."

"So… we have to go after her Treasure," Ren concluded. "As usual."

"So, do we have an agreement?" Anne asked, her expression now determined. "Futaba's Palace… is our next target."

They all nodded.

"Though… I'm a bit worried," Morgana said.

"Whataya mean?" Ryuji frowned.

"Well, it's just…" Morgana sighed. "The irregularity of the case. Someone asking for their heart to be stolen is not something that usually occurs. We have no idea what the Palace will be like…"

"You didn't know how the Palace set-up would be for Kaneshiro, right?" Ken asked. "Just assume that the Palace is just another obstacle you have to tackle… and be prepared for anything."

"It's not that…!" Morgana shook his head. "I just… I don't know what we'll face. This is nothing like what we faced before…"

"We still have to, Morgana," Ren said quietly, before pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Even without Medjed… Futaba has been suffering for quite some time. Especially since she's so young… We can't leave this be."

"Okay. I… I just wanted to make sure."

"But the last keyword…" Ken mused. "Just what could it be?"

"I think… we should ask Futaba herself," Yusuke said. "It should provide an important clue…"

"That sounds good to me." Ren nodded. "We should get going, then."

Then Yusuke handed him the bento box with a grateful smile. "My thanks, though. The meal was quite delicious. Not on par to Shinjiro-san's cooking, but still, very delicious."

"Yusuke!" Anne scolded. "And after he cooked for you-!"

"I called his cooking delicious." Yusuke blinked at her. "I do not understand."

"No, it's okay," Ken dismissed with a wave of his hand. "Shinjiro-san is an excellent cook. I know I'm not quite at his level."

"Still," Anne sighed, before she glanced over at him. "But it's impressive that you know how to cook… A lot of girls find that attractive in a guy."

"Ah…" Ken felt his face flush. "T-Thank you?"

"You know," Ren said casually, leaning closer to Anne, "Sojiro promised to teach me how to cook curry… You should taste test for me, Anne."

Anne giggled. "Sure, I'd love to."

"Enough chitchat," Makoto chided. "We should get to Boss's house now…"

Hmm… what to do about the bento box? It was a high probability that they would enter the Palace…

"Ken, you can just leave it here for now," Ren said. "Sojiro's house isn't too far away, so you can just swing by and pick up after we're wrapped up for the day."

"Thanks." Ken nodded with a smile, leaving it on the table they had been gathered around just a few minutes ago. Then he noticed that Ren was still seated. "Um, aren't you coming…?"

"We'll catch up in a minute," Ren said, stroking the top of Morgana's head. "Go ahead."

Hmm… Morgana looked awfully down about… something. The question was… what exactly?

But he doubted that he would get Ren to say it. It was clear as day that Morgana didn't want it broadcasted so… all he could was respect Ren's request and catch up with the others.

"A labyrinth, maybe?"

Candidate not found.

"Um…" Anne clasped her hands before her back. "Maybe oasis?"

"Another dud…" Ryuji sighed.

"How about hell?" Yusuke suggested.

…Well, that was a rather morbid suggestion.

Ken shook his head. "I don't think this will work," he sighed. "We need to talk to Futaba directly or something..."

"But… how?" Yusuke asked. "Surely, the door will be locked after last night…"

"Uh, the same way as last time?" Ren said. "We'd have to use another lockpick but…"

"I've got you covered this time." Morgana, perched on the brick wall, jumped on the opposite side. "And besides, I know where Futaba's room is. We'll be able to speak with her for sure."

"But… there's Boss…" Makoto said with a wince. Her eyes flickered to meet Ken's, before her face flushed and she quickly looked away. "He won't buy any excuse…"

"He's at work, though," Anne pointed out. "It should be fine."

"I don't think… that's what she's talking about," Ken said with a wince. "There's nothing stopping Futaba from telling him that we came into the house."

"Well, an apology is in order anyways," Ren said. "And like Yusuke said… we have to talk to Futaba if we wanna crack the code."

"…True," Ken conceded. "Well, let's just hope this will turn out well…"

Ryuji suddenly slapped his back, causing him to stumble forward a bit. "Come on, don't be such a downer! You've gotta think more positive, man!"

Ryuji… really liked to look on the positive side, didn't he? Though Ryuji did remind him a bit of Junpei-san… so he supposed it shouldn't come off as that much of a surprise.

"And she did get into contact with Ren… repeatedly…" Makoto looked thoughtful as she stroked her chin. "Hopefully, this means she'll willingly talk to him…"

"I don't see why not," Yusuke said. "Besides, Ren is a person you can easily talk to."

Ren swept a low bow. "I try," he drawled.

And just then there was a click. "And done!" Morgana said proudly.

"Hey, good timing, Morgana!" Anne said brightly. "Let's go!"

The juniors went in first, but Ken felt a tug on his sleeve. Makoto was gripping his sleeve, a light blush dusting her cheeks. "Um… can we talk really quickly?" she asked, looking rather anxious.

Ken frowned. "What's wrong?"

"I just…" She bowed her head. "I wanted to apologize for last night," she mumbled. "I behaved inappropriately… I scared Futaba and I… um…" She ducked her head. "D-Don't make me say it."

"It's okay, Makoto," Ken said, offering her a smile to reassure her. "You were just… scared. I admit it was a bit… unexpected, but you didn't do anything wrong."

"But I-"

Ken put a hand on her shoulder. "It's nothing different than you grabbing onto my arm if you were scared by a horror movie," he said. "And…" his eyes flickered to meet Makoto's, "…I'll let you in on a secret. I'm not great in the dark either."

"Y-You aren't?" Makoto's eyes were filled with disbelief. "But you seemed so… composed last night."

"It's not… as debilitating as with you," Ken admitted. "And I've had to deal with the dark a fair amount… I can handle it to a degree, but I can't sleep in complete darkness. There's nothing wrong with being afraid of the dark. It's a common fear."

"So… we're okay? Really?" Makoto's voice was hopeful.

"We're more than fine," Ken said with a smile. "But come on, we should really get g-"

"Oi, Makoto, are you getting cold feet or somethin'?!"

"Should have known someone would have picked up on it," Makoto sighed, shaking her head. "But… you're right, Ken. Come on."


The Palace was scorching hot, but… that wasn't what Ken was focused on. The keyword had been tomb…

This will be the place where I will die.

Futaba was… suicidal. She was scared and alone and… felt helpless… Ken's fingers gripped the top of the seat where Ryuji and Ren sat. Just what would be in the depths in her Palace? He doubted it'd be pretty…

"FINALLY!" Ryuji suddenly shouted, snapping Ken out of his thoughts. "That's it, isn't it?"

"A pyramid…" Makoto said slowly. "Yes, that must be it."

"And it fits the Golden Ratio… perfectly," Yusuke said dreamily. "How marvelous. I never thought a pyramid would be this stunning…"

"I'm… surprised you can tell," Ren said with a chuckle.

"Nonsense! Anyone with a good eye can tell."

…Well, considering he needed reading glasses, he was out in that regard.

They all piled out of the Morgana-bus, and a moment later, Morgana was back to his normal self. But Ken found himself staring up at the pyramid. Yusuke was right, actually. The pyramid was rather stunning. But Ken couldn't just think about why it had taken on this form.

"Are you okay?" He felt a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to see Makoto looking at him in concern.

"Just… wasn't handling the heat well," Ken lied—though it was the truth. He tolerated the cold better than the heat. "I'll be okay… Relatively."

"Joker prepares coffee to keep our energy up. I'm sure it's iced because of that," Makoto said, pressing her hand against her mouth as she studied him closely. "Oh, but if you're sweating so much, you probably are a bit dehydrated. Hmm…"

"Makoto, it's okay-"

"Hey hey, none of that!" Morgana cut in, leveling a surprisingly potent disapproving stare at Ken. "She's Queen here. You have to stick to the code names!"

…Oh. Right. He forgot that was a thing. They really took the whole Phantom Thief thing seriously.

"Oooh, we've gotta give him a code name!" Anne chimed in. "Any ideas?"

"We should probably wait to see his outfit completely," Ren mused. "It's a bit weird that we haven't transformed yet, though…"

"What triggers it then?" Ken asked.

He had immediately transformed in Kaneshiro's Palace. He thought it was automatic.

"The owner of the Palace has to view you as a threat," Morgana explained, before crossing his little arms over his chest with a frown. "But hmm… it may be troublesome if we have to fight Shadows…"

"We'll just deal with it when the time comes, then… We have our weapons, at least," Ren said. "Come on, let's go."

…Ren was the impulsive type, wasn't he?

They then entered the Palace, which was surprisingly cool. Ken had no idea why, but he wasn't going to complain.

"It feels like… air conditioning," Yusuke observed. "Why is that?"

Morgana cocked his head, before letting out a thoughtful hum. "Well, this is Futaba's Palace. And she always stays in her room, doesn't she? So her cognition is influencing the Palace."

Cognition… seriously influenced this Shadow nest. That was… interesting. It really showed that Shadow nests varied from place to place. He would have to tell Mitsuru-san this tonight.

"A bit odd… but I can't say I have any complaints."

Looking more closely at him, Ken could see that Yusuke was sweating profusely. If he recalled correctly… his weakness was fire. So it made sense that the heat would get to Yusuke more.

Ren led them up the stairs, and they leaped over a chasm, only with small pillars keeping them from falling to their deaths. They then ascended many, many stairs. Everyone was panting by the time they reached the top.

"Hey, there's someone there…" Morgana said slowly.

Futaba clad in an Egyptian style dress, an ornate gold headdress on the top of her head, stared at them with her brilliant gold eyes. No… it wasn't Futaba. It was her Shadow.

It was… unnerving how much she resembled the Investigation Team's Shadows… and his Shadow. That had been a fake but… that Shadow had hit a nerve in him. Hard. It had been… eerie how it seemed to know his insecurities at the time. But at the same time, that encounter was what caused him to… wake up. It had helped him realize that he was trying to live in the past.

"Is this really Futaba?" Ryuji asked, cocking his head.

"No, it's Futaba's Shadow," Ken corrected. "Look at her eyes."

"Yes, that's right…" Though Morgana seemed to be curious at Ken's statement. "Her eyes were purple, I think? It was hard to tell in the light."

Shadow Futaba just stared at them blankly though.

"Er… hello?" Yusuke said hesitantly. "You're the ruler of this Palace, aren't you?"

"Hey, where's the Treasure?" Ryuji stepped close to her. "You want us to steal it, don't ya?"

"Um, Skull, I don't think that's a good idea…" Makoto warned.

…She was right. Ken couldn't help but sense that something was wrong…

"But she wants us to take her treasure!" he protested, whirling to look at Makoto. "Shouldn't she lead us to it?"

He had a point but… Ken couldn't help but notice the Shadow's body language. She stood rigidly. Her eyes were impassive. Nothing in her body language implied that she was happy to see them.

"Hey, don't just stare at us!" Ryuji huffed. "Come on, just tell us!"

"Skull…" Ren began, but was cut off by Anne marching up to him and smacking his shoulder.

"Don't yell at her!" she hissed. "Don't you remember what Boss said?" She then moved closer to Futaba, holding out her hand. "I-I'm sorry, Futaba-chan… But there's nothing to be scared of, okay?" Her voice had turned warm and welcoming, but she didn't touch Futaba. Probably so not to overwhelm her.

But despite Anne's gentleness with Futaba's Shadow… she was unmoved. She just blinked at Anne.

"Won't you tell us where your most treasured possession is?" Anne continued to coax Futaba.

"Panther," Ren said quietly, "I don't think she wants to talk…"

"Indeed… This is going nowhere, unfortunately. It appears she does not wish to tell us." Yusuke then paused, pursing his lips. "Or even deign to speak to us at all."

"Let's just go," Ryuji sighed, shaking his head. "This was a bust."

"Those who plunder my tomb… why have you come here?" Her voice came out as a hiss. It was… distorted, much like the Shadow selves he had encountered in Inaba.

"Wait… you wanted us to steal your treasure though," Ren said with a frown. "Isn't that right?"

She just blinked at him, her eyes clouding over. "If you believe you can steal it… you can go ahead and try."

"That's rather defiant sounding," Morgana said with a huff. "Just you watch."

"Your actions are rather… baffling," Yusuke stated with a frown. "You wish for us to steal your Treasure… but now you're saying… not to?"

She gave a shrug. "My palace is a large fortress, meant to protect my Treasure. There is simply no way for you to steal it."

No… that wasn't it. Ken looked into her eyes. Even though she was rather bold with her words, Ken could see her trembling slightly. She was… scared. Sakura-san had mentioned how she constantly pushed people away. Was this affecting her Shadow?

Then… disembodied voices began to echo through the chamber.

Creepy child…

You killed her!

Plague!

Were these words… spoken to Futaba? From a memory? Anger quickly surged through him. They told this… to a thirteen year old girl?! What kind of monsters would do that?

"These voices…" Yusuke breathed. "Where are they coming from?"

Murderer!

Say something!

Shadow Futaba then crumpled to her knees, her dress billowing around her as she clutched her head. Anne took a step forward, only to hesitate and draw back. The look on her face was just… pure devastation. And... she looked guilty, for some reason?

But just... what the hell. Those voices… had those people spoken to her during her mother's funeral? Accusing her of such awful things? How could they say this to a young girl, who had to be devastated from losing her mother? Calling her a murderer?!

"Murderer?" Makoto repeated. "What in the world…?"

You're the one who killed her!

This is all your fault!

"How could they?" Ken said numbly. "Why would they say such awful things to her? She was… She was a child."

His own thoughts… the fact that he had felt that nobody had cared for him had driven him to feel suicidal. But this? People were directly attacking her, after being traumatized from watching her mother die with her own eyes. With this… it was no wonder that Futaba thought she deserved to die in Sakura-san's house. How long… had she suffered through this? Alone?

"Seriously… what the hell?" Ryuji choked out. "This is… This is effed up."

That was an… understatement. Ken just felt… sick to his stomach.

As the voices continued to echo throughout the Palace, Ken noticed that Shadow Futaba rose to her feet. "That's right…" she said hollowly. "I did it. I am the one who killed my mother."

Suddenly there was a screeching sound, and the whole Palace seemed to shake. Dust fell through the cracks. Anne let out a yelp, hastily stepping back.

"What was that?!" Anne gasped.

Shadow Futaba shrugged elegantly, before spreading her hands in front of her. "My mother exists here. It's a… reminder of what I have done."

"What…?" Ren frowned. "But… she's dead. How is that possible?"

Her mother... was it Futaba's cognition of her?

"I will remain here. I will do so… until I die."

"Don't give up!" Ken blurted out. "Your mother loved you… do you think she would want you to die?" He shook his head. "No… she would have wanted you to live."

Shinjiro-san's words to him, seven years ago, echoed in his mind.

You have your whole life ahead of you, Ken… don't waste it.

Futaba had to realize the same thing. He hadn't met Isshiki-san himself but… Mitsuru-san was convinced that she loved Futaba dearly. There had to be some kind of disparity.

"He's right!" Anne cried. "Your mother would have wanted you to be happy! She wouldn't want you to…!" Anne's voice broke then, biting her lip. "She would have wanted you to live a happy life. Any mother would…"

"There's no fighting it…" Shadow Futaba's voice was numb.

Then blue flames flared up around all of them, transforming their civilian clothing into their Phantom Thief attire.

"She sees us as a threat now…" Yusuke said. "What now?!"

Then a huge boulder dropped down, as Shadow Futaba disappeared.

"We run!" Ren shouted, before he grabbed Morgana and bolted.

They ran after Ren, as the boulder continued to roll after them. (Honestly, Ken was just grateful that they didn't fall flat on their faces.) They finally managed to find some cover as the boulder continued to roll down the stairs.

"God, that was too close," Ryuji moaned, leaning down and clutching his knees. "I thought the rock was gonna flatten us into pancakes…"

"Don't joke about that, Skull," Anne groaned, clutching her chest. "I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest." She then all but collapsed onto the floor.

"But… now what?" Yusuke asked. "It appears that Futaba does not want us to go further in."

Ken approached the door, sliding his hand over it. That symbol… It was probably the key to opening the door.

"I think we'll just have to do it the hard way," Ken said. "I think the symbol is how we'll unlock the door…"

"She… literally slammed the door in our faces," Yusuke sighed.

"So we'll have to explore the Palace to do so," Makoto said. "And unlock the mystery of that symbol…"

"But I think we should retreat for now," Morgana interjected. "I think this will be even rougher than Kaneshiro's Palace. We probably need time to prepare."

"Futaba-chan…" Anne bit her lip. "Will she… really be okay if we stop for the day…?"

"Futaba seems to be hanging on," Makoto said. "But we probably should aim to clear the Palace as soon as we can."

"But anyways…" Ren interjected, "we have one more thing to do." He gestured to Ken. "His code name, remember?"

Ryuji suddenly approached him, staring hard at him. Ken was a bit… unnerved by the staring. "Tuxedo Mask!" Ryuji snapped his fingers. "That's what you've been reminding me of!"

…What. N-No, that was because the outfit resembled the Gekkoukan uniform…

"Oh my god, you're right!" Anne gasped, her eyes growing wide. "He even has a domino mask!"

"Um… I think you're stretching it a bit," Makoto said slowly.

"Nuh uh!" Anne contradicted, shaking her head. "Come on, he totally looks like a gentleman thief! Kinda princely with the tuxedo get-up, if you ask me."

He really did not want to have this conversation. Ken fiddled with his gloves to try and distract himself from this conversation. Though he supposed he should be grateful that Junpei-san was nowhere near close enough to hear this. He'd never hear the end of it.

"Let's do… Tux Boy!" Ryuji suggested.

"Uh, no," Ken deadpanned. "Not in a billion years and not even if you paid me ten million yen."

"Kamen?" Yusuke suggested. "Your costume does inspire it."

Kamen… that was like Kamen Rider… Wait, what was he thinking?! Yusuke was thinking about Tuxedo Mask and… that was just embarrassing to think about.

"No."

"Jeez, you're a picky one," Morgana complained.

"I'm not going to be called something ridiculous," Ken said flatly.

"The sad thing is that it's not even the most ridiculous names," Makoto sighed. "Skull wanted to name me Shoulder Pads…"

"Hey, your name was hard, okay?!"

"Hmm…" Anne mused, pressing her index finger against her lips as she thought. "Well, we did name Queen based off of… how she held herself." Maybe we should do something similar. Not just looking at the outfit for inspiration, you know?"

"Hmm…" Ren looked at him up and down, a considering light in his eyes.

"Joker, do you have an idea?" Yusuke asked, tilting his head slightly. "You do come up with good code names. You came up with mine and Queen's."

"You weren't here when we were brainstorming for mine," Anne said flatly.

"I still think Sexy Kitty was a good name," Ren said, flashing her a smirk.

…What. Now he was a bit nervous…

"But I was thinking… Ace," Ren said simply. "You're an experienced Persona-user, after all."

Ken felt his face grow warm. No pressure there… "I, er… well… if you think so…" he mumbled out.

"Damn, and I thought you were one of those cool and collected senpai types," Ryuji snickered.

"Skull!" Anne smacked his arm. "He's still our senpai—don't be rude!"

"Ace good for you?" Morgana turned to face him, and Ken nodded. "Okay, it's settled then." He gave a little hop. "Your code name will be Ace."

"Shall we head back then?" Yusuke asked.

"I'm… perfectly okay with that," Makoto said with a wince.

"Yeah." Ren nodded. "Good work, everyone."

"On what, not getting smushed?" Anne grumbled. "It was like we were in an Indiana Jones movie or something…"

But… despite her joking, Ken couldn't help but notice the look in her eye…


"It never boggles my mind to see how time passes so quickly while we're in the Metaverse."

The sun was setting, the sky streaked with hues of pinks and purples. Ren could feel the exhaustion setting in already.

"I know," Anne sighed before she stretched. "I think… I think I'll head home now…"

"Actually…" Ren put a hand on her shoulder, which caused her to look up in surprise. "Do you think… you could spare some time to talk? Ken, too."

"Me?" The older boy frowned. "What's wrong?"

"Can you?" Ren pressed.

He didn't want to say it in front of everyone. Both of them deserved a little privacy. But… It was his job as the leader to make sure everyone was holding up okay. And… Anne and Ken's reactions worried him the most.

He knew why Anne was affected so badly, because of what happened with Shiho… but Ken? He had no idea. In all honesty, the older boy was a bit of a mystery to Ren still… He seemed guarded for some reason. But his outburst? Something was obviously up. What? He wasn't exactly sure… But still, he needed to check if he'd be okay, going further into Futaba's Palace. He wouldn't pry if Ken didn't want to talk, but Ren didn't want to push him into continuing if this reminded him of something painful.

"I… all right," he conceded with a sigh.

"Anne?" Ren asked, giving her a pleading look.

He wanted to make sure she'd be okay… Anne has always been so empathetic. She saw past the rumors about him. She was so pained when she watched Shiho struggle through her therapy. And Futaba was obviously going through a lot of pain… It didn't take a genius to realize that she was thinking about how Shiho had felt after Kamoshida pulled his shit. It was… one of the things he loved about her, but he still was worried about her. She had looked so pained when Futaba's Shadow drew away.

"Okay, okay, you don't have to give me that look," she sighed, shaking her head. "Jeez, and I thought boys couldn't pull off the puppy dog look that well…"

"We should get out of here, though," Ryuji said. "Before Boss comes home and realizes we're hanging 'round here."

"Especially me," Yusuke announced. "I will have to walk home. I'm afraid that I do not have enough for the train fare."

"You what?!" Makoto gaped at him. "Yusuke, why didn't you speak up?" she demanded. "We could have given you money-"

"I thought it was not important…"

Ken sighed. "Of course you did," he muttered, before digging out his wallet and drawing out a two thousand yen bill.

Yusuke frowned. "You don't have to-"

"Yes, I do," Ken cut in, leveling an unimpressed stare at Yusuke. "Look, just take the money. It's going to be dark soon. I don't want you to get mugged or anything."

Yusuke sighed, before finally accepting the money. "My thanks."

"Come on, let's get going then." Ryuji tugged on Yusuke's sleeve. "See ya later. Hit us up when you're ready to go back!"

They left the alley together, but Ryuji, Yusuke, and Makoto headed for the train station, while Ren led Anne and Ken to LeBlanc. Sojiro was wiping down the counter when Ren opened the door, but he looked up when they entered.

"Oh hey," he said, straightening up. "About time you got back."

Ren just flashed a grin at him. "What's wrong? Ready to go home?"

"Haha, very funny," he said dryly, before he picked up the rag he was using to clean the counter and smacking Ren on the head with it. "A bit late to be hanging out with friends, though, isn't it?"

"Well, we just-" Anne began, only for her to pause.

"I promised them some coffee as a pick-me-up," Ren cut in smoothly. "It's been a long day."

Sojiro frowned, before adjusting his glasses. "Well… okay. Don't use too many of my good beans, though."

"Will do." Ren saluted him, offering him a grin.

Sojiro just snorted. "Wiseass," he muttered. "But good night."

"Good night," Anne and Ken chorused.

"At least some kids have manners still," he muttered before opening the door. "Don't forget to-"

"-Flip the sign," Ren finished. "You've told me a hundred times already."

Sojiro rolled his eyes. "Good night, Ren."

He then stepped out and let the door slam behind him.

Anne just quirked an eyebrow at him, before perching herself onto one of the bar seats. "You know… you should be more polite to him. Boss is actually really nice."

"He reminds me a little of Shinjiro-san," Ken noted. "The gruffness to him. But I'm sure he's a lot nicer than he lets on."

"He was an ass to me when I first moved here," Ren grumbled. "Telling me not to stick my nose into trouble and everything."

"How's that working out for you?" Ken said dryly before sitting down next to Anne.

"Hey, trouble comes looking for me," Ren quipped, sliding into the free seat next to Anne. He had swung his bag into his lap, but Morgana just jumped out of his bag, settling right in front of Anne. "I didn't go and ask for it."

Anne scratched Morgana right under his chin, before glancing up at Ren. "Ren… why did you ask us to come with you?"

"Well…" Ren took the moment to take Anne's hand and squeeze it lightly. She looked at him in surprise, pink lightly dusting her cheeks. Pink suited her beautifully. "Anne… are you okay? I know Futaba reminded you of Shiho…"

Anne's eyes softened. "Oh…" But then she offered him one of her genuine smiles, her eyes sparkling. "Thank you, Ren… but I'm okay. I just… want to help Futaba-chan. I don't want her to feel that kind of pain," she said softly. "And… I just think… would we have known if it wasn't for Medjed…?"

"It's not good to dwell on what ifs," Ken said quietly. "Futaba reached out to you, and that's good enough."

"What about you, though?" Morgana asked. "What you said…"

Ken pursed his lips together, before he looked away. "A long time ago," he said quietly, "I had felt the way Futaba had felt."

Anne's eyes went wide. "Ken…"

"But… I feel the same way as you, Anne." Ken turned, looking at them. "Futaba doesn't deserve to live like this. It's more of a half-life, locking herself away from everyone. No one… can be an island." He closed his eyes. "It just makes me want to help her… like how I was helped." He then opened his eyes and looked past Anne, meeting Ren's eyes. "I'll be okay, really. It definitely won't be easy, but I want to do this."

"If you think so. I just… don't want to push you into something if it brings back painful memories," Ren said.

Anne smiled at him. "Thank you, Ren," she said sincerely, "but it'll be okay." Then her expression became determined, and her hand resting in her lap curled into a fist. "I'm going to help Futaba-chan… it won't be like Shiho. Never again."

He… loved seeing Panther in Anne. He loved how fierce she could be, and yet she was loving and caring. Even to a practically stranger, like Futaba.

Ken then gave him a funny look. He almost looked… annoyed. What did he do…?

"I think you'll be the best one to reach out to Futaba, Lady Anne!" Morgana exclaimed. "After all… who wouldn't want to talk to you? You're beautiful and kind…"

Ren just sighed to himself. Sometimes he wondered how Anne didn't notice Morgana laying it on so thick.

Anne just giggled. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Morgana." She then glanced at the clock, her eyes widening. "God, it's getting late…" She slipped out of her seat. "I probably should get going. My caretaker is here today, and I don't want her to worry…" She waved at them. "Bye, guys! I'll see you around!"

They said bye to her, and with one last wave, she exited LeBlanc.

"I really need to regain my memories…" Morgana muttered. "I can't let her be swept off by someone else…" He then shook his head. "Ren, what do you say to a tool crafting session tonight?"

"Um, later," Ren said. "I need to talk to Ken about something else…"

"Suit yourself." Morgana jumped down into Ren's lap and then to the floor. "I'll see you in your room, then."

Ren then turned to Ken but he beat Ren to the punch. "Really?"

Ren frowned. "Um… what? What did I do?"

Ken let out an aggravated sigh. "Do I have to take a picture? The way you look at Anne…" He shook his head. "Absolutely besotted," he said flatly. "And I thought Kanji-san had it bad," he muttered under his breath.

Must be another senpai…

"L-Look-"

"Anne likes you back too. You're obviously really close," Ken continued. "How are you two not dating?"

He did not expect the older boy to start complaining about this. Ryuji had asked him how he felt about Anne once, but Ken seemed completely uninterested in romance from what he had seen.

"I have… a couple of reasons," Ren said slowly. "Well, for one… Morgana. He… really likes Anne."

"If Morgana really likes Anne, he'd accept it if Anne has genuine feelings for someone else," Ken said flatly, sounding rather unimpressed. "What else do you have?"

"Well… a second reason is that… I want to leave it in Anne's hands," Ren said. "Anne was hurt by Kamoshida in a different way than Ryuji and me…" Ren sighed. "…You know what Kamoshida's reputation is like."

"…Ah." Ken's expression softened. "Look, Ren, I know we haven't known each other for that long, but you're not like Kamoshida. You would treat Anne like gold." He then sighed. "I just… don't want you to wait on her, when you could be with her now."

Ren blinked.

"I learned a long time ago that you should take what happiness you can," Ken continued. "You never know when it'll be cut off suddenly." He then slid out of his seat as well. "I… should get going too. Shinjiro-san will be worried. Good night, Ren."

"Good night…"

Ren watched him go up the attic to retrieve the bento box he had brought, but Ren couldn't find in himself to move even after he left. Just what exactly had Ken gone through? That kind of advice… sounded like it belonged to someone much older…

Just who was Ken Amada?

Chapter Text

 

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016


“This is the shop you wanted to take me?”

Ren gave him a confused look. “Yeah?” he said slowly. “Is there something wrong with it?”

“No, it’s just…” he trailed off, an odd look crossing his face. “…This alley is where I encountered Kaneshiro’s henchman.”

Oh, right… He had nearly forgotten about that. Though he could now ask Ken something…

“What did you even do to the guy? Mishima mentioned something about you ‘holding him off’…”

Ken looked at him blankly. “Nothing at all.”

Morgana popped out of his bag. “You don’t have to lie,” he said indignantly.

“You didn’t let me finish,” Ken said, raising an eyebrow at Morgana. “I didn’t do anything. Shinjiro-san was… passing through the area and he heard the exchange.”

“So Shinjiro-san beat him up?” Ren couldn’t help but help a slight twinge of pity for the guy. But just a slight one. But still. Shinjiro-san was kinda (okay, really) intimidating. And looked like he could easily snap the bones in your body.  

“He gave the guy a black eye,” Ken admitted, before he winced. “And… may have broken his nose…”

“Jeez.” Ren winced as well. “Remind me to never get on his bad side.”

“Duly noted,” he said dryly, before smiling wryly. Then he rubbed the back of his neck. “Though to be fair… he was threatening me. I doubt you will have the same issue.”  

“I think you have more muscle on you, though,” Morgana piped up. “I don’t think Ren would be a threat to you. Besides, you have an advantage with your spear, if you got into a fight.”

“Hey!” Ren glared at Morgana. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Morgana!”

Morgana just blinked at him.. “Just saying how it is.”

“Traitor,” Ren grumbled, drawing a quiet laugh from Ken before he pushed the door open. “Speaking of Shinjiro-san, does he happen to work at Crossroads? I never got to ask you about that.”

“Yeah, he works a few nights there,” Ken answered. “Not sure why he hasn’t quit, since that was meant to be a temporary job…”  

Iwai lowered the newspaper, quirking an eyebrow when his eyes settled on them. “Welcome back,” he greeted. “What do you need today, kid?”

“A new gun purchase, Iwai,” Ren answered, letting the door go after Ken stepped inside and striding towards the older man. “And weapon upgrades.”

He couldn’t afford armor upgrades yet, so he’d have to work at the flower shop for a few shifts…

Iwai’s eyes took on a shrewd light, as they flicked towards Ken. “You know the type you want, or do you want me to show all I have right now?”   

“We’ll just browse,” Ren answered.

Despite what Ken had said… he had drifted away from the handguns for some reason. It was a bit odd, but maybe he had just changed his mind. Then he paused at a… hybrid handgun/pistol.

“Got your eye on the machine pistol?” Iwai got up. “Wanna hold it?”

“Sure,” Ken answered, and Iwai unlocked the glass door and handed it to Ken. Ken ran his hand over the gun, a considering look in his eyes.

Ren leaned in close, taking care to keep his voice low so Iwai couldn’t overhear. “Your weapon of choice is longer than most. Why not go for it?”

“Yeah, I agree.” Ken nodded.

Ren waved Iwai over. “Iwai, I’ll take this.” And when Iwai nodded, taking the gun from Ken, Ren continued with, “And can I take a look at the weapons you’ve got? The usual.”

“Yeah, sure, kid.”

“How does he not question this?” Ken whispered to him.

“Luck?” Ren offered.

Though he probably not mention that Iwai was former yazuka… Ken didn’t exactly have a naïve streak like Makoto but he doubted that Ken would be thrilled to find that out.

Ken gave him a flat look, looking rather unimpressed. “…You have no idea, do you?”

Ren could only shrug at him. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Ken just rolled his eyes at him, but watched him make the purchases. Ren frowned as he riffled through his yen bills in his wallet. Damn, if only he didn’t have to worry about buying Personas for better fusions. If the people in the Velvet Room were supposed to help him, you’d think they wouldn’t try to drain every last yen from him.  

Ren sighed to himself, before handing over the money to Iwai. He needed to stock up on medicine too… He’d just have to demand money from the Shadows a lot during their next visit. Handling the money was… rough. Though sad to say, he was the most responsible with the money.

They left the shop before Ken pulled out his wallet, pulling out a few thousand yen bills. “Here… It’s not much but the bill was rather… steep.”

Ren blinked, before slowly accepting the bills from him. “You could’ve given one of these to Yusuke last night,” he noted. “Instead of two thousand.”

Ken just smiled wryly, raising an eyebrow. “Yes, but… he’s not exactly swimming in money, is he? Speaking of him… have you ever tried making up a budget for him? I can’t help but be worried with some of the comments he has made.”

“Oh, Makoto tried.” Ren grinned. “Key word being tried. I think Yusuke tossed it away after one day.”

Makoto had been thrilled when she found out about that…

“Good grief,” he sighed, shaking his head.

“Are you free for the afternoon, though?” Ren asked, as they walked to the train station. “Maybe we could hang out for today?”

Ken frowned. “I thought you needed time to prepare to gather everything?”

“Yeah, but I think after yesterday…” Ren glanced at Ken. “We need to have a little fun, don’t you think?”

Ken’s expression turned thoughtful. “Well… I guess you’re right,” he relented. “What do you have in mind?”

“Are you hungry? We could get lunch,” Ren suggested. “We can go after I drop everything off at LeBlanc.”


“So...” Ren began, “clarify some rumors for me?”

Maybe he'd be able to figure out something about Ken while doing so...

“Here we go...” Ken grumbled, but he nodded.

Ren had to smother a smirk. Well, there was no reason why he couldn’t have some fun while he was at it, right?

“Are you dating-”

“No,” Ken cut him off. “The answer's no.” He took a bite of his food. “I've never dated anyone. And especially not someone who's been like an older sister figure to me for as long as I've known her.”

“Never?” Ren echoed, raising an eyebrow.

“Never,” Ken repeated, only for his expression to become bitter. “Why would I date someone who's only interested in me for shallow reasons?”

...Someone was salty. Though Ken did have a good reason…  

“What about your school record?” Ren asked. “Anne mentioned something about you being pretty much of a model student...”

“I worked for the scholarship so it’d be easier on Shinjiro-san,” Ken dismissed. “Gekkoukan isn’t exactly cheap.”

That did make sense... since Shinjiro-san was only in his mid twenties. Though he had to wonder just how long ago did Shinjiro-san get custody of Ken...

“Anything else?” Ken asked dryly, raising an eyebrow.

“Nah, I’m good.” Ren shook his head. “Though I think it’s bound to happen. People are curious when a new kid comes.”

Something flashed in Ken’s eyes, and then he looked guilty. “I’m sorry, Ren... I didn’t mean-”

Ren held up a hand. “I’m gonna stop you right there,” he said. “It’s not your fault. Kamoshida leaked my record. You were just... lucky that you got to come here after we took down Kamoshida.”

He had heard rumors that Ken was a member of the soccer team, and that he was apparently good. And considering what Kamoshida had done to Ryuji because he made the volleyball team look bad...

“What... exactly happened? Why did you come to Tokyo?”

Ren sighed. He should’ve seen this coming. He had to tell Ryuji his story, and he was there when he had transferred to Shujin.

“It was several months ago, in my old town...” Ren began.

It never got easier to tell it. He still felt so betrayed by the whole damn system. He was just trying to help that woman, but that asshole decided to rig the whole system. And even now, Ren couldn’t remember his face.

And his parents... didn’t exactly help. They grew cold and distant with him. They didn’t want a son who had a criminal record. It... still hurt to remember how that they could barely muster a goodbye to him.

“That’s... awful...” Ken’s voice was hollow. “That man... is nothing but scum for doing that to you...”  

“In a way, it was good for me,” Ren said, before he took a bite of food. “Sure, I could do without people judging me, but me moving here... meeting Ryuji, Anne, and the others... it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”

And well... that little incident had been part of the trigger to him awakening to Arsene. And he loved being a Phantom Thief. It was so freeing, to not have to hide behind that timid facade.

“Isn’t there anything we can do about this, though?” Ken asked, looking thoughtful now.

“I don’t think so...” Ren shook his head. “Ryuji did suggest stealing his heart, but... he was really powerful. He was able to sue me without giving out his name. And you need the full name for the app to work.”

And the cop was able to recognize him with just one glance...  

“Is that... even possible?” Ken’s eyes went wide.

Ren just shrugged. “But anyways, don’t apologize, Ken,” Ren said. “If I didn’t come to Tokyo... who knows how long Kamoshida would have been terrorizing the school... and Yusuke would still be under Madarame’s thumb. I’m glad I came to Tokyo... for multiple reasons.”

All of his friends would be suffering in some way. No… this was the best way.

Ken looked surprised for a moment and then... he smiled. Ren frowned.

“Why are you smiling like that?”

“Oh, it’s just...” Ken rubbed the back of his neck. “...You remind me of someone I know.”

“A good thing or a bad thing?” Ren quirked an eyebrow at him.

Ken just laughed. “A very good thing, I promise.”


RANK UP! Adjustment Confidant has reached Rank 2.

Ken can now use Baton Pass!


Wednesday, July 27th, 2016


“Dude, Anne, why are you just eating rabbit food?”

Anne reached for her water, taking a sip. “Can’t eat much,” she mumbled, before making a face at the salad in front of her. But her face then grew determined as she took a bite. “Not if I wanna take modeling seriously…”

“Starving yourself isn’t the way, though,” Ken said with a frown. “There are healthy options without just relying on salads. Salads can be pretty boring to eat.”

The two juniors had invited him out to hang out, since there was no word about going back to the Palace. Though, that did make sense, since Ren did mention that he was going to prepare for their next venture into Futaba’s Palace. And if he had the same mindset as Minato-san and Minako-san… they were in for the long haul when they did go back.  

“Ugh, I know,” she whined. “Why are all of the good foods so bad for you?!”

“I can talk to Shinjiro-san to see if he can come up with a diet for you,” Ken offered. “He hated it when Yukari-san dieted when she first started modeling, so he made her follow a diet he devised.”

Anne perked up at that. “Would Shinjiro-san cook any of those dishes?” she asked, doing her best to keep her voice casual.

Ken snorted. “If you want him to. Shinjiro-san loves to cook, in case you can’t tell.”

“Yeah, ‘cause anyone will cook up food for a bunch of kids he just met,” Ryuji scoffed, rolling his eyes. “But anyways, let’s do something fun today after lunch! What do ya guys wanna do?”

Anne opened her mouth to respond, but then her phone let out a ping. She reached for her phone, quickly reading the message. “Actually…” she said hesitantly, “can we do a rain check?” She set her phone down. “…Shiho’s wrapping her therapy sessions today, and she asked if I could come…”

Despite that being good news—whoever this Shiho person was, she had to be important to Anne—Anne didn’t look too happy. There was some kind of emotion in her eyes that Ken couldn’t quite identify…  

“…So the move’s been confirmed?” Ryuji asked, frowning.

“Yeah…” Anne sighed, biting her lip. “Her dad went and asked for a transfer at his job.” Her lips trembled for a moment. “They thought a more suburban area would be better for Shiho… Getting away from Tokyo completely…”

“Anne… I’m sorry,” Ryuji said quietly.

“I-It’s for the best,” Anne mumbled, before she forced a halfhearted smile on her face. “But yeah, sorry guys…” She looked down at the table, letting out a sigh. “I don’t mean to be a downer.”

…Guilt. That was it. But the name Shiho… Ren had mentioned it before.

Ken froze as it suddenly clicked in his mind. Shiho went through something similar as Futaba, which was why Anne was so pained looking at Shadow Futaba. Ren had mentioned Kamoshida…

Shiho… she was the victim that Kamoshida had assaulted. The girl who had attempted suicide out of pure shame. And if he had to guess… she was the last straw for the original Phantom Thieves.  

“Do you want us to come with you?” Ryuji asked, frowning. Then he looked at Ken sheepishly. “…If that’s cool with you, man.”

“Well, I-“

“Oh nonono,” Anne began to shake her head, “I don’t want today to be a downer! Especially since we’re basically playing the waiting game ‘till we have to go back to Futaba’s Palace…” She then glanced at Ken. “…And Ken’s never even met Shiho. I can just go on my own, really!”

“I wouldn’t mind meeting your friend,” Ken said. “It’s important to you and we both don’t have anything planned so…”  

“Yeah, come on, Anne!” Ryuji exclaimed. “The more the merrier, right?”

“I…” Anne’s eyes softened, and she gave them a smile. “…Okay. We’ll go after we finish up with lunch.”


 

“Anne, you made it!”

“Of course I did!” Anne said, before embracing her. She then pulled away, examining her closely as she kept her hands on Suzui-san’s shoulders. “…How are you feeling?”

Suzui-san just giggled. “I’m fine, really. I feel a lot stronger than before… I still get a bit tired while exerting myself but…” Her expression grew determined. “…I have to go back, as soon as possible. I’m not going to let him dictate how I live my life anymore… I don’t want to hesitate anymore.”

So… he was right. This explained… a lot about Anne’s behavior with Futaba. But he… felt the same way. Nobody should feel so trapped that they feel that suicide was the only escape.  

“Shiho…” Anne sighed, before finally releasing her.

“You really are looking a lot better, Suzui,” Ryuji finally said.

“Sakamoto-kun...” Suzui-san smiled at him. “Thank you for coming. I didn’t mean to pull Anne away from whenever you were doing...” Then she raised an eyebrow at Anne. “Though I’m surprised you haven’t brought Amamiya-san with you.”

“Ren?” Anne said. “W-Well, he had plans with Makoto today...”  

“And it’s cool, Suzui.” He waved a hand. “I mean, this is a pretty big milestone.” He grinned at her, before flashing a thumbs up. “‘Sides, we didn’t really know what to do after lunch. You didn’t really interrupt anything.”

Suzui-san giggled. “If you say so, Sakamoto-kun.” Then her eyes flickered to Ken, and then she turned back to Anne. “...Should I be jealous? It seems every time I turn around, you’ve made a new friend.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Suzui-san,” Ken said, before bowing. “My name is Ken Amada.”

Ryuji slapped him on the back. “Come on, man, you’ve really gotta loosen up. Suzui’s in our year, so technically you’re her senpai still.”

Anne poked him in the side. “Makoto’s right, you know. You really could learn a thing or two from Ken. Girls like polite guys, y’know!”

“Well, not everyone is into the gentlemanly type like you, Anne,” Suzui-san lightly teased, nudging her in the side. “Though I assume he and Niijima-senpai have their hands full watching all of you.”

“Hey!” Anne protested, puffing out her cheeks briefly in a pout. “They do not!”

...He begged to differ.

“You brought Makoto here before, Anne?”  

“Yeah... she... ah...” Anne winced. “...She really felt the need to apologize to Shiho.”

“There was nothing for her to say, really,” Suzui-san said. “Kamoshida... had everyone under his thumb. She wasn’t really able to do anything...” She then smiled. “But I’m just grateful that the Phantom Thieves took care of him.”  

“So you support the Phantom Thieves?” Ken raised an eyebrow.

“Of course.” She nodded firmly. “They got rid of Kamoshida...” She reached for Anne’s hand, squeezing it. “And there’s Madarame... Kaneshiro... I know that people are still unsure of them, but I’ll stand with them no matter what.”

Ryuji just grinned. “Heh, they prolly appreciate that, Suzui.”

“Shiho?” A dark haired woman suddenly approached them. “Come on, it’s time for your last session.”

“Okay, Mom.” Suzui-san nodded, before looking at them. “I’ll see you around.”

Anne sighed as the door closed behind Suzui-san, before she folded her arms over her chest. “…Shiho’s so strong.”

“Hey, don’t count yourself out.” Ryuji put a hand on her shoulder. “I mean, you’re pretty tough. You pretty much wrecked shit when you awakened to Carmen.”

Anne cracked a smile. “…Thanks, Ryuji.”

“You shouldn’t really discount yourself,” Ken said. “You’re emotionally strong, too.”

“Thanks… but sometimes I just don’t feel that way…” Anne looked down with a sigh, her hands clenching into fists. “I shouldn’t have gotten so upset with Futaba-chan and I-!”

“For what?” Ken asked. “For feeling for her? For wanting to help her?” Anne looked at him, her eyes wide. “Anne… there’s nothing wrong with being so empathetic that you literally feel for Futaba… It just gives you more of a motivation to heal her heart…”

And seeing Suzui-san… slowly healing from what she had gone through gave him hope for Futaba. Suzui-san wasn’t completely healed yet, and that was okay. It would be the same for Futaba. He really doubted that even with stealing her heart, Futaba wouldn’t be completely cured. She would still have anxiety. She would have trouble socializing… But that would be okay. They’d help her through that.

“That shit she was put through…” Ryuji grimaced, “…it was really screwed up. No kid should go through that kind of crap, ‘specially after losing their mom so suddenly.”

“Y-Yeah…” Anne slowly nodded, before she raised her head. Her eyes were filled with determination, the fire Ken was already familiar with. “…You’re right. We helped Shiho and everyone messed up by Kamoshida…” Her hands clenched, gripping her knees. “There’s no reason why we can’t help Futaba-chan!”     

“That’s the spirit.” Ken smiled at her.

“If only Ren would take us into the Palace,” Ryuji grumbled.  

“Do you want us to get killed?” Anne retorted, shooting him a look that just reminded him of Yukari-san. “Ren’s got a good reason, okay? We need the proper equipment before going back in or we’ll be in big trouble.”

Though that was hardly a surprise. The twins operated in a similar way…  

“Then why is he hanging out with Makoto today?” he demanded with a huff. “I’d get it if he was working that job with the yakuza…”

“A job with what?” Ken choked out.

“Uhhh…” Ryuji clamped his mouth shut as Anne glared at him, her arms folded over her chest. “N-Nothing.”  

…Right. What was next, Ren getting free medicine by agreeing to be some doctor’s guinea pig?


Most couples unwinded with a glass of wine, talk about how their day went. And sometimes Minako did relax with her husband in that way—but not lately, since alcohol was strictly off limits until she had the baby. But tonight?

“Did you really expect Ken to accept the offer?” Aki was absentmindedly running his fingers through her hair.

Minako let out a satisfied hum, before settling against his shoulder. “Not one hundred percent,” she admitted. “But when Mitsuru told me, she said that he did lean towards it.”

Aki just laughed. “Junpei was so sure he’d say no.”

Minako stifled a laugh. Junpei was so annoyed when the news started to spread amongst their group of friends. “He should know better than to bet against me.”

Though… the reaction that stood out to her the most was… Fuuka. Aigis took it logically, as she always did. Yukari was surprised, but expressed the wish that Ken be careful while doing so… And Shinji… well, he was keeping how he felt about it to himself. But Fuuka? She was completely unsurprised. Now, she knew that Fuuka had grown closer to Ken over the years. But she couldn’t help but feel a bit unsettled. Did Fuuka know something she didn’t?

“…Fuuka-chan met them, you know,” Minako said. Aki looked at her in surprise. “The Phantom Thieves,” she quickly clarified. “She said… they were a nice group of people…”

Fuuka had described them as quite lively, comparing them to the Investigation Team in that aspect. But kids Ken’s age… kids that knew how Ken had felt years ago…

“Mina?” Aki’s silver eyes were filled with confusion. “Where are you going with this?”

“You know that Ken-kun hasn’t had that many friends in his life,” Minako said quietly. “He drifted away from his soccer club friends when he gave up soccer… And the apparent reason for why the Phantom Thieves were founded…” She let out a sigh. “I know that Ken-kun would never dream of turning his back on us…”

Aki met her gaze, looking rather solemn. “…But you think his judgment might become clouded. That he might become biased.”

“Pretty much,” Minako sighed. “And… I’m scared for him, Aki… We still don’t know if Shido knows about the Phantom Thieves.” Minako’s eyes began to sting with tears. “What if… What if we let Ken-kun just paint a huge target on his back?”

And it’d be her fault. She convinced Mitsuru to send Ken to Tokyo. She couldn’t lose someone close to her again… not this way. Ken… was like a little brother to her. She’d never forgive herself if she was the reason if he…

“Hey.” Aki began to wipe away her tears. “No what ifs, Mina,” he said. “Ken’s not alone. You know that Shinji’s watching out for him. And he’ll notice if Ken’s off about his judgments.”

Oh, Aki… He could be so levelheaded. Their friends—herself included—often ribbed him for being somewhat impulsive, especially when it came to a fight. But… when it came down to it, he was thoughtful. And… she needed to hear that kind of reassurance.

Minako managed a weak smile. “I’m sorry, Aki…”

“Don’t apologize, Mina,” Aki sighed. “You’re just worried… especially after this whole thing with Medjed.”

Minako nodded slowly. “I wish… there was some way to deal with Shido,” she mumbled.

Aki was quiet for a moment. “Maybe… Ken can bring up Shido as the next target, after this Medjed situation blows over.”

“That would solve a lot of our problems, wouldn’t it?” Minako sighed.

“Well, there’s the whole the government still really hates Mitsuru,” Aki said dryly.

“They really know how to hold a grudge, don’t they?”

It just… sucked that they had to play the waiting game. Minako reached down to stroke her stomach. She’d be five months along soon. She just… prayed that the world her child would be born into would be a safe one…


Saturday, July 30th, 2016


Ken woke up to a text from the Phantom Thieves group chat, with Ren announcing that they’d be going back to the Palace today. Though it was a bit odd, dressing in his casual outfit to go into a Shadow nest. He was… too used to fighting in his school uniform. Even during the P-1 Grand Prix… he had fought in his school uniform. Though granted, his outfit would be changed into his thief outfit…

“…Ken, is the Metaverse making you hungrier than usual or somethin’?” Ken paused in eating breakfast, looking at his guardian in surprise. “It’s like you’ve been making two lunches for yourself,” he added.

“Er… no,” Ken said slowly. “Yusuke has been making these… comments. Like… eating bean sprouts for a meal. So I made him lunch a few days ago.” He winced. “Sorry, I should have mentioned it to you.”

“Bean sprouts,” Shinjiro-san repeated flatly.

…Was it his imagination or did Shinjiro-san’s eye twitch?

Shinjiro-san just grumbled to himself, muttering something under his breath. “It’s fine,” he said shortly. “I was just wondering.”

…Yeah, Shinjiro-san was definitely planning on making lunches for Yusuke from now on. He recognized that look in Shinjiro-san’s eyes.

Ken finished up breakfast and said goodbye to Shinjiro-san, before heading for the train station to go to Yogen-jaya. Ren had told them to meet directly in front of Sakura-san’s house.

“Heyyy!” Ryuji waved at him, before turning to Ren. “Hey, RenRen! Ken’s here now!”

“I can see that, Ryuji,” Ren laughed. “Is everyone ready, then?”

“Let’s do this!” Anne exclaimed, pumping a fist.

“Let’s go, then.” Morgana ducked into Ren’s bag, clutching Ren’s phone with his little paws. Ren accepted it with a thanks before activating the app.

Unlike before, where they had been transported to a sand dune, they were standing at the base of the pyramid. Well, at least they didn’t have to put up with the sweltering heat as much… Ken could already feel sweat beading at his brow, with how he was wearing mostly black in this heat.

“Okay…” Ren let out a thoughtful hum as he tapped his chin. “Ace’s up for sure.” His eyes then swept to the rest of the group. “Let’s go with Panther and Skull for now.”

Ren passed out the weapons, quirking an eyebrow at Ken when he handed him a new spear. “You’re lucky that Iwai has collapsible spears,” he said teasingly. “I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to manage it otherwise.”

“It’s what I’m used to,” Ken grumbled.

“At least it gives you a distance advantage,” Makoto mused.

Ren finished passing out the guns, before leading them into the Palace. The door was still there… blocking the way forward.

“Ugh, still,” Ryuji groaned, before thumping his fist against the door.

“I don’t know why you expected it to change, Skull,” Yusuke said dryly. “Obstacles were never removed before.”

“It’d be nice if that happened,” Ryuji sighed.

“…Do you still wish to pass?”

They all jumped at the sudden voice, whirling around to face Shadow Futaba. Shadow Futaba looked at them calmly.

“W-What?” Makoto’s eyes were wide.

“I need you to do something for me,” Shadow Futaba continued. “A bandit… in the nearby town has stolen something from me. Retrieve it, and I will help you.”

…Yeah, he was kinda missing Tartarus. Tartarus just felt… more simple.

“Oh, now you’re helping us…” Ryuji grumbled. “Make up your mind already!”

“Skull!” Anne hissed, smacking his shoulder.

“Well… I suppose we’ll have to do this ‘favor’,” Morgana grumbled, folding his arms over his chest. “Joker, let’s head outside and look for this town.”

Ren nodded before leading them outside. Ren looked back and forth, before running onto a platform that Ken hadn’t noticed before. He pointed at the distance. “You think this is it?”

“It has to be…” Makoto said, walking up to stand next to him. “Morgana, could you…?”

Morgana nodded firmly, before jumping in the air and transforming into his bus form. They loaded onto the bus and headed for the town.

The town… was like a ghost town. There was nobody there. They ended up in a town square sort of area.

“Isn’t it strange that we can’t seem to find anyone here?” Morgana asked. “Not even a Shadow…”

“…Hey, are you guys looking for something? I thought I heard someone rustling ‘round here.”

They all jumped at the unfamiliar voice.   

…He didn’t think he’d ever get used to normal Shadows talking. Though the whole Shadow self was still hard to wrap his mind around sometimes…

“Joker, you think…?” Morgana said lowly.   

“…Yeah,” Ren agreed quietly.

“What are you whispering about?” He cocked his head. “Awfully suspicious, wouldn’t you say?”

“Aw, shuddup asshat!” Ryuji growled out. “You can’t talk ‘bout suspicious… You’re that bandit, aren’t ya?!”

“Return what you stole,” Ken said, narrowing his eyes.

“Heh… sure. If you can catch me!”

Without warning, he turned on his heel and bolted.  

“Wait!” Anne shouted. “Ugh…” She dragged a hand down her face, before letting out a growl. “Of course!”

“There’s no time to gripe about it,” Makoto said sternly. “Come on, we have to chase after him!”

They found him in an alley, but he just taunted them before running off in the other direction.

They tried several times, but he was just too fast. But… Ken couldn’t help but notice something.

“…Joker, wait.” He grabbed Ren by the sleeve, and the younger boy looked at him in surprise. “We’ll have to corner him at the square.”

“Corner him?” Ren echoed, before his eyes widened. “Of course!” He turned to the members who weren’t part of the active team. “Mona, Fox, and Queen. I want you to loop around and push him towards the square. We’ll be waiting for him there.”

“A pincher movement…” Makoto’s eyes went wide. “That just might work!”

Ren led them back to the square, edging around the corners. It was just in time too, because they heard pounding footsteps approaching.

Ryuji reached for his shotgun, quickly firing a warning shot. The Shadow jumped backwards.

“Heh… you’re that desperate to fight me, huh? Fine!” The Shadow then trembled once, before transforming into a great golden bird. Which… looked awfully familiar.

Wait… wasn’t that one of the Personas used in that one fusion spell? And if he remembered right, its element was…

“Joker,” Ken whispered. “What are Panther and Skull’s weaknesses?”

Ren looked at him in confusion. “Er… Panther is weak to ice and Skull is weak to wind.”

…Great. Of course.

“Take this!” The Shadow growled.

“Skull, block!” Ken yelled. “I think its element is wind!”

“Ugh, are you serious?!” he groaned, but he crossed his arms over his chest to brace himself.

The Shadow then flapped its wings violently, whipping up a powerful gust. Yeah… that was definitely a Magarudyne. Though if he remembered right… the Persona had been fairly high leveled… He hoped they weren’t in over their heads…

“Any idea on a weakness?” Ren shouted at him.

“Electricity… or gun?” Ken suggested tentatively.

“Okay, let’s try gun.” Ren pulled out his pistol, aiming right at the Shadow. The Shadow responded by launching another Magarudyne. The gust was strong enough to send the gun flying right out of Ren’s hand.

And this time Ryuji wasn’t fast enough to block, so he was sent flying. He hit the wall with a sickening crack.

“Skull!” Anne shrieked.

“Skull, why didn’t you block?!” Morgana demanded.

The Shadow cackled, before soaring higher in the sky. Ken quickly ripped off his mask, and Kala-Nemi launched a Kouga spell. This sent the Shadow reeling, allowing Anne to dart forward, brandishing her whip. It coiled around one of the Shadow’s legs, and Anne yanked hard, both hands on the grip. The Shadow yanked back, but Anne gritted her teeth, dug in her heels, and tugged harder.

Ren slid in next to her, ripping off his mask. “Orthus!” he shouted, summoning a brown canine, which then blasted fire at the Shadow.

Ken ran over to Ryuji, helping him up in a sitting position. Blood dripped from a shallow cut on the back of his head, staining his bleached hair. He supported the back of Ryuji’s head with one arm, and he ripped his mask off with his free hand. Kala-Nemi appeared and Ken concentrated on healing him.

“Ugh…” Ryuji groaned, as Ken helped him up. Ken checked his injury, and to his relief, it seemed to have closed up. “Thanks, man…” He then growled. “Ugh, that asshole is gonna pay!” He then reached up to rip his mask off. “Let’s do this, Captain!”

His Persona appeared, firing an electric bolt at the Shadow. The Shadow hissed in pain as the attack struck, but unfortunately, electricity wasn’t its weakness.

This Shadow… was more intelligent than the others, if it knew to knock the gun out of Ren’s hand. But then again, it was guarding something…

Ren and Anne came running up to them. “Any ideas?” he asked.

“I think if we try to shoot him, he’ll just try to knock the gun out of our hands…” Anne said. “Joker, do you have a Persona that can use gun attacks…?”

Ren just grimaced, shaking his head. “Nope. Those are kinda rare.”

“My Persona has it,” Ken said.

“Joker!” Makoto called out to them. “I think everyone but Ace should distract the Shadow. Then Ace can nab it from behind.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Ryuji nodded firmly. “Let’s do this!”

“Skull, you should stay back though,” Morgana warned. “We don’t want you to have a repeat.”

“Yeah, yeah!” he grumbled.

“Okay, Panther, you’re with me, then!” Ren exclaimed.

“Always, Joker!” Anne cried, before sprinting after him.

Anne moved first, summoning Carmen to unleash a dazzling display of flames. Ren followed up with summoning Rakshasa, which slashed repeatedly at the Shadow, forcing it stay on the defensive. Rakshasa then sprung backwards, allowing Ryuji’s Persona to fire lightning at the Shadow.

And Ken crept closer as the Shadow divebombed at Ren. Anne tackled him out of the way, causing him to crash into the ground. Just as the Shadow began to rise, Ken ripped off his mask.

“Kala-Nemi!”

The bullet clipped the Shadow in the wing, sending him crashing to the ground.

“Gotcha!” Ryuji crowed as they surrounded him, aiming their guns at the Shadow.

“Joker, let’s do it!” Ken called to him.

Ren just cracked a grin. “Of course.”

They lunged forward, attacking the Shadow with all of their might. The Shadow fell under their assault, leaving behind only a papyrus scroll.

“So this is what she seeks?” Yusuke frowned quizzically. “Interesting… I wonder what it is exactly.”

“Phew!” Ryuji sighed as Ren picked up the papyrus. “God, that was just a pain in the ass…”

Anne giggled. “We should’ve brought Fox with us this time…”

“Let’s swap him in…” Ren said. “It’s not your fault, Skull, but you deserve a break.”

Ryuji shrugged. “You’re the boss.”

“I thought that was Sojiro,” he quipped, which only caused the boys to crack up.

“That’s enough messing around,” Makoto chided, folding her arms over her chest.

“Yeah, we should get back to the Palace now though… to deliver… whatever this is to Shadow Futaba,” Ken said.

Anne grimaced. “This isn’t the weirdest thing,” she grumbled. “Kamoshida’s Palace made us collect eyeballs to stop a trap.”

…Lovely.

Ryuji then slung an arm around Ken’s shoulders. “But thanks, man. You kinda saved my ass back there.”

“It was nothing,” Ken dismissed. “Joker and Panther distracted the Shadow more so that I could heal you.”

“Though I’m surprised how versatile your Persona is...” Makoto mused. “You have bless magic, healing magic, and gun attacks...”

“And you did know the Shadow’s weakness...” Morgana said, though there was a funny look on his face.

“But anyways, enough comments from the peanut gallery,” Ren laughed. “Let’s get going.”

They exited the town and Morgana transformed into the bus so they could get back to the Palace. They reentered the pyramid and spoke to Shadow Futaba, so they could return the papyrus to her.

This wasn’t… too bad, honestly. Hopefully they’d be able to clear a lot today-

…And then Shadow Futaba caused the floor to drop them into a pit of quicksand.    


 

He hated Mot. He really hated Mot.

It turned him into a mouse.

“Aww!” Anne cooed, scooping him up. “He’s so cute!”

Cute?! He was not cute! He was a mouse, for crying out loud. But the only thing that came out of his mouth were squeaks.  

“Don’t you think he’s cute, Queen?” Anne asked, turning to them.

“Uh… Panther…?” Ren asked. “Why don’t you give him to Queen until this… wears off?”

“Ugh, fiiiiine.” Anne pouted for a moment, before handing him over to Makoto.

Makoto held him for a moment in her cupped hands, looking like she was trying hard not to laugh. “You don’t have to pout. Panther’s right, you know. You make a very cute mouse.”

He was not pouting. But Ken didn’t bother to open his mouth, since Makoto wouldn’t be able to understand a word he’s saying.

Makoto just rubbed the top of his head with the tip of her index finger, all while smiling. Just… ugh… Why?!

“Uh, Queen?” Morgana said. “I think you should put him down. He could turn back any minute now.”

“I guess you’re right…” Makoto sighed, before setting him down on the floor.

“So… you like cute things, huh?” Ryuji asked.

“I-I was curious, that’s all!”

Ken suddenly felt his body shooting up, and he was suddenly human again. He snatched up his spear, glaring at the Shadow. Yusuke was focusing on the Shadow Mot had summoned, since it was weak to ice, while Ren and Anne were fighting Mot. He ripped off his mask.

The blast of light sent Mot sprawling, allowing them to go for an All Out Attack.

When the Shadows fell, Ken stared at Ren. “This is never going to be brought up again,” he ground out.

Ren cracked a grin. “Aw, c’mon, you were kinda cute-“

“What did I just say?!”


Ken rubbed his temples as he watched Ren fiddle with the puzzle in front of them. He just felt… exhausted… and drained. Not to mention some of the close calls they had, especially with Shadow Futaba nearly getting them with that arrow trap of hers…  

“Here we go.” The puzzle glowed white for a moment, showing an image of Shadow Futaba sitting on a throne, holding a scepter, while three men in black suits stood before her. It probably would’ve been fairly normal if it wasn’t for the men have falcon heads. Though, didn’t most Egyptian murals have something similar?

“My mom...?” A childish voice echoed throughout the chamber. “She wrote a note before she...”

“Yes, that’s right. It says... I should have never birthed Futaba... she was nothing but a burden to me.”

“Mom... hated me?” The voice trembled. “B-Because I was a bad kid?”

“You must have been quite a nuisance to her... though it’s not your fault entirely. I assume that part of the blame lies at your mother’s feet. She had a mental breakdown of sorts... She destroyed her life’s work because of it, however.”

“She what? No! She always talked about how important it was for her to finish it...”

“Yes... it’s quite a pity, isn’t it?”

“Mom...” the last part came out as a whimper, and it only made Ken’s stomach twist into knots.

Futaba... Why did they do this to her...? She did nothing to deserve this... She should’ve gotten comfort, for losing her mother... not this. Though... there was something bothering him...

“That guy...” Ryuji hissed, his hands clenching into fists. “He’s pissing me off!”

“But... it looks like he just read the note out to her,” Ken said with a frown. “That sounds a bit... suspicious to me.”

“Hm...” Makoto stroked her chin. “You think that they lied to her about the contents of the note?”

“It strikes me as just... odd,” Ken said, folding his arms over his chest.

“But why lie to her?” Yusuke asked, tilting his head slightly. “What gain would they have to lie to a young girl like that?”

“Well, some people are just that messed up...” Anne bit her lip, only for her to suddenly scowl. “UGH! This is pissing me off! Where are these guys?!”

“But we have an answer now,” Ren said, all while grimacing. “About why Futaba believes that she’s the reason her mother’s dead...” He then let out a sigh. “...This is so screwed up though. And those voices... was she alone when they read the note out to her?”

“No...” Ken shook his head. “I don’t think so. Isshiki-san’s death is officially a suicide... It wouldn’t make sense for people to accuse Futaba unless they were present to hear the man in black reading the note aloud.”

Anne wrapped her arms around herself. “Then... the reason why she hears the voices...”

“The guilt and the trauma must have caused her hallucinations,” Yusuke sighed. “The people who did this to her... are despicable...” His hands moved to grip the hilt of his katana at his hip. “They’re nothing but scum.”  

“She lost her mother already...” Makoto closed her eyes. “Why would they pour salt into the wound like that?”

“Though the question is...” Morgana tilted his head, “...why kill Futaba’s mother? Just what was so important about her research?”

He... wished that he could say.  

“Maybe we’ll find out when we go into deeper...” Makoto mused. “But... the important part is that we help Futaba-chan.”

“Yeah!” Ryuji cheered, pumping his fist. “Should we get going then?”

“Let’s find the next safe room and we’ll head home,” Ren said. “All of us are pretty drained, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to continue.”

“But...!”

“Relax, Ryuji, we made good progress today!” Morgana exclaimed. “I’m guessing we’re about halfway through!”

That was a relief... The sooner they helped Futaba... the better.  

 

Chapter Text

Sunday, July 31st, 2016


Ren hadn't meant to sleep in, really. But he was just so tired after the Palace exploration. And by the time he had gotten up (nearly eleven), Sojiro was already serving a couple of his regulars. Which only meant that Ren had to find breakfast (or lunch) somewhere else… Too bad though, since Sojiro's curry really was something else.

"Ren?"

Ren turned at the sudden voice, seeing that it was Ken.

"Hey, Ken." Ren grinned at him, waving at him as Ken came closer. "What are you up to?"

"Just running a couple errands…" Ken said, before shrugging. "What about you?"

"Well, I woke up late so I've gotta go buy lunch somewhere." Ren sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "I was thinking the diner actually."

"You… woke up late?" Ken repeated, raising an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that Boss feeds him most of the time, but since he had customers, Ren had to look somewhere else," Morgana piped up. "This is why I tell you to get some sleep at an early time!"

As if he could forget. Most of the time, Morgana was dragging him to bed by 10:30, a bedtime he hadn't had since junior high.

"You've told me… repeatedly, Morgana," Ren said dryly.

"Well, maybe if it'd stick in your head already-"

"Why don't we go back to my place so I can cook you some food, then?" Ken cut off their bickering, shooting them an amused look. "My errands can wait another day."

Ren stared at him for a moment. "No, it's okay, Ken," he began. "It's different with Yusuke, since he barely has any money…"

"And you're in charge of our funds," Ken retorted, giving him an unimpressed look. "Shinjiro-san does the shopping on Saturday evenings, so we have plenty of food."

He had a stubborn look in his eye… He probably wouldn't take no as an answer.

"…Okay," Ren sighed. "Thanks, Ken."

It was quiet for the first few minutes, but Ken suddenly broke the silence. "…Hey," he said lowly. "Why do you operate during the day, anyways?"

Ren stopped walking, and gave him a confused look. "…What do you mean?"

Ken just crossed his arms over his chest. "…Ren, tell me. What do phantom thieves have in common?"

"Well, they leave a calling card, announcing that they're going to take something," Ren said, continuing to walk again. "Something of value…"

Ken just raised an eyebrow at him, before walking again as well. "And when do they usually strike?"

…Oh.

"Uh…" Ren rubbed the back of his neck. "…It was Morgana's idea?"

"HEY!" Morgana protested, popping out of Ren's bag. "You can really ruin your health by staying up too late!" he continued to lecture, glaring at Ken. "Don't tell me that you stay up late to study or something!"

"Okay, I won't tell you then," Ken deadpanned.

Ren just stifled a laugh as Morgana started to sputter. The people in the lobby started to stare so Morgana just slunk back into his bag. "Ren, can you let me stay at Ken's place tonight?" he grumbled. "I'm going to make him go to bed on time."

"You'll be competing with Shinjiro-san, then," Ken deadpanned, before pressing the elevator button.

"Or maybe he's just after Shinjiro-san spoiling him with good food," Ren snickered. "He kept talking about the shrimp tempura that Shinjiro-san made him the night of the festival."

"Hey! I'm right here!" Morgana snapped, just as the doors slid open, letting them step inside. "And that is not true!"

"Too bad," Ken said, his eyes sliding to Ren, somehow managing to keep a straight face. "I think we have a little tuna left from last night, but I guess if you're not that fond of Shinjiro-san's cooking, you probably don't want it…"

"That's…!" Morgana's eyes became huge, and Ren had to bite down on his lip hard so that he wouldn't burst out laughing. Oh man, Ken already had Morgana pegged. "He… may… be a good cook…" he muttered.

"That wasn't so hard, now was it, Morgana?" Ren teased.

Morgana's retort was cut off by the doors opening. Ken unlocked the door and let them in. Ren slipped off his shoes, leaving them by the door, just as Morgana jumped out of his bag, before jumping onto one of the seats.

Though he had to wonder just how they could afford this kind of place, with Shinjiro-san working for Crossroads. And some other job, but still.

Ken was already pulling out ingredients from the fridge and a cupboard near the stove. The appliances were all really nice.

"What are you making?" Morgana asked, hopping into Ren's lap now.

"Omurice," Ken answered, before he began to chop up an onion.

Omurice, huh? Well, he wouldn't turn it down for a couple reasons. One, Ken had offered to cook for him and two, omurice was always a classic. He hadn't have it in a while, actually.

"So… what were your errands?"

Ken hesitated for a moment, before turning back to chopping up the ingredients. "Well… I was going to the bookstore today," he admitted. "It's not a big deal, I can always go tomorrow. What about you?"

"I, uh… haven't really figured that out," Ren admitted. "Maybe work at the flower shop today. They pay me pretty well, especially if I impress the customer with the floral arrangement I put together for them."

"The flower shop?" Ken looked up for a moment, raising an eyebrow, before turning his attention back to cooking. He dropped the onion into the pan, which sizzled loudly when it hit the hot oil. "I have a hard time picturing that."

"Hey, sometimes you can't be picky," Ren said. "And it's a lot better than the beef bowl shop job I took a couple months ago…"

That job was just… insane. Not to mention if the customers bitched you out for making one little mistake. The nights he worked there… Morgana didn't have to tell him to go to bed. He would all but fall onto his bed once he got home. He swore the only good thing that came out of that was how he had met Yoshida there. 

"That's true," Ken said with a nod, before stirring the onions. After a while, he dropped the diced chicken into the pan, before adding some rice. While that finished cooking, he started to beat eggs in a bowl. "Though… Ryuji tells me that you work for a former yakuza?"

"Uhhh…" Ren gulped as Ken shut off the stove, staring at him expectantly. "It was to get discounts on guns and other things," he said quickly. "And he offered it to me, not the other way around!"

Ken just sighed, shaking his head. "If you say so," he muttered. "Though I suppose if you've been working for him for a while, there's nothing I can really say."

…He better not mention that he started working with Iwai just a couple weeks ago…

Ken then turned his attention back to the stove, turning it back on to cook the eggs. A few minutes later, Ken set a plate in front of Ren, and a smaller plate for Morgana.

"Mm, it smells so good!" Morgana practically inhaled the scent, before he dove in.

"Thanks again, Ken," Ren said, before taking a bite.

Flavor immediately flooded his mouth. And it just… tasted so home-y. Like… comfort food. And the egg itself was so… fluffy. Honestly… it was probably the best omurice he's ever had.

"This tastes amazing," Ren said, setting down his fork.

"Thanks." Ken's cheeks took a slightly pink tint as he sat across of Ren. "It's one of my favorite recipes that Shinjiro-san has taught me, actually…"

"Omurice a favorite meal, then?"

"There's that," Ken said, looking up with a slight smile. "…But I love it because Shinjiro-san somehow managed to replicate how my mom would make it for me."

…So it had some sentimental value…

"…You loved your mom a lot, didn't you?"

Ken nodded. "She… was always there for me, even though it was tough without my dad… They separated when I was pretty young, so my mom was the only parent I really knew. Well… at least before Shinjiro-san."

Ren just quirked an eyebrow at him. "How much older is he?"

"He's seven years older," Ken answered. "But a couple of my senpai call him Dad as a joke, so it's not just me."

Wow… seven years older, and he was willing to take care of Ken like that…

"That's pretty impressive," Ren commented. "I mean… with Shinjiro-san being your guardian."

"Yeah…" Ken sighed, his expression suddenly becoming sad for some reason. "…Shinjiro-san has always looked after me."

Though he had to wonder just how young he was when he met Shinjiro-san. From Ken's last statement, it must have been for a while.

"But anyways," Ken stood up and stretched, "when you're done, you want to check out the entertainment room?"

"An entertainment room?" Ren repeated, staring at him. "How can you even afford this?"

"It's on loan from a friend of Shinjiro-san's," Ken said with a wave of his hand. "You like DDR? You seem like the type."

Ren grinned. "I can dance while doing that. You are so on."

"I should've known that your virtues don't include modesty," Ken sighed, though his eyes were glinting with amusement.

Ren just smirked. "Hey, it's not bragging if it's true."


RANK UP! Adjustment Confidant has reached Rank 3.

Fusion Raid:  Two party members may perform a special co-op attack when all Shadows are all knocked down.


Monday, August 1st, 2016


Since his plans for gift hunting were rather… derailed yesterday, Ken was going to be doing that today. Not that he minded too much. Hanging out with Ren yesterday was fun. Though with Ren and Yusuke… he had to wonder about the eating habits about the others. Anne mentioned dieting for her job, and there were the others' comments about her sweet tooth…

Not to mention that Miyuki and Kaito were begging him for presents from the Pokemon Center… But he'd worry about that later… Shinjiro-san's birthday was closer. A lot closer…

"Ugh, why didn't I go shopping earlier?" Ken grumbled to himself, even though he already knew the answer.

A combination of worrying about the mission, finals, and then Alibaba/Futaba and Medjed completely distracted him.

Shinjiro-san wasn't a hard person to please, when it came to birthday presents. He was usually happy with Ken giving him something like a cookbook filled with foreign recipes. But… twenty-five was a milestone. He couldn't help but feel that he should do something more this year… Not to mention how Shinjiro-san had decided that he needed to keep an eye on Ken because he wanted to do the mission. He… needed to make up for that. Not to mention that he was starting to suspect that they may still be handling Futaba's Palace when Shinjiro-san's birthday came along… and Shinjiro-san was asking for time off at work so they could visit Port Island.

The thing… was that he had no idea where to begin

Ken sighed, before rubbing his temples. Well, if he got really desperate, he could always look at engagement rings, in case Shinjiro-san had missed something-

"HEEEEEEY, KEN!"

Ken jumped at the sudden voice. Of course, it was Ryuji. It was never not Ryuji. But he wasn't alone. Yusuke was staring sternly at Ryuji for his yelling.

"Ryuji, I do not think it is prudent to destroy Ken's eardrums like that," he said flatly.

"Sorry, man…" Ryuji rubbed the back of his neck, offering Ken a sheepish smile. "But you really looked out of it! Like you were overthinking something."

…Well, that wasn't a lie. Ryuji could be pretty perceptive.

"Well, I was thinking about something," Ken sighed. "But I wasn't sure how to continue…"

Ryuji just cocked his head. "You prolly need some food. Y'know, brainpower!" He tapped his temple with a grin. "And maybe you could talk to us 'bout it? It seems like it's a problem."

"Well, not exactly a problem…" Ken said, before letting out a huff of air, ruffling his bangs. "Honestly, I should've started a while ago… It's nothing but my fault."

"Hey, hey, none of that!" Ryuji scolded, looking uncharacteristically stern. "I mean, shit's been crazy, yeah?"

"And you shouldn't really put yourself down like that." Yusuke joined in the chastisement as well. "You've been busy, have you not? We all have been. Not to mention that we were concerned with exams not too long ago."

"So… lunch?" Ryuji nudged him. "Promised Yusuke a while ago that I'd take him out for beef bowls. Wanna come with?"

The mention of beef bowls just made him smile. It reminded him of Akihiko-san…

"Okay," he said with a nod.

And maybe Ryuji was right. Maybe he needed some advice for a starting point.

"Sweet!" Ryuji grinned at him. "Come on, it's not too far!"

Ryuji then led the two of them to a modestly sized beef bowl shop. It was pandemonium, employees trading shouts while customers impatiently waited for their orders.

"Rush hour," Ken sighed, with a shake of his head.

"How uncouth," Yusuke said with disdain. "How could anyone enjoy an establishment such as this?"

…Guess he shouldn't mention that he really liked Wild-Duck, back on Port Island. Though part of his positive feelings had to do with the races he had with his soccer teammates after practice. Those had been really fun, especially when Koromaru joined in. But Wild-Duck had been falling on hard times, since Big Bang Burger was growing in popularity so fast. It was too bad though… he didn't really like Big Bang all that much.

"Hey, man, they all can't be five star restaurants," Ryuji huffed. "And it's really good, I promise."

Yusuke sniffed, looking rather unconvinced. "If you say so, Ryuji."

"Just wait until I can take you to Ogikubo, Yusuke!" Ryuji waved his arms. "The ramen is simply the best!"

At least he knew that somebody else was concerned about Yusuke's diet. Or more specifically, his lack of one.

"I'll be the judge of that, not you," Yusuke stated, looking rather unimpressed.

They waited in line to order, though they had to stop Yusuke from ordering something that wasn't even on the menu. (He felt so bad for the cashier, who looked like she was a first-year high schooler.) Soon enough, they received their food, and managed to find three free seats.

"Hey, man, you've gotta eat more!" Ryuji scolded, before reaching for the ginger and piling it in Yusuke's bowl.

"Hmm, it seems you remember my technique."

"Dude, that was for sushi," Ryuji sighed, before turning to Ken.

Ken jerked his bowl away before Ryuji could add any to his. "I already have Shinjiro-san nagging me in that department," he said, raising an eyebrow. "I don't need you to do that too."

Ryuji just smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, man. Guess my mom's rubbed off of me."

So… Ryuji's mother was alive. And judging from that statement, he seemed fond of his mother. Ken knew better to pry, but he couldn't help but wonder why she hadn't pulled Ryuji from Shujin after Kamoshida broke his leg. Just… who would let their child be in the same school where their teacher assaulted said child?

"So, Ken…" Yusuke began, "what ails you? Ryuji is correct in that you looked rather… perplexed out on the street." He then picked up a piece of meat, popping it in his mouth.

"Well…" Ken took a bite of food as well, taking the time to gather his thoughts together. "…Shinjiro-san's birthday is coming up in about a week and a half. I meant to go looking for presents yesterday, but Ren's unhealthy eating habits interrupted that."

"Ren's what?" Ryuji repeated, looking rather baffled.

"He apparently relies on Sakura-san a lot for breakfast," he said. "So I took back to my place and made him something. We ended up hanging out, so my plans kinda got shot."

Yusuke let out a thoughtful hum, all while chewing. He then swallowed. "Just what are Aragaki-san's interests?"

"Cooking," Ken said automatically. "And animals."

Ryuji let out a guffaw. "Animals?! Didn't peg Shinjiro-san as an animal lover."

"He had cooked specifically for Morgana." Yusuke closed his eyes. "I am unsurprised."

"I always thought it was 'cause he felt bad for Morgana getting soaked like that…" Ryuji scratched the back of his head with his free hand. He popped some food in his mouth. "I mean, ain't that why he cooked for us?"

"Some of it was leftovers from when Fuuka-san surprised us that morning," Ken said. "Though Shinjiro-san really does love to cook. It wasn't really a problem for him."

"I can taste his passion," Yusuke mused, before opening his eyes. "You are truly fortunate to taste that on a daily basis."

"Dude, why you gotta be so dramatic?" Ryuji groused.

Ken just laughed. "I'll be sure to pass on the compliment to Shinjiro-san."

"Though seriously… why are you stressing 'bout this?" Ryuji's forehead wrinkled. "Shinjiro-san doesn't seem the type of guy to make a huge deal outta a birthday."

"Speaking of birthdays, when is yours?" Yusuke inquired. "Ren is quite determined to not miss another birthday, after discovering too late that Ryuji's birthday had passed."

"Sorry." Ken winced. "My birthday is June twenty-fourth."

"Whaaaat?" Ryuji stared at him. "How come you never said anything?"

Ken shrugged. "It's… not a big deal to me," he said. "I'm more than happy to get well wishes from the people I care about."

Honestly, it was nice to have a quiet birthday (well, during the school day, at least) for once.

"Nah, man, we've gotta catch up after we deal with—" Ken stared exasperatedly at Ryuji, who winced before continuing, "—our little problem. Ren took me video game bingeing when he found out 'bout my birthday. We should do something special!" He poked Yusuke in the shoulder with one of his chopsticks. "Yusuke's birthday won't be 'till January, so a birthday celebration should be fun!"

"When are the girls' birthdays then?"

"Uhh, I dunno 'bout Makoto, but Anne's birthday is November twelfth," Ryuji said. "Ren told me that his birthday is May twenty-second." He shook his head. "Dunno why he didn't say anything."

"Could say the same thing about you, Ryuji," Ken said.

"Hey, it was around the time we were gonna steal Kaneshiro's treasure," Ryuji defended. "Felt off to just announce it like that."

"That's fair," Yusuke said with a chuckle. "And shows a dedication to what we do."

"Well… what we do is special to me. It makes me feel like I actually belong, y'know?" Ryuji rubbed the back of his neck. "That's why… I get so excited sometimes. I don't mean to yell, but sometimes it comes out…"

"Ryuji…"

…Now he felt bad for giving him grief about that.

"…I'm sorry."

"Nah, man, don't say that!" Ryuji waved his chopsticks. "I mean, you're right, I need to be more careful." He then shook his head. "But anyways, about Shinjiro-san… Why is it such a big deal to you?"

"Well…" Ken sighed. "…I guess I just want to thank him? For what he's done for me… He wasn't even twenty-one yet when he gained custody of me. I didn't ask him of this… but he did it anyways."

"Just why did he then?" Yusuke looked a bit sad at that.

"…He was there when my mother died," Ken said. "He… felt horrible that he couldn't do anything to stop it… And he felt awful that I was orphaned… because he lost his parents when he was young as well."

Ryuji's eyes went wide. "Damn… he shouldn't blame himself, though! I mean, it's not like he killed your mom!"

Ha… Ha… Right… If only he knew… But he could never say. After piecing together some of the stories of the Phantom Thieves… he knew that they'd have a hard time coming to terms of the truth of his mother's death.

"It was quite altruistic of him to do so, though," Yusuke said, before he sighed deeply. "…If only there were more people like him."

"Yusuke…" Ryuji looked at him sadly.

"However… I believe that Shinjiro-san will be happy to receive any gift from you," he stated, pressing a hand to his chest. "As long as it's heartfelt. It matters not what the gift is… but the feelings that come from the gift giver."

The feelings…

"So there's gotta be something, man!" Ryuji exclaimed.

"I…" Ken looked down at the table.

There was… Mom's old engagement ring.

"…Shinjiro-san wants to propose to Fuuka-san."

"Whoa, really?" Ryuji gasped, before he scrunched up his nose. "…Ain't they on the young side, though?"

"Not particularly," Yusuke stated. "There is the belief that a woman should be married by the age of twenty-five."

"That's so dumb," Ryuji scoffed. "A woman doesn't magically turn into a hideous hag once she turns twenty-six!"

"…Regardless, they have been together for quite some time," Ken said. "They've been dating since their last year of high school. And Shinjiro-san's best friend has been married for a year already. And another friend got married last March."

"So they're high school sweethearts." Yusuke reached for his drink. "If they've survived this far, I'm sure they'll make the distance. I only wish them the best."

"But you seriously aren't going to go out and buy an engagement ring, though?" Ryuji asked. "That shit's gotta be expensive!"

"Not exactly," Ken said, shaking his head. "I was bequeathed part of my inheritance when I turned eighteen… And my mother left me her old engagement ring."

Possibly to sell, possibly to give the woman he wanted to marry. But… Shinjiro-san wanted to propose now. He could always get a new ring, if he ever found someone he wanted to marry.

"Ah…" Yusuke's eyes lit up. "So you'll give it to him, and he could always customize it a bit to suit Yamagishi-san better. That would be cheaper than buying a new ring all together."

"And you were thinking 'bout something he really wants." Ryuji flashed him a grin. "He'll appreciate it for sure, Ken."

"Thank you for helping me though," Ken said sincerely. "I really appreciate it."

"Hey, no prob, man!" Ryuji slung an arm around Ken's shoulders, all while grinning. "But now that's settled, wanna hang out with me and Yusuke for the rest of the day?"

Ken just smiled. "Well, if you don't mind."

"Nonsense." Yusuke smiled. "Someone will have to help me rein in Ryuji, regardless."

"Hey, don't talk like I'm not here!"


Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016


The bookstore on Central Street was a lot more organized than Bookworms. But still… they didn't seem to have what he was looking for…

"Ken?"

Ken whirled around to see that it was Makoto. "Oh, hello, Makoto," he greeted, before his eyes flickered to the book that Makoto was holding. "What are you buying?"

"Oh, this?" Makoto adjusted her grip. "It's just a bestseller from America. I buy books in English to practice reading English." She winced. "…English isn't my strong suit."

"Well, English isn't exactly an easy language," he sighed. "Gekkoukan started us out pretty early."

He remembered… someone who was tutoring him commenting on this, but he was pretty grateful. He really needed the practice. He wasn't stellar at English either.

"I don't even know why we even need to study it, unless you plan on studying English as a major," Makoto mused, before her eyes slid over to Ken. "…Though, what are you looking for today?"

"Well… I was looking for books… about helping someone with depression," Ken admitted quietly. "I know that you've pulled off miracles, but I think… it won't be enough. It'll be a good first step, but… I want to see if there's anything else we can do to help with Futaba…"

"Ken…" Makoto's eyes softened, and she touched his shoulder for a moment. "That was thoughtful of you. Honestly, it never occurred to me," she confessed. "But what you're saying makes sense… Futaba will still retain her personality. We probably will have to take steps to help her afterwards."

Ken nodded firmly. "That's what I was thinking." He then sighed. "…Though I haven't really found anything on the subject…"

Makoto pursed her lips. "Hmm… maybe they'll be due a shipment soon," she said thoughtfully. "You should check again another day. Though, have you looked around for books that you'd want to read for fun?"

"Nah." Ken shook his head. "I have a few books that I still need to finish reading, so I'm good in that regard."

"Oh, I see." Makoto nodded. "Do you want to get lunch then?" she offered. "Just let me pay and we could go find a place." She pressed her index finger against her lips as she thought. "Have you eaten at LeBlanc yet? The curry is quite delicious. You would think that coffee and curry is an odd combination, but they go surprisingly well together. The coffee Boss brews is excellent, as well. Unless you're a tea person…"

"I like both," Ken answered. "Shinjiro-san wouldn't let me drink coffee until my first year of high school, so he'd brew me low caffeinated tea for the mornings."

Makoto just laughed, before heading for the counter. "He sounds a bit like Sis. She'd chide me when I was younger for drinking soda… saying that there are so many preservatives in it."

Shinjiro-san probably had her beat though… He'd remember how Shinjiro-san would give him The Look if he bought too much festival food.

Makoto paid for her book, which she then put away in her bag, before they headed for the train station. Since it was somewhat early for lunch, they managed to get seats instead of being sandwiched between people.

"…Hey, Ken?"

"Hm?" Ken turned to look at her. "What's wrong?"

"Have you seen Anne lately?" she asked tentatively. "I think… I did something to upset her…"

…Well, considering the last time Anne was upset at Makoto… he didn't blame her for being a bit concerned.

"I haven't seen her since we entered Futaba's Palace last," Ken stated. "What happened?"

"I don't know, it's just… strange." Makoto frowned, before halting in her steps. "…She texted me out of the blue last night… saying that we were friends… and that I could tell her anything…" Makoto pressed a finger against her lips. "It was really strange, suffice to say."

…That was strange. And somewhat unlike Anne…

"When was the last time you saw her?"

"Ah… two days ago, I believe?" Makoto said finally, after thinking it over. "We went out for crepes… Anne was really happy, since the crepes with extra crème were regular price…" She shrugged. "I don't know. I just thought you'd have more insight than me."

"You've known her longer than me," Ken pointed out.

"Yeah, but-" Makoto sighed, shaking her head. "…Never mind. Maybe I should just ask Anne straight out…"

"That may be the best solution." Ken offered her a smile that he hoped was encouraging.

Ken pushed the door open, allowing Makoto to step inside. Though she stopped short. "…Sis?"

The woman looked up at Makoto's voice. "…Makoto?"

She was rather beautiful. She had the same elegant, yet stern air that Mitsuru-san often carried herself with. Ken could tell that she was tall, rivalling Shinjiro-san in height, even though she remained seated. She had long steel gray hair, her bangs swept aside, and her eyes were reddish brown.

Though when Makoto walked up to her, Ken could see the resemblance between the two sisters, especially in their facial features.

"What are you doing here?"

"Oh, um, I ran into a friend earlier and I invited him out to lunch…"

"A friend?" Makoto's sister's eyes widened when they fell on Ken. Then she coughed. "…Forgive me, I didn't mean to stare. You just… resemble Akechi-kun somewhat. I don't know if Makoto has told you this, but he's my partner."

"I've… met Akechi-san, Niijima-san."

"Sis, this is Ken Amada," Makoto introduced. "He moved out here in June." Then she turned to Ken. "Ken, this is my older sister, Sae Niijima."

For some reason… her eyes narrowed on him the moment Makoto addressed him. But still, he had to be polite…

"It's nice to meet you, Niijima-san."

"Likewise, Amada-kun," she said coolly. "Tell me, where do you come from?"

"Tatsumi Port Island," he answered.

"Port Island…" she repeated, her expression thoughtful. "That's quite far from here. Though isn't that where the Apathy Syndrome phenomenon occurred back in 2009?"

"Apathy Syndrome?" Makoto echoed, sounding rather puzzled.

How… How did she know about that? Most people had forgotten that it even existed, a result of how the Dark Hour disappeared. It blurred out people's memories, despite how prevalent it had been.

"I… I don't remember," Ken quickly lied.

"Is that so?" She folded her arms over her chest, her eyes scrutinizing.

Ken suddenly felt very small, like she was examining him with a microscope. She was a prosecutor, wasn't she? She would probably be very good at sniffing out lies then…

"Are you done grilling my customers now?" Sakura-san groused, leveling a stern glare at Niijima-san. "It's bad enough that you've been tryin' to interrogate me for days now-"

"Days?" Makoto repeated, though her expression was more… resigned.

Niijima-san scowled at him. "If you would just tell me what I need to know-"

"I told you all I know already!" he hissed out, his face starting to redden with anger.

Though… he could only think of one thing that she could be after… Akechi had mentioned that she was looking into cognitive psience for some reason. And if they were partners… maybe they were both looking into the mental shutdowns. That would also explain her interest in Apathy Syndrome as well.

Niijima-san's scowl deepened, but then she glanced at Makoto before sighing. "…Fine." She stood up, setting down a one thousand yen bill on the counter. "I have work to do anyhow…" She brushed off her suit. "Keep the change."

"Sis, wait-!" Makoto bit her lip. "…What have you been asking Boss? He just runs a coffee shop…"

"It's just something pertaining to my work…" Niijima-san sighed, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Don't worry about it, Makoto. It's… complicated."

"But-" Makoto then cut herself off, her shoulders slumping. "…Okay." She then looked up at her sister. "…Are you staying at work overnight again?"

But then Niijima-san's expression softened ever so slightly. "I'm sorry… but yes. I have too much on my plate right now…" She then stroked the top of Makoto's head for a moment. "Don't stay out too late today, okay?"

"All right," Makoto relented with a sigh.

Niijima-san nodded, pleased at Makoto's answer, before opening the door and stepping outside.

Ken frowned at the look of Makoto's face. It was a mix of concerned, upset, and just… resignation. He put a hand on her shoulder, which seemed to jolt her back to reality.

"I'm sorry, Ken… I just-"

"There's no need to apologize," Ken cut her off. "Your sister… her actions are pretty-"

Brazen, in all honesty. The fact that Sakura-san seemed angry with her was rather telling.

"…Bold," he finally said, not wanting to upset Makoto. She looked up to her sister, if he recalled correctly. "And I'd be worried too if Shinjiro-san was overworking himself like your sister is."

Makoto smiled softly. "…Thank you."

"Though, kid…" Sakura-san began, "I didn't know you were from Port Island." There was an… odd look on Sakura-san's face now.

"Oh, well… I thought it wasn't relevant." Ken shrugged.

Though… did Sakura-san know about the Shadow Operatives then? He made a mental note to ask Mitsuru-san if the name Sojiro Sakura sounded familiar to her…

"Hm." Sakura-san looked at him carefully for a moment, before he shook his head. "…But anyways, what can I get you today?"

"It's kinda hot…" Makoto said, "so can we get iced coffee with your curry today?"

"Coming right up." Sakura-san nodded, before heading for the kitchen to prepare their curry.

They then sat at the closest booth, though Ken noticed that Makoto still looked somewhat down.

"…Do you want to talk about it?" Ken asked carefully.

Makoto was silent for a long time, long enough for Sakura-san to come out and serve them their drinks. "My sister… she was always rather… brilliant, if not a prodigy," she said finally. "She became a prosecutor at the young age of twenty-two. But… Dad died not long after."

"That's… rather impressive," Ken said. "Though… I didn't realize that you lost your father a few years back…"

Especially since he was considering pursuing being a defense attorney...

Makoto smiled sadly. "Sis… she handled it the best she could. She started chasing after promotions so she could support us both. But…"

"…You don't approve of what she's become," Ken guessed.

"…I don't," she confirmed, before reaching for the sugar and cream, mixing in a little of both, before taking a sip. "She's become so… aggressive during her investigations lately. She's been working herself so hard to get promotions."

He had… heard of bad things about the court system. It was greatly skewed towards the prosecution. Though he hadn't realized just how strained their relationship was. He had thought… it was more Makoto not wanting Niijima-san to worry about her.

"…In all honesty… I was a little jealous when I got to see what exactly Shinjiro-san was like."

Ken's head shot up at that, and Makoto just let out a self-depreciative laugh.

"It's silly but…" She looked down. "…I wish that Sis was a little more like him. It's pretty obvious that he cares about you."

"That's not true." Makoto looked at him in shock, so he hastily added, "…Not about Shinjiro-san. But your sister. I think she does care… but she doesn't show it like how you'd expect a woman to express affection. If she didn't really care… why would she tell you to not stay out too long?"

Not to mention that she had all but patted her head earlier. He just… didn't think that a sister who viewed taking care of her younger sister as nothing more than a duty would do things like that. Then again, he was all too used to subtle gestures of affection. A hand on a shoulder, a ruffle of his hair (even though Shinjiro-san knew perfectly well that he detested having his hair mussed up), his favorite meal when exam results came out and he had scored well.

Makoto was quiet for a moment. "…I didn't think of it in that way," she admitted. "I just…" She sighed. "I just wish there was a way for us to become close again. She was a lot older than me, but she'd always indulge me when I wanted to play 'police officer' when I was a little girl."

Ken couldn't help but smile at the mental image of a little Makoto barging into Niijima-san's bedroom and begging her to play. She must have been a cute little girl. Though Makoto had wanted to be a police officer like her father when she was young, huh… He wondered if she still wanted to.

"You'll find a way." Ken gave her an encouraging smile.

"Thanks, Ken." Makoto gave him a smile of her own. She really had a nice smile... "Though first… we have other matters to deal with."

"Like maybe actually eating your meal?" Sakura-san's irritated voice cut through the air. "Sheesh… at this rate, it's gonna get cold."

They looked down, and sure enough there were two plates of curry in front of them.

Though Ken couldn't help but smile a bit at that. Yeah, he was definitely cut from the same cloth as Shinjiro-san.

"S-Sorry!" Makoto stammered out. "We just… got caught up in our conversation."

"Yeah, I can see that," Sakura-san said dryly.

But Makoto was right… They had Futaba to worry about first. Not to mention Medjed, considering that it took time for stealing the target's desires to set in...

Chapter Text

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016


"You got the time off?!" Fuuka's eyes began to sparkle with excitement, as she beamed at him. "Shinji, that's wonderful!"

Shinjiro rubbed the back of his neck. "Was nothin' really," he muttered. "Though it was a pain in the ass to get it for my day job…"

"What days did you ask off?" Fuuka asked.

"From the tenth to the seventeenth. I'd come back on the sixteenth, though. Figured I could use one day in Tokyo so I don't jump right back to work."

Fuuka nodded. "You could use it." Then she frowned. "…Though why are you keeping the night job still? Isn't it tiring?"

"It's not that bad," he said. "I'm fine, Fuuka. I could always use some more cash."

"If you say so…" Fuuka didn't sound convinced though. "But anyways, have you told Ken-kun about this yet?"

"Haven't gotten the chance to really talk to him 'bout it," Shinjiro admitted. "He's been out a lot lately. I know that he went into the Palace last Saturday."

Then Fuuka looked at him oddly, before doing that head tilt she did when she observed something. "…What is it, Shinji?"

Shinjiro let out the breath he was holding. "They've only made it 'bout halfway through the Palace, according to Ken," he muttered. "And this is pretty important to Ken… with what he found out about Isshiki's daughter."

Though he couldn't blame Ken. Futaba's thoughts weren't exactly pretty.

Fuuka's expression then grew worried. "And there's only a week left…"

"So yeah. Can't exactly ask Ken to drop this-"

"I'm home," Ken announced, cutting Shinjiro off. "Hi, Shinjiro-san, Fuuka-san."

"Hi, Ken-kun." Fuuka smiled at him. "How was your day?"

"Okay," he said with a shrug. "Went to the bookstore and ran into Makoto. We got lunch… and I ended up meeting her older sister."

"Moving fast, huh?" Shinjiro couldn't resist the joke.

"Wha…?" Then Ken flushed bright red, before glaring at him. "Shinjiro-san, we're just friends!"

"Come on, Ken-kun, you know that Shinji is just joking," Fuuka said.

"I hate his jokes," Ken grumbled, before he started to pout.

"You know, I could always tell Minako about her," Shinjiro deadpanned, before he smirked at Ken stiffening.

"Shinji, that's enough," Fuuka scolded, frowning at him. "Stop picking on him."

"Thank you, Fuuka-san," he muttered, only for him to look up. "I just remembered something… Futaba's adoptive father is Sojiro Sakura… Do you know if he knew about the Shadow Operatives?"

"Hmm…" Fuuka tapped her chin. "…Not that I know of. But I'll ask Minako-chan after I get off for tonight."

"Really?" Ken frowned. "Because Makoto's older sister… I think she was asking him about cognitive psience."

Shinjiro narrowed his eyes. That was kinda… suspicious.

"Asking him?" Shinjiro repeated, raising an eyebrow.

"Er…" Ken began to fidget. "…More interrogating him about it," he admitted.

"Jeez, she sounds like a piece of work…" Shinjiro muttered.

"But anyways!" Fuuka said abruptly, clapping her hands together. "Um, Ken-kun, Shinji was telling me that he was able to get about a week off…"

"Oh…" Guilt immediately filled Ken's face, before he suddenly looked down to the floor. "I'm sorry, Fuuka-san, but… we still have a lot of ground to cover with Futaba's Palace and-" He sighed, raising his head. "…I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it." Ken looked at him in surprise. "There will be other times when we can go back."

"Shinjiro-san…" Ken shook his head firmly. "You should still go. It'll be your birthday, and you deserve to be with everyone. And… you should visit Mom too while you're at it. During Obon. I'll be okay for just a week. I won't blow up the kitchen or anything."

Shinjiro examined him closely. This would be the first time Ken would miss visiting his mom's grave during Obon. But there could be other times where Ken would be able to visit… and the situation with Isshiki's daughter was pretty serious… But he could use a break from Tokyo. He wasn't a huge fan of the place. He didn't know how the hell Fuuka lived here for four years while attending Tokyo U. And it was only a week...

"Fine," he said finally, before nodding. "But I'm calling you every day, since we've still got Shido to think about."

Ken huffed, the puff of air ruffling his bangs. "Why am I not surprised," he deadpanned, which only made Fuuka giggle.

"You should have seen it coming, Ken-kun," Fuuka teased. "Think about what happened last time."

"How could I forget?" he grumbled, folding his arms over his chest.

"And I probably should get to freezing you some meals…" Shinjiro muttered. "Can't have you eating like Aki…"

"You're never going to let that go, are you, Shinji?" Fuuka laughed.

"I let that idiot out of my sight for two years and he comes back half naked and looks like he's been downing protein drinks every single day since he left."

And of course that idiot didn't know why the fuck it was weird to waltz around wearing nothing but a cape. God, Aki could be so clueless sometimes.

"Should I be offended that you're comparing me to Akihiko-san in that manner?" Ken looked at Fuuka, looking unamused. "I think I should be."

"Well, you did idolize Akihiko-senpai when you were younger," Fuuka teased, her eyes twinkling. "Can you blame Shinji for being a little worried?"

"So yeah." Shinjiro looked at Ken sternly. "Making you meals ahead of time."

"Oh joy," Ken sighed. "I can't wait to see the fridge absolutely stuffed…"

"Most people wouldn't find that a problem, Ken-kun."


Thursday, August 4th, 2016


"So what's the plan for today?" Morgana asked, sounding almost cheerful. He was in a good mood because Sojiro gave him some cream today. "Another test with Takemi?"

"Nah.." Ren shook his head. "Takemi's wrapped them up, remember?"

"Hmm, and Iwai only has you work at night…" Morgana mused. "Or maybe you want to spend time with someone today?"

"Maybe-" Ren stopped short.

Ken was staring intently at the ward map, his lips pursed together.

"What are you looking at, Ken?" Morgana piped up, only for Ken to jump and let out a surprised yelp.

Ren just grinned at him. "So, what are you looking for?"

"Don't do that," he grumbled, looking straight at Morgana.

Morgana just sniffed. "It's not my fault you weren't paying attention."

Ken sighed, before straightening up. "But to answer your question… I was looking to see if there was a nearby shrine…"

"A shrine?" Ren repeated. "Why do you want to go to a shrine?"

"Oh, well..." Ken ducked his head. "…I haven't really prayed to my mother lately. And we don't exactly have a family altar so…"

Oh…

"Well…" Ren said slowly, "can't say I'm really familiar with shrines, but there is Meiji Shrine. It's near Shinjuku, I think?" He scratched the back of his head. "Not really sure."

"Meiji Shrine?" Ken repeated, blinking owlishly at him. "…Isn't that more of a tourist attraction?"

"I mean, yeah, but…" Ren shrugged. "That's the only one I really know about, sorry, Ken. Shrines aren't exactly on my list of places to go."

He always associated shrines with old people, if he was being honest. Like, yeah, some girls were superstitious and bought love charms but they were probably in the minority. But… he supposed it fit Ken, since his mother's death affected him so badly…

Ken just pursed his lips together. "Well… I suppose a more populated area would be better," he sighed, shaking his head. "Shinjiro-san still harps on that…"

"Do you want me to go with you?" Ren offered. "I haven't really figured out what I wanted to do today."

Ken just raised an eyebrow. "You really do keep yourself busy, huh?" His expression became wistful. No… more nostalgic? Why? No clue whatsoever.

"I… guess?" Ren tilted his head. "I mean, it's Tokyo."

"Fair enough," he laughed. "But anyways… if you don't mind going to a shrine…" He smiled wryly. "I'd love the company."

The ride to Meiji Shrine was cramped, but it was nothing Ren wasn't used to. Ken seemed to be a different story, as he stumbled out.

"I don't think I'll ever get used to the feeling," he muttered, all while stretching his muscles. "Back on Port Island, we never had this problem."

"At least you had a subway system," Ren said. "It was completely new to me."

"Really?"

"Yeah." Ren nodded. "My hometown is more of a quiet area."

Ken frowned. "Then why did a politician go there?"

"Who knows?" Ren scowled at the mention of him. "To terrorize the female citizens? Didn't the culprit of the Adachi case try to assault his first two victims? Y'know, from Inaba?"

"…Yeah, he did." Ken got a funny look on his face for some reason. Though, then again, that case had been... creepy. The way the victims had been hung on telephone poles had to be disturbing to see. "But anyways, let's get going."

The walk to Meiji Shrine was short, though as Ken predicted, it had more tourists than actual people. Tourists, both Japanese and foreign, chattered away excitedly as they milled around the area. Some of them, mostly younger people, were examining the charms.

"This really is a busy place," Ken sighed. "It's beautiful, at least."

"What was the shrine like back at home, then?"

"Oh…" Ken looked back at him. "It was fairly small, but it felt more familiar, if that makes sense? I spent a lot of time there when I was younger."

Ken… just how lonely was he during his childhood, if a shrine was 'familiar' to him? Didn't he have any friends…?

They went through the motions of cleansing their body for the shrine, before Ken approached the main area to pray. His lips moved faintly as he prayed, but Ren wasn't able to read his lips.

"…You know, I think I would have idolized the Phantom Thieves when I was younger."

"Huh?" was his brilliant response.

"I've… just been thinking about it lately," he confessed. "As I told you before… my mother's death was declared an accident but I knew the truth. It was covered up. I guess… I've been thinking about it, with Isshiki-san…"

Oh… He was an idiot.

"That would have been a prime target for us," Ren said quietly.

"I've made my peace with my mother's death but…" Ken's expression was… mournful. "…I can't help but think that there are other kids who probably went through the same thing… The authorities cover up the crime… and only the victims really know what truly happened."

Well, ain't that the truth… People didn't believe he was innocent. Kamoshida never really admitted breaking Ryuji's leg was nothing but an act of spite. Madarame's crimes had claimed too many people… And the men who terrorized Futaba… They were probably behind Wakaba's death.

Though he couldn't help but be curious…

"Hey, Ken… if you don't mind me asking…" Ren took a deep breath. "…When did you lose your mom?"

Ken was quiet for a moment, and Ren was about to apologize and take back his question, when he spoke. "…It'll be a decade next year."

Ren's eyes widened as his brain quickly processed the math. This year would be nine years so that meant…

"You were nine when you lost your mom?"

Ren felt sick to his stomach. He was nine… a literal child. He was a child when he wanted to die… How… How could he have overcome that? No wonder he was so upset when he saw that Futaba was suicidal.

"And nobody really cared enough…?" Ren asked numbly.

"Well, my mom only had distant relatives around," Ken stated. "My dad… he and my mom separated when I was pretty young. The neighbors… had their own take on the reason why, but Mom always hated hearing it. He died when I was young. My mom's parents died in a car crash when I was five. My mom had a twin sister but… she became estranged from the family for some reason. My mom would never tell me why, so I guess I'll never know."

Jeez. He had no idea that Ken's family history was... sorta convoluted. Though he was curious about Ken's aunt. Just what had she done?

"…But that doesn't matter anymore." Ken shook his head. "I have more than enough family now… My senpai became my family."

"Maybe that's why you've taken to looking out for people so much," Ren joked lightly. Ken looked startled at his statement, so he continued. "I mean, come on. You cook for Yusuke and ask after his financial status. You let Makoto hang onto you back when we met Futaba. You worry about Futaba…"

Ken's cheeks went pink. "I guess… Shinjiro-san has rubbed off on me," he mumbled out.

Ren just grinned. "Come on, it's nothing to be embarrassed about."

"I find that hard to believe when you're grinning at me like that," Ken said flatly, before shaking his head. "But still... thank you for coming with me today, Ren." He smiled wryly. "I know it's not exactly your first choice to visit."

"Eh, it's no biggie." Ren shrugged. "Seeing Meiji Shrine was pretty cool. And I'm pretty sure that Yusuke would love to come here some time, so I'll show him the way."

He was starting to understand more about what Ken had gone through but… Ren couldn't help but feel that Ken was holding back… about something.

Ren shook his head. Nah, he was just imagining it. Ken was just a reserved person. And he doubted that Ken told many people the things he just told Ren…


RANK UP! Adjustment Confidant has reached Rank 4.

Follow-Up Attack: Chance to perform a follow-up attack if Ren fails to down an enemy.


Saturday, August 6th, 2016


Ren, how could you not tell me…?

Nope, too confrontational.

So… you and Makoto have become pretty close lately, huh?

Another nope. That would just be kinda… out of the blue.

Anne just groaned, falling back onto her bed. She had spent the last fifteen minutes trying to come up with a way to bring up what she… saw… a few days ago to Ren.

Anne had been returning from a shoot, which did not feature Mika, so she had done great, when she suddenly found herself craving a Frui-Tea. Since it was a bit healthier than the other sweet drinks, she had decided that she should indulge herself especially since she had been a good girl, exercising and dieting and all that.

But then… she saw Ren and Makoto at the diner.

She knew that they had been hanging out more, ever since they beat Kaneshiro. Ren had even relayed some of the more entertaining things that had happened to her, like how Makoto took to playing video games.

But the fact that they were with another couple… made it all too clear. Their hands were clasped together, and Ren only gripped her hand tighter when the guy leaned towards Makoto. Makoto seemed awfully nervous for some reason.

And seeing them together… had just twisted her insides. She couldn't help but feel hurt. Wasn't Ren one of her best friends? She thought that she and Makoto had become relatively good friends. Why did they feel the need to keep this from her?

No… she was just lying to herself. Anne sat up, hugging her legs. She was hurt because… she liked Ren. There had always been something about him. His kindness to her, especially when he didn't know her, but he listened to her about her problems with Kamoshida. He inspired her to stop putting up with Kamoshida's crap, for Shiho and for herself. He helped her become mentally stronger. He helped her slowly realize that modeling wasn't just a side hobby for her anymore. It was something that she wanted to pursue seriously.

But Makoto liked him, and she wouldn't get between that. And it made all too much sense. Opposites attract, don't they? And they were the leaders of the group, it was only natural that they would grow close. And Makoto had a lot going for her. She was older (guys liked older girls, didn't they?), composed (she was all over the place), and smart (Makoto was the top of her class).

She would be supportive… even if it hurt to think of them in that way. Though the biggest thought rattling in Anne's mind was… why hide it? If they were double dating (though, Anne had to admit the black haired girl looked vaguely familiar), why not tell everyone else? Ryuji was Ren's best friend, and Makoto was getting pretty close to Ken…

Her phone, which she had dropped onto the bed, suddenly went off. After unlocking her phone, she saw it was a message from Shiho.

[Shiho]: Hey, Anne…

[Shiho]: Can you come up to the school roof with me today?

[Shiho]: We'll be moving tomorrow so… this is my last chance.

Anne's heart gave a little squeeze. Shiho… She didn't understand why her best friend wanted to go back, but… this was basically her last request before she moved. She couldn't say no.

[Anne]: Of course. I'll be there asap!

And yet… She didn't want to do this alone…

Before she knew it, her fingers were moving.

"Anne?" Ren sounded confused. "What's up?"

"…Hey, Ren," Anne began. "…Are you free today? Shiho wants to go to the school roof and I…"

"…Do you want me to come with you?" Ren asked quietly. "I can go if you need me to."

Anne slowly nodded, even though Ren couldn't see. "…Please," she murmured.

"I'll be there," Ren promised, and she could hear the smile in his voice. "I'll meet you in front of the school gates."

Anne smiled. "Thanks, Ren. You're the best!"

"Oh, I know," he drawled.

Anne huffed out a laugh despite everything (Futaba's Palace, Shiho moving away, and her stupid heart), before rolling her eyes. "Ego, Ren."

"Bye," Ren laughed, and she could practically see his eyes dancing with laughter.

Anne left her apartment, heading over to Shiho's to come pick her up. Shiho was reassuring her mom that she'd be fine, and should be back within two hours. And Anne helped her get to Aoyama-Itchome, which was all but deserted.

"Hey, Shiho…" she began. "How are we even going to get inside? It's closed because of summer…"

"I… contacted Niijima-senpai," Shiho admitted, toying with her ponytail. "She said it was okay, when I explained my reasons…"

"What are they?" Anne asked.

Shiho shook her head. "I'll tell you on the roof, okay? I'm sure Amamiya-san is thinking the same thing… and I'd prefer to explain it just once to the both of you."

Anne agreed with a nod. Before long the train pulled into the station. They walked to the school gate, where both Ren and Makoto were standing, all while talking quietly about something. Makoto noticed them, so she nudged Ren in the side.

"You know this is just a one time thing, right?" Makoto asked, all while holding a ring of keys out to Shiho.

Shiho just smiled, while accepting the keys before bowing. "Of course, Senpai. Thank you for understanding."

"Any time, Suzui-san," she said sincerely. "I just… wish-"

"Senpai, you've apologized several times already," Shiho cut her off. "And my answer is always the same."

"You really should forgive yourself already, Makoto," Ren said quietly. "We all forgive you."

"Ren…" Makoto smiled for a moment. "…You're right. I'm sorry…"

"And there you go again," Anne sighed.

Makoto just shook her head. "Don't take too long up there, okay?"

Ren and Anne helped Shiho up to the roof, though Anne noticed that Shiho was doing fairly well. They had to help support her once they got to the third floor, though.

"How are you feeling, Shiho?" Anne asked, after helping her best friend sit down.

"I'm… okay." Shiho sighed. "I just wish that I had made it all the way…"

"Don't be so hard on yourself." Ren put a hand on her shoulder. "You're doing pretty well."

Shiho smiled slightly. "…Thank you. Especially since I know that Anne asked you to come here at the last minute."

Anne just smiled at Ren. "Isn't he super reliable?"

"-and kind and helpful and supportive," Shiho added, quirking an eyebrow at Anne. "You've told me… several times."

"S-Shiho!" Anne felt her cheeks begin to burn.

"Gossiping about me, huh?" Ren nudged her in the side, flashing her a grin. "I guess I'll let it slide… since you were saying such nice things about me."

Shiho suddenly became somber, wordlessly rising to her feet. She walked to the edge, staring out at the courtyard. She gripped the fencing. "We're so high up…" she said faintly. "I… I forgot just how tall Shujin is."

The one thing that Anne was grateful that Kobayakawa had done was replace the fencing. Make it so high that it was near impossible to climb over…

But… the image of Shiho standing there made Anne's blood run cold, panic squeezing her heart tightly. She knew that they'd be able to stop Shiho, but…

"Shiho…" Ren frowned. "Shouldn't you stay back…?"

"No…" Shiho shook her head. "I'm fine. I just…" She looked down. "…I needed to reenact the moment. The feelings… the same place I stood…" Shiho bit her lip.

"And… how do you feel?" Anne asked slowly.

"…I didn't want to die," Shiho said softly. "But… there was this voice screaming at me. I want this pain to go away. I need a way to escape… I want to forget what Kamoshida had done to me. It… It told me to come up here. It told me to jump. Just one moment of pain… and it'll be all gone."

Anne wrapped her arms around herself. Shiho… She was in so much pain… Why didn't she…?

"Anne. Don't blame yourself." Anne looked up to see that Ren was staring at her with serious eyes. "Shiho's here. She's alive and well. Kamoshida's rotting in prison, like how he deserves. But you can't blame yourself."

"Amamiya-san's right, Anne." Shiho turned to look at her. "It's nobody's fault but Kamoshida's. But…" She looked down. "…That person is part of me too. My weakness… I needed to see if she would come back."

"And she's gone?" Ren asked, raising an eyebrow.

Shiho nodded, a happy smile on her face. "She doesn't exist anymore."

"Shiho… you're so strong," Anne breathed out. "I've watched your progress… and it's just amazing."

"Maybe…" Shiho said, "but it's only because you've supported me this whole time. Visiting me… cheering me on… I don't think I would have had the motivation if I didn't have that support."

"Shiho… I…" Anne shook her head. "That was nothing…"

"No, that's not true." Shiho met her eyes. "I've seen you trying to make yourself strong. Striving to be a model, dreaming of becoming an action star… Hearing about how you deal with Mika. Your dreams… they motivated you so much. The way your eyes would sparkle with passion… how fired you got when telling me about them. With you working so hard, I couldn't stay in my hospital bed moping. It made me realize… I wanted to chase my dreams too."

Anne found herself blushing. All of that praise, and she hadn't really done anything. Except come to realize that she wanted to be a legit model. She wanted to show the world just who she was.

"And what would that be?" Ren asked.

Shiho was quiet for a moment. "To become… a volleyball Olympic star." She clenched her fist. "I want to prove to Kamoshida. That I'm just as good as—no. I'm better than him. I'll destroy his record. But you… being able to change others. That's true strength." She suddenly stepped forward, and hugged Anne. "Thank you. Thank you for showing me the way."

"Shiho…!" Anne's eyes began to fill with tears. "I'm not strong… I'm not strong at all," she choked out. "If Ren and Ryuji hadn't stood with me for Kamoshida… if I had lost you, I don't know what I'd do…"

She'd never forget what Shiho had done for her… by befriending her.

"I'm sorry," Shiho murmured. "For having to move away. I wish that the memory wasn't so strong…"

"Shiho…" Anne pulled away slightly, to look at her best friend straight in the eye. "I'm going to be the top model, you hear me?! That way, you'll be able to see me still…" The tears began to fall. "I'll… I'll be in so many magazines… and I'll say tons of good stuff in the interviews! S-So…" She pulled away completely to start wiping at her eyes. "Stay healthy… Work hard, but not too much! And keep in touch… please…"

She didn't want her to leave. But she had to. It was the best for Shiho…

"Always, Anne," Shiho promised, before hugging her again. "And I'll come to visit… once I can smile from the bottom of my heart."

"Y-You better," Anne choked out.

Shiho gently wiped at the last of her tears, before going to embrace Ren as well. "Thank you as well, Amamiya-san," she said softly. "It was always nice when you visited with Anne." Then she leaned in close, whispering something to Ren.

Ren just smiled at her, before nodding. "Always."

There was a soft knock, and Makoto peered inside. "Ah… Suzui-san's parents are here," she said. "They… got a bit worried."

"Of course they did…" Shiho sighed. "But I suppose they shouldn't be kept waiting."

They saw Shiho downstairs, before Anne hurried back up to the roof to watch the car leave. It just felt so… final. Shiho was really leaving…

But no… she can't cry. She promised herself that she wouldn't cry before, but she broke that promise.

"I… I'm going to be the number one model," she swore, pressing a hand to her chest. "Not just a good model, but the best!"

"Anne…" Ren put a hand on her shoulder. "You'll do it," he said gently. "You can do anything you set your mind to…"

"I'll follow the diet Shinjiro-san made up for me… I'll come up with a regiment that'll tone up my body… I'll exercise every day." Anne knew she was rambling, but she knew Ren didn't mind. He never did. "I'll study different languages too so I can do international events! I'm going to help Shiho… in the only way I can. By showing her how hard I'm working."

"Make her proud," Ren said. "Make yourself proud…" His eyes softened. "I'm already so proud of you."

"Yeah!" Anne nodded firmly. "Shiho will definitely…" Her eyes began to tear up again. No! Dammit, why… "She'll definitely…" The floodgates seem to burst and the tears came pouring out. "Dammit… why… I know this is the best for her, but I… I feel so alone and I…!"

She gasped as she felt Ren's arms wrap tightly around her. He rubbed circles into her back with one hand, stroking her hair with the other, all while holding her tight. "That's not true, Anne. You have me, Anne, I swear to you. Hell will have to freeze over before I leave you. And it's not just me… There's Ryuji, Morgana, Yusuke, Makoto, and Ken… They all care about you." His thumb tenderly brushed a tear right by her eye. "I don't want to hear that from you ever again, Anne. You're never alone."

Despite herself, Anne burrowed against Ren. He felt so warm and wonderful… The scent of coffee tickled her nose.

"Ren, I…" It was on the tip of her tongue.

I love you. I've loved you longer than I've realized.

…But she couldn't. She didn't want to destroy their friendship. Ren was happy dating Makoto.

"Anne…?"

Anne forced a smile. "I just wanted to thank you," she said softly. "For always being there for me."

Ren still looked confused, but then his arms tightened around her. "Always, Anne."


Monday, August 8th, 2016


"Everyone, let's move out!" Ren broke into a run… only to trip over his coattails and land right on his face.

"Damn, haven't seen that in a while," Ryuji commented with a snicker. "Smooth, Joker."

That… made him a bit nervous, with his cape.

Ren mumbled something, something that Ken strongly suspected was Shut up, Skull. Makoto let out an exasperated sigh, before helping Ren up.

"Though you didn't tell us the party set-up for this time," Makoto stated.

"Oh, right." Ren tapped his chin. "Let's do… Queen, Fox, and Ace."

They went up to the area they had just cleared, and Ren opened the door just across from the safe room. A stone slab near the entrance read the Chamber of Guilt.

"…Honestly, I'm surprised that there's no Chamber of Secrets," Anne murmured.

"Is this some kind of American joke?" Ryuji scratched the back of his head.

"It's the title of a book from a popular English series," Makoto explained. "I read it in junior high."

"But look at this…" Ren ran his hand across another stone slab. "When red and blue align, an illusion arises. Only proper guidance shall form a path."

"Maybe… there's some kind of light we've gotta shine?" Ryuji suggested.

"Perhaps." Yusuke absently ran his hand on the hilt of his blade. "We will probably have to go in further and see."

Ren led the way, fighting Shadows all the while. He unveiled a couple new Personas, such as Ame-no-Uzume and Pisaca, both being Personas he had never seen before.

They eventually came face to face with Shadow Futaba.

"You're late. What took you so long?" Despite her words, she sounded… almost nonplussed.

To add to that, she all but waltzed away, walking to the left.

"Joker, I don't think-" Ken began.

"What choice do we have, Ace?" Ren swept his hand, gesturing to the bottomless pit to the right. "It's a dead end."

Ken sighed. "I guess you're right," he muttered, before following Ren down the path. But then something began to rumble, shaking the entire area.

"Um… that sound…" Makoto took a couple steps back, as a boulder appeared.

"Not again!" Anne moaned before they booked it out of there before they could get crushed.

"Do I have to say it?" Ken said flatly.

"No," Ren grumbled, before his eyes turned bright red.

Ren's ability… the Third Eye, as he called it, unnerved Ken a bit. Though Ren mumbling Focus… did take away some of the creepiness. He didn't know how Ren attained that ability. Was he born with it? He was pretty sure that it wasn't a Wild Card ability.

But then Ren ran forward, suddenly kneeling down. "Check it out." He gestured to the hole.

"It's… rather on the small side," Yusuke said. "This will be pleasant…"

But they all managed to squeeze through, finding themselves in a large room with… several sarcophagi. Morgana stepped forward, probably to scout the area, when the ground suddenly fell away.

"Mona!" Ryuji snatched him up before he could fall to his death. "Jeez… this place really is a death trap," he grumbled, before setting Morgana down.

"Y-Yeah…" Morgana said shakily, before looking up at Ryuji. "…Thanks, Skull."

"We'll just have to be careful about where we step…" Ken said.

A flight of stairs led them to both a button and a stone slab. But when Ren tried pressing it, it didn't budge. Ren frowned, before trying to whack at it harder. Yusuke grabbed his wrist before he could try again.

"Joker, I don't think that will work," he said flatly.

"Maybe we need to activate it somehow?" Makoto suggested. "The stone slab isn't lit up like the others we've seen."

"Ugh, this area's a huge pain in the ass already," Ryuji grumbled.

"Oh, stop complaining," Anne chided. "We'll just have to keep exploring!"

Ren turned to the right, ambushing the Shadow lurking by the door, before they continued forward. They eventually came across a plank blocking the area. But Ren just kicked it down, and opened the door at the end of the path. This eventually led them to a slab. When Ren touched it, the writing suddenly glowed blue.

"Something showed up…" Anne commented. "It's kinda gibberish though… B01010…"

"Let's head back," Ken suggested. "They must be connected, like the stone slab with the mural we saw."

"But what does that thing mean…" Morgana frowned. "It sounds almost like a code…"

A code… Now that Morgana mentioned it, he was right. It was like… binary, wasn't it? But it's not like there was a computer floating around where they could enter this code in…

But when they stepped outside, the ground started to shake. (Futaba really liked making earthquakes, didn't she?) But on one side of the room, holographic orbs appeared, floating above what he had assumed were sarcophagi. And they were all… blue.

"Holy crap…" Ryuji breathed. "What is that?!"

"Maybe we have to apply that B01010 to it somehow…" Yusuke suggested. "Shall we take a closer look?"

Ren led them back to the main area. Though Ken noticed that one of the holograms was more blue than the rest.

"Hmm…" Morgana tilted his head. "Maybe… 0 means we have to shut down the image."

"Let's try that." Ren nodded.

He approached the second sarcophagus and pressed the control panel. He ignored the third and fifth images, but shut down the rest.

"What do we do now then?" Ryuji asked.

"Let's try checking the button," Ken suggested. "I saw the stone slab all lit up when we went past it earlier."

And this time it worked, unlocking the glowing blue door that they couldn't get to open earlier. (And Ren had tried. Several times. Morgana had to nudge him into exploring a different area.)

They entered inside. This area was more of a maze, but they managed to find another stone slab. But when Ren touched it, it glowed red, not blue.

"R01100 and B10011 this time," Anne noted. "So we'll have to change the holograms again?"

"Looks like it," Makoto said. "Come on, let's go back and check."

When they came back out, the other side activated its holograms. Ren deactivated the holograms needed, before going back to the button. But when he pressed the button, the area shook violently, hard enough for Morgana to lose his balance.

"Oof…" Morgana groaned. "That was definitely the strongest reaction so far…"

But then Ken looked up. "Er… guys?" he said slowly. "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"

Boulders were… rolling down the path.

"Um…" Anne gulped. "…That's not good."

"Yeah, that's kinda an understatement!" Ryuji yelped. "They ain't stopping… What are we gonna do!?"

"Joker, you must do something!" Yusuke's eyes were wide with panic.

"Okay, okay!" he exclaimed, holding up his hands. "Let's see…" He muttered, before punching the button again. And again.

"Joker, you're making it worse!" Anne shouted, as the boulders seemed to pick up their speed.

"I know, I know!" Ren yelled. "I'm trying to fix it, okay?!"

…Yes, try to fix the problem. By repeatedly pressing the button causing the problem.

Ren's leg suddenly lashed out and he kicked the button. (He really liked kicking things, didn't he…?) But the boulders slowed, before finally stopping.

"…Who knew you had to break the button to fix this," Ken deadpanned.

"Whatever works, right?"

Ren led them to climb up the boulders (this was seriously what the stone slab meant?), and eventually led them to a room that held another mural.

This time, it was an image of… Futaba on the ground, weeping, as a dark haired woman threw herself in front of an incoming car.

"Mom, no!" The sound of sobbing echoed through the chamber. "Mom, wake up! Please! You were just tired, from your work… that's why you fell into the street, right…?"

"Huh…?" Makoto frowned. "What is Futaba talking about?"

"That's… that's not the important part." Anne looked shaken up. "Futaba… she…"

"…She was in the state of denial," Yusuke stated, closing his eyes. "No wonder, with how she suddenly lost her mother…"

"I'm sorry, Miss, but we have to take your mother-"

"NO! Mom, WAKE UP!" Futaba's voice had turned hysterical, before breaking off into sobs. "She's not… she can't be…"

He remembered what happened when his mother died. Shinjiro-san's Persona had destroyed the wall of his house, and his mom had gotten him up. They had meant to escape the house together, but then Castor had destroyed the wall. The shrapnel would have pierced him, if his mother hadn't run forward and embraced him.

He remembered her blood soaking his clothes. Castor continued going berserk, and pierced her from behind. But she just held onto him tighter, as the blood drained out of her. He remembered how Mom had collapsed to the ground. He remembered shaking her and begging her to wake up already. He remembered the police and the paramedics coming, how he had to be dragged away from her so the paramedics could examine her-

"Ace? Ace!" Makoto was shaking him hard, her hands gripping his shoulders tightly. He was shaking. He couldn't stop shaking. "Ace, just breathe!"

Ken suddenly inhaled sharply, before he stared wide-eyed at Makoto. He then took in a shaky breath. "I…"

"Shh, it's okay," she shushed him. "Joker, just go find the safe room up ahead… we'll catch up."

Ren looked at him carefully, before nodding. He led the rest of them forward

"Do you want to talk about it?" Makoto asked gently, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"No," Ken said hoarsely, his throat constricting painfully. "I can't… I just…"

He couldn't begin to think about making a version about how his mother died, to fit the story he gave the Phantom Thieves. He didn't want to think about it.

"Okay," Makoto said. And without warning, she suddenly embraced him. "I'm sorry this reminded you of your mom." Her voice shook as her grip on him tightened. "Futaba-chan didn't deserve this… and neither did you."

But… didn't Makoto's father die because of a traffic "accident"?

"Queen, your dad…" Ken pulled away, before looking away.

"Dad… he knew that his job was an occupational hazard. And…" Makoto looked down. "…Sis refused to let me see the body for a day. At the time, I was angry but… it probably was for the best." She reached out, squeezing his hand. "…But are you feeling better now?"

"A little." Ken nodded. "But come on, we've kept the others waiting long enough."


"Show me your true form!"

After Ken's… episode, Ren had swapped him out with Morgana. But that was fine. He had been keeping Ken in the main party for the last stretch and most of their last run… He could use a break.

The canine Shadow wasn't that strange black dog that carried a scale. It was… weird, if he was being honest.

It had the head of a crocodile, but with a lion's mane. Its body was more like a hippo, but ridges ran down its spine, before forming a crocodile's tail. And it had paws more like a lion. Then again, he's seen some pretty weird Shadows. Like how Angel had this weird bondage look going on.

"Nice!" Morgana cheered. "You've got the first move, Joker!"

"Any idea on this one's weakness, Ace?" Ren asked.

"Sorry…" Ken shook his head. "I've never seen this one before."

Gah, of course. Might as well experiment then…

"Ame-no-Uzume!"

One of his new Personas appeared with a flash. She had been kinda a pain to fuse, since Caroline and Justine had demanded a special one as one of their requests. She made a sweeping motion with her arm, before bright pink energy formed, striking the Shadow.

It seemed to do normal damage, damn…

"Zorro, show your might!" Morgana exclaimed, before his Persona appeared and slashed with his rapier, whipping up a Garula spell.

Ame-no-Uzume had electricity and ice, so he could try those too…

Makoto then made her move, summoning a Freila spell. But it seemed to resist her spell…

Ryuji then ran forward, swinging with his club, but it also seemed to resist that… Damn, this was gonna be an annoying one, wasn't it?

"My turn!" the Shadow growled, its voice surprisingly feminine. It swiped forward, before blasting a Maeiga spell. (It was really a good thing that none of them were weak to curse.)

"Joker, try Bless since it's using Curse attacks!" Morgana exclaimed.

It was running a risk but… This Shadow was a tough one. He rifled through his Personas, before finally picking out Principality. She raised her staff, a bright light flaring from it. The Shadow toppled over, earning a cheer from Ryuji.

"Wait!" the Shadow growled. "You're just going to shoot me?"

"You could always join me," Ren suggested, praying that Yoshida's newest technique worked.

"Join you…" the Shadow repeated. "Oh! That's right… I'm not a Shadow. I live in the sea of souls. My name is Ammit… and starting now, I am you… and you are me…"

Ammit then transformed into blue flames, flying towards Ren's mask. He felt Ammit's presence inside of him now.

"Oooh, nice, Joker!" Morgana cheered. "That's a new one, isn't it?"

"It's almost as annoying as that black dog one," Ryuji grumbled.

"Yeah, pretty much," Ren sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "But anyways… let's get going!"


"Yet another puzzle…" Yusuke sighed. "I wonder what this one will show us…"

"Well, there's Futaba…" Anne pointed at the part with bright orange painted onto it. "And I think that's Futaba's mom?"

"We'll just have to see," Morgana said, as Ren started to fiddle with the controls.

It wasn't too bad. Harder than the other puzzles, but a lot easier than some of the other puzzles he's had to solve. When he was finished, it showed an image of Futaba, tugging onto her mom's clothes. Wakaba was holding a stack of papers, while a computer desk sat to the right.

"Mom… I'm so bored…" Futaba's voice, high-pitched and whining, echoed throughout the room. "Can't we take a vacation?"

"Futaba, I told you," a stern voice sighed. "My work has reached a critical stage. It's far too important for me to stop now."

"Jeez…" Ryuji frowned. "Would it kill her to pay a little more attention?"

"You have to remember that she was raising Futaba alone, Ryuji…" Makoto said quietly. "It's not easy raising a child on one income…" Her expression grew melancholy at that. She was probably thinking about both her dad and Sae…

"Yeah, but…" Ryuji sighed.

"…You can't help but feel a little bad for Futaba," Anne added. "I always hated it when my parents had to delay returning home because of something coming up with work…"

"Not even for the weekend?! Your work is stupid!" Futaba huffed out. "I hate your work!"

"Futaba!" Wakaba sounded aggravated now. "Don't you dare say that! My work will be revolutionary!" Then a sigh. "Futaba, look… I'm sorry that I haven't been able to pay attention as I should, but I promise my research will be done soon. We'll take a nice long vacation during winter break, okay? I'll make you all of the homecooked meals you want, until you're sick of it. Just a little longer, okay?"

"Promise?"

"Of course, Futaba."

"Do you think… Futaba knows what her mother was researching?" Yusuke asked. "Just what made it 'revolutionary'?"

"That's the real question, isn't it?" Morgana sighed, folding his arms over his chest. "I have a feeling that Boss knows something, with how that woman has been interrogating him…"

"Not that we can really make him talk," Ren muttered. "It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about Futaba in the first place."

"That's not important," Ken said quietly. "Isshiki-san's research… has been lost. Even if Futaba knew what exactly her mother was researching… she was thirteen. I don't think she would've disclosed everything to Futaba."

"I would really like to know what it was exactly," Makoto mused. "…But I think Ace is right."

"But come on, the way is open… Let's push forward!" Anne urged.

They walked forward, finding themselves in the main hall. The door blocking the way slid down, allowing them to climb the rest of the stairs. But… another large door was blocking the way.

"Hey, doesn't this look familiar?" Anne cocked her head. "I feel that I've seen this before."

"That's… Futaba's bedroom door!" Morgana exclaimed. "This is it… I think we've finished the Palace completely!"

"But… we need to open the door," Makoto said, rubbing her chin.

"So, Futaba's cognition needs to change," Yusuke stated. "I assume that we must have her open the way for us."

"Open the way…?" Ken asked, frowning.

"Since Palaces are ruled by their hosts' cognitions… if we can change their mindsets, we can get rid of obstacles such as these," Morgana explained. "We've had to do it with Madarame before. But this means, we'll have to be prepared when we ask Futaba to open the door. We will have to present the calling card to her."

"Okay." Ren nodded. "Just give me a few days to gather supplies, and I'll figure out the best time to strike."

"Sounds good to me!" Ryuji cheered, pumping his fist.

"Futaba… we'll save you," Anne vowed, pressing a hand against her chest. Her eyes burned with resolution. "No matter what!"

"You want to live…" Ken said. "Just hang in there a little longer…"

"So, we're clear, right?" Morgana said firmly. "We'll prepare the calling card and Joker will decide when we strike."

Ren looked back at the door. The murals were painting a different picture, of Futaba's perception. She knew, deep down, what was the truth. She just had to realize it.


AMMIT

History: The Egyptian goddess of divine retribution. She sat by the scales of Ma'at, ready for when Anubis tested souls against the feather of truth. If they were judged to be impure, Ammit would devour the soul, inflicting a second death on the soul and causing the soul to become lost. 

Level: 31

Affinity: Curse

Blocks: Curse

Resists: Physical, Nuclear

Weakness: Bless

Spells: Eiga, Maeiga, Vicious Strike, Oni Kagura (level 32), Ominous Words (level 34) 

Chapter Text

Monday, August 8th, 2016


"I'm home-" Ken paused as a familiar scent hit his nostrils.

"We had too much leftover rice." Shinjiro-san was as nonchalant as he could be, turning to glance at him before turning his attention back to the stove.

But he knew better. Shinjiro-san must have remembered what he had talked about the last time they went into Futaba's Palace. Though Mitsuru-san had been far from… happy, hearing about what exactly had happened to Futaba…

While Shinjiro-san finished cooking the omurice, Ken just ended up brewing some tea. It was… a good distraction, as the scent of the omurice just made him think of Mom…

And despite the omurice being as delicious as always, Ken found himself barely being able to eat it. He only could think of how he had a literal flashback to how Mom died…

Why did it affect him so badly? He thought he had moved on from his mother's death.

"Ken." He lifted his head at Shinjiro-san's voice. "Don't force yourself to eat like that."

"Sorry," Ken mumbled out, before pushing away the plate. Omurice was one of his favorite meals, but it just tasted like ash to him right now. The bites he managed to get down felt heavy in his stomach. "I just…"

"Don't apologize," Shinjiro-san said, all while scrutinizing his face. "…What exactly happened at the Palace today?"

Ken didn't know what to say for a long time. Seeing what Futaba had gone through… was just horrifying. But hearing how Futaba had reacted to her mother's death had been the worst for him. It had just… hit too close to home.

"We… finished the Palace today," Ken finally said. "We'll be going after the Treasure soon…"

But Shinjiro-san didn't say anything. He just waited.

"You know… how I told you about how we saw a mural during our last visit? And how we heard voices, connected to the scene depicted in the mural?" Ken said slowly. "We… saw two more today. And the first…" Ken bit his lip. "…We heard Futaba's reaction to her mother's death."

Shinjiro-san sucked in a breath. "What happened?"

"She was… hysterical," Ken said quietly, his hands curling to grip his knees. "She was begging her mom to wake up…"

"Ken, are you—" Shinjiro-san stopped short, before he spoke again. "I'm sorry you had to hear that kind of shit." He heaved out a sigh, before rubbing his face. "…Look, Ken, I know I'm kinda shit at talking 'bout stuff with feelings, but you can always talk to me 'bout this." His expression darkened. "…I know hearing that had to hit you personally."

…That's right. He always had Shinjiro-san… And Makoto's concerned face flashed in his mind. He had people who cared about him. It wasn't shameful for him to still remember his mother…

And… this only meant it was more important for them to save Futaba. They had to save her.

"…And if you're not hungry, you should just rest," Shinjiro-san continued. "You look beat."

Ken managed a smile. "…Thank you, Shinjiro-san."

After he wrapped up what was left of his meal, Ken headed for his room. He fell onto his bed with a sigh. Going into the Metaverse was exhausting… He felt like he could sleep now, actually…

But a buzzing sound caught his attention. He dug out his phone, and winced when he saw he had… several messages.

Message From: Makoto Niijima

[Makoto Niijima]: Ken, I just… wanted to check up on you.

[Makoto Niijima]: I know that you seemed fine after we caught up with the others, but…

[Makoto Niijima]: I can't help but worry.

[Makoto Niijima]: I understand if you need space but… I'd be more than happy to listen to you if you need someone

[Makoto Niijima]: Am I assuming too much…?

[Makoto Niijima]: Sorry…

Despite himself, Ken found himself smiling. He honestly hadn't expected this.

[Ken Amada]: Thank you for checking up on me.

[Ken Amada]: I'm… okay. Not great, but I can handle it.

[Ken Amada]: Sorry for not responding earlier, I was talking to Shinjiro-san…

[Makoto Niijima]: Oh!

[Makoto Niijima]: I'm glad…

[Makoto Niijima]: But if you do need to talk, I'll listen…

[Makoto Niijima]: I… already failed once in not listening to people.

[Makoto Niijima]: I don't want to do it again…

Ken frowned at the last part. This… was about the whole thing with Kamoshida, wasn't it? He supposed that this would be weighing on Makoto for a long time.

[Ken Amada]: Makoto, you really shouldn't blame yourself like that…

[Ken Amada]: But thank you… I appreciate your concern.

[Ken Amada]: And I'll keep that in mind.

[Ken Amada]: But… I'm honestly really tired. I think I'm going to bed soon.

[Makoto Niijima]: Okay. Sleep well, Ken.

[Ken Amada]: Thanks. You too, Makoto.

But before he started his usual routine before bed, he checked his other messages, which happened to be in the group chat. Everyone had sent him some kind of message, asking after him. Their concern was… touching.

And yet… he felt a pang of guilt. Was it… really okay to be lying to them about this…? Shouldn't he be more honest about the reason why he even came to Tokyo?

Ha… yeah, right. They would take that so well…


Wednesday, August 10th, 2016


Shinjiro stifled a yawn, before zipping up his duffel bag. That was everything. He swung it over his shoulder, before leaving his bedroom. He went to the living room, dropping it by the door, before making a quick breakfast. He finished eating, before his eyes moved back to the hallway. It was still kinda early (eight), so Ken was probably still sleeping-

"Shinjiro-san, wait!" Ken all but stumbled into the living room, clutching a box tightly. He was dressed in his usual street clothes, but his hair was sticking up everywhere.

"Ken?" Shinjiro frowned at him. "Jeez, you look like a mess." 

"I'm going to ignore that," he retorted. "Did you really think I would sleep in when you were leaving today?"

Shinjiro rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, it's kinda early…"

"I've gotten up earlier," Ken said, shaking his head. "Come on, let's get going."

"Go brush your hair first, Ken," Shinjiro said dryly. "I'm not late, so I can wait for you to make sure your hair doesn't look like a bird's nest."

Ken grumbled for a moment, before trotting back to his bathroom. He came back a few minutes later, his hair a lot neater now.

The walk to the station was brisk. That was one thing he didn't like about Tokyo. Everyone was in a rush. Port Island wasn't exactly sleepy like Inaba was, but he didn't feel like someone would knock him over because they were late for work.

"Be careful, okay?" Shinjiro said lowly as they approached the train station. "Don't go to bed too late. You don't have schoolwork to worry about, so you don't have to stay up. And eat everything I prepare for you. And-"

"Shinjiro-san," Ken cut him off, shooting him a look. "I know, okay? I won't get into any trouble while you're gone…"

"You can't blame me for worrying," Shinjiro grumbled. "Especially since you're preparing to help Isshiki's daughter soon."

And this will be Ken's first major fight in a long time. Would they even fight Isshiki's daughter's Shadow? Didn't the Investigation Team's Shadows go berserk because they were denied? But Isshiki's daughter wouldn't be there? Ugh, this was just too confusing.

"I know, I know," Ken grumbled. "But um…" He suddenly held out the box he was carrying since this morning to Shinjiro. "…Happy early birthday." He looked away for a moment. "…You can open it today, but… wait until you're on the train, okay?"

"Thanks…" Shinjiro said slowly, before taking it from Ken. He gave it a little rattle, but it didn't give him any hint of just what it was. Guess he'd find out on the train. "But anyways… bye, Ken. I'll see you in a week."

Ken gave a little wave, before Shinjiro headed for the station that would take him back to Port Island.

"So, you know Amada-kun pretty well."

The unfamiliar voice made Shinjiro turn around. It was feminine, so he started to look down. And then he realized the speaker was tall. Really fucking tall. Taller than him. By only a couple centimeters, but still.

"What of it?" Shinjiro asked. "How do you even know about Ken?"

The woman just folded her arms over her chest, slinging out her hip. "He was with my little sister once," she stated. "I take it that you come from Port Island as well?"

Little sister…? He squinted at the woman, until it hit him. She resembled Niijima, even though they didn't share a hair or eye color. They definitely resembled each other more than Minato and Minako did. Though what the hell was that question about?

"What of it?" Shinjiro asked. "That's none of your business."

The woman clicked her tongue, looking irritated with Shinjiro now, which was nothing new. "There's no need to be rude. Though I'd like to know… just what are Amada-kun's intentions to my sister?"

"Intentions?" Shinjiro repeated, staring at the woman. "They're friends. You've heard of that, right?"

He knew that, even though it was too fun to heckle Ken about the possibility, after all of the teasing Ken's done to him and Fuuka. He was entitled to a little payback.

"My sister never calls a boy by his first name," Niijima deadpanned.

Ken rarely called anyone by their first name either, but that didn't mean they were secretly making out. Ugh. Niijima was making him remember Mitsuru's prissy princess act when he had first met her.

"Look, I'm not here to be harassed about who your sister befriends," Shinjiro said flatly. "I have a train to catch."

Without another word, he walked away, ignoring the woman's brief sputtering. Once he was settled on the train, he opened the box Ken had given him. On top was a piece of paper, folded into two. Shinjiro picked that up, unfolding it. He had to squint a bit to make out Ken's handwriting. He really didn't know why Ken wasn't looking to become a doctor. He had the practice with him being one of the team's dedicated healers. And he definitely had the handwriting for it sometimes.

Dear Shinjiro-san,

First of all, happy early birthday. Or happy birthday, depending on when you open this. But anyways… I wanted to give you something special this year. Especially… after the move and everything. I know you prefer simple presents. Presents that you'll use on more of a every day basis. But I wanted to give you something special this year, to thank you for everything you've done for me over the years…

So, I'm giving you my mother's old engagement ring. I don't know why my parents divorced, but I still think that Mom still loved Dad in her own way. She always hated to hear him being bad mouthed. She continued to wear the ring. And I know… how much you want a ring special for Fuuka-san.

He… what?! Shinjiro looked back into the box, and sure enough, there was a dark blue velvet box. He picked it up, popping it open. Nestled inside the white lining was a platinum ring. The setting were two flowers, the petals being pearls and the centers being sapphires. It had a vintage look to it, the band twisted into almost resembling vines.

And I know what you're gonna say. 'You should use this when you wanna propose' or 'This is too much, what the fuck Ken'. But it's not. It's really not. You've changed my life in so many ways. You literally yanked me onto the right path, by saving my life. You took me in when most people your age are worried about university or having fun… This is my thank you for the past seven years.

(Also if you try to give the ring back to me, I'm just going to toss it into the trash bin. So don't even think about it.)

Ken

Shinjiro just sighed, shaking his head. This kid…

He didn't even do anything special. It was only the right thing to do, after what happened with Ken's mom, accident or no. He started looking after Ken as a way for atonement… but that stopped being the case a long time ago.

But if Ken really did mean what he said… he would absolutely refuse to take it back. And that kid could be stubborn as hell when he wanted to.

Shinjiro examined the ring again. This ring… it would suit Fuuka well.

So… he might as well use Ken's present well…


Today, she would get Ren and Makoto to stop hiding about their relationship. There was nothing to be ashamed of. She didn't even know why they were keeping it on the downlow in the first place…

After greeting Boss with a smile and wave, Anne scaled the stairs leading up to Ren's room. Ryuji was the only one in the room, surprisingly.

"'Sup, Anne!" he greeted her cheerfully, giving a little wave. "You're here early!"

Anne stuck her tongue at him. "You're one to talk, Ryuji!" she huffed. "You've gotten how many tardies over the years?!"

"Hey, I've gotten better lately." He scowled at her. "But do you think we'll be going in today? I mean, Ren called us here for a reason, right?"

"Where is Ren?" Anne asked.

"Went to run an errand with Makoto," Ryuji answered with a shrug. "He'll be back soon."

Riiiight. An 'errand'. Ugh. Why did they feel like they had to sneak away and hide it from everyone? She really would not want to see Ren kiss Makoto, but they didn't have to make up excuses like that…

Ryuji squinted at her. "…What's with that look on your face?"

"Whaaaat?" Anne did her best to blink innocently at Ryuji. (She wasn't sure if she succeeded.) "Me? This is just my face."

"…Right." Ryuji eyed her. "Seriously, Anne, Ren's been tellin' me you've been kinda weird lately. Something on your mind?"

Anne sucked in a breath. Ryuji had no idea what he had just asked. But… Ryuji was Ren's best friend. They had been attached to the hip since the first day of school. If Ren had told anyone… it would be Ryuji, right?

"Hey… Ryuji…" Anne began, "Ren would tell you anything… right?"

"Uhh… what?" Ryuji frowned. "Okay, seriously, what's up, Anne? I know that you were down 'bout Suzui leaving but…"

"Does he talk girls with you?" Anne blurted out. "Because… I saw him on a date with Makoto several days ago."

"Him… and Makoto," Ryuji repeated, his eyes wide. "Dude, are you sure 'bout that? Because he told me-" He then shut his mouth, panic filling his eyes. "Uhhh… never mind."

"Never mind what?" Anne demanded, closing the distance between them and grabbing Ryuji by the shirt. She shook him a little. "What did he tell you?!"

"I can't tell you!" he yelped, all while squirming in her grip. "The bro code! Have mercy on me, Anne!"

"…Am I interrupting something?"

They both turned their heads to see that Ken had arrived. He was carrying one of those tiered bento lunches.

Ryuji then broke free of Anne's grasp, all but sprinting to Ken. "Ken! How are you doing today?!" He then leaned in, whispering something to Ken. Ken just raised an eyebrow at Ryuji, before giving him one of those sorta sarcastic smiles Ken seemed fond of using.

Gr… Ryuji so knew something. Whatever. He couldn't run forever. She would get it out of him, one way or another!

"What's with the huge lunch though, dude?"

"You need to help me finish this," Ken groaned. "Shinjiro-san's cooked so much for me because he apparently doesn't trust me to order all takeout while he's on Port Island."

"Port Island?" Anne parroted, looking at him curiously. "What's he doing there?"

"Just visiting for a week," Ken said quickly.

"Wait a minute…" Ryuji squinted at Ken. "…Isn't his birthday coming up? Like reallyyyy soon?"

"It is?!" Anne gasped. "Is that why he's visiting Port Island?"

…Though, she had to wonder how Ryuji knew that. Ken would have had to tell him that.

"…Yeah, that's the reason," Ken said slowly, looking at her warily.

Ryuji sighed, before rubbing at his face. "Dude, why didn't you say somethin' to Ren. He would've understood. You must miss Port Island. And everyone back there."

"It's… It's okay." Ken's voice was quiet. "Futaba is more important. I couldn't ask Ren to delay things just so I can visit home… That would be just selfish. There will be other times I can visit, like during winter break… But Futaba's situation is a lot more urgent."

Anne huffed. "God, you're stubborn."

"Oh, I'm the stubborn one?" Ken quickly glanced at Ryuji, before looking back at Anne with a raised eyebrow.

…Okay, he had a point.

"HEY!" Ryuji protested. "Don't drag me into this!"

"Oh, hey, almost everyone's here." Ren and Makoto came up, and Morgana jumped out of Ren's bag.

"What took you guys so long?" Ryuji asked.

"Picking up some new upgrades on guns from Iwai," Ren explained. "And some new powerful medicine, courtesy of Takemi."

"Takemi?" Ken repeated.

"Oh, she's a doctor who works here in Yogen-jaya," Ren answered. "Been doing her some favors in return of some really good medicine. She gives me some nice discounts too."

"Though, honestly I don't really approve of the 'favors' you do for her…" Makoto sighed. "She calls you a guinea pig of all things…"

"She… what?" Ken gave Ren one of those flat eyed stares of his. "Ren…" he ground out, drawing out Ren's name, "what exactly have you been doing?"

"Hey, gotta do whatcha gotta do," Ren said with a shrug. "But anyways, we're just waiting on Yusuke, from the looks of it…" Then his eyes focused on the box Ken was carrying. "…Bringing lunch again?"

"Courtesy of Shinjiro-san," he answered, though he didn't look too happy that Ren had sorta dodged his question. "It's way too much… so I thought I'd share."

Ren just grinned. "Nice. Shinjiro-san is an awesome cook. Gimme a sec, and I'll grab everyone some utensils."

After setting down his bag, he disappeared down the stairs again, and Anne took the time to look over Makoto. She seemed a bit flushed, though it could be from the heat more than anything. (She was so glad that she had gained a higher tolerance of heat ever since she awakened to Carmen.) Any hickeys? Her lips didn't seem swollen.

"Is… there something on my face?" Makoto asked hesitantly.

"O-Oh, it's nothing!" Anne did her best to laugh, but she didn't think it worked, judging from the face Ryuji made. "But sooo… any reason why you went with Ren today?"

"Because… there were a lot of things to carry…?" Makoto said slowly, raising an eyebrow. "Sorry for making you wait…"

"Nonono, it's okay!" Anne said hastily. She couldn't make Makoto feel bad. "We didn't wait too long, you know! I was just surprised that you went with Ren! Though, you have gotten closer lately."

"Um… yes?" Makoto still looked confused. "We have been spending more time together lately…"

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me." Ken was staring at Anne now, looking rather annoyed. "Really, Anne?"

"Kidding me?" Makoto repeated. "About what…?"

"Come on, Makoto, you really should stop trying to hide it!" Anne exclaimed, starting to feel frustrated now.

Why did she feel so ashamed? Ren had to be an amazing boyfriend. Didn't she want to hold his hand in public? Or maybe even give him a kiss on the cheek?

"Hide what?" Ren asked, having returned upstairs, apparently oblivious to their conversation. He had grabbed napkins, plates, knives, and forks, and he set it down on the table.

"Ren, we're your friends, right?" Anne demanded, hands on her hips as she stepped closer to him.

"Oh, dear god," Ken sighed. She glanced at him to see that he was pressing a hand to his forehead. "This is just a mess."

"You don't hafta tell me," Ryuji muttered.

"Uh… yeah?" Ren said slowly all while raising an eyebrow at her, before looking over to the other boys. "Mind telling me what's going on?"

"You'll find out soon enough," Ken said flatly, folding his arms over his chest. "You brought this on yourself. You should've just listened to my advice."

Ken knew about this too, huh? Ugh, figures. Well, that only gave her a bigger reason to get them to admit it!

"And friends don't hide things from each other!" Anne continued, pressing on. "There's no need to be ashamed, okay?! It's something to be embraced! We're all friends! Why did you have to hide it from us?!"

"A-Anne, you're really not making any sense…" Makoto said, her eyes wide. "Just what are you talking about…?"

Anne slammed her hands on the table, making it rattle for a moment. Makoto jumped at the sudden sound. Ugh! Screw being subtle. "Look, I know you guys are dating, okay?!"

A moment of silence. That stretched… on and on…

"…What?" Makoto said weakly, as the blood drained from her face. "Wait, Anne, we're not… this is just a misunderstanding!"

"Don't lie to me, Makoto! I saw you two at the diner!" Anne retorted, pointing an accusing finger at her. "I don't know why you're trying to deny it! You're so, so lucky, okay?! Ren will treat you like a queen. He's so kind and thoughtful and he'll probably come up with the best dates and-"

Anne bit her lip. Did Makoto know how lucky she was…?

"This… is why I told you to ask Anne out already," Ken interrupted. "Do you need any more proof now?!"

…Huh? Ken told Ren what now?

"Wha?" Anne said dumbly. She literally could not think of anything else to say.

"You told Ren to do what?!" Morgana cried. "Why would you-"

"EFF THIS I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!"

Ryuji suddenly shoved Anne, causing her to stumble forward. She would have fallen flat onto her face, if Ren hadn't caught her.

"Ryuji!" Makoto gasped. "Anne could've been hurt-"

But Ryuji just ignored her. "Come on, man! You've liked her since freakin' June, prolly longer-"

He what? He liked her back? For that long?!

"JUST KISS HER ALREADY DAMMIT!"

"Ren, I-I…" Anne's face began to burn with embarrassment.

And Ren… he had the laziest smirk on his face. It caused butterflies to flutter in her stomach, her heart pound, and honestly if Ren wasn't holding onto her, she would be all swooned out on the floor.

"So…" he drawled out, "you thought that I was dating Makoto?"

"B-But… the diner… and you're the leaders…" Anne blurted out. "You've been spending a lot of time with her ever since we beat Kaneshiro and… and…"

"Anne, Ren and I are just friends," Makoto sighed. "He was just… helping me with a favor."

"But I saw you holding hands!" Anne cried out. "And you guys were obviously nervous! That was like your first date, right?! That's why you were double dating with that weird older guy and the other girl! To put less pressure on you guys!"

Her head was spinning. That look he was giving her. He was holding her. What Ryuji and Ken had said-

Ren just leaned in close, and her eyes went wide. Their faces were four, five centimeters apart. Her face felt so hot that you could probably fry an egg on it. "Oh, Anne…" The low timbre of his voice sent shivers down her spine. "You really don't have to worry about Makoto… or any other girl… you've had me captivated since the day I met you."

He… what? Back on the very first day?

"Though… I'm just glad the feeling's mutual." Ren's smirk just grew wider. "You've really fallen for me, huh?"

"Dude, really?" Ryuji whined. "Why you gotta do this here?"

"And using that awful pun," Ken grumbled.

"Um… should we give you some privacy?" Makoto asked. "Wait, Morgana, where are you going?!"

"Anywhere but here!"

"Jeez…" Ken muttered, "this just… kinda exploded." He sighed. "I'll go talk to Morgana."

Ren frowned, before releasing Anne. "Ken, I don't know… maybe I should be the one to talk to him-"

"You…" Ken ground out, "are going to do what I told you to do two weeks ago." He looked at Ren sternly. "I'll talk to Morgana. I know how it feels when you like someone, but they like another friend."

And without another word, he disappeared down the flight of stairs. Anne fiddled with her pigtails, her face still burning.

"We'll just… er…" Makoto stammered out. "We'll just get some coffee from Boss!"

"But I hate coffee!" Ryuji protested.

"Just come on!" Makoto hissed, before grabbing his wrist and dragging him toward the stairs.

"Ow ow ow!" Ryuji yelped out. "Holy shit, you need to trim your nails, Makoto!"

"Then take the hint next time!" Makoto retorted, her voice fading away as they descended the stairs.

And this… left them completely alone.

"Anne-" Ren began, but Anne cut him off.

"You really… You really like me?"

Shock was clear in Ren's dark eyes. "Anne… why are you so surprised?"

"It's just…" Anne bit her lip, before looking at him in the eyes. "…I'm really surprised," she confessed. "I… I only have my looks going for me. Makoto's a genius, she helps you lead the Phantom Thieves, she's pretty elegant, and I…"

"Hey." Ren tilted her chin up, cutting her off. "That is not true, Anne," he said earnestly. "Yeah, you're beautiful. I'll admit you left me breathless when we had first met. But most importantly, you're kind. You care so much for the people you love. You gave me a chance, when you didn't know a thing about me except for the rumors. Ryuji only gave me a chance after I saved his life from Kamoshida's goons. He was actually kinda an ass to me when we first met." Ren rubbed the back of his head. "I love how passionate you can get. Anyone would have been pissed at the shit Mika pulled… but not you. You just wanted to outdo her by your own merits."

Anne felt her eyes filling with tears. Growing up, all of the compliments given to her were always about her looks.

Oh, look how beautiful your hair is!

Your eyes are just so lovely…

Your skin is flawless… just like a porcelain doll.

But Ren… he saw past that. He saw her. Just like how he had seen past the rumors about her, when he had comforted her at the diner…

"Anne… please don't cry." Ren's quiet plea snapped her out of her thoughts.

"…Dummy." Anne wiped at her eyes, before offering him a watery smile. "I'm crying because I'm happy."

Ren's eyes softened, and he reached out to cup her cheek. "…I'm glad," he said, as his thumb brushed away the last of her tears. "I want nothing more to see you smile. You have a beautiful smile."

"Then kiss me."

"As my lady commands," Ren breathed, before leaning in.

Unsurprisingly, Ren tasted of coffee. He had really developed a taste for it ever since he started living in LeBlanc's attic. But he kissed her again and again, leaving her breathless.

Lack of oxygen eventually forced them to come up for air. Anne's cheeks were warm as she looked at Ren.

"So… I'm your lady now?"

"Do you want to be?" Ren asked, reaching to take her hand.

"Of course I do!" Anne slid her arms around his neck, and his hands went to rest at her hips. "A million times yes."

"Good." Ren's lips curved into a smile. "Shall we celebrate it then?"

"What do you have in mind?" Anne raised an eyebrow, but she couldn't stifle the smile tugging at her lips.

"Oh, I think you know what I mean," Ren said airily, before leaning to close the distance between them.


Ken was glad that Morgana was a cat in this instance. It made it all too easy to find him pawing at the door. Ken quickly scooped him up, ignoring Morgana's protests.

"Put me down this instant!" he hissed out. "I don't want to talk to you, especially after what you told Ren… and Ren! He knew that I love Lady Ann! How could he do this to me?!"

"Uh, kid, is everything okay?" Sakura-san said with a frown.

"It's fine," Ken said to the older man, all while holding onto the squirming feline. "Morgana is just feeling… antsy. I'm going to take him out for a bit."

Once he stepped outside, Ken exhaled deeply. Oh boy… He really did not sign up for this crap, but he had to do damage control. He took Morgana to just outside the train station. He was thankful that Yogen-jaya was a quiet area. Less of a chance for people to come out of the station and see him talk to a cat. While Ren seemed fine with talking to Morgana in public on a daily basis, he rather not be seen as a crazy cat whisperer.

Though Morgana didn't make it easy. He tried to claw and bite at Ken.

Ken sat on the bench, and glared down at Morgana. "Stop it. You're acting like a little child."

"So says Mister Perfect!" Morgana snarled. "I'm so sorry that you don't like my behavior!"

…What.

"I'm not perfect," Ken said with a frown. "Where did you get that from?"

"Like you don't know," Morgana hissed out, glowering at him.

…He really didn't. But whatever. He'd deal with that later. But he had to handle the whole love-triangle-but-not-really now.

"Morgana," he sighed, "look, I know that you like Anne. A lot. But-"

Morgana glared at him. "How could you tell Ren to go after Lady Anne?" he demanded. "There's no other girl for me! Ren… he hangs out with so many girls. Surely, there has to be someone else that's interested in him…"

"Are you listening to yourself?" Ken demanded, feeling irritation surge through him.

He knew it sucked when you liked someone and they couldn't see you in that kind of light. He remembered being so jealous when Akihiko-san and Minako-san started dating. At the time he had hated that he was like a brother to Minako-san. He understood the feeling. But Morgana was really acting like a little child. Ren liked Anne. Anne liked Ren. Morgana had to accept it, or a rift would form in the group. And he really didn't want that to happen.

"Do Anne's feelings not matter?" Ken asked coolly, gazing sternly down at Morgana. Gentleness would not work here. He would have to be blunt. "Or Ren's? Isn't he your friend?!"

God, Morgana was so stubborn that it was aggravating. And he needed to nip this in the bud.

"I—" Morgana's eyes went huge, before he lowered his head. "O-Of course… Ren… he's my best friend…"

"It is not fair to think Ren has a duty to not act on his feelings just because you like Anne and you're friends," Ken said. "And Anne likes Ren. If you really love someone, you need to put their happiness first." He took a deep breath so that he could calm down. Because Morgana did get his hopes up for nothing. "…I'm sorry that Anne doesn't see you in that kind of light, but it's not fair for you to expect Ren to take a step back just because you like Anne too. And besides… don't you agree that both Ren and Anne deserve some happiness? After Kamoshida? And how Ren's reputation has been dragged through the mud because of his record?"

Morgana was silent for a long time. "Does… Ren really like Lady Anne?" he asked softly. "Would he treat her well?"

…Morgana must be really infatuated with Anne, if he didn't notice the way Ren looked at her.

"I really think he would," he said. "And you know that Ren and Anne deserve this. I know right now you feel that Anne is the only girl for you but… there will be others, I promise."

Morgana sighed, before his ears lowered, all but folding against his skull. "You're right," he muttered. "I'm sorry for blaming you…"

Ken sighed for the umpteenth time today. He really hated drama. "I'm not the one you have to apologize to, Morgana."

"I know, I know…" Morgana ducked his head. "Let's go back so I can get this over with…"

So Ken took Morgana back to LeBlanc, and Yusuke had apparently arrived during their absence.

"Morgana!" Ren rushed up to them, looking at Morgana and then to Ken and then at Morgana again.

"Ren… I…" Morgana raised his head to look at Ren straight in the eyes. "…I'm sorry for reacting the way I have been. It was uncouth and ungentlemanly and I…" He sighed, before he tensed up in Ken's arms. "Treat Lady Anne like she's royalty!" he said firmly. "You better make her the happiest girl in the world! Or else I'll… I'll claw your eyes out in your sleep! And I'll scratch up your face good!"

"You've got it, buddy," Ren laughed, before patting Morgana on the head. Since Morgana couldn't see, Ken just rolled his eyes. "And no need to worry about that. Anne means a lot to me."

"Congrats, man!" Ryuji suddenly slung an arm around Ren. "Seriously, you guys deserve this."

"Ryuji..." Anne's cheeks turned pink. "Thanks."

"Take care of each other," Ryuji added with a wink. "Though save the making out for here, yeah? I don't want you smacking lips in the Metaverse."

Anne immediately reddened, before glaring at Ryuji. "Ugh! What kind of people do you think we are?!"

"I wouldn't mind it..."

"REN!"

"A truly beautiful couple," Yusuke mused. "Oh! Do you suppose I could paint you, like Adam and Eve?"

"Yusuke, I think we're going to have a little chat about you asking for models," Ken sighed.

"But congratulations, you two, really," Makoto interjected, before she smiled. "I'm happy for you both."

"Makoto..." Anne looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions like that..."

"It's all right, Anne," Makoto reassured, putting a hand on the younger girl's shoulder. "Though this was why we kept it a secret from the rest of you. We didn't want you to worry."

"Though, why did you keep it a secret?" Ken asked.

"Oh, um... I'll explain later," Makoto said quickly, before clearing her throat. "Now that's taken care of…" She looked to Ren. "…Just what did you call us all here today?"

Just... what was Makoto hiding? Didn't Anne call the other guy weird? Why was that...? He hoped that Makoto wasn't doing anything dangerous... Though she did have Ren watching her back. But still. He couldn't help but be a little worried.

"Our preparations are complete," Ren stated. "Yusuke, do you have the calling card?"

"What do you take me for?" Yusuke scoffed, before producing a bright red card. "I had this finished the night after we finished Futaba's Palace." The familiar emblem of the Phantom Thieves was emblazoned on the back.

"Yusuke, can I see?" Ken asked, before setting Morgana down.

Yusuke nodded, before holding it out to him.

Hmm… it was like Kamoshida and Madarame's calling cards. Accusing of the host of the palace of a sin. In Futaba's case, her sin would be "sloth". Though wasn't her Palace called the Pyramid of Wrath? Though wrath didn't really suit Futaba, so he supposed that's why Yusuke chose sloth. Too bad he can't really take a picture without looking suspicious…

"So we're doing it today?" Anne asked, her eyes growing bright. "We'll be saving Futaba-chan?"

"What do you think we'll be facing?" Ryuji asked. "Futaba's Shadow is so… weird. Like she helps us sometimes but then she tries to kill us other times!"

"I think that's because of her fear of people," Ken said. "She wants help, but she's also terrified of getting hurt. That's why she seems to be flipflopping from two different attitudes."

Morgana nodded. "Yeah, that makes a lot of sense." Then he narrowed his eyes. "…Though we have to be prepared. Futaba's Shadow will be prepared to defend the Treasure. And the Shadows we've faced in her Palace were stronger than any we've seen. We can't let our guard down."

Yusuke frowned. "Though… isn't it strange that we haven't encountered to what Futaba's Shadow referred to her as her mother?"

That's right… Shadow Futaba had mentioned her when they first managed to visit the Palace. It seemed almost… monstrous, if it was strong enough to make the Palace shake. Though the question was… why haven't they seen it?

"Maybe we'll be fighting them both," Ren suggested. "Though… it may be tricky convincing Futaba to open the door to us…"

"We have to!" Anne exclaimed, her hands clenching into fists. "Futaba-chan is counting on us… we can't stop now!"

Yusuke let out a thoughtful hum. "Perhaps… we should be just straight with her. Explain why we need her to open the door to us, so we can steal her heart."

"It may work…" Ken said slowly, before he grimaced, "…or Futaba could panic and call Sakura-san on us."

"Oi, stop being so negative, Ken!" Ryuji swatted his shoulder. "I mean, it's worth a try, ain't it?"

"As of now… it's our best bet," Makoto said.

…They had a point, he had to admit.

Ren stood up. "Agreed. Come on. Let's pay Futaba a little visit."


It's been sixteen days since the Phantom Thieves had last spoken to her. If they were planning on taking her desires… wouldn't they have done it by now?

What was the point? They can't fix her… She was a hopeless case. She killed her mom. Matricide… she was guilty of matricide. And she could never forget it, with how Mom would show up from time to time. And the voices… they never stopped. Futaba squeezed her eyes shut, wrapping her arms around her legs.

Maybe it'd be easier if she just gave up. Sojiro wouldn't have to worry about her… She was slowly dying anyways… What was the point in dragging it out…?

Futaba blinked. There was… another her? She was wearing Egyptian clothing for some reason.

"W-Who are you?"

"I am the other you." Her gaze was stern. Just like Mom's.

Was this just another hallucination? But… this felt… different.

"How long are you going to keep blaming yourself?" the other Futaba demanded, staring at her with those strange golden eyes. "How long are you going to shut yourself from the world?"

Blaming… herself… for Mom dying… But it was the truth. If she had never been born, Mom probably would have been happier. She could throw herself completely into her work.

"You need to wake up!" she said sharply. "You need to realize the truth already. What happened to your mother…"

But… she already knew the truth.

"Why rely on the Phantom Thieves? Do you really think you're that incapable of doing anything? Are you just going to simply give up and hide away from the world forever? Are you going to avert your eyes from the truth?"

But she felt so powerless. There was a voice hissing in her ear. That she made her mom's life miserable. She did nothing but drained money from Sojiro's pocket.

"…Fine. I guess I'll kill them in the other world…"

Without another word, the other Futaba disappeared. Futaba blinked once. And then twice.

W-What was that about…?

The sound of knocking jolted Futaba out of her thoughts. But she remained silent. Maybe if she ignored them, they would just go away-

"Futaba?" It was Ren. "Futaba… Alibaba… it's me."

Panic spiked through her. It was them?! They were here?! And then there was the sound of meowing. Ugh… it was that cat again.

"Alibaba, we have to talk to you!" It was Makoto now. "Please… even if it's through text, it's urgent that we talk to you!"

Futaba grabbed her phone and started tapping out an answer.

Message Sent To: Ren Amamiya

[Alibaba]: You should've warned me.

"Allow us to explain," Yusuke began. "We need you to open the door, if you desire for us to steal your heart. You must let us in! I know you're frightened, but we only have your best wishes at heart."

Futaba gulped. T-They weren't serious, were they? How could they just drop a level twenty encounter on her when she was just a measly level five?!

[Alibaba]: I'm not mentally prepared!

[Ren]: You have to. You can do it.

Easy for him to say! Futaba huffed to herself, glaring at the door.

"You want to open the door, don't you?" Futaba's breath hitched. It was him. Ken Amada. "You know, deep down, this is what you want. You want to change… that's why you contacted the Phantom Thieves in the first place."

"Stop tryin' to resist!" Futaba jumped as a loud thump sounded against the door. "We wouldn't do this if we didn't have to! We wouldn't make you do this if you didn't want to."

"Ryuji!" Anne hissed, and then there was a smacking sound. "God, don't you have any sense of tact?!"

Futaba made a face, before typing out a response, asking for some more time. Futaba frantically looked around for the head replica of one of her favorite tv show characters. She could face them if she wore it, right?!

"You have ten seconds," Makoto announced.

Ugh! Where did she put it?!

"Five-"

She didn't have time for this! Wait! There was the closet! Of course. You had to have a strategy outfitted for every encounter. Futaba scrambled to the closet, opening the door before pushing the door to her room ever so slightly. She then dashed for the closet door, shutting it close.

"Holy craaaap…" Ryuji breathed.

Futaba could hear the frown in Ren's voice. "Just what is this?"

"How old is Futaba again?" Makoto asked. "Look at some of the books she has!"

"Medical science, information technology, biology, psychology…" Ken said thoughtfully. "…She is only fifteen, right?"

Futaba puffed out her cheeks. It's not her fault she was born in February! They weren't that much older than her!

"But hey…" Anne began, "…where did Futaba-chan run off to?"

"Uh… underneath the desk?" Ryuji suggested. "I mean, she's prolly little, if you look at her Shadow…"

She was not little! She was just a slow grower! Hmph, this Ryuji really had no tact.

Then Yusuke spoke. "Oh, perhaps the closet…" Futaba's eyes went wide as she heard footsteps approach. The closet slid only a couple centimeters, before Futaba's hands shot out, grabbing the handle and yanking it shut.

"I let you in!" Futaba shouted. "Now steal my heart already!"

"Ugh… this probably added another barrier to the Treasure," Ren muttered.

And only a few seconds later, she heard meowing again.

"Explain yourselves!" she demanded. "What are you even talking about?!"

"We need to change your cognition to steal your heart," Makoto said calmly. "It won't help if you hide away from us."

"That's right, Futaba-chan," Anne added, her voice gentle. "Please… won't you come out? We won't hurt you, I promise!"

Futaba just burrowed deeper, all while scowling. Ugh… Why did this have to be so complicated?!

"Would she even understand if we explained…?" Makoto wondered aloud. "Honestly, sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my mind around it and I've witnessed it firsthand."

They mentioned her cognition…

"So basically…" Futaba said slowly, "my cognition is a hindrance, keeping you from the core of my cognitive world?"

"Damn… she got it?" Ryuji's voice filled with disbelief. "Color me impressed."

Despite herself, Futaba smiled proudly. Well, of course. Mom had talked about her research so much that she had absorbed the information. Just like a sponge.

"J-Just who are you?" Makoto asked. "And how do you know about that?"

"Futaba… Alibaba… why didn't you just ask us for help?" Anne said gently. "We're dedicated to helping people who can't help themselves… We would've listened to your request."

Futaba bit her lip as her cheeks started to burn. "…Was… embarrassed…" she mumbled out.

"I get it, Futaba." Futaba heard some lighter footsteps approach. She heard a hand being dragged along the door. "Asking for help isn't easy. I completely understand where you're coming from…"

"But… how do you know about the cognitive world?" Makoto asked. "Honestly, I never would've thought such a thing existed had I not stumbled into it…"

"…Makoto, is this really the time to ask?" Ken sighed. "We're wasting time…"

"We have to get her to trust us…"

"Wait a sec…" Anne said slowly. "Ren, didn't you mention Boss getting grilled by that one lady…?"

"Yeah, that's right," Ren confirmed, and Futaba winced at the memory of hearing the woman harass Sojiro. "Sojiro was pretty agitated about that…"

"Are you saying… your mother was researching into cognitive science?" Yusuke asked.

Despite herself, Futaba found herself correcting them. Ugh. Noobs.

"Cognitive psience, with a psi in front! Less science, more supernatural. That's the important part."

"I'm… surprised that you know so much about it," Ken said. "You were fairly young when your mother was researching into it."

"Please, I wasn't a baby!" Futaba scoffed. "Mom liked it when I asked about what she was looking into."

"But hey… Futaba-chan," Anne began, "…did you really kill your mother?"

Futaba stiffened, before she wrapped her arms around herself. Why… Why did she have to bring that up…?

"Anne, what are you-"

"Shush!" Anne snapped. "It was an accident. The people who came and read her suicide note claimed otherwise. Maternity neurosis? That can't be true! Your mother… your mother that your cognitive world showed us is completely different from the mother Boss told us about! What's the difference? Please… tell us."

"My… mom…" Futaba choked out, as her head throbbed painfully. Ugh… why did it hurt so much…? "T-The one… who killed her…" Futaba felt a tear trickle down her cheek and she wrapped her arms around her torso even tighter.

It was her… right…?

"She can't remember… because her heart has become distorted."

"…I'm sorry, Futaba-chan. I shouldn't have pushed you…"

Futaba's hands clenched into fists. She… She needed to know. The distortions in her mind… they could remove it. She would just have to do her part in it. This was a co-op attack!

She shoved the door open and jumped out. "Steal it already!" she shouted.

"Uh… is she serious?" Ken said slowly.

"Don't make fun of me!" Futaba exclaimed, keeping her eyes screwed shut. "Hurry it up! I revealed myself, so steal my heart already!"

"Well… I'm not surprised that she doesn't fully get it," Ren said. "It's not exactly a straight and cut process. It took me a couple of times to understand when Morgana explained it to me…"

"How do we explain this…" Ken muttered.

"Ah, Futaba-chan…" She felt a hand on her shoulder. "W-We can't steal it here. You just really had to open the closet door…"

Whaaaaat?! Why weren't they clear about this?!

"Um, look, Futaba." Ren sighed. "Sorry we weren't clear about the process. But we don't steal your heart here."

Wait… they managed to travel to her cognitive world then?

"I-I see…" Futaba said shakily, feeling her cheeks burn with embarrassment.

Time to find a hole to crawl into and never come out… Eh, her closet worked. She walked backwards, and slammed the closet door shut.

"F-Futaba-chan, wait!" Anne cried, before she rapped lightly on the door. "Don't go back inside!"

"Futaba-chan, please come back out," Makoto pleaded.

"Why did you trick me?!" she demanded.

"Okay, that's enough!" Ken snapped, sounding rather aggravated now. "Listen, Futaba, we have a perfectly good reason for this. It's like how you put it. Your cognition is blocking our way to the core." He sighed. "…Just how much do you know about the cognitive world?"

"I-I know there's a world of cognition. I don't know how to get to it though…"

"We can go there," Ryuji said. "That's how we'll change your heart. But you've gotta keep the door open or else it'll block our way!"

"How do you do it then?" Futaba asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

"Oh, um…" Makoto said, "we use a smartphone app. I-I know it sounds crazy, but it's true!"

"An… app?" Futaba echoed.

What kind of person could even create such a thing?

"Yes, we need to enter the right information and it'll take us to the cognitive world," Makoto answered.

"A name, a place, and a distortion… that's what we need to use the app," Ryuji said.

"I-I don't think it's wise to share this information…" Ken said slowly.

"She doesn't have the app," Yusuke pointed out. "What would she do with this information?"

"…I suppose so. But I think we should really get going…"

"Wait!" Futaba blurted out. "Can… Can I come?"

"Is that… even possible?" Ren asked. "I mean, a host in their cognitive world... It seems like a contradiction to me. I'm sorry, Futaba… but no. We don't know if it's safe for you."

"Never mind that she doesn't have a way to defend herself," Ken muttered.

D-Defend herself? What was he talking about?

Futaba grumbled to herself. But if she couldn't come, that was that… "…I'll leave it to you, then."

"Good!" Ryuji said cheerfully. "And don't forget your promise!"

She heard the door open and fading footsteps.

"Ken, don't forget to give her the calling card!"

"…Don't worry. I will." Futaba's breath hitched as she heard Ken's footsteps approach. "…Futaba. I know deep down you know what you want. You wouldn't have reached out to the Phantom Thieves if you didn't have the desire to help yourself. You don't really want to die. Not like this."

She… She didn't know what to say. The way he talked… it was like he understood how it felt.

"…I can understand what it's like. I know you're scared. We'll help you as much as we can, but you have to take the final step. You want to live… truly live, don't you?"

They were alone. She could ask him just who were the Shadow Operatives. But he sounded so earnest. He was here to help her… There were be other times to ask him…

"…You can't stay in here forever. You have your whole life ahead of you… I can tell you have a brilliant mind… You can't waste it like this, Futaba."

"I…"

"…It's okay. I know… we kinda dumped a lot of information on you. But I promise that we'll do everything in our power to help you."

Suddenly a paper was poked through the crack.

"We need you to read this, so your core will manifest. I'll leave you to read it, okay?"

Futaba didn't move for several moments. She slowly opened the door, and true to his word, Ken was gone. Futaba stepped out, and looked down at the red card.

You want to live… truly live, don't you?

You have your whole life ahead of you…

Futaba took a deep breath, before she slowly began to read the card.

To Futaba Sakura…

Chapter Text

 Wednesday, August 10th, 2016


"Is everyone ready?" Ren surveyed them all, only for them to nod furiously.

This was it. Though honestly, it was a bit strange for him. There was no full moon looming in the sky. They were standing in a pyramid, not in the old dorm. Ken's hands tightened around his spear. He was honestly a bit nervous. This would be his first operation in a long time. And... there was the question of Shadow Futaba. Would she attack? She just... confused Ken. Shadow Futaba went from being helpful to trying to kill them with those stupid boulders of hers… 

Ken felt a hand on his shoulder, which made him start. Makoto gave him an apologetic smile.

"Sorry… it looked like you were a bit… nervous," Makoto said gently. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah… I'm fine." Ken forced himself to smile at her. He didn't want her to worry… especially since she was fretting over him especially just a couple days ago. "I'm just… thinking."

Makoto gave his shoulder a light squeeze. "Everything will be fine… We'll save Futaba-chan," she said confidently.

She suited confidence very well. There was a sparkle in her eyes, as she held herself proudly.

Ken just offered her a small smile. "…I hope you're right."

"Let's do this, guys!" Ren called out to them, before sprinting up the stairs.

They raced up the several flights of stairs, only to stop before the great door… that was slowly disappearing, revealing a lift.

"Yes, it worked!" Ryuji cheered, pumping his fist.

"Heh, what did you expect?!" Morgana demanded, grinning widely. "Come on, the Treasure awaits us!"

The lift took them higher up, taking them to a chamber where holograms of computer screens flickered in and out. Ken actually recognized some of the symbols from Fuuka-san's work.

"Wow… this is incredible," Anne breathed, as she twisted around to look at the entire area, "This is really the core of Futaba-chan's Palace?"

"Indeed…" Yusuke nodded sagely, as he surveyed the area as well, "it suits a hacker's aesthetic very well."

"But where's the Treasure?" Makoto asked, looking back and forth. "…And where's Futaba's Shadow?"

Morgana directed them upwards, claiming that the Treasure was somewhere up. They climbed several stairs, dodging Shadows for the most part, before they eventually entered a room that was lit up with an odd green light.

In fact… the only thing inside was a sarcophagus.

"Is this really it?" Ryuji grumbled, folding his arms over his chest. "Dude, talk about a letdown…"

"Come on, don't talk like that, Skull," Anne scolded, hands on her hips. "It doesn't matter what Futaba-chan's Treasure is…"

"We should take a look so we can take the Treasure," Makoto said.

"Isn't it… a bit strange though?" Ken asked. "Wouldn't the host be defending it? Like with Kaneshiro…"

"Don't jinx us, Ace," Ren warned, before quirking an eyebrow at Ken. "I wouldn't mind an easier heist…"

"TREASURE!"

Annnnd Morgana has been set off. You could practically see the hearts in his eyes. Though he had to wonder why Morgana did get that way…

But as Morgana ran to join Ryuji, who was standing right at the sarcophagus… the room began to shake.

"Um…" Anne inched closer to Ren. "What was that?"

"But Ace is right… Where is Futaba's Shadow…?" Yusuke asked. "The treasure is here…"

"D-Dude, there are more important stuff to worry 'bout now!" Ryuji yelped as a few bricks were torn away from the top. A single bloodshot eye appeared.

"FUTABAAAAAAA!" Ken winced as the roar blasted his eardrums.

Just… what was that?

"D-Don't tell me…" Morgana whimpered out. He had apparently come to some kind of realization.

"Everyone, look out!" Ren shouted, as the rest of the bricks began to crumble away.

Ken used his arm to shield his face as a wild wind began to tear through the air, ripping away the bricks. A especially powerful gust sent Ryuji and Morgana flying. He whipped his head back, and to his relief, they had just skidded back several feet. If they had fallen off the pyramid, at this height…

"Seriously, what is this?!" Anne got out, her arm thrown up to shield her face as well. "This is just… insane!"

"It's… It's a cognition!" Morgana said through gritted teeth. "A cognition formed by Futaba!"

A cognition…? Wait…

It hit him like a ton of bricks. It resembled a Sphinx… but the woman's face… It was like the woman in the murals…

"It's Futaba's cognition of her mother!" Ken gasped.

"Then why is she tryin' to kill us?!" Ryuji demanded.

"We shouldn't speculate on that!" Yusuke shouted. "We need to avoid—ack!"

Rocks were falling everywhere, with how the cognition of Isshiki-san was tearing apart the chamber so she could attack them. Somehow, miraculously, they managed to escape that unscathed.

The cognition had completely torn away the walls of the chamber, leaving them on top of the pyramid. The cognition then launched itself in the air, flying high above their heads. But the way it was flying about… It reminded him of how they weren't able to hit the Hanged Man Shadow while it floated in the air. Not even Yukari-san's arrows could strike it. But… it had to have a weakness, didn't it? The Hanged Man Shadow had those statues… But what? What was it…?

"Do not approach the pharaoh's tomb!" she hissed out. "Misfortune will befall you now!"

But since… they had wanted to take Futaba's Treasure… Her cognition of her mother wanted to kill them for it? Just what was Futaba's Treasure?

But ugh… this was bad. If Yukari-san was here, she might be able to shoot it down, but she wasn't. Most of the weapons here were close range…

"Mona, do you have any ideas on how to tackle this?" Ren shouted.

"We… We have no choice, Joker…" Uncertainty made Morgana's voice waver. "We'll have to use our spells and guns to take it down! I'll try to figure out some kind of weakness while we're at it!"

"Got it!"

They opened fire, but it barely did any damage to Isshiki-san's cognition. It didn't exactly help that the distance caused their spells to peter out. This had just… gone from bad to worse. They would get too tired out if they kept using spells recklessly.

But what could they do? Aim for her wings? But the distance would allow her to dodge it all too easily…

"Ace, look out!"

Huh? Ken looked up, only for the cognition to slam her paw down on him. Ken yelped, dropping his spear as pain exploded everywhere. Sharp rocks dug into his back, as the cognition piled on more pressure. 

"Johanna!" Makoto shouted, before he heard an explosion.

The cognition growled, but finally let him up, taking to the skies again.

"Ace!" Makoto was kneeling in front of him, helping him sit up. Ken winced, gingerly touching his sides. Nothing seemed broken. Makoto then put a hand on his shoulder, before closing her eyes in concentration. A warm feeling swept through his body, healing most of his injuries. "Ace, you need to focus," she chided. "You really looked like you were zoning out."

"I'm sorry… I was just thinking about how to handle this…" Ken looked back up at the cognition, which was still soaring high in the air, with a frown. "I've faced a similar Shadow before… but… that Shadow had a weakness to target. I don't know if this one does. I was thinking we could target her wings, but I think we're just too far away."

"We'll just have to buy some time, until Mona can figure out something…" Makoto sighed, before she pulled him up. "I'm glad that my attack made it let up though…"

Ken winced. "…Thanks, Queen."

The cognition then drew in close, flapping her wings hard. The force knocked them all several meters backwards. He heard Ryuji let out a pained cry as he skidded backwards.

That attack was definitely wind based… And the cognition was taking advantage of that.

Ken gritted his teeth, before tearing off his mask. Kala-Nemi appeared with a flash, firing at the cognition.

"Goemon!" Yusuke summoned his Persona, before pointing at the cognition. "Take this!"

Ice formed around her paw, and the cognition growled, shaking it violently to shake off the ice. But Ren and Makoto took advantage of the brief distraction to fire attacks at her.

Anne darted over to Ryuji, helping him up. But even at a distance, Ken could see that his eyes were unfocused and he swayed back and forth. Morgana quickly summoned Zorro, allowing Anne to summon Carmen and use Agilao. Ren tossed some kind of medicine at Morgana, who then used it on Ryuji.

But the cognition didn't like that. She let out a roar, before ascending the sky, higher than before.

"Everyone, brace yourselves!" Morgana shouted. "She's rearing up for a powerful attack! It looks like she wants to divebomb at us!"

Ugh, he wished that Fuuka-san was here. Morgana was decent enough during the Palace explorations (though admittedly, he only could compare Fuuka-san to Rise-san, and he hadn't exactly seen much of Rise-san in action), but they really needed someone who focused on analyzing. Especially for a fight where a weakness was unclear…

The cognition flew in the air, for several moments. Ken couldn't help but feel antsy, even as he guarded. It was like the whole thing with the Hermit Shadow again… The Hermit Shadow took a long time to charge up that attack, but it had really packed a punch.

But then it struck, divebombing at them all. A section of the ground was destroyed, even. But thankfully nobody was standing there. But the force was strong enough to send Ken to his knees.

"Mona, have you figured anything out?!" Ryuji demanded, all while pushing himself up in a sitting position.

"I'm sorry… I don't… I don't know!" Morgana cried out. He sounded utterly miserable as he continued. "There's no pattern… I… I…" He sounded so helpless. "I'm sorry," he finally whispered out.

"What are we going to do, then?!" Yusuke asked. "If Mona can't figure out a weakness… we can't..." 

Ken gritted his teeth. There had to be a weakness! There just had to be... But what?  

"M-Mom?"

Ken snapped to attention, and his head whipped to the sound of the voice. It was… Futaba. She had followed them inside?! But… how?

"Futaba-chan?!" Anne cried, before voicing his thoughts. "What are you doing here… How did you?!"

"When we used the Nav to go inside the Palace…" Ren groaned, dragging a hand down his face. "She must've received it too!"

Dammit… And she remembered what they had told her about the app. 

"What is this going to do to her Palace…?" Yusuke asked.

"Are you seriously asking that now?!" Ken snapped, irritation flaring inside of him, before he looked back to Futaba. "Futaba, you have to go back! It's too dangerous for you to be here!"

"I can't leave now that I'm—" But Futaba suddenly stiffened, her eyes growing wide with fear. "No… no…" she whimpered out, before falling to her knees. She pressed her headphones hard against her ears. "It's my fault…" 

Her headphones… were they meant to block out her auditory hallucinations? She must be hearing the accusations again…

"Futaba!" Ken staggered to his feet and rushed over to her, grabbing her by the shoulders. He shook her lightly. "Futaba, you have to snap out of it! Those men… they said those things just to hurt you! You have to fight through it!"

"I…" Uncertainty shone in her eyes. "I… no… they're right…"

"Ace is right!" Anne had joined him, kneeling beside him. "You know the truth, don't you? Your mother loved you! She never hated you! She didn't regret giving birth to you!"

"No… It's my fault…" Futaba's voice cracked, and Ken felt his heart break, hearing the pain in her voice. "It's my fault that Mom…" She squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn't stop shaking. 

"That's right…" the cognition spat, "you killed me! You were such a nuisance! I should have never had you! I would have been able to focus on my research… if it wasn't for you!"

"Hng…" 

The hurt in her eyes were as clear as day. Just looking at her made his heart ache. Just what could they say to get to her? Ken released her, but didn't move away from her.

"Futaba-chan…" Anne whispered, her voice cracking ever so slightly.

Anne didn't know what to say either. They couldn't reach her. What could they do?

"Your life is pointless!" the cognition hissed out, venom dripping from her voice. "Nobody cares about you!"

"Nobody… cares about me…" Futaba repeated faintly, sounding like she was on the verge of tears. "It's true… I'm just a burden to Sojiro… And people are on his case because they think he's a bad parent… It would be better if I just…"

Ken swallowed hard. He… understood the feeling. But it had to be even worse for Futaba, because of the supposed abuse Sojiro was laying on Futaba. She had to feel helpless… because she couldn't step out of her room, because she was a shut-in. 

"No!" Ken raised his head to see that Ren was the one who spoke. "Futaba, that is not true!" Ren's voice was fierce as he stared at Futaba. "Sojiro… he loves you. He only cares that you're happy. That's why he brought the doctors to you… but he backed off when you wouldn't see them, because he knew that it made you uncomfortable."

Futaba whispered, "He… He does?" Her voice was filled with shock. Futaba then suddenly clutched her head with a pained cry. "W-What's the truth…" she whimpered out, squeezing her eyes shut. "I… I don't know!"

"Futaba…" Ken murmured.

What could he do to help her? Why couldn't he reach out to her like Akihiko-san had to him…?

"Because she thinks she killed her mother…" Makoto said slowly, "and because she thinks she should be dead… Futaba gave birth to a Palace where her mother wants her dead…?"

"Futaba-chan, you need to look!" Anne cried, her voice growing desperate. "Really look at her! This is not your mom!"

"She loved you…" Yusuke said, a sad smile on his face, "Boss told us everything. She was a single mother… but did her best to raise you. This is just a false memory foisted upon you by the men in black!"

"A false memory…?" Futaba repeated. "What—"

And then… Shadow Futaba materialized.

"Ugh, not now!" Ryuji moaned out. "We can't fight them both!"

He then reached up for his mask, but a hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.

"Wait, Skull!" Ren said sharply, shaking his head. "Look at her face."

He was right. There was no malevolence coming from Shadow Futaba… If anything… she looked determined.

"Futaba Sakura! You have to remember!"

Ken's eyes widened. Futaba's Shadow… it really was a Shadow of positive repressed feelings. Or maybe… to be more accurate, Futaba's repressed memories.

Futaba's eyes suddenly glazed over. She was silent for several moments, until she lifted her head. She slowly climbed to her feet.

"She's up!" Ryuji exclaimed.

But then she suddenly clutched her head… before a feminine voice spoke.

"What denies you is an illusion… A curse put upon you by the heartless. You knew from the very beginning. And yet… you cowered from fear."

"Ugh… I knew but I…" Futaba's expression suddenly steeled.

"Will you die as you're told?" the voice continued. "Just who will you obey? Cursed words spat out by an illusion? Or the truth burning in your very soul?"

"Don't tell me…" Ren breathed out, his eyes wide. "But this is completely different from the rest of us!"

No… that wasn't true. Futaba would be fueled by her anger at the people who hurt her.

"I won't… let anyone tell me what they see…" Futaba laid a hand over her heart. "I'm going to trust my own eyes and my heart to distinguish the truth from the lies." She lifted her face towards the cognition, glaring up at it. Determination burned in her eyes. "You are not my mom! You're just a lie created by those horrid adults… I… I…" Her hands clenched into fists. "I will never, ever forgive them!"

At her declaration, blue flames exploded around her, cloaking her body for a moment. When it faded, Shadow Futaba floated above her host, becoming translucent. Shadow Futaba's form began to shift, transforming into a… UFO?

Wait a minute… wasn't this how the Investigation Team awakened to their Personas? Their Shadow-self became their Persona…

Tentacles then extended from the Persona, lifting Futaba into the air before she disappeared into it.

"Futaba?!" Anne cried out.

"Don't worry! I'm okay!"

Ken's eyes widened as a similar sensation hit him. Futaba wasn't talking aloud. She was speaking to them… telepathically. This was how Fuuka-san spoke to them when they were in Tartarus!

And just right when he was thinking that they needed someone who focused on support…

"Dude, what is that?!" Ryuji demanded.

"It's okay!" Ken said, turning to face everyone. "Mona, let her take your place! You can focus on attacking now! Her Persona… I think it specializes in support! She should be able to help us find a weakness!"

"Personas can do that?!" Makoto sounded bewildered.

"I've gone through countless Personas, and none of them can do that…" Ren shook his head. "…Are you sure about this, Ace?"

"Positive!" Ken nodded firmly. "Just watch her in action!"

"Yeah!" Futaba sounded completely different now. Her voice was filled with energy… and determination. This… This was Futaba's true self, wasn't it? "Necronomicon and I will lead you to victory!" she exclaimed. You could hear the grin in her voice. "We'll help you take that thing down!"

"Don't let us down!" Ren said, flashing a grin at Necronomicon. "But let's do this!"

"But just how are we going to take down this thing?" Yusuke asked. "She's impossible to deal with!"

"This will be no prob!" Necronomicon zoomed into view, before a bright green light extended from it. A ballista appeared, out of nowhere. "This is my cognitive world! So that just means I can hack into this, no problem!"

"This is too… overwhelming," Yusuke groaned, shaking his head.

"Shoot her with this!" Futaba continued, ignoring Yusuke's complaint. "And then you can beat the crap out of her!"

"Someone needs to man the ballista!" Ren said.

"I'll do it!" Anne interjected, before sprinting over to the ballista. "I'll shoot her down, no problem! I won't… I won't let Futaba-chan ever talk about dying!"

Ren flashed a proud smile at her for a moment, before he snapped back into leader mode. "Everyone, distract her!" Ren commanded. "We can do this!"

"Right!" they exclaimed.

Ken summoned Kala-Nemi to heal up everyone. Ren summoned Ame-no-Uzume, which fired a Zionga spell at the cognition.

Goemon summoned a flurry of ice, and Zorro sent it hurtling wicked fast with a Garula spell. But before Makoto could move, the cognition pounced, swiping with her paw. Ken and Morgana managed to dodge, but the others weren't so lucky.

But since she was so close… Ken ripped off his mask, summoning Kala-Nemi. Golden light flared, making the cognition hiss with pain.

"Zorro, show your might!" Morgana followed suit, blue flaring around him for a moment. Zorro slashed with his rapier, summoning a flurry of wind.

The cognition countered with blasting a powerful gale at them, but they managed to hold their ground. The cognition let out an annoyed growl before launching into the air.

"Fireee!" Futaba suddenly crowed out.

Ken whipped his head to see that Anne had the ballista aimed at the cognition. The arrow tore through the air, striking the cognition right in the chest. She let out a screech of pain, before she started to tumble through the air. She crashed down hard enough to make the ground shake violently. She clung to the edge, swaying back and forth from dizziness.

"Yes!" Anne cheered, before running back to join them.

"Everyone, go all out while we can!" Ren ordered.

"Hey, Ace!" Ryuji called out to him. "Wanna a lift?"

"A… lift?" Ken said slowly.

"You know, I'll get you close and personal to Futaba's mom! Double attack it while you're at it!"

Ken nodded. "Let's do it."

Ryuji crouched down, cupping his hands so Ken could step onto it. With a grunt, Ryuji threw him in the air. Ken narrowed his eyes as he made his descent, before stabbing the cognition right in the face. He moved his spear to his right hand, ripping his mask with his left. Kala-Nemi opened fire, causing the cognition to howl.

He dropped to the ground, just as Makoto summoned a Freila spell.

"Nice!" Ryuji cheered, flashing him a thumbs up.

He had to admit… that was pretty fun.

"Hey, stop messing around!" Morgana scolded. "Focus!"

"Aw, Mona, let us have some fun!" Ryuji huffed.

"Hmm… it looks like she's weaker to physical attacks!" Futaba said. "Go get 'em!"

"That's my specialty!" Ryuji said with a grin. "Let's do this, Captain!"

Captain Kidd appeared, before quickly lunging forward, striking the cognition several times.

Morgana used a Garula spell to send Goemon speeding towards the cognition, slashing at the cognition right in the face. Goemon then leapt out of the way before the cognition could counter, allowing Zorro to dart forward and strike with his own attack. Makoto then followed up with a physical attack she rarely used, speeding up to ram into the cognition, the impact exploding like a bomb.

It was in that moment that the cognition finally recovered, attempting to swipe at them again. Ken threw himself to the ground, managing to dodge it but most of the others weren't so lucky. She then pushed off (making the ground shake), and ascending the sky once again. Though Ken noticed that she was considerably tired out, her movements slower than before.

"Halfway through!" Futaba shouted, her voice filled with glee. "Someone will have to man the ballista again!"

"Ace, you wanna give it a go?" Ren asked.

Ken nodded. "Yeah. Leave it to me!"

Ken ran to the ballista, grabbing the handles. His teammates continued to distract the cognition as he leveled the arrow at her. Futaba coached him through it, something he appreciated. He had barely noticed Futaba talking to Anne, since he was more occupied with the fight. His hands were aching from handling such a heavy device but he pushed through. But it was a relief when he finally managed to fire the arrow, nailing his target perfectly.

The cognition collapsed again, allowing them to open fire. They showed no mercy… They were determined to defeat the monster that Futaba's mind had given birth to… due to her belief that her mother committed suicide because of her. It was like… facing Futaba's inner demon.

Ken fired another attack, which made the cognition slump against the pyramid.

"Yes!" Ryuji crowed, pumping a fist.

They formed a half circle, aiming their guns at the cognition. Ren stood in the center, his pistol leveled right at her chest.

"Futaba… if only I had never birthed you…" the cognition said weakly, "then I…"

"No matter what you say to me…" Futaba said slowly, before her voice grew determined. "I will live!"

Ken couldn't help but smile proudly at that. Futaba… she had realized the truth she had been burying this whole time. And she had done it all by herself.

"FIRE!" Futaba shouted.

Ren pulled the trigger, the bullet hurtling towards the cognition. Red spurted from the cognition as the cognition shrieked with pain. She lost her grip on the pyramid, plummeting to the ground.

"We… We did it," Makoto gasped out. She then sank to her knees. "That was… that was too close…"

"Agreed," Ken sighed, leaning against his spear for support.

He then looked up to the sky, where Necronomicon was hovering. The tentacles reemerged, wrapped around Futaba, slowly depositing her back to the ground.

"Whoa…" Futaba breathed, twisting around to look at what she was wearing. "This is new!"

Like the other girls, her suit was skin tight. It was mostly black, with green glowing lines outlining it. But her mask caught his eye more. They were more goggles than an actual mask, actually.

"Dude, you were amazing!" Ryuji ran up to her, grinning at her. "Seriously, we would've been screwed if you hadn't saved us!"

"Skull put it rather bluntly, but… I have to agree." And then Yusuke smiled. "You truly have overcome your inner demons."

"Uh… thanks?" Futaba tilted her head. "I guess…"

A bright light suddenly appeared, blinding them all for a moment. Then Futaba gasped, her eyes growing wide.

"Mom?!"

It was Isshiki-san… But the image of her was translucent. Was this… her spirit?

"Futaba…" Isshiki-san's voice was soft. "…Thank you for choosing to remember the real me."

"I'm… I'm so sorry, Mom…" Futaba said. "I'm sorry for being so selfish, Mom…"

She suddenly made a movement to approach Isshiki-san, but the dark haired woman shook her head firmly. "Futaba, you can't come here," she said gently.

"But I finally got to see you again…!" Futaba protested, clutching her hands to her chest. "After so long!"

He… He understood the feeling. He would love to talk to his mother again, even for a minute. But he could also see why Futaba's mother was stopping her. It wasn't healthy to dwell on the dead…

"Futaba, you can't," Ken said quietly. "Your mom's right…"

"But…" Futaba's bottom lip trembled.

Oh no… She was going to start crying, wasn't she? He was not good with crying girls.

"Futaba…" Isshiki-san's voice was firm now. "You're being selfish again."

Futaba made a little sound in her throat. "Mom, I…" Futaba's voice suddenly broke. "I love you… I-I'm sorry I didn't say it enough to you before you…"

Isshiki-san's expression was loving as she looked at Futaba. Her image flickered. "Futaba, I love you too. Take care of yourself." And then her eyes flickered to Ken. "...Watch out for her, won't you?" 

Wait... she... she recognized him...? 

Then Isshiki-san disappeared. Futaba was silent for a moment, her lips parted.

Futaba… she needed this closure. But even then, Ken couldn't help but feel a bit jealous of her…

"…Right. Medjed…" She then turned on her heel.

"Hey, where do you think you're going?" Ren raised an eyebrow.

"Home, duh," Futaba said with a shrug. "I can do that since I have the Nav."

"She… really marches to the beat of her own drum, doesn't she?" Ken said slowly.

"Yeah, no kidding!" Ryuji huffed. "Not even a thanks."

"Well, you said it yourself," Makoto pointed out. "She saved us…"

"She really is a strange one," Yusuke sighed, shaking his head.

Anne rolled her eyes, putting her hands on her hips. "…You're one to talk, Fox."

"She… She really did a great job," Morgana said faintly. "Far better than me."

Ken knelt so that he was closer to Morgana's level. "…Hey. Don't say that. You've guided everyone through the Palaces well. You taught everyone how to be a Phantom Thief. That's not a small feat."

Despite his attitude, Morgana did have some insecurities… And he understood what it felt like when you think you're not contributing enough…

"But I couldn't…" Morgana mumbled out, "not with the cognition…"

"Honestly, I think only Futaba could have helped us with this…" Ren knelt beside Morgana, putting a hand on his head. "You saw how the cognition was… And Ace is right. You've guided us well, Morgana. And we still need you."

"…Really?" Morgana said slowly.

Ren offered him a playful smile. "We're partners, remember? Or did you forget that?"

"Uhh, guys?" Anne suddenly called out to them. "The Treasure is gone…"

"What?!" Morgana yelped, before running over to the sarcophagus. "How is this possible?!" Then he gasped. "Wait, I get it… Futaba is the Treasure! But she left so… now that she's gone…"

"Oh no," Ken groaned. "Here we go…"

"Not only did Futaba enter her own Palace…" Makoto said slowly, "but her Shadow transformed into a Persona! This place…"

"It's going to self-destruct, isn't it?" Ren deadpanned.

"Come on, let's go!" Morgana ran over to the edge.

"We're going to run down here?" Ken said in disbelief.

"We don't have a choice!" Morgana fired back at him. "Come on, before the Palace collapses completely!"

They ran down the edge of the pyramid, and Anne eventually tossed Morgana in the air so he could transform into his bus form. They all but fell into the bus, and Makoto floored the gas pedal, speeding out of the Metaverse and into the real world.


For some reason… they found themselves in front of LeBlanc, instead of Sakura-san's house.

"Hey…" Ryuji said, "you guys okay?"

"Define… okay…" Ken groaned, pushing himself up into a sitting position. "I hate the getaways…"

"You don't really have a good history with them, do you?" Makoto laughed softly.

"Hmph." Ken glowered at the ground. "I'm not going to dignify that with an answer."

"In Ken-ese…" Ren said in a sagely voice, pointing an index finger to the sky, "…that means yes."

"I didn't ask you, Ren," Ken grumbled, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. "…But where did Futaba go?"

"Oh, that's right…" Yusuke looked around. "Though, I suppose she could've just walked home…"

"Hey, what's going on out here?" The door swung open, revealing Sakura-san. He stepped outside, blinking at them. "…What are you guys doing here?"

"Um…" Anne winced. "We… We… came here for some coffee!" Anne bobbed her head. "Yeah! Your coffee really hits the spot, Boss!"

…Okay, that wasn't the most terrible acting but… It still made him cringe a bit.

"Yes!" Makoto said, nodding as well. "We might as well, since we came all this way to visit with Ren."

"I'm not thirsty though," Yusuke said, apparently oblivious to what Anne and Makoto were trying to do. "Though, doesn't coffee make you even thirstier? I suppose that'll work-"

Ken quickly elbowed his side, making him yelp. "Yeah, iced coffee sounds great," he said smoothly. "Especially in this heat."

"Don't I know it," Sakura-san sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "Though with this many customers…" He looked at Ren. "Come in, and help me."

"W-What?" Ren stared at Sakura-san blankly. 

"Did I stutter?" Sakura-san retorted, folding his arms over his chest. He looked at Ren sternly. "Come on, especially after how I'm serving your friends."

"Oh, um, actually… I have a quick errand I have to do… So I'll catch up later!" Makoto said quickly.

Anne caught her eye, and nodded. "Okay, Makoto. See you soon!"

The others went inside LeBlanc, before Makoto sighed. "I was hoping that Ren could come to check up on Futaba… but you were pretty worried about her… Come on, let's go."

Ken nodded, before following her out of the alley. Though Ken noticed as she walked, she would wince a bit ever so often. Ken couldn't help but frown at the sight of her pained expression.

"…What's wrong?" Ken finally managed to ask her when they stepped into the alley that led to the Sakura residence.

"Oh…" Makoto halted in her walking, before speaking again. "It's just… I got knocked into a pillar when you were working on firing the ballista," Makoto explained, resting a hand on her lower back. "I'll… I'll be okay. I just need to rest…"

Ken frowned, before reaching out to her. He… didn't like seeing her in pain. "…Could I?"

"Huh?" Makoto blinked at him, before lowering her hand, moving it to her side once more. "What are you talking about?"

"Just trust me." Ken rested a hand on her back, careful not to touch anywhere… inappropriate. He closed his eyes, focusing on Kala-Nemi. Kala-Nemi's presence in his mind was fainter, as they weren't in a Shadow nest, but he could still feel it. "Diarama," he murmured.

Makoto stiffened for a moment, all while her cheeks turned pink (because well, he was touching her in a place where she wasn't usually touched), but then relaxed as the spell swept through her. "That's… incredible," she breathed. "I didn't know that you could… in the real world…"

"I've been practicing," Ken admitted, pulling back his hand. "It's been so long since I've done it in the real world that I forgot how…"

"Could you… teach me?" Makoto asked hesitantly. "Sis has asked me a couple of times if I've taken a fall…" She then sighed, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "It's nice to know that she's concerned but… I've had a hard time explaining the bruises."

"Hmm…" Ken clicked his tongue, as he thought about how to explain it to her. "It's just really focus. You have to focus on your Persona's presence in your mind, and think about the healing spell. There's not really anything I can teach you."

"I see…" Makoto's expression turned thoughtful, before she shook her head. "But anyhow! Let's check up on Futaba." Then she froze. "Oh no…"

Futaba was slumped against the wall.

"F-Futaba?" Makoto's voice was filled with panic, as she knelt right in front of Futaba. She shook the smaller girl lightly, but her head just lolled forward. If anything, Makoto just knocked her glasses askew. "Please say something!" she begged.

Ken knelt down and slid on the glasses back on her face. He then took Futaba's wrist, checking for a pulse. To his relief, he could feel one… albeit a slow one, since she seemed to be unconscious.

"It's okay," Ken said, "she's just sleeping."

"O-Oh… thank goodness…" Makoto let go of Futaba before she dropped down to her knees. "I thought… because her awakening is so different than ours, that we did something wrong…"

"Futaba's case is very different," Ken said. "But you know that Personas and Shadows are two sides of one coin, right? That's probably why Ren gains new Personas with the Shadows."

…Or something like that. But he could still remember Kanji-san's surprise when his Shadow hadn't turned into a Persona back during the crisis with Sho Minazuki. A Persona manifested due to strength of heart… due to self-awareness. It was no surprise that people could gain Personas in many kinds of ways.

If they had killed Futaba's Shadow… it'd be a different story. But this wasn't the case. It had transformed into Necronomicon. Futaba was safe… in that matter.

"Yeah… it really was a different case with Futaba-chan…" Makoto bit her lip. "…I'm glad that she got to get closure with her mother…"

Ken met her gaze. "…But it makes you wish that you had the same chance."

Makoto nodded furiously. "I know that Dad's death wasn't as entwined with Kaneshiro as it was with Futaba-chan and her mother… but I wish that I could talk to him just for a moment…"

He had to wonder… was her father a single parent for a long time? Makoto had never mentioned her mother…

"I'm sure that he's still watching over you," Ken said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

Makoto smiled softly. "…Thanks, Ken." But then she turned her attention back to Futaba. "But…" Makoto seemed to shake as she gazed at Futaba's unconscious form, "…what should we do…? What's wrong with her?"

"Didn't Ren mention something about knowing a doctor in Yogen-jaya?" Ken asked, turning to look at her. "I'll take Futaba back into her room, and you go get her. It'd be better to have a professional opinion."

"Okay." Makoto nodded. "That's a good plan."

Ken lifted Futaba with surprisingly ease. She didn't even shift as he adjusted his grip on her so he wouldn't drop her. Should he be concerned that Futaba felt so light? She was a tiny girl, but still… He carried her into the house, laying her on top of her bed. Her room… was rather messy. Maybe he could tidy up a little while he waited for Makoto…

Ken had managed to toss out all of the bowls of ramen and clear up some of the manga volumes on the floor, stacking them on Futaba's desk, when he heard a knock on the door.

"Ken?" Makoto cautiously opened the door, peeking inside. "Oh, you managed to clean up a bit."

"Yeah… it was bothering me," Ken said with a wince.

"So this is the girl, huh?"

The doctor… was not what he had expected. She looked like she was in her late twenties or early thirties. (He knew better than to ask her age, though.) And she was dressed in a punk fashion.

…Ren had weird associates.

They stood back as they let Takemi, as Makoto told him the doctor's name in a whisper, examine Futaba.

"You know," Takemi said casually, "this is going to cost you. House calls aren't cheap."

"O-Oh… I see…" Makoto winced. "How much will that be?"

"…Makoto, she's joking," Ken said, having caught the look on her face. It was all too familiar to how Minato-san would make jokes.

"Oh…" Makoto shook her head. "…But how is she?"

"She's fine. Her pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and breathing… they're all normal. No ocular abnormalities either. She just appears to be in a stupor. Furthermore, she lacks muscle for her age, and I don't think she has much stamina."

"A stupor?" Ken repeated, before it hit him. "Oh… I think I get it."

"What do you mean?"

"Think about it. Futaba probably only eats what she likes," Ken pointed out. "She's probably not eating healthily… which contributed to her body to being… unbalanced. She must get tired out easily if she hasn't been eating properly."

"Hmm, not bad." Takemi looked at him curiously. "It appears that's not the case with you."

Ken just rubbed the back of his neck. Shinjiro-san was very… insistent on him eating healthily. He remembered that his old friends on soccer club would rib him about that…

"This really is an abnormal case…" Makoto mumbled to herself, only to jump when Ken nudged her in the side. "B-But anyways!" Makoto bowed. "Thank you for helping us out here."

"No problem." Takemi shrugged. "I'll just expect my little guinea pig to buy a bit more than he usually does next time he visits me."

…Guinea pig? And Ren let her call him that?

But then Takemi left, leaving them alone with Futaba. Futaba slept through it all, smiling gently in her sleep.

Ken sighed. "…We'll have to tell Sakura-san. He'll find out eventually anyways."

"Yes…" Makoto nodded firmly. "I agree…"

They returned to LeBlanc and told Sakura-san about how they found Futaba passed out in front of the house and helped her inside. He hurried back, and the others followed suit.

Sakura-san gently prodded his adoptive daughter. "Hey, Futaba?" He shook her shoulder gently. "Heyyy?"

Futaba just let out a soft moan, before rolling onto her side.

"Jeez… not again," Sakura-san sighed, shaking his head.

"Again?" Yusuke echoed. "What do you mean by that?"

"It happens every so often," Sakura-san began.

"F-For real?!" Ryuji demanded.

"She just used up all of her energy," Sakura-san explained. "Like batteries running out of juice."

"I-I think you should be more concerned about this, if this is a common thing…" Ken said shakily.

…He'd know that Shinjiro-san would be. Maybe it was because Sakura-san spoiled Futaba in that way, judging from how many ramen bowls he had collected… And she hadn't exactly been getting exercise…

"I can't force her to exercise," Sakura-san said, before he shrugged. But then he smiled. "But she'll stay this way for a few days and she'll be up to her usual self."

"A few days?!" Anne exclaimed. "Shouldn't you take her to a doctor? There's one right here in Yogen-jaya…"

"I would, if she'd let me…" Sakura-san sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "But I'll make sure that she'll get plenty of rest. Let me close the store and you kids can go home."

"H-He can't be serious," Morgana said shakily. "A few days… We don't have time! Medjed is going through with its threat in like ten days…!"

"Morgana…" Ken said warningly, shooting the cat a look. "I know that the situation with Medjed is serious, but Futaba's wellbeing was our priority."

"I know but…" Morgana sighed, lowering his head. "…I'm sorry. You're right…"

Then Futaba let out a contented sigh, and Ken looked to see that Futaba was staring up at the ceiling.

"That's right… Medjed..." She sighed again. "Mm… So tired… gonna sleep some more…"

"Wait, can't you—" Ryuji hung his head as Futaba rolled over and began to sleep again. "Ugh…"

"We'll just have to wait," Makoto sighed, folding her arms over her chest. "It's a bit worrisome, though… But it's not like we know any other hackers…"

Well, they didn't know any… Though he didn't know if Fuuka-san was that good. It couldn't hurt to ask though… But then again… Fuuka-san probably wouldn't react too positively about that…


Thursday, August 11th, 2016


"The girl seriously just passed out?"

"Yeah, pretty much." Ken stifled a yawn with his hand.

Shinjiro frowned, before glancing at the clock on his laptop. It was past ten. Ken didn't have bags under his eyes but… "Ken, have you been getting enough sleep? You look like you haven't gotten any sleep."

"I'm fine, Shinjiro-san…" he sighed, before yawning again. "I'm just tired after the fight we had. We got put through the wringer."

"What exactly happened?"

"A Sphinx tried to kill us."

"Ken," Shinjiro ground out.

He really hated it when Ken tried masking things by dodging the question.

"We just… struggled with her cognition of Isshiki-san until Futaba entered her Palace and awakened to her Persona. Her Shadow changed into her Persona and everything."

"…It did?" Fuuka came up, peering over Shinjiro's shoulder. She then rested her chin on his shoulder. "That sounds an awfully like how the Investigation Team gained their Personas."

"But their Shadows went all berserk," Shinjiro said. "From what you've told us, looks like her Shadow was more like Teddie." His lips formed a thin line. "…Or Metis."

Despite everything, he couldn't forget about how Metis had attacked Ken when she first showed up.

"But anyways, I'm glad that Futaba-chan will be okay," Fuuka cut in. "You'll be checking up on her, won't you?"

"Yeah, we will." Ken rubbed his face. "Sakura-san claims she's always out for a few days at the very least… but with Medjed's threat…" He then sighed. "…Everyone's pretty worried."

Shinjiro made a face. "Sheesh… what the hell has he been feeding her?"

"Uh…" Ken fidgeted for a moment. "I don't know the extent of it but… I found a lot of ramen bowls in her room…"

Ugh. What wasn't he surprised? The Phantom Thieves in general seemed to have shitty eating habits. Kitagawa seemed to starve himself so he could buy art supplies. Takamaki had an even bigger sweet tooth than Takeba. And given that Amamiya lived in the attic of a café, he highly doubted the kid was getting to eat half decent food. Niijima and Sakamoto seemed to be the only ones getting decent meals.

Maybe he should just start sending Ken off with meals when he went to see the group. Somebody had to give them proper nutrition. Why did teenagers have to have crappy eating habits?

"…What's with that face?" Ken narrowed his eyes at Shinjiro.

"Nothing," Shinjiro dismissed. "You're imagining it."

"Uh huh." Ken sounded completely unconvinced. "Sure, Shinjiro-san."

"What are you planning, Shinji?" Shinjiro turned his head to see Fuuka raise an eyebrow at him. "You're making that face."

"Tch, did you two decide that you just have to pick on me today?" Shinjiro grumbled.

Fuuka just giggled before leaning forward to kiss his cheek. "Well, I suppose we should be nice today. It is your birthday."

"Yeah, happy birthday, Shinjiro-san." Ken fidgeted again, before looking at Shinjiro hesitantly. "Um… did you like…?"

"Yeah. It was great, Ken," Shinjiro said quickly.

"Oh, what did you get him?" Fuuka asked, apparently oblivious to the brief panic that appeared on Ken's face.

"Uh… well…"

"Just a cookbook with Korean recipes," Shinjiro said quickly.

Hopefully Fuuka would buy that lie. Because he really didn't want to screw up the actual proposal. Minako and Takeba would both murder him if he screwed it up. They would never let him hear the end of it.

"Oh." Fuuka blinked, before she finally nodded. Ken's shoulders just slumped in relief. He didn't blame him. He was kinda worried that Fuuka wouldn't accept his lie. "That's a nice present, Ken-kun! Maybe we should look through it for dinner tomorrow night, Shinji. Since we're having dinner with everyone tonight for your birthday."

Fuck.

God dammit… where the hell was he supposed to come up with a Korean cookbook? Would Bookworms have anything like that?

"Maybe…" Shinjiro drew out the word, all while desperately trying to come out with an excuse. "But I was thinking about cooking your favorite stuff for tomorrow night. Since you probably haven't had it in a while."

"Oh, that's not necessary, Shinji! It's sweet of you, though."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Ken rolling his eyes. Ugh. He really couldn't wait for the day when Ken got a girlfriend, whenever the hell that was. Then it would be time for payback.

"But since it's summer vacation, I think I'm just gonna go back to bed," Ken said with a yawn. "I'm still pretty tired."

"You'll be okay by yourself, right?" Fuuka asked. "You shouldn't sleep the entire day, though! Maybe you should set an alarm…"

"I know, I know," Ken groaned. "I already have Shinjiro-san nagging at me…"

Fuuka smiled sheepishly. "I know, but can you blame me? It's been a long time since you've been by yourself…"

"So I can live in a dorm when I'm thirteen, but I can't be trusted to take care of myself when I'm eighteen," Ken deadpanned. "Good to know."

Shinjiro rolled his eyes. "Quit being a smartass, Ken. Fuuka's just worried."

"Yeah, like she's the only one," Ken said dryly, before his expression softened. "But… enjoy your birthday, Shinjiro-san."

"Yeah, yeah." Shinjiro waved it off. "Try and get some rest, yeah?"

"Will do."

Ken gave one last wave, before he cut off the connection.


KALA-NEMI

Level: 36

Skills: Makouha, Kouga, Recarm, Diarama, Mediarama, Snap, Hamaon, Mahama

Next Skill: Makouga (Level 38)