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“And you’re sure that’s what you saw?”

“I know what an explosive looks like.” Kaito answers.

This was not the direction he thought their group project was going to take. He sat behind the new kid in class, and so brought up some of the strange things he did in a lull in their work. Kaito thought he could bring it up, they’d laugh about it, and then get back to work. Maybe it could be a first step in making some friends.

When the class was divided into groups for the assignment, Kaito overheard a few jealous comments by his male classmates that he got paired up with three girls. Kaito did not think the envy was warranted for a few reasons, those being that1), he was gay (or, he thought he was gay. He was 90% sure by this point), and 2), the girls kind of scared him. Iris was fine, but Yako was loud and brash and got into a lot of fights she never lost. The third, Ana, was an intimidating, bored-looking who girl barely looked up from her phone, even when the members of her team came to her room to work, or when Iris began asking Kaito increasingly detailed questions about what he’d seen Amamiya doing and when.

He never meant to spy. It was just that the new kid was kind of cute, and Kaito’s eyes drifted over to him when class was dull. He looked over one day, saw blue eyes glittering inside of desk, and quickly learned that a cat wasn’t the weirdest thing Amamiya kept in there by far.

“I think half the school knows by now.” Yako says from her seat at the desk. Shredded paper and snapped pencils litter the top, broken in the wake of her boredom. “They’ll all know pretty soon if Sakamoto keeps shouting it at the top of his lungs.”

“I thought he might just be running his mouth.” Iris leans back and stares up at the ceiling. “So they are the ones who took out Kamoshida,”

The room palpably cools, as if uttering the name summoned the shade of the man he used to be.

Kaito never considered his classmate being part of the Phantom Thieves, but it did explain a lot of Amamiya and his friends’ behavior.

Iris stares at Kaito. “Have you told any teachers about this? Or your parents?”

“No.” If attending Shujin had taught him anything, for better or worse, it was not to snitch. “Why?”

“As far as we know they haven’t been caught yet,” she says, “And I’m going to keep it that way.”

She tosses a broken pencil stub at Ana. The other girl makes a startled noise of annoyance but still doesn’t look up from her phone.

“Find out if anyone else at school knows and wants to go to the police.”

“Already on it.” She answers.

“I might need help if some kids want to go to the police and blackmail doesn’t work. Yako?”

A grin stretches across her face, eager and cruel.

Kaito watches as Iris continues to give orders, a sensation slowly dawning on him that he’d unintentionally set something irreversible into motion.

Iris Kirishima was in the same year as him, and she was average. Average appearance, average academics, just average. She faded into the background like he did. He’d heard a few rumors about the kinds of things she did to wind up at Shujin, but he didn’t listen to them for the same reason he didn’t listen to the rumors about Amamiya – people would take any excuse to be cruel. Besides, both Amamiya and Iris appeared completely at odds with what people said.

Though, as he watches Iris sift through blackmail material alongside what may not be her friends so much as her informer and enforcer, he thinks he should start lending more credence to rumors in the future.

=

Kaito finishes the project alone. Afterward, Iris gives him a copy of a PSP game he’d never told anyone he wanted. A game that wasn’t supposed to be released for another month.

He accepts the gift and doesn’t ask questions.

=

Gossip at school changes overnight. People still talk about the Phantom Thieves, because the whole city is, but anytime the topic turned to their true identities or the ever-increasing reward, the conversation stopped dead.

“It hasn’t been as hard as I expected,” she says on the train home one day She hangs out occasionally near him now. He didn’t know if she’s keeping an eye on him or thinks they’re friends. “Everyone in class who already knows wants to help.”

“No one in any other classes wants to go to the police?”

“Some do.” she says, “But they’re being taken care of.”

He pieces together what ‘taken care of’ means, by the ever-present tearing on Yako’s knuckles and few students he’d seen with limps and bruises.

“But you’re hurting people,” he says before he can think better of it, “and you’re telling people to hurt others. How is that any different than – “

He finally shuts his moth before he says, How is that any different from Kamoshida?

Iris finally looks at him. Cold sweat beads on his forehead at her stare, as if Yako and Ana were seconds from materializing from the walls of the subway car and asking him to please repeat what he though he was accusing Iris of?

.“Our ends are different.” She says calmly “He did awful things to benefit himself. I’m doing this in the hope that the school and city will be safer for everyone in the end.”

She shrugs. “That’s what I tell myself anyway. Think what you want.”

=

He doesn’t know what to think. He doesn’t want the Phantom Thieves to get caught. But seeing and knowing what was being done to maintain that silence still made his gut twist.

Sharp-jawed tension burrowed through his skin and wedged into his muscles like vines. He always feels seconds away from an irreversible tipping point, either the Phantom Thieves’ secret or Iris’s operation or both falling apart.

=

“Are you okay?”

Kaito jolts up, knocking his green pencil case to the floor. “Huh?”

Amamiya was turned around in chair, staring back at Kaito, loose pieces of something in his desk. The ambient noise of other students in the classroom came back into focus.

“You look really worried.” The dark haired boy says, eyes soft and concerned behind his glasses. “Is something wrong?”

(It was funny. Not too long ago, just the thought of his classmate actually talking to would have made his heart flutter. Now he was just tired.)

“Yep.” Kaito answers, and gets up to go use the bathroom before the next class started.

Nerves meant he had a harder time falling asleep lately. Nodding off in class was his new normal. He wouldn’t find a solution to his dilemma scrawled on the bathroom mirrors, but a splash of water on face would wake him up at least.

An authoritative voice cut through the room. “Amamiya!” teacher for the period had just entered the classroom and immediately zeroed-in on the dark haired boy classmate. “What are you doing?”

“Writing.” Amamiya answers, completely straight-faced as if he did not have his hands on lockpicks or a bomb or something equally illicit.

The teacher’s frown deepens, and he starts walking to his desk.

Kaito slips out into the hall, waits three seconds, and slams the classroom door back open. Everyone turns to him.

“Sir!” He yelps. “The principle wants to see you. Right now, in his office. A bunch of other teachers just went. It’s an emergency.”

He must look suitably frantic, because the teacher tells everyone to sit down and rushes out the door.

There is nothing for him to do, of course, and he quickly returns, glowering at Kaito. The young man’s guts contort with dread throughout the dressing-down as he tries to figure out how to explain the write up to his parents when he goes home.

But the ploy works. When the teacher peeks into Amamiya’s desk later during the lesson, he doesn’t find anything.

After he returns to the front of the class, the black cat peeks head out from Amamiya’s bag and meows at Kaito.

His head thunks back down. He must be even more stressed than he thought. The cat’s mew almost sounded like ‘Thanks’.

=

Kaito’s life falls back into routine, with the new additional step of keeping his eye out for Amamiya and his friends (accomplices?) and running interference when needed to safeguard their secret.

It happens enough to become second nature, and without the burden of nerves he even starts talking to the student he was bending over backward to protect. He learns that Amamiya likes some of same games Kaito does, and on top of that is quiet, sincere, and kind, the picture of an innocent student. He’s an incredible actor.

At heart, he was glad the thieves were around. He’d needed people like them in the past, willing to go after those who made others’ lives hell. His first half-year at Shujin was dominated by bullying by a group of guys in his class (He was never sure exactly why, the sound of his voice, the way he talked, way held himself, maybe just looked like someone good to pick on. That was usually what it boiled down to in middle school). He’d buckled down for what he expected to be years of such treatment, but it stopped virtually over night. Two were transferred when they were caught with answer sheets for an exam. The third never even talked to him again, and even turned and went other way whenever their paths almost crossed in the halls.

Now that he thought about it, it all stopped after Iris transferred to Shujin.

=

There was one thing he was still uncertain about, that would keep eating at him until he got some kind of outside answer.

Sitting in a café booth opposite Iris one day afterschool, he asks, “Is what they’re doing okay?”

Iris glances up from a bright red drink she dumped five packets worth of sugar into (she’d offered one to him too, but he declined). “What do you mean?”

“About – them, you know.” The café isn’t crowded and no one is looking in their direction, but he still wanted to avoid saying ‘Phantom Thieves’ aloud. “Don’t they brainwash people to get them to change? What if they do it to someone who doesn’t deserve it?”

“Then I’ll take care of them.” She answers. She sips loudly on her drink and flips through a few pages of her magazine.

Kaito bites back questions (How would you even know if they had? Take care of them how?) as well as a hysterical bubble of laughter at the vigilante ridden mess his life had become. He reigns it in, ties it down, and pulls out his class notes for their quiz next week. He’s in this for the long haul. Might as well keep grades up in the meantime.