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My Personality's Like an Onion, It's Got Layers

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"A being based off the main character of Maurice Leblanc's Novels, Arsene Lupin. He appears everywhere and is a master of disguise. He is known to help law-abiding citizens."
—Persona 5 Compendium

Deep down, he knew that Arsene had always been a part of him. For a while, Arsene was in the part of him that was very well hidden, purposefully hidden under many layers. But, as with all facets of one’s self, it couldn’t be denied forever without causing discomfort to the soul.

So, when Ren finally heard that voice so clearly in his head, this time with a name attached, relief coursed through his body. Arsene. ‘Do I regret it? Of course not.’ To help those in need, even at the fall of oneself, that is noble. One could almost call in gentlemanly. And, with how things have been lately, a true reminder of the countercultural idea of selfless justice was needed to put the world back on track. ‘Who cares if the world scoffs at my ideals? I will change the world for better without losing track of what I stand for. And I will not let anyone decide that my actions were not noble.’

Beliefs in check, fire ensued, sweet outfit unlocked.

Now, to save the defenseless and utterly mistreated new friend. ‘Prove that justice.’

---

His parents had tried their best while he was growing up to shape that desire to help others. He apparently had a deceptively smug grin on his face whenever he was squaring up to get involved in something that was decidedly not his business. And, for the most part, their interfering and their lessons stopped him from getting out of hand at a young age.

That smirk was strange to see on a young child. Relatives didn’t know what to think when they would hear about a 5-year-old naturally putting on a face that could only be described as subtle and nuanced and almost could be considered dangerous. And yet, the grin was the telltale sign. From ‘rescuing’ their friend from toy thieves at nap time in daycare to actually saving friends from bullies or themselves, the only tell that would break through the strangely passive face of their son was that of a suave look. Learning to look for that face, his parents would interfere and try to get him to remain quiet and passive like he was the other 99% of his life. “Keep your head down, keep yourself calm and good mannered like you always do, and you will make it far. Don’t stick your neck out, especially when there’s real danger, or you’ll paint a target your back.”

However, that fateful day occurred. The situation in question came to the forefront too quickly for Ren to be able to squash it down as he was taught, and, well, the rest was history. When the lady in question testified against him and commented on his smug smirk, his parents knew that there had to be something fishy going on. While everyone else took his face to mean that he was guilty without a doubt, only his parents knew that it meant that something bad had happened and their boy had finally gotten into trouble beyond his ability.

--

His parents made sure to warn Sojiro about his smirk.

Sojiro didn’t understand what their warning meant for the longest time. It only came out at first when he was talking about his new school friends (must mean that they’re the wrong sort). And then again his friends would come over with worried looks on their faces (maybe it means that he has plans to cheer them up). When it started to occur whenever Futaba was mentioned, he started to worry (was he going to hurt Futaba? Was he going to drag her into danger?).

When it appeared on his face right before he turned himself into the police, Sojiro finally understood what their warning meant. Not to watch out for shenanigans or tomfoolery, but to watch out for Ren himself - because he was going to suffer for someone else’s sake. Ren had too good of a heart to be thrown under the bus again and again trying to help others. But, was there really anything you could do to stop it when he was so adamant about wedging himself under those bus tires?

Well, besides removing the bus altogether. Or getting car jacks to hoist it up and get him safe.

“I guess it’s time to be the one saving him instead.”

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"Friendly fairies of the forest that tend to hide from humans. They like to play tricks on the Laz people. It is said they are the souls of dead, unbaptized children."

—Persona 5 Compendium

 

While rather excited and confused about the idea of having more than one Persona, Ren wasn’t exactly certain that he liked it.

 

Cool, being able to be more and more versatile in battle seemed great and all at the time, but it did something… weird… to him along the way.

 

While Arsene was there the whole time, bubbling beneath the surface - just waiting for the time to arrive - Pixie was not. Or was she? Regardless, she was here now and was pushing Ren to break out of his passive and unchangeable passe. Feelings that had never really existed before, urges that were not ever worried about before, all coming to the surface at once, torrenting through his entire being and slamming his poor soul around like a lone raft in a hurricane.

 

A pit started in the bottom of his stomach. Was this going to happen every time I obtain a new Persona? The answer was terrifyingly pointing towards a yes. If so, do I want to continue doing this? A heavy pause. Yes. Anything to help Ryuji.

 

--

 

Ren was always a “go-with-the-flow” sort of guy. He never really complained, he never really fought for his opinion. He was always in the background, just like he was raised. Passive was a good word to describe him. Classmates spoke sometimes about how he was a little creepy due to his seeming inability to show emotion, leading him to never really develop close friendships growing up. Once he moved to Tokyo, he wasn’t fazed by the barrier separated him from the rest of his classmates: he was used to being left alone and talked about being his back.

 

Ryuji noticed it later that evening after their second walk through the Castle, but something changed about Ren after he absorbed Pixie. Besides the ability to change Personas, though that was sick . Before this adventure, he pretty much agreed to anything that was asked. Wanna go through the neighborhood around the school, like, 5 times to see if a magic castle pops up? Sure. Wanna let a demon cat out of a cage? Sure. Wanna fight these monsters even though you honestly should just run away? Why not. Honestly, it was a little terrifying.

 

If not for the whole magical Arsene appearing thing, Ryuji may not have believed the whole assault prevention story at all, if he was going to be completely honest.

 

But then Pixie happened. And then Ren started to share his opinion on things. Starting after that fight, he took lead for where to go next (sure he was in the lead the first trip too, but it was more of Ryuji telling him to find an exit and him complying). He took over for battle commands. And most importantly, he chose to not go after Kamoshida once they left the Palace. That Mona cat wanted him to say yes, but he chose to say no.

 

Also, he became a bit snarkier and sarcastic. The light in his eyes changed.

 

Ryuji might not be smart, but he knows people - and he knows Pixie changed something.

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"A drunkard who tricked the Devil out of taking him to Hell. When refused entry to Heaven, he was forced to wander the earth with only an ember as a light."

—Persona 5 background

 

"Hmmm... this way."

 

Without a second thought, Ren took the lead.

 

---

 

Ren, as Ryuji had picked up in the few short days that he had known the guy, was a passive dude. He went with the flow and didn’t see the point in putting up a fight when it came to decision time. Everyone already had a decision made, it was much easier to smile and nod than to try and make his choice heard, especially since he usually didn’t care about the choice being made. But he felt a need to keep pushing forward, and a need to lead the charge. And, since he didn’t often have strong feelings or sensations growing up, he learned to lean into them whenever they did appear.

 

So, Ren took charge. Reveling in the feeling of his cape swooshing behind him as he ran, he would have laughed joyfully - if not for the monsters in the evil, dark castle, that is. Since he couldn’t vocally whoop in his glee, he instead let himself pull out the old gymnastics training that he started as a child - yet another attempt to get him to emote more when he was young. And, while it didn’t really get him to emote more, his signature smirk didn’t seem as out of place when he was pulling off flips and other crazy maneuvers. And so, his parents allowed him to continue gymnastics up until high school, if anything so they could have an excuse for his looks and his daredevilish ways (hey, if someone was in trouble on the other side of a wall, it wasn’t his fault that he felt the need to vault over it to help, even before he did gymnastics).

 

Another light was growing inside of him, another Person was obtained, and unlike the first one that had confused him, this one left him feeling more confident and more assured.

 

---

 

Ryuji shrugged and was grateful, he didn’t want to be in charge of trapezing through an evil magic castle. He was much better as an “I point that way and you go” sort of person. Ma always said, “knowing your strengths is better than pretending you don’t have your weaknesses.” And Ma was the smartest person around, right?

Morgana, however, was slightly confused. Wasn’t he the Metaverse guru? Why was he not leading the charge? At first, he let Ren lead because he was the tallest, and therefore easiest to follow while he was recovering from his prison cell stint, but now he would have liked to be the leader. I mean, being able to order around that blonde idiot? Now that would have been fun.

 

But, there they were, with Ren in the lead. Something about the way he stood and how he just took initiative. That was something he could respect about the guy. Plus, that power. He had no idea that someone could have multiple Personas. Morgana was so happy that he felt drawn to this guy. ‘He could really help me out in getting my memories back.’

 

Plus, there was something about him. Maybe it was just some leftover adrenaline from the last fight, but there seemed to be a light coming from Ren. Like a fire within.

 

‘I feel like I should follow that fire through the dark. He’ll lead me to where I need to be.’ Morgana thought as he waited to strike the next shadow with an Ambush. ‘And is that a swagger that he added to his stride?’

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"An Agathion is a familiar spirit which appears only at midday in the shape of a human or an animal, or even within a talisman, bottle or magic ring."
Megami Tensei Wiki

 

“So, when you wanna go back to the Palace?” Ryuji threw a soda at Ren as they met for lunch.

Only a noncommital grunt was his reply.

“Why not? Don’t you wanna do this, man? We gotta take care of this ASAP. Otherwise, like, we’ll be expelled. And you know what happens then? Ann will get mad at us. You want to know what else will happen? My Ma will be sad. We have to do this. Like, now.”

Ryuji noticed a few things after finishing that outburst.

One, the nearby tables were staring, whispers about being a Mama’s boy already popping up. Two, Ren wasn’t listening. Or even looking.

Impressively balancing a textbook in one hand, Ren was funneling curry into his mouth with the other. Ryuji had a quick jaw drop moment, before shaking his head to continue his outburst, this time on a different channel,

“Dude! You…” Ren’s hand, done shoveling curry into his mouth (that plate was gone in less than 3 minutes), shot up and covered Ryuji’s mouth.

“As you can see, I’m trying to study. Extra stress on the trying. I was near the top of my class back home and I refuse to have my grades drop now that I’m here. And, as you so wonderfully reminded me, I now have to dungeon crawl in the afternoon. You know? When I would normally do homework and study? So, I’m gonna need you to let me do this now, so I achieve my real world goals as well as my fake world ones. Plus, now I have a damned demon cat living in my desk and my room that will not shut up. Now if you do not mind, I am going to keep reading. Thank you for the soda. I’ll see you later.”

With those finals words, Ren got up from the table and returned to Kawakami’s room to read ahead for the homework tonight.

 

“Uhhh. I guess… I’ll… see you later? That was weird. He wasn’t that focused yesterday.”

Ryuji shook his head and wandered off. “I wonder where Mishima is?”

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"A magical plant whose roots look like a human. They are valued for their healing properties in potions, but the screams they let out when pulled from the ground will kill anyone who hears them."

—Persona 5 background



So, doing sneaky drug tests for a doctor in exchange for drugs was the one thing about being the Leader of the Phantom Thieves that he refused to tell anyone. The other members knew that he had found a way to procure medicine, but thankfully never pressed for details. Honestly, he’d rather try to explain the Metaverse to someone before explaining that he agreed to take unpatented drugs from a back-alley doctor in exchange for illegally procured drugs. Like, how do you explain that and not be breaking probation? Talk about his running with Ryuji? Sure. Sweets with Ann? Sure. Buying the model guns from the creepy back alley store? Still preferred.

 

The whole situation was so strange. But, he got his medicine, and he also got to help patients in the future get medicine. Right? He hoped so.

 

He would have done it anyway, anything for the team, but he felt a strong need to help Takemi. Seeing her again after the initial deal was made cemented the need if he would be honest with himself. Maybe it was something about her in particular? Maybe it was a new Persona?

 

He didn’t know if it was for her or for the idea of helping others along the way, but he knew he needed to keep doing the tests, even though he already had the medicine he needed.

 

But, in order to do the tests, he had to stay in good health. If he shows weakness, Takemi may not let him continue if she saw he was hurt. Metaverse injuries might not last outside in the Real World, but that didn’t stop his body from remembering that he was stabbed. Grateful that there was no stab wound or blood to clean up, yes. Phantom pain, also unfortunately yes.

 

Well, time to stand up straight and put on a good game face. Must not grab sides or limp.

---

 

The boy is unconscious. That’s fine. Easier to work that way. I can actually check how he’s doing. I could tell by the way he walked in this afternoon that he was hiding something.

There was a slight limp. A flinch. He corrected himself when he saw Takemi trying to figure it out, but too late, Guinea Pig. I saw that . And he didn’t say anything about it, so let me look for it.

 

It hadn’t been a long time, but this kid wormed his way into her heart. Not only did he seem like a good kid, but he was willing to help. She almost had hope again that things would be right one day. But, in the meantime, he wasn’t taking care of himself. She didn’t know how yet, but she’d find out.

And… nothing. Seriously. What the heck?

There’s some new muscle definition, but no sign of the muscles having been used enough. Tae knew those muscles weren’t there just two days ago, but his muscles show multiple days of extreme workouts.

 

But wait, what about the limp and the twitches?

Nope. Those are also nonexistent. Entirely psychosomatic. What the heck?

Shaking her head, she made a note to include the knockout serum in the medicine from now on: Only take knockout serum from concoction once in final testing stages. Done.

This boy won’t take care of himself, so she’d have to keep track of him instead. Not another one on my watch.

Chapter Text

"An evil creature with two curving horns. It represents impurity, unlike the Unicorn. Said to be derived from Re'em in the Bible. Another legend says that it feeds off of disloyal husbands."

—Persona 5 background

 

I talk about Shiho/Suzui and how Kamoshida sees her in this, so it’s not super kosher.

 

Walking through Kamoshida’s Palace always sent chills running up Ren’s back. Just being in the Pervert Castle made him feel like a pervert. Just by association. And that feeling magnified when the Thieves reached the hidden shrine to Suzui.

 

After the initial shock and disgust, Ren noticed, much to his dismay, that another feeling was bubbling up inside of him.

 

Staring at Suzui, scared and in pain. That was horrible. No denying that.

 

But, the pictures of her body, where you couldn’t see her fearful face? Where you could almost distance the situation? He… he… he found her attractive.

 

Never to the lengths that Kamoshida did. And once he reminded himself why   those photos of her form were in front of him, he was able to shake away that moment. But, no matter how much he tried to deny it, that moment happened.

 

He was a terrible person. He deserved to go to Hell.

 

Okay, okay. Was it really Ren’s fault? She had an attractive, athletic body. And he had been trapezing in this death castle filled with lewdness all the way up to this point. Couldn’t he explain it away by saying that the severity of the wrongness of the Palace was getting to him? Okay, nevermind. That sounded weak and lame even to him.

Ren needed to just own up to this. Something horrible affected him, and he was attracted to Suzui. And, if it weren’t for the horrible situation, that wouldn’t be a horrible thing. But it was. And he needed to get to the bottom of this. But… maybe later. After the Metaversing for today was done.

 

---

 

Talking to Ryuji about it later was, strange, to put it lightly.

 

“What do you mean? You saying you never looked at a girl before and was like… damn ?” Slamming his hands onto the table, Ryuji’s face was nothing short of flabberghasted.

 

“Shhh. I wanted us to chat down here away from Morgana for a reason. I’m really confused, okay?” Ren put his bright red head in his hands.

“For real? But like, girls. They’re hot. You see a hot girl, you get turned on. Like, this isn’t rocket science! What did you think about cute girls before this?”

“I… uhh… I noticed they were cute! I just, that was it. No weird feelings, no ideas of what to do next, nothing like that. None of that, what’s the word, lust.”

“Dude. That’s not normal. Ugh… for real? Didn’t you go through puberty?”

“Ummm, yeah. I did. But remember, I didn’t really… do much… in my hometown. I came here a bit of a blank slate, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I noticed.”

Ryuji walked over to Ren, placing his hands on his shoulders.

“Yeah, so we’re gonna work on you with this. But know that I also found those pictures hot. I was able to control it because it was an effed up situation, just like you did. But, after this is all done, we’re gonna do some babe watching, so you can finally understand life!”

 

Ren shook his head again, “I miss being asexual. I don’t wanna ‘understand life.’ I just wanna be able to look at girls and not want to do anything to them. I hate this.”

 

Morgana appeared at the top of the stairs, clearing his throat to announce his arrival.

“Hey, it’s a school night. It’s time for bed. Go home, Ryuji. We need to sleep. I’m glad you guys were able to have your talk about… whatever it is that you wanted to talk about. But, gotta cut it short now.”

Tail whipping away back into the bedroom, Ren and Ryuji share one final sigh.

 

“Well, time to go upstairs. I don’t want Morgana to attack me again.” Ren stood up and walked to the bottom of the stairs.

“For real? Does he seriously do that every night? Do you seriously listen? My Ma don’t even manage me like that. Anyways… I’ll text you when I get home. Drop me a text if you need to talk again, it’s what bros do, right?” Wide-eyed, Ryuji heads towards the door to LeBlanc.

 

---

 

“So, what were you two talking about down there?” Morgana asked, snuggling into Ren’s side.

 

“Just guy talk. Had to think through some things and wanted a sounding board.” Ren replied, setting his morning alarm.


“Hey! I’m a guy! Why couldn’t I be the one to talk to! And you know I’m a good listener! And, why would you go to that monkey to think about things?” Morgana swatted Ren’s arm.

“Hey, Ryuji may not be top of his class, but he does pick up on emotions well. And I just wanted to hang out with him as well, so I was able to get two birds with one stone. I know you’re plenty good at listening.” Ren chuckled while smooshing Morgana’s head with his hand, getting him an outburst in return.

Chapter Text

 

"A male demon of European lore in medieval times. They visit sleeping women and have sexual intercourse with them; the resulting children become witches and wizards."

—Persona 4 Compendium



“What the eff is that thing!”

What the eff indeed, Ryuji. Ren shook his head while squaring up to approach the next foe.

I know this is the Pervert Castle, but none of the other Shadows so far have stated that so blatantly. Why on earth does this one have a giant penis bigger than its whole body?

Maybe I can, I don’t know, skip this one? Not wanting this Shadow anywhere near his mindscape, Ren prepares to deal the killing blow.

Now there, young one, do you think those irritable prison wardens would take kindly to you refusing a new Persona, just because it seems unfavorable?

Ren stills. A beating from the wardens might be worse than having this thing in his head. And, hey, if it has that much… confidence… it might be somewhat strong. Hopefully. Maybe.

 

----

 

“DUDE. WHY DID YOU ABSORB THAT ONE? NO.”

---

Kawakami-Sensei was droning on and on about the Japanese language with the class fervently taking notes.

Well, most of the class.

Ren was… having issues.

Ann was, to put it lightly, a beautiful woman.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t noticed it before. It was impossible to not find her stunning. But after his problematic Personas that he picked up yesterday, he was having issues dealing with the aftermath. Nothing horrendous, thankfully, but different enough to cause a noticeable difference.

How could he listen in class when all he could notice was how Ann’s hair rested on her shoulders? Or how her hoodie fit her torso well? Or how her boots shaped her calves so well.

Shaking his head, he looked at his notes. Useless. Gonna have to talk to Mishima about borrowing today’s notes later.

Ren needed to find ways to cope with this. Because he didn’t want to mess up his friendships or slip up on leading the Thieves. Even if Ann was interested, he felt that it would cause issues with the other members. Morgana would definitely be angry forever. He also had a feeling Ryuji would be angry. It wasn't worth going after her. 

 

But, man, was Ann gorgeous.

 

---


“I told you not to absorb that Shadow. It’s freaking weird. And it’s messing with you. And did you see that it has a freaking dick the size of its body? Because that shit is not okay. Like, for real.”

Chapter Text

"A horse-like fairy of Celtic folklore that lives by the water. It drowns those who ride on it, but is a valuable mount if you can tame it."

—Persona 5 background

 

I… have made a very good choice.

 

Watching Amamiya-san work diligently in front of him, the student behind him shivered. He had realized since Amamiya-san had transferred, that the rumors both were and weren’t true. Watching him interact with Takamaki-san and Sakamoto-san, he seemed like a normal guy. Kind and polite, laughing with his friends. Since he sat right behind him, he saw how hard he studied and all of the extra notes that were taken to make sure that the information was not just written down, but understood.

 

So, on the surface, Amamiya-san seemed normal. A good guy.

 

But then, there was the other side of the kid.

 

----

 

First of all, he had to have some background in sneaking around and getting away with things, because HE HAD A CAT IN HIS DESK. A CAT. A FULL GROWN CAT.

 

And he spoke to it sometimes. And he swore he saw it answer.

 

A guy capable of sneaking a full-grown cat into his desk every day without the teachers noticing had to have some skills that he wasn’t wanting to advertise to the rest of the class. He was pretty sure that, Takamaki and Sakamoto aside, he was the only one who knew that there was a feline classmate.

 

Once, once, he thought about saying something; he started to point towards the cat.

 

The cat made a face.

 

Amamiya turned around, shook his head, smiled, “None of that now.” Turned around.

 

That was all that was said about that. He may not have been the top of the class, but he was smart enough to avoid obvious trouble like that.

 

---

 

The true scary side of Amamiya-san though had only been seen a handful of times. The part that made him understand that he might actually have a record.

 

Honestly, he wasn’t even sure if anyone else at the school had ever seen it. Definitely not Takamaki or Sakamoto, as far as he was aware. Somehow, Amamiya-san trusted him. To what degree? Unknown. But he was trusted to not tell anyone what he had seen.

 

And, honestly, who would believe him?

 

One of the taller girls in their class made a remark about Takamaki-san right after school after she had rushed out the door to go visit Suzui-san. Amamiya-san had heard.

 

The face that he made caused a shiver to run right up his spine.

 

The girl who had made the comment stilled for a moment, but seemingly couldn’t see his face. So she just started gossiping about other topics, like Amamiya-san and why he was on probation (because that’s a brilliant idea with the guy still in the room).

 

Her new conversation topic didn’t seem to rile him up like one would have predicted. He had turned around and gone back to his desk. Pulling his strangely angry looking cat out of his back and hiding it back in his desk, he pulled out a notebook and starting writing. The more he wrote (with input (?) from the cat), the calmer both he and the cat became.

 

The next day, a few things happened.

 

The tall girl sat down at her desk and pulled out her notebook that she kept in her desk overnight (well, the suspicions that she was copying/bullying the answers from another student were confirmed - how did Amamiya-san know that?), tumbling out came a list of every rude thing she had said about Takamaki-san, as well as all of her comments making fun of Suzui-san before and after her jump. There was also a strange capsule in there. The girl picked it up, and it immediately exploded, smoke going everywhere. And filling the air for sometime

 

When the dust settled, she was bright red. Literally. It was full of red powered that left her entirely stained. On the desk, carefully written out were the words, “Watch your tongue.”

Looking forward at Amamiya-san, he winked back at him, subtlely put a finger to his lips, and pulled a wipe out of his bag and handed it to his cat, who then cleaned his paws with it. He then made a big show of wiping powder off of his face with the wipe and threw it away.

 

He then pulled the whole pack out of his bag and handed it to the girl, “Here you go, I wonder what caused to happen. I hope whoever you made mad won’t feel a need to have that happen again.” She snagged the box from him, nodding shyly.

 

The rest of the class was laughing.

 

Unlike most times pranks occurred, Kawakami-sensei made no effort to calm the class. She must have heard the remarks as well.

 

---

 

Dear Journal,

 

Amamiya is scary. Do not get on his bad side. DO NOT. Maybe don’t join his little group with Takamaki and Sakamoto, but stay on his side. He seems to trust me so far, and I feel like that will keep me safe.

 

He asked that girl if the red dye ever got fully out of her blazer after she tried making fun of my green pencil case.

 

I’m so grateful he’s on my side.

Chapter Text

"One of the four aspects of Shinto thought, it brings great bounty from the hunt. It is said to aid in love, profit, and growth, and can create new paths."

—Persona 5 background


Fusion was weird.

 

There were all these feelings fighting to be at the forefront, with more amassing with each new Persona collected. Each one fleshed him out slightly, pushed him to a new and uncomfortable place (who knew that there were so many unknown feelings), and then settled and became his new norm.

 

Even his struggles, the less savory bits he had picked up along the way had fit into this new system. Feeling more confident and self-assured was great, but experiencing lust and strong desire was less so. Despite it all though, at the end of the day, he was feeling more fleshed out as a person.

 

None of those confusing feelings, however, compared to Fusion with the Twin Wardens.

 

First of all, SACRIFICING THEM. Like, watching anyone get beheaded was weird. Watching a literal part of himself? Strangest feeling to date.

 

It wasn’t that they died, or that the feeling that they introduced disappeared (both to his joy and chagrin). They just… became quieter. The cacophony in his head quieted on some fronts as another feeling brought itself to the surface.

 

----

 

Visiting Suzui-san with Ann was considered necessary by everyone in the Thieves. Ann wanted support from Ren to tell her the good news about their work so far. Morgana wanted to hang out with Ann and saw this as a great starting point to hang out more often. Ryuji felt that seeing Suzui-san would help Ren get over what happened in the Palace with Bicorn, that by seeing her alive and in a safe location he’d stop obsessing.

 

And Ren just really hoped that by forcing himself to be around Ann and Suzui-san he would be able to stop being so scared of them and get over whatever it was that was plaguing him whenever he even thought of them.

 

---

 

Meeting Ann in front of the hospital checked off one fear off of Ren’s list. After seeing her smile and thank him profusely for joining her, he started to feel at ease. Maybe she isn’t so scary after all.

 

While still noticing her beauty in how she smiled as she spoke to the Front Desk, as well as how much she radiated her aura just by watching her pigtails bouncing as she walked, he was still able to pay enough attention to notice what was going on rather than blindly following her.

 

Following Ann through the hallways of the hospital, Ren started to have some of the previous anxiety begin to well up. So he was starting to feel better around Ann, but what if he still was fucked up about Suzui? What if he couldn’t stop thinking about the images Kamosida had of her? What if he was still attracted to her because of those? What if he was just a horrible person forever because of him being tainted by the Shadows in Kamoshida’s Palace, both literal and figurative?

Ann placed her hand on his arm, jolting him back to the forefront.

 

“Hey, you okay? We’re at her room and you seem a bit off. What’s up?”

“Oh… it’s nothing. Just… I haven’t seen her yet, and I’m a little nervous. Are you sure it’s okay for me to be here? I didn’t really know her and…”

“Stop. I asked you to be here. I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t think it was okay. I want you to be here for me as I tell her what we’ve been up to.” Ann’s piercing gaze shot through Ren’s core.

 

She was right, I was here for her if nothing else. If Suzui-san somehow woke up during my visit, Ann would take responsibility if it made her mad.

 

Ren smiled back at Ann, “You’re right. Sorry about that. I just was worried that I’d somehow mess things up. Let’s go in.”

“That’s my leader! Joker, you couldn’t mess things up if you tried. You’re too cool and collected for that!” She remarked as she opened the door.

 

There laid Suzui-san. The only motion in the room were the levels on the monitors surrounding the bed. The bed, stark white, with the exception of her flowing black hair, fanning the pillow under her head.

 

He felt unbelievably out of place. But, honestly, so did Ann. Now I understand why she wanted me here so bad. He couldn’t imagine coming to such a sterile room alone with no one else.

 

Ann took the seat closest to Shiho and grabbed her hand, “Let me tell you what we’ve been up to these past few days! Well… first I guess I should let you know that I restarted my friendship with Ryuji and I became friends with that transfer student, Ren. You know, the one that you were trying so hard to defend when no one else would? You were right, he’s great. He’s even helped me with you! I know it’s hard to believe, but we took care of Kamoshida! Ren is here to make sure I have my story straight and as a witness, but it’s all true. He’s gone.”

 

She looked at Ren, “Where should we start?”

 

He shrugged and started to think, “Hmm… probably about when…. Ann. Look!”

 

Ann spun in her seat just in time to see Shiho open her eyes.

 

---

 

As Ren returned to LeBlanc that evening, he couldn’t help but feel satisfied. As scary as going to the hospital seemed, he knew that it was the best choice.

 

He got to be there for Ann, he got to become friends with Shiho, he felt immediate validation for all of the Phantom Thieves work, and, most importantly (to him), he didn’t feel weird around the girls anymore.

 

They were still beautiful, don’t get him wrong, but he had a lot more personal and friendly memories now to balance out just holding them up for their looks.

 

J: It worked!

 

S: Huh?

S: What worked?

 

J: I hung out with Ann and Shiho all day today.

J: And it worked!

J: No longer feel weird around them.

 

S: That’s awesome!

S: I knew you could do it man

S: You just had to see her irl

S: WAIT

S: WHAT DO YOU MEAN

S: did you also have a thing for ann

S: no ren no

S: why didn’t you say anything

S: also no

S: ALSO WAIT

S: YOU HUNG OUT WITH SUZUI TOO

S: ENOUGH THAT YOU WANT TO CALL HER SHIHO

S: HOW DID THAT HAPPEN

 

J: Did I forget to mention she woke up?

J: Because she did.

J: Just as we told her we got Kamoshida

J: Whoops.

 

S: You knew

S: For HOURS

S: And said nothing?

S: For real?

S: I gotta go yell at Ann.



S: Also, don’t think I’m forgetting about your slip up about Ann.

S: WE WILL TALK ABOUT THAT

S: BRO CODE MAN

S: BRO CODE

 

Chapter Text

"A fairy of England and Scotland. She carries out household chores while everyone sleeps and is a welcome spirit. It is said you can hear her silk skirt rustle as she works."

—Persona 5 background



Why did this have to be the year that I was Student Council President? Makoto sighed to herself as she headed back to the Student Council Room.

 

The whispering never stopped. And while that was a defining feature of a high school, the topics did not bounce between light-hearted topics this year. Nothing about who was dating who or grades. The entire school was focused on the second year transfer student with the criminal record, Ren Amamiya. How they even knew he had a record was beyond her, but they would not stop talking about it.

 

Makoto felt bad that she had not yet had the chance to introduce herself and try to speak to him about things, but keeping down the chatter about him was taking up too much of her time. As well as the weird rumors about Kamoshida (but he was doing such great things to the school and Principal Kobayakowa refused to talk about him), and the talk about drugs in Shibuya. And, the most important fact that Sae forbid her to talk to people that could cause problems for her come college application time. “Let the Class Representative deal with him unless you have to step in. And, in that case, only after you’ve already planned it entirely out.”

 

He seemed quiet and meek but interacted with two of the loudest people in his grade, Sakamoto and Takamaki. Both of which also had… rumors flying about. Attacking and possibly even sleeping with a teacher? She really wanted to confirm that last bit, but, once again, Kobayakawa refused to allow any questions about Kamoshida.

 

To put it simply, Amamiya didn’t make any sense. He had a severe case of assault on his record, but all honest reports showed him quiet and studious. He worked through every lunch on his homework and answered every question in his class correctly, according to Mishima. And yet, there was word of an altercation with Kamoshida already. Heard about a fight with him. And yet, Kamoshida would not say a word other than how he couldn’t wait to expel him and Sakamoto and even Mishima ( How did Mishima fit into this all? ). And Mishima, her amazing man in on the situation, refused to say a word. Maybe I should contact him, have an official introduction and such. Apologize for not doing so immediately, cite school work or something as an excuse, and use it as a reason to get a read on him.

 

As she continued to ponder his whole situation on her way to her favorite seat at the library, she realized that she might be in over her head on how to deal with a teenage convict. Especially when he was sitting at her favorite table with both of his blonde companions.

 

Seated between the two loud students, Amamiya was calm and serene as a statue, opening his textbook and walking the other two through the problem on his paper. Makoto sat at the next table over and sat facing them, too intrigued to look away. Much to her despair, the library was full of talking ( don’t they know people are studying here?!? ) and pointing at the group in front of her. Apparently, despite his performance in class, he was still amazing people whenever he showed any level of effort in his school work.

 

The two on his sides quietly would ask questions as he continued to toil away on his own assignment, talking in whispers and gestures when they would reach a roadblock. Takamaki and Sakamoto seemed to be bothered by all of the noise around them, and Sakamoto, in particular, seemed about to burst whenever a particularly rude comment was said. But a quick look from Amamiya or a smack from Takamaki would get him to glower and pout and then go back to the problem at hand. Makoto didn’t know if she had ever seen a leg bounce that quickly before. Takamaki, however, was instead looking sadder and sadder the longer the whispers continued but would receive a smile from Sakamoto or a nod from Amamiya and would grin.

 

Amamiya himself though didn’t seem to even notice the talking. His face didn’t react to the noise around him, only to his companions. He only smiled when they’d talk to him, and only frowned when they would show him their work. Through it all though, he remained calm. His smiles were only kindness, not exuberance like Sakamoto next to him. His frowns were only studious, not sorrow like Takamaki.

 

After they got up to leave, Makoto realized that she wasted so much time in the library not doing any work. All she had done was look at the transfer student’s group and try to analyze them like her father had taught her all those years ago. And while Sakamoto and Takamaki were open books, she could not get a read on Amamiya. Well, she only got one sense from him: serenity.

 

She left Shujin that day with less of a clue on how to deal with him than before. And that did not sit well with her. Especially since she had so much else on her plate. Time for more research. I’ll have to figure out the next time he goes to the library to study him more, hopefully, I’ll have time to join him. I wouldn’t trade this excitement for the world though.

Chapter Text

"One of the Ssu-Ling, celestial creatures of Chinese myth. It represents the direction north, the season of winter, and the element of water. Known to be a great warrior, it supports the Earth from below."

—Persona 5 background

 

While she would never admit it to anyone else, she very much wanted to smack the her from a month ago.

 

She couldn’t believe that she had been so rude to him and so callous! How she expected him to fail! How could Takase ever forgive her? She knew that she was too busy to do extra work outside of school, but how could she be so rude to him in school?

 

To put matters lightly, Ren Amamiya was a saving grace for her this year. While she did have to quell some rumors and conversations here and there, she never had to worry about him. He did his work, he didn’t act out, and he even got the other students to do better!

 

Not because they spoke to him, oh no, the only students who were willing to speak directly to him were Takamaki, Mishima, and Sakamoto. But his presence got them to quiet down while they were in class. Him doing well on assignments riled them up and made them work harder. She could always call on him for a question and he always got it right. Always. He was working so hard on his stuff.

 

There was the strange talk going around that Kamoshida wanted to expel him, Sakamoto, and Mishima. But she had yet to hear definitive details about it, and she had no idea what had happened to drag Mishima into things. So, she was willing to wait until the Staff Meeting before putting any credence to that rumor.

 

Regardless, his existence was doing miracles for her workload. And she couldn’t deny that it was fantastic to be able to report to Kobayakawa that Amamiya was doing well, and be able to back up her claim when he pressed for more information “just to make sure.”

 

Lunchtime often brought Amamiya, Sakamoto, and Takamaki into his corner of the room. They’d chat amongst themselves, laughing and sharing their meals. It was amazing to see how close they had become with the new student in such a short time. Takamaki and Sakamoto had gone to the same middle school, so there was a background that explained their friendship (although she hadn’t really seen them hang out at Shujin until Amamiya arrived). But there was something about the transfer student that really made the friend group make sense.

 

Sakamoto, while still loud and still refusing to dye his hair back to black, was able to sit calmly and listen to the others. When it was her turn to teach him, she noticed that he was more focused and actually tried taking notes. He had fallen off of that habit after whatever incident with Kamoshida occurred last year with the Track Team. But he was trying again and it was slowly showing fruit with his grades. Not enough, but she wasn’t afraid for him anymore.

 

Takamaki, on the other hand, was still sullen and still seemed a shell of who she was. But, from time to time, a fire would be in her eyes. She’d ask her a question and there would be a light and a drive to do well that would appear. That had disappeared this year. And after everything that had happened with Suzui, Kawakami had to admit that she was terrified that Takamaki would follow suit. But instead, she found a (close?) friend in Amamiya and started smiling again. It was strange, but an amazing change of pace.

 

Despite the severe personality differences of the two blondes, Amamiya kept them together. And, well, they made sense. He kept order in their group, and honestly, in the whole classroom.

 

Seriously, did he really think that she didn’t know about what he pulled on that girl in the class?

She totally deserved it for insulting the poor kid. And she couldn’t do anything about it because her father was on the board and she “didn’t have enough proof.” So, she was more than willing to give him so freedom in dealing with that. Because sometimes you have to fight back to keep the balance.

Chapter Text

"A type of demon that appears in dreams. It appears at the bedsides of men and sucks their life energy. A succubus takes the form of a woman, while an incubus takes the form of a man. When a succubus appears before a man, she renders herself into the image of the man's ideal woman. The succubus uses the life energy of her victims to spawn other demons and evil spirits.

The reason that these demons use dreams is that they are not strong enough to physically attack their prey, but instead excel in attacking their minds. They are weak to anything holy, and placing a crucifix on one's pillow is said to ensure that they stay away."

—Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE Compendium



If you asked Ren what was the final straw for him, what was the true reason he was doing this, he couldn’t tell you exactly.

 

Was it seeing Shiho fall? Was it watching Ann despair and breakdown in front of him? Was it watching Ryuji crumple in on himself every time Kamoshida existed? Was it Arsene demanding justice? Was it Morgana offering a true way for him to help more like that woman the night he was arrested?

 

On the same train of thought, he couldn’t tell you what kept him going, both in the Metaverse and in the real world. There was something driving him, but it was hard to pinpoint exactly what it was. There was fighting to rectify all of the wrongs that were driving him forward, there was Arsene telling him that it was his duty to deal with this stain on the earth, and there was the overwhelming need to not let anyone down - either on his team or overall.

 

Sojiro had no idea what it was that Ren did in his free time, but he felt a strong need to prove himself anyways. Ren somehow had to fight in the Metaverse to prove he was not a bad person to Sojiro. Same with Takemi. Even though she had no idea that he was using the medicine she sold for this reason, he felt he had to do well and keep going to help her save people. He knew it made no sense, but it was okay, it kept him going.

 

If anything, he felt he had to do well in the other world for them because otherwise, he hated that he hung out with them. And that included Ann, Ryuji, and Morgana this time.

 

He felt like a fraud.

 

He knows that he’s been changing a lot lately, that wasn’t the problem. He didn’t think it was. He just felt like an entirely different person based on who he was talking to. Not just because of a persona switch literally, but figuratively as well.

 

The guy who needled Ryuji and messed around with him was not the same guy who quietly made coffee for Sojiro. He pretended to be super into girls and act like he was trying to win them all over, while then frantically texting Ryuji asking how the heck feelings worked.

 

Ann’s shopping and sweets friend, who was always willing to laugh and listen was not the same guinea pig who hid in Takemi’s office and put up with her teasing and literal needling. He felt brave and open with Ann, but receded so far into himself when he would meet with the others.

 

He felt like 4 different people, and it gave him whiplash. He was sure he had seen Morgana give him a look before and after certain hangouts because he would just snap into a new person. And he hated it. He could barely keep track of who he was nowadays because of all of the new personas shaping his mindscape in ways he didn’t know possible, but now he was also changing who he was for other people?

He may have been a bit bland back in his hometown, he may not have had many friends due to his lack of, well, anything. But, he at least was always himself with everyone. He didn’t feel like a new person with each new interaction. But, here he was now, changing so rapidly for each person.

 

He didn’t want to admit to anyone what he was doing for Takemi, as he knew it wasn’t great. And yet, there he was, doing sketchy deals under the table. For the team. He knew that if he was ashamed to be doing it, he shouldn’t do it. But he couldn’t stop. And he hated it.

 

He wasn’t ashamed to be working for Sojiro, but he wasn’t a huge fan of the conversations focusing on girls. And he wasn’t a huge fan of how he felt so in awe of his guardian. I mean, respect for his work ethic, yes. But, he just felt so small next to Sojiro, and he hated that feeling.

 

He wasn’t quiet about Ryuji quickly becoming his best friend. That wasn’t the issue. He was madder that that loud and carefree side would only come out while he was with Ryuji. Why couldn’t he be more like a normal teenager more often? But, damn, did he hate the running. Why did Ryuji have to make him an athlete?

 

And Ann. Despite the fact that she made him into an annoying hormonal guy (and he hated that), he was too shy to deal with her right now outside of school. But, he had noticed that when he did interact with her he would just clam up and just stare. And he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t react to her like he would Ryuji, they were both loud blondes who he worked with on their special mission. Maybe it was the catsuit that made him automatically defer to her like a real-world dominatrix? Whatever it was, he didn’t feel like himself around her just yet and he hated it.

 

But for them all, he would keep going. He had to. They trusted him with something, and he had to prove that he deserved their trust. Even if they didn’t know what he was truly doing with the fruits of their time together, he owed it to them to finish the job.

 

Turning to Skull, Mona, and Panther, he pulled his gloves down and adjusted his mask, “Okay guys, we’ve got this. We have the plan in place, calling card has been set, the castle is on high alert. This is our one chance. Let’s do this.”

Chapter Text

"One of the 72 demons of the Goetia. He rides a gigantic horse and burns those without manners. He is the duke of Hell."

—Persona 3 Compendium



Something within Ren sings when he hits Kamoshida for the final time.

 

As the giant, disturbing form withers back to the original form, there is nothing but solid validation. They won. The vile man who destroyed everyone’s lives was defeated. All that was left was to grab the treasure again and high tail it out of there.

 

Arsene boomed in approval at the victory, and the other personas inside of Ren followed suit. The newest one, who was hard to get due to how strong he was, in particular, was practically preening with joy over the win. It was strange, but at least it was joyful over a positive thing. That bastard was gone, and he was going to get his comeuppance.

 

If Ann didn’t kill him first. Shit. Less internal dialogue, more preventing MURDER.

 

---

 

Something about today’s foray into the Metaverse took more out of him than anything else.

 

Slogging out of the Yongen-Jaya station, he winded his way through the quiet backstreets. Turning into the LeBlanc alleyway, he was overcome with a sudden bout of lightheadedness. Come on, not now. I’m right here. His body, refusing to listen to the logical reasoning that he was right there, c’mon , slumped down against the wall to the laundromat.

 

Well, I guess it’s good to catch my breath before I go in, otherwise Sojiro will notice something’s up.

 

Head between his knees, Ren allowed himself a moment to rest. He started to feel okay. He didn’t think that he’d pass out if he stood up now (though he’d be slow about it), but he’d give himself another moment out here to become calm.

 

And calm he almost became. Almost.

 

Around the corner from LeBlanc was the neighborhood bar. While there was always some level of noise coming from the building at night, it was not usually a rambunctious sort of atmosphere. Tonight, however, one of the regulars invited a friend over to the bar with him. And, well, his friend was less than sober. And was approaching Ren, finger pointed at him.

 

---

 

“Where the heck is he?” Sojiro muttered under his breath.

 

Glancing at the clock, he noticed that it was about closing time. The cafe was devoid of guests, so it would only make sense to end the day now.

 

He’s not usually late. What is going on?

 

That kid, while a bit strange, was growing on him. He knew that he wasn’t a bad kid, per say, due to the fact that he got in trouble for being too helpful. But, he knew that he was still a kid, and kids got in trouble. This kid, in particular, seemed to be a magnet for it, but that might just be the black cat that he had picked up (how did he even find that well behaved of a street cat?).

 

Without realizing it, he had made himself a cup of coffee and was now pacing the shop, looking at the door with each pivot. Okay, I’m getting too invested into this. I just got to get a book and wait. And then give him a stern talking to about wasting my time.

 

Getting settled in at the booth with one of the books Wakaba used to read Futaba at night, he stilled.

 

There was something going on outside. And it sounded like it might have to become his business.

 

Slamming the door open, he crossed to the other side of the alleyway in record time. And, just as he feared, Ren, that stupid kid, was somehow in a kerfluffle with some drunks.

 

Leaning up against the wall, looking rather out of it, Ren was barking insults at the drunkards who were laying on the ground. It didn’t look like the adults had chosen to be there, by the spitting they were doing at him and the swaying that Ren was doing.

 

“Hey! You guys, get out of the way of my shop. You’re gonna sully my property value. And YOU! Why are you here so late?”

 

At the sound of his voice, the drunkards scampered away, metaphorical tails between their legs. I knew that government barking yell was good for something.

 

Looking back at Ren after the men ran off, he noticed that the boy was back on the ground after sliding down the wall.

 

“What am I supposed to do with you, kid? C’mon, let’s get you inside and I’ll get you some coffee. And then you can tell me why you were in a FIGHT with two adults? Haven’t you learned anything?”

 

---

 

While he didn’t receive a full answer as to why it was that Ren was out so late (probably just hanging out with those friends of his and losing track of time), he did give him an extra serving of curry after finding out that the men approached him and were insulting LeBlanc’s coffee and Sojiro in general. And that he only retaliated after they started insulting him.

 

“I’m not worth going to jail for, kid. Keep your head down. I’m not worth fighting for.”

 

But, damn. Was he proud of him.

Chapter Text

"A "piggyback monster" of Japan that jumps on the backs of those who pass grassy paths. It is heavy and not easily removed, but will turn into gold coins if you can carry it back home."

—Persona Compendium

 

Despite all of his expectations, the Phantom Thieves were not done yet.

 

The excitement of the adventure, the thrill of battle, the vindication from being able to help others in a way no one else could. All of those amazing feelings were here to stay. He would be able to continue to do what made his soul sing.

 

But, along with the highs, that also meant that his stress levels would never go down. He would never be able to live out his probation in peace. Never be able to honestly tell Sojiro that he was just hanging out with friends and that he wasn’t causing any trouble for him.

 

And he was still the leader, which meant that everyone else’s wellbeings were still on his shoulders. And, since they were moving forward with this for the unforeseeable future, he would probably check on them more outside of Metaversing as well.

 

Thinking of his new mental to-do list, Mementos now added, he couldn’t help but sigh.

 

Sojiro, behind the bar, gave him a weird look, “What does a kid like you have on your plate to cause a sigh like that? Only I get to sigh like that, I’ve earned it.”

I’ve earned it too, old man. “Just thinking about a project my friends asked me to help them with, sorry Sojiro.”

“Well, stop that. You’ll scare away the customers.”

Ren gave a pointed look around the cafe with an eyebrow raised.

“See, you scared them.” Sojiro threw his dishrag at Ren, hitting him square in the face - sticking the landing.

 

As Ren whipped the rag off of his face and started to get up to put it away, the door opened. Ann and Ryuji ambled in, lighting the cafe up with their matching grins and hair colors.

 

“Hey! What’s up! You forgot about our meeting today and you weren’t answering your phone, so let’s go! We got… that stuff Mishima asked us to do still!” Ann exclaimed while wrapping an arm around Ren’s neck.

 

Looking up at Sojiro, Ren smiled awkwardly. Sojiro sighed, matching Ren’s earlier one perfectly.

 

“Now now, I can’t be as exhausting as all of the years of your life to deserve that sigh.”

“You’re more exhausting than all of it put together, now get out of here before you make me sigh my way to an early grave. Now!” Sojiro threatened to throw another dishrag as Ren went to retort.

After rushing upstairs to grab Morgana, he ran to meet his friends outside, ready to complete the next Mementos request.

 

His schedule had become crazier than ever, he was having the hardest time keeping track of all of the lies he had to tell everyone else, he was terrified that Sojiro was onto him. And now he had to save not just himself from juvy, but the ones he held closest.

 

He wouldn’t give it up for the world, but he also got to carry the weight of the world as payment for his joy. Still worth it.

Chapter Text

"A spirit of Chinese folklore who dwells in trees once used for hangings. She is smaller than a human and cannot speak, but her voice is said to be as clear and as beautiful as a bird's song."

—Persona 5 background



New Palace, new problems, new personas to add to the confusion of the already confusing situation. Seriously, Kitagawa should be grateful for how strongly Arsene was in going after Madarame. And how good Ryuji and Ann were of people. Because that boy was rude.

 

But, it’s fine. Because he was hurting, and they would help him. And Madarame needed to go. Yes, instead of focusing on Kitagawa, let’s focus on how bad Madarame was.

 

The Phantom Thieves had decided to go after those who were harming others with their selfishness and power fantasies. And as their leader, he had to do his best to best exemplify that ideal. Even if it meant dealing with people in abusive situations who refused to admit the reality of their existence who didn’t seem to understand why an attractive female’s two male friends would accompany her to a strange man’s home. For Justice. Even if Kitagawa never came around to him and Ryuji, taking care of bad adults was more important than his acceptance.

 

Stopping in the new hallway they’d just entered, Ren had to stop and sigh. All of these people, most of them children, taken and used by this vile man. Each portrait looked so defeated and so broken. And, since they were moving portraits, they just seemed to crumple the longer he looked at them. Nakanohara’s portrait definitely explained a lot of the mental trauma that the man had mentioned earlier. No wonder he had a Shadow in Mementos if this is how he looked growing up.

 

Sharing his sentiment with the other Thieves, they failed to notice a Shadow approaching from behind. As it lept to get the jump on them, Joker dove in front of the strike.

----

It was loud. Lots of noise. And it was bright. The gold was gaudy and difficult to look at right now. Why did Madarame need so much gold decoration?

“Oh goodness, you’re okay! Mona, heal him again!”

“On it, Panther!”

“Geez, dude, you alright? Why the heck did you leap in front of that attack like that?”

Pushing himself further up the wall to be mostly upright, Ren’s eyes started to focus on the scene in front of him. Panther and Mona were right up in his face, inspecting him with healing magic in their hands. Skull stood behind them, looking over his shoulder with lines on his face at Joker, his body facing outward with his club menacingly hitting his other hand with force.

Leg bouncing, Ryuji turned fully around and repeated his question, “Joker. Why the hell did you take that hit? How’re you supposed to lead if you’re out of it?” He scoffed and turned back to his post, looking each way with a quick and stilted snap.

 

“Sorry guys, I wasn’t even thinking,”


“I THINK NOT” Ann huffed.

“Yeah, I just sensed danger and didn’t want you guys to be hurt. I’m the leader, so I gotta make sure you guys get out of danger safely. Plus, you guys have family and…”

“Stop! You’re our leader and so we need you to be okay. Because we are trusting you to get us out. ALL OF US. You can’t be the sacrificing hero and our tactician. Otherwise, we’re screwed. Let us take some hit, you know Skull can take a few.”

“Panther’s right. We need you, and not passed out you, that’s not much help to us. And Skull is perfect for taking those hits with that hard head of his.”

“Hey!”

“Okay, stop picking on Skull. And I get it. Hard to lead the fight I’m not in. Now help me up. Let’s go for today, I think we’ve done enough initial searching.”

With another healing spell from Mona, Skull and Panther hoisted Joker onto their shoulders and started to head back towards the exit.

“How are we gonna explain this one to your guardian?”

“Oh shit.”

Chapter Text

"Small human-like creatures, that have kind, calm personalities. Once coexisting with the Ainu people of Japan, there was a falling out at some point, and they disappeared."

—Persona 5 background



S: We need to talk.

 

J: ???

S: About what you said today in the Palace.

S: that whole “you have families” bullshit

S: waht the fuck was that?

 

J: uh. Well.

J: you see.
J: I got nothing.

 

S: DONT YOU DARE WITH THAT SHIT.

S: are you okay?

S: Like, you have parents, right? Because they sent you here. And you said they.

S: so you still have both of them?

S: but they shipped you off

S: so are you okay?

 

J: im fine

J: and yeah, they’re both alive.

J: it’s just been hard to chat with them

J: hard to explain how my days have really been, y’know?

J: and they’ve been busy at work probably

J: they’ll answer when they get to it

J: its fine.

 

S: THAT IS NOT FINE

S: are you for real?

S: they havent answered?

S: what kind of shitty parents do you have?

S: Okay, I’m your dad now.

 

J: Um…

 

S: Okay, I’m not dad material.

S: you’re right

 

J: That’s not what I meant.

 

S: I mean, your guardian seems alright

S: Sojiro, right?
S: He’s your dad now

S: he cares at least enough to see you each day and say hi

S: You deserve better parents.

S: So. eff them.

S: you’ve got your phantom thieves family

S: Big bro Ryuji is here to stay.

S: I’m stuck on whether Morgana is the pet or the little brother.

S: Mishima is the weird cousin that you only see at reunions

S: And Sojiro is the dad that supports you but doesnt ask questions.

 

J:....

J: thanks.

J: bro.

 

Putting the phone down, Ren placed his head in his hands. Tears streamed down his arms.

 

Shuddering, he lifted his head and wiped his eyes. Grabbing the phone again, he opened the recent messages page and grimaced.

 

Ren: Hey. (1 month ago)

Ren: I got in safe. (1 month ago)

Ren: Tokyo is crazy big. (1 month ago)

Ren: My new guardian seems good. (1 month ago)

Ren: He runs a coffee shop, so hopefully I’ll learn that stuff dad likes. (1 month ago)

 

Ren: Hi. (3 weeks ago)

Ren: I’m getting settled in. (3 weeks ago)

Ren: I’ve made a few friends already! (3 weeks ago)

Ren: My Homeroom teacher seems to like me. (3 weeks ago)

Ren: My scores in class are great (3 weeks ago)

Ren: I hope to hear from you soon. (3 weeks ago)

 

Ren: Hello. (2 weeks ago)

Ren: I miss you (2 weeks ago)

Ren: I’m doing my best of this situation. (2 weeks ago)

Ren: I know it’s busy, but I would love to hear something (2 weeks ago)

 

Ren: Why haven’t you texted me back yet? (1 week ago)

 

Ren: I miss you (today) (ERROR: MSG NOT ABLE TO SEND)

 

No answer. No texts. No phone calls. Nothing. And now it seemed like he was blocked.

 

Radio silence from the people he depended on. They literally paid a stranger they had never met to take him, and never checked on him. He was pretty much sold off, and they wanted nothing to do with him now.

 

Somehow, he always thought that being discommunicated from the family would be more dramatic. But, he also felt that he should have known this was coming. The weeks prior to him moving out, but after the assault, they stopped communicating beyond the mandatory. Just enough to give him the details, but otherwise left him to his own devices. He had hoped that it was just them adjusting to the news, but it seemed more permanent.

 

They had always wanted a son that blended in and would continue the family legacy back home. But, instead, they got him. The blank slate of a son who acted out all the time. Who only did activities that stood out like gymnastics. Who had a hero complex. Who couldn’t make friends due to not having a personality. And then who got a criminal record. Of course, they got rid of him for good. Who wouldn’t?

 

----

 

Sojiro was finishing up the dishes when he heard it.

 

Ren was throwing things upstairs.

 

From what he could hear, it was nothing destructive, it was mostly his pillow. While stomping.

 

“Hey kid, get down here! Now!” The kid was usually well behaved, especially while Sojiro was still there. He didn’t even act up after the whole being openly mocked by the principal thing (which was garbage). So, it had to be something bad.

 

As Ren slumped down the stairs, Sojiro took one look at his face and turned the open sign around, this kid needed quiet.

 

“It’s.. uh… dinner time. I made some more curry than I thought I’d need, so you get an extra helping today.”

 

The thanks he got in return was so muffled that his ears hurt straining to hear it.

 

“So… um. Heard you stomping up there. You don’t usually make noise that could disturb the customers. Any reason you’re particularly stompy today?”

 

Wordlessly, Ren looked up with a pleading look. Don’t make me talk about this.

 

“Tough. You’re acting out of the norm and I want to know why. I am your guardian. Which means I am in charge of your wellbeing, and mental and emotional is part of that. So cough up.”

Ren looked to the side. S: he’s your dad now. He cares at least enough to see you each day and say hi. Sighing, he handed his phone over, still on the text messages to his mother.

 

Rolling his eyes, Sojiro grabbed the phone, expecting girl drama, only to quickly change to anger.

 

“What is this shit? Are you seriously telling me that they haven’t contacted you at all since you’ve arrived?”

 

A head shake. Refusal to meet his eyes.

Sojiro, shaking with rage, quickly went to Ren’s call log on his phone, which showed that he had attempted to call his parents at least 3 times a week.

 

“So, I had some suspicions about this. But I was hoping that they were just so short with me about you over the phone because they weren’t completely adjusted to the fact that their kid got arrested for doing a good deed. But this cements this. I can’t believe this crap.”

 

Ren’s head shot up, tilting to the side like a confused puppy.

 

“Okay, here’s the deal. Your parents are trash.”

 

Wide eyes.

 

“You’ve been too good of a kid to deserve being cut out like this by your family. So, I’m gonna talk to your officers the next meeting and see how we can make it so you can stay here. Especially since you’ve been working for me, which means you can pull your own weight, we might be able to work out an arrangement.”

 

If Ren was in some sort of animation, his jaw would have been on the counter. What the heck was going on? Was Ryuji right? Was this for real?

 

“I mean… only if you want to. I’m not going to force you into anything. I just don’t like how your parents are treating this. I might make you pay rent next year to make up for the expenses that I wouldn't be receiving from your family anymore. But I’m not going to make a kid go back into a loveless situation.”

 

Ren nodded. “T-t-thank you, sir. That sounds good. C-can we talk more later about this? I’m a little overwhelmed right now.”

 

“Uh, yeah. We can revisit this, we have time. But I will chat about the idea with your officer next meeting to see how feasible it even is.”


Without another word, Ren ran upstairs hugging his cat.

 

Listening up, Sojiro could hear him jumping around while talking loudly to his cat about how happy he was.

 

“Well, at least that cheered him up.”

 

---

 

J: You were right.

J: Sojiro is my dad.

 

S: Told you I was right

S: I’m always right

 

J: By the way, you never said what Ann was in our family

 

S: So what brought Sojiro as dad?

 

J: He wants me to stay after my probation is done!

J: ANSWER ME ABOUT ANN.

 

S: Thats amazing!

 

J: Still ignoring me

J: But yeah

J: I’ve got a real family now

Chapter Text

"An evil spirit of Murngin mythology, believed to be reborn shadows. They kidnap and eat children, and strike down sorcerers who use black magic."

—Persona 4 compendium

 

It was stressful enough being the leader of the Phantom Thieves and doing these giant heists without adding in the extra efforts of Mementos. And while helping more people was good, he wasn’t entirely certain if it was the wisest ideas.

 

What if, while they were focused on some Mementos request, they lost track of time and didn’t get to finish the Madarame Palace in time? What if, because of the people they were helping, the authorities would figure out that he was the one doing this all, and they’d decide this was breaking parole? What if some of the requests were made up and they went after someone who was innocent?

 

These thoughts were plaguing him all day, Kawakami called him out a few times for zoning out. Thankfully, she made sure to ask him the easier questions that she knew he’d get. But, it was enough of a wake up to remind him that he was at school.

 

The first thing he did at lunch that day was create a pro/con list to help him figure out where he sat with it all. But, of course, that added the extra challenge of hiding the list from the rest of the team as well as Mishima. Luckily the challenge ended up being more in his head than reality, as he asked Mishima about his new video game and Ryuji was leaping to get his attention and continue talking about it. And Ann spent that day’s lunch getting permission to leave school a period early for a shoot.

 

----

 

Checking the texts from Mishima again, Ren sighed. A bully did sound really bad. But did he want to chance bringing more attention to Shujin? While he would love to deal with this Takanashi, the team’s safety came first. Maybe he should talk to the team about it, but he was sure his brash teammates would just agree to help without thinking of the consequences.

 

As he argued with himself over the next step to take, he saw a flash of green coming out of the alley across from the school entrance. What the?

 

Approaching the alleyway, he started to hear people talking around the corner. The more he heard of their conversation, the less pleased he became. Apparently, his good friend (?) who sat behind him in class was being bullied by Takanashi as he stood there.

 

Arsene flared to life in his mind, GO AFTER HIM. STOP THIS.

 

It took all of his mental strength to keep Arsene in check, even as he heard a quick jab at his classmate (sounded like it was in the ribs). I can’t cause a scene. I’ll get arrested if the asshole decides to report me. Even if it was in defense or to help someone.

 

But I can’t leave him.

 

Shit.

 

Scratching the back of his head in defeat, he pulled his phone out of his pocket as he walked towards the station.

 

J: Hey team, time to meet up. ASAP.

S: What’s up?

P: I’m almost done with my shoot.

 

J: Just come quickly

J: Mementos request from Mishima

J: a classmate needs help

 

S: On it!

S: Let me change outta my running gear and ill meet you at Shibuya

 

P: Oh no!

P: I’ll be there within an hour

P: Pinky promise!

 

Nodding his head at their responses with a grin, he scrolled through his phone to another message window.

 

Ren: We’ll be taking care of that today.

 

Mishima: Really?

Mishima: Wow!

Mishima: I’ll make a call out post

Mishima: You said that’s enough, right?

 

Ren: Yep.

Ren: You’re the best.

 

Mishima: Anything to help out!

 

----

 

Mementos caused weird dreams. That was for sure. And, that was all Ren could think about as he entered his classroom the next day.

 

Something about the screams of the damned and the chains everywhere really put his mind on edge when it came time to dream. He kept seeing this giant door covered in chains and hearing screaming coming from the other side while blue smoke dissipated around his feet.

 

Weird.

 

Shaking his head to remove the dream from the forefront for the umpteenth million time that morning, he noticed something sticking out of his desk.

 

Approaching, he noticed the kid who sat behind him looking strangely eager.

 

Peering inside, there was a giant package wrapped where Morgana usually sat.

 

Eyebrow up, he yanked it out and opened it up.

 

A very thin blanket rolled out of the wrapping, along with a piece of paper.

 

Amamiya,

 

I know you saw what was happening to me yesterday. I saw you look up as they pulled me around the corner, and I heard steps.

 

I know why you didn’t step in then, and I know you were responsible for what happened next.

 

Shortly after you left, they let me go, threatening me again.

 

But then, like an hour later, I got a text telling me it was all off and with my money venmoed back to me.

 

I know it was you. And I know who you are.

 

To say thanks, I wanted to let you know that your secret is safe with me. And for you to have this blanket. It’s for your cat. The metal can’t be comfortable, so I thought he’d like a bed of sorts to keep it comfortable for him.

 

Let me know if you need anything,

 

Genki Midori

 

Stunned, Ren spun around to see a smiling face.

 

“Midori…”

 

“Genki.”

 

“Genki, thanks. And, Ren.”

 

Morgana had already taken the blanket out and rolled up into the desk with it.

 

“He, uh, seems to like it. So, thank you from him.”

 

“No, thank you for saving me.”

 

And, suddenly, Mementos requests didn’t seem like too big of a problem.

Chapter Text

"One of the 72 demons of the Goetia. The great Marquis of Hell, he appears where there is battle to stoke the hatred within soldiers. He helps defeat the enemies of those who summon him."

—Persona 5 Compendium

 

 

Kamoshida was in jail for the rest of his life. That was a giant success. Undeniably.

 

However, Ren just could not accept that his work was done with the situation.

Sure, the man was locked up, but the damage was still laying out in the open. The wound was still open and fresh, with no real attempts to sew it back up having been made. And something about that tore at Ren each day.

 

Why hadn’t the school done anything? What was stopping the administration from doing an investigation of who allowed this to go on for so long? Therapy and statements from all of the students, especially those victimized. Statements explaining exactly what things he did so people knew the truth behind his lies? How is it that Ryuji was still being hated and blamed for what happened when the truth was that Kamoshida destroyed him for being too good at running and for trying to unearth this issue before it got any worse?

 

Kobayakawa seemed content to just sit in his office and act like it never happened - just like he did when everything else went on. He still remembered seeing the principal talk to Kamoshida and allow him to carry on with his preying in broad daylight.

 

But he couldn’t do anything. He was the transfer student, the delinquent, no one would listen to him.

 

But he knew someone who could, and would, do it with the actual finesse and subtlety needed, with no extra freakout.

 

---

 

The next day, when Ren sat down in front of him, instead of holding his bag in front so Morgana could crawl out, he had the bag drape underneath his desk instead.

 

The zippered opening slightly ajar, a tiny white paw slid out with a note attached. After Genki, very tentatively, grabbed the note, the paw slithered from him back over to Ren and tugged. The bag went back onto the lap and the cat, and Ren’s books, came out to prepare for the day.

 

Still staring, Genki made eye contact with the cat, who he swore blinked. Morgana then stretched out and smiled at him while nuzzling the blanket.

 

Well, I guess he liked it.

 

Smiling back, he flipped open the note.

 

Genki,

 

I need your help.

 

I know the admin, the principal especially, are trying to pretend Kamoshida didn’t happen, just like they did when he was actively hurting people. I KNOW there’s a cover-up going on.

 

I’m tired of it. But I don’t want to just change a heart and then have it covered up again. I want the public to know, and for them to put pressure on the staff for not saving us then or helping us heal now.

 

You have more connections now, and you talking to them will be less strange or watched than if I did. I know that my every move is being watched. But I know that you can ask someone to meet up with me or bring the information that I have or the leads that I have to the right person.

 

I also happen to know that you’re friends with the head of the Newspaper Club. And she doesn’t hate me or immediately assume that I’m going to shank her in the hallways.

 

Let me know what I can do to help, but I need to get this story out. I got a few people who would talk to you about what he’s done to them and how it was hidden in plain sight.

 

I’m just tired of the truth being hidden.

 

You’re the best,

 

Ren

 

Another piece of paper was inserted with a few names and bullet points.

 

Ryuji Sakamoto - was bringing more fame to track than volleyball, and track coach refused to shut down the club, so Kamoshida got him fired and then shattered Ryuji’s leg as a message to the other coaches.

 

Ann Takamaki - coerced into sexual favors in exchange for her best friend being safe and allowed to start and be on track for a recommendation

 

Shiho Suzui - Sexual assaulted and driven to a suicide attempt. Was a favorite of Kamoshida’s rages. Physically beaten often for no reason.

 

Yuuki Mishima - Was a favorite of Kamoshida’s rages. Physically beaten often. Was forced under strong duress to find information for Kamoshida and spread gossip to hide the truth.

 

Underneath those four were countless other names: volleyball players, track members, random females, the list was a lot more extensive than he could have imagined. And it cemented his choice. He promised Ren he would be his friend and help him to help others like him. And he had a long, flowing list.

 

Getting out his phone, he sent a quick text to the only person he could think of.

 

Genki: Hey! I need your help with something.

Genki: I got a great story for you

Genki: WITH SOURCES AND LEADS ALREADY

 

Chihiro: WHAT

Chihiro: COUGH UP

 

Genki: It’s from an anonymous source

Genki: for now at least

Genki: wanna meet up in the usual spot for lunch

Genki: I got a handwritten list about it

 

Chihiro: YES

 

---

 

Chihiro: Hey sis.

Chihiro: I need your help with a story

Chihiro: It’s the story of the century, but I’m in over my head.

 

Ichiko: wat up

Ichiko: like high school century or actually good

Ichiko: cause i aint helping you do grunt work

Ichiko: youll never get good that way

 

Chihiro: entire school scandal related to an attempted cover up

Chihiro: suicide, rape, assault, abuse,

Chihiro: and then the phantom thieves

Chihiro: gotta be careful, and I wanna make sure I don't mess this up

Chihiro: If I do, it could get shut down again

Chihiro: and more people can be hurt.

 

Ichiko: waht

Ichiko: gimme

Ichiko: I just got assigned them

Ichiko: I WILL BUY YOU DINNER

Ichiko: come to my palce afterschool

 

Smiling, Chihiro Ohya put down her phone.

 

Time to help her classmates, and stick it to the principal who refused to listen to her when she brought up her leads last year. Sakamoto, I will get you what you deserve. You didn’t deserve any of it.

 

Opening up her computer, she dug through old files to find the interviews with Sakamoto that she had taken the previous year, right before his leg was broken, and then immediately afterward. Before the investigation was shut down.

 

Thanks, Amamiya, for trusting me with this.

Chapter Text

"The product of a failed summoning. Bereft of its original powers, it's trapped in an incomplete gel form. Its journey from the Atziluth world to the Assiah world was incomplete in some way."

—Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Compendium

 

 

 

“Okay, okay, what the heck is that? It smells like ass, guys!”

 

“Skull! Is that any way to speak in front of a lady?”

 

“No, he’s right. Ew! What is that?”

“Hmmm.”

“JOKER, NO!”

 

----

 

“Why?”

 

“I need to complete my collection.”

“But it smells so bad. And looks so weird.”

 

“Gotta make them happy! Also, you know how I’ve told you that each new one I get seems to like certain people more?”

“Yeah? Don’t tell me this one is Mona or something?”

 

“Nope. You.”

“FOR REAL? I HATE THIS PERSONA AND I HATE YOU AND YOU BETTER BE LYING.”

 

“Love you too, bro.”

 

“DON’T PULL THE FAMILY CARD ON ME. GET BACK HERE.”

 

----

 

Coming up the final steps into the lobby for Mementos, Joker released a giant sigh and waved for everyone to take a breather. As they dispersed to their favorite spots, he decided to take his place on the wall next to the stairs so he could take inventory of the team. The actual team sprawled out in front of him and the mess of Personas in his head.

 

Skull was doing calf stretches against the wall opposite him, breaking to wave with a wink when he noticed Joker look over at him.

 

Panther was stretching her arms and practicing cracking her whip, grinning with each clean crack.

 

Mona was watching Panther with wide eyes, jumping with each of her successes.

And that brought him to the newest member of the Thieves, Fox. He seemed to stay true to form, standing in the corner trying to capture the moment between his hands.

 

This whole trip to Mementos was mainly for Fox’s benefit. There were requests to complete, but the timing was specifically to assist Fox in getting used to his newfound powers before he had to go up against Madarame. Since the Shadows around here were weaker than those found in the Palace, it seemed a perfect spot to allow for a less sudden introduction to the mayhem of the Metaverse.

 

Plus, Fox seemed unusually intrigued by the atmosphere for the place, so at least someone was happy to be here.

 

Finishing his analysis on the team, he pushed himself off of the wall and casually walked over to where the glowing blue door to the Velvet Room was. He nodded to Ryuji and then to Justine.

 

---

 

“What is he doing? He is perfectly still.”

“We don’t know, he just kinda does this sometimes. It’s a little freaky, but we all have our quirks.”

 

“I suppose so. Hmmm. What if I just…”

“Hey! Stop it!”

 

Skull, who had stopped stretching at Joker’s signal and taken up guarding the stairway down, stomped over to where Joker was stopped. Grabbing Fox and yanking his hands off of Joker’s body, he shook his head.

 

“What the hell, man! You can’t just grab people’s bodies and rearrange them like that!”

“But he is currently the perfect model. A gift from above! Perfectly still and perfectly pliable. Think of the art!”

“Think of staying on the team you dumbass!”

Pushing Fox away from Joker’s body, he took up his new post: directly in front of Joker.

 

“Try that shit again and Panther’ll practice her whip skills on you next.”

Panther cracked her whip perfectly to articulate the point.

 

---

 

Something seemed off this trip to the Velvet Room.

 

Ren couldn’t quite place his finger on it, but it seemed weird.

 

He thought it was perhaps one of his new Personas, but he didn’t know why heading here is what set off the feeling, maybe it hated being out of combat?

While creating fusions to fulfill a request from the Twins, he kept feeling unfulfilled by the process. That there was more to it, that something was missing.

 

The Twins had noticed his unease, but had yet to comment on it, although Caroline was being ruder than ever. Probably because of the eyebrow raise he subconsciously did after that last fusion. Whoops .

 

Speaking of the Twins, he couldn’t bear to look at them. They added to his overall unease of the whole situation. As did Igor, to be honest. He sped through the introduction as quickly as was polite to try and speed the whole trip along.

He had no idea what was happening and did not like it one bit. One of his Personas was unhappy about something maybe? Perhaps he just had a bad trip down to the Velvet Room. He felt sick the whole day after his first trip down here, right? That had to be it.

 

Eventually, Justine made a comment. “Prisoner, are you alright? You have been off this whole time. Is something plaguing you in the other world?”

“It isn’t our job to coddle you! But, we can’t have you failing to do your job. So what’s making you so weird today?” Caroline added in, getting in Ren’s face and grabbing the front of his shirt to make them meet eye to eye.

 

“I just, I don’t know, feel off today. I’ve felt weird since coming here just now. I think one of my new Personas is just trying to find its place. I got a few before coming here today and didn’t get a chance to figure them out.”

“Well, that’s your fault for not doing your job first! Get better at it! Useless!” Caroline flippantly replied, dropping Ren’s collar and sending him to the ground.

 

“I’m gonna, um, go now. See you later.’ Ren waved back to her as he disappeared back to reality.

----

 

Something was wrong.

 

What the fuck?

 

Joker came to in the strangest position he could imagine. His arms above his head angling outward while one leg was raised in the air.

 

He slowly gathered his limbs to their correct spots while staring incredulously at his team. Well, right at Skull’s back.

 

“Oh! Welcome back! I knew we forgot something. Sorry, Joker!” Panther scratched the back of her head in apology.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Skull started as he turned around to face Joker, “that guy over there decided to use you as his perfect model while you were out in La-La Land. I stopped him, don’t worry.”

“In my defense, you were the perfect model. And I stand by that.”

“Okay, okay. Fox, please do not mess with my stationary body unless you have my expressly given permission. Understood?”

 

Fox nodded with a dejected sigh.

 

“And thanks guys for stopping him. However, I must ask. If you say that you stopped him, then why was I still in a weird position? Hmm?”

“Oh, I can answer that. You said that I resonated with a Slime. So, now we’re even.”

 

“Okay, fair.”

Chapter Text

"Water elements of Indian mythology. Their name means "those who move in the water."

They appear as young women and use their enchanting beauty to tempt humans in spiritual training and cause their downfall. Apsaras take Gandharvas as their mates, but are also known to marry human males. They are said to carry the souls of those who die in battle to heaven, where Indra, the god of thunder, awaits them.

In the Indian epic "Ramayana." they are called Apsara."

—Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE compendium

 

Ren Amamiya was still a mystery to Makoto.

 

Over half the school still swore that he was going to murder them all when they next turned around, and the rest had a silent agreement to just let him stay under the radar. Most of the school assumed that he had something to do with what happened with Kamoshida, especially with the identities of his closest friends, but there was no proof.

 

Literally none. She had personally looked into it. And to make it worse, Mishima-kun refused to even speak of the subject anymore (“He’s my friend and he’s a good guy!”) so she had lost his insight.

 

He started to have more students in the school be less terrified of him, but, at the same time, he didn’t seem to be trying to win over the student body. When she had seen him around town, when he wasn’t with Sakamoto or Takamaki, he seemed to be working or hanging out with adults. It was almost as if he had given up on school life altogether and was trying to make a place for himself in the greater world of Tokyo instead.

 

She had to admit, she was almost jealous.

 

To follow the path the Sae had set for her, she didn’t have the freedom to create all these avenues as he seemed to. He seemed to have taken to heart that he had reached rock bottom, and so he was making a dozen different ways up. And all seemed viable, from the shop jobs to making connections to students from other schools, to attending art shows, to an internship with a politician.

 

How did even get that last one? That was an amazing gig.

 

When she saw that last one she almost cried and thought about throwing away her whole life plan. He got such amazing things by pure happenstance even though he was a dirty transfer student on probation.

 

Wait. She couldn’t think that badly of him. He had been nothing but amazing since coming to Tokyo, and why should she begrudge him for being able to get that sort of opportunity in spite of what’s on his plate? She needed to get herself in check. Plus, a government internship wouldn’t help her in her goal to get into law school. Focus, Makoto, focus.

 

BUT IT WASN’T FAIR.

 

Shaking her head as she stared at Amamiya walking casually down the hallway during lunch, she decided she needed to practice her breathing exercises again. I think it’s been a long time since I’ve last meditated.

 

----

 

“Hey, bro, have you done anything to piss off Niijima-senpai?”

 

“Uhh. Who?”

 

“The Student Council Prez? How have you not met her? I thought she was supposed to be the person to meet you and show you around and stuff.”

 

“Nope. They had Kawakami do it instead. Probably didn’t trust a ‘dangerous criminal’ like me near students. Especially one they cared about.”

 

“That’s still bullshit. But, you really have never talked to her before?”

 

“I promise you I have no idea who she is. Why?”

 

“She is glaring effing daggers into you, man. And… she just quickly ran away after pointing at you.”

 

“Dammit, that’s gonna be hard to explain to Sojiro.”

Chapter Text

"Jack Frost is a sprite of English folklore that only appears in wintertime. He can appear in many different forms, such as a snowman, a child, or an old man.

Jack Frost has a mischievous yet innocent personality. He tends to say "hee-ho" frequently and generally acts like a friendly child. He also has a menacing side, though — get him angry, and he'll freeze you solid."

—Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE compendium

 

Often times, Morgana felt like the only person in the world who actually had an idea of who Ren was.

 

Sure, there were probably some little things that Morgana didn’t know, I mean, he had only been with the guy for a few months now. But, out of all the people in Tokyo? He was pretty sure he had them all beat. Not only did he live with the guy and spend the most time with him, but he saw Ren with everyone else. Which was super important, because he was different with every person he met.

 

Let’s back up, not so different that he was unrecognizable but different enough to count.

 

Not only was he different with everyone that he hung out with, but he also was rapidly changing. It was more akin to a metamorphosis than a coming out of his shell.

 

He had once asked Ren about it. It had led to a very long discussion that was very confusing and left some part of Morgana’s soul hurting, though he had no idea why.

 

But it boiled down to each Persona that was being picked up not only affecting his battle style, but his actual self, and it was weird.

 

Was this why he was the Wild Card? The Trickster? (what the heck were these phrases anyway?) Because he was missing parts of himself and was able to pick up those pieces now? How did he lose those parts? Did he ever have them?

 

He felt like those would be questions that would be unanswered at least as long as they still had Mementos to explore. It really seemed like the further down they went, something would be there. It was just a feeling of his.

 

Regardless, Ren was weird, even by human standards. He was so empty and blank when he first met him, and now he was so full of life and snark and sass. Why did him coming to life have to include that stuff too?

 

He was still Ren. He was still driven by a sense of justice and a refusal to see anyone else hurt, but there was more.

 

---

 

Instead of just nodding whenever Ryuji said something, he’d think it over. He agreed to run with him not because he was asked to, but because he saw how much it motivated that idiot to keep going. And he helped him resolve that stupid issue with the track team that was so bad to him because he knew it would help Ryuji get over it (although he personally felt that the team deserved anything it got for being so bad to its star person).

 

Whenever he hung out with the beautiful Lady Ann, the air instead was light and was full of conversation instead of action. Coffee and sweets instead of that horrid stench of sweat and protein shakes. Ren was a lot more gentle in how he spoke, while still be very honest and while still helping Lady Ann overcome the trauma of Shiho. And to become a better model! But she was already so beautiful!

 

Even though their new member Yusuke was very strange and was so very rude to them all before joining, Ren showed his trademark kindness and let him redeem himself. He showed his characteristic empathy and compassion and helped that annoying brat even though he did not deserve help. If it were up to Morgana, Yusuke would have been left alone after demanding to paint Ann nude. Instead, they were now helping him take down his mentor, and he looked like he was going to become a permanent fixture of their group. But at the same time, Ren allowed him to have his fancy, but only to a point. He was a lot more direct with him, probably because Yusuke’s head was always in the clouds.

 

The relationship between Ren and Sojiro was still trying to figure itself out. But, it was blossoming into a relationship that neither of them ever imagined. He was truly taking Ren under his wing and trying his best to direct him forward in life. Watching Sojiro mentor Ren while he was working was always a treat to Morgana as no one else ever made him that flustered ever. And Sojiro managed to nail it every single time. It was almost like he had practice annoying teenagers, but that’s silly talk. Being in the form that he was in, Morgana was able to see how much it was that Sojiro worried about Ren. And being with Ren all the time, he was able to see how that unconscious support was really helping Ren to be kinder and tap into his compassion with a lot more people than just the Thieves.

 

Meek Ren came out when they were at the Clinic down the road from LeBlanc. While he definitely carried the courage that he would find in that doctor’s office with him out, inside was a whole other story. It was the most obedient that Morgana had ever seen Ren be. And, when he asked him about it, Ren replied that she was doing far too important work to have to deal with him being unruly. He deferred to her with everything, and would even reschedule other events to help her out with her research. Morgana had missed what it was that she was working on, but apparently, it was enough to motivate Ren to control himself. But that was the bottom line, she was helping others, and he could help her do so. No wonder he was ever vigilant.

 

The newest of the strange friendships that Ren had picked up belonged to an old man. Tora, he thought his name was. This old man had a way with words that made even Morgana listen, which was pretty impressive since he had no stake in the comings and goings of modern Japan. And yet Ren had managed to catch his eye and was continuing to catch many more eyes under that man’s tutelage. While still being extremely polite, he was speaking his mind on a much larger stage. He was careful with his words. This was a Ren that could destroy a man with a few words. But yet he was using his stage to be kind to those with less than himself and give courage to those passing by to continue going.  

 

----

 

Ren often worried to Morgana at night, while they were laying in bed about to fall asleep.

 

“I know I’m helping them all out. But I still feel like I’m just using them. To get their support.”

 

“So you’re getting something out of it? So what? You’re still helping them out.”

 

“But, like, Old Man Tora. I literally only approached him because I wanted his help. Not because I wanted to help him get elected.”

 

“You had a motive, I bet he does too. Get a younger person on his staff, get the younger vote. You both win here.”

 

“It just feels so disingenuous.”

 

“One, stop using the big words you’re picking up from him. Two, leaving him now would be even worse, just make the most of it all.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I wasn’t planning on leaving him. I just don’t even get my own motives sometimes. I feel like a fake.”

 

“You’re helping so many people, Ren. Our team, the doctor, Tora… they couldn’t do it without you. You getting some new life skills from it just makes it so it isn’t onesided favoring them.”

 

“I guess. I just.. Ugh.”

 

“Just keep reminding yourself of that. You give too much of yourself away, you know that?”

 

“I know. Thanks, Morgana, you’re the best.”

 

“Oh, I know.”

 

“Shut up, you. Don’t get a big head now.”

 

“I do NOT have a big head. But, speaking of big heads, are we gonna do something to that annoying girl who keeps bothering Genki? He gave me that blanket - which makes your desk much better - and he’s still having issues.”

 

“Thanks for reminding me. Here’s the plan”

 

Despite all of his different facets he would show off, and despite all of his worries and concerns, he was always still just Ren. Loud, quiet, calm, excited, energetic, lethargic, silly, composed. All still Ren. Everyone else saw what they wanted to see out of him, but Morgana knew who he was.

 

The one who was going to bring courage to all of Japan to be free. And, most importantly, his best friend.

Chapter Text

"Japanese plant spirits born from trees that have lived for a 100 years. Cutting down one of these trees is said to cause misfortune."

—Persona 5 background

 

 

 

Yusuke Kitagawa was strange. Most people who went to Kosei High had been stamped with some degree of “strange,” but Kitagawa took that above and beyond.

 

Most people attributed that to the fact that he was the star artist of the school, an impressive feat. Being mentored and raised by Madarame must have really influenced his artistic abilities.

 

Unfortunately for him, the combination of being impeccably eccentric and raised by a celebrity left him completely out of luck in the friendship department. But, he was fine with that. Kitagawa had never shown himself to be someone who longed for human interaction outside of dealing with art. He kept to himself unless he had to converse for class, and then it was usually to critique art or model for art.

 

So, these past few weeks had been nothing but absurd to the student body of Kosei High.

 

Yusuke Kitagawa was being…. Friendly. And nobody knew what to do about it.

 

---

 

Hifumi Togo was one of the first to notice the change.

 

She was seated behind him in class, and as she headed to her seat and did her obligatory nod towards him, he actually responded. Not just with a thoughtless nod, but by looking her in the eye and greeting her.

 

Once or twice, she could have passed it off as a fluke, or perhaps an exercise to get an idea for a painting from Madarame. But, yet, it kept happening. Every morning, without fail, Kitagawa would greet her with a smile. He even started asking how she was doing and truly listening to her response.  What the hell happened?

 

He also stopped talking about Madarame in every single sentence he uttered ever. That was also stunning, but more a relief.

 

After a week or two of this, she had had enough. She had to know what happened.

 

“Kitagawa-kun.”

 

“Togo-san. What is it?”

 

“Excuse me if this comes off as rude, it is not my intention at all, I am just unsure the best wording…. But has anything changed? Your energy seems different as of late, and I was curious.”

 

“Oh, have I really? Hm. I had wondered….”

 

“Um, Kitagawa-kun?”

 

“Sorry, lost in my own thoughts,”  Really? Wow. Is water wet?  “But there actually have been a number of changes in my life lately. It’s been a bit much, to be honest. It makes sense that my demeanor at school would be affected.

 

“Oh, okay, just wanted to make sure you were okay. Good luck on the test next class.”

 

---

 

So, earlier today she had accomplished her first goal of finding out if Kitagawa had changed or if she was just crazy. Next was to find out what was going on. This was a slightly more optional goal, but she was nothing but thorough in her victories. And this was to be no exception.

 

“Kitagawa-kun.”

 

“Togo-san.”

 

“I noticed that you are just a few spots higher than me in math. I was wondering if we could meet up and study together before the next test. I can help you in science if you want to make it an even trade.”

 

“Hmmm. I will have to think about that. I would like to take you up on that, but I will have to wait before I can set a date for it, as my friends and I have an ongoing project going on and I am unsure as to when I will be free.”

 

Score!

 

So, not only did he NOT mention Madarame in his reason to think on it (which was the ONLY reason he would ever say growing up ever), but he instead mentioned friends! Friends who were actively working with him on something. This HAD to be huge.

 

“Just let me know when; I am mostly free other than my matches. Thank you!”

 

Grinning as Kitagawa turned around, she began to formulate her gameplan.  Operation: Dragon Queen infiltrates Snow Fox for Research was a go.

 

---

 

After school, Hifumi started up the first part of her plan, which was to follow Kitagawa to wherever it was that he was meeting his friends. She was pretty sure that they were going to be meeting, as he looked at his phone and smiled and then immediately started walking away.

 

Trailing behind, she followed him to Shibuya station, where he ran up to 3 other teenagers, all from Shujin Academy.  Shujin? Wasn’t that the school that…?

 

All of them beamed up at him as he approached, and he honestly seemed the happiest with them than she had ever seen him. He even kept smiling as the girl of the group smacked him upside the head and started shouting at him and the blonde boy pulled him into a headlock and started messing with his hair. But when the dark-haired guy of the group put up his hand to give him a high-five, the was no way to describe Kitagawa’s face other than brimming with hope.

 

But the person who stood out the most of the group strangely wasn’t the two blondes, it was the dark haired man standing in the corner. He was the definition of nonimposing, but yet he drew in eyes. Maybe it was the contrast between him and the blondes, but she still couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Things seemed almost muted away from him.  No wonder Kitagawa has him on priority over me if he exudes this sort of energy.

 

She paused, realizing that they were now just standing there and talking.  Dangit, I’m gonna have to leave for today, if I stay here any longer they’ll notice!

 

---

 

After that day, she started to notice that dark-haired boy everywhere. Maybe because she had experienced his aura, she was now drawn to him like a moth to a light. And she hadn’t even truly met the guy! She had just seen his effect on others!

 

And, the weird thing was, Kitagawa and the two blondes weren’t the only ones to be like that with that boy. There were people all around Tokyo who seemed to have the same need to be around him.

 

There was a politician who gave speeches each night in Shibuya near the station, and he would seek out the boy every time he passed. She caught the boy helping out with the speeches. And, each night he assisted, the number of people in the crowd would increase and the quality of the man’s speech would improve.

 

There was an exhausted-looking lady who had that teacher vibe who seemed to be quietly following him from time to time. Nothing as intense as what Hifumi had done that first day, but more of seeing him to reassure herself and then be able to go home knowing things were okay.

 

The scary shop owner from the alley seemed to always be on the lookout for the boy too. She had a feeling he would never admit it, and he was very subtle about it, but she was trained to notice even the smallest of things by her father. He would take a smoke break outside of his shop just where he could see into the main road. And once the kid passed, or even started to head down the alleyway to his shop ( what was he doing there ), he would smirk and turn back to reenter his shop.

 

There was a strange looking lady who also popped up around the city from time to time, seemingly on the hunt for some answers. Hifumi didn’t know if she had found them yet, but she seemed to get a new idea and jot something down on a notepad anytime that the boy passed her by. The lady had even gotten her camera out and aimed at him, but then froze, confused as to what she was doing, and then kept going while shaking her head.

 

The quietest boy she had ever seen had amassed a following of people who sought him out to feel better. And something about that was crazy to her. She wasn’t even sure if all of them knew him at all, just like she didn’t know him. But, he drew these people in wherever he went.

 

And honestly, it was for the best. Especially after what happened last time.

 

She was on Central Street in Shibuya when she saw them. It was a group of thugs who just wanted an easy target to mug in the alleyway. And, in their defense, the boy probably would be an easy target.

 

Except he had a whole spread out gang of his own to help him, and to their unknowing dismay, she could see them all from where she was.

 

First things first, she saw that the alleyway they were planning on jumping him in was the one to the scary shop keep’s shop. So, she waved him down and gestured to the group and to the boy. He narrowed his eyes and nodded at her, and then scrounged in his coat to find a weapon and moved further back into the alleyway ( reminder, do not anger that man ).

 

She then walked over to Big Bang Burger, where the two ladies were sitting, albeit at separate tables. Making herself look flustered, she hurried over to the two adjacent tables. “Hey! Can you help me! I think someone is about to be jumped over there, but I don’t know what to do.”

 

Startled, they both looked at her, and then spun around.

 

“Who is it?” The teacherly one questioned, exhaustion dripping away as her motherly instincts turned on.

 

“That one! With the Shujin uniform!”

 

Immediately, both women stood up and ran out the door. The journalist with her camera ready and the older one with her phone about to call the cops.

 

Last but not least was the politician. She didn’t want him in the fray, he looked too old for that. But she also knew that a guy her age would be questioned by the police, and she saw how he purposefully avoided them ( must have had a run-in with them when he was younger ). So, she would have him talk to the cops for him.

 

Running up to him at the Beef Bowl shop, “Sir!”

 

“Why hello there, miss! How can I help you?”

 

“I need your help, right away!”

 

“Good heavens, what is the matter?”

 

“So, I’ve seen your speeches before and I know you that you have that intern with you. And I just saw him and I think he’s going to be jumped by some thugs, and I think the police are going to have to get involved and I think it’d be best if you smoothed things over with them so your intern won’t be as freaked out.”

 

“Oh… yes. Yes. You are right. I am on my way.”

 

He jolted out of his seat.

 

“And, thank you. That was some very quick thinking on your part. He isn’t the most fond of them, and this is but a small thing I can do to help the boy who is making me feel hopeful again.”

 

Taking a deep breath, Hifumi slowly got up. She walked outside and saw things were being taken care of. The police apprehended the thugs, the journalist got some pictures while the teacher was lecturing them. And they seemed to have been tied up with some very high-end rope. And politician was smoothing things over with the police.

 

And the boy was none the wiser. Continuing down the path unaware of how the moths he had attracted to his light had saved him instead of the other way around. Oh, and he was meeting up with Kitagawa-kun. That’s good.

 

Operation: Dragon Queen Saves Her Sun was a success. 

Chapter Text

"A type of Tengu, the supernatural form of a wolf that has lived to an extraordinary age. Like Karasu-Tengu, they appear as mountain priests and act as menial servants to other Tengu.

Unlike Anba-Tengu and Karasu-Tengu, Koppa-Tengu have no great supernatural powers, but their huge wings allow them to soar freely through the sky. They are clever but cowardly, rarely appearing before humans and traveling silently in groups at night.

Among the many different types of Tengu, Koppa-Tengu serve as the messengers. They use the elements of small birds for this purpose."

—Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE compendium

 

 

Amamiya was up to something. She didn’t know what, but she knew that he was. And, honestly, she was fine with that. Plausible deniability. And he knew the eyes were on him always, so he got others to do whatever the hell it was that he was actually planning. And that was fine in her book. She was only ordered to report to Kobayakawa what he did. Not the other students.

 

Plus, he was helping her out. So, she was willing to look the other way and just say that he was starting to acclimate to his classmates and have interactions with them. Not technically lying.

 

---

 

Apparently, there was a lot more to taking down a corrupt school administration than Ren had thought. Especially since it had to be down without bringing attention to the fact that it was happening. Ren had decided that he was going to play long-game with this particular personal mission of his because he didn’t want to have a critical failure due to trying to speed up the process.

 

But he had no idea that it would be this intensive.

 

Besides all of the subtle quips about policy issues or lack of attention or care after all that had happened that he was getting Chihiro-chan to put into the school newspaper (which apparently was a difficult enough task that she was actually employing the skills of her relative who did journalism to get it right), he also had to get students to gossip about it.

 

He knew that he couldn’t ask Ryuji or Ann for help with this, as neither of them could do subtle if their lives depended on it. So, he had to depend on people who weren’t in his trusted team. And he had to be careful with how he used them.

 

The only other students in the school that he had any level of trust for were Chihiro, Genki, and Yuuki. All of which were ending up being perfect for what he needed. He really had the best luck. Or fate. Or whatever. (blue butterflies? Huh? Not important.)

 

Chihiro was already tasked with her mission. Run the paper in a way that exposed the problems without being too obvious or overt about it. She would let him know when she needed more information and about what, and he would figure out a way to get it to her.

 

Mishima, obviously, was in charge of the more technical things. He hacked through servers without being detected and got information when needed. He also would drop anonymous rumors in student servers and bolt out before being caught. All of which would be truthful accusations and stories, but made anonymous to help the students not be outed and to allow the gossip train to run without bias against certain people. He wasn’t the most skilled yet, but he was actively working on learning more and more techniques. They had yet to truly figure out what was going on due to the serious level of protection. (“Seriously, man. It’s outta control. That level of security should not be in a school server. They are HIDING something. Like, I was able to get the famous Akechi’s school info without a hassle. As well as into the Kosei High’s servers without breaking a sweat. This is our goal.” “Amazing, Yuuki. Don’t engage until you know you can get in, don’t want to set off anything. Also, can you get me some info about a Yusuke Kitagawa at Kosei? Don’t ask why. Just… reasons.”)

And Genki was in charge of the student population. As a nonentity in the school, he could traverse wherever he was needed. They used that ability to either drop off information or pick it up. Students would find notes about the happenings in their lockers, or requests for information about the wrong that was done to them to help take down the perpetrators. He was far enough in the background that no one was offended to meet up with him, and no one noticed if he was the one ferrying everything.

 

And, to top it all off, due to his… meetings… with Kawakami, he could now use the classroom’s back corner for the meetings. Genki and he already sat back there and the friendships were already established. So, it was an innocuous situation. Beforehand, they would have to do crazy things to coordinate meeting times in random places. It was exhausting. She refused to ask questions, they got things done. Plus, Ryuji and Ann ate lunch together in the cafeteria, and he already had a habit of eating in the classroom to get his work done. So, it really worked out perfectly for them.

 

Due to their subtle machinations, there was already talk in the whole student body about disapproval with the administrative staff. There was apparently a drug problem in Shibuya that was starting to affect the student body, and they had yet to respond at all, despite Niijima-san begging for help. Disgusting. They had interviews from all of the sports teams about Kamoshida and how they went to higher-ups and were ignored. They even had proof of Kobayakawa refusing Niijima-san and instead trying to force her to find the “criminals” who disposed of Kamoshida, even though they just finally brought to light a criminal.

 

There was a mastermind behind Kobayakawa. That was what the group had decided. There was someone who was truly pulling the strings. Allowing Kamoshida to stay. Helping cover him up. Pushing for the Phantom Theif discovery. Silencing the students. Ren almost wanted to add the severe surveillance on him to the list, but he was unsure if that was truly related or just everyone watching him to catch him so they could expel him still. But, it sat in his heart that it was probably related. Why was he even accepted at this school if they were so obsessed with not looking bad at all?

 

Regardless, he was doing it. He was taking down a corrupt system using nothing but the overlooked underdogs. Again. Man, he was good.

Chapter Text

"Ninth of the nine orders of angels. They are closest in nature to humans. They watch over individuals and warn those who stray from the path."

—Persona 5 background



 

While Ren did love how Mementos was free practice and marketing for the Phantom Thieves, as well as good for society at large, he couldn’t stop being amazed at how so many people couldn’t deal with their demons and instead allowed them to fester inside until the Shadow took over.

 

Also, as Genki was kind enough to point out, it was a failing business model.

 

“As much as it makes you guys look good to be helping the underdog, believe me, I know from experience, it just isn’t sustainable! People are becoming shitty too quickly and too plentifully for you guys to be able to manage. Like, we need to start figuring how to get people to not get to that point.”

 

“I see where you’re going with this. Keep them from being distorted in the first place. Help people help themselves, instead of just triggering the change subconsciously. Yeah. Why are they even getting so shitty? What's causing the shittiness influx?"

 

“I'm not sure, it's a freaking epidemic of garbage people. But, yeah. I’d rather you wasted your energy on the actual bad people rather than the students with pettiness issues, y’know?”

 

“I’m on board. But how am I going to fit this into my schedule? With Palaces and Mementos and my 4 jobs and friendships and prep and…”

 

“Holy shit. 4 jobs? What the fuck?”

 

“Yeah, and I don’t even get paid for one of them. Unless you count love advice I don’t want as payment.”

 

“Damn.”

 

The two of them solemnly nodded at one another for a while, grimacing.

 

“So, if you find a spare moment, maybe…. Can you come up with some ideas, and I’ll see what I can do.”

 

“Genki, you lifesaver.”

 

---

 

“SOJIRO!”

 

“WHAT THE HELL, YOU PUNK.”

 

“I need some help.”

 

“Finally gonna listen to me? Okay, so for Ann I think you need to compliment her bravery and passion, not her looks. She already knows she’s great in that regard and it’s shallow. Or, or, were you thinking about that Student President I had call the store in a ranting tone? You know her sister is a regular here, I can help you be in good light with her to help you out?"

 

“NO.”

 

“Rude.”

 

“I.. um… noticed a lot of kids in my school don’t know how to deal with… er… their inner demons. And I don’t know how to help them out. Like, I know that I could probably smack a bully to get them to stop stealing money, but how do you nip them in the bud?”

 

“First, you better not be punching anyone . We talked about this. You aren’t allowed to do that here.”

 

“Yes, Sojiro.”

 

“That’s right. But, back to your question (which is infinitely less interesting than my previous advice), you can’t really. It takes a lot of therapy and psychology to deal with the mental garbage that causes people to be assholes. People don’t get over their demons overnight, I don’t care what the news has been saying lately. I may not have a psych major, but I was very good friends with someone who was. And I remember from her that it takes a lot to change the subconscious. If you really wanted to do something about it, because I know you’re annoyingly persistent, kid, get a counselor for your school. It never hurts to talk to someone anyways, but it helps people learn how to deal with their demons.”

 

Stunned, Ren stared at Sojiro for a few moments.

 

“Say something, won’t you, you punk! I answered your stupid boring question and you won’t even thank me!”

 

“Sorry, just thinking! Do you have that psych friend’s information? I just really have a situation in mind and I’d love to chat with someone who can help!”

 

Like day to night, Sojiro shut down.

 

“No. She’s not available. Go find someone. Now, stop bothering me so I can clean up.”

 

Knowing when to take a hint, Ren ran upstairs. At the top, he pulled out his phone.

 

M: Hey, I got an idea for our lunch conversation.

 

007: Hit me.

007: Also, wtf about the names?

 

M: It fits the theme for our espionage group at Shujin.

M: I’m in charge

M: You’re the spy

M: Yuuki is Q

M: Chihiro is Miss Moneypenny or M$.

 

007: You’re a fucking nerd.

 

M: Thanks <3

 

007: ANYWAYS

007: Idea?

 

M: Oh, yes!

M: school psychologist

M: I have a doctor I’m friends with who Im’ gonna ask.

 

007: You have a doctor friend?

007: Of course you do

007: Do I even want to know?

 

M: NO

 

007: Thought so.

007: problem, how we gonna convince them

 

M: Chihiro.

M: And maybe Yuukiiiiiii

M: Might have to get more dirt and traction first

 

007: So

007: let me get this straight

007: not only are we uncovering shit

007: but now shadow controlling school

 

M: sounds so dirty when you say it like that

M: I prefer bringing up issues and recommending solution

M: and highly recommending them

 

007: ur an ass.

007: can yuuki even do that yet?

 

Q: ex-fucking-scuse you

Q: i do waht i want.

 

007: FUCK.

007: HOW DID YOU

 

M$: Told you he wouldn’t look at the group text header

 

007: I HATE THIS

 

M: <3

M: So you in?

 

007: fine.

007: I’ll keep an ear open about psychs

007: and drop hints about the idea of getting one

007: and listen for anyone who NEEDS one

007: as fodder

 

M$: thanks dear!

M$: I can’t write it without youuuuuuu

 

Q: Back to learning more code

Q: this fucker has the strongest shit I’ve ever seen

Q: like, government strong

Q: whyyyyyyyyyy

Q: b4 I go though Rennnn

 

M: yes? 

 

Q: I wanna know about the doctor.

 

M: No, you don't

 

Q: D:

 

---

 

“Why the hell are you looking so chipper to get a needle in your arm?”

 

“I have a question/favor.”

 

“The answer is no until after you drink this.”

Chapter Text

"A monstrous, fire spitting, Japanese bird with a man's face. It is actually a corpse that was not given a proper memorial service. They appear before monks who neglect their duties."

—Persona 5 background



 



There were a few perks to being seen as a demon at Shujin. While it was horrendous for sneaking around or getting away with, well, pretty much anything, it could be used to his advantage.

 

Like now.

 

Q: Checking the PT Forums, it looks like this guy is starting to be a bit of an asshole.

 

M: He doesn’t pop up in my database yet.

 

Q: Ughhhhh. I gotta know how you know these things

Q: But, he’s still not great

Q: Can you do something about him this side?

Q: Do that psych shit you and Genki were talking about

 

M: what do you think i am

M: a clinical psychologist?

 

Q: Well, you have that doctor friend…

 

M: WHY WOULD I BE IN HIGH SCHOOL

 

Q: valid

 

M: Imma deal with this the old fashioned way

 

Q: do I wanna know?

 

M: well, half the school is scared of me anyways

M: might as well play off of their fears

M: what’s the most prevalent rumor right now about me?

 

Q: They strangely think that you’re like yakuza or something?

Q: idk y

 

M: really?

M: oh

M: well

 

Q:????

 

M: I’m not yakuza

M: But I can see where they got confused

 

Q: WHAT

Q: YOU NEED TO EXPLAIN THIS ONE

 

M: Later, time to emulate a friend of mine

M: make a high schooler shit himself

M: i have the tools

 

Q: fuck

 

----

 

The next day, a rumor came up that Ren Amamiya, transfer student and overall terror, was not just alleged yakuza, but was probably yakuza. And was willing to leap out at you and threaten you with his clan if you don’t stop harming the students under his command.

 

Strange, huh?

 

----

 

M$: ok ren

 

M: yee?

 

M$: how do you want me to spin this story?

 

M: choices?

 

M$: complete rumor and I ignore it

M$: you are yakuza and scary

M$: you are yakuza but trying to protect the school

M$: yakuza level unknown but scary

M$: yakuza level unknown, but still trying to protect the school

 

M: group vote?

 

M$:I like 3

 

Q: 5

 

007: 3

 

M: one second

 

Looking up from his phone, Ren looks over at the rest of the Phantom Thieves.

 

“Hey, so, hypothetically speaking. If I had to be known as something at school, what do you think it should be? A scary yakuza member? A nice yakuza member who has brought the school under his clan’s protection? Just someone scary who isn’t clan affiliated? Or someone nice trying to protect the school isn’t clan related?” Ren sat back in his chair, tilting his head.

 

“For real? What kinda question is this? I mean, the last one is who you are!”

 

“Oh! Is this about that rumor I heard today at school?”

 

“Wait, there was a rumor about him today?”

 

“Yeah, you idiot!” Ann sighed as she hit Ryuji upside the head. “The one about him being a scary yakuza member beating up bullies to help others!”

 

“For real? Who the hell would start something as silly as that?”

 

“Shin Takanashi. He’s that asshole from the Baseball Club. He’s been bothering freshman girls recently and suddenly started to freak out these past few days. It’s whatever though, he’s been avoiding the girls!” She beamed as she stretched her arms.

 

“Hmmm. A rude, woman-bothering man who suddenly stops. If I didn’t know who they were, I’d almost think the Phantom Thieves did another small-time case. So I wonder what happened, leader?” Yusuke ended with a very pointed look.

 

“Okay, okay. He didn’t show up in the app but he was being a problem that Mishima reached out to me about. So, I thought I could nip this one in the bud. And it seemed to have worked.”

 

“But Ren! I thought that we were gonna try and NOT bring attention to ourselves and our work!” Ryuji slammed the table at Big Bang Burger to accentuate his point.

 

“We’re not. I’m playing off of my already horrid reputation to stop issues. Everyone is already scared of me, and half the school already thinks I freaking own my own clan. What’s the worst that can happen if I use that to prevent a few problems?”

 

“Hmmm. I can see the merits. But, I personally think that you should keep it very low. Maybe don’t do the yakuza route. Because if you give any credence, the probation officers would have issues with that. But it would strike an amazing facet for you if you did…”

 

Leaving Yusuke to his musing, Ren had to admit that he had a good point. Sighing while he picked up his phone (he had really wanted to strike that whole yakuza pose as long as he could), he replied to the group chat.

 

M: Talked to the PT

M: brought up a good point

M: can’t have paper evidence that says I could be doing bad

M: probation officers are no fucking fun

M: can’t even pretend to be yakuza

M: FOR THE GOOD OF SOCIETY

M: UGHHHHHH

 

Q: I feel you man

 

007: good point, horrid outcome

 

M$: FINE

M$: COPS GOTTA MESS WITH MY ART

 

Q: wait, who there is smart enough to think about that

Q: ain’t ryuji for sure

Q: ain’t ann either, she loves  drama too mcuh

 

M: new guy.

M: you’ll hear more later

M: after the news comes out

 

Q: WHY DON’T I GET TO BE A PTTTTTT

Q: ALSO

Q: NEW BIG HEIST

Q: FUCK YES

 

M$: I may drop that info to my sister to have her ready

M$: im so excited to cover this

 

M: just make sure she writes positive

 

M$: as always.

 

“So, bro, who you texting?”

 

“It’s another group chat I have: Mishima, Ohya, and Midori.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Hmm, who are these people? Classmates of yours?”

 

“Oh, yeah. Midori sits behind Ren in class, and Mishima is the one who does the online forum for us. But, how do you know the head of the Newspaper Club?”

 

“She’s… uh. Well, she’s helping me with research and she’s writing the articles I want her to write.”

 

“For Real? You’re shadow king of the newspaper now?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Hmm… controlling the school opinion of the current events and of each other. How clever.”

 

“You know, I’m glad you are a good guy, Ren. Because you sure are scary sometimes.”

 

To that, Ren only gave a Chesire grin.

Chapter Text

"A one-eyed, one-legged monster said to live deep in the mountains of Kumano, Japan. It's believed to be the degraded blacksmith god, Ame no Me-Hitotsu no Kami."

—Persona 5 background

 

She wasn’t quite sure what to make of the new guy living above Sojiro. He seemed almost too nice. Always willing to help out people, never complaining about Sojiro randomly needing him at the store, taking care of that cute cat. Like, he was Wonder Boy. There had to be a crack in that system.

 

Technically, Sojiro had never mentioned the boy, Ren, to her. She knew it was because he didn’t want her to freak out. But she had tapped his phone ages ago, she knew that a new guy was coming into town to live/work at LeBlanc.

 

But, the idea of hiring a new person shouldn’t have been hidden from her. He usually would absent-mindedly chat about customers or the idea of hiring someone. But, yet, he didn’t say a word about this guy. And she had to know why.

 

So, she did the only logical thing and completely hacked into all existing records of Ren Amamiya (after finding that name on Sojiro’s phone) and then compiled it all into a master folder. And, of course, installed cameras all over LeBlanc. Which may have been one of the scariest things she’s ever done in her life (it was the dead of night, she had almost forgotten where her spare key was, and it was the only time she had gone outside - let alone leave her room - since moving in with Sojiro), but it was all worth it to make sure that Sojiro was safe.

 

I mean, why the hell did he allow a guy who was arrested for assault into his cafe?

 

Well, that was her original thought.

 

As those case files and such looked real shady. And she may have looked up the camera records of the incident and found out that they were also super different than what the witnesses (besides Ren) all said. And that some of the files that went into more detail were behind a crazy high amount of security (which was the most challenge she’s had in months . It was amazing.).

 

So, while the information that she had found (and then saved in a “might need later” folder) said that he wasn’t actually a murderer or anything, you never know. So, she would continue her surveillance of him. Especially when she was bored, because he looked cute.

 

---

 

Okay, he was a lot more interesting than she thought.

 

Not because he talked to his cat as if the cat could respond (though that was cute), but because he did seem to be hiding something from Sojiro. And, well, everyone.

 

Like a nationally wanted sort of secret.

 

And he was somehow staying completely under the table.

 

She had hacked into his phone with no issue the first month that he had moved in, which only brought more fun for her.

 

Not only did he had interesting conversations at LeBlanc with his friend (and cat?) about his “extracurricular” activities, but he had so many text conversations about so much else!

 

This kid was crazy busy and filled his days with so many different ways to take down the evils of society. Most people would pat themselves on the back after just one solid way to help fight the system, and he had like 4 or 5!

 

Between his Thieving friends and their multitude of rescue missions and his school espionage club, she didn’t know how he did anything else. Also, she had to stop herself from changing the group chat for the spy group to Totally Spies and changing all of their names to fit… she still might do it later, but she was gonna put off for now.

 

But anyway, back to her main point… he seemed almost too good of a person.

 

He did everything he could for other people and wasn’t mean even though he had a wrongfully given assault record. And he even wormed his way into Sojiro’s heart. And even his teenage years sneaking around was being used to reform society. What the hell was wrong with him?

 

---

 

So, she kept watch over him. And she couldn’t really find anything.

 

She even watched him fight some drunkards who dared to say anything bad about Sojiro’s coffee and Mom’s curry (mom…).

 

Even at night, after Sojiro would go home. He was good.

 

He’d finish up his homework while having some coffee. Clean up the whole cafe (better that Sojiro would, man that guy was being spoiled now). Read a little bit. Talk to the cat while texting friends about plans. And then go to sleep.

 

He was so calm always, and even when he wasn’t he never lashed out at anyone else.

 

Even when his parents completely blocked him, he wasn’t mad, just sad. She didn’t get it.

 

He never got mad at the world. He never even really got mad at himself. He just got back up after letting it out, and then got back to work. Just used it as more fuel to keep climbing the mountain. Another reason to fight against injustice. Even searching for more injustice after helping himself and his friends. Making new friends that were in pain and helping them.

 

It...

 

It made her feel small.

 

And reminded her that she ran away from everything.

 

When she got hurt she got mad at herself and just stopped moving forward.

 

Maybe.

 

Maybe one day she could move forward like he does.

 

Maybe one day he could help her and be her friend like for that the Thief.

 

Maybe.

 

One day.

Chapter Text

"A dog spirit said to possess people in Japanese lore. Those possessed are in a state of "inu-tsuki" and lose conciousness. Onmyoji use Inugami as familiars."

—Persona 5 background



This is for the greater good.

 

That mantra was the only thing keeping Ren from snapping and calling the whole thing off.

 

But, for the record, Ren wanted it to be known that he was not pleased with this turn of events.

 

He also was rather tempted to break his “no family violence” rule with both Morgana and Ryuji. Seriously. They were about to send Ann into Madarame’s house to open that golden door. Under the guise of nude modeling.

 

Especially since Ann was very much against the nude modeling. He was all about agency and helping his loved ones feel free, and here he was, forcing her to be trapped in a situation she did want. And that was all too close to the reality she was trapped in for the past year. If it weren’t for the request from Nakanohara and the promises that he honestly was just clueless and way too focused on art from the man, Ren would refuse to let this all play out. Even with all those promises, he was not pleased, only agreeing to the plan because it was the only feasible way to get to that door.

 

And here he was, sending Ann into her own personal nightmare. While Ryuji was making shitty jokes to make Ann uncomfortable and Morgana was making bold proclamations about defending her honor, which only made even more uncomfortable thoughts come to all of their minds.

 

Seriously, did he have to say that there was a chance of Kitagawa trying to sleep with her? First of all, that wasn’t happening. And second of all, now she can add that to the nightmare fuel that her anxious face is running off of. At least he knows that Ryuji is trying to make light of things, even if it isn’t the time yet for those sort of jokes.

 

Looking at Ann again, he can see her slightly trembling with her giant bag of clothes grasped tightly to her chest. Moving from his seat, Ren slid over to the seat next to her and placed his hand gently on her leg. She jolts and stares, pupils small.

 

“Hey, are you okay? I mean, I know you’re not right now. But will you be okay?”

 

Small nod.

 

“Okay. If you’re sure. I know you’ve got this. But, I also know that if you refuse to do it because it’s too much we’ll go with the Plan B I just made up right now.”

 

“I think I’ve got this. But what’s your back up plan.” Her voice is still too small for his liking.

 

“Well, attaching lockpicks to Morgana in all ways possible to start, I was thinking of using them to shut his damn mouth. Maybe then he’ll stop running it in his anxiety like he is now.”

 

She giggles an almost full giggle in response. Good.

 

“And then making a giant noise or distraction outside while he goes in through the window and does it all. Only problem is less time for that one. Though you’d probably still be the distraction outside to avoid me having to deal with the police.”

 

“Hmmm. Well, I like the shutting of Morgana’s mouth with lockpicks. But, I don’t know how he’ll be able to use them if they’re keeping his mouth shut. So, I think we’ll keep that plan on the back burner.”

 

She winks at the end of her response, sticking her tongue out with her usual sass.

 

Ren smiles back.

 

“Remember, if it gets too much, you can make a scene and run out. I’m sure he’ll be so shocked at you doing so that he’ll either chase you or stand still, still giving us enough time to open the door.”

 

“I know. And thanks. I feel better about this.”

 

With a final smile at one another, the overhead announcement brings the last moment of peace to an end.

 

---

 

Let it be known, he still didn’t like this plan.

 

Ren stood for freeing people from their nightmares, not putting them back into them. And no matter how much Ann smiled and said it was okay, it did not sit well with him. But he made the plan, and everyone agreed. So, now all he could do was sit and wait to see how it turned out in this tacky lobby.

 

He could only hope that he made the right choice. And that Ann was okay.

 

Any trauma or damage that Ann got from this mission laid entirely on his shoulders. And he didn’t know if he could ever make it up to her.

 

Feeling a jolt on his shoulder, Ren looked up to see Ryuji leaning down to look him in the eye.

 

“Hey, you’re getting a little lost in your thoughts there.”

 

“Sorry. Just…”

 

“Ann. I know. This shit sucks. Hits too close to Kamoshida, I get it. But she wanted to do it. I mean, she didn’t, but she did. You gotta trust her to be strong too.”

 

“Yeah. But.”

 

“But nothing. She chose to agree to the mission even though it scares her. You gotta trust her and you gotta respect her for that.”

 

Standing up straight, Ren smirks and looks back at Ryuji.

 

“You’re right. When’d you get so smart?”

 

“Hey! I’ll have you know that I am good at some things. Hitting shit and reading the room. Those are the some things. So, as that’s my expertise, I felt a need to butt in.”

 

“Thanks, smartass.”

 

“It’s what I’m here for, bro. Anyways, I couldn’t have you being so down, because how the hell am I supposed to sprint through a door if you’re kicking at a rosebush looking sad?”

 

The rosebush by his feet was decidedly much rougher looking than the ones surrounding it.

 

“Uhhh…”

 

Thankfully, he was spared from having to make up an excuse for his worrywart behavior by the golden doors sliding open.

 

“Mission accomplished. Let’s go!”

 

“Right behind you, Joker!”

 

As they sprinted to the newly open entrance, he still couldn’t shake his concern for how Ann was doing.

 

Sure the door was open, but where is she?

Chapter Text

"One of the four aspects of Shinto thought, it uses its power to bring good omens. It is said to aid in one's wisdom, observation, and skill, and can mend fractured paths."

—Persona 5 background



Sometimes being leader sucked.

 

There were a plethora of reasons as to why being in charge and the leader could be an issue. But, for now, Ren was focused on the pettiest of reasons.

 

Having to be the adult. The bigger person.

 

Ugh.

 

All he wanted to do was hug Ann and scream and yell at this dumbass boy for putting his dear teammate in danger and then putting himself in danger and making himself vulnerable.

 

Now he has to take the dumbass in. Ann would be mad if he didn’t.

 

Plus, the ice powers were helpful.

 

And, while Kitagawa - no, Yusuke - was annoying and hurt the team and lashed out, he was scared and in pain and trying to hold some sort of semblance of life together. Which he now realized wasn’t worth the effort.

 

Taking a deep breath in in the museum lobby, Joker took his hand out of his coat and placed in on Yusuke’s shoulder.

 

“How you holding up? It really takes it out of you, doesn’t it?”

 

Slowly moving his head, Yusuke rolls his head up, trying to stop it from drooping back down. “I’m making it. I think. I would hope that perhaps we could find an exit soon? I don’t want to deal with this exhaustion while surrounded by this gaudy nightmare.”

 

Of course, he was focusing on the aesthetics of the place more than the fact that he ripped his face off and fought his teacher. Or was that a deflection? Or a distraction? It’s hard to tell with this one.



“Well, thanks for your help there. I know that all is going to take some time to recover from in all ways. Let’s get you some food and away from all the glitter.”

 

“That would be incredible. But, I must say, I neglected to grab my wallet on my chase of Ann over here. So I…”

 

“Don’t worry about it. I was planning on covering you, as a “Welcome to the Team” sort of thing. Plus you deserve it.”

 

Yusuke tilted his head to the side in confusion, bringing images of little Shiba puppies to Ren’s mind.

 

---

 

Thank goodness he asked Morgana to do a good deep check of Yusuke’s living situation after the initial bad interaction. That shack combined with how skinny this boy was put Ren rather on edge.

 

That evening Morgana had crawled back into Ren’s window looking furious and muttering angry, angry things. And swore to continue to check up on him until they figured the whole Madarame thing out. Apparently, there was nothing in any of the cupboards or fridge, and Yusuke didn’t eat anything besides perhaps a lunch at school. Perhaps. And he never ate dinner.

 

When Madarame did show up after the end of the exhibit each day, he would smell of fresh, expensive foods. And yet, Yusuke only got food if he painted enough. And, since Ann was currently putting him on hold to waste time to complete the Palace, Yusuke wasn’t painting enough.

 

He never mentioned it to anyone in the team besides Morgana, but that was the main reason that they were pressing through this Palace as fast as they were. Even if he didn’t want to deal with the boy after this, he wanted to get him help. No matter how unlikable they were, no one deserved such a lifestyle.

 

---

 

He didn’t like the guy. He was rude to Ryuji, put Ann in bad situations, and refused to work with them to deal with Madarame.

 

But he was also just like them, and just like Ryuji had snapped and Ann had shut down, Yusuke dealt with being under the fist of tyranny differently. And would grow and become great after being freed.

 

So, he would be the bigger person, and accept him for who he is. And not hold who he was before he joined against him. As scared, hurt, and abused people lashed out at others who weren’t at fault to get out the frustrations that they have at their actual situations (at least he thinks that was what the medical book he was looking at in Tae’s office said).

 

And, well, watching him light up while eating that Big Bang Burger like it was a Christmas gift come early helped to soften Ren’s view of him, he couldn’t deny that.

 

Looking around at the table, Ren couldn’t help but smile.

 

Ann was laughing at Morgana trying to impress her by stacking fries on his nose while Yusuke was trying to inform Ryuji of the best angle to film it from. Yusuke had eaten about 3 whole meals worth of food. And the pit in Ren’s stomach at the whole mission that happened today was slowly being filled by a warm, pleasant feeling.

 

You know, sometimes being the bigger person wasn’t that bad.

Chapter Text

"A rural Japanese wolf god, said to protect one from fires. In exchange, it steals crops.

It's possible to gain its protection by leaving talismans bearing its image on doorways and grain fields."

—Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon Devil Chart



She wasn’t proud of the work that she had to do to make ends meet and pay her debts, but she was proud of the fact that she was doing the work. Sure, it left her exhausted all the time and didn’t give her any agency or anything, but it was the least she could do. Takase was dead after all.

 

The worst part about it was when she saw her clients around town while she was off the clock and not at all interested in entertaining them…. In any way. Even worse than those were the almost clients - those who had rejected her as a maid because of how old she was (she was only 22 for goodness sakes!).

 

And, just her luck, that category was home to who she just saw at the grocery store. Just my luck. He was a major asshole when he saw me.

 

Continuing her stroke of bad luck, he seemed to have not only spotted her but recognized her. And decided to approach.

 

Do I really need this food tonight?

 

Before she could fully think about leaving her groceries and just hightailing it out, he had already reached her.

 

Fuck.

 

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t… what was it again? Becky? Yeah, Becky. You know, you’re a lot cuter when you’re not in that outfit. You look more natural and in your element.”

 

She raised an eyebrow at him.

 

“Oh? Not gonna say anything? Hm. Well, you know, Becky, I like this version of you a lot better, you have sass now. I think you should come with me so we can talk about it. I know that you weren’t my type as a maid, but I think you’ll do much better now.”

 

“Mmmm. No. I gotta get my dinner and finish up my to-do list for today.”

 

He froze. “Did you just say no? I don’t think you understand. I told you that we were going to go now. Your stuff can wait. I might even be able to help you with it all if you ask nicely enough.”

 

Sharp breath in. Fuck. He has me cornered back here, I can’t run.

 

“That’s what I thought, now let’s go.” He grabs her wrist and starts to pull.

 

At that moment, the door to the store slid open, a tall, lanky guy walking in with a bag on his arm. His bespeckled eyes wandered over the whole store and froze for a moment on the scene going on in the back corner. A cat (?) poked it’s head out and seemed to chitter at the boy while also looking back at Kawakami.

 

And my luck keeps getting better. Of course, it had to be Ren.

 

As the only person to truly know about both of her jobs, and her newest client, he held a lot of power over her. As a client, she didn’t want him to think that he was allowed to do this. And as his teacher, didn’t want him to start to think that she was powerless.

 

As she was getting ready to play along with this guy, consequences be damned (not like she hadn’t dealt with worse at work, only she wasn’t allowed to fight then), Ren decided to butt his stupid student head into things.

 

“Hey, butt out kid, you aren’t part of this conversation.”

 

“Ren-kun. Please listen to him. I’ll talk to you later, okay. It was good running into you.”

 

“Oh, you know the brat? You fucking hi-”

 

Before he could finish his word, Ren’s arm slammed out, hitting the weak spot at the hinge of the elbow, causing the man to drop his grip on her arm.

“I was going to say hi to my dear friend here, as we had agreed to meet up later and wanted to know if she was still up for it. But, if you want to talk about how we treat other human beings, let’s go outside for a moment. Would you care to join me?” He hissed the words out between his teeth, leaving no room for arguments as his hand was still touching the man’s elbow, now digging deeper into a pressure point.

 

With the man’s quiet nod, Ren eased up on the pressure and gave the most innocent smile in return. Slugging an arm around the man’s shoulders, he walked with him outside as if they were best friends. With his other arm, Ren pulled out his phone and sent a few short texts.

 

Master <3: I got this, see you in 5 min.

 

Curious, she looked out through the glass panes to the store at the two. Ren was still walking with the man, although his grip seemed to be getting tighter. When did he get enough muscle to pull that off? And where is he going?

 

She kept watching until he slipped into the alley across the way, where the sketchy weapon store was. Why is he going down there?

 

He emerged from the alley about a minute later, sans the guy, and without any sign of roughage on him. What just happened.

 

Running back to grab her forgotten groceries from the back of the store, Ren reentered the store and beamed at her.

 

“I’m not really sure if I want the answer, but what did you do with him?”

 

I personally didn’t do anything except for walk with him. I had a friend help me out in dealing with him. Well, I guess I also said a few things to him.”

 

“Such. As.” She snarled out.

 

“Nothing bad! Just reminding him how we talk to people in public, and we don’t bother people about jobs when we aren’t at work. And how you especially don’t get to do so if you refused to hire them. And then gave a run down to my good friend, and he took over.”

 

“How do you have connections with someone who can, what did you say, take care of it ?”

 

“Complete coincidence. Promise. And, I would have taken care fo it myself, but the last time I tried this exact thing I got arrested for assault and that garbage. So, leaving it to someone who is better at not getting caught.”

 

“Wait. Are you saying your assault charge was…”

 

“Yep. I saved a woman from being attacked like you were about to be. And they were socially powerful enough to turn it on me instead.” He replied with a sad smile.

 

“Well. I can’t berate you for helping me. And I’m glad you got someone else to, well, do the other crap. But you gotta be more careful! You can’t get in trouble again, especially not over me.”

 

Ren’s eyes narrowed as she continued to ramble on about his safety.

 

“You know what, I think you need to come with me to get some coffee.”

 

“Hm?”

 

“I’m sure you’re having a bit of an adrenaline rush. I know a great place, heck, you’ve been there before. But it’s quiet and has the perfect cup to help you calm down and center yourself. So, let’s go.”

 

“I know the place?”

 

“I live there.” He deadpanned back.

Chapter Text

"Eight of the nine order of angels, their duty is to humans and deliver messages. They are at constant war with the fallen angels."

—Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth compendium

 

 

 

The damned man’s Palace was as obnoxious and garish as he could have expected.

 

Everywhere he looked there was more gold and glitter and, ugh, it was just such an eyesore. Plus, with all of the lights, it was hard to find dark corners to run in and do some sneaking. He wasn’t in the mood to fight all the useless shadows in the area, and he had a schedule to keep.

 

Luckily, even though there was a giant gate to the museum proper (which was even more shiny - a feat he had thought impossible), there were also walls to the whole place. Thankful that the man didn’t erase walls in trying to think of a cognitive reality, he jumped up the walls and ran along the edges of the courtyard to find a way into the next area, as he was not going to deal with the cognitive bullshit to open that door. He wanted to have all of this done before Madarame had any idea what was happening, and setting off mental alarms was the opposite of helpful to that goal.

 

As he was running around the courtyard walls, he heard the sound of the long (annoying, ostentatious, loud) doorway opening up and froze. Crouching down as to not cast a shadow on the courtyard below (although he doubted they could even pick up there was one with all the noise constantly going down there with the gold and the lasers) and watched the scene ahead of him.

 

Below him, a group of 4 figures was running into view. Masks across their faces, weapons in hand, these must be the Phantom Thieves. Dammit, this would make his continued search a lot more difficult. He would have to make sure that they weren’t around when he would... conduct... his job. Maybe, he could wait until they did their part, whatever that was, and then take care of his end? That way they wouldn’t suspect anything was up.

 

This confirmed what they have feared, what he had feared. He wasn’t the only one able to go into the cognitive world. He wasn’t alone with this power. He was no longer unique. I’ve got to keep this quiet until I think of how to spin this. They had an inkling that the Kamoshida case was related to the other world, and now he had proof.

 

But, they were right to try and lean into Shujin. As soon as he figured out how to spin this in his favor, he would have to see if they could use that dump principal for more than just keeping an eye on that dissenter. Find out who these Phantom Thieves were, and see if he could eliminate his competition. Or, he talks to the egg first and keeps it under wraps, take care of it before it goes any higher up the chain. He’s feared enough that the cowardly egg won’t dare breath a word to anyone.

 

Watching on, he saw the team decide to go the other route, messing with Madarame’s cognition. As well as spewing a bunch of garbage about helping that stupid student of his, Kitagawa, bring people to justice.

 

Justice.

 

Those idiots fools knew nothing of Justice.

 

He would show them what Justice was.

 

Waiting for them to leave, he decided to give them a few days to change his cognition: climbing up that wall was annoying and tiring. Might as well use his resources wisely.

 

But, first, time to see if he could see these Thieves true identities once they left the cognitive world. With any luck, he could learn more about them and manipulate them to do what he wanted anyways.

 

With a wave and some finger guns up to the window where he saw Madarame’s shadow watching in fear, the figure lept off the side of the courtyard wall and ran after the Thieves.

 

---

 

Oh.

 

Wasn’t this a treat.

 

Out of all the people in the world it could be, the leader happened to be him?

 

He never expected it, but he could easily change up his plans to add in this extra bonus.

 

Now to figure out how to manipulate Shido enough to let things play out how he wanted. What cruel fate to have your empire fall by the boy you sought to destroy, only then to be killed by the son you never loved?

 

This had to be the happiest Akechi had been in his entire life.

Chapter Text

"One of the 72 demons of the Goetia. He looks like a knight and has the power to see things to come. He also knows much about war."

—Persona Q Compendium

 

 

M: Hey you

 

Q: Yeah? What’s up?

Q: I don’t have taht project done yet

Q: sorry

 

M: dont worry

M: this isn’t about that

M: I got another request for you

M: should be fast

M: and is a bit of a follow up

 

Q: uh?

Q: do I want to know?

Q: but let’s go

Q: what you need?

 

M: you know when I asked you about Yusuke Kitagawa?

M: you still have that shit available?

 

Q: that Kosei kid?

Q: yeah, I put it aside

Q: felt it would be needed if you asked for specifically

 

M: you the best

M: I need it

M: and

 

Q: fuck

 

M: i need you to help me get into ALL of his accounts

 

Q: why

Q: like, i honestly want to know why

Q: because stealing his money isn’t chill

 

M: bruh

M: look at his bank account

 

Q: fuck

 

M: exactly

M: I need you to connect his account with mine

M: especially his food and clothes and such moeny accounts

 

Q: where you getting the money to put in here

 

M: 4 jobs and PT business

 

Q: you gonna feed the kid

 

M: you know it

M: also, put me in as a contact,

M: but, like, an alias

M: so I get his grades and health reports

M: can you get me his health reports?

 

Q: Okay, I’ll get on that

Q: your name will be….

Q: Akira Kurusu

Q: he’s a kindly artist who is peripherally attached enough that it doesn’t look weird

Q: but isn’t famous enough to be recognized

 

M: you the best

 

Q: thanks ^.^

 

M: And please get me the health reports soon.

 

Q: Will do

Q: but like

Q: who is he?

 

M: the victim of our new heist’s abuse

M: you know, the new heist I mentioned

M: and new PT

 

Q: I WANNA BE A PT

 

M: I didn’t want him to be one

M: it’s dangerous shit

M: and I don’t want anyone who doesn’t need to be involved

M: we do literal to the death battles

M: and I like you too much to get you hurt

 

Q: uh

Q: like

Q: death death?

Q: you know what

Q: I love being the PT’s backup

Q: ITS AMAZING

 

M: Literally no hard feelings

M: it’s only because I don’t want you hurt.

 

Q: I’m not mad, I promise!

 

----

 

A few days after talking to Yuuki, Ren sat at his desk staring at the paperwork that had been dropped off.

 

Each page he turned left him more and more angry.

 

There was a long, long history of no money, with all of his scholarship going right to Madarame.

 

The medical records showed chronic lack of food and anemia, his number were all devastatingly low. The only reason he was as strong as he was in the Palaces was due to his own cognition of being too proud to be weak.

 

And, yet, no one had done anything due to the influence of Madarame. No longer, Ren vowed. He had to stop himself from crumpling up the paper in his hands out of frustration.

 

While abuse and eating disorders were not listed on Yusuke’s transcripts, Ren had learned enough from helping out with Dr. Takemi to know what these numbers meant. After asking her about how to help his classmates who were dealing with their demons, she decided to start teaching Ren how to notice the signs of who needed help first. And, well, he was grateful for the lessons, as now he had a prime example of someone who needed his help.

 

Looking up, he made eye contact with Kawakami, who sighed and nodded. And started purposefully call attention to the front of the room and call only on the far side of the room, taking attention away from Ren’s corner of the room.

 

Pulling out his calculator and a notebook, he started jotting away some numbers.

 

----

 

By the end of Kawakami’s lesson, Ren was able to pull together a very good basis for a budget for Yusuke. He had a feeling that he would have to be a bit covert about how he did this if his spying on him with Morgana told him anything.

 

Yusuke seemed rather proud, and ashamed of asking for help. So, he knew that he couldn’t offer to assist in paying for food.

 

He also picked up through that exercise with Morgana, as well as through just talking to the kid, that he was single-minded in his pursuit of art. And, well, had already admitted to choosing a paintbrush over eating. So, he couldn’t just drop the money off - he would have to get creative.

 

Trying to think of ways to make it so Yusuke wouldn’t waste his food money on art (especially since it was coming out of the PT budget), he was stuck.

 

Until Genki behind him mentioned that he got a gift card to the grocery store in the mail at lunch.

 

“Perfect!”

 

“Uh. What? I mean, it’s pretty cool I guess…”

 

“Yuuki! GIFT CARDS!”

 

“I’m missing something, aren’t I?”

 

“For Kitagawa?”

 

“Yes! That’s how I will make the budget work!”

 

“That’s the paper you got your cat to shove in my shoe? How did you even do that in the middle of class?”

 

“Don’t worry about it. But yes! The money set aside for Yusuke, let’s use that money and buy him gift cards. Say that they’re from the school scholarship he has, and since he isn’t living with his… guardian… anymore, he can now get them!”

 

“That’s, actually brilliant. I imagine that you want me to forge a letter for this?”

 

“If you wouldn’t mind, my dearest Yuuki. The Q to my M.”

 

“You don’t need to butter me up, I’ll do it.”

 

“Love you.”

 

Chihiro and Genki just shook their heads at Ren’s antics.

 

“Chihiro!”

 

“Yes, Ren?”

 

“Please be ready for some news tomorrow. Maybe let your sister you mentioned know as well?” He replied with a wink.

 

“Oh?”

 

“The heist is complete. Tomorrow should be a new admission of guilt!”

 

“Who!”

 

“Not telling!”

 

“Boo, you whore.”

 

“Love you too, Chihiro.”

 

Ren leaned back in his seat. With that taken care of, all he had to do now was chat again with Takemi. She was about to get a new patient, whether he wanted to or not.

 

Tomorrow was going to be an exciting day.

Chapter Text

"The leader of a swarm of pixies. Any pixie in a leadership role or with remarkable power is called by this name."

—Persona 5 background

 

 

Joker could understand why people found driving to be relaxing. While he may not be able to do it in the real world, he definitely loved being able to do so now.

 

He was to be honest with himself, he just loved being in the Metaverse, despite all the creepy parts it brought.

 

Sure, they were fighting for their lives every time they entered. Sure, there was so much at stake if they messed up. Sure, they were entering the mindscapes of some of the most vile people in Tokyo.

 

But he got to be free.

 

He didn’t have to be Ren, the criminal, the scoundrel, the lazy, the useless, the hated, the feared. He wasn’t the son who was cast away, the friend who was forgotten, the child who had to be silenced.

 

He was Joker. The daring and adventurous lead of the Phantom Thieves. The Stealer of Hearts and savior to the downtrodden. He rescued people from themselves, and from those oppressing them. He had no societal ties to bring who he was down. The only people who were with him were those who loved him, those who knew who he was and accepted him fully, those who honestly wanted him to be himself and to never hide.

 

No one in here doubted him, not even the shadows that they would fight. Hell, he could command the shadows to join him, just with a smile. He destroyed the boogieman under the bed. He smirked and people regained their bravery.

 

Being able to truly shine, he led the others around him to shine as well. Skull, Panther, Fox, and even Mona were able to overcome their real-world worries and doubts and just be themselves. Their personalities stretched to their limits, their traits became exaggerated. But, that was fine, because how can you know what’s comfortable if you never see where your limits are? And, in the safety of the Metaverse (the irony of that statement) with their chosen family around to support them in all choices, they were free to find that balance.

 

Under his watchful eyes, he got to watch Skull push the boundaries on his emotional intelligence, discovering what was too much in watching out for others, and what was being callous. How to be the distraction without being reckless. How to bring comedic effect to a situation without being respectful.

 

Panther learned how to command attention without losing who she was. How to accept her sexuality without losing her innocence. How to take care of others without losing a part of herself. How to crack jokes like she cracked her whip.

 

Mona was learning how to be human. How to empathize and not be short. How to be snarky without being shitty. How to read the situation and not cause pain. How to show affection without forcing attention to yourself. How to be happy to just be.

 

Fox, new as he was, was still a work in progress. But, well, weren’t they all? He was slowly shedding his pride, his need to always be right. Was gaining the ability to relate and reach out to others without losing his personality. How to derive art from everything around him, without losing the ability to separate the ideal from reality. He was learning how to evoke the feelings he was feeling without hurting others around him.

 

And Joker? Joker was learning how he should have been treated the whole time. And how to lead his team to help others be able to have the ability to grow into themselves as they all did. His sense of justice was refining and twisting to fit the situation.

 

And how did this change happen?

 

They respected each other.

 

And that made them free.

 

---

 

“Hey, kid.”

 

“Yeah, Old Man?”

 

“Not that it’s any of my business or anything (though it could be if I wanted it to be), but what have you been doing outside of school lately? Not to sound weird, but you seem a bit different.”

 

“Oh, uh, well, mostly just hanging out with my friends. It’s been really nice to have people who like me, didn’t have many friends back home.”

 

“Hm. Weird. You’re a good kid. Don’t let that get to your head or anything. I just don’t get it.” He shakes his head, “Anyways, they seem to be good for you. You seem a lot happier and confident. Just don’t let that confidence get you into trouble.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I’m not going to do anything stupid like that.”

 

Ren looked at Sojiro and, waiting for him to reach for his mug for a drink, smirked. “Oh, and I became friends with the student council president that you said was asking for me.”

 

Spitting out his coffee, Sojiro looked up with a bewildered stare, “FINALLY. I’m so glad you’re finally listening to me about women.”

 

“It ain’t any sort of romance, man.”

 

“That’s what all the kids say. That’s what all the kids say.” Sojiro chuckled as he wiped the spat out coffee off of the counter.

Chapter Text

"A holy beast said to protect houses from evil and grant them fortune. It looks similar to Shinto guardian dogs, but is actually modeled after a lion. There are many stories about it in Ryukyu lore."

—Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse compendium

 

Ryuji seriously didn’t understand how Ren was viewed as he was.

 

Ryuji knew that he was a loudmouth, and was brash, and didn’t think before he acted. He knew that, while Kamoshida breaking his leg was the last straw for his popularity, he was always a punk. He would never be the smartest or the coolest, he would always be a punk who couldn’t fit in.

 

Other than his skill at sports, he had nothing to offer school life that would grant him any favors. He had accepted that a while ago, and so, when he was shunted to the side when he couldn’t run anymore, he was less than surprised. He knew he only had the friends then that he had because he was the star of the team.

 

Ren, though? He had none of the failings. He was respectful of others, calm, quiet, smart. He knew how to act and knew how to be a good friend. There was no reason for him to be as hated as he was. Hell, someone Ren was hated more than he was, and he didn’t think that possible.

 

Ryuji knew it was mostly because of that record that he had. But, he also knew that anyone who talked to him for more than 30 seconds knew that he couldn’t have actually committed a crime. He couldn’t understand why it was that Ren had been wronged so badly by the justice system in the country.

 

No. Wait.

 

Yes, he could.

 

His father never got in trouble for everything he had done to Ryuji and Ma. Nothing had mattered, his deadbeat garbage dad was able to walk away from them all with no problems. And, for the “audacity” to try and take him to court, Ma had to shoulder all the legal fees on top of everything else.

 

Which led to everything else.

 

“Hey, Ryuji? You okay?” Ren called out to him during their warm-up jogs.

 

Shoving the current train of thought down, Ryuji flashed an electrifying smile back. “Ah, man, I’m good. Just was thinking. You know running is like meditation for me, so I gotta fit in all of my deep thoughts into this time.”

 

Slowing down his jog to a walk, and then down to a stop, Ren turned to Ryuji with a very serious expression on his face.

 

“What is going on?”

 

“Nothing, man. I already told you that!”

 

“Please stop lying. I know you’re stressing about something. You’ve accidentally repeated a few of the warmups already and you never do that.”

 

Slumping over, Ryuji knew that he had to give in. Once again, Ren was just too good. On top of everything else, he also had to be intuitive and detail noticing and shit.

 

“Okay. I was just thinking a bit about how mad I am about your situation. Which made me think about the legal system. Which made me think about my dad and how the courts let him go free. And put the burden of even trying onto my Ma. And it’s all bullshit.”

 

Midway through Ryuji’s admission, Ren had plopped down into the grass and, at the end of it, padded the ground next to him while looking up at his friend.

 

Flopping down next to Ren, Ryuji covered his eyes with one arm and just let himself calm down.

 

“Ryuji. That’s bullshit. And that’s the stuff that we’re fighting. To make sure no one uses corruption and power to hurt others.”

 

“But like, how do you deal with it all? Like, how the school hates you and how, hell, the whole government is against you. Now in literally every way.”

 

“Eh. It’s fine. It just means I get to be smarter in how I deal with it. I’ve managed to get the best friend’s I’ve ever had in my life out of it all. So, I think I’ve made out… like a bandit.” He ended with a wink.

 

“Shut up. But why is it so hard to get the school to accept you?”

 

“Don’t worry about that. I have enough in’s to make my time enjoyable. I, however, don’t like how you’ve been kept as a pariah despite Kamoshida admitting that he wanted to break your leg from the start.”

 

“Eh, it’s fine. I have nothing to add to the stupid school anyways anymore, so they aren’t gonna give a shit about me.”

 

“Did you talk to Chihiro like I told you to?”

“Huh? Chihiro? The newspaper club? You close enough to use her given name? The hell?”

 

“There’s more than one way to fight injustice, and I am making sure to use them all.”

 

“How do you even have the time? I barely have time for school and PT shit. Like, for real, man, you gotta sleep sometime.”

 

“Don’t worry about that. Morgana makes sure I sleep.” He deadpan stares into the distance for a moment after saying that. Shaking his head, he continues, “I like filling my day with stuff. I feel like I’m not doing enough if I’m not actively working on a project. It may not be the best, but so far all of my work is varied enough to not have me get bored.”

 

“I don’t think I want to know about Morgana…” “You don’t.” “Okay then… But make sure you don’t burn yourself out, Ren. You don’t have to save the world by yourself. We all want to help.”

 

Ren smiles. “I know. And it’s made all the difference in the world. But Igor told me I have to help and fulfill my rehabilitation. And since he has so much control of the situation, I can’t let him down.”

 

“What the eff are you talking about?”

 

“Oh. Uh. Don’t worry about it. You know when I go kinda blank by the entrance of a Palace or Mementos?”

 

“Yeah, it’s freaking creepy. But you suddenly have better personas.”

 

“Exactly. I go to some magic place where a man named Igor gives me personas.”

 

“For real? That’s rad. And, yeah, I guess we should keep him happy. But, man, don’t be afraid to call out with you need help in any of your shit. We’re a team in everything.”

 

“I know, I know. Promise. You’re my brother, right?”

 

Holding his fist up, Ren smirks at Ryuji.

 

“You know it.”

 

They fist bump.

 

---

 

Later that evening, Ryuji is eating dinner with Ma when he gets a text.

 

J: May have asked Yuuki to look into your dad’s files.

J: Sorry if that was forward of me

J: may have found some shit

J: may have dropped it on Makoto’s desk

J: with a sticky note saying -for your sis

 

S: bro

S: what the f

S: how did you

S: not gonna tell mom until it goes further

S: but thanks

 

J: least I can do for my best friend

 

Putting the phone down, Ryuji beams up at Ma with a shit-eating grin.

 

“Anything special honey?”

 

“Just my best friend. He’s trying to help me out with something.”

 

A very kind smile sits on her face, one that Ryuji has to admit he hasn’t seen in a while.

 

“I’m so happy that you’ve gotten some new friends. These ones seem good. Invite them over sometime! I wanna meet whoever it is that got you out of your rut.”

 

“Yeah, I’ll invite them over sometime. Or we can have an outing or something. You’d love them.”

 

“Them?”

 

“Yeah, this guy helped me meet a lot of good people. I think we have, like, 5 people in our group right now.”

 

“That’s incredible! He must be a good man.”

 

“He really is, Ma. He really is.”

 

With an actual smile, he settles back into eating.

 

How did I get a friend as good as Ren?

Chapter Text

"Long-lived cats are said to become these malevolent cat demons. Their powers vary according to how long they have lived, ranging from shape-shifting to controlling the dead."
—Persona 5 background

 

 

As Ren stretched out on the couch, he suddenly started at the sensation of a hand touching his hair.

 

Ann, without really thinking, had reached out and started petting his head. Petting. Like a cat.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Oh, uh. Petting you, I guess. Your hair’s just so fluffy! I couldn’t resist!”

 

He gave a super confusing look.

 

Which turned to downright flummoxed once he saw the rest of the group nodding along.

 

“Honestly, man, like, sometimes I wonder who is more cat. Morgana or you.”

 

“I do have to admit, Ren, your hair has a fluffiness that seems unnatural.”

 

“Nyeh heh heh! See! I knew I wasn’t the cat in this group!”

 

Blushing now, Ren buried his head in one of the pillows he had brought over to the couch.

 

“I hate you all. I am not a cat.”

 

“Fine, you’re totally not a cat. But, like, can I keep petting your hair? It was super soft!”

 

“Uh, I guess.”

 

“Ooh, ooh! Me too!”

 

Ren sighed and put his head down on the table instead of hiding it in the couch.

 

A soft, tentative hand reached out and started to pet his head. Each of his teammates took a turn petting his head, even Morgana. Ann was soft yet excited. Ryuji was so careful and gentle. Morgana was excited and joyful. Yusuke was awkwardly short pets. Makoto was scared and yet firm.

 

And, after the initial shock, Ren was lulled into a gentle sleep. He wasn’t used to the affection that was being afforded to him right now. To the care that was being taken to not be too rough. To the want to even physically touch him.

 

His team loved him, and even though he didn’t know how to deal with it, he allowed himself to bask in that love, even if just for a moment.

 

---

 

Morgana was always excited to be able to go out with just Ren and not have to share him.

 

This was one of those wonderful few times, and they were spending it at the park. Laying underneath a tree, but still in the sun. Ren saw the patch and headed right for it while talking to Morgana about the appeal of laying in the grass, and how it was one of the things Ren missed doing the most since moving to the city.

 

“I don’t know, Ren, it just seems to weird. Isn’t grass itchy? Why would you sleep in it?”

 

“This is a nice human thing, Morgana. It just feels nice to be connected to nature. And the feel of the sun on you just makes you want to sink into the earth and fall asleep.”

 

So, taking his word for it, the pair sunk into the grass. Morgana immediately agreed with Ren’s summation of the activity and took to it like a fish to water.

 

Curling up in the crook of Ren’s arm, Morgana looked up at him and marveled at how little time it had taken for his friend to fall asleep.

 

And man, the sun did feel good if he just laid here and took it in.

 

Maybe he would join Ren in that nap after all.

 

---

 

This whole running through Palaces thing was extremely exhilarating for Makoto.

 

The thrill of the heist, the fantastical surroundings, the fights, the stealth, the thinking required… it all spoke deeply to Makoto and resonated in her soul.

 

And yet, there was one thing about the whole Thieves thing that struck her as odd, and she couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Something about their leader…

 

And then, as she was watching him destroy another switch in a fit of rage, immediately followed up with practically pouncing on a small treasure while knocking the piggybank over, it hit her.

 

Joker was a freaking cat.

 

Sure, Mona was literally shaped like a cat. But Joker was the actual cat.

 

She suddenly burst out laughing where she stood. The rest of the Thieves froze and turned around to face her.

 

“Uh, everything alright, Queen?”

 

Between bursts of laughter, Queen was able to eek out some words, “Yeah, yeah. I just realized something.”

 

“Like to share with the class, Queen?”

 

“Joker, did you realize that you’re a cat?”

 

He pouted, “I thought we talked about this, I’m not.” He even did a little foot stomp to accentuate.

 

“No, we dropped it because you were embarrassed. Now I have more proof.”

 

“Prove it then.”

 

“So, in the last 5 minutes you’ve pounced on a shiny object and knocked it over, collected random scraps and hoarded them, played with your tailcoats when you thought no one was looking, practically hissed while you swiped at the switches in rage. And, at the last Safe Room, you were watching and swiping at both Fox’s and Panther’s tails. They just didn’t seem to pay much attention because we seem to not be ones for personal boundaries.”

 

Pouting even more, Ren hunched down and sighed.

 

“She’s right, you know.”

 

“I had noticed those activities myself, albeit had not yet tied it to feline activity. Those really do explain them a lot better than as unconnected quirks.”

 

“I hate you all.”

 

“You know, selective apathy and an aversion to an overload of attention is also a feline trait…”

 

“I can and will kick you off of this team, Queen.”

Chapter Text

One of the 72 demons of the Goetia. Known as the Prince of Hell, he appears as a horse and answers questions of the past, present, and future. He is faithful to his conjurer.

Persona 5 background

 

“Hey, kid. You got a moment to help out today?”

 

Ren was planning on calling Kawakami to come over and help out after close, but he supposed that he could help Boss out now until then.

 

“Yeah, sure. Let me just grab my apron.”

 

---

 

After the regulars started to slowly filter out of the cafe, Sojiro turned to Ren with a serious look on his face.

 

“Hey, kid, you wanna sit down? I wanted to chat with you about some stuff.”

 

“Uhh… I guess? Am I in trouble?”

 

“Oh, no. Unless you’re hiding something from me, I didn’t plan on lecturing you just yet. Just a continuation of our last deep chat.”

 

At the reminder of his breakdown in front of Sojiro, Ren completely flushed up. “I’m sorry for that. I didn’t mean to make things weird or anything.”

 

“Kid. Stop. I’m glad that chat happened. Holding shit like that in is bad. You’re allowed to let out those emotions here. Rather here than an explosion elsewhere.”

 

Ren slumped onto the counter. Sojiro sighed in response.

 

“So, what’s up?”

 

“I talked to your parents, and to the Corrections Officer. And, well, if you’re still wanting to, you’re allowed to stay here.”

 

That caused Ren to shoot right back up. “What!”

 

“Yeah, turns out that you’ve been preforming even better here than you did back home. The Corrections Officer was also super impressed with the fact that you’ve created a network of friends and were holding a few part time jobs. Overall, it barely took any effort to convince him.”

 

“That was easier than I expected.”

 

“That was the part of the body that I though would be the harder part. Instead, it was the much easier part.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I don’t want to talk badly about your parents, but-”

 

“Please, feel free to.”

 

“Heh, okay. They’re shit.”

 

“What did they do now?”

 

“They refused to believe that you were making friends. Or holding your jobs. Or getting good grades.”

 

The downcast look upon Ren’s face seemed to almost be a permanent fixture.

 

“Of fucking course. They never could.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I was never enough. I was weird. I didn’t emote as much as they wanted. I always helped others instead of focusing on myself. I always wanted to do gymnastics instead of baseball. I always got a 90% instead of 100%. I didn’t care to follow in my parent’s footsteps and go be a researcher for the Kirijo Group when I grew up. I wasn’t deemed viable for one of the projects they were working on there when I was young, and they’ve really considered me a failure ever since. Heck, after I was told that I didn’t fit that whole thing, my parents were pushed to a countryside lab, and they’ve blamed me for that my whole life.”

 

“Okay, Kid. I’m gonna stop you there. None of that stuff if your fault, you know that right? Like, especially that last bit. I, uh, used to work for the government a bit back. And, well, I had some connections with that Kirijo Group. I know what research that was.”

 

“You do? What even was it?”

 

“You really don’t want to know. But it was twisted and sick. And, from what I remember for reading the documents after the fact, I’m glad that you weren’t involved. The lower level scientists were offering the lives of their children in order to move up in the company. And that’s truly what happened, as a lot of the children died.”

 

“Are you… telling me… that my parents are mad that I didn’t die for their careers?”

 

“It kind of cements my view of them.”

 

Ren, for all intents and purposes, had shut down. He was staring off into the distance, completely lost.

 

“Hey. Kid. This sucks. But, you’re away from them. You’re done with them. For good. You never have to see them again. You never have to speak to them again. I will take care of all of the mandatory communication with them to finalize this crap. You can stay here as long as you want. And I will fight for you to make sure of that.”

 

Ren’s disposition didn’t change.

 

“And, well, I was gonna make it a surprise later, but I’ll tell you now to help you out with this. I was planning on adopting you once the year is up. If you wanted. Thought I’d see how the year played out before I offered that, but hearing this, I don’t really feel like I should make you think for another second that you have to go back to them.”

 

“Why you waiting until the end of the year? So you can take it away if I act up?”

 

“Hell no, Kid. It’s so those asses out in the boonies still have to pay me every month for you. I’m gonna make them pay every single penny and then snatch you from them at the last moment.”

 

“Steal me right from under their noses.” Ren finally gave a small smirk at that remark.

 

“Exactly. Might as well force them to pay as long as possible. If I adopt you early, they might find a way out of draining their wallets.”

 

“I like it.”

 

“I had a feeling that you would.”

 

There was a moment of silence as the gravity of the situation settled.

 

“So, uh. I got some family stuff to share with you in the coming days. But, uh. You want to go out to dinner. Your choice. Feel like we should celebrate this talk.”

 

Morgana ran up to Ren and Sojiro yowling for sushi.

 

“Um, I think sushi sounds great, Boss. Can we grab an extra roll for Morgana? I think he’s craving some.”

 

“You have a really weird cat. I swear it is like he can communicate or something. But, sure. He’s been good.”

Chapter Text

"A spirit of rivers and mountains in Japanese lore, they dwell in ancient trees and ageless rocks. They are not evil, and will often appear as humans or supernatural wonders to warn people."

—Persona 5 background

 

 

There was… something… about the boy Sojiro kept in his attic.

 

She didn’t know quite what it was, but for some weird reason she couldn’t keep away from checking in on him. She was privy to every Phantom Thief meeting (and wasn’t that a surprise), she heard how much he doted on his cat and talked to it (she read that people who treated their cats like people were usually good people), she heard him chat with Sojiro (that was the happiest she had heard Sojiro in a while). Sojiro wanted to officially make him part of the family (What was Leblanc, the Neko Atsume for abandoned children?).

 

She went through his text messages, and all she saw were tons of people texting him for help, and him quietly agreeing. He never reached out to others unless it was to ask the other Thieves to get together. Not even when his parents blocked him, there was barely a word. Always in the background, always willing to help, but only if asked.

 

He was quiet and alone in dealing with his personal issues, like she was. But, he was still going out there and helping others and bringing joy, completing sidequests. And that was something she had forgotten. Not since Medjed.

 

Why had she stopped being Medjed?

 

She knew what happened, Mom had happened. She stopped caring about helping others because it had just become too much.

 

But, watching this boy, Ren, help others so readily? It reminded her of something. It was just like when Gaara learned that helping people made him stronger than being alone. Or like when Hawkeye got punched in the face and remembered how to be a good guy again! It honestly felt just like she had been punched, anyways.

 

She wanted to use this to become strong again.

 

But she couldn’t. Not yet.

 

Maybe… Maybe this boy could help.

 

He seemed to power her up. Maybe he was… her key item? She needed him to defeat the final boss, her crippling depression.

 

But how to get him to agree? And how to do it without worrying Sojiro? Could she do it before Sojiro told Ren about her? That way she could have some level of autonomy about it? If he knew about her, it might be harder to convince him to change her heart because he might worry or something. Or think that Sojiro might catch on.

 

Maybe wait until between when Sojiro announces who she is and they meet. She knows Sojiro won’t rush the meeting, he respects her space.

 

Then she can blame the change on him.

 

She blushed at that thought. Then Sojiro might think too much about them.

 

Sojiro would hate it if Ren used all of the suave points he was gaining from helping at Leblanc on her.

 

Wouldn’t that be hilarious?

 

As she giggled to herself about that, she turned to look at her computer, loading up the old Medjed site out of habit. Might as well see what those losers have done with my work anyways.

 

She couldn’t help but furrow her brows as she parsed the site. Look at these fucking amateurs.

 

She’d have to watch this new person trying to use her name. She’d get rid of them if they tried to sully her name, but for now, she’d let them fumble around. They were too textbook to actually cause her any worry, practically copied right from the Police Handbook.

 

But, more important than that, Ren was having another Thieves meeting, and their newest member, Makoto, was the Student Council President who liked to punch shit.

 

Honestly, Goals.

Chapter Text

"A beautiful fairy of Irish lore that yearns for the love of a human man. She drains the life of her lovers in return for granting them artistic inspiration."

—Persona 5 background

 

 

She told herself that she was against men.

 

After everything Kamoshida did, she swore that she would never fall for another man.

 

And yet, here she was, stupidly smitten with this new guy who had saved her from everything. She doubted anything would happen between them, but she couldn’t deny that he had singlehandedly reminded Ann why not every person in the world was evil.

 

Ryuji had reminded her that there was still fun and silliness to have in life, still people willing to fight and to celebrate those fights, but Ren had reminded her that there was still good in the world. That there were people worth fighting for.

 

She knew that she would never be able to fully repay that to him.

 

How do you repay someone who brought life back to your life? Who brought you back from the dead? Who saved you from hell as a fate? And, not only did that, but brought your life to a higher existence? He didn’t just save her from Kamoshida, he showed her how people were supposed to treat her. He didn’t just save her reputation from vile rumors, he made the perception of her positive throughout Shujin. He didn’t just save her, he let her be the instrument that brought Kamoshida down, and then gave her an avenue to keep helping.

 

Heck, he even helped her find a parental figure in Boss, filling the void that her parents had left behind.

 

How could you not fall for someone like that?

 

She would give every moment of the rest of her life to help him. And, she was positive that he had no idea that he had her loyalty like that.

 

And that was honestly the worst part.

 

He was just as damaged and hurt. He was just as neglected and forgotten. She could see in his reactions.

 

Every time they expressed how much Ren meant to them, he would look shocked. Every time they would scruff his hair or lay on his shoulders, he would flinch and look bewildered.

 

But, after the initial shock for all kind interactions, he would just bloom. Just lean into the touch, bathing in the idea that another person wanted contact with him. She could watch the progression of each and every complement on Ren’s face: from disbelief and confusion to slow, begrudging acceptance to joy and warmth at being wanted. While it was a joy to watch each and every time, it also hurt deep in her heart.

 

She had just allowed herself to allow to feel for anyone who wasn’t Shiho again.

 

And everyone she had opened her heart to was hurting, and she could do nothing about it. Not that she could think of. At least not for Ren.

 

With Ryuji, she was at least able to joke and laugh and restart their friendship. And, with each hangout, she could tell Ryuji felt better about himself and was able to overcome the pain of feeling alone for so long.

 

With Yusuke, just being around him was healing for him. And, since she knew he meant well, she was able to roll with his eccentricities and help him to understand others better. Sometimes pose for him for his art, even though she made sure to put down some strong boundaries when it came to that.

 

But, Ren? She had nothing. She left feeling stronger, but she knew that he was just helping her. That these hangouts weren’t for him. And, she had no idea how to help in return. For helping her with her modelling and her self esteem and her dreams and her ability to stand without Shiho, he got nothing.

 

It wasn’t fair.

 

He deserved more. He deserved the world for teaching Ann how to fly again.

 

One day, one day, she’d figure out how to pay him back.

 

But, for now? She’d dedicate her life to him.

Chapter Text

"A master sportsman who entertains the audience in exchange for his own life: one mistake can mean his death. Some believe that matadors who die while performing remain in this world."

—Persona 5 background

 

 

During their last testing meeting, her little guinea pig had mustered up the courage to ask if he could bring some of his friends in for check ups.

 

“Don’t they have doctors of their own?” She had asked.

 

“They might, but I know I gotta make it like an ‘all of us’ thing in order to get our newest friend to see someone. And he needs to see someone.”

 

She sighed. He was not kidding. She had agreed to it after he handed over his school medical chart. Which, honestly, she half wanted to attack the school nurse there for not interceding on the poor kid’s behalf. (“How did you get these?” “I… uh… may have had a friend look into it, I was worried.” “If I didn’t know you, brat.”)

 

Kitagawa-kun, for intents and purposes, was continuing on in life out of pure stubbornness and pride. There was no reason for him to be able to move around as he was, and his grades should not have been as high as they were.

 

The brat had let her know, when she was deciding whether or not to see his friends or not, that the previous guardian for the stick was bad. And, dangled food like a prize in front of him. Well, that would explain the grades. If you don’t get good marks, you don’t get to eat. She really hated people sometimes.

 

One thing she immediately noticed was that there was a lot about these kids that didn’t make sense. She also could tell through her initial check-ups for each of them that they had a lot more in common than one could initially tell.

 

The guinea pig was still small. He was skinnier than he should be. She still chalked it up to stress due to his new life, but it was starting to get a bit better. She still was going to talk to Sojiro about upping his portion sizes, but she wasn’t concerned about his continued health now. The bags under his eyes seemed to be getting bigger now, however. He was pretty adept at hiding them with those glasses of his, but she was able to see them clearly now during his check-up. The silly kid seemed to be taking on the role of mother hen to everyone in the group, if she was reading his interactions with the whole team correctly. And, well, that couldn’t be helping his stress.  (Note: find a way to bulk up his diet and give him assistance with sleep and nightmares)

 

The loud blonde friend, Sakamoto, he was a mess. He knew how to balance his diet (which was more than could said for other people), but he was riddled with injuries. Apparently that teacher that was arrested a few months back had also snapped his entire fucking leg . And, even though he had adapted, the musculature and bones of the leg never fully recovered. And, as she found, he hadn’t the money to do the physical therapy, so he had invented his own by adapting his running workouts. Very inventive, seemed to mostly do the trick, but it did leave him with some permanent damage that would prevent him from ever getting back to his peak condition. And that was an ugly scar on his leg. (Note: see what to do about scar removal and fixing the mishealed leg)

 

Takamaki, the blonde girl, was model quality. Apparently, she actually was a model. But, that didn’t mean she was healthy. While muscles were beginning to grow on her, she still had unhealthy diet issues. She apparently didn’t live with her parents and therefore had complete control over her own diet, and that meant a lot of sweets and fast food. On top of the stress and trauma of sexual assault and watching her friend attempt suicide… her body wasn’t in the best condition. (Note: therapy and set up an appointment for a more thorough trauma check in the future)

 

The newest friend of the brat was Niijima-san. She had seen her sister around Leblanc before, but now apparently the younger one was a constant fixture in the neighborhood. Out of all of the kids in the office, she was probably the healthiest. There were severe stress and anxiety symptoms that she would be negligent to ignore, but she also knew that physically, she was the best off. Diet was healthy, mental aptitude was top-notch, reaction times were above par. But the stress lines and the sleep deprivation was evident. (Note: sleeping pills and maybe some muscle relaxants or braces to keep her limbs secure)

 

And, the true purpose for this whole appointment fiasco, Kitagawa-kun. He, as promised, was a wreck. Anemia, anorexia, depression, sleep deprivation, circulatory issues, and that was just scratching the surface.

 

It had apparently been years since he had last seen a doctor, and the numbers from his school charts were given to his old guardian, Madarame, but were then ignored by the man. (no wonder he was in jail)

 

He barely ate one meal a day, thought being freezing cold was normal, often skipped a few days of sleep in a row, didn’t think he deserved food, and often pushed himself until he collapsed. While he always accepted food when it was offered to him, he didn’t fully understand how much he was lacking until he heard it from an official doctor. And, once he heard it, he was flummoxed.

 

Apparently, his most recent benefactor (to which Ren started to stare at the ceiling when mentioned) had started gifting him his scholarship money in grocery store gift cards, so he was being better at least being able to afford food when he finally caved into the hunger. But, he was hoarding the cards due to being without food for so long. (Note: make regular appointments for him. AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK. Create food plan and make sure he sticks to it. Therapy)

 

Takemi could see each of them flinch when she told them that she recommended therapy. They don’t know who they can trust. She knew that they were up to nothing good, it was obvious. Not only had she been around the brat long enough to know he had to be up to something shady, but they all had some of the same unexplainable symptoms as him.

 

They all had extreme, sudden muscle growth. She could usually tell how recently a person had started working out by the way that their muscles were growing. But, everyone here didn’t make sense. The growth was all recent, but it was all way too sudden to be possible.

 

Each of them had scars and injuries that were both extremely recent yet looked almost old in their healing cycle. While checking their vitals, there were even signs of severe arrhythmia to the point of heart stoppage, and yet, here they were, not dead. They each had that same gait that one got from repeated physical activity and sneaking around. They sure as hell walked in with a lot more surety that most teenagers did to her office. Even though she recommended therapy for all of them for multiple reasons, self-esteem and confidence were not any of the reasons why.

 

And she knew it was all the brat’s fault. And, she knew what they were doing. She had some suspicions about him. None of his injuries or healing times made sense, and it was all sitting with her wrong. But, now, meeting all of his friends, she was sure. He and his little party of fun had to be the Phantom Thieves. And it had to involve some weird ass bullshit. But why else would the kid who is obsessed with helping others through any means possible now be surrounded by victims from each Phantom Thieves venture? Heck, Kaneshiro had just been put away and she saw that he was focusing on Shujin kids the most, and suddenly the student president who happens to be the sister of the lead investigator was here? She did get through med school at a rather young age, she wasn’t stupid.

 

And, as such, she was going to make her hand known, so that they would get help.

 

She’s been watching them, guinea pig in particular, they’re good kids. Whatever bullshit they’re doing, they aren’t being antagonistic. It more looks like they keep running into someone who needs help and decide to help. They seemed to have some unique way to do things that only they could do. And that’s fine.

 

What isn’t fine is that they’re kids and they’re going into something dangerous without help. She can offer help.

 

Whatever she has to do to keep them mentally sane and to get Kitagawa back into this office.

 

They aren’t going to stop, she can see how stubborn they all, but she can at least help them to get out of it all alive. They’re running on fumes, probably off of the adrenaline from whatever makes the Phantom Thieves able to steal hearts. And while they were able to just look like tired teenagers to the world, she could see the signs that they would collapse from exhaustion without help. Teens often think they’re invincible, after all. And, for these kids at least, she would like to let them keep thinking that. She was sure that if they started to second guess themselves they would fall into more danger.

 

Finishing her musing, she made the last few notes on her clipboard for how to take care of them.


Now, she thinks it’s about time to give the brat another discount on medical supplies. And a copy of the food plan she made for Kitagawa, since he wrote the kid down as a secondary for health records. Hell, all the kids did. Guess that makes my little guinea pig the leader. Isn’t that cute.

Chapter Text

"An evil monster of Japanese lore known for its hideous visage and brute strength. They plunder and loot villages, massacring the townspeople with their iron clubs. They have a horn on their heads, red skin, and razor-sharp teeth."

—Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey compendium

 

 

Ren yawned as he slid his dishes from breakfast into the sink. He lazily waved to Sojiro as he left for the station. Rubbing his eyes in the light, he repositioned his bag on his shoulder before moving into the main path to the station.

 

He went to smile at the nice old couple that ran the secondhand shop, but was glared at by one of the early customers.

 

That’s how it always was, the older couple just knew that he had moved in to work at Leblanc while going to school, and so they showered him with affection and thanked him for their coffee each day. The younger man, however, was a cop who was made aware of the situation and made sure to shit on him every morning that they ran into each other.

 

Not really in the mood to be verbally berated this early in the day, Ren put his head back down and scurried down the way before there could be any trouble. Once he felt he was safely far enough away to not have an incident, he let himself have a sigh. Well, there goes my good morning.

 

Today was a day that he had to stand on the way to Shibuya, and so he had to hug Morgana close to his chest while trying to have the least amount of people bump into him.

 

And, as it turned out, today seemed to be “Bump Into Ren” Day, and there seemed to be no end to the jostling. Which left Ren very frazzled as he emerged from the train to find his transfer to school.

 

As he wandered through the hallways to get to his next train, he was surrounded by all the whispered from other Shujin kids who were noticing him.

 

I hope he doesn’t get on my carriage.

 

Ugh, why does he keep going to this school?

 

You are better than them. I know, Arsene.

 

Ren refused to let his face betray that he heard them and kept walking forward towards the train.

 

Until he, almost literally, ran into Akechi.

 

Fucking perfect.

 

“Oh, hello there, Amamiya. Fancy running into you here.”

 

“Good morning, Akechi.” Ren responded, trying his best to bring a smile to his face. Of all the people I run into this morning, of course it had to be him.

 

As he tried his best to waffle through pleasantries with Akechi without being rude, as he was extremely tired still, he couldn’t help but hear the chatter behind him.

 

He knows Akechi? How?

 

Akechi is talking even to the criminal? He’s so ~pure~!

 

Oh my goodness, the hot Detective Prince and the hot school criminal! What a pair!

 

That piece of shit criminal needs to stop bothering Akechi-kun!

 

The smile was getting harder to fake the more the whispers permeated his space.

 

Akechi eventually seemed to pick up on Ren’s lack of enthusiasm, “Oh, I’m sorry for keeping you. You must have been up late doing homework. I’ll chat with you again in the future.”

 

Ren nodded back, “Yeah, thanks. I, uh, had a big project due today. Between that and my jobs, I’ve been running on low. Sorry for having to end it suddenly.”

 

“Oh, it’s fine. I have to be off anyways. Same as you, I have a project due today and must present it before getting back to the police station to do some work. Busy, busy!”

 

And with a flippant wave, Akechi parted from Ren and jumped onto his own transfer. Which left immediately. And meant that Ren’s had left just a moment before hand. Fucking A. Of course I missed the train I wanted to take today. Perfect.

 

Which meant that Ren had to deal with all the people staring at him for being friends with Akechi, and every Shujin student talking about how he was going to murder everyone in the station. He just wanted to go to school and get that over with and maybe go to Kanoshiro’s Palace again. Everyone was just too much. Everything was just too much.

 

He chose to focus rather intently at the PT group chat and plug in his headphones to block out the noise. He usually tried to not depend on his headphones, and he was afraid of being snuck up on while they were blocking out the world. But, to be honest, he was feeling extremely frazzled.

 

After texting Yusuke to make sure he ate breakfast and took his medicine, the next train finally arrived. He bolted on as soon as he could and was able to snipe a seat. Finally, something goes right today. He let his body rest for a moment while he pulled his bag into his lap. Zipping open the bag enough to let Morgana see what was going on, he gave himself a moment to breathe. Morgana noticed the tension and scooted over enough so he could butt Ren’s hand.

 

Ren picked up the hint and started softly petting his head, scratching under the chin just the way Morgana loves. Even through the bag, the purrs could be felt and brought a strong level of peace to Ren that had been missing all day.

 

As the train traveled towards Shujin, Ren had texted each of the Thieves and made sure that they had all left for school and had all of their work done, had eaten breakfast, were ready for Kanoshiro’s Palace after school. He did not always do a check-in with everyone, but he needed to feel in control of something this morning. He also needed to interact with people who truly wanted him around.

 

By the time he arrived at Shujin, he felt that perhaps he could do this. He could make it through today.

 

But then he entered the halls of the school. And, well, apparently the fact that he had chatted with Akechi so casually was running rampant through the school, to the point where even more exciting rumors were coming out.

 

He couldn’t help but flop down at his desk by the time he arrived in his classroom. Ann turned around with an eyebrow raised, “What bit you this morning?”

 

“Don’t you know? I’m apparently in a torrid love affair with Akechi and that’s why I was let off with probation instead of jail for murdering a man?”

 

Wide eyes were all he got in response.

 

“Or, did you know that he was the one who caught me, and that’s why I’ve had to move to Tokyo, so he could keep an eye on me so I don’t become a serial killer. You know, since I’m from a small town, I’m obviously trying to be a copycat Inaba killer or some shit. I grew up there! I don’t want to freaking cause that panic again! Nanako-chan almost died!”

 

“Oh. That’s where you came from?”

 

“Yep!”

 

“Hey, uh. If you’re feeling too stressed, feel free to zone out. I’ll make sure you get a copy of the notes.” Genki leaned over and joined their conversation.

 

Ann startled backwards. “Midori?” She stared at Ren to gauge the acceptability of what was going on.

 

“Thank you so much, Genki. I might just take you up on that. And, well, I think we’re going to have a meeting during lunch, if you don’t mind. With the whole crew.”

 

“On it! I’ll let Chihiro know!”

 

Ann just stared. “I, uh, know that you said that you chatted with some other students, but I didn’t realize that you had a whole crew. What gives?”

 

“I have friends.” Ren shrugged.

 

Ann was about to question further when the final bell rang, forcing her to turn around in her seat as the teacher entered.

 

But, while that caused Ann to turn around, it didn’t stop the undercurrent of the class.

 

He’s from Inaba?

 

He must have learned everything he knows from the Inaba Killer!

 

He’s gonna string us up from the wires!

 

I hope Akechi knows to be careful around him

 

I hope the Phantom Thieves change the criminal’s heart next!


---

 

“Okay, Ren. How did you want to spin these rumors about you and Inaba, and you and Akechi.”

 

“Just,” he sighed, “make them go away. Please.”

 

Chihiro sat up straight at that. “You sure? You usually like to shape..”

 

“Yes. Make them stop. At least for now.”

 

“Are you… okay?”

 

“No.”

 

Ren’s head is entirely in his hands now.

 

Mishima flipped his chair around and sat leaning against the backrest. “Hey, Ren. What’s wrong? You don’t usually let things hit you. I mean, you’re totally allowed to, like, I don’t know, feel things. But, like, you usually are so calm and passe, and like…. What I’m trying to say is why is this set of rumors too much for you?”

 

“Today’s just… been a day. Everything has gone wrong. Plus, while I do know Akechi, something about him seems off to me, and I don’t want to be that firmly connected to him. Plus, he isn’t a Phantom Thieves fan. I’ve been chatting with him to understand the dissent, and that’s it. Also, not a fan of the idea that I’m seducing anyone .”

 

“Okay, that explains Akechi. And, I’ll do what I can without it seeming like a cover up.” Chihiro nodded as she took some notes. “But what’s wrong with Inaba?”

 

“That’s the thing,” Ren’s eyes narrowed, “there is nothing wrong with Inaba. It’s an amazing tiny town with nice people everywhere. There was one transfer cop who got bored and murdered some people. His last attempted victim was a friend of mine, one of the kids I babysat. Luckily, her cousin who was living with her managed to find her and save her before she died. But she was in the hospital for a while. But, the idea that because I’m from Inaba that I have to be a murderer and I have to be emulating him. ” Disdain was dropping from his voice as he finished his diatribe.

 

Three worried faces looked back at him. Four, actually, as Morgana had popped his head out of the desk and was pawing at Ren as well.

 

“Hey, Ren, is that why you don’t talk about home that much?” Morgana questioned.

 

Ren gave a scritch to Morgana’s ear, “Yeah.”

 

Genki smiled at the cat, happy that the feline seemed to help break Ren from that rant.

 

“So, Ren,” he cleared his throat, not really wanting to break up the cute moment, “that doesn't really answer why you’re letting everything hit you so hard today? You’ve heard worse. I mean, I get that the Inaba stuff is personal, but like, the Akechi rumors? Those have been brewing since the TV Station trip.”

 

“I don’t really know, if I’m gonna be honest. They’ve just been piecing me more lately. Getting under my skin. I just… I just… I just feel kinda like they see me as a monster lately. And it is getting to be overwhelming, being seen as the big bad and not the person who has been doing their best to help them. I think it’s a new persona that I picked up or something, but it’s really getting to me until I figure out that balance.”

 

“A new persona?” Chihiro cut through. “I feel like that means more than the typical use of the word persona.”

 

“To put it lightly, yes. It has to do with the weird mumbo-jumbo that the Thieves do. It has a weird effect on me sometimes.”

 

“Okay. Just, know that you’re not a monster. Currently people don’t understand you, and, as Mishima and I have been showing you, there is a concentrated effort by the administration to keep your overall image down. But, we’re gonna find out where that order is ultimately coming from and bring it down. Remember, that’s a bullet point on our overall to-do list. And remember, we’re the ones focusing on this, so you don’t have to. You can just focus on the supernatural bullshit.” She made a casual sweeping motion with her hand, “Now, you’ve given me a direction and reasoning behind it. I can make do with this. Now, lunch is almost over, finish your food and let me get to work.”

 

With that dismissal, she swept up all of her things and left for her own classroom, with a nod to Kawakami on her way out.

 

“I know that you don’t want the Thieves to see you being so down and feeling out of control, because you are supposed to be their cool headed leader. But, remember you’re human, and they care for you. You can share with them sometimes too.” Genki quietly put his hand on Ren’s shoulder. He then handed him the already copied notes from the morning classes onto his desk.

 

At Ren’s shocked face, he smiled, “Hey, this is what I was doing during lunch. Remember, this squad here, the spy squad, we’re here to support you. We aren’t doing the missions, we’re making sure you can get through the day.”

 

Genki gave a final pat on his shoulder and then sat in his own seat, with Morgana leaping onto Genki’s desk for a few scratches before any other students came in, with a sigh from Kawakami alerting them to the fact that she was very aware of the cat and didn’t want to get in trouble for that fact.

 

Mishima was last to head back to his seat, but not before turning to Ren and grinning. “Hey, thanks for opening up to us. It, well, it really motivates me to work even harder on the PhanSite and on these side projects. I will crack this code, because I can see the effect it is having, and I know it’s effecting not only you, but everyone at Shujin. I may not be a Thief, I may not be putting my life on the line, but I’m doing all I can to make sure you guys have as good as a shot as you can, okay?” he accentuated his final line with a small fist pump and headed back to his seat as Ann came bursting back into the room.

 

She slid into her seat and spun around before Ren even had the chance to blink.

 

“Hmmmmm….” She looked him over. “You look a lot better now than you did earlier! What happened?”

 

“Oh, you know, some good food. Boss packed me some curry.” He shrugged.

 

“That makes sense! I was getting concerned! Can’t have our leader feeling off right before another heist, that wouldn’t work. Glad you aren't letting those stupid gossips get to you!” She spun back in her seat, chipper as could be.

 

Ren sighed, he might be feeling extra tired and sensitive due to a new persona, but he was able to support his team, and he had a team to support him. He could bear being the monster of Shujin for a little bit longer.

 

Chapter Text

"One of the Ssu-Ling, celestial creatures of Chinese myth. It is a giant bird that is said to chirp in five beautiful voices. It represents the direction south, the season of summer, and the element of fire."

—Persona 5 compendium

 

 

The Beef Bowl shop was almost a place of safety. He came here enough that he never had to worry about people talking bad to him, as the staff would always defend him. Plus, it had his favorite comfort food, which was something he sorely needed at the moment.

 

As Yoshida slumped into his favorite spot in the shop, he felt all of the stress from campaigning slide off of him. He had forgotten how exhausting it was to be campaigning, especially with the added age. Why the hell am I doing this again? He couldn’t help but think to himself until he saw a familiar face come up to take his order.

 

Amamiya-san was in front of him, with his normal calming smile, notepad in hand. “Did you want your usual, Tora-san?”

 

“Oh, yes. Thank you so much. And, will I see you tomorrow evening?”

 

“Yes, sir. I even made a new sign.” Amamiya gave a polite bow and rushed off to the back to prepare his meal.

 

Just as it was every time he interacted with the high schooler, Yoshida was amazed by the kid. The strange warm feeling in his chest aside, he felt driven the more he was around him.

 

---

 

The next day, Yoshida was heading to the 7-11 around the corner from his favorite campaigning spot to grab something to drink before his speech. As he approached the shop in question, he saw movement in the corner of his eye.

 

Following the flicker of movement, he noticed a black cat’s tail. It seemed really familiar but… it couldn’t be…

 

And, somehow, it was. Peering in the windows, he noticed that the cashier at the register was none other than Amamiya-san.

 

How many jobs does that kid work?

 

He watched for another minute or two, saw his assistant be nothing but perfect with guests. Each conversation was given full attention, each product was stocked with pinpoint accuracy, He smile looked genuine.

 

The cat had wandered back over to him and almost seemed like he was gauging his reaction. Absentmindedly, he held his hand out and gave him a quick scratch behind the ears.

 

Yoshida couldn’t help but smile to himself. He’d just grab a drink from the vending machine, he wouldn’t want to embarrass the kid at work. He’d see after his shift anyways for the speech.

 

---

 

He didn’t let himself drink often, wanted to make sure it wasn’t the vice of his youth. But, every so often, he would allow himself a night to rest.

 

His favorite bar was located at a tiny corner of Shinjuku. An old coworker who now went by Lala-chan started up a bar, and she always gave him great drinks. And so, to help his friend’s business out, he became as much of a regular as he felt comfortable.

 

Stepping into the bar and sliding into his favorite booth, he looked up to wave at Lala-chan only to freeze in his place.

 

Amamiya-san was behind the counter, cleaning dishes and filling glasses with water or soda. What was he doing working at a bar?

 

Lala-chan noticed his half wave and gave a smirk as she headed over to him, his favorite drink already in hand. Yoshida couldn’t help but be confused by her smile.

 

“Well, hello there, big guy. I haven’t seen you in a bit.”

 

“Hello, Lala-chan. How have you been? Wait. Wait. That’s not my question!”

 

“Well, what is?”

 

“Why do you have Amamiya-san working behind the bar? Don’t you know he’s underage!”

 

“Of course I do. He isn’t allowed to so much as breathe in the direction of the alcohol. He cleans and gives out nonalcoholic drinks to make my life easier.”

 

There was an immediate sigh of relief. “But how did he even get here?”

 

“He helped out Ichiko. Was good enough with people that I offered to pay him if he decided to show up again.”

 

“He is really good at helping people, isn’t he?”

 

“It’s a talent. It’s honestly the main reason I wanted him to come back… You see that woman he’s talking to now? She’s been so distraught lately, and since he’s been helping out she’s been smiling and looking a lot better. He’s good.”

 

“He’s my Campaign Assistant and Intern.”

 

She looked at him with an impressed glance. “You chose well.”

 

“I know I did.”

 

He took another sip of the drink Lala-chan had brought him.

 

---

 

Yongen-Jaya was a bit out of the way, but the doctor there was the best.

 

He had started using her back when she was brand new at the larger hospital close to the middle of the city… but after she had left to start her own practice, he couldn’t help but follow her. She was the best physician he had had in years, and he as damned if he was going to lose her due to being too lazy to ride the train a few more stops.

 

As he traversed the serpentine alley ways to get to the clinic, he couldn’t help but smile. Corners of Tokyo like this always were great reminders of how community should be. These people all worked together and lived together and looked out for one another. They made this little corner home, and managed to make the big city feel smaller and more manageable.

 

A alley block away from his destination, he was stopped by the tantalizing aroma of fresh coffee. Gazing towards the smell, he saw a quaint little cafe, “Leblanc…. Hmmmm… I’ll stop there on the way home.”

 

He nodded to himself and then started to walk again.

 

Until he heard the slam of a door towards that quaint cafe.

 

“Why are you and your damn friends so LOUD?”

 

“I just wanted to make sure you could hear me with your hearing aids at home!”

 

“Cheeky brat! Take your damn cat and your damn friends and let me have some QUIET!”

 

“I’ll be back later to work, don’t you worry. I don’t want to rob you of the ONLY HUMAN CONTACT YOU HAVE TODAY!”

 

“I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP!”

 

“I’M SO PROUD THAT YOU KNOW YOUR OWN ADDRESS!”

 

A dishrag flew out the door to the cafe that he had been ogling a moment beforehand. It flew right over the head of a group of teens, one of which being his intern. Who was currently laughing with his whole being. Head was thrown back, mouth wide open, arms gasping his sides.

 

The friends who were with him, all about his age, were chuckling with slightly less enthusiasm than him.

 

“Dude, how’re you so relaxed around your guardian?”

 

“It’s like you said, Ryuji, he’s like my dad.”

 

“I could never talk to my dad like that…” the blonde boy scuffed the ground with his shoe.

 

“I bet you could sass Boss though. You know he loves all of you guys.”

 

“He’s right, Ryuji! He makes me hot chocolate and lets me talk about work and boy drama all the time. I don’t miss my parents as much when he’s around.”

 

The two blondes keep bickering as Amamiya-san crouched down to pick up the thrown dishrag. Folding it very carefully, he opened his bag and placed it behind the cat head that popped out.

 

The dark haired boy with them mentioned how “Boss” always allowed him to hang up his current painting, and he assumed that was fatherly, while the dark haired girl looked on wistfully.

 

Smiling at the scene, and at finally seeing his assistant with friends and having fun, he kept on his way to the clinic.

 

“So, Dr. Takemi. I had a question about a resident here.”

 

“You know I can’t share any medical info.”

 

“No, no. I just didn’t realize that my assistant lived out here. And was curious.”

 

“Oh? And who is that?”

 

“Amamiya-san. I just saw him leaving that coffee shop, Leblanc?”

 

“Oh! Pig-kun? He helps out here sometimes. And he lives above Leblanc, so it would make sense that you saw him there. Sakura-san did mention that the kid was busy a lot… but if he’s helping you out… that makes sense.”

 

“Pig-kun…? But he lives above a coffee shop? And helps out here? What doesn’t he do…”

 

“I ask that question myself often… that is a kid with far too much on his plate.”

 

“But, he seemed happy.”

 

“Good. He deserves that.”

 

“Yes. Yes he does.”

 

---

 

The station at Shibuya was hectic as always.

 

Why he had decided to have that meeting right after schools got out was beyond him. He really should have known better.

 

But, the hustle and bustle did give Yoshida a great insight to how people were truly doing. The more busy times were when people were more themselves. As one in a large crowd, they felt safe to react as they wanted to. So, he liked to people watch as he joined the crowd.

 

That lady over there was stressed watching her kid run around, the man over there was on his phone, looking aggravated as he kept massaging his head with each answer he gave, and then there was a group of teens that included Amamiya-san over there.

 

There was a group of teens that included Amamiya-san over there?

 

Doing a quick double take, he saw his assistant surrounded by a bunch of other teens from multiple schools. All of them were very clearly looking up to him as he (and his cat?) spoke, nodding after each pause he took.

 

He slowly crept closer to see what was going on.

 

“Are you guys ready for the mission? Mishima gave us some more Mementos requests. And, then there was the one that you gave us as well, Yusuke. We’ll take care of these bullies and assholes, and use this as training to get ready for the Calling Card for Kaneshiro.”

 

Eyes wide, Yoshida took a step back. He’s a Phantom Thief? No… He’s THE Phantom Thief.

 

He stumbled backwards for a moment, shaking his head. Initial shock wearing off, he looked back to the teens. They were all deadly serious, they all knew what they were doing. They had all succeeded before, right?

 

And he knew Amamiya-san. That kid was the best sort. He helped everyone who asked for help, and then even some who didn’t. Of course he would be the one to create secret system to call out crimes and improve society.

 

Honestly, the more he thought about it, the Phantom Thieves were the most Amamiya thing that could be done. Get a bunch of people who feel hurt by society and have them reform it from the inside out.

 

He watched for a few more moments, until the kids started to get ready to leave. He made sure he was out of sight until they had collected their stuff and headed to an abandoned corner. Peeking around the corner, all he saw was feet disappearing into a wall.

 

What.

 

He stared for a few more moments, completely unbelieving of what he had just seen.

 

He was doing some weird magic thing to reform criminals.

 

Another beat.

 

Okay.

 

Amamiya-san knew what he was doing. He had to keep focusing on that fact.

 

And Kaneshiro, his current objective apparently, was a well known mafia boss.

 

He’s going after a mafia boss.

 

He’s beaten others, he’ll be fine.

 

Well, he was going to have to continue to promote the Phantom Thieves and their underlying message of freedom more in his speeches, wasn’t he?

 

He had to help out his assistant, just like his assistant had helped him refind who he was.

 

If he changes hearts, I’ll just have to help change minds.

Chapter Text

"One of the four aspects of Shinto thought, it works gently to help maintain a calm mind. It is said to aid in one's relations and sociability, and can lead one in a positive direction."

—Persona 5 background

 

 

Why did she even bother writing this paper if she wasn’t going to put in a single thing that we talked about in class?

 

Kawakami furiously scribbled notes in the margin of the the offending paper, sighing as she looked over to the still towering stack next to her.

 

I’ll never get this done.

 

She allowed herself her allotted 30 seconds of hanging her head in exhaustion before preparing herself for the carnage to language that she was about to read. When her phone rang.

 

Her “work” phone.

 

A sharp intake of air was paired with a grimace as she reached for the phone and steeled herself to use her Becky voice.

 

Until she saw who it was.

 

Ren.

 

Oh thank goodness.

 

“~Hello <3~”

 

“Think you can swing by tonight?”

 

“~I always have time for you, you know that.~”

 

“Except the last time I called you were busy.” She could hear the teasing in his voice.

 

“~I was working on something special for you, you know that.~”

 

“Yeah, that pop quiz. So, so, special.”

 

“~Shhhh you. I’ll be over in just a bit!~”

 

She hung up the phone and smiled. He was by far her best assignment. Plus, she’d probably be able to get his help to grade these papers, as well as some of his coffee. Well, time to clean up here and head on over. That money was calling her name!

 

---

 

A bit of light cleaning and light cajoling of her student later, she was settled in her favorite booth on the ground floor of Leblanc. Stack of papers was back out, but this time was accompanied by a pot of coffee brewing just for her.

 

As she took her first sip of coffee, she allowed herself a moment to rest.

 

Almost like a vacuum, her next exhale sucked all of the irritation at the paper she was looking at out of her. Drooping forward slightly from the aftereffects of that breath, she let herself just feel inward for a moment, enjoying the sensation that she was feeling.

 

Each sip of coffee that she took in this worn booth in the middle of this small corner of the city took a little bit more of the weight off of her shoulders.

 

The anxiety inducing phone calls from Takese’s family. The rejection from work telling her she wasn’t popular enough for more shifts. The pain of having to ‘service’ those old men. The insanity that has lied in the wake of Kamoshida’s confession.

 

With each consequent sip, another trouble faded away.

 

She almost felt as if she were floating.

 

Strangely, it was here, at this coffee shop, working as a sex maid (without the sex part) for her underage student, that she felt something that could be considered calm.

 

The only thing stopping her from thinking herself a normal teacher that didn’t have a hidden life was the maid’s outfit she was wearing and the student sitting across from her copying her notes for tomorrow’s lesson now so he could read during class tomorrow.

 

Regardless, this was a place that no one else had. These were moments that weren’t connected to any of her other troubles. Not even her home had that luxury of feeling safe anymore after Takese’s family found out about it.

 

She had found her peaceful place.

 

And no one was going to take that away from her.

 

“Ren?”

 

“Yeah, Sensei?” he perked up, ready to get up and refill her mug once more.

 

“Would you mind if I came here during the day as well? It’s just… this place helps me focus more than anywhere else I’ve been.”

 

“It does have that effect… doesn’t it?” he shrugged, “I don’t see why not. I’d rather you not mention the maid thing to Sojiro, my guardian. I don’t think I have to explain why. But you can say that I mentioned it to you one day while you were tutoring me after school.”

 

“I don’t…. Tutor you after school….”

 

“It’s the easiest answer. Please.” His eyes were imploring her, this was a much deeper request than just to save face.

 

“Sure. I’ll say that’s how I heard.”

 

“Thank you.” Relief overtook his whole face.

 

“No. Thank you.” She gave an earnest smile back. “By the way, you messed up your verb declension here.”

 

Eyes wide, he glanced at the homework she was grading and groaned. “I thought so, but Ann was so positive that I trusted her.”

 

“You should know better than that by now. Aren’t you friends with Nijima-san now? You should trust her judgement instead.” she waggled her grading pen in front of his face with a grin.

 

Another groan from him was followed her laughter.

 

---

 

It was a pleasant rainy Sunday.

 

No appointments, no school, no crowds.

 

She followed her nose once getting off at the Yongen-Jaya station to the coffee shop she was now considering a home.

 

Slightly unnerved at how different the atmosphere would be during the day, instead of the privacy and calm of after hours, she forced herself to go forward.

 

If it is horrible, then I make a request of Ren to work after hours there more often. But I have to find out first.

 

Within moments of entering though, her concerns slipped away with the water off of her umbrella.

 

The cozy atmosphere was still present. Her favorite booth was still open.

 

There was an elderly couple watching the very low volume news in the corner, but the place was otherwise empty.

 

Ren’s guardian, Sakura-san, was sitting at one of the bar stools, sipping on a cup of coffee with one hand while the other held the newspaper open.

 

At the closing of the door, he glanced up. Once he noticed that it was, in fact, a customer, he straightened from his slouched position, placed his items on the counter, gave a hearty, “Welcome!”

 

She smiled and nodded back and then placed her things in her booth.

 

“Oh, you’re Ren’s teacher? What brings you out here?” his eyes were slightly wide in recognition.

 

“Oh, well,” she hesitated for a quick second, remember Ren’s request, “Ren told me about this place one day after school. I was helping him with a question and he gave me some coffee in return. I demanded to know where he got it.” She smiled. “I had no idea that it was your coffee shop! No wonder he seems to always have coffee.”

 

He chuckled in return, “I may have a part in his blossoming caffeine addiction.” He scratched the back of his head embarrassingly.

 

“So, can I have a cup?”

 

“Sure thing. I’ll bring it over to you.”

 

The same level of serene peace washed over her as she slipped back into her booth. Being here in her normal garb only helped her feel more herself.

 

Pulling out her papers, she got to work. That pop quiz she had made fun of Ren with before wasn’t going to grade itself.

 

In fact… Ren’s was on the top. And he had drawn a picture of a cat in the corner. She guessed it was Morgana. Who, if she was to be honest, a great companion for grading papers. She used him as she imagined a programmer would use a rubber duck while coming up with lesson plans and trying to figure out exactly where a student went wrong while grading. And he seemed to like the company as well, as well as she could read a cat.

 

While she was smiling at the cat drawing, Sakura-san had snuck up to her table with her coffee. Placing it down in front of her, he then sat in the stool closest to her booth.

 

“So, Kawakami-san, what are you working on?”


“Just grading some pop quizzes that I gave this week.”

 

He peered over, “Is that Ren’s?”

 

“Yep! Look at this cat he drew!”

 

“Wow…. he’s getting pretty good at art. I’ve seen him scribbling form time to time, but he’s getting really proficient at it. It looks just like his cat, Morgana.”

 

“That’s what I thought too.”

 

He tilted his head, “You’ve seen him?”

 

“Just pictures. He’s very attached.” Many of those pictures are on my own phone, but you don't need to know that.

 

“That’s a word for it.”

 

The two of them shared a quick laugh, both blowing off how aware of the connection between cat and boy was.

 

“So, uh, how does he do in your class? I know he’s been bringing home good grades as far as I know, but… you know…”

 

“He’s honestly one of my best students. He’s made some friends, he is top of the class. He scares the rest of the students into paying attention due to the probation status. It’s honestly fantastic. It’s the best behaved class in years.”

 

He scoffed at that. “I mean, I know he spends a lot of time studying, but top of the class? And well behaved? Have you seen his snark?”

 

“Oh, I have.” she gave a devious smirk, “But he seems dead set on only using it when other students are being out of line. We have, how you say, a silent agreement.”

 

“Please, do tell.” He replied, filling her cup once more.

 

A full smile was on her lips as she dove into telling him about his defense of Midori-san who sat behind him.

 

---

 

“Ren, don’t forget you’re meeting Yusuke soon.” Morgana’s tail swished back and forth in worry, refusing to curl.

 

“I know, I know. I’m getting ready.” Ren straightened the lapels on his blazer, and pressed them down to help them stick.

 

Giving himself one last yawn where Boss couldn’t see it, he grabbed his bag and started down the stairs.

 

“Don’t forget the umbrella! It’s raining!” he responded with a puffed up tail.

 

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. I promise I wouldn’t have actually gone out without it.” he scratched behind his ears awkwardly as he turned around to grab the offending umbrella.

 

“You better not have!” Morgana yowled as he lept into his spot in the bag as Ren passed his spot next to the stairs.

 

A deep chuckle escaped Ren’s throat as he headed down the stairs.

 

It was then stopped abruptly has he froze on the landing watching the scene before him.

 

Kawakami was in the cafe, this time in normal clothes, back to work grading papers. With Sojiro leaning towards her on the closest bar stool, chatting and laughing with her.

 

Her face…

 

It was the most at peace that he had ever seen her. The stress lines from working two jobs and feeling pressured from all angles seemed to be lifted from her as she laughed at something Boss said.

 

Leblanc had some sort of healing and calming magic somewhere in the groundwork, and he was so happy that he was able to bring someone who deserved that here.

 

He snuck down the stairs and grabbed his thermos of coffee has quietly as he could. Using his Joker moves, he swept around the counter and swung his arm around Boss.

 

“Good morning! How are the two of you today!”

 

“Demon child!” Boss nearly fell off of his stool as he barked at Ren.

 

Kawakami, meanwhile, was full-on laughing.

 

“I’m doing just fine, Demon-san. I must thank you for telling me about this place. It’s been great for my working.”

 

“Are you sure, it seems the employee is bothering you.”

 

“Shut up, kid.”

 

She giggled once more at the level of comfort between the two of them.

 

“He’s just keeping me company. It’s nice to talk to someone close to my age sometimes.”

 

“See kid, back off. Now, go have fun with your friends.”

 

Ren saluted with some sass and headed towards the door.

 

“And stop drawing your cat on all of your tests!”

 

Ren whipped around and stared gobsmacked at Kawakami.

 

“I drew that for you. How dare you share my masterpiece with the world?!?” he tried to look affronted.

 

“You need to work on the tail tufts more.”

 

“Good thing I’m hanging out with Yusuke then.”

 

“Tell art boy to come get some more curry with you after you guys are done. He needs to keep filling out.”

 

The two guys shared a final nod as Ren finally made his way out of the coffee shop.

 

“Art boy?” Kawakami asked after making sure Ren was gone.

 

“He picked up this friend from Kosei. He’s there on art scholarship, but he was one of the Madarame pupils, so he’s been in bad shape. I’m trying to get that kid out of anorexia. It’s a joint effort of Ren and I’s to be honest.”

 

He cares for so many kids that are not his own. I wish I could say the same about my teaching… Maybe I can learn a thing or two from this man.

 

She settled back into grading, making sure to share mishaps she ran into with Sojiro along the way.

 

This….

 

This was going to be her new safe place.

Chapter Text

"A creature of Japanese lore with a monkey's head, tiger's legs, and snake's tail. The Tale of Heike says it hid behind a dark cloud each night to attack the Emperor."

—Persona 5 background

 

 

Ren: Hey, thanks again for your help

Ren: You’re the best

 

Holy shit. How to respond to that?

 

Yuuki held his phone, staring at the most recent notification. The grin on his face was almost painful, but he was doing all that he could to keep from shouting out in joy.

 

His parents were already mad at him for not being on the team anymore, even if Kamoshida was a scumbag. They were barely accepting his choice to focus on technology as his ticket to the future…. And only because they couldn’t deny that was where the jobs lie. But… If he were to be loud while they were home, that would be a major problem. “You should be getting all that energy out in sports!”

 

Letting himself have a quick and vigorous dance while staying seated in his chair, he couldn’t get over the fact that he was helping the Phantom Thieves.

 

Him!

 

The nobody, the forgotten, the mediocre.

 

Yuuki Mishima was an important to the future of Tokyo. Was calling out evil and was instrumental to squashing it back down.

 

No, not squashing it down, because that means it’s just hiding once more.

 

He was eradicating evil.

 

Disassembling it.

 

HIM!

 

Sure, he wasn’t the one dong the actual, on the ground work. That was Ren and the others. And, to be honest, that was fine. Ren had given him the rundown of what he did in that Metaverse and he wanted NO part of that. As he had learned under his… tutelage… under Kamoshida was that he wasn’t the strongest or bravest guy.

 

No, the background was good enough for him.

 

He was like the gear that set things moving. He was the starting point. He was the one who found targets for Ren, sent them forward, triggered the weakened state for stealing, and was thanked.

 

He got all of the thanks.

 

He’d never felt so loved in his whole life.

 

As he fell back into his seat, slouching and looking at his phone, still open to the text conversation with Ren, he couldn’t help but feel exhausted.

 

They apparently were adding more people to the front lines team, and therefore needed to supply them with plenty of missions to do training runs on. It was, honestly, pretty hard to scour through all of the requests to see which ones were worth his precious team’s time. There were so many petty requests that he didn’t want them to waste time on. He also would skip through people that he didn’t feel were worthy of help.

 

He had seen that Ren had decided to help Genki’s bully. He couldn’t help but scoff at the idea of it, even now.

 

He sure as hell wouldn’t have wasted time on the lowlife that was that bully.

 

It’s hard enough to keep a stock of all the missions to send out to the ground squad when they choose to act out on their own.

 

Yuuki sighed.

 

I mean, I guess it’s fine that they find the prime time people themselves. But, ugh, they won’t stop stepping on my toes when it comes to all the other stuff.

 

Why couldn’t Ren accept that the freedom to choose the higher level targets was already a great concession?

 

He shook his head.

 

He was here to help the Phantom Thieves. That was that. He gave them advice and did the things that they couldn’t. He was important and vital to the mission.

 

He sighed and took a swig of his soda before turning back to his computer screen. There were a lot requests to sift through, some threads to moderate, and he could feel that he was near a breakthrough on the Principal’s files. There was a giant obstacle in front of him, but something he picked up on last night seemed to be a good starting point to look at the situation differently.

 

Sparing a glance under his desk while the site was loading up, he confirmed that his new pack of soda was there.

 

Good. This is going to be a long night.

 

But… for Ren? It’s worth it.

 

Yuuki would take care of things on this side of the fight and in reality, while Ren and friends took care of other side of the coin and struck from the shadows.

 

He was the Q of the this mission. And he could not fail.

 

Yuuki: It’s nothing!

Yuuki: Glad I can help!

Yuuki: I’ll let you know if anything else pops up!

Chapter Text

"A female demon in Hindu lore. Though originally a Dravidian fertility goddess, the spread of Hinduism changed perception of her to a demonic figure. Usually depicted as a nude, voluptuous, female."

Persona 5 background



 

 

Shujin had always been her safe haven. With everything else going on in her life, being at this school was a normal thing.

 

She was a normal girl, going to normal classes. She wasn’t being pampered, she wasn’t being treated differently. She was just another face in the crowd.

 

This year, however, decided to throw a wrench into her plans. Of course, it was just as things were revving up in her personal life as well. She had really been hoping that the calmness of average that flowed through Shujin would continue this year, so that she could have something to cling to through all the turmoil.

 

But, alas, it was not so.

 

The school was exploding with gossip and ever so exciting situations every time she so much as blinked.

 

A convict joined the school.

 

The Olympic gym teacher ended up being a rapist.

 

The Phantom Thieves seemed to have taken residence in their student body, and nobody knew who they were.

 

The school newspaper was much more bold and aggressive than previous years, writing hard hitting investigations about the student body and school administration.

 

Her father was getting more and more irritated at all of the news coming from the school, wondering if it was worth letting her go to “that plebeian school.” Each new defense to hold onto her freedom and peace of mind was getting harder and harder to grasp.

 

As amazing as all of this was, Haru just wanted to have a moment of peace away from everything going on with the Okumura brand.

 

Thankfully, she had her garden on the rooftop. Her one true respite.

 

She sighed as she started up the stairs to the roof during lunch. She usually only went up before or after school, to avoid the crowds and be able to collect herself before having to deal with reality. However, as she approached the top of the stairs, she heard voices.

 

The door was slightly ajar, as to not trigger the lock, and she was astonished to hear a multitude of voices clearly ringing out.

 

She froze.

 

I want to go up there. But….

 

She started wringing her hands. She knew what he father would expect of her. She knew what a normal student would have done. And, much to her despair, she shaking from the idea of bothering them.

 

Well… it wouldn’t hurt to at least see who it was.

 

Nodding to herself, she was able to justify at least seeing who else shared the rooftop with her. Leaving right after she ascertained who they were.

 

They had been good to her gardens…. Maybe she could… be friends with them?

 

The idea of connecting with her fellows in this way elicited a response. She bit her lip in excitement as she crouched down and shimmied her way towards the crack in the door.

 

There were… four of them? And… a cat?

 

The cat rumor had been true! There was a cat at Shujin!

 

Stars were now shining from Haru’s eyes.

 

How can I get it to be my friend?

 

She sidled a little closer, finally getting to a place where she could position herself to look upon the group on the other side. She rotated herself slightly, a little bit more, just another cm…. There! She finally could see people!

 

Her initial excitement was immediately followed by a gasp. She slammed her hands over her mouth as she scurried out of the way of the door.

 

It’s that delinquent kid! And Sakamoto-san and Takamaki-san! And Nijiima-san!

 

She gave herself another moment to reprocess everything just to make sure she had really seen those people.

 

How did Nijiima-san know the cat?

 

Knowing what she was working with, Haru removed herself from the ground, got herself sorted, and absconded from the scene. She had some things to think about, and lying on that grimy stairwell was not the place befitting for a good long think.

 

--

 

That group that she had found on the roof suddenly started to stick out a lot more to her. She noticed them running through the hallways, noticed them going to eat lunch, noticed when they were being mentioned by the ever growing rumor mill.

 

There had always been a level of awareness for Nijiima-san, she was the Student Body President. A good person to keep tabs on. Her father had always said.

 

Sakamoto-san and Takamaki-san were hard to ignore, to be entirely honest. Not only did they stand out due to their electric blonde hair, but they were the center of the rumor mill for over a year now. Though, she supposed, with the recent events, it was high time to start to revisit those gossip chains and figure out how much of it was egged on by their reviled ex teacher.

 

However, her attention on that new kid, was, well, new. She had never been one to pay too much attention to matters that didn’t immediately interfere with her life. And, well, the past of a random new student fit that bill. She had listened enough to pick up on the idea that maybe she shouldn’t try to be alone with him, but otherwise had let him be.

 

However, after seeing him with the others… she was starting to wonder if that was another situation that she was going to have to revisit.

 

He had been so jovial, so lively. And, much to her surprise the more she had revisited the memory, he had managed to make Nijiima-san laugh. Openly laugh.

 

As someone who had been in her class for the last few years, Haru was very well aware that that was not a common occurrence. Nijiima-san did not let her defenses down for anybody . Haru, to be entirely honest, had always coveted Nijiima-san’s ability to focus and not react to anything.

 

She knew that her father would prefer that she had that trait.

 

She shook her head and continued her search in the library for the book she needed for her project. The author should be coming up soon…. Plucking the sought after text off of the shelf, she hummed to herself as she spun around towards the check-out desk.

 

Only to stop as she saw the group from the roof now sitting in the library. Nijiima-san was at her usual table, books spread out as she honed in on the assignment in front of her. The rest, however, were together at a table. Sakamoto-san and Takamaki-san were on either side of the transfer student (Amamiya-san, right?) and had their gazes locked on him.

 

Making sure to cross the library very slowly, she took a route that allowed her to pass their table the longest, curiosity getting the better of her.

 

Amamiya-san was…. Tutoring them. Explaining massive battles in energetic detail to Sakamoto-san while waxing lyrical about the social comings and goings and intricacies to Takamaki-san. He was… smiling while doing so with such a slight grin on his face. And his audience was captive to his every word, none of the wild outbursts that the hearsay had painted them to be full of.

 

She paused on her exit of the library after passing their table, brain trying to fully comprehend what she had seen and how it fit in with everything else that she had heard about them.

 

She jolted out of her revere as Nijiima-san’s voice cut through her thoughts. “Yeah, it takes some time to get used to. But, he seems to be good at helping out his classmates. Plus, he keeps everyone else quiet out of fear. I’ll take it any day.” She ended with a quiet, almost sullen, snort.

 

“Does he now? I’ll admit that I’m curious as to how he does it.” Haru shifted the books she was holding to make it easier to hold.

 

“Yeah.” Nijiima-san sighed, “He’s top of his class. Has been all year. And yet, he’s still the boogeyman of the school. No one believes that we got rid of Shujin’s boogeyman already.” After that final statement, she started to get up and pack up to leave.

 

Haru watched Nijiima-san leave the library, unable to move.

 

He’s top of his class?

 

Another moment.

 

We got rid of Shujin’s boogeyman already?

 

We?

 

Shaking her head once more, she continued towards the check-out desk at the front of the library. After processing the check-out, she spared one last glance towards the table of 2nd Years.

 

Who are you? Really?

 

---

 

Haru couldn’t get the previous day’s encounter out of her head.

 

She had rushed down to the ranking boards to confirm that, indeed, Amamiya-san was the top of his year right after that library trip. She had gone home and researched all that she could about him. He was a boy from the small town that had that mass murderer all those years ago, Inaba. He had, indeed, been arrested for assault, though the victim in question had been entirely expunged from the records. She couldn’t stop questioning who it was that he had manage to step on the toes of that badly to get that level of sentence.

 

She woke up with Amamiya-san’s situation stuck in her head, going through the morning in a daze.

 

She stumbled her way towards her classroom after lunch when she spotted the person in question off to the side. She stopped and turned to follow him.

 

What on earth am I doing?

 

As she approached the end of the hallway she had seen him go down, she peered around the corner.

 

And there he was. But, instead of Takamaki-san and Sakamoto-san, or even Nijiima-san, he was surrounded by some other 2nd Year students. She didn’t really recognize most of them, though she was pretty sure one of them was once on the Volleyball Team, and another was in the Newspaper Club. They didn’t seem anxious around him, if anything, they seemed to calm down as he approached them.

 

I thought the whole school hated him except for Sakamoto-san and Takamaki-san?

 

“You need to decide!” the Newspaper Club member’s voice carried over to her. She was now standing up and was yanking on Amamiya’s ear. Haru had never seen anyone be so flippant towards the so-called delinquent.

 

“Fine! Fine! I don’t want you to report on it! Cover it up!” Amamiya-san finally squawked out.

 

“Was that so hard? I’ll ask why later, but I got a few more things to cover.” the girl had responded.

 

Amamiya’s whole body sighed in response.

 

What… was going on? Did… did he control the school newspaper?

 

Haru stumbled back a few steps at that realization.

 

She had barely begun to wrap her mind around that possibility when she noticed that impromptu meeting was breaking up in front of her.

 

Must get back to class!

 

She maneuvered her way into the crowd and returned to her classroom. Afternoon lessons difficult to give their proper attention with the bombshell of a revelation that she had fallen into.

 

---

 

Who was right? Who was wrong?

 

Was their any substance to the rumor mill about Amamiya-san?

 

Was it all made up to add excitement?

 

Was that mafia rumor from before real?

 

He was so kind to his classmates, and he was the top of his class, and he always seemed so dilligent. Nijiima-san gave a practically glowing commendation of him in the library. He seemed to have created close bonds with those who had been hurt the most by Kamoshida-san.

 

But….

 

He seemed to be conspiring to control the media of the school. The school body, at large, was still terrified of him. There were a lot of rumors about him that were quickly snuffed out. Those friends that he had made were probably hurting and what if, goodness gracious, he had preyed on them in their weak state?

 

Who was Amamiya-san?

 

What was he up to?

 

Was he safe?

 

What was his motive?

 

And, most importantly….

 

How was he connected to that rumored cat?

Chapter Text

"The two-headed pet dog belonging to the giant, Geryon, in Greek myth. He guarded a herd of red oxen, but was killed by Hercules during one of his twelve labors."

—Persona 5 background

 

Business was slow today.

 

That wasn’t always a bad thing, but yesterday had also been slow, so there wasn’t any side work that he could do. Which led to the clock seemingly ticking slower than before.

 

Fuck it, I might as well go grab a drink from the machines.

 

Pushing himself up out of his perch, he snagged his wallet and keys for the short walk to the vending machines on the main thoroughfare of Shibuya.

 

Each time he went out, he noticed more and more of the seedier types around Shibuya, even along the main streets. They usually tried to find quiet corners or streets, like the one his shop was on, but they seemed to be braver and braver each and every day. Well, they definitely weren’t near his shop. He made sure of that. But, they definitely weren’t carousing by the diner or the grocery, chatting up people in daylight.

 

Who the hell was in charge of these people to make them that cocksure? He was jarred from his musing by the can of soda falling into the dispenser, ready for him to grab.

 

He sighed as he grabbed his prize and started to meander back to the shop. That trip killed what? 10 minutes?

 

He prepared himself to survive until closing (or how close to it as he could get) on the caffeine in his hand when he heard a crash around the corner.

 

Around his corner.

 

Who the fuck is causing problems in front of my shop?

 

He sidled himself up to the corner before peering around, as the scuffle was getting louder.

 

Well, shit.

 

Right around the corner was none other than his favorite little customer, Amamiya-san, being jumped by a bunch of the layabouts he was just complaining about. There were about 4 of them cornering the boy, all undeniably talking much more shit than they truly had earned the ability to talk.

 

His back may have been against the wall, but his face was clear and calm. Resolute. He made a quick glance towards the window of Untouchable, a quick moment of alarm showing when the “Be Back in 10” sign was prominently displayed in the doorway, but it was immediately stuffed back down.

 

He knew that he couldn’t show fear when cornered if he wanted to have any chance of getting out of a situation like this.

 

How does he know that fact? How is he still calm?

 

Grateful for the fact that the attention was all on the kid for a moment, Iwai took the given chance to dive behind the dumpster nearby. His goal was to get to the side door of his shop and grab his bat to scare the punks off, but he had to do it while they were preoccupied, or else this could become a hostage situation. He knew these types, they weren’t smart enough to think before they acted, and they were rash enough to follow through on their impulses.

 

The kid managed to notice him though. Iwai’s hand flew up to his face, putting one finger over his mouth, praying that the kid wouldn’t give him away. To his surprise, instead of saying anything, the brat feigned looking around anxiously while tapping the side of his eyes, a universal “I see you.”

 

How….

 

Shaking his head before he wasted anymore time trying to decipher the kid’s actions, he took this time again to dive behind the wall that led to the back entrance to Untouchable. As quietly as he could, he opened the door and slid in, guiding the door’s close as to not give himself away. Right inside the secondary door to the register/back room area there was a baseball bat. He snatched it while making sure to keep himself low enough to not show himself in the windows.

 

On his way back out of the store, he paused, trying to figure out his next move.

 

Do I go out the front door? Do I sneak back out the side? What choice will add the least amount of risk to the brat?

 

As he weighed his options, he heard voices on the other side of the window. The kid’s aggressors decided to do some shit talking.

 

“Hey, asshole, you know this is your fault, right?” the one closest to the window started.

 

“Yeah! You interrupted our deal! And then you had the balls to try and turn us down afterwards. If we woulda known you weren’t just excited to help us out, we would have been able to finish with our other ‘helpers.’”

 

There was a moment of silence.

 

“Oh, you’re too good to talk to us, are you? We got ways of making you talk.”

 

“Wait a second, pal. I think I’ve seen you around before….”

 

Iwai had been using the cover of their voices to make his way back out of his shop, but he froze at that.

 

What has the kid been doing?

 

“Wait… now that you mention it….”

 

“You’ve been the brat that’s been messing up all of our routes!” The heckling had evolved into yelling now.

 

“You fucking asshole! You’ve been losing us money!” Iwai heard something thrown at the wall of his shop.

 

“You always distract the runners and make them go missing!”

 

“Ooooo. I am do glad that we found you now. We’re gonna make you pay. ” The goon laughed. “And, don’t you know it, you led us to the best place for this stand-off! Cops don’t come down here because of that yakuza idiot in here. So, we can do as we please without any danger!” The man was fully laughing now.

 

“Wait… Hey… Itsuki… Why is the kid grinning?” The man closer to the store had grown quiet as his friend continued to laugh louder. “Hey, brat? What the fuck is making you smirk like that? Stop that!” His voice was now skyrocketing out of control.

 

Well, that’s as good of an entrance as I could ever ask for.

 

Iwai took the opening to kick open the front door while twirling the baseball bat around in his hands.

 

“He’s grinning because the brat’s under my protection.” Iwai snarled at the two goons in front of him.

 

“He’s... “

 

What?

 

The faces of the idiots in front of him had completely collapsed at his entrance, while the boy’s face only continued to grow.

 

You know, that dumbass was right. That is a creepy smirk.

 

“Get the fuck out of my sight, and leave my people alone. I will be talking to your boss if I catch wind of this shit ever again.”

 

The two dove to the ground to grovel.

 

“But… sir….”

 

Iwai’s eyes narrowed.

 

“He’s been stopping our business. How do we get him to stop?”

 

He rolled his eyes. “Maybe don’t have plans that can be stopped by a high school boy. Are you thugs? Or do you have any brain cells in your strategy department? Try coming up with tactics that can’t be so easily thwarted and aren’t so obvious that a kid can figure them out and interfere with them. This isn’t his fault at all, it’s entirely yours for being useless.”

 

“But!”

 

The bat slammed down on the ground a inch away from the goon’s face.

 

“What. Did. I. Say.”

 

“Yes, sir!”

 

“Now. Get the fuck out of my sight.”

 

“Yes, sir!”

 

The two scrambled to get up and out of the alleyway before Iwai could have a chance to decide they were going to slow.

 

Once they were completely out of sight, both Iwai and Ren took a moment to sigh.

 

“Thanks…. Sorry for bringing them here… I just… I didn’t know where else to go.”

 

“The police?”

 

There was a distinct shudder at that.

 

“Ah. Nevermind then.”

 

“Yeah… I’m actually on probation, and so any police interference, even if it isn’t my fault would lead to arrest.”

 

“What? You? What happened there?”

 

“I… saved a woman from being abducted.”

 

“Come again.”

 

“The person doing the abduction was apparently a big shot.”

 

Iwai sighed, “You know, that’s why I liked the yakuza. Some weird shit, but at least there was none of that bullshit.”

 

Iwai leaned against the bat and leaned towards the kid.

 

“So, brat. Why were you running interference?”

 

“Well…” the kid kicked a pebble with his shoe, “That whole group is targeting kids from my school. And, well, I’m friends with a student who’s been trying to stop that.”

 

“I don’t see your friend here.”

 

“They… uh… don’t know I’m here.”

 

Iwai’s eyes narrowed.

 

Ren continued, “I, uh… have been doing this for her, well, behind her back really, to help keep the numbers down for her while Kaneshiro is taken down.”

 

Kaneshiro? You’re willingly going against Kaneshiro ? And know about him?”

 

"If I don't... she will. And she'll get herself killed." he whined.

 

Iwai groaned, “Kid. Just get in the store.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Just get in the store. I’ve got some things to help you out. And, I have some things to teach you. What I said before put you under my protection. But, that means you gotta know somethings. I was hoping to be able to bullshit them, but you can't bullshit them in front of an actual boss who knows what he's doing. Especially since Kaneshiro would know them. So… get in here.” Why couldn't you have pissed off a less powerful guy?

 

“Oh… thanks. And sorry again…”

 

“Brat. Stop apologizing. You’ve got guts, and I like the cut of your jib. I’m not gonna tell you to stop, I’m just gonna help you be smarter about it, okay?”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome. Now get inside.”

 

Iwai held the door open for the kid. As he turned to close the door, he, very purposefully, made eye contact with the camera at the corner. Pointing at it, he mouthed, ‘ the kid is mine.’ before slamming the door shut.

 

Good thing it’s been a slow day today. I guess I’ll keep that closed sign up a little bit longer.

Chapter Text

"An exceptionally powerful shikigami. Only the most elite onmyoji are able to summon and bind it to paper. It can ward off disaster or cure illness, but its ordinary temperament is quite vicious."

—Persona 5 background

 

 

He grasped his bag closer to himself as he braced himself for the turn. I can’t have this stuff getting damaged.

 

They finally had a free day from school and thieving, and Ryuji wanted to make sure that it was enjoyed the fullest. No homework. No stress. No planning. No talking about the dangers of society. Just him, his best friend Ren, and some video games. 

 

It had taken some convincing, but he eventually got Ren to agree to the free day. 

 

Ryuji had been noticing the dark circles under Ren’s eyes were slowly expanding, and Ren was looking a lot more serious during lunch time chats, and he knew he had to do something. 

 

I may not be able to help him with planning or homework. But I can help with destressing.

 

He knew the only system Ren had was an ancient one, so he was bringing over his slightly newer system to play. Not his newest one, as Ren’s tv was a CRT-TV, so he had to make sure it still had the red, white, yellow cords. Regardless, this was the system he had when he used to hang out with Ann all the time, so it had all the best multiplayer games anyways.

 

He grinned to himself and hugged the bag a little tighter, happy to have thought this up.

 

---

 

The two teens were staring at each other.

 

They had already done the require snack and drink run and tv setup, and so were now trying to decide which game to play.

 

“I wanna know what character you are in Smash.”

 

“I’m only used to the newer ones, I’ll totally mess up. How about Tennis?”

 

Neither of them were willing to budge on their choices for a moment, until Ryuji sighed. This whole thing was to just get him to finally calm down. I need to choose something not serious.

 

He scanned the pile for a moment before he saw a box poking out at the bottom. Perfect.

 

“How about this one?” Ryuji grinned as he fished Double Dash out.

 

Ren’s eyes glowed in delight. “That looks perfect.”

 

---

 

Before this, Ryuji would have told you it was impossible to succeed too well.

 

Now, however, he would weep in memory of this day.

 

His mission for the day was to get Ren to loosen up and stop acting perfect all the time. He had seen how it was tearing the man apart to be leader all the time with everyone he spoke to. Ren had way too much on his plate, and Ryuji just wanted to take some off that pressure off. 

 

Instead of that, though, he had released a beast. 

 

An evil, evil beast. 

 

“HOW DID YOU EVEN GET A BLUE SHELL IN 2ND PLACE.”

 

Ren laughed maniacally as he twisted towards Ryuji the moment he passed the finish line, cinching first place once more, “I was holding onto it.”

 

“Are you telling me that was why you didn’t do the turbo boost at the beginning of the race?” Ryuji moaned.

 

“Yep. Was planning this the whole time.”

 

“I hate you.”

 

“Love you too, bro.”

 

The two collapsed onto the ground. 

 

“You won every single cup, including Mirror Mode.”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Do you ever chill?”

 

“What do you mean? That was the most relaxed I’ve been in months.”

 

“Well, mission accomplished then.”

 

Ryuji sighed and then flopped his arm over his eyes, letting himself soak in the silence.

 

Ren sat up at that and just looked at Ryuji for a while, thinking intensely.

 

After a few moments, he whispered, “Thanks. I needed it.” Before flopping down next to him