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People Like Us

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Akechi was on his usual trek through Mementos when he suddenly heard human voices and what sounded like a distant engine. He pulled himself back into a corner and waited, heart pounding. The only other people that should have been inside Mementos were the Phantom Thieves. But that didn’t explain the noises that sounded disturbingly like a vehicle. It wasn’t like the trains that frequently moved through the tracks in the safer areas. It was more like a car.

He was curious.

He didn’t have to wonder for long. From around a corner, he spotted something truly bizarre. A bus? It looked oddly like a cat, but it was clearly a vehicle. The gears in his head really started working in overtime when the Phantom Thieves themselves stepped out of the bus and it morphed into a smaller, but still very cat-like creature. Of all the things he had seen in the Metaverse, this was easily a contender for the strangest.

He heard the one in the skull mask complain loudly about their current target and the others made some equally concerned comments he couldn’t quite make out. Their leader sounded just as unsure, but they pressed onward into the small crevice where Akechi knew from experience that a humanoid Shadow would be waiting. He waited a few moments, then followed after them, sticking close to the wall. This was risky, but his curiosity was winning out.

What he saw inside was a scared boy. It was desperate and angry and terrified, like many weaker Shadows tended to be. Akechi expected a quick fight, but what he got was the other Phantom Thieves walking away and exiting the area to leave their leader alone with the Shadow. A one-on-one fight would be more fair, but he had assumed they fought as a team all this time. But instead of summoning a Persona, the two of them had a brief, mostly one-sided conversation.

The Shadow seemed more distressed than they usually were before a fight, saying things like “After all I’ve done for you”, and “Me of all people”, and becoming increasingly distraught. Normally, this sort of pleading came after a defeat. In the end, the Phantom Thief told it to change its own heart, and walked away to regroup with his teammates. The Shadow sunk to the floor on its knees.

Akechi stayed standing there for several minutes afterwards, processing what he had just seen. That conversation alone had given him plenty of new information. This was the Shadow of the boy running the infamous Phantom Thief Aficionado website. And he was right there at Akechi’s fingertips. All he had to do was unleash his Persona’s abilities and the Phansite would be at the mercy of a psychotic breakdown. It was a perfect opportunity.

But something was stopping him. Something about the Shadow’s desperate words had struck a chord in him, and he found himself unable to move. He decided he was simply overwhelmed from exhaustion, and chose to retreat back home for the time being. He could always come back after formulating a more exact plan.

Akechi checked the Phansite more often than he would have liked to admit after that. He didn't need to. He got plenty of Phantom Thief gossip through other channels, and it wasn't like there was much of interest on the forums, but he found himself drawn back there again and again. It was oddly captivating to see requests go up and come back completed, often with an anonymous thank you note. There used to be thank you notes from the admin too, but now…

The admin was still active. He was the one putting up polls and moderating comments. He put through requests and marked them complete. He linked relevant articles from local police regarding culprits taken into custody. But his usual comments were getting less frequent, and he never seemed to make announcements anymore. The Phansite was beginning to seem more sterile.

Ever since Akechi had happened upon the Phantom Thieves in Mementos, things had been strange. They hadn't enacted a change of heart. There had been no grand personal reformation, as far as Akechi could tell, but something had happened, subtle as it may have been.

The boy he identified as Yuuki Mishima seemed to have stepped away. The leader had a talk with him about using them for fame, about putting out personal hits for his own benefit, about riding on their coattails. Akechi could sense from that conversation alone exactly what emotions Mishima must have been feeling. He wanted recognition, he wanted someone to look at him and really see him, see what he was worth, see him as special. That had all felt all too familiar to him.

But things had done a 180, it seemed. Now instead of making things too personal, the Phansite didn't seem personal at all. It was simply a forum. It could have been run by a bot and no one would know any different.

Akechi considered returning to that spot in the depths of Mementos and finishing the job the Phantom Thieves had deemed as below them. What a blow he could deal to them by taking out their largest source of information, the one boy holding their image together. It would be easy. He didn't look like he would put up much of a fight. A few blows from Loki and he would shut down. A psychotic breakdown might work even more to his advantage. There was no way of knowing what kind of information would get leaked on the Phansite if he were to lose control of himself.

It was exciting to think about, but it wasn't something he could take lightly. He never pursued targets for his own benefit. That was simply work-related. He was a hitman, not a cold-blooded killer. And Mishima had little to do with work at the moment, at least the type of work that necessitated using his powers. Still, it was tempting…

It had been weeks since that initial run-in. He hadn't come across the Thieves in Mementos again, though he didn't venture in there that often. He had been mostly focused on work-- real work, detective work-- and his studies. There had been a lull in Shido-related matters and it left him with time to think. And much of his time thinking landed him back on the subject of the Phansite and its admin.

The idea of wrecking the reputation of those insufferable Phantom Thieves became too tantalizing. He decided to act. If he had these powers, why restrict himself? Why not deal a potentially fatal blow while he had the chance? He was only being efficient.

He was looking down at his phone on his way home for the day when he felt himself run right into something solid. Looking up revealed that this something solid was a person, who was now sprawled on the ground. Further investigation revealed that this person was none other than Yuuki Mishima himself--the real one, flesh and blood.

After a moment of initial shock, Akechi remembered his manners and scrambled to try and help him up. “Goodness, I'm so sorry, I wasn't looking where I was going. This is entirely my fault. Are you alright? You're not hurt, are you?”

Akechi offered a gloved hand and pulled Mishima up off the ground. He still looked out of it. Then his eyes widened and he started patting his pockets and looking around.

“Oh no, where's my phone…?” His distress grew by the second and Akechi began looking around as well.

He located the phone several feet away, knocked behind a trash can, and returned it to its owner. The screen was shattered.

“I… don't suppose it was already like this?” Akechi felt bad. Even if he had been on his way to ruin this boy's life, breaking his phone somehow sent more pangs of guilt through him than that idea ever had.

“No… no… Ugh, shit!” Mishima snatched the phone from him and held the power button to no avail. “Fuck! No, no, no…”

Akechi watched him helplessly. He couldn't find the correct moment to interject in Mishima's flurry of swearing and sighing. Finally, Mishima hung his head and dropped his hands to his side, useless phone clutched tightly.

“I'll replace it.” Akechi didn't know why he said that. Mishima was about to have much bigger problems than a broken phone.

“No, I can't… ask you to do that. I should've been more careful…” Mishima looked up at him and seemed to really see him for the first time. His eyes widened. “No, wait, you're-- You're that detective. Akechi. The one who's always on TV.”

“Yes, that would be me.” Akechi barely bowed. “Though I wouldn't say always. My appearances are few and far between these days. Might I ask your name? If you give me an address as well, I can have a new phone sent to you.”

Mishima's eyes narrowed again and he seemed wary. Akechi could practically see him weighing the options in his head. Take advantage of the wealth of a detective who he knew to be in direct opposition of his heroes, or stay humble and deal with his phone being broken himself? Decisions, decisions. After a pause, he sighed and averted his eyes.

“Mishima. I'm not giving you my address. But you can buy me a new phone. I'll just meet up with you for it. If that's okay.” He tacked on the last part in an attempt to maintain some modesty, and it made Akechi smile.

“I'm not in a position to be making demands. Name a phone model, time, and location and I will be there. You have my word.” Akechi stuck out a hand and Mishima glared at it for a few seconds before shaking it.

Akechi ended up going back to his apartment to sulk. After looking Mishima in the eyes, after feeling the guilt of breaking his phone, he hadn't had the willpower to go through with his plan. He was cursing himself for it. He had ruined many men's lives over the course of his time as Shido's errand boy, and it had just been work, but one look of despair from a boy his age and he went all soft.

The confusion he felt made him more angry than the incident itself. He could always try again another day... but could he really? He didn't know. He’d never had to face his targets in the real world before brawling with their Shadows. There had always been a separation between those glowing-eyed beacons of sin and their humanity. With Mishima, he had already knocked down that wall. It was too late. He blew it.

He sighed at his laptop's screen as he closed out of the order complete tab on the phone website and switched over to the Phansite. There was nothing new of note. A few notices of completed requests, but nothing he hadn't already caught wind of from the precinct. Boring. And Mishima-less as always. Part of him hoped that his phone being broken wasn't impacting his ability to work. He shooed that thought away.

Mishima was waiting in a booth when Akechi arrived at the diner. His eyes landed on him immediately from across the room and Akechi made his way over to his table. Mishima didn't say anything, just looked at him with those big, dark eyes of his.

“Good evening. I apologize for the delay, there was some sort of issue with the train schedule and I had some problems getting here from work. But, ah, here you are.” He sat his briefcase down on the table and opened it. The small box containing Mishima's new phone was nested inside between some case files and his own laptop. He handed it over and Mishima took it. He shut the case. “Just as promised.”

Mishima examined the box, then began opening it and putting things together. Akechi watched him work, then remembered his manners.

“I apologize, again, for the trouble… I do truly feel terrible about the whole thing. I hope it hasn't inconvenienced you too badly.”

Mishima looked up at him and barely smiled. “It's okay. You didn't have to buy me a new one and you still did, so… I'd say I can forgive you.”

Akechi chuckled. “Well, I suppose that's good news then.” He realized he was still hovering by the table and shifted his weight awkwardly. “Would you mind terribly if I stayed and had a coffee? I can buy you one as well. Or I can leave you be and sit at my own table, if you'd rather not indulge me.”

“Yeah, that's fine. Whatever.” Mishima was absorbed in the phone now, messing with settings and ensuring everything was functional.

Akechi slid into the booth across from him and flagged down a server. He ordered a coffee for himself and Mishima ordered a soda, declining Akechi's offer to buy him an entire meal. Akechi supposed he may have crossed a line with his reparations, and that was fine. He could leave it at a brand new phone and a soft drink.

Mishima wasn't looking at him or talking to him. He hadn't really expected him to. This was an odd situation and they didn't exactly know each other, though Akechi supposed he knew more about Mishima than Mishima was aware of. Seeing another person's deepest corruptions had that effect. Akechi wondered how much information Mishima had been able to dig up on him in return. Hopefully not much more than was readily available in the public sphere. Favorite food, birthday, surface-level hobbies. That sort of thing.

Akechi didn't know any of those things about Mishima.

Their drinks arrived and it gave Akechi an opportunity to break the tension.

“So,” Akechi began adding sugar to his coffee. “I realized that I recognized you from somewhere prior to our unfortunate collision the other day.”

“Hm?” Mishima glanced up, looking unimpressed.

“You were involved with the Kamoshida incident at Shujin, correct? You declined police questioning on the subject after his confession.”

“And I'm declining your questioning now.” Mishima directed his attention back down at his phone.

“And that's fine. I'm off duty right now, my questioning holds little weight. I just found it to be an odd coincidence.”

Akechi took in Mishima's face while he was being ignored. Any bruising from back then had healed up without any lasting effects. He had a faint scar at his hairline that could barely be made out in the dim diner lighting, but it was impossible for him to say whether it was related. He looked tired. Exhausted. There were dark bags under his eyes and his lips had been chewed raw in spots. If Akechi hadn't already known all was not well with Mishima, he would have been able to tell just from looking at him now.

“Stop staring at me.” Oops. “I'm not talking about that shit… if you want a statement, I already made one to a reporter. It's done. There's nothing else to say.”

“Right, my apologies. It wasn't my intention to stare, my mind was simply wandering elsewhere.” He let his eyes settle on his coffee. “I don't want a statement. I don't expect you to talk to a stranger about such personal experiences months after the fact. You deserve the right to your own healing process, be it private or otherwise.”

“Thanks for your blessing, Detective. I'll remember that in therapy.”

“Are you…? Getting therapy?”

Mishima laughed bitterly, then went quiet again. “No.”

Akechi stared into his mug and berated himself internally. What a thing to ask someone. Why had he even done that?

“That was quite invasive of me--”

“Your apologies, I know.” Mishima set the phone down and took a sip of his drink. “You apologize a lot.”

“Oh.” Akechi nervously tucked a strand of hair behind his ear. He hadn't realized that was a habit of his. Usually, he was quite perceptive, but sometimes he fell flat when it came to his own behavior. He found himself wanting to apologize again and pursed his lips.

“You wanted to do it again just now.” Mishima grinned, like he was trying not to laugh in his face.

“Yes, I suppose so.” He sipped at his coffee. He felt a bit irritated by how easily Mishima had read him. His facade was slipping.

“It's okay.” Mishima's expression softened into a smaller smile and he looked away, tracing a pattern in the condensation of his glass. “I do the same thing. People get mad at me for it, so… I try not to anymore, but… I mean, people barely talk to me anymore so I guess it's not as much of an issue.” He shrugged.

“I see.” This was more information than Akechi expected to be getting from him on a personal level, even if it was still just skimming the surface. He hadn't expected to be given something to relate to so readily.

“Is that all it takes to get you to be quiet? Point out a flaw? Next time they hold a press conference for you to smear the Phantom Thieves at, somebody in the audience just needs to tell you your tie is crooked or something.” Mishima leaned his cheek on his hand, low-lidded eyes on Akechi.

Akechi didn't know what to say anymore. He tried to gather his thoughts and just ended up flustered and agitated. He frowned down at the table.

“Now you're pouting.” Mishima laughed quietly. “Hey, I'm not trying to be mean. I'm just… you and I are sort of at odds, huh? The Phantom Thieves saved my life. And you're… y'know. You.”

“If nothing else, that I am.” Akechi forcibly calmed his expression back into one of complacency. “We don't have to be at odds though. I am simply trying to look at these incidents realistically. I cannot be faulted if the public takes issue with my refusal to be a blind optimist.”

“I'm no optimist, believe me.” Mishima's expression fell. He preoccupied himself with toying with a straw wrapper. “I just want to believe things will be okay. That there's someone out there fighting for people like me. I mean, they saved my life. I could've been…” He trailed off. “Things have been so dark for me, I just wanna believe that there's some sort of light too. I don't expect you to, like, get it, you weren't there. You weren't affected. But when you're in a place like that and someone drags you out of it… you want to believe in them.”

“I do understand where you're coming from. I just can't allow myself to be so hopeful, I suppose.” Akechi put on his best TV smile, neutral and non-threatening. “I can fully understand why someone might want to support such things, I just am not one of them. I don't oppose you. You have little to nothing to do with this situation, so there's no reason for us to be at odds. That's all.”

“Oh. Right. Yeah. I just got defensive, I guess. Sorry.” Mishima shifted in his seat uncomfortably.

“Now you're the one apologizing. No need for that. Your passion is actually quite compelling.” He took a few big sips of his coffee, draining the mug to almost empty. He hadn't meant to spend so much time here and it was starting to get cold.

Mishima made a choked noise somewhere between a laugh and annoyance. “I haven't heard that one before. Passion, I mean. I usually get obsession.

“Two sides of the same coin, and often the same thing entirely viewed through a slightly different lens.”

Mishima just hummed at that and appeared lost in thought for a few moments. Akechi downed the last of his coffee and pulled his briefcase towards him.

“I should be going. I enjoyed our chat though, and though it now pains me to say it, I do apologize again for your phone and any bodily harm I may have caused you due to my failure to pay attention to my surroundings.” He pulled a few bills from his wallet and placed them on the table, definitely more than enough to cover the drinks, but he wasn't counting. “Here you are. It was nice speaking with you. You've given me much to think about regarding the Phantom Thieves.”

He stood and Mishima gave him a half-assed wave and went back to looking at his phone.