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a man sees in the world what he carries in his heart

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Their Shibuya meetup spot hadn’t changed much.

…which is to say, it was still boring as hell.

Morgana yawned as he stretched out on the metal railing, watching the crowd flow by as usual. Yusuke had shown up at some point, but had wandered off again just as quickly, intending to people-watch until everyone arrived. Ann had stopped petting Morgana after he almost fell off the rail in his relaxation, much to his regret, opting instead to scroll through her social media feed. She’d picked up Futaba before heading over, who was now crouched under Morgana and typing away rapidly on her laptop. Ryuji had plopped down next to her just a few minutes later, bag of half-price jagariko cups in hand, and was now watching the hacker’s screen with confused interest.

“Hey, hey, cool it with the snacking! These are supposed to be for everyone!” A shuffling sound from below caught Morgana’s attention. Ryuji had moved the jagariko out of Futaba’s reach – from the looks of it, she’d already managed to burn through three of the containers.

“I’m part of everyone, gimme!”

Morgana took a moment to lean down and bat at Ryuji’s head. His words lacked heat when he spoke, just wanting to annoy the blond some more. “Where are my snacks, huh?”

“Don’t act like you can’t eat jagariko too!”

Ann seemed to take notice of the snacks finally, eyes lighting up. With how Ryuji was holding the bag away from Futaba, she was able to grab one with ease. “Oh, are these the sweet baked potato kind? Awesome!”

“Yeah, I figured it’d help keep Yusuke from goin’ through them at the speed of light. But apparently he ain’t the one I should’ve been worried about!” Ryuji groused, settling back down. He kept the snacks on the opposite side of him from Futaba, much to the girl’s annoyance.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. It’s been a while since we last met up here, hasn’t it?”

Morgana perked up as Makoto approached, Haru in tow. She was right – even though it’d only been a few months at best, their infiltration of Kaneshiro’s Palace felt lifetimes away. He purred as Haru gently petted his head in greeting.

“This is where you used to hold meetings?” The heiress asked, peering around curiously. With the brief look he’d gotten into her life, Morgana knew she wasn’t very familiar with the station layout; she had a chauffeur, after all. “It’s very…open.”

Morgana couldn’t help but puff up a bit in pride. “All the better, right? No one would expect Phantom Thieves to be scheming in broad daylight.”

“Plus, Ms. Prez here had to kick us out of our first hideout ’cuz of school policy. They didn’t want students up on the roof after, uh…y’know.”

“Oh…”

“Well…that aside, are we all here? Are we just waiting for Yusuke now?”

“Ooh, right, I’ll let him know to head back.” Ann switched over to their shared messaging app, typing swiftly.

“Think it might be better to just go get him in-person. Y’know how he gets.”

“He wouldn’t ignore me, I’m his favorite.”

Pretty sure Akira’s his favorite–”

Ann rolled her eyes. If it weren’t for the bag of jagariko in the way, she might’ve tried kicking at him in mock-anger. “His favorite aside from Akira. You know what I mean! Anyway, Yusuke’s on his way.”

Sure enough, it only took a few minutes for their wayward friend to rejoin the group. His sketchbook was still flipped to the page he’d been working on, rife with rough figure sketches. “Hello, everyone. Thank you for your patience.”

“See~? Told you he wouldn’t ignore me.”

Ryuji stuck his tongue out at Ann as Yusuke hmmed in confusion, glancing between the two of them. Before the artist could ask what she’d meant by that, Morgana sat up fully on the rail, regarding his fellow Thieves. “Since we’re all here now, let’s cut to the chase.”

“I presume this has to do with Akira, seeing as he is not present?” Yusuke still managed to query, choosing to join Ryuji and Futaba on the ground for once. Having easy access to the jagariko was most important at the moment, judging by the way his stomach growled. “I haven’t been keeping up with the group chat, my apologies.”

“Dude, seriously?”

“The whole point of being in a group chat is to actually check it occasionally, Inari–”

“When inspiration strikes, an artist must be ready to react accordingly!”

In that case, let’s review what we know so far first.” Makoto, blessed be her flawless ‘teacher voice’, brought the group to order. “According to Morgana, he’s been going to sleep earlier and waking up later. He hasn’t been having nightmares or any other sleep interruptions that would cause this change. He’s also been eating less; although he’ll eat when prompted, he hasn’t been actively seeking out food as much as he ought to.”

“I got him to go see Takemi, too, but she said he was in perfect health.” Morgana added. Really, if it wasn’t for the woman’s track record, he would’ve pressed for Akira to see another just in case. As it stood, though, the woman was both a kickass doctor and in on Akira’s double life, so if she said he was healthy, then he most likely was.

“Right. Does anyone have any ideas as to what may be causing these issues?”

Ryuji rubbed the back of his neck. A shadow of something flickered across his face before he spoke, gone too quick for Morgana to put a name too. “I mean, I did all of those things a lot after you-know-who messed up my leg, but that was ’cuz my body was usin’ up most of its energy for healing, y’know? Bein’ on painkillers didn’t help.”

“I’m finding it hard to believe anything would make you eat less.” Ann snarked, grabbing another one of the jagariko cups.

“Like you can talk?! Loadin’ up over there on snacks I brought–”

“He also hasn’t been going to his part-time jobs as much.” Futaba piped up before the two of them could get off-topic. “I’ve been watching his location – he used to visit Shibuya and Shinjuku pretty regularly, but nowadays he just heads straight to LeBlanc after school.”

“–wherrre he then just goes to bed. Even Boss is getting concerned at this point.” Morgana finished, listing to the side with a sigh. LeBlanc’s owner had been keeping his nose out of the Phantom Thieves’ business, thankfully, but that didn’t mean he was blind. He already blamed himself for Futaba suffering for so long – hell knows he wasn’t interested in letting that happen again, let alone to his other pseudo-adopted child.

“Perhaps he’s simply stressed?” Yusuke offered, securing another cup of jagariko. (He was going through them faster than Futaba was. Did he not eat at all earlier?) “Despite my passion for art, I know the call to sleep feels stronger when I’m approaching a deadline.”

Makoto hummed in acknowledgement. “You have a point. And we’ve certainly had a lot to be stressed over lately. Especially him, considering…”

An uneasy quiet fell over the group as she trailed off, silencing even Ryuji’s constant fidgeting. Despite going over the plan at length, no one was truly at peace with the gamble they’d concocted. Morgana, for all his confidence, still felt himself tense just thinking it over. They’d be completely cut off from Akira for the entirety of it. If the plan failed, they wouldn’t know until long after – and there weren’t any contingency plans to fall back on. It felt like a bad dream, medicine so bitter you almost rethink if you’re sick enough to need it.

Eventually, the silence was broken by Haru’s soft voice.

“Um, forgive me if this is out of line, but–” She paused for a moment, as if mulling over her words. “–is it…possible for Akira to have a mental shutdown?”

“Ooh, plot twist.”

Morgana rolled his eyes at Futaba’s comment – now wasn’t the time to be joking, especially about that – before turning to Haru. “Nope. I might’ve forgotten to mention it before, but someone can’t have a Persona and a Shadow at the same time. And if you don’t have a Shadow, you can’t have a mental shutdown.”

“And ’sides, it’s Akira we’re talkin’ about here. He’s got, like, a bajillion Persona.” Ryuji seemed to relax a bit again with the change in topic, falling back into his fidgeting. His phone’s text tone went off as he spoke, drawing his attention to it. “Oh, one sec, it’s my mom. But yeah, if anyone’s safe from developing a Palace, it’s him. You can check the Metanav if you’re worried.”

Yusuke took on a contemplative look at the blond’s comment, one Morgana knew would immediately precede something that would make Makoto sigh in frustration. The true conversation-derailer. “Hm…if he were to gain a Shadow, do you think he would have one for each Persona?”

(And there was the sigh. Haru seemed intrigued, at least.)

“Er, probably?…maybe?” Ann offered, haltingly. She reached over and scritched behind Morgana’s ears. “What do you think, Mona? You’ve got seniority when it comes to Metaverse knowledge.”

Morgana all but melted at the touch, purring happily. Lady Ann always knew just how to pet him…! “I~iii don’t think so. It already takes a lot of distortion to develop one Shadow, so I can’t imagine how much it would take to have two Shadows at once.”

“Possibly more than a human can produce…”

“Imagine how that boss fight would go, though – it’d be like a horde battle! Though with Joker’s stats, we’d need to level grind a lot before engaging.”

Ryuji laughed at that – a short, surprised thing as he tuned back into the conversation, phone still in hand. “You can say that again! He’d probably have his own battle theme and everything.”

“We’d walk into the final boss chamber and a little title card would pop up, like…‘Akira Kurusu, man of a million Persona’–”

[ Candidate Found ]

The Metanav’s robotic, featureless voice was jarring amidst the lighthearted discussion. Abruptly, Ryuji found himself swarmed by the rest of the group; Morgana all but pounced down onto his shoulder to get a better look at the phone screen, shaky as it was in the runner’s grip.

Ryuji was stuttering, and for once, Morgana couldn’t find it funny. “I– I was just gonna show Haru what I meant–!”