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An Invisible Thread

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It was raining outside when Ryuji looked out of the classrooms window. The bell had just anounced the lunch break, but he was caught up in this new comic he bought and had started reading in secret during the last lesson, hidden behind his textbooks. Only out of the corner of his eye he noticed most of his classmates leaving the classroom to either buy some lunch or sit down somewhere else to eat. Only a few other students remained seated, catching up on homework, studying or playing on their phones while absentmindedly unpacking their lunch boxes. His stomach was starting to grumble as well, but he just had to know how the story continued. It felt like no time had passed, when he felt the gentle tap of a shoe against his shin. the blonde haired boy looked up to see Ann with a mildly annoyed expression on her face.

„I have been standing in the hallway for ten minutes! Come on! I'm sure Futaba is already waiting for us upstairs!“ she complained while crossing her arms in front of her chest.

„Sorry, my bad, i was so caught up in reading.“ Ryuji apologized while shoving his books into his bag and following Ann out of the classroom.

Since Ren went back home again almost half a year ago now, it had become a daily routine for Ryuji and Ann to eat lunch together. The now third-years where still in different classes and none of them really knew how it became such an established routine without anyone verbally making the plans for it, but every day for lunchbreak they would meet in the hallway halfway between their classrooms to go to the roof and have lunch together. Since Futaba now was a first-year at Shujin, they were more than happy to welcome her into their lunch-group as well.

„Let me guess, you already started reading during lessons?“ Ann mused while walking towards the staircase.

„As if you dont do that as well!“ Ryuji threw back with a smirk.

They still bickered and teased eachother a lot, but deep inside they both knew how much they cared for each other so most of the time they would smile the others comments away while they would probably get upset, if anyone else would have said it.

Ryuji followed Ann up the staircase. When they got into third year, Ann decided to go for something new and disbanded her iconic white hoodie that she used to wear under her uniform blazer. Before starting the school year, she had anounced to the group that she would try a more mature look this year. While the red leggings and the skirt stayed the same, through the guidance of Haru, she now wore a lose white blouse with a v-shaped neckline under her tailored school blazer and black boots that covered her calves. She also tried different hairdos occasionally which today lead to a casual ponytail.

While Ann was trying to reinvent herself, Ryuji pretty much stayed the same. He still rolled up his schools pants at the ancles, he still wore bright, printed tshirts, no matter the occasion. He always knew that Ann was in an entirely different league – even when she wore that white hoodie, that she now dubbed „childish“. A part of him already anticipated that after Ren left and the whole group started to go more of their own ways, Ann would leave him behind again as well, finding something better to do than hanging out with the loud-mouthed blonde boy. But she didnt. When Ren left, he actually got the feeling that Ann sought his company in particular, asking him to hang out after school, go to movies or just study together.

While the school roof was technically still off-limits, nobody seemed to notice or care that three students snuck up there almost every day.

As anticipated by Ann, Futaba was already waiting for her lunch-companions. Since it was raining, they would stay under the small roofed part of the rooftop. Ann and Ryuji remembered sitting on the floor of the dry part of the roof on rainy days, holding a meeting in their early Phantom Thieve days. Now that this was their regular hangout-spot, they had made rearrangements and pushed one of the tables up against the wall. Since there still was only one lonely intact chair on the rooftop, they simply decided to sit on the table.

„What took you so long? I almost starved up here!“ Futaba greeted them as they came through the door.

„Wasn't my fault!“ Ann was quick to point out as she walked past Futaba and hopped onto the table, backing up until her back was rested against the wall.

„Yeah, yeah, it was me“ Ryuji sighed and took his place beside Ann.

Futaba took the her spot on the table to Anns other side and started unpacking her daily dose of Sojiros curry while the two third-graders did the same with their lunch boxes.

„Sooo, how was your daaay?“ Ryuji asked, mimicing a family dinner scene.

„Wait, if Ryuji is the mom, that makes Ann the dad… Sorry, dont see it.“ Futaba stated while chowing down on her curry.

Ann rolled her eyes, unsure how to react to this.

„But fine. Well RyuMom, today we got a group assignment in school and i got grouped up with one of these snarky girls from my class and some other boy whose stats i dont know yet.“ Futaba started.

When Futaba got accepted into Shujin, she had decided on a very unique approach, stating that she would be „blending in“ with the NPCs as much as possible. While Ann, Makoto and1 Haru where excited to take her shopping and create her own unique school look, like they did too, Futaba insisted on staying with the plain uniform. Only her high rising tied-up winter boots and the even higher black stockings she added to her school outfit, claiming that she needed these items for a boost.

„Ugh, I hate group projects...“ Ann stated while she unpacked her store-bought salad-bowl.

„I dont know, maybe this boy could be a good temporary companion but the girl is always looking at me like im too underleveled for her“ Futaba continued.

„You want TakamaDad to beat her up a bit?" Ryuji asked in a serious and caring voice, fully going with the new role.

„Wait what?“ Ann shrieked. „I mean… I could mess with her a litte….“ she added after some thought.

„Nah, it's okay… I'm not ready to cheat yet.. I should maybe give it a try on my own first.“ Futaba stated, leaving Ann and Ryuji impressed.

„But thank you for the offer, RyuMom and TakamaDad.“ she grinned.

„I really hate this name...“Ann sighed.

They continued to eat, with Futaba finishing first and sliding off the table. She looked at her watch and then at her two former teammates, sitting there shoulder-to-shoulder, silently enjoying their lunch. Even without them talking or interacting, they still seemed connected through an invisible thread. And even though there was more than enough free space on the table now, they didn't seem to have the intention of moving apart from each other. Half of their lunch break was over.

„If I may be excused, earlier I took on a side-quest that I need to complete before the end of the lunch break.“ Futaba announced while packing up her stuff in her bag.

„What's the side-quest?“ Ann asked confused.

„A fellow NPC requires my help in finding the solution to a numerical puzzle that needs to be solved to achieve a Level-Up.“

„So… Math-Homework?“ Ryuji guessed.

„Yeah, its math homework, way to ruin the fun Ryuji!“ Futaba pouted.

„That‘s RyuMom to you!“ Ryuji scolded in fake-outrage and prepared himself for a long mom-like speech.

„You may be excused!“ Ann interrupted Ryuji quickly.

„Thanks!“ Futaba replied quickly and darted to the door.

Ryuji grinned. „ Nice parenting there, TakamaDad.“

„Please stop!“ Ann laughed and elbowed him playfully.

„Still got room for dessert?“ Ryuji was rummaging in his back.

„You know the answer, dont you?“ Ann replied, her interest piqued.

Ryuji pulled out a small plastic container, revealing 2 chocolate chip cookies.

„Your moms cookies?“ Ann gasped.

„She made ‘em yesterday, they‘re so freakin good!“ Ryuji offered her the box.

„Its heaven“ Ann mumbled with her mouth full. „Thanks, you‘re a lifesaver“.

As if in silent understanding Ryuji and Ann stayed on the rooftop after finishing their meals. Ryuji took out his new comic-book, showing it to Ann and roughly explaining the plot. She read alongside him for a few pages until eventually losing interest and checking social media on her phone, her head eventually finding rest on his shoulder triggering his head to eventually end up leaning on top of hers. It wasnt an odd scenario to find the two blondes sitting together like this, going about their own business while still enjoying each others comforting presence.

5 minutes before the bell, Ryuji lifted his head up and looked down at Ann „Yo, time to get up“ He sighed…. „Man, im tired...“.

„Me too...“ Ann said as she slowly sat up straight again and stifled a yawn.

They packed up their stuff and made their way down the stairs. As they were about to part ways to head towards their classrooms, Ann searched through her back to pick out two small cans of energy drink.

„Hey, catch!“ she said as she tossed the can into his hands. „So you dont fall asleep during class“ she grinned and gave him a quick wink, all the while walking backwards towards her classroom.

Ryuji, also walking backwards, caught the can and smiled at her. „Thanks, youre a lifesaver!“.

After a short moment of quiet, Ryuji spoke up again, having to raise his voice a little because they moved apart step-by-step: „So… See you for homework?“.

Ann was almost at her classroom door when she responded smiling: „Sure, dont be late though!“