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The Queen's Plan

Chapter Text

Now Makoto knew that midnight was the scariest period of night, and that the rumors about monsters wandering the streets were true. Every day at midnight, the phenomenon known as the "Dark Hour" took place. The sky turned green, the moon looked menacing, and time stopped for almost everyone. Only those who had the "potential" were able to experience that hour. Apparently Makoto was one of them, but so were the Phantom Thieves. They took advantage of the fact that time stopped for everyone else, and used the Dark Hour to run around causing mischief. Makoto was very angered at that thought.

Whenever Makoto had time after school, she trained hard. She needed to get back into shape at her martial art skills, not only because she refused to feel helpless like she did the day she experienced the Dark Hour for the first time, but also because she wanted to chase the Phantom Thieves. Rumors said they were actually students from Syujin High School. Makoto sincerely hoped it wasn't true, but she wanted to find out. And if it turned out that they were indeed her schoolmates, then she felt it was her duty as the Student Council President to enforce discipline and bring them to justice.

Makoto was in her uniform, ready to head to school when her cellphone beeped. She had a new text message.

"Just spam. Great..." Makoto grumbled and deleted the undesired message. "Huh?" She noticed a strange app icon on her cellphone's main screen. Makoto had almost no one to communicate with, and didn't usually pay much attention to her cellphone, but she didn't remember ever seeing that icon.

Makoto tapped the icon and tried to see what the app was about, but an error message greeted her. "Error. No distortions detected. The program cannot execute. Exiting..."

"Distortions? What...?"

She accessed the app manager and tried to find out more about that program. The first thing she noticed was that the uninstall button was unavailable and greyed out. And the second thing was the date of the app's installation, which was a date Makoto remembered all too well. The day that nearly everything went wrong for her, and ended in her awakening to the Dark Hour. She didn't remember downloading anything to her phone that day, though. Maybe it came with some automatic system update that downloaded while she wasn't looking. And the fact that it couldn't be uninstalled must be because it was an essential component for her phone's operating system to function. That had to be it.

Makoto decided to leave it at that. She put her cellphone away and left her house.

On the way to school, Makoto overheard two students gossiping.

"I've heard that the Phantom Thieves might be students in our school. I wonder where this rumor came from."

"Because of the rehabilitation program, our school is famous for having a lot of delinquents. So, people probably thought that the Phantom Thieves might have come from there." The second boy reasoned.

"I hope the rumor isn't true, though. It's kinda scary. I've heard that the Phantom Thieves steal people's hearts, but that makes no sense. I mean, people'd die if their hearts were removed from their bodies."

The first boy changed the subject. "Speaking of problem students, the other day I ran into that second year transfer student people've been talking about. You know, the one wearing glasses."

At that, Makoto perked up.

The same boy continued. "He looks quiet, but rumors say that he can become violent if provoked. That's why he got detained before transferring to our school. I literally bumped into him on my way to class, and dropped my folder and my books. I froze when I realized who I had bumped into. I was scared thinking that he'd get angry at me. But instead, he stopped and actually helped me pick my stuff up. Maybe he isn't that bad, after all..."

Makoto couldn't help but smile at hearing about that kind gesture. That student could only be talking about Kazushi Miura, the quiet transfer student from class 2-D who had helped her on the day she experienced the Dark Hour for the first time. At first, she had also believed that he was a problem student, because of the rumors she heard and because she saw him in the middle of trouble a few times. But after he helped her in the Dark Hour and she got to know him a bit, her opinion of him started to change. Now she was curious about Miura and wanted to know more about him. Maybe she should look for him and try to engage in conversation with him...

In the afternoon, after a long day taking care of paperwork in Student Council, Makoto was on her way back from school when she witnessed an... oddly cute sight. Kazushi Miura was crossing the street and coming to the same side as her. A black little cat was riding on his back and seemed to be asleep, with its head comfortably leaning against Miura's head. Makoto would have never imagined Miura was the kind of person that would be into cats.

"Hm?" Miura noticed Makoto's stare and stopped walking.

Makoto also stopped walking. "Good afternoon, Miura." She spoke in a low voice to avoid startling the kitty.

"Hello, Niijima-san." He greeted her back, with his voice as quiet and calm as always.

"Um, is that your cat?" Makoto asked him.

On Miura's back, the cat shifted a bit.

"Uh, oh, well..." Miura seemed to freeze for a moment, but answered, "Not really. He's from around here. But he got very attached to me for some reason, and now refuses to leave me alone. I guess I'll have to look after him for the time being."

"Oh." The cat was a he, then. "Does he have a name?"

"Morgana." Miura answered simply.

"Morgana...?" Makoto deadpanned. "But that's a girl's name!"

"Not my fault. It wasn't me who named him." Miura justified himself. "When I found out about the gender, I had the same reaction as you, actually."

"Ah, okay." Makoto was satisfied with that explanation. Since Miura said Morgana wasn't his cat, then the name must have been chosen by Morgana's actual owner, or previous owner, or whatever. "He looks so peaceful over there..."

"He's quiet when he wants to be. But when he wants something very badly, it's a whole different story. He's very curious and likes snooping around. Even if I send him away, he comes back to my home. And he wants to follow me wherever I go. I have to lock him up in my room so that he doesn't follow me to school."

"He really likes you, huh?" And the opposite seemed to be also true. Since Miura didn't usually talk much, the way he went on and on about the cat showed he must like Morgana a lot, too. As adorable as that display was, Makoto recalled Miura's last sentence and regained her composure. "But bringing him to school would really be a problem! I can't let you off the hook if that happens, got it?!"

Miura reached behind and lightly patted the cat. "Morgana, you heard that."

Makoto couldn't help but chuckle at Miura's cute gesture. But her expression became serious again. "Uh, Miura. About the Dark Hour..."

Miura tilted his head a bit. "What about it?"

"I've been trying to find out more information about it, with no luck. I've looked it up on the Internet, but I found nothing."

"Same here."

"You've looked it up too?" For some reason, Makoto hadn't expected he would have had the same idea as her, as obvious of an idea as it was.

"Yeah. Nothing turned up. And you know what's even more frustrating? My creepy correctional officers seem to know about it."

"Your correctional officers?" Makoto recalled her conversation with Miura from the other day. "You mean those ones who put you through some unsettling stuff...?"

"Yeah, them." Miura nodded. "they said that the Dark Hour had already happened years ago but came to an end, and now it started again for a different reason. I asked them what this reason was, but they said it's what I should find out by myself. I looked it up on the Internet to see if I could find something about the time it happened before, but I found nothing."

"What are you going to do about the Dark Hour?" Makoto asked.

"I don't really know..." Miura had a distant look behind his glasses. "You?"

Honestly, Makoto didn't really know what to do about the Dark Hour yet. Her only concrete plan at the moment was trying to find out about the Phantom Thieves, but it was probably best to not tell anyone about that. "I don't really know, either..."

"Persona. It's the name of our power."

"Persona..." Makoto echoed.

"Have you felt anything different? Anything that might be related to your power?"

Makoto shook her head. "No... but I've been honing my martial art skills to be able to take those monsters on. I feel much more confident now, and I'd like to believe that I can fend for myself if something happens during the Dark Hour."

For a split second, Miura seemed a bit worried. "Be careful. And... don't do anything reckless."

Makoto froze. She had actually been considering going out during the Dark Hour and hunting some monsters to check the results of her training, not to mention trying to find the Phantom Thieves. She concluded that revealing her plans was definitely a bad idea. "Yes, I'll be careful." She tried to assure him.

Miura only stared blankly at her, and Makoto couldn't tell if he got convinced or not, but then he changed the subject. "Alright. I have to go now. Lots of homework today."

"Okay. See you around, Miura. Bye, Morgana!"

Morgana perked up upon hearing his name, and glanced at Makoto lazily, with his eyes still half-closed.

As Makoto made her way home, the cute image of Miura with the little cat kept appearing in her head and bringing smiles to her face.

The next day during lunch break, Makoto had to stop an argument between students. Miura was also present. Since He didn't say anything, it seemed as though some people had caused trouble and he ended up caught in the mess because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or at least, Makoto wanted to believe that he was innocent. The other students, though, were a whole different story. They nearly started a fistfight, thanks to one Ryuji Sakamoto.

After Makoto's intervention, the students dispersed.

"Miura." She called, and he turned his head towards her. "Was Sakamoto who started it?"

"No, it was those guys from 2-C. They were bullying a first year student, Ryuji went in, and things heated up."

"Do you know who the first year student is?"

"I don't know his name or his class. I don't see him now. I think he ran off during the commotion."

"I see." Makoto nodded. She would try to track the student down later. "And what were you doing in the middle of it all, may I ask?" She threw him a suspicious glare.

"I was near Ryuji when it happened. That's all."

Makoto was relieved to hear that. She chose to believe that Miura was innocent. Ryuji Sakamoto, on the other hand, was trouble. "You should avoid hanging around Sakamoto. He's definitely a bad influence. Be careful, and don't let him drag you into trouble." Makoto changed the subject. "By the way? How's Morgana doing?"

"Morgana's doing fine. Getting harder to deal with by the day. Today, he almost managed to steal the key from me to avoid being locked up."

"Seriously?" Makoto was having a hard time trying to picture the scene. "Are you sure you need to lock him up? Isn't it enough to just close the door?"

"No. He can jump on the door handle and open it just fine."

"Whoa." Makoto balked and thought twice. That cute little cat didn't seem capable of doing such things. "Is this really true? Aren't you making this up?"

"I wish I were." Miura sighed. "I'd rather have five extra minutes to sleep than have to struggle with Morgana for five minutes every morning. If there's one thing that I've learned during these mornings, it's that underestimating him is a big mistake."

"Uh, well, I'll have to take your word for it, I guess." Makoto shrugged. "Lunch break is almost over. I'll return to class."

Miura nodded, and they went on their separate ways.

Makoto finished training for the day. Despite having tried to convince Miura that she wouldn't do anything reckless, Makoto was determined to attempt to take on a monster that night. She was so confident that she left home around 11:45, and when Dark Hour struck, she was nearing the school. She recalled Miura saying the monsters seemed to come from the school, and that was where she would go. Even though trains didn't work during the Dark Hour, Makoto thankfully lived only a few stations away from the school, and didn't need to ride a train if she didn't mind the walk, which was usually the case.

On the way to the school, Makoto was surprised to see five figures walking in the distance. She quickened her pace to take a closer look, and could tell that four of them were people wearing masks and mostly dark clothes, and the last one was a creature she couldn't identify. Makoto nearly froze on the spot. They had to be the Phantom Thieves! They fit the descriptions from the news, and were moving during the Dark Hour. It had to be them. Perfect! It was her chance to put them in their places! Makoto followed them carefully, and they didn't show any sign that they had noticed her. Coincidentally or not, they also seemed to be heading to the school. What were they going to do there?

When Makoto got to the school's location, she nearly failed to suppress a gasp. At that moment, she had forgotten about the rumor that said the school transformed at midnight, and she was shocked to see a magnificent palace where the school should have been. Makoto took a while to recover from the shock. When she did, the figures she had been following had already disappeared into the entrance.

Makoto entered the palace and arrived at a corridor. A trio of blob monsters similar to the ones that attacked her during her first Dark Hour experience were facing away from her. Makoto snuck behind them and punched one of them. Her punch caught the monster by surprise and threw it against the second monster. Both blobs exploded into black ooze, and only one remained. It charged at Makoto, but she dodged the attack and threw a punch to the monster's side. The impact made the blob skid until it collided with the nearest wall and explode. Makoto smirked. She had done it! She really could take those things on!

Makoto continued on her way, and found the figures she had been following. They were also fighting monsters. Makoto took a step back when some kind of blue energy seemed to come out of their masks and materialized into humanoid creatures, which defeated the monsters with one attack more devastating than the other. One attack was fire and burned the opponent to ashes. The other was a gust of wind that knocked a monster to the ground with such a force that made it explode on impact. The other was an electric jolt that practically fried the monster it came in contact with. And the other was a pillar of ice that froze its opponent to death. Was this the power of the Phantom Thieves?

Makoto was paralyzed in both awe and fear. All her confidence melted away. She had thought she had become stronger and able to fend for herself during the Dark Hour, but she was wrong. The Phantom Thieves were clearly much stronger than her, and also had special powers beyond her imagination. Makoto saw how power might have gone over their heads, and how they might abuse it and think they could do whatever they wanted during that hour when time was frozen to everyone else. They had special powers, and were really above anyone else during the Dark Hour. They were a serious threat. Makoto realized that the mere idea of confronting them was foolish. They had special powers that she didn't have. Not only that. They were a group, while she was alone. And like Miura had said, numbers also make a difference.

"Someone's following us." Came the deep voice of a boy wearing a fox mask.

Only then Makoto realized that she had been spotted.

"Huh? Ms. President?" It was another of their members, a girl in a colorful panther suit.

"Ah!" Makoto startled and gasped. She did her best to look brave. "Y-you are the Phantom Thieves, aren't you?! ... And if you know I'm the Student Council President, then it means that you are also students from Syujin!" Makoto spat out her conclusion, surprised that her brain was still working.

"Ah, oops..." The panther-masked girl threw an apologetic look to the other group members.

"Not everyone here is a student. I'm not, obviously." The voice's owner was a bipedal feline creature. That startled Makoto once again, because she hadn't expected it to be able to talk.

"Yeah. You're a cat, obviously," another member, a boy with a skull mask, said.

That statement clearly angered the creature. "No, I'm not a cat!"

"Then what are you? A yellow mouse?" The boy with the skull mask mocked.

"... No, I'm not!" The bipedal feline seemed to be in a mix between angered and offended. "I'm not a cat, and I'm definitely not a mouse! I'm Mor... uh, Mona! Yeah, just... Mona..."

"Hey, Skull, stop mocking him." It was the girl in the panther suit again.

"But Panther, he's so fun to mess with!" Skull whined.

"It's a touchy subject for him. Not even he knows exactly what he is!" Panther argued.

Makoto was incredulous. Those guys were a band of idiots. Powerful and dangerous idiots, she reminded herself. They seemed to be immature teenagers that thought they could do whatever they wanted as though they owned the world. "W-wait, you mean you're blindly siding with a random mysterious creature that you know nothing about?"

"Everything is mysterious and unknown during this hour." the boy with the fox mask reasoned.

Panther added, "Mona knows a lot about this place, and is the only one that can help us explore it."

The feline creature, Mona, seemed disheartened. "I wonder what I really am... I wish I were a cool and handsome boy... like our leader."

And that reminded Makoto that she had been following a group of five, but she could only see four.

"Ugh, speaking of our leader, we disobeyed orders, didn't we?" The Skull boy looked at the others sheepishly. "He had told us to not move while he took care of his... special Persona stuff."

"You disobeyed orders." The fox-masked boy accused.

"Yeah, you charged at a pack of Shadows and dragged us into the fight!" Mona added.

"I didn't drag anyone! You joined because you wanted to! I didn't need help!" Skull shot back.

"Of course you needed help!" Mona shouted. "Each Shadow was weak to a different element. You'd have a hard time handling them alone! ... If you were even able to handle them at all, that is."

The argument would have gone on and on if a firm and powerful voice hadn't torn through their bickering. "Enough!"

Makoto startled. Her gaze reflexively flew in the voice's direction, and she saw someone stepping out from behind a pillar. A masculine figure in black attire and wearing a bird mask. Makoto froze. By the descriptions on the news, that had to be the group's leader, the Phantom himself. He looked cunning and dangerous, and unlike the others, he didn't seem in the mood to be fooling around.

"Ah! Uh, hey, Joker." Skull laughed nervously and waved to the group's leader, but the Phantom didn't seem very pleased. "Um, sorry. I just wanted to sneak up behind the Shadows like you do. I had only seen one, but there were three, and..."

The Phantom raised one hand, and Skull silenced.

The boy with the fox mask, on the other hand, didn't seem fazed. He merely glanced at the pillar the leader had stood behind until a few seconds ago. "You were listening."

"Uh, how much did you hear?" Skull asked nervously.

"Enough to understand what happened."

"By the way, today we have company." The fox-masked boy reminded the group. "What should we do about her?"

The leader signaled to the others. All group members huddled in a corner and began whispering among themselves.

Makoto watched apprehensively as the Phantom Thieves talked to decide her fate. She considered running away now that she had the chance. But she had been wanting to find them, and they were there right in front of her. She couldn't run away now. It was her chance to put her plan into practice.

The Phantom Thieves finished their discussion and approached Makoto. She froze as all eyes locked on her.

"What are you doing here?" The Phantom's imposing aura was especially intimidating. His voice was powerful and sharp like a knife.

Makoto thought her heart would stop. "I... I... I heard about the rumors, and..."

"To come here at this time of night... you sure like the school, huh?" Skull had a devious smirk on his face. He looked like an animal just waiting for the right moment to jump onto its prey. "Ha ha ha." He laughed mockingly. "Who'd have guessed that the Student Council President was a Persona user?"

"P-Persona...?" Was the only word that managed to leave Makoto's mouth.

"Huh? You don't know?" Skull's smirk momentarily disappeared. "Those things we summon during fights. You saw them, right? Don't you have one yet?"

Persona. Makoto realized it was the keyword Miura had mentioned the previous day. Did it mean that she was supposed to be able to summon a creature like the ones she saw the group summon earlier? Unlike the Phantom Thieves, though, she couldn't do it. Makoto said nothing. She didn't want to admit to those thieves that she was much weaker than them.

"You're conscious during the Dark Hour. You also have one. You just need to awaken it!" Mona chimed in. "If you join us, we can try to help you."

"W-what?!" Makoto balled her fists in anger. "I refuse! I wouldn't join a group that steals things, causes property damage everywhere, and does who knows what else!"

"And it's exactly the 'who knows what else' that is the most interesting part." Skull looked at her mischievously. "You have no idea what you've been missing, heheheh."

Makoto took a step back. What were those Phantom Thieves planning to do to her?!

"Skull, you're scaring her." Panther interjected.

"I can see that. Never thought I'd ever see Ms. Almighty President so scared. It's priceless!"

"You're going too far." The fox-masked boy didn't seem to share the sentiment.

"Inari, you're no fun." Skull sighed. "Ah, fine." He shrugged and looked at Makoto again. "We'll give you one more chance. What will you do, President?"

What was Makoto to do? If she ultimately refused and they concluded she was of no use to them, what would they do to her?

"We're not doing any stealing today," Panther said, as though that fact would change everything. "Come on with us!"

"... Why? Why do you insist so much?" Makoto asked apprehensively.

"We need more members." It was Panther again.

"M-more members? I refuse to contribute to what you're doing!"

"Today we're only checking the place out," Mona said. "Isn't this what you came here for, too?"

"It's safer to be with a group than to be alone." Panther added with a grin. "It should be more fun, too!"

"Fun?! Are you insinuating that causing property damage and stealing is fun?!" Makoto spat in rage.

Panther gasped and her eyes widened. "Th-that's not what I meant! What I wanted to say is... that it's fun to be around friends!"

"Friends...?" Makoto echoed. Were the group members that close to one another? That wasn't the impression she got. Skull and Mona were always bickering while Panther tried to stop them. Fox seemed to act as the voice of reason, but otherwise seemed indifferent towards the other members. Lastly, the Phantom seemed cold and calculating, and didn't hint that he cared much about any of them.

Makoto considered her options. She didn't want to join them. It went against her principles. On the other hand, if she spent more time around the group, she could gather more information on them, and if everything went her way, she might find out who they were, and could take action appropriately. If she awakened to her Persona power along the way, it would be even better since she would have a greater chance at confronting them.

Makoto finally came to a decision. "Um, o-okay. I'll stick around your group for the time being. But it'll be temporary, alright? Just until I get the hang of the basics. I began experiencing the Dark Hour only recently, and am still a bit lost."

"Seriously? You're with us, then?" Skull seemed incredulous.

Makoto realized she still had a chance of avoiding to join them. Their leader hadn't given his opinion yet. He should be the one to give the final word. "If your leader doesn't mind, that is."

"Then, welcome to the group." The leader announced, and crushed Makoto's hopes of not being accepted.

"Does this mean that we'll have to stand you shouting at us the whole time?" Skull grimaced, but shrugged. "Nah, whatever. Welcome."

Mona was excited. "Now that you're in, we have to give you a code name!"

"Hey, wait a minute!" Makoto gesticulated nervously. "I've just said it's temporary!"

"But you need a code name so that we can address you!" Mona insisted. "Hmm... yeah! From now on, you'll be Queen!"

""Huh? That was sudden.

"Hey, spot on! She's angry and demanding like a queen, so..." Skull observed, and earned a glare from Makoto. "See? That's what I mean."

"Err, actually, I was thinking of playing cards," Mona said. "You know, just like joker is also a playing card." He looked at Makoto. "Joker's our leader's code name, by the way."

"Oh." Makoto couldn't imagine why, though. The Phantom definitely didn't seem to be a joker.

"We should get moving. We've wasted a lot of time." The leader urged. "Someone should stay at the back to protect her in case the enemies bypass the front line."

Makoto didn't like to hear that. "I don't need to be protected!"

"You are not only unequipped, but also lack a Persona."

"I've already defeated a few monsters around here. I can fend for myself just fine!" Makoto threw a few punches in the air to make her point.

But the Phantom wasn't convinced. "The enemies beyond here are way stronger than the ones near the entrance. It's too risky to tackle them on without a Persona."

"And why should you care!?" Oh no. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Stupid me! Makoto scolded herself as a thought. Clashing with the Phantom wasn't a good idea at all! She was just asking for trouble! What would he do to her if he lost his temper? Makoto should be thankful that he had let her join the group and that she was undercover now... but her mouth moved quicker than her brain, and the words were out even before she had realized it.

"Because the safety of my group members is my responsibility." His voice was firm and authoritative. "Just to be clear. You aren't getting special treatment here. I'm treating you the same way I'd treat any other member in a similar situation as yours. I don't doubt your abilities, and don't doubt that you can awaken your Persona. But everything is an unknown variable in the Dark Hour, and I would rather not take unnecessary risks."

Makoto was amazed. His answer made perfect sense, and she actually agreed with his reasoning. She could see that he was a good leader. He really seemed to know what he was doing. If it weren't for the fact that he was a Phantom Thief, he would have her respect.

Then, Makoto realized she had been gaping and staring blankly at the Phantom for a while. He was also staring back at her from behind his mask. His aura of authority was strong, and his gaze unwavering. Makoto felt horrible for having caused such a commotion, and for being lectured like that in front of everyone. But she needed to shake these thoughts away and focus on the matter at hand. The Phantom was still awaiting her response. She should confirm her agreement soon before he could lose his patience with her. "Y-yes, I understand." Makoto's voice shook with shame.

"Good." The leader nodded, satisfied.

"Whoa, I thought I was the only one that would ever be lectured like that." Skull commented.

The Phantom's attention turned to Skull. "Good to know you heard this, because the part about avoiding unnecessary risks also goes for you. You are always the first one to get us in trouble."

Skull flinched. "Ugh, yeah, I know. Sorry. I'll try to control myself better."

"I hope so," were the leader's words.

"Okay, I'll stay near her." Panther volunteered and put an end to that discussion.

Makoto was secretly thankful that Panther would be the one to assist her. That girl seemed to be the most friendly member of the group.

"Alright! Now that that's settled, let's move on! Everyone, follow me!" Mona eagerly led the way.

They passed through a corridor and avoided a few enemies. They stopped in front of a door, and the leader took his cellphone out. Makoto was sure electronics weren't supposed to work during the Dark Hour, but that cellphone was somehow working. After a few taps on the phone's touch screen, the door opened and the group entered.

The scenery on the other side was nothing like Makoto had expected. It looked like a huge run-down building with broken objects scattered all over the place.

"... What kind of place is this?!"

"It's the remains of the Palace created by our last target's chaotic mind!" Mona answered from his position at the front. "There are some sections we still haven't explored."

That explanation made no sense to Makoto. She noticed some expensive-looking pieces of porcelain and furniture knocked down in a corner. Objects that looked like should belong to a residence. A mansion, maybe. "Does anyone live here?"

"Only the Shadows, the mindless monsters." Panther pointed at another corridor. "... Like that one there."

Makoto's gaze shot to the indicated direction just in time to see a lion-like beast ramming into more of the furniture and destroying it. She wondered if they would have to fight that monster, but the group at the front headed in a different direction.

Makoto wondered what she had gotten herself into as they avoided more enemies along the way. That place was dangerous. It looked like a huge abandoned mansion overrun by monsters.

The group at the front ran into monsters on the next corridor. They had no choice but to fight, and Makoto witnessed the summoning of Personas and the devastating elemental attacks once again. Another curious thing was that even though the Phantom Thieves got hit by elemental attacks like fire and ice a few times, they seemed to hold up just fine. Not even their clothes seemed to have taken damage at all.

"When our attacks make physical contact with the enemy, like punches, kicks or ramming, we say they're physical attacks." Panther explained to Makoto while they watched the others battle. "Physical attacks depend on our stamina. Well, we call it 'HP,' like in video games, because it's easy to understand. If our Personas use physical attacks too much, we feel physically tired. And there's another kind of attacks, like fire and wind and other elemental stuff. We don't know what they really are, but we just call them 'magic.' Magic depends on our spiritual energy. We just call it 'SP,' for 'Spirit Points.' If our Personas use magic too much, we feel mentally tired. Both our Personas and the Shadows have weaknesses, either to physical attacks, or projectiles, or one of the elements."

Makoto nodded. That explanation really sounded like something from a video game. And that was the big problem. It indicated how the Phantom Thieves viewed the Dark Hour and its dangers. To them, it was just a little game.

A few battles later...

"Grrr!" Skull gritted his teeth in frustration. "Why those things need to be weak to electric? I don't have that much SP! Gimme a break!"

"Go only for physical, then. I'll handle electricity." The leader offered.

Skull straightened up immediately. "And let you have all the action? No way! You already get too much spotlight as it is, Mr. Special." He dug in his equipment and took out a can of something. "At least this way I can have a drink."

"Weird, huh?" Panther chuckled. "We've found out that most soft drinks refill our SP. Go figure." She spoke again once they had resumed their walk. "Our leader is strict, but he's nice once you get to know him. Now that I think about it, both you and he have a strong sense of responsibility and stuff. You might get along well with him."

"I don't know..." Makoto highly doubted it. Her heated argument with him earlier showed she was off to a horrible start in that regard.

"Joker has a lot on his plate. For some reason, he's different. Like, special. While we only have one Persona, he can use many of them."

Just as Panther said that, the group at the front had entered a battle, and the Phantom summoned a different Persona from the one he had been using until that moment.

Makoto felt it was unfair. She didn't have one Persona yet, and he could use many! "Why is that?"

"I don't know. But it must be tough. We have trouble keeping track of the attacks and weaknesses of only one Persona. Keeping track of that and coming up with strategies for each of his many Personas must be hard work."

Another battle started. Makoto gasped in horror as she witnessed the Phantom and Skull shoot monsters with... "Guns...! Your group is armed! How did you even get your hands on those!"

"Hey, c-calm down!" Panther raised a hand. "Those aren't real! They're just model guns... but somehow, they work wonders against Shadows..." She laughed sheepishly.

Makoto looked at the guns again, and indeed, they weren't real guns. Still, to her, that wasn't a reason for laughing. Somehow, the Dark Hour turned normal clothes into resilient armor, and model guns into lethal weapons. This only gave more power to the Phantom Thieves, and more reasons to make them think they were invincible during the Dark Hour.

To Makoto's shock, they showed to be hiding more weapons. The Phantom attacked with an elaborate knife. Mona used a sword. Skull retrieved a huge metal bar from the ground and proceeded to hit the enemy with it, while Fox used a katana and moved like a samurai. It looked as if they were playing movie characters. Anger flared up inside Makoto as she watched them. Model guns could still cause harm to people even though the pellets were made of plastic. Mona's sword and Fox's katana may be imitations, but could still hurt others. A swing from the metal bar Skull was using was also very dangerous, and the Phantom's knife was clearly real. Worst of all. Judging by the smirks that appeared on their faces when their attacks connected, they were having fun. Fun! They didn't seem to be aware of how dangerous their actions were. They thought using weapons was cool, and were enjoying the violence. Makoto didn't approve of that.

Makoto glared at Panther. "I only hope you aren't bringing those things to school!"

"Don't worry. We only use them during the Dark Hour." Panther assured her.

"If I ever catch any student bringing weapons to school, real or otherwise, I'm not going to let it lie, alright?!"

Panther nodded. "Yeah, we know. Joker's very strict about those things too. If you ever catch anyone, it won't be us." Panther seemed confident.

"Hey." Mona bounded to Makoto's location and handed her a pair of brass knuckles. "We've just found this. Joker said you might have a use for it and told me to give it to you."

Makoto glared warily at both Mona and the equipment. She didn't want to join that group of immature and reckless teenagers in their violent methods, but on the other hand, that equipment might help her defend herself from those monsters with more ease. In the end, she awkwardly accepted the brass knuckles. "Uh, thank you." She put them on, and they surprisingly fit nicely.

Mona returned to the front line and the group resumed the exploration.

Another battle took place. The group at the front incapacitated the enemies and circled them threateningly as though holding them hostage.

"Hey, you two back there!" Skull called. "Come join the action!"

"Let's finish those Shadows off!" Panther beckoned Makoto to join the others.

"Huh, weren't we supposed to stay behind?" Makoto asked in confusion.

"It's safe while the enemies are incapacitated. It's also your chance to test your new equipment!"

"Uh, alright." Makoto decided to give it a try.

"Then, here we come! Mwahahahahahaha!" Panther's demeanor changed drastically. An evil look crossed her eyes, and she laughed maniacally as she charged towards the monsters.

Makoto hesitantly followed Panther to the front. Then, she was horrified as the Phantom Thieves closed in to their targets at once. They attacked viciously and with murderous looks on their faces, and Makoto almost pitied the monsters that were pummeled so brutally. That made her forget the group members' friendly facades and remember that, above all, they were delinquents. Young and dangerous delinquents with supernatural powers in their hands, and that probably knew no limits. Makoto was paralyzed for a few seconds, wondering what she had gotten herself into. She sincerely hoped they didn't do anything like that to people at school. No, as the Student Council President, she shouldn't ever allow them to do anything like that at school! Their little game of power needed to end! She was undercover. In a matter of time, she would figure out their identities and put them in their places!

"Aaaaaaaaah!" Driven by rage and newfound determination to stop the Phantom Thieves' plans, Makoto let out a battle cry and punched the monster in front of her several times as hard as she could. By the end of it, she failed to realize that she had been the most violent of them all.

"Whew, what was that!?" Skull nearly shouted once their enemies were no more. "That was awesome!"

"Ha ha ha!" Panther laughed. "But this is also a reminder that you shouldn't get on her bad side."

Skull took a step back. "Yeah, I'll keep that in mind..."

"Awesome! This is our Queen!" Mona sheered.

Makoto had to control herself to not give in to their flattery. They really seemed to mean their compliments to her. At least they seemed oblivious to the fact that she was planning to betray them.

"That was impressive."

And then the Phantom's comment came. The tone of his voice lacked the usual authority. It sounded honest, gentle, and maybe even a bit... proud? Anyway, Makoto was sure she was somehow able to impress him.

"Now you know what I'm capable of." Makoto spoke confidently.

"I never doubted you." The leader had regained most of his composure, but there was still a hint of pride in his voice.

Makoto flashed a devious smirk of her own. This was just the beginning. She was getting more confident that she would become much stronger, and would eventually be able to outsmart them and turn the tables in her favor.

They continued their exploration and gathered a few more items.

"This should be enough for today." The leader announced when they got to a huge room with a strange device in it. "We'll continue the exploration tomorrow."

"Yeah, I'm beat." Skull looked like he was going to collapse.

"That's what happens when you use too much SP." Fox quipped.

"Next time, I'll take over." The leader declared decisively and left no room for argument.

"... Alright." Skull sighed in defeat. "For now, at least we don't need to walk all the way back."

Makoto wondered what Skull had meant by that. Soon, she got her answer. The group used the strange device that was in the room they were in, and got teleported to a place near the exit. Makoto kept wondering how surreal that was. They had walked so much, yet that device transported them back to the exit so easily. It really seemed like a video game, or something from a sci-fi movie. And that was what angered Makoto the most. To the Phantom Thieves, the Dark Hour didn't seem to be much more than a game. They acted recklessly and didn't seem to be aware that they were risking their lives.

"Because the safety of my group members is my responsibility." The Phantom's words replayed in Makoto's mind. Okay, maybe the leader was aware of the danger. But it didn't seem to be the case for the others.

"You'll be coming tomorrow, right?" Mona's voice pulled Makoto out of her thoughts.

"Huh? ... Yes." As much as Makoto didn't want to come, she had to stay near them to learn more about them and put her plan into action.

"Great!" Mona seemed pleased. "We'll meet here at midnight in front of the school, then."

Makoto was adamant about going back home by herself. The last thing she wanted was the Phantom Thieves to find out where she lived. She told them that she would be fine by herself, and they surprisingly didn't insist on accompanying her. The group walked with her for a few blocks before they split ways.

Makoto arrived back in her house without incident. She put her new brass knuckles away, changed into her pajamas, and plopped onto her bed. Her plan of going undercover seemed to have started well, but something still didn't sit right with her. If she kept sticking around the Phantom Thieves, she would eventually have to go on a raid with them. Was she really doing the right thing?

As Makoto tried to fall asleep, she wondered who those Phantom Thieves were. Excluding Mona who was a mystery in itself, there were the four masked humans. Panther and Skull were definitely Syujin students. The fact that they had recognized Makoto as the Student Council President was proof of this. But how could Makoto find out who they were? Skull was clearly a reckless troublemaker, and Syujin was full of this kind of people. Panther was harder to read because her behavior wasn't that glaring. Fox spoke little and was even harder to read. But the biggest enigma was the group's leader, known to the general public as the Phantom, and internally known to his group as Joker. He was very intelligent, strict, a good leader, and could summon multiple Personas. Did they have someone this talented at Syujin? Was he even a student there in the first place? Makoto was mulling over these thoughts when she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

When Makoto arrived at school the following morning, she overheard students talking.

"I've heard that the Phantom Thieves might be students from our school. I hope it isn't true!"

Unfortunately, now Makoto was sure that it was true. At least two of the Phantom Thieves were in Syujin High School. Both Skull and Panther recognized her as the Student Council President. She didn't need more proof than that. Now the questions were, who were they? Which year, and which class?

Makoto was passing through the courtyard when she saw a male student chasing a blond girl.

"Heheheh." The boy cornered the girl against a wall. "It's decided. Today is the day you're skipping class and going on a date with me!"

"I-I refuse!" The girl's voice shook in panic.

"Your opinion doesn't matter. Only what I want matters. I'm in a bad mood today, and what's a better way to cool off than going on a date with a cute foreign chick like you?"

Makoto's eyes flared with anger at hearing those words. That guy was forcing someone on a date, and he mentioned skipping class! That was wrong on so many levels. Makoto stepped forward. "Skipping class, you said?"

The male student gulped. "Ah! It's th-the S-Student Council President!"

"I'm also in a bad mood today." Makoto warned. "Leave her alone or else!"

"Aaaaaaah!" The student panicked. He released the girl and ran for dear life.

Makoto approached the girl. "Are you okay?"

"Th-thank you!" The girl bowed to Makoto, then lowered her head and closed her eyes in embarrassment. "Phew, what a relief..."

Makoto was worried. "Does this kind of thing happen often?"

"Uh, m-more or less." The girl seemed a bit lost as to what to say. "Um, I mean, weird guys are always asking me out. I turn most of them down just fine, but sometimes it gets... unpleasant like that."

"If something similar ever happens again, be sure to report it to Student Council, okay?"

"Uh, thanks. I'll try. If I at least identify the guys..."

Makoto nodded. She was about to turn around and leave, but stopped. She recalled having seen that girl around a few times, but didn't remember the girl's name or her class. "Um, I believe I haven't caught your name..."

"Huh?" The girl hesitated a bit. "It's... Ann Takamaki."

"Takamaki..." Makoto muttered. She recalled having checked Ann Takamaki's profile. The girl was actually well-known at school because of her American heritage that made her appearance stand out.

"Um, I'll head to class now. Thanks for the help." Takamaki excused herself.

Later that morning, Makoto was asked to bring a folder to one of the teachers, who happened to be lecturing class 2-D. When she entered the classroom, all students silenced. But when Makoto handed the folder and began talking to the teacher, many students began chattering among themselves. When she finished her business and was about to leave, the classroom was reasonably noisy. Her eyes quickly scanned the students, and she was a bit surprised to see that the girl from earlier, Ann Takamaki, was actually in that class. What a coincidence.

Makoto's gaze briefly stopped on Miura, and she wondered whether she should talk to him about what had happened to her at the Dark Hour last night, since he was the only person she could discuss the Dark Hour with. If only he caught the hint that she wanted to talk to him later... but he didn't so much as acknowledge her glance, and she gave up for the moment.

When lunch break started, Makoto considered looking at the students at the courtyard to see whether any of them had any trait that reminded her of the Phantom Thieves. Even though she didn't know their faces because of their masks, there were other traits she could see just fine.

However, something strange happened. When she tried to picture the Phantom Thieves' images, her mind fogged over. Strangely, the only details she remembered clearly were what mattered the least, which were their masks. Every other detail besides the masks was nothing more than a foggy silhouette.

Why? Makoto thought in puzzlement. I can't remember what they look like! ... Well, today I'll have to meet up with them again. I'll try to pay more attention to their appearances...

Change of plans. Makoto gave up on trying to remember the thieves' appearances for the moment. She would have to look for hints about them in some other way.

Makoto wolfed down a bread and hurried to the faculty office, determined to find something out about the Phantom Thieves through the student profile papers. Since the school was full of problem students which most likely didn't perform well academically, she figured she would try to look for the exception rather than the norm. Joker was very intelligent, and she guessed he must be an exemplar student. Judging from his movements during battle, he must be quite the athlete, too. He was also a responsible leader, if his attitude towards the safety of his group members were anything to go by. Makoto asked for the student profile papers and looked for traits like exceptionally high grades, great performance in sports, participation and leadership in clubs and other activities that might reveal good leadership qualities, but her research led her to nothing relevant.

"Oh, Niijima-san." a female teacher, Ms. Kawakami, entered the faculty office. "Working hard as always, I see."

"Ah, yes." Makoto lifted her head from the papers to regard the teacher. "Just checking some students' records."

The teacher smiled. "You're really committed to putting our students on the right track and making our school a better place... but I noticed that you're always either here or in the Student Council room. You should take it easy once in a while and spend your lunch break with friends from time to time."

"Friends..." Makoto echoed in a whisper as she realized one thing. She didn't have many friends. She always prioritized studies and her duties in Student Council over everything else, and didn't spend much time hanging out with anyone. At school, the people she interacted with the most were the teachers and other Student Council members. Even among her classmates, she only interacted with the ones that did group assignments with her, and that was about it.

"What I wanted to say is... that it's fun to be around friends!" Panther's words resurfaced in Makoto's mind, and Makoto wondered whether the Phantom Thieves were actually friends in school. Not that suspecting every group of friends on lunch break could be of any help, but it might be a clue nonetheless.

Makoto concluded that checking student records wasn't leading her anywhere, and decided to end her research in the faculty office for the moment. She put the papers away in their appropriate places, thanked Ms. Kawakami for the advice and left.

Makoto headed to the rooftop. Since it was usually quiet up there, it was the ideal place for her to breathe some fresh air and sort through her thoughts. When she arrived there, though, she could see that she wasn't alone. Ryuji Sakamoto was seated on a bench, and looked distracted.


"Ah!" His head shot up, and he looked like a deer caught up in headlights. "Y-you...! I... I didn't do anything, alright?!"

Makoto narrowed her eyes in suspicion. To her, it only sounded like he was confessing having caused trouble. Was he on the rooftop to hide from someone? "What are you talking about?"

"I don't know! But if you're talking to me, it can only be 'cause you're accusing me of something!"

"Oh..." Makoto thought his statement strangely made sense. "I can see why you'd think that. It can't be helped, with your reputation... but no, I wasn't even looking for you. I only came up here because I wanted to breathe some fresh air."

"Ah..." Sakamoto's expression relaxed.

"But since I ran into you, I'd like you to clarify something. About yesterday."

"Y-y-yesterday...?" He was on the defensive again.

"During lunch break. That commotion involving you and the students from 2-C." Makoto clarified.

"Ah, that." He relaxed. "What about it?"

Suspicious. It sounded like he was hiding something, and that he had been involved in more trouble yesterday aside from the incident during lunch break.

"I want to hear your side of the story."

"Alright." Sakamoto took a deep breath. "They were bullying a guy from first year. They threatened to hurt him and were forcing him to use his own money to buy lunch for them. I couldn't stand seeing that and butted in. Then I fought them, and the first year guy ran off."

Sakamoto's confession was surprisingly straightforward. He admitted to have taken part in a fight as though he hadn't done anything out of the ordinary. No regrets, no anything.

"Who is the first year student?" Makoto asked.

"He's a short, brunette guy. I don't know his name. Never talked to him."

Makoto found Sakamoto's actions reckless and absurd. "You went out of your way and got yourself in trouble for someone you don't even know?"

"He's always hanging around the courtyard. Those 2-C guys are always after him, and were already getting on my nerves."

Makoto narrowed her eyes at Sakamoto. "Next time, you should report to me instead of causing more trouble."

"And let those guys have their way while I'm off to get you?" He shook his head. "By the time you arrive, all the crap'll have already happened and they'll have run away."

Sadly, that was true...

Sakamoto added, "Then, when I see the first year guy again, I'll tell him to go talk to you, and you can hear his side of the story. Is that alright?"

Makoto nodded. "This is acceptable. Thank you for your cooperation, Sakamoto." She continued after a pause. "One more thing. You seemed to be uneasy when I mentioned 'yesterday.' Were you perhaps involved in something else yesterday?"

Sakamoto looked away. "And I thought you had said you weren't here to accuse me..."

The fact that he was avoiding the question made it even more suspicious.

"Answer my question, Sakamoto." Makoto demanded.

After a few seconds of stubborn silence, Sakamoto looked at her and sighed. "Uh, just messed with a classmate a bit. Nothing that big. You know, tried to hide his eraser, stuff like that."

"Can't you see that you're bothering people?!" Makoto glared at Sakamoto with disapproval. "You must stop."

Sakamoto looked away, clearly unwilling to comply.


He looked at her again, but changed the subject completely. "Hey, I know it's none of my business, but where do you usually spend lunch break?"

Makoto didn't like the way Sakamoto tried to evade the subject. His question could only mean that he was fed up with her scolding him and was sending her away to wherever she usually stayed.

"I don't see you around unless you're lecturing someone." He added.

Makoto sighed and decided to answer. "I'm usually in Student Council or the faculty office."

"Why? Don't they let you have lunch break or something?" To Makoto's surprise, Sakamoto didn't send her away. He actually sounded genuinely curious.

"No. It was my choice."

"So, today you finally got bored and decided to come here?"

"I came here because I have a lot to think about!" Makoto was losing her temper. She was at the roof to relax, but her talk with Sakamoto only got her more irritated.

"Oh... I'm in your way, aren't I? Okay, I'll shut up."

Makoto sat down on the bench, and made sure to put a considerable distance between her and Sakamoto. She sighed and closed her eyes. But rather than thinking about the issues in her mind, she decided to try to not think about anything and just relax.

When Makoto opened her eyes a few minutes later, she found Sakamoto staring intently at her face. "W-what are you looking at?!"

"Uh, oh, nothing." He quickly broke his stare. "I was just wondering... how every person has a lot of different faces. Uh, I mean, like... the image of you angry and shouting at everyone's too strong in my head, ya know? But now you looked so... calm, peaceful... and it was, uh, kinda... different. Not in a bad way, though... yeah." Sakamoto nodded to himself.

Makoto froze for a moment, taken aback by Sakamoto's rambling. It was deep and sort of made sense to her, and she was surprised to hear such a thing coming from that troublemaker's mouth.

Sakamoto laughed sheepishly. "What am I saying? Not even I quite understand it!"

"Uh, well, lunch break is almost over. We should return to class." Makoto regained her composure and stood up. "Make sure to reflect on your behavior, Sakamoto."

"You too. You should cool down a bit. You're more cute when you aren't angry."

"W-what are you saying!" Makoto's face flushed, both in anger and embarrassment.

"I'm saying that I think you should show up at the courtyard once in a while, lecture less and talk normally more. Everyone only knows you as the nagging Student Council President, and that's a shame." Sakamoto stood up. "Well, see ya." He waved her goodbye and left.

For a while, Makoto only stood there and stared into space. "Every person has a lot of different faces, huh?" She repeated Sakamoto's words. Yes, they definitely made sense, and could even be applied to Sakamoto himself. Before their interaction, Makoto had only seen him picking fights and causing trouble. Seeing him sitting calmly on a bench at the school's rooftop had been quite surprising to her. To tell the truth, Makoto had never stopped to imagine Sakamoto engaging in civil conversation, and definitely didn't expect him to be capable of dropping profound statements.

Ryuji Sakamoto let out a relieved sigh upon leaving the school's rooftop. He remembered what Kazushi Miura, code name Joker, had told them while they were whispering among themselves in the Palace.

"Our Personas give power to our disguises to hide our identities. Still, we should be wary of her. She'll be coming with us for now, but don't reveal our identities to her just yet."

Then, once they had left the Palace and parted ways with Queen, Joker gave them another warning. "She doesn't seem to have recognized any of us so far. This is good. But we shouldn't let our guard down. We must be careful when talking to her. Our Personas can only do so much. It'll be no use if we end up letting personal information slip. Even more so during the day."

Yes, they would eventually run into her at school during the day. Ryuji hadn't thought about that. Since he tended to run his mouth when talking to others, the chances of him slipping his tongue were big if he were to interact with her. The safest course of action would be to avoid her like the plague. Thankfully, he didn't run into her during the day that often...

... Or so he had thought. Lunch break started. He was still a bit tired from having used up all his SP last night. He was bored, and not in the mood to listen to all the students' noise at the courtyard. So, he headed to the rooftop. Not many people went there. But then, the Student Council President just had to show up at the rooftop too! Ryuji panicked. A lot of thoughts ran through his mind. Suspicions that she might have figured out his identity, or that she was suspecting him and came looking for him.

"... but no, I wasn't even looking for you." It was a relief to hear that statement. However, she just had to go and add, "But since I ran into you, I'd like you to clarify something. About yesterday."

That put Ryuji on edge again. The first thing that came to his mind was their adventure in the Palace yesterday. It thankfully proved to be just another misunderstanding, and she was only referring to the issue about the guy bullied by the 2-C students during lunch break. But then, she had to bring up "yesterday" again. She asked if he had been involved in anything else. He racked his brain for something he had done, and only came up with the small pranks he had played on one of his classmates during class. Makoto scolded him, but it was still better than having her figure his identity out.

They stopped talking, and Makoto became lost in thought. Ryuji considered leaving, but that might look even more suspicious. So, he stayed where he was. Soon, he found himself staring at her. She looked so calm, so different from the way she usually acted. For the first time, it occurred to Ryuji that she might have a softer side, and he wondered what kind of person Makoto Niijima really was.

"Never thought I'd ever see Ms. Almighty President so scared. It's priceless!" What was he thinking when he intimidated her like that in the Palace yesterday? He felt bad for her now. He shouldn't have done that. It was uncalled for. He should apologize. He opened his mouth to call Makoto to Earth and apologize to her, but he remembered just in time that he would be giving his Phantom Thief identity away if he did that. A knot formed in his stomach. Queen was right there to his side, and he couldn't apologize to her. The more the seconds ticked by, the more horrible Ryuji felt.

In the end, Ryuji ended up advising her to show up at the courtyard more often. When he realized what he had suggested, it was already too late. He wanted to facepalm. What had he just done? If Makoto indeed started following his advice, she would likely run into the other gang members more often, and the chances of her figuring them out would increase a lot! ... But the idea of her locked up in the Student Council room every day sounded so lonesome and boring...

Ryuji felt even worse now. If Makoto started coming to the courtyard frequently, hopefully the others wouldn't find out that it was his fault...

Once classes were over, Makoto went to the Student Council room. The first year student was there waiting for her, which meant that Sakamoto had indeed done his part. She asked the student about yesterday's bullying incident, then requested the bullies' presences. She was able to catch the bullies before they left school, and issued the proper warnings. Both the first year student and the bullies were very uncomfortable in Makoto's presence.

Makoto left school, but didn't go straight home. She had other personal issues she wasn't in the mood to think about, and being at home only made her think about them. She decided to take a walk and try to relax. She entered a park and was walking distractedly, and would have collided with a tree if someone hadn't called her to attention.

"Watch out!"

"Ah!" Makoto froze in her tracks. She took a proper look around, and the situation finally sank in. "Uh, thank you for the heads-up," she said to the only other person in sight. A tall teenager boy seated on a bench with a sketchbook in hand. Makoto didn't know why, but he seemed familiar for some reason. When she addressed him, though, he was already back to drawing on his sketchbook. "Kosei High School...?" Makoto noticed his uniform. "Ah, I remember now!" She took a few steps in his direction. "You're that student that was on the news a few weeks ago, aren't you? That issue involving painter Madarame-san."

"Hm? Yes." He finally lifted his head from the sketchbook and looked at her properly. Right away, she could tell that something was very wrong. He looked depressed, with pain reflecting in his eyes.

Makoto wanted to say something to comfort him. She desperately tried to remember the student's name from the news, but she drew a blank. "Um, what was your name, again?"

"Yusuke Kitagawa."

"I'm Makoto Niijima, a third year student, and the Student Council President of Syujin High School." She recalled what she saw about Kitagawa-san on the news. "I'm sorry to hear what happened. It must have been tough."

Makoto tried to give him a comforting smile. "At least Madarame-san confessed his crime. It's rare for someone to spontaneously confess having done something so serious. This goes to show that we must not lose faith in people."

"'Spontaneously?'" Kitagawa-san spoke the word in a sarcastic tone. "Making him become willing to confess was anything but easy. I confronted him, and he nearly killed me!" Kitagawa-san's eyes flared in anger. He clearly didn't get over the incident yet.

Makoto gasped at the unexpected reaction and took a step back.

Kitagawa-san seemed to notice he was losing his grip, though, and tried to regain his composure. "It's a good thing that he repented, but..."

"You still didn't forgive him..." Makoto muttered her conclusion.

Kitagawa-san seemed conflicted. "I know I should. But it's hard. He took advantage of the respect I had for him. He betrayed my trust and ruined my pride. I know that he's really regretted what he did... but I don't know if I'm ready to forgive him just yet. Maybe one day..."

Kitagawa-san had a sullen expression on his face, and seemed sadder than he had been when that conversation started. He sighed and closed his sketchbook, seemingly not in the mood to draw anymore.

Makoto felt horrible. She only wanted to comfort him, but ended up making him feel even worse! "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked these things."

Kitagawa-san didn't respond. Not even a fake answer just to be polite and to make Makoto feel better. Not that a fake answer would please her, but it was Makoto's cue that she had hit someone's nerve again.

"Uh, excuse me. I'll be going now. Sorry to have bothered you." Makoto uttered awkwardly, turned away and left in a brisk pace without looking back.

While Makoto walked, she couldn't stop thinking about her interactions with people that day. Only now she realized how uncomfortable nearly everyone got while talking to her. That guy who tried to force Takamaki on a date panicked and ran away in fear just by seeing Makoto. Takamaki seemed very insecure when talking to her. Anything Makoto said to Sakamoto seemed to put him on edge. The first year student, and also the bullies from 2-C seemed uncomfortable near her.

"Everyone only knows you as the nagging Student Council President, and that's a shame." She recalled Sakamoto's observation from earlier.

Syujin students tended to dislike interacting with her because she was too nagging, like Sakamoto pointed out. And then there was Yusuke Kitagawa. Since he wasn't a Syujin student, he shouldn't have preconceptions about her, and Makoto hoped she would be able to hold a casual conversation with him. But she just had to choose the wrong subject to talk about... was she really that unsociable? Yes, deep down, Makoto had known that she was. She had never been good with getting along with people, though she didn't want to admit that it bothered her. But she was reaching her limit, and today she was feeling lonely and miserable. If only she had someone to talk to right now...

... Maybe, she had. From the looks of it, Miura seemed to be the only person around her age that didn't get on edge around her. He didn't show any reaction, even when she entered lecturing mode unintentionally.

"Did you come here to lecture me?" He had said on the day she had gone to Cafe Leblanc late at night. His facial expression and the tone of his voice didn't change from the usual, and it was hard to imagine what was going through his head. But those words...

... Okay, maybe he also got annoyed even though his face didn't show it. But still, Miura was different. He listened to whatever she had to say, even if she ended up sounding nagging sometimes. At least Makoto was able to engage in normal conversation with him. And that's what she decided to do. She would go talk to him. It didn't need to be about the Dark Hour. She just wanted to engage in casual conversation and pass the time.

Makoto went to Cafe Leblanc. She found Miura reading something while seated at a table.

"Good afternoon, Miura."

"Hello, Niijima-san." Miura put down the papers he had been reading. "How may I help you?" He spoke in the businesslike way he would speak to a customer.

"Um, I was just wondering if we could talk for a bit."

"Huh?" Miura hesitated for a moment, but answered, "Yeah, I have time right now." He gestured to the chair across from him.

Makoto sat down, and her gaze fell on the papers he had been reading, which now Makoto could see were part-time job advertisement flyers. "You were looking into part-time jobs?" To which he nodded. "But don't you work here already? Do you really need another part-time job?"

"I actually don't work here that much. Just when they need an extra hand. I don't earn any money, though. Helping the other workers out only secures my stay here."

"Oh." Makoto found it quite admirable. "It sounds tough. You're really dedicated... I've been considering taking a part-time job myself. I need to save up to buy a bike."

"A bike?"

"Uh, actually, I mean a motorcycle. I've always wanted one. I have a lot of magazines about motorcycles. I love those designs!" Before she knew it, she was rambling about her passion for motorcycles. "If I were to be an object, I'd be a motorcycle!"

"Whoa." Miura stared at her, with a rare hint of surprise showing on his face. "So, the Student Council President has a fascination with motorcycles?"

"You got a problem with that?!" Makoto disliked when people questioned her hobbies. This was why she usually didn't tell anyone about her fascination with motorcycles, but this time, it slipped.

"Uh, no. It was just unexpected. But it's cool."

Makoto relaxed. "... You think so?"

Miura nodded. "I've never thought about what I'd be if I were an object, though. It's the first time I hear someone say something like this." And somehow he seemed to have liked the silliest part of Makoto's rambling, which was one of the parts she didn't want others to hear.

"... A-and this is the first time I've ever said this to anyone..." Makoto laughed awkwardly. "Normally I wouldn't have said it, but the subject of motorcycles came up... and I got carried away." She tried to justify herself, but Miura didn't react. He didn't seem to care about her silly attempt at justifying her silly ramblings, as though they didn't need justification at all. "Uh, what about you, Miura? Do you have anything you're fascinated with? Anything you like to do?"

"Hmm. Honestly, I don't know yet. I didn't have the chance to do much back where I lived. You know, restrictive parents. They said I should focus only on studies, and didn't even let me take part in school clubs or anything. It's only now that I have the chance to try different things."

Makoto nodded in understanding. "I get what you mean. It's quite restrictive at home, too. At least I have some degree of freedom as long as my grades are at the top marks." She didn't want to think what may happen if her performance dropped, though. So, she decided to change the subject. "Miura, what do you think of life in Tokyo so far?"

"Well." He seemed to hesitate for a bit. "Honestly, it's... nothing like what I could've ever expected, what with the Dark Hour and all the crazy stuff."

And they actually got to the topic of the Dark Hour. Makoto was curious, and also a bit worried. "What have you been doing during the Dark Hour?" Before she had realized it, she was scolding him again. "That other time you appeared with a bandage on your arm. I hope you haven't been getting hurt!"

"... I've been doing fine," was Miura's vague response, which showed that he wasn't willing to elaborate on what he had been doing. But then he added, "I'm more worried about you, to be honest. You still haven't awakened fully to your potential, have you?"

"I-I still haven't." Makoto gulped. She had been getting into dangerous things herself, and concluded it wasn't a good idea to talk about those to anyone, including Miura. "... But I've been doing fine too." And she found herself using the same vague response he had given her.

"Hm." It was hard to tell what Miura had made out of her answer.

They remained silent for a minute or so, lost in their own thoughts. That dark atmosphere between them was awkward, and Makoto concluded it would be best to change the subject.

"Um, Miura, do you think I'm too nagging?"

"... Huh?" Miura snapped to attention at her out of the blue question.

"Please, be honest with me." Makoto decided to provide some context. "Today when I talked to Sakamoto, he said that everyone only knows me as the nagging Student Council President."

"You tend to be too strict. Maybe you could tone it down a bit. Uh, I'm not saying that you shouldn't reprimand people for doing wrong things. It's more like... you seem so used to lecturing people that sometimes you don't realize you're doing it. Or at least, this is the impression I got."

"I see..." Makoto nodded slowly. She had noticed that issue sometimes, but she had never tried to do anything about it. "Yes, I guess you're right. Okay, I'll think about it." Makoto checked the time on her cellphone. "Oh, I have to go now. I still need to do some training." She stood up. "Thank you, Miura. It was nice talking to you."

He also stood up. "I enjoyed this talk too."

"Ah, good." Makoto was relieved. "I was worried that I might be bothering you. This was another reason why I wanted to know if you think I'm too annoying."

Makoto and Miura bid their goodbyes and left to take care of their own things. During their whole conversation, neither of them noticed the black cat's head poking out from under the neighboring table.

Just as agreed, Makoto came to Syujin at midnight, where she reunited with the Phantom Thieves. As soon as Fox caught sight of her, he tensed.

"Huh? Fox, is something wrong?" Panther asked him.

"... No, nothing. For a moment, I had... forgotten that we have a new member."

Everyone looked weirdly at him. No one seemed to buy into his argument, but they left it at that.

While everyone stood relatively close to her, Makoto observed them and tried to memorize their physical traits.

Mona seemed eager. "I'll stay with Queen this time!"

"No, you can't." The leader objected. "We need you to guide us through the Palace and pinpoint enemy weaknesses. You must stay at the front."

"Ah, fine." Mona begrudgingly headed to the front.

"... I'll stay by her." Skull's unexpected statement came, and everyone directed suspicious looks at him.

Makoto was on edge. She prayed that the other group members would object to having Skull stay behind with her. He was the most irresponsible and reckless member of the Phantom Thieves. Makoto didn't trust him. She recalled the moment when he intimidated her the previous day. No one could tell what he might do to her if he stayed alone with her at the rear of the group.

"I mean... I'm still kinda out of it after having drained all my SP yesterday." Skull added before anyone had a chance to argue. "If I stay behind with Queen and the enemies don't get to us, I might not even need to fight. As much as I'd want to join the action, maybe it's best to take it easy this time around."

"Hm. Skull, your argument makes sense." Joker admitted. "You don't look too well, though. Are you sure you want to come?"

"Yeah, I'm sure." Skull didn't falter.

"Alright. Then, you may stay behind with her." Joker declared, much to Makoto's dismay.

Fox directed an awkward glance at Makoto, and Skull noticed it.

"Too late, Inari. I'm with her now." Skull stated with a tired but triumphant grin.

"I didn't say anything." Fox countered. "But I don't think having you near her is exactly a good idea. If anything happens, will you really be able to protect her?"

"Even Joker's fine with it. Your loss. Just deal with it. Maybe next time..." Skull mocked.

Oh no. What did I get myself into this time? Makoto thought, afraid of what Skull might do to her.

They entered the palace that the school had turned into. Joker used his cellphone to activate the teleport device, and they continued the exploration from where they had left off.

They passed a spacious corridor, empty save for shards of what looked like broken vases on the ground.

As Makoto followed the group, she felt very uncomfortable with Skull keeping an eye on her. She chose to ignore him, focus on the group ahead, and continue trying to commit details of their visual appearances to memory. Her gaze locked on Joker, and soon she found herself admiring how he moved fluidly and confidently as he guided the group away from enemies and traps.

Makoto caught herself and averted her gaze. She risked a glance at Skull and noticed that something else seemed to be wrong with him besides his tiredness.

"Uh, are you okay?" Makoto awkwardly broke the silence. "If you're feeling that bad, you shouldn't have come. It's dangerous in here, you know!" She scolded him.

"I know, I know..." Skull sighed in defeat. "Yeah, I'm not gonna lie. I'm feeling horrible. Not just because of my SP, though. But I had to come."


For a while, Skull said nothing. When Makoto was about to give up on getting an answer from him, he spoke. "About yesterday."


"You know. When I said all that stuff and... scared you. I went overboard. I shouldn't have done that. I... I-I'm sorry."

Makoto couldn't believe what was happening. Skull was apologizing to her, and he seemed to mean it. His demeanor was a stark contrast to his behavior from the previous day. Talk about different faces for the same person.

"Wait, you don't mean you came here just because..." Makoto trailed off. Skull didn't seem to be feeling well enough to accompany the group in their exploration. Did he really come to the Palace that night just because he wanted to apologize to her?

"Yeah." Skull nodded. "Today I kept thinking back on it, and leaving it at that didn't feel right. If you're going to stay with us, we have to try to get along."

"It's okay." Makoto responded. "I accept your apology."

"Thanks." Skull was relieved, and already seemed to be feeling a bit better. "I hope we can get along now."

Makoto was satisfied with that development. That was perfect. The more the Phantom Thieves opened up to her, the easier it would be to pry into their personal information and determine their true identities.

They crossed a room with a few enemies, and the group at the front carried out the battles, with all of them attacking enemies in range. Mona multitasked frantically using his Persona's wind attacks, as well as shouting enemy weaknesses and compliments to the group members. Panther gracefully danced on the battlefield as she attacked and dodged enemy attacks. Fox looked angry and seemed to be venting his frustrations on the enemies. However, Makoto's gaze kept following the group's leader. She was astounded at the way he moved with confidence and skill. He seemed to be quite experienced in fighting Shadows, or whatever those monsters were called. Actually, he seemed quite experienced in handling that place's dangers in general. Makoto wondered how long he had been dealing with the Dark Hour.

After a battle, Mona approached Makoto. "Queen, I need to have a word with you for a bit."

"Huh? Alright."

Mona beckoned Makoto to talk in a corner. "We found these." He presented a few gems like the one Miura had used against the monsters on the street the other day. "Since you can't use a Persona yet, these will have to do for now."

"Thank you." Makoto accepted the items.

"By the way, our leader is pretty cool, isn't he?" Mona spoke as though he had noticed Makoto had been constantly looking at the leader. "He's smart, elegant, skilled, strong, and can use multiple Personas!" Mona's eyes shone with admiration.

Makoto couldn't help but agree with Mona. On top of all that, he was a good leader. If only he would use his abilities for doing good... Makoto wondered why someone so amazing like him had chosen to become a thief, out of all things. It was a complete waste of talent. If... no, whenever she managed to figure out his true identity, if he were a student like she suspected, Makoto would be sure to confront him at school, where she held authority over him.

"Why was he code-named Joker, though?"

"Because in card games, the joker is also used as the wild card! This goes to show how versatile he is!" Mona explained proudly.

"Ah, makes sense now..."

Mona inched closer to Makoto with a devious smirk. "And I think he's taken an interest in you, too."

"... What?" Makoto's eyes widened.

"He said you aren't getting special treatment, but I don't believe that. Yesterday when we spotted you near the Palace's entrance, we talked among ourselves to decide what to do about you. Joker didn't think twice and was like, 'Let's let her in.' Think about it. Do you really think he'd let you join us so easily for no reason?"

Makoto froze. Yes, infiltrating the group had been too easy. Of course there had to be a catch. It was the leader of a criminal group they were talking about. "But... what could he possibly w-want with me?" Makoto asked shakily. Hopefully, Mona wasn't getting at what Makoto thought he was.

"This isn't any otherworldly thing. How come you don't get it yet?" Mona stared at Makoto incredulously. "Joker likes you."

"This is absurd! You have no idea what you're talking about..."

"Sure I do! I've watched a ton of movies to understand how this sort of stuff works. Joker gets kinda different when he talks to you, too. He likes you. I'm telling you!"

A dangerous Phantom Thief, interested in her? How absurd. There was no way that could be it! Joker behaved differently when he talked to her? What was Mona talking about? It made no sense. Makoto and the Phantom had barely met, and hadn't interacted much. The most words she had traded with him were when she argued with him last night. There was no reason for him to be interested in her! ... But why did he allow her to join the group so easily, then? She didn't even have a Persona yet, and had no use to them. In fact, rather than helping them, she was hindering them since one of the other members had to stay behind to protect her. Then why? Was he really... no! It had to be another reason!

"Mona! What is taking you so long?!" Joker shouted from the front line.

"Just a sec!" Mona turned to Makoto again. "Like I was saying, this sort of stuff happens a lot in movies. And if there's a thing I hate about those movies, it's that people take too long to admit they're interested in one another. I don't want to have to endure this kind of drama in real life too. So, if you conclude that you also like him, then tell him straight away and get it over with! Okay. This was all that I had to say. Back to our normal schedule..."

"Mona!" Joker called out again.

"Coming!" Mona scurried off to the group's location.

They resumed their exploration, and Mona's words kept nagging at Makoto. Another battle began. Makoto's gaze insisted on trying to follow Joker's movements. He moved fast. He executed his attacks with dexterity and precision, like one of those skilled mercenaries from movies. He jumped gracefully out of the way of an enemy's ice pillar. He landed right behind the attacker and stabbed the monster with his knife. The monster dissolved into black ooze, and the battle was over.

The group walked a bit more and avoided some laser traps. At the sight of a pack of monsters, they hid behind a wall. When the monsters passed near their location, Joker leapt out of his hiding spot and thrust his knife at the monster from behind. The hit wasn't enough to destroy the enemy, but the Phantom didn't skip a beat. With style, he summoned one of his Personas and finished the enemy off with a gust of wind.

"You look kinda out of it." Skull commented. "Was it something that Mona said?"

"Uh..." Makoto didn't answer.

But Skull didn't need an answer. "Just ignore him. He's weird."

However, more weird was what happened at the front next. The group entered a battle... against a monster that could talk! They subdued it, and Joker began talking to it. They seemed to have had quite the argument before the monster dissolved into a bright light and turned into a mask, which Joker put on without a second thought, and the mask he had already been wearing absorbed it.

"This is how Joker gets new Personas," Skull said.

"What...?" Makoto was stunned. "How does that work?"

"No idea. Ask him, not me." Skull shrugged. "He explained some of it to us once, but I didn't understand a thing. Maybe you'd understand, since you're way smarter than me. All I know is that now he can summon a Persona that looks like that thing everyone was fighting just now."

That was reckless. It looked as if they had made a pact with that monster, and Joker didn't seem to consider the implications before going through with it! Was it even safe to do that?

Another battle began, and the leader summoned a Persona that looked exactly like the monster from before.

"See?" Skull pointed it out.

Makoto didn't respond. Her eyes were trained on Joker. When he briefly glanced behind, he caught her staring at him, and Makoto flinched. It was as though he had somehow "detected" that she was staring! Flustered, Makoto chose to focus on the scenery around them and try to not look at him anymore.

However, for the rest of the mission, Makoto was unable to concentrate. Mona's words constantly nagged at her, and an even more disturbing idea crossed her mind. If it somehow turned out that Joker was indeed interested in her, Makoto could take advantage of that to get closer to him and uncover his and his group members' identities... Ah! What am I even thinking!? Makoto scolded herself as a thought. No, no, no, I can't do that! Am I out of my mind?! He's a dangerous criminal. What makes me think I'd even be able to get close to him? It's downright stupid!

The group arrived at another room with a teleporter device, and decided to call it a day.

They left the premises of the Palace and, like last time, the Phantom Thieves walked with Makoto for a few blocks. Mona's teasing, as well as that idea about trying to get close to Joker and cause him to spill personal information insisted on surfacing in Makoto's mind. It was crazy, but what if it worked? If only she had a means to contact him during the day...

Makoto watched as each group member headed in a different direction as they split ways.

"Uh... Joker?" Makoto was a bit scared of talking to him, but a nagging feeling in the back of her mind urged her to call out to him before he could disappear completely from her sight.

Makoto thought that he hadn't heard her, or that if he had, he would simply ignore her. However, he stopped walking and turned around to regard her.

Makoto spoke hesitantly. "Um... I have a question. Why did you accept me into your group?"

"Because you're conscious during the Dark Hour." His answer was straight to the point.

"Huh, just that?"

"What else did you expect?" He spoke as though it were obvious and there was no other possible reason.

This confirmed that Joker didn't have any romantic interest in her. Strangely, though, that fact didn't relieve her as much as she expected it would, and the idea of trying to get closer to him kept nagging at her.

"Uh, I d-don't know. I mean... I can't even use a Persona yet..." Makoto tried to not recoil under Joker's stare.

"We need more members to help explore the Palace. From the moment I saw that you were active during the Dark Hour, I concluded that I couldn't simply ignore you, and that I'd rather have you with us."

Good. The situation was in Makoto's favor. It seemed like a good opportunity to ask for Joker's contact information, too.

"Uh, I was wondering about something..." Makoto risked speaking. "all of you can talk to each other during the day, right? I'm in the group, too, so, Uh... would there be a way for me to contact you outside the Dark Hour?"

"I'm sorry, but there isn't. You are a temporary member. Unless you join us permanently, we can't give you access to our personal information."

Or maybe the situation wasn't as favorable as it seemed. From that answer, Makoto realized she had less freedom in the group than she had imagined. They let her stay with them, but were wary of revealing their identities to her. Despite their apparent friendliness towards her, they didn't trust her completely. Getting closer to them would likely be harder than she had thought.

Makoto still refused to give up, though. "Um, but if an emergency happens, what can I do to let you know that I can't meet up with you guys? I need some way of contacting you..." It was a sound excuse. If Joker really cared about his group members, he should consider it. Makoto held her breath and hoped for the best.

"Hm." Joker considered her question for a moment. "Yes, it's a valid concern. I'll think up a solution, and hope to have an answer in a few days."

Makoto almost couldn't believe it. Joker had bought into her excuse. She was a bit disappointed that he wasn't willing to give her his contact information right away, but as long as he gave her a means of reaching him, it was good enough. "O-okay. Thank you."

After a few seconds, Joker wordlessly turned around and began walking away.

"... J-Joker!" Makoto didn't know what got into her, but she found herself stopping him again. "Uh... good night." Makoto felt stupid. Did she really need to stop him just to wish him good night?

She thought he would just ignore her, but he turned around. "Good night. May you have sweet dreams." He answered, then turned again and resumed his walk.

Makoto tried in vain to suppress the silly smile that involuntarily crept into her face. The way that Joker wished her good night was so heartwarming...

Makoto was feeling much better as she resumed her walk towards her home. She still wasn't sure if her crazy plan would succeed or not, but there was at least one thing she was sure about. This night, she would have sweet dreams.

Chapter Text

"Time to wake up!" A high-pitched voice shattered the peaceful silence in the room in the attic of Cafe Leblanc. "Waaaaake uuuuup!"

"Aaaaaaah!" Kazushi Miura sprang to a sitting position on the mattress, with his heart thumping hard and fast in his chest. "Argh... Morgana! Why do you have to do this every single morning?! You don't need to shout. I'm not a heavy sleeper."

The black feline stared smugly at the group's leader. "No time for laziness! A Phantom Thief must be ready to spring into action in the blink of an eye! Like that song says, wake up, get up, get out there!"

"Whatever..." Kazushi rolled his eyes. Morgana was developing weird mannerisms from watching TV.

Kazushi stood up and left his room. After doing his morning routine and putting his glasses on, he returned with breakfast for both Morgana and himself. Sojiro-san would prepare their breakfast if he were present, but when he was absent, their breakfast was usually hit and miss, because it consisted of leftover food from the shop, or food that didn't come out quite right.

Morgana grimaced. "These dumplings are burned!" He looked at the contents leaking out of one of the dumplings. "And only cheese? Come on..."

It was Kazushi's turn to direct a smug look at Morgana. "Quit complaining. We Phantom Thieves must make do with the resources we have."

"You should go and steal something with meat in it."

Kazushi looked at Morgana sternly. "No, we aren't in the Palace. No stealing. And we shouldn't waste free food." He picked one of the dumplings with less burns and placed it in front of Morgana. "Here. This one doesn't look that bad."

"Ah well." Morgana gave in. "At least it isn't canned cat food..."

They began eating their dumplings.

"So, yesterday you were having quite the talk with Queen." Kazushi looked at Morgana with suspicion. "What were you talking so eagerly about, may I ask?"

"Oh, yeah. We were talking about you. About how cool and smart and amazing you are."

"Hrm." Kazushi merely grunted in annoyance, not flattered at all.

"She agrees, which is already an important step!"

"An important step...? For what?" He didn't understand what Morgana was getting at.

"I'll get straight to the point." Morgana grinned. "You're interested in her, aren't you?"

"What?" Kazushi deadpanned. "Where did that even come from?"

"From the way you treat her! The way you talk to her when you meet her on the street or when she comes to the cafe. The way you worry about her and are so protective of her in the Palace..."

"That doesn't mean anything." He shrugged it off. "I think you're watching too much TV."

"It's your fault! You leave me here locked up in your room, and the only thing I have to pass the time is watch TV!"

"Ah, it's my fault now?" Kazushi rolled his eyes. "No, Morgana. You're imagining things. I don't have any romantic feelings towards her."

"Are you sure? The way you treat her is quite different from the way you treat other girls, like Lady Ann, or Futaba, or that shogi player."

"They aren't being forced to endure the Dark Hour in the Palace every day without a Persona." Kazushi argued. "Of course I worry about Niijima-san. You remember how we ran into her in the Palace. She was well aware that she couldn't use a Persona yet, and still she came intent on checking out the Palace alone. Who knows what might have happened if we hadn't spotted her. There was no way that I'd just ignore her and leave her wandering around unattended!"

"She asked for your contact information." Morgana reminded him. "Will you give it to her?"

It was annoying how Morgana was always spying on him. This was one of the reasons why Kazushi didn't want to take Morgana with him to school. He needed some privacy.

"Her point is valid. If something comes up and she can't come to the Palace, she needs a way to let us know. But I don't want to give her my cellphone number or my email address... oh, this is it. Maybe I'll create a new email address just for that."

"This is your chance! Give her your contact info, get closer to her and make her fall for you. It'll be an advantage for us!"

"Advantage? What are you getting at?" Kazushi narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Morgana.

Morgana grinned mischievously. "I just so happen to have the perfect plan. You told us to be wary of her because she doesn't like what we do and might be planning to betray us. But if you 'take her heart,' which shouldn't be too hard, I'm sure she'll forgive us and join our cause for good!"

"What?!" Kazushi glared. "Morgana, don't be ridiculous! It's true that we need to convince her to join us permanently, but I wouldn't fake a love interest in her to pull her into our cause! That's downright dishonest!"

Morgana still didn't give up. "Oh, but you don't need to 'fake' anything. You already like her, Leader. Admit it!"

Kazushi was tired of that argument. "Would you shut up and finish your breakfast? It'll taste even worse if it cools off."

They finished their burned dumplings in an awkward silence. When Kazushi was on his way back from taking the dishes to the kitchen, an unexpected voice greeted him.

"Uh... good morning, Miura." It was Niijima-san.

Kazushi froze in his tracks. "... N-Niijima-san? Wh-what are you doing here this early?"

"I'm just a customer coming to the cafe in the morning before school. You have a problem with that?!"

"Huh..." The problem was that he had been talking about her until a few moments ago. The problem was that he felt uncomfortable recalling Morgana's ridiculous suggestion. The problem was that he hadn't expected to run into Niijima-san right now. He hadn't even had time to put on his school uniform yet, and she caught him still in his pajamas. And she looked angry, too. Well, she looked angry most of the time, but what was her reason for snapping at him right now? He couldn't tell if she was there just to buy something, or - as his paranoia made him suspect - if she came because she had actually figured out his identity. The problem was that he didn't know what to expect, and couldn't respond accordingly.

To his relief, Niijima-san shook her head. "Err, sorry. But you asked as though I weren't allowed to come to Leblanc in the morning! I woke up early, it was a nice morning, and I figured I may as well drop by here and buy today's lunch. That's all."

"I didn't mean it like that," Kazushi said defensively. "I just wasn't expecting your visit, and you caught me of guard."

Niijima-san let out a sheepish laugh. "Sorry. I overreacted, uh, like always..." She shrugged and smiled rather cheerfully. "But I'm in a great mood today, and don't want to let this kind of slip-ups ruin it!"

It was the first time Kazushi saw her so cheerful, but he felt he shouldn't pry into it.

"It looks like the day hasn't started that well for you, though." Niijima-san looked at him with a bit of worry. "It's the first time that I've seen you lose your composure like that. Did something happen?"

"Uh, well, a lot happened already." He tried to justify himself. "Morgana's been especially annoying this morning. And today's breakfast was burned dumplings. And... you caught me still in my pajamas..."

She laughed at his misfortune. "Ah, sorry. I didn't mean to laugh at you. Oh, wait, you said your breakfast was burned dumplings?"

Kazushi nodded. "When Sojiro-san... the shop owner isn't here, my breakfast's usually the leftovers or the... slight failures. It doesn't feel right to throw the food away if it's at least edible."

"But you have so many nice options here in the shop!"

"Sometimes when I want something better, I either pay for it or do some extra work. Otherwise, I don't take any of the products unless they outright give it to me. Maybe they'd give me something if I asked them, but I know that the shop isn't doing as well as we'd have liked, and it doesn't feel right to abuse their generosity." Kazushi shook his head. "Anyway, I'm going to get ready for school now. Excuse me."

He quickly made his way back to his room.

"Speak of the devil," Kazushi said to Morgana once he had closed the door behind him. "She's here."

"Whoa. This doesn't mean that she suspects you, does it?"

"From the way she's acting, I don't think so."

"What are you gonna do?"

"Nothing." He went to get his uniform. "There's nothing to be done."

Kazushi put his Syujin uniform on and took his bag. When he was about to open the door and leave, Morgana jumped on top of his bag.

"Uh-uh. You're not coming." Kazushi looked at Morgana sternly.

"Kazushi! I still haven't seen what the school looks like during the day! And I need to track your progress as you learn new things and become an even smarter Phantom Thief!"

"You don't need to track anything." Kazushi pried Morgana away from the bag and shoved him away into a corner.

Of course, his struggle with Morgana was far from over. Kazushi barely took two steps and Morgana was already darting after him. Kazushi lured Morgana to the wall farthest from the door, grabbed him and threw him to the ground, then threw a heavy folded blanket on top of him. While Morgana struggled to break free from the blanket, Kazushi ran. But Morgana recovered quicker than expected and haphazardly tossed the blanket aside. Kazushi bolted to the door, but just as he got to open it, Morgana somehow managed to knock a chair despite his small size, and in a blink he was clinging onto Kazushi's bag again. Kazushi took a few steps inside the room and away from the door, ready to throw Morgana to the room's depths again, but right at that moment, the unexpected variable of that morning manifested itself.

"Miura! Is everything okay?!"

"Ah! Niijima-san...!" Kazushi panicked. The door was open. Niijima-san must have heard the racket from outside and was running towards his room.

Kazushi shoved Morgana off again and sent the not-cat rolling on the ground. Kazushi tried to run for the door, but Morgana jumped over a pile of cardboard boxes, knocked down the boxes and spilled a lot of books that were inside. In a blink of an eye, Morgana had latched onto Kazushi's bag once more.

"Miura! What hap- aaaaaaaah!" Niijima-san shouted in surprise as she got inside the room just in time to see Morgana knocking the boxes and scattering a lot of books on the ground. "What is this?!" Niijima-san stared in shock at the fallen blanket, the knocked chair and the scattered books. "It looks as though a tornado had swept the place!"

Kazushi was frozen at the unexpected intervention, but Morgana was not. The little not-cat had climbed onto Kazushi's bag and grabbed the zipper in his mouth, and was trying to open the bag, presumably to hide inside it.

Kazushi finally recovered. "It's this little tornado right here, named Morgana. It's like this every morning." Kazushi forcefully pried the black feline away from his bag, and desperately looked at the mess around him. "Uh, Niijima-san..."

Only then Niijima-san seemed to realize where she was, and gaped. "Uh, this is... your room...! Ah! Miura, I'm s-sorry!" The Student Council President turned away and scrambled out of the room with an embarrassed expression on her face.

"Wow, she even entered your room already. Nice going, huh?" Morgana whispered mockingly to Kazushi, still riding on the bag. "Too bad it's nothing but presentable right now, heheheh..."

"It's your fault!" Kazushi glared at Morgana, and spoke in an angry but hushed tone.

"No, it's your fault. Because you keep making things more difficult and don't take me with you to school!"

"..." Kazushi gritted his teeth. He had enough of that. He suddenly grabbed Morgana, jumped and threw the not-cat over the desk. Kazushi left through the open door as quickly as he could, closed it, and locked it. As soon as he removed the key from the lock, he heard a bang and saw the door handle turning. If the door hadn't been locked, Morgana would have managed to open it for sure.

He reunited with Niijima-san near a table in the shop. She still looked embarrassed and had her head low.

"Miura, I'm sorry." She lifted her head and looked at him. "I didn't mean to barge into your room like that. I wasn't thinking properly... I heard loud crashing noises coming from inside and thought that maybe you needed help... it was stupid, I know... I'm so sorry!"

Kazushi was thankful that no objects related to his phantom thievery had been in plain sight in his room. "It's okay. But now you believe me, don't you? I mean about my struggles with Morgana. Now you saw what he's capable of."

"Y-yes, I believe you now. It looked like the Phantom Thieves had come and made a mess in the room!" Niijima-san had no idea how right she was. "I had never imagined that he could get like that. He looks so cute and adorable..."

"Yeah, he even captivated Sojiro-san. When Morgana followed me and snuck into here, I thought Sojiro-san wouldn't let him stay. But Sojiro-san agreed, as long as I take care of Morgana and don't let him cause trouble to the shop. So, as long as he only causes trouble inside my room, it's fine, I guess..." Kazushi said sarcastically.

"You seem annoyed at Morgana, but you care about him a lot, don't you?"

A look of determination appeared behind Kazushi's glasses. "Of course."

Before he had awakened to his Persona, on the worst moment of his life when he almost lost his sanity, the Velvet Room had showed him glimpses of the many possibilities for his future. It involved forming the Phantom Thieves and doing all sorts of wrong things, not necessarily using a Persona. And in a few of those scenarios, he even manipulated and betrayed his group, only to have them take revenge and sell him out to the police, or try to kill him themselves. Once he realized that those warnings were real, Kazushi decided that he wouldn't ever let those scenarios come true. He swore to himself that he would treasure all of his group members and would protect them with his life. That included everyone in the group, even Niijima-san, and Morgana as well.

Kazushi saw that Niijima-san didn't seem to have gotten her order yet. "Still waiting for your order?"

"Ah, yes. They're still preparing the meat for the sandwich."

"I'll go on ahead, if you don't mind."


Kazushi left the cafe in a brisk pace. Honestly, he didn't want to be near Niijima-san right now.

Kazushi remembered the day he met Niijima-san in the Palace. He had stopped by the Velvet Room to manage his Personas, and Igor suddenly pointed out that the Persona users' disguises - the clothes and the masks provided by their Personas - had a power that made it harder for other people to recognize them, but that Kazushi and his group needed to be careful nevertheless. Upon leaving the Velvet Room, he saw Niijima-san near his group members, and Igor's out of the blue warning clicked. Thankfully, Niijima-san didn't recognize any of them. Kazushi pulled her into the group because Persona users must stick together to be able to deal with the Dark Hour easier. But he noticed that she was against their actions, and unless they convinced her to fully support their cause, they shouldn't reveal their identities to her.

Niijima-san didn't seem to have recognized any of them so far, but she was smart and might figure them out if they weren't careful. Once they managed to convince her that they were fighting for a good cause, they would reveal their identities to her. But for now, they couldn't fully trust her. As much as Kazushi enjoyed her company, it would be best if he avoided her. The more he spent time with her, the more he ran the risk of making important information slip, and giving his or the other Phantom Thieves' identities away.

It was taking a while for Makoto's order to get ready, but she didn't care. She was still on time, and in a good mood. She had had a peaceful night of sleep.

"May you have sweet dreams." Joker's good night wish replayed in her mind for the umpteenth time. Makoto feared him. He was dangerous. He was armed, and so violent while fighting monsters. Yet, when he wished her good night, he had sounded so gentle...

"Joker gets kinda different when he talks to you, too." Mona's words flashed in Makoto's mind. "He likes you. I'm telling you!"

Did the way he wished her good night mean anything? Was he really interested in her? If so, maybe she could use that to her advantage, get closer to him, and squeeze personal information out of him to reveal his identity... argh! That stupid plan again. Stupid, crazy, dangerous plan... Makoto furiously blinked those thoughts away and tried to distract herself by observing the scenery around her in the cafe.

She noticed a girl directing a curious stare at her. The girl had orange hair, wore big glasses and a headset, was seated at a table and was using a laptop. When the girl noticed Makoto was staring back at her, though, she quickly retrieved a paper menu from the table and covered her face.

A man wearing an apron walked over to Makoto. He glanced at the girl covering her face with the menu, and sighed in exasperation. "Don't mind her behavior. She always does that."

"Oh, it's fine." Makoto answered.

"I'm Sojiro Sakura, the owner of this shop. And that's Futaba Sakura, my daughter."

"It's a pleasure to meet both of you." Makoto bowed slightly. "My name is Makoto Niijima. I'm the Student Council President of Syujin High School."

"The same school as Kazushi..." Sakura-san observed. "Kazushi Miura. Do you know him?"

"Oh, yes." Makoto nodded. "I had been talking to him until a few minutes ago."

Sakura-san seemed a bit surprised. "I'm an acquaintance of his parents', and am looking after him while he's here in Tokyo. You said you're the Student Council President... do you and Kazushi get along?"

"Hmm..." Makoto was about to say that she didn't know because she and Miura had barely met, but she had concluded just recently that Miura was easier to interact with than most others. "I-I think so. I hadn't talked much to him at school at first, but he helped me with something the other day, and we've been talking more since then."

"Good." Sakura-san nodded approvingly. "His parents told me that he didn't have many friends. Glad to know that he's in good company. Syujin's full of troublesome kids, and it makes me worry. But knowing that the Student Council President gets along with him puts me more at ease. You should be a good influence on him. If it's not much to ask, could you keep an eye on him at school for me?"

"Leave it to me." Makoto agreed. Miura seemed dedicated and responsible, and Makoto wanted to make sure he was on the right track.

"Thanks," Sakura-san said in relief. "Ah, looks like he's already left."

"Yes, he left a while ago." Makoto informed.

"I arrived too late and couldn't make his breakfast again. I taught him to prepare coffee and curry rice, but..."

"He told me he had burned dumplings for breakfast," Makoto said. "He said he doesn't want to take anything from the shop because it isn't doing too well."

"Hmm..." Sakura-san furrowed his brows in concern. "That's thoughtful of him, but he didn't need to go that far. I'll tell the staff to let him have something nice from the shop for breakfast. I don't want his parents blaming me for having their son eat burned food."

Sakura-san left. Makoto saw the girl, Futaba, staring curiously at her again. Makoto took a few steps towards the girl's table, and Futaba inched her head forward.

"Um, do you need something?" Makoto asked.

"... I... I felt it. You're... different too..." Futaba uttered in a quiet voice.

"Huh?" Makoto didn't understand. "Different? What do you mean?"

"Different. Like him..."

That still made no sense to Makoto. "Sorry, I still don't get it."

But Futaba didn't respond. Instead, she seemed to get embarrassed and covered her face with the menu paper again.

Makoto was considering what to say next, but a worker came bringing her order and interrupted her thoughts. "Your order is ready."

"Ah, thank you." She turned to the girl. "Futaba, right? I have to go now. See you again."

Makoto took what she had ordered and went to the counter to pay for it. She had ordered two sandwiches, one more reason for her order to have taken so long to get ready. One of the sandwiches was for Miura. She couldn't help but buy him one after hearing that he had burned dumplings for breakfast, and that he didn't have any food from the shop unless someone gave him some.

Also, she had greatly embarrassed him. First she had caught him while he was still in his pajamas. Then, she barged into his bedroom. A bedroom was a private space. It could be said to be the most intimate place of a person's home, and as such, only people very close to the room's occupant should be allowed to enter it. When Makoto heard crashing noises from the back of the store, she didn't think twice and headed there to see if Miura needed anything. It was obvious that the way would lead to his room, but Makoto hadn't been thinking. She unceremoniously barged in there and violated Miura's privacy. She needed to do something to make it up to him...

Classes went by, and lunch break came. Makoto went walking around the courtyard in search of Miura. She found him alone seated on a bench in an isolated area.

"Miura." She approached him. "What are you doing here all by yourself?"

"Just not in the mood to listen to the absurd rumors about me that are going around."

Makoto had known that Miura's reputation wasn't good, and had heard many rumors about him personally. At first, she had labeled him as a delinquent, and some of those rumors only served to make her more wary of him. After Makoto's interactions with him, she began to not believe most of those rumors.

Makoto went to the point she intended to address. "Uh, Miura. I embarrassed you so much at the cafe earlier. I'm sorry.

"You already apologized."

"Yes, but I don't think it was enough. I want to make it up to you." Makoto retrieved the paper bag with the meat sandwich from Cafe Leblanc. "Miura, I bought this for you."

"...!" Miura's eyes widened behind his glasses. "... You didn't need to do that. You told me you'd been saving up money and..."

Yes, she had told him that. "Oh, you remember."

"Of course I remember. You just told me yesterday..." He pointed it out as though it were obvious.

Makoto laughed in embarrassment. "Still, buying one sandwich or two once in a while won't make that much difference. I'll get a part-time job soon and make up for lunch expenses in no time. Plus, since I bought one extra sandwich, the cafe earned a little bit more, too! ... Miura, I'm more worried about you. You told me that your meals consist of leftover failed food."

"It isn't that bad, actually. Well, most of the time..."

"Miura. Accept it, please." Makoto shoved the sandwich in his direction. "You're going to ruin my mood if you don't!"

"Alright." Miura finally took the sandwich. "Thanks."

Miura unwrapped the sandwich which was split in half, and slowly began eating the first half of it.

Makoto remained standing there, unsure about what to do. She recalled the advice from Ms. Kawakami about spending lunch break with friends. Miura and she may not even be considered to be friends yet, but she had nowhere better to go...

"Um, do you mind if I stay here?"

Miura had his mouth full. Instead of answering with words, he merely beckoned Makoto to sit at his side on the bench.

Makoto gladly sat down and began eating her own sandwich. Minutes passed in silence as both of them had their lunches. Miura finished the first half of his sandwich and wrapped the other half to save it for later and put it in his bag. Then, he just stayed there doing nothing.

As Makoto continued munching on her sandwich, she tried to think about the Phantom Thieves again. However, to her frustration, she still couldn't remember what they looked like. How could that be? She had looked at them so much yesterday, and paid so much attention to their physical appearances. She had pictured them in her mind clearly several times while she tried to memorize their appearances, but those images simply failed to form in her mind right now. She could only see their masks and indistinct shadows.

Makoto gave up. She opened her eyes and glanced at Miura, and he was still in the same position. He sat there, quiet and impassive. If only he would spark conversation... Makoto kept throwing him glances and hoping he would catch the hint that she wanted him to start conversation, but he didn't. It was almost like he was ignoring her, and it bothered Makoto. They got along fairly well, didn't they? He had admitted he had enjoyed talking to her yesterday. What reason might he have for ignoring her? Come to think of it, he had hurried to leave the cafe even though it was still early. Was he still bothered that she had embarrassed him by barging into his room?

"Miura...?" Makoto called his last name, afraid that he might decide to pretend he didn't hear her.

"Hm?" Miura turned his head in Makoto's direction, much to her relief.

It was so simple. She only called him to attention, and he responded just fine. Makoto felt stupid. She was probably reading into it too much. Makoto decided to start conversation as normal, and asked the most urgent thing that was in her mind. "Um, have you ever tried really hard to remember something, only for your mind to blank out?"

That question was strange, and Kazushi felt he should exercise caution. "Huh? You mean like something on a test?"

"No. I mean like when I meet someone, and for some reason I feel that I've already seen the person somewhere before, but no matter how hard I think, I can't remember where I might have seen the person before. Did that ever happen to you?"

"Yeah, a lot." The Velvet Room had showed him all those visions of his group members where he manipulated them and they betrayed him, and when Kazushi arrived in Tokyo, he always had that sensation of familiarity whenever he met someone that would eventually join his group.

"Oh." Niijima-san seemed hopeful. "What did you do about it?"

I asked a few of them if they remembered having seen me before, but it was no use."

And if Niijima-san were talking about the Phantom Thieves like Kazushi suspected, then asking any of them would be no use, either. They were hiding their identities from her, after all.

She seemingly had the same conclusion. "Ah, I see... yes, it'll probably be no use asking them..."

Needless to say, Niijima-san was also one of the people in his visions, even though it was only after he helped her with her first Dark Hour experience that he realized the group member from his visions was her. In fact, it had been on the night he pulled her into the group, when she joined them in that All-Out Attack.


"Aaaaaaaaah!" Queen shouted in utter rage and mercilessly pummeled the monster in front of her.

Joker froze as a vague memory of a female group member from his nightmarish visions resurfaced. The figure was hazy, but the voice was clear. They were confronting some major enemy. She was enraged, and used very vulgar language with a lot of curse words like what someone from a biker gang would use, but that no one would imagine coming from the polite Student Council President's mouth. However, there was no mistaking it. It was her. It was Queen. It was Makoto Niijima, and that truth was pretty shocking.

When Joker came back to his senses in the Palace, the other group members were complimenting Queen's performance in the All-Out Attack. First Skull, then Panther, Then Mona...

"That was impressive." Then Joker found himself also complimenting her performance, still in his stupefied state and totally uncomposed.


After that revelation, Kazushi was sure of it. Niijima-san was one of his group members from his nightmarish premonitions. She had actually betrayed him in one of those scenarios, but the circumstances had been very different from what was happening in the present. It had been because he had been ruthless and manipulated her for his gains, and that was something he wasn't going to repeat. This was one of the reasons that he disapproved of Morgana's suggestion to manipulate Niijima-san, even though the manipulation from his nightmares hadn't been in a romantic way. Kazushi despised the mere idea of manipulating any of his group members. He would never hurt them or betray their trust like in those nightmarish visions.

No matter how many treasures he stole from the Palaces, his group members were his most precious treasures. They were practically the only friends he managed to make in his whole life. They had suffered big injustice like him, and were forced to deal with the Dark Hour's dangers like him. For some reason that he also didn't know, he had a special power and could use multiple Personas. But Kazushi knew that with great power came great responsibilities, and felt that it was his duty as leader to keep his members safe and guide them towards a happy ending, and hopefully the end of the Dark Hour.

Kazushi was still missing a few pieces of the puzzle that was his group in his nightmares, though. One was a polite girl with a soft voice. The other was an energetic, cocky and mysterious navigator girl. And the other was a boy whose only things Kazushi remembered hearing him say were "We must go," and "What happened?!" Kazushi was determined to take good care of those members as well, whoever they might be.

The sad thing was that none of the Phantom Thieves probably had the slightest idea how much Kazushi cared about them. He had never told anyone about those premonitions, or the feelings that he had towards his group members. He had barely met them. They would consider very weird to hear him say out of the blue that he felt a special connection with them. And the whole situation with the Velvet Room, his special powers, and his premonitions was so outlandish that he didn't even know how to begin narrating it... yes, no one would understand. Words wouldn't get his message across. He should manifest his feelings through his actions and do what he had to do, which was guide and protect his friends. The best thing he could do was to use those feelings as his strength in battle, and give his best for his group.

"Miura?" Niijima-san caught him spacing out.

"Huh?" Kazushi snapped to attention.

"You zoned out for a while there."

"Oh, I was just thinking about the people I have the feeling I had met before. Even though I've barely known them, somehow I feel a strong connection with them. I wanted to tell them this, but as I said before, I asked some of them if they remembered me from somewhere, and they didn't. They clearly don't feel the same way. I don't think they'll understand if I try to tell them. It'd be very weird to have someone you barely know saying something like that out of nowhere, wouldn't it?"

"Hmm. A connection? What do you mean?"

"Uh, like destiny brought us together or something..."

Niijima-san seemed shocked. "You mean like soulmates? And more than one person!"

Kazushi was horrified at the misunderstanding. "No!" He vehemently shook his head. "I don't mean it in a romantic way! I mean more like... a bond. I feel they're special to me for some reason. Ah, I don't know how to explain it! Really, no one would understand..."

"Hmm. It sounds complex. Yes, it's hard to understand." Niijima-san unexpectedly giggled. "But I didn't think you'd be the kind of person to talk about strong bonds and this kind of deep things. Anyway, lunch break is about to end. I'll be going now."

He nodded in acknowledgment. "Thanks for the sandwich."

Niijima-san gave him a slight smile. "You're welcome. See you around."

That afternoon, on her way back home, Makoto was waiting to cross a street when she saw Yusuke Kitagawa on the other side staring awkwardly at her. She remembered that she had ruined his mood the previous day. Maybe she should apologize to him again. When she got to the other side of the street, she greeted him. "Uh, hi, Kitagawa-san..."

"Oh. Hi. Makoto Niijima-san, right?"

"Yes. You remember..." She hadn't expected he would remember her name. "Um, I ruined your mood yesterday. I'm sorry."

"I-it's fine. By the way..." Kitagawa-san fidgeted. He began reaching a hand out to her, but stopped himself. He stared downward awkwardly for a second, then mustered the courage and faced Makoto again. "... May I paint your portrait?"

"Huh?" Makoto blinked at the sudden question. "My portrait? You paint people?"

Kitagawa-san nodded, with an expectant look in his eyes. "I will paint anything that looks inspiring. What I like to paint the most, though, are people."

Makoto was curious to see his paintings. If Madarame-san went as far as to steal them and claim them as his own, they had to be really good.

"How'd that work?"

"I'd need to look at you as I paint." He answered.

"Oh, I... I see..." Even though it made sense, it sounded awkward, and wariness kicked in. Thanks to her difficulty in communicating with people, other students rarely approached her. Most of the rare few that did so were boys, and all they wanted was to ask her out. Makoto was quite bothered by that. Was it the same with Kitagawa-san?! Makoto was ready to snap and decline his request... but she remembered how he had looked sad and how she had ruined his mood even more yesterday. She needed to make it up to him. "It's... uh, it's okay with me," she ended up saying.

"Really? Great." Kitagawa-san seemed glad to hear her answer. "It takes time, though." He warned. "So, please tell me when you're free."

Makoto had time today. If she were going to do it, then better to get it over with as soon as possible. "I'm free today. We can begin right now if you want."

"... Thank you!" Kitagawa-san seemed ecstatic, and Makoto was glad to have made his mood improve, despite the awkwardness of the situation.

They went to the same park where they had met yesterday.

Kitagawa-san took his sketchbook out and looked at Makoto sheepishly. "I must confess something. I have already attempted to draw you once, even though I hadn't gotten your permission yet. I hope you don't mind."

Yes, Makoto minded it. Wariness went up a few levels. If it turned out that he drew anything inappropriate...! Makoto inched closer and looked at the page Kitagawa-san had opened. Thankfully, he hadn't drawn anything inappropriate. It was a rough drawing of her, from her chest up, in the Syujin High School uniform. The traces were simple. The picture still had no color and was just a basic outline, but Kitagawa-san had managed to capture all the important traits that defined Makoto's visual appearance.

Makoto had to admit that she was impressed. "This looks very nice!"

Kitagawa-san didn't seem very proud of his work, though. "But it didn't come out the way I intended it to. I did this drawing from memory, and there's something that isn't quite right. This is why I wanted to paint with you here in person."

"From memory?" That was amazing. Kitagawa-san had only seen her briefly while they had that talk yesterday, right? By contrast, Makoto was having trouble recalling the appearances of some quite peculiar people she kept looking at intently for minutes on end... "Wow, I envy your memory! I've been having trouble to recall people's traits lately, hahaha."

"I have the habit of paying attention and memorizing as many visual details as possible so that I can improve my paintings. I've been doing it for so long that it became second nature to me."

Makoto nodded in understanding. It was neither an innate skill, or a skill that she could pick up overnight. It required purpose and much dedication.

Kitagawa-san took his sketchbook and flipped to a blank page. "Ah, yes... so, this goes this way... and this here is like this... hmm. Oh, this explains it. Now I see why I got that detail wrong last time..." He kept muttering to himself as he walked around Makoto and drew on his sketchbook.

Minutes passed, and Makoto wondered how the drawing was coming along. In the end, her wait turned out shorter than she had expected. Kitagawa-san finished his drawing and showed it to her. Makoto couldn't tell what he had done differently, but this version was indeed much better than the previous one. It indeed felt more... right.

"That was quick! And it indeed looks much better than the other one!"

This time, Kitagawa-san looked proud. "Thank you. For the compliment, and for taking your time to model for me."

"You're welcome. Are you going to color it?"

"No. This is only a sketch. Just a 'template,' to make sure I won't forget the essential details. The definitive version will be on a canvas."

So, it was just a "reminder," like notes, but in drawing form? Interesting. If only Makoto had Kitagawa-san's drawing talents, she could probably make quick drawings of the Phantom Thieves right there during the Dark Hour before she had time to forget the details.

Makoto found the drawing impressive even though it was just an outline. She was curious to see how it would turn out in color. "Can I see the definitive version once you complete it?"

"Of course."

As Makoto walked back home, she smiled, relieved that her encounter with Kitagawa-san didn't turn into another disaster.

Once Kazushi returned home, he went to his room.

"Ah, Kazushi! Why do you always take so long to come back?!" Morgana spoke once Kazushi had closed the door. "I'm so bored!"

Kazushi took a look around the room. The chair was still fallen over, the blanket was still on the ground, and so were the boxes and his books. Everything was the same way it had been when he left. "You could at least have cleaned some of the mess you made this morning."

Morgana made a face. "That'd have been even more boring!"

Kazushi sighed. "Anyway, I have something for you." He took the half of the sandwich he had saved up. "I got a sandwich today." But he didn't say who had given it to him. "And I saved half of it for you. It has meat in it. Wasn't this what you wanted?"

"Oooooooh, awesome!" Morgana's eyes sparkled. "Kazushi, you're the best!"


Kazushi left Morgana to eat the sandwich while he cleaned up the mess in the room. He thought about his interactions with Niijima-san, and remembered that she had asked for his contact information during the Dark Hour. The good news was that he had gotten a new, untraceable email address. It came from a place he hadn't been expecting. The same source as the mysterious cellphone app. The Velvet Room. The only problem was that Caroline had him pay a monthly fee for the service...

During the Dark Hour, Makoto met up with the Phantom Thieves again and continued exploring the Palace. Panther stayed near her like on the first day.

Once again, Makoto couldn't tear her gaze off of Joker. A battle began. He seemed even more determined than before. His movements were fluid, he was so agile, so skilled... and the battle was over quickly. Joker opened a box and Mona climbed onto his shoulder to peer at what he had found. That was so cute! ... No, Makoto shouldn't be thinking like that! She shouldn't forget why she was there in the first place. They were outlaws, and she was there to stop them!

Focus, Makoto, focus! She thought to herself. You have to memorize their images! Pay as much attention as possible to the visual details, like Kitagawa-san said...

However, Makoto was unable to focus. Her gaze insisted on ignoring the others and locking on Joker.

Alright, change of plans, she thought. I can only memorize so much at once. Maybe if I focus on memorizing the traits of only one of them at a time instead of looking at everyone at once... my eyes keep following Joker? Then, so be it. Let's start with Joker. He is the group's leader, and the most important member to figure out!

However, her new plan didn't quite work, either. Joker moved fast and didn't give her enough time to pay attention to any of his visual traits... not to mention that Makoto was so awed by his skillfulness that she forgot to pay attention to anything in the first place.

He's so fast, and so strong! She thought, unsure whether to admire or to fear him. Where does this much skill come from!? Even with years of martial training, I don't think I'd become as strong as him! If I end up having to confront him down the line, I'll have absolutely no chance...

"Joker, you seem inspired today." Fox commented when the battle ended.

Skull directed a sideways glance at the leader. "Did something very good happen?"

"Not particularly." Joker answered.

"Heheh." Mona smirked and climbed onto Joker's shoulder to whisper to him. "You had another talk with Queen at the cafe afterward, didn't you? Now you're showing off to impress her, huh?"

"Shhh!" Joker was alarmed at Mona's mention of the cafe, even though the not-cat was whispering and no one should have heard it. "... Mona... shut up." He shoved Mona off of him. "A-and no, it's nothing like that!"

"Hmm, what's up?" Skull noticed the exchange and looked at Joker mischievously.

"Pay attention to where you're going and beware of the traps ahead!" Joker warned the group and ignored Skull's question. "I'm doing my best to keep all of you safe, but I can only do so much. You must do your part as well!"

"Huh? What's gotten into him?" Skull asked to no one in particular.

"Who knows..." Fox murmured.

Joker sighed. He was giving his best in the battles for all the members' sakes. But from their reaction at his behavior right now, he had no doubt. No one would understand his actions.

Other battles took place. The more Makoto watched Joker in battle, the more she got convinced of how dangerous he was.

"Good night. May you have sweet dreams." Joker's words replayed in Makoto's head, and she recalled how gentle he had been when he wished her good night, the very opposite of how he was acting right now. Why so huge of a contrast? Had his gentleness been only an act?

The battle ended, and Joker suddenly turned behind to check up on her and Panther. His eyes met Makoto's, and she flinched. She felt as though he was aware that she had been looking intently at him and was angry at her for it. Makoto broke eye contact and lowered her head. Her feelings finally settled, and now she was fearing him.

"Queen, are you okay?" Panther gently placed a hand on Makoto's arm.

"Ah!" Makoto startled at the sudden touch. "Uh, I-I'm alright!" She blinked furiously and tried to recompose herself.

But her attempts failed and she continued spacing out every time she looked at Joker. Minutes passed, and Makoto took a while to realize that the exploration had already ended and they were back near the exit,.

"I'll have a word with her. You may go on ahead." Joker instructed his group members.

"Alright." Panther nodded and followed the others out of the Palace.


"Ah!" Makoto snapped to attention at Joker's sudden call. She realized the others had already exited the Palace and she was alone with Joker. He was staring intently at her. Was he angry? "Uh, y-yes?"

"What is wrong? Did an emergency already come up even before you got a means to contact me?"

He was mocking her. That much was obvious from the tone of his voice and the smug smirk on his face. Makoto flinched. Joker's powerful aura was as intimidating as ever. Makoto should take advantage of the fact that Joker was right in front of her and try to memorize details about him, but his penetrating gaze and presence were so intimidating that it was hard to even look at him squarely. The gentleness he had displayed yesterday was nowhere to be found. Now he seemed to be looking down on her, maybe even ready to do something... inappropriate now that they were alone. Joker was dangerous, was armed, and was cunning, probably manipulative, too, and Makoto nearly forgot the reasons that led her to admire him so much. Yet, that crazy plan about trying to get close to him and figuring out his identity kept nagging at her. The little voice in the back of Makoto's mind insisted that trying to get close to him wasn't a good idea, and that she would be playing with fire if she did so, but for some reason, Makoto was unable to let that crazy plan go.

"What is wrong?" He repeated.

Makoto had no words to respond to him. If it were anyone else, she would have said that she was fine, but this was Joker. He wouldn't buy it, and maybe continue mocking her.

"Never mind." Joker apparently gave up for the moment. Then, he wordlessly extended a piece of paper towards her.

Makoto reluctantly took the paper and looked at it. It only contained an email address. The text was in print, and Makoto was a bit disappointed that she couldn't know what Joker's handwriting was like. But she quickly forgot her disappointment and got ecstatic once the fact that he had given her his contact information sank in. Her heart began beating faster, and a sheepish smile involuntarily formed on her face. "Th-thank you..."

For a few seconds, Joker stared at her as though trying to decipher her sudden facial expression change, but he didn't ask anything. "Let's go." Joker merely turned around and began walking away briskly.

"Ah! Wait for me!" Makoto had to scramble after him.

To Makoto's surprise, Joker actually stopped walking and waited until she caught up to him, and only resumed walking once he was sure she was keeping up with him. That was a gentlemanly thing to do, and got Makoto wondering if he was being polite or if he was just toying with her.

They walked at a slow pace, with Joker to Makoto's left and slightly ahead of her. They met up with the others outside the Palace, and Makoto's moment alone with Joker was over.

The group walked together for a few blocks, then split ways like usual.

"Joker!" Makoto couldn't resist and called out to him. "... Good night..." She said hopefully.

"Good night," was all he said. No wishes for sweet dreams this time, much to Makoto's disappointment.

"S-see you tomorrow." Makoto awkwardly blurted out and tried to hide her disappointment.

Joker made an affirmative sound and left.

Makoto turned around and left as well, fighting off an awkward blush that threatened to take over her face.

Chapter Text

Makoto was on her way to school. She sighed in utter frustration. It was no use. She was still unable to remember the Phantom Thieves' visual traits. The clearest thing she could remember was that Panther, who had stayed at her side during the whole exploration, seemed to be taller than the average girl. That was all. Why was it so hard? Makoto had never had so much trouble memorizing people's appearances before. She had been seeing thee thieves every day, too! Every Dark Hour... wait, did it have something to do with the Dark Hour? Maybe. During the Dark Hour, Makoto could see and picture them just fine, but outside that hour, her memory of their appearances became foggy. One more mystery added to that peculiar time of night, and yet another factor that the Phantom Thieves took advantage of quite well. Even people who saw them during the Dark Hour wouldn't recognize them outside it! How frustrating! Why did everything had to be in those delinquents' favor? All of that only gave them more reasons to think they were invincible! But Makoto wouldn't give up. Even if she had to memorize one detail a day, she would figure them out, no matter what!

Makoto entered school, climbed the stairs and came out in the hall from which she intended to head to her classroom... but she bumped into someone.

"Ah, I'm sorry..." Makoto apologized, only to realize she had bumped into... "Takamaki?"

"Uh, i-it's okay." Takamaki answered shyly. "Um, but where were you going? This is the second floor..."

"Ah!" Makoto felt stupid. She was on the second years' floor! She laughed awkwardly. "Oops, wrong floor! I was distracted... uh, thank you for the heads-up."

Makoto hurriedly scurried back to the stairs, and failed to notice Kazushi Miura directing a worried glance at her.

Whenever Makoto finished writing her notes and had nothing to do during class, she kept thinking about the paper with Joker's email address. She was excited about the possibility of contacting him. To her, it was a wonder. Until now, she had only interacted with him during the Dark Hour. The fact that she couldn't accurately picture the Phantom Thieves outside that hour made her feel as though Joker and the other thieves were presences that only existed during the Dark Hour. But now, she would finally be able to contact Joker during the day, and this felt like the proof that he existed outside the Dark Hour as well.

However, even though Makoto was excited about contacting him, she was also anxious. She got scared remembering how he had intimidated her yesterday. What kind of person was he? Was he from Syujin? Did he intimidate people at school, too? Makoto was scared to find out, but she was curious. She needed to find a way to make him tell her about himself in his emails. But what if sending him messages irritated him? She needed to send him messages that he wouldn't find suspicious.

Makoto spent lunch break locked in the Student Council room while she tried to come up with an innocent enough message to send to Joker.

Once classes ended, Makoto was eager to go home so that she could send the message, but she was called to the courtyard to stop a fight among students. Makoto huffed on her way to the courtyard. Then she thought it would be quite ironic if the Phantom Thieves turned out to be among those troublesome students. Even more ironic if Joker were there. She wondered whether he would intimidate her like he did at the Dark Hour if he were there.

"Today I'm in a hurry, and don't have time to waste with your childish fights!" Makoto hollered at the fighting students. "I won't issue a warning this time, but you won't have the same luck if you cause trouble again, understand!?"

The students nodded and dispersed. No signs of recognition or anything. It didn't look like any of the Phantom Thieves were in that group.

The students talked among themselves as they walked away.

"Ugh, Ms. President's in a bad mood..."

"Why does she have to be so angry!? She's so hot..."

"If only she weren't so angry all the time, I'd try to ask her out."

Makoto glared at the students fleeting forms. They had been opposing each other until a few moments ago! Why did they have to agree on inappropriate thoughts about her, out of all things?! Why did boys have to be like that? Was her appearance the only thing that mattered to them? She thought about Joker again. She wondered what he thought of her. Was he among those schoolmates that only wanted to ask her out? Did her looks were all that mattered to him, too? Ah! Makoto caught herself. What am I even thinking...?!

Makoto shook those thoughts away. The troublemakers that were disrupting her schedule were gone, and she was free to go home.

Makoto took a few deep breaths to recompose herself and headed to the exit. On her way, she saw Miura also heading to the exit.

"Hi, Miura."

Miura turned his head in her direction. "Hi, Niijima-san. How are you doing?"

"I'm doing fine." Makoto answered as she fell into step beside him and they continued on their way.

"Ah, good. You seemed kind of out of it this morning."

"This morning?"

"Yeah, I mean when you bumped into Ann." Miura clarified.

"She told you about that!?" Makoto began feeling flustered at the thought that Takamaki might have spread about her blunder, and led to a lot of people making fun of her.

"No, I was there too."

"You also saw it..." Makoto concluded, and felt even more flustered. "How embarrassing!" Before Makoto realized it, she was glaring suspiciously at him. "You two didn't tell anyone else about it, did you!?"

"Huh? No, we didn't." Miura looked back at her innocently, as though he were asking, "why would we do that?"

His answer relieved her. "At least we're even now, right?" Makoto tripped over her words. "Uh, I mean, I embarrassed you at the cafe yesterday, and today you saw me embarrassed..."

"You're still bothered because of that? We've already gone over it. You appeared at a time I wasn't expecting and caught me by surprise. That was all."

They passed through the school's gates and came out on the street.

"Uh, yes, when I arrived. But... uh, you know..." Makoto lowered her voice. "Your room..."

"The same goes for that, too."

Did this mean that Miura had become surprised because she unexpectedly entered his room and saw the mess, nothing more? No weird ideas? Makoto stared at Miura's face, but found no hints that he might have had inappropriate thoughts about the incident. If he wasn't bothered, then she had no reason to worry... unless it were exactly what he wanted...! Makoto recalled what she had thought about boys a while ago. What if the reason he wasn't bothered were exactly because he had inappropriate thoughts and actually liked that she entered his room?!

Miura noticed the anger starting to show on Makoto's face. "What's the problem?" He seemed genuinely clueless and confused.

Makoto tried to calm down. She probably should believe that Miura had no ill intentions, and that she was overreacting again. She shook her head. "Uh, nothing. Sorry, I had to stop a fight between some unruly students a while ago, and I'm still a bit irritated. I wanted to go home early, but Student Council just had to call me and give me more work! It doesn't matter anymore, though. My work is over for today, and I'm finally free!" Makoto smiled through her irritation and tried to lift her spirits.

Miura nodded. "I see. Student Council work sounds tough..."

Miura got lost in thought, and they walked a bit in silence until he spoke up.

"I'll be heading this way." Miura indicated the direction.

"Okay." Makoto saw that they had to split ways. "Bye, Miura."

"See you."

Makoto arrived home, determined to send an email to Joker. She sat at her computer and looked at the email address on the paper he had given her. "Joker at mail dot vvt." The first thing she noticed was the use of his code name and the lack of any personally-identifiable information in his email address. Obviously, he had created that address specifically for his Phantom Thief-related matters. The second thing that caught Makoto's attention was the domain name, "mail dot vvt." Was it a service provider? She had never seen a service provider with that name, nor a domain with that extension. She had seen "dot com," "dot net," "dot name," and even "dot blog" and "dot xyz," but "dot vvt" was new to her. She tried to access the site, but it gave a "server not found" error. Makoto looked it up on a search engine, and didn't find a single result. The site didn't even seem to exist. Would sending an email work? Only one way to find out. Makoto wrote the message she had come up with during lunch break, which she deemed innocent enough.

"Hi, Joker. Queen here. Just testing to see if my messages go through. It'll be no use if I wait for an emergency to send you a message, only to find out that sending messages doesn't work, right? Please, tell me if this message went through."

Makoto nervously read and reread her message countless times before hitting the "send" button. Her email program told her that her message had been sent, and showed no errors. Now, to see if Joker would actually reply.

Makoto waited impatiently for a few minutes, but no response came. She decided to do her homework and hope Joker would have replied by the time she was finished.

Around two hours passed, and Makoto finally finished her homework. However, still no response from Joker. She waited for a few more minutes, and the thought that his email address didn't work was getting stronger in her mind.

Makoto left her bedroom for a bit. When she returned, she found a new email notification on her screen, and... yes! It was from Joker! He had answered! Makoto's heart began beating faster as she opened the email.

"Yes, it came through," was his reply.

Just that?! Four words. Makoto waited for more than two hours to get a mere four words response...! Well, what else was he to say? She had only asked him to tell if her message arrived or not, and that was what he did. But Makoto was ecstatic nonetheless. Now she could contact him during the day! And she didn't need to fear his intimidating aura since he wasn't there in person. Makoto was nervous, but she wanted to write him some more and maybe bring up some topic to get him talking.

"Great! Your message arrived as well. Everything is working in order! You were taking too long to reply and I was getting worried thinking that it didn't work!"

Makoto sent the message, and hoped she wouldn't need to wait for two more hours for a response. Fortunately for her, this time his answer came in two minutes. Her heartbeats accelerated when she saw the new message notification.

"I was busy. I also have a life."

Yes. And it was precisely this life that Makoto wanted to learn more about.

"Of course." She wrote. "Me too, but I couldn't help it. So, how has your day been?"

Makoto hoped that he would answer her question and tell her something about his activities that day.

Joker's answer came five minutes later, and Makoto's heart skipped a beat again. "It's been a normal day."

Not what Makoto wanted, but at least he answered. She risked sending another message. "Is that supposed to be good or bad?"

His reply came quicker this time. Less than one minute later. "Not particularly good or bad."

Makoto sighed. Joker's vague answers were frustrating. She wrote again. "Sounds boring. What are you doing right now?" She wondered if he would actually respond to that.

"Answering your messages."

Well, he did... and Makoto could tell that he was smirking at her right now. But she wasn't scared since he wasn't there to intimidate her with his presence, and she actually allowed herself to chuckle at his answer. It was probably true. Judging by the short time he was taking to answer, he didn't seem to be doing anything else at the moment.

"I see. I hope I'm not bothering you." Her response was honest.

And apparently, so was his. "You're not... yet."

Once again, Makoto had the impression that Joker was smirking mockingly at her. Despite his mockery, she felt that he had really meant what he wrote. He was warning her not to abuse his patience. Even so, she was going to insist some more.

"I just finished my homework while I waited for your message." Makoto wrote about herself to see if he felt encouraged to write something about himself as well. "Have you finished your homework?"

Kazushi had arrived home after having sold weird items from the Palace to Munehisa Iwai, and when he checked his cellphone, his email app notified him of a message in his Velvetmail inbox. He replied to Niijima-san's first message, but she kept writing one message after another.

"Just as I suspected..." Kazushi muttered to no one in particular.

"What's she asking?" Morgana bounded over to him.

"How has my day been and such. And this confirms why she wanted my contact so much. She's trying to make me slip and reveal personal information."

Another message from Niijima-san arrived. Kazushi could tell that she wasn't about to leave him alone, and that he wouldn't be able to do much else besides answering messages for a while. In fact, it would be best to employ his full attention when answering her messages, because it was obvious that she was trying to make him slip and mention details that could allow her to figure out Joker's true identity. So, he sat down on the mattress in his room and decided to answer emails for a while and take some time to rest.

She was asking him whether he had finished homework. It was a clear attempt at prying into his personal life.

"What kind of a question is that?" He sent the message.

"I can tell that you are a student," she replied. "So, did you do your homework or not?"

Kazushi had barely gotten home, and hadn't done his homework yet. He would do it, of course, but he decided to be purposefully vague and leave Niijima-san wondering. "What does it matter?" Was what he wrote. He sent the message and waited for her reaction.

Makoto frowned at his answer. Maybe she was mistaken and Joker wasn't an exceptional student like she had initially thought. His messages so far gave the impression of a bored and disinterested person.

Makoto felt she might be getting at something. What if this were the reason that he decided to be a Phantom Thief? Because it provided him with the thrill of adventure that ordinary everyday life did not. Because the Dark Hour gave him power and made him feel invincible. Because he might be thinking that he wouldn't need to study or get a good job to be successful in life, as it was easier to just steal whatever he wanted, since everyone else was unconscious during the Dark Hour and no one would catch him and punish him for stealing. If this were the case, he couldn't continue this way. Makoto wanted to do something to get him away from that path. Joker was an amazing person, and Makoto was sure he could achieve great things outside the Dark Hour as well. Having him as a thief was a complete waste of talent!

"Of course it matters. Studying is important, Joker!" Only after she had sent the message, Makoto realized that she had entered lecturing mode. If she weren't bothering him before, that message would bother him for sure. She quickly typed another message. "But I'm sure you know this. Sorry if my last message seemed harsh. It wasn't my intention. I just got worried thinking that you might have decided to neglect your homework. If there's anything from the study subjects that you don't understand, you can ask me for help, okay? I'm an honor student at Syujin."

Kazushi stared at Niijima-san's message and furrowed his brows in thought. Now she was trying to find out what he was currently learning at school. If he were to disclose the topics his teachers were covering, she would surely figure out that he was a second year student. Some subjects were tricky, and having help from an exemplar student like her would be nice, but he needed to be careful.

"I'll consider it," he wrote, even though he decided to never ask for help with studies as Joker. If she later made that offer to Kazushi - as opposed to Joker -, he might accept it, though.

He would consider her offer. It was better than nothing. Makoto wrote another message. "I'd be glad to help. I can't do much during the Dark Hour because I can't use a Persona. Studying is what I do best, though, and I'm sure I can help you with that." Makoto was still against the Phantom Thieves' ways, but she decided to add, "Speaking of the Dark Hour, it bothers me that I'm just being an hindrance to the group in general. I still can't use a Persona, and you have one less member on the front line because someone needs to stay behind with me." Makoto reread her text a few times before sending it. She hoped it was convincing enough.

Joker's response came three minutes later. "Do you want to join the front line?"

Makoto was against the Phantom Thieves' actions and the way they seemed to treat the Dark Hour as a game. But if she joined the front line, she could observe them closely, and might be able to memorize their visual traits more easily. She also needed to put her martial training to good use. She had been training hard specifically to take monsters on, after all.

Makoto made up her mind and wrote her message. "Would it be possible? I'd like to. I had enough of feeling useless."

She waited nervously until Joker's answer arrived.

"Alright. As I said before, it's risky to fight without a Persona. But I'll consider having you join the fights when I deem it safe enough."

He actually agreed! Good. Makoto wrote another message. "Thank you, Joker." She figured she probably should end her contact for now before he got irritated. "One last thing, then. Speaking of Personas, there's something I was meaning to ask you for a while. How come you can use multiple Personas?"

His response wasn't what she expected. "I don't have a proper answer to that. I also don't know."

What?! He didn't even know!? He was using such dangerous powers without even knowing how they worked! What if there were serious implications... like side effects for using more than one Persona? Was it even safe for his health? Had he ever stopped to consider these points, or was he just showing it off and thinking that it was "cool?" Makoto was tempted to ask all of those questions in her next message, but this would probably tick him off. Instead, she only wrote, "Ah, okay. I'll stop bothering you now. Thank you for your time. I'll see you later at the Palace."

Makoto went to the Palace that night, and just as they had agreed, Joker let her join a fight.

The Phantom Thieves found a pack of enemies and began a battle. They defeated all of the monsters except one that they knew was weak to physical attacks. Then, Joker called Makoto over.

Panther put a hand on Makoto's back and led her to the front. "Don't worry. We're here with you."

Joker looked at Makoto from her left. "If anything happens, we'll protect you."

Even though Makoto wanted to look strong and usually insisted that she didn't need protection, Panther's touch on her back was comforting, and Joker's confident and sweet words warmed her heart.

"Just one thing, though." Joker warned her. "Be sure to keep focused, and don't space out."

Joker's warning broke the soothing mood, and Makoto felt embarrassed. Joker had noticed that she had been spacing out! ... She tried to shake the embarrassment off. Like he said, she needed to keep focused.

"Queen!" Fox used his katana to knock the monster down, and created an opening for Makoto.

"Now!" Joker's tone switched from sweet to commanding, and he motioned for Makoto to spring to action.

"Haaaah!" Makoto focused on the target ahead and ran ready to strike, with Joker and Panther close by. She punched the monster several times until it exploded. No, she didn't want to admit that she felt great to let loose and vent her hidden frustrations on that monster. She didn't want to admit that she had enjoyed the violence...

The battle was over. Panther gently smiled at her, Fox looked at her in admiration, and Skull gave her a thumbs-up.

Makoto stubbornly tried to suppress a smile. No, no, no... she didn't approve of the Phantom Thieves' ways. She wasn't falling to the same level as them... but those comforting looks they were giving her...

"That was super cool!" Mona complimented her. "Right, Joker?"

"..." Joker only threw an annoyed glance at Mona.

"So much style..." Fox muttered.

"I didn't ask you!" Seemingly irritated that Joker had ignored him, Mona decided to lash out at Fox instead.

"Such a strong resolve... such precision..." Fox kept muttering to himself. "I had been wanting to see this again since that time in that All-Out Attack!"

Skull rolled his eyes. "He's completely lost in his own world."

"Let's get moving." Joker resumed walking, and the rest of the group began following him.

Makoto and Panther took their usual spots at the back of the group and also began walking.

"Wake up, Inari." Skull whacked Fox on the head when passing him.

Fox stumbled backward and almost fell. Makoto got a bit worried. Fox always looked so composed during fights, but now he seemed really disoriented. Everyone was walking forward and didn't pay any mind to him.

Makoto couldn't hold herself. She threw a quick glance at Panther and went to check up on Fox. "Are you okay?"

"... Yes, I'm fine." Fox recovered his composure. "You looked amazing in that battle."

"What?" Makoto shook her head. "No, I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't do anything special."

The three of them began walking.

"You only say this because you couldn't see yourself," Fox said. "If you could, you would understand. Maybe, one day..." He spaced out for a bit again, but recomposed himself and quickened his pace to catch up with the group at the front.

"Don't mind him. He's weird," Panther said to Makoto.

"Everyone in this group is a bit weird." As soon as the words left her mouth, Makoto regretted saying them.

Thankfully, Panther didn't seem to take offense, and just laughed it off. "Yeah. We're a bunch of weirdos. Those guys have their quirks, but they're fun to be around once you get to know them."

Makoto almost agreed, but stopped herself. She shouldn't accept the sensation of enjoyment she had while fighting. She shouldn't give in to the Phantom Thieves' friendly facades...

Joker had Makoto take part in a few more fights, and she bravely tried to resist the enjoyment.

They ran into another of those monsters that could talk. Mona knocked it down, and the other members surrounded it. Makoto felt bad about hurting a monster that could talk. To her horror, Panther brought her to the front to participate in the All-Out Attack like the other time.

"Ah! Everything is in shambles!" The monster seemed about to cry. "It was thanks to your group, I know it! I'll tell the owner, and he'll get you!"

Last time when the Phantom Thieves had fought a talking monster, Makoto had been too far back and hadn't been able to listen to their conversation. Now that she was at the front, she could hear the words perfectly. After seeing the monster looking like it would cry, she felt even worse about attacking it.

"Uh, can't we just... talk this through?" Makoto suggested.

"... Fine." Joker didn't seem to like the idea, but agreed. Then, he said to the monster, "The owner isn't here anymore."

The poor thing panicked. "Ah! Oh no! What did you do to him?! D-don't tel me that you k-killed...!"

"No. We don't kill people."

"I... I see. You don't kill others of your kind..." But this didn't serve to calm the monster down. "...! Ah! But I'm not of your kind! P-please, don't kill me! I won't attack you anymore. L-let me go. I beg you!"

Makoto was pitying the monster. However, she seemed to be the only one. The others were busy surrounding and threatening the poor creature. "Please, let it go, Joker."

"No." Joker objected.

"Joker!" Makoto pleaded with her eyes.

But Joker wasn't looking at her. He was talking to the monster again. "We will spare you, but in one condition. You must lend us your strength."

"Lend you... my strength?" The monster began mumbling. Hmm. This Palace is in shambles, and the owner isn't here anymore. Then, I have no reason to be here, no purpose..." The poor creature seemed to be going through an existential crisis. "Wait, my purpose... ah! I remember now! I remember who I am. I'm not a Shadow, and I shouldn't be here. I am part of the Sea of Souls...""

Joker smirked in triumph.

A bright light enveloped the monster. "I am thou, and thou art I. I cometh from the Sea of Souls, and will lend thou my power!"

The light disappeared, and the monster was no more. In its place was a mask that floated into Joker's hands. He put it on his face, and his normal mask seemed to absorb it.

Makoto stared apprehensively at Joker. "Is that... Shadow-" But she recalled it had explicitly said it wasn't a Shadow. "Uh, that... 'not-Shadow' creature alright? And are you okay always absorbing the creatures like that?"

"Yes and yes." A short and not very satisfactory answer as usual.

"How does it work, anyway?"

Mona was the one who answered. "Those creatures are from the Sea of Souls, the part from mankind's collective unconscious where Personas come from. But the distortion in the Palace is so strong that they go crazy and even forget that they're actually Personas! When we convince them that they aren't from the Palace and remind them that they're Personas, they lend their power to Joker! Cool, huh?"

"Isn't it dangerous to absorb them like that? Joker, you admitted you don't even know why you can use multiple Personas. Doesn't it affect your health in any way?"

"Nothing bad happened so far." He abruptly changed the subject. "Let's keep moving."

Panther took Makoto back to the rear of the group.

A detail from the conversation with the Persona bugged Makoto. "The creature from earlier mentioned this Palace's owner. Who is that?"

"That businessman from the news."

"The one that you robbed, and that turned himself in to the police and confessed his crimes?"

"Yeah, him." Panther confirmed.

"He owns this place?"

"It's more like, he created this place."

"Created?" Makoto couldn't understand. "It must have been insanely expensive! How could someone create a place this huge, and have it fill with Shadows? Why? For what purpose?"

"Uh, Queen, I don't think it works like that..." Panther would try to explain, but another battle began, and Joker was gesturing for her to bring Makoto to the front again.

During the battle, something unexpected happened. The enemies used some attacks that no one knew they could use, and "status effects" ran rampant in the battlefield. Skull got confused, Makoto was hit by an intense wave of fear, and Mona - the one who had the spells to cure those problems - was silenced and got unable to use his Persona. Despite being confused, Skull still managed to help Joker finish the enemies off. The battle ended, but they still needed to wait for Makoto and Mona to recover.

Makoto was trembling. She was seated on the ground, paralyzed in fear, and with her eyes squeezed shut. She remembered her other personal issues. All the pressure from her sister at home, as well as from the teachers and the Student Council at school. The fear of failing in life if she didn't manage to become the best. Her duty of always being a well-behaved girl. Makoto was tired of all that, and sometimes all she wanted was to blow stuff up. But she couldn't, because it was wrong and went against the principles taught to her since her childhood. She couldn't tell anyone about those issues, either, because she was alone.

"Queen, Queen!" Panther's voice came faintly from Makoto's right. "Calm down. We're here."

"Come on..." Followed by Skull's voice.

"Get a hold of yourself." And then Fox's voice.

Or maybe she wasn't alone. Ironically, the Phantom Thieves were the only ones there for her. They called out to her encouragingly and comforted her.

"The map shows that a safe room is nearby. We have to get her there before enemies spot us." Joker spoke, but not to her. Nevertheless, his voice was soothing.

"Queen, you need to stand up." It was Panther. "Come on, hold onto us."

Joker and Panther held her and helped her up.

Makoto couldn't understand. Why were they insisting on helping her so much? She was incapacitated and was only a burden to them. They could easily have abandoned her there, but they didn't. She had thought they were irresponsible and selfish, but they really seemed to care about her. Why were they the only ones there for her? Why them? Why those immature and reckless thieves had to also be so gentle and so endearing...?

"Queen, calm down. It's okay."

Joker. Now he spoke directly to her. He sounded kind and confident.

"If anything happens, we'll protect you." She remembered his words from earlier. Some protection sounded like a good idea right now.

Thanks to the two Phantom Thieves' help, Makoto was standing. When her legs threatened to give way and she nearly lost her balance, Joker held her and steadied her. Makoto usually feared him, but now, she felt safe in his presence. Joker was the most level-headed and skilled of all the Phantom Thieves. He knew what he was doing. He was the best candidate to protect her. As long as he didn't leave, she felt she would be safe. But he was beginning to move and Makoto had the impression that he was going to leave. Before that could happen, she turned to her left and clung to him desperately. He stumbled backwards, but recovered and didn't fall.

"Joker." She whispered his code name. "Joker..."

He wrapped a comforting arm around her. "I'm here. Everything is fine."

Relieved, Makoto allowed herself to relax and rested her head on Joker's shoulder. She still refused to let go of him, though.

"Whoa! What's going on here?" Mona finally recovered his speech and ruined the moment.

Joker sighed in relief. "Mona. You're back to normal..."

Mona looked at them with a devious smirk. "Actually, I had been back for a while, but then Queen latched onto you, and I wanted to see what you were gonna do... heheheh. You're so unpredictable, and watching your reactions is always fascinating!"

"Mona, shut up and just use the healing spell on her, please," Joker said in annoyance.

Finally. Mona was back to normal and could cure Makoto of that oppressing fear... but deep down, Makoto didn't want Mona to use the healing spell, because then Joker's "gentleness spell" might also end.

Mona used it, and the oppressing fear was gone. Only after Joker released Makoto, the fact that she was still hugging him and resting her head on his shoulder fully registered in her head, and the embarrassment of the situation finally caught up to her. She blushed and sprang back away from Joker. What she had done while under the spell was embarrassing. He must be angry now. "J-Joker, I'm sorry!"

"..." Joker said nothing.

Makoto risked a glance at him, but she couldn't tell whether he was annoyed, or irritated, or what.

Joker shrugged. "Let's just head to the safe room and get this exploration over with."

Joker began walking and everyone trailed after him. Only then Makoto realized that the whole group had witnessed what she had done, and the embarrassment made her want to dig a hole and bury her face into the ground. Since that wasn't possible, Makoto did the next best thing, which was returning to the rear of the group.

Panther took the usual spot next to her, put a hand on Makoto's arm and spoke in a low voice. "You're falling for him, aren't you?"

"H-huh..." Makoto flinched and blushed furiously.

Panther giggled. "I don't blame you. Once you find out how amazing he is, it's hard not to fall for him. He's very unique, and it'd be very hard to find someone as good as him."

"You... like him, don't you?" Why was this question so awkward to ask?

Panther smiled. "I think so. Does this make us rivals?"

Was Makoto really having a crush on Joker? Was she falling in love for a dangerous Phantom Thief...!? No, it was just a plan to reveal his identity. "I don't know. I wouldn't have a chance anyway. You can spend a lot of time with him during the day, too, right?" Ah! What am I saying?! ... At least it was her chance of finding out the relation between Panther and Joker during the day, like knowing if they were both in Syujin.

Panther hesitated. "Uum, yeah. I can talk to him during the day."

"Have you known him for a long time?" Makoto asked.

"Well, not really. But he helped me at a tough moment in my life. Haha, maybe I have an advantage, but what happened between you and him just now was so cute! Maybe I should be hit by one of those spells on purpose to see if he treats me the same way..."

Makoto was reminded of the embarrassment and looked away.

The group arrived at a safe room where they could take a teleporter back to the exit.

"This is it for today." Joker declared the end of the exploration for that day. "We still have a few sections to explore, but since we have no deadline, we can take a break for a few days. I'll contact all of you to define when to resume exploration."

"Okay," Panther said while Fox nodded.

"Great! We can have some more sleep!" Skull cheered.

The group continued talking, but Makoto wasn't paying attention. If they took that break, she wouldn't be seeing Joker for a few days.

They left the Palace. Makoto stared at the ground while walking. She couldn't understand what she was feeling. She feared Joker, and should have been relieved that she wouldn't need to interact with him in person for a while. Why did the idea of staying far from him sound so disappointing? She was at a loss. Why was she feeling that way? What should she do?

The group split ways as usual, and Joker began walking away. If he distanced from her now, it would take a few days until Makoto could see him again. She felt she had to stop him. "Joker!"

The Phantom stopped walking at the sound of his code name. He turned in Makoto's direction, but didn't make any effort to approach her.

Makoto reluctantly walked towards Joker. She stopped in front of him and tried to look straight at him, but recalled how she felt safe while she was hugging him, and blushed.

Makoto figured she should say something. "Uh, Joker... I'm sorry... for earlier."

"Hm." Joker remained neutral. Makoto couldn't tell if he was disinterested, or didn't accept her apology, or, as weird as it might sound, didn't actually mind what happened at all.

"Y-you know what I'm talking about. The spell. If only I had stayed at the rear of the group like usual, that spell wouldn't have..."

"This sort of thing happens. No one could have predicted it."

"... A-aren't you angry?" Her voice shook. "I... embarrassed you in front of everyone..."

Joker silently stared at her. Paralyzed under his intense gaze, Makoto held her breath and awaited his next words.

However, when he spoke next, it was in a near whisper. "I wonder what was bothering you..."

"... Huh?" Makoto nearly failed to catch his words.

Joker seemed taken aback for a second, as though he had realized he had voiced something he meant to keep only as a thought. He recomposed himself and elaborated. "The fear spell makes us think about our biggest fears. I wondered what had shaken you so much." Joker shook his head. "But no, you don't need to answer. I know it must be a touchy subject."

Makoto was surprised. Was Joker really curious about her fears? Before she realized it, she was already talking. "The pressure, both at home and at school. Fear of not meeting people's expectations. Fear of failing in life because I couldn't become good enough..."

Joker kept staring at her contemplatively.

Makoto wondered whether Joker had any fear. He always seemed so brave. Before she could stop herself, she was voicing her thought. "... Joker, what... what do you fear?" Once the question had left her mouth, Makoto scolded herself internally. They had barely met. He had no obligation to tell her anything, especially not about his biggest problems. She had no right to know. She expected him to say that it was none of her business, or something along those lines.

However, Joker actually answered her question. "Losing hold of myself, and failing those who I most care about."

Makoto smiled upon hearing his answer. Joker still hadn't shown any hint of being a caring person, but that answer made Makoto want to believe that he was. She was getting even more curious about Joker. But then, she remembered they would be apart for a few days because of the break.

"Joker... i-if we take this break, we, I, uh..." Before she had even realized it, Makoto was voicing her thoughts aloud again. Her voice came out shaky, and she tripped over everything she said. A thought struck her. Was this why Joker suddenly decided to take a break? She had embarrassed and likely irritated him during that spell incident. Might it be because he didn't want the group to meet up just so that he could avoid her for a few days? "This break... it isn't because of me... is it?"

"Huh?" Joker deadpanned.

"Um, because of what happened just now... you know, the s-spell and..."

"You're making no sense."

Makoto felt relieved. If Joker didn't understand what she meant, then that might not be the reason for his decision. She shook her head. "Uh, n-never mind..."

Joker didn't move. He kept staring at her. "You don't look so well. Maybe you really need a break."

Despite her fear of him, Makoto wished she could meet him during the day. She was curious about him, about his life outside the Dark Hour. The thought that he might be doing all sorts of bad things also during the day was scary. Joker was very intelligent, and Makoto was sure he could be a great person if only he would put his intelligence to good use instead of thieving. If she could, if she had the courage, she would try to save him. In her head, Makoto imagined herself dragging him around and trying to lead him away from the wrong path. Of course, that was nearly impossible, for a few reasons. First, Joker wouldn't agree to meet her during the day because he didn't want to reveal his true identity to her. Second, she wouldn't be brave enough to defy him. Joker was physically stronger than her, and could use violence against her if she got on his nerves.

"You did a good job during the fights today."

Joker's compliment came, and Makoto felt a pleasing wave of fulfillment wash over her. She wanted to reject it, because she disapproved of what she had done by joining the Phantom Thieves in their reckless methods... but she hadn't felt that fulfilled in a long time, and it was hard to resist it.

"You might be pushing yourself too hard, though." Joker added. "You should take this break and have a good rest."

Makoto wasn't tired. That wasn't her problem, but instead of arguing or saying all those things she wanted to say, she simply nodded. "... Thank you for your concern."

"I'll let you know when the break is over."

"Um... Joker?" Makoto uttered his code name before he had a chance to leave. "If y-you need help with homework or something... d-don't hesitate to email me, okay?"

However, Joker didn't respond. He simply turned away and left. But hadn't he told her that he would consider her offer of help? And Makoto had a realization. Maybe he had only told her this to avoid the subject, and he was really not interested in studies. It was worrying.

"Joker..." Makoto murmured his code name, but he wasn't there anymore.

Makoto was getting worried. What was Joker doing with his life? What if he were really neglecting his studies and doing bad things during the day like she had thought? It didn't sit right with her. If that were indeed the case, she shouldn't let it continue! Maybe, she would really need to save him...

Chapter Text

"Aaaaaaaaah!" Makoto ran desperately against time. She overslept, and would be getting late to school! This was unacceptable! The Student Council President had never once arrived late to school in her whole life!

Makoto usually walked all the way to school on foot, but this time she took a train to save time. She had just come out of the station and was running on the street.

"Watch out!"

Makoto heard the warning and halted just in time to avoid colliding with a lamppost. She turned behind to thank the person that had warned her, and...

"... Niijima-san?"

"Miura...!" What surprised Makoto the most wasn't the fact that he was there, but the fact that he didn't seem in a hurry and wasn't even in his uniform. Makoto frowned. Was he going to skip classes...!?

"Niijima-san, why are you in such a hurry?"

"Why?!" Makoto hollered. "What do you mean by 'why?!' School, of course!"

"School?" Miura blinked in confusion. "Uh, but today is Sunday..."

"..." Makoto stared incredulously at Miura. "Y-you've got to be kidding me..." Her first impulse was to accuse him of mocking her, but she took her cellphone and checked the date. It was indeed Sunday. Makoto wanted to slap herself. How embarrassing! What was she thinking?

"You... forgot?"

Makoto nodded shamefully, with a disgruntled expression.

"Oh, I thought it was strange, but then I thought that maybe you had something to do there on Sundays, like an extra duty from Student Council or something."

Makoto shook her head. "No, th-there isn't such a thing! I... I really messed up." She expected him to laugh, but he didn't. Makoto took a deep breath and changed the subject. "And what are you doing here this early?"

"Just doing my morning jog. I wasn't going to come here this early, but Morgana woke me up at the same time as always."

"Oh." It made sense. Makoto guessed that cats didn't tell weekends apart from weekdays. "At least I wasn't the only one that mixed the weekdays up..." And she smiled upon seeing that Morgana was actually there right next to Miura. "Morgana seems so quiet today."

Miura agreed. "Probably because I didn't threaten to lock him up."

Makoto recalled that Miura said he was doing his morning jog. "Oh, Miura, I interrupted your jog, didn't I? I'm sorry."

"No, I was already finished, actually. I was about to head back."

"Are you headed to Leblanc? Is it okay if I come with you? I still didn't have my breakfast..." Makoto hoped he would agree. She was already out on the street, and having some company would be nice.

Miura seemed to hesitate for a moment, but in the end he nodded.

They didn't talk much on the way to the cafe. The most amusing thing was to watch how Morgana obediently walked next to Miura. And when they boarded the train, Miura hid Morgana inside his bag, and the kitty didn't make a noise.

"Morgana is behaving quite well today, isn't he?" Makoto commented once they had disembarked. "I got worried when we were about to ride the train, but he stayed perfectly quiet."

"It's a relief to see him this quiet. He trashes my room every day, and then I have to waste a lot of time reorganizing it. It's probably a good thing that I don't have much in my room." Miura sighed tiredly. "But you know, I'm so tired of struggling with him that I'm beginning to think it may be easier if I take him to school."

Miura was considering taking Morgana to school? That was absurd. "You're kidding, right?"

"..." Miura's expression remained impassive, and he said nothing.

What if he were actually serious? "Th-that won't be good!" Makoto glared at him. "It's wrong! It's against the school's rules!"

"If you have a better suggestion, I'm all ears."

Makoto was incredulous. She stared him in the eye. "Miura, you aren't seriously considering to take Morgana to school, are you?!"

"I need a suggestion as to what to do about him." Miura countered, and neither confirmed or denied his previous statement.

Makoto tried to come up with a suggestion, but nothing came to her mind.

"Oh, hey!" A man in a business suit waved to Miura, and they were forced to stop walking. "You must be full of energy to be up so early on a Sunday! And who is this pretty lady with you?"

"Uh, I'm Makoto Niijima, the Student Council President of Syujin High School."

"I'm Toranosuke Yoshida. Nice to meet you." The man introduced himself. "You're in your uniform and with a school bag... perhaps you forgot that it was Sunday and was on your way to school?"

Makoto flinched. Was it that obvious? She felt like hiding in embarrassment.

"Ha, ha, ha. So I nailed it?" The man laughed amusedly. "I know how that feels, though. It happened to me a lot in my times of youth. It was ironic because I hated going to school, and ended up doing it even on Sundays! Anyway, you said you're the Student Council President. Are you interested in politics? Would you two mind listening to my newest speech plan? I just finished the script yesterday."

"Huh? Um..." Makoto was overwhelmed by the man's nonstop rambling.

Thankfully, Miura saved her. "Yoshida-san, I'm sorry, but we're in a hurry. Maybe some other time."

"Oh, it's fine. Another time then. See you youngsters around! Enjoy your Sunday!"

They resumed walking and went on their way.

"That guy talks too much," Miura said. "Better to cut him off before it's too late."

"It looks as though he talks to you regularly." Makoto observed. "How did you meet him?"

"I stopped to listen to one of his speeches, and he called me over to talk. Then, I learned that he can go on and on for hours if there's someone around to listen."

"Who is he, exactly?" Makoto asked. "I think I remember him from TV or something, but I can't put a finger on it."

"He's a politician, but he didn't take his campaigns seriously in the past and lost all his credibility. He says he's regretted what he did and wants to be back on the field to put his abilities to good use. Honestly, I hope it's true, and I'm curious to see what happens."

"Hopefully it's true." Makoto smiled. "A lot of people are having changes of heart lately. We have to have faith in people."

"Yeah." Miura also seemed hopeful.

They arrived at Cafe Leblanc. This time, Makoto chose to have a meal instead of a sandwich, and ordered a serving of curry rice. Miura went to talk to the workers, and Makoto had to await her meal alone. With nothing to distract herself with, Makoto began thinking about Joker again. What was he doing right now? Had he finished his homework? Did he have plans for this Sunday? She hoped he wouldn't use the day to engage in bad activities like stealing. Makoto wished she could be near him and be able to lead him away from bad activities.

Her order arrived, and she started to eat. After a few minutes, Makoto began regretting her choice of food. It tasted good, but she lost her appetite. She felt that curry rice was too strong for her stomach early in the morning, or at least that morning. Makoto sighed. She wondered what kinds of food Joker liked. Why am I thinking these things?! Makoto caught herself and tried to continue eating, but soon concluded that her stomach wasn't up for curry rice.

"Ah." Makoto sighed heavily. "No, I can't eat anymore..." She let go of her chopsticks and set the bowl aside.

Makoto began staring absentmindedly at the turned on TV while she waited for someone to take her half-empty bowl away. She spaced out for a few minutes, and failed to realize what was going on right in front of her eyes.

"Ah!" A startled gasp from Miura snapped Makoto back to attention. "Morgana, what are you doing?!"

Morgana had climbed onto the table and was furiously wolfing down the leftover curry rice.

Makoto also gasped in shock. "Ah, Morgana...!"

"I can't believe this..." Miura muttered in exasperation, and threw an apologetic glance at Makoto.

"Uh, I don't mind. I lost my appetite and I had already given up on the curry rice."

Miura relaxed a bit. "Ah, what a relief... I thought he had stolen your food!"

"No, it's fine... but will Morgana be okay? Isn't the food too strong for him?"

"Morgana will be fine. He eats a lot, and he eats any kind of food."

"Oh, alright then." Makoto giggled at the sight of Morgana emptying the curry rice bowl. "He's quite a handful, huh? I'd have never guessed that he's like this."

"Everyone thinks I'm exaggerating whenever I say that he's terrible."

Makoto chuckled and stood up. "Well, I'll go to the counter and pay for the food."

Makoto paid for the food, but instead of leaving the shop, she returned to the table she had been at. Morgana had just finished eating, and seemed very pleased.

"Morgana, you should be thankful that Niijima-san let you have that food. I wasn't going to give you curry rice anytime soon." Miura retrieved the empty bowl along with the discarded chopsticks and left.

Morgana jumped from the table and scampered to a corner of the store.

Makoto was alone. She should stand up and leave, but she didn't. She remained where she was, and began thinking to herself again. She wondered what Joker was doing right now. Was he awake? Makoto couldn't help but get worried that he might be using his day to engage in bad activities. She couldn't keep it in anymore and took her cellphone. Ideally, she would use her computer at home to send emails. She wasn't used to sending emails from her cellphone, but it was the only option available to her right now. After some struggling with the email app, she managed to write a message.

Kazushi was helping the workers wash dishes when Morgana came running to him and tapped on his leg urgently. Kazushi ignored him at first, but he kept insisting.

"What is it?" Kazushi stopped what he was doing and crouched down to talk to Morgana.

Morgana inched closer and whispered in Kazushi's hear. "Queen's still here. And I think she's emailing you."

Sure enough, Kazushi's cellphone vibrated with the notification of a new message in his Velvetmail inbox.

"Good morning, Joker. How are you? I hope you are doing okay. Guess how the silly Student Council President started the day today..."

"By waking up?" On impulse, he wrote the stupid comment and hit the send button. Only then he realized he shouldn't have answered the message. Now Niijima-san would know that he was checking his email and wouldn't leave him alone...

Makoto's heart skipped when her phone beeped with the notification of a new message. Joker was awake! Makoto read his response and could tell that he was making fun of her again. Even so, she was happy. At least he still bothered to give her attention.

"Hahaha!" She wrote. "Yes, by waking up. And at the wrong time. The same time as I wake up on weekdays. I didn't realize it was Sunday and tried to go to school... it was so embarrassing! Ridiculous, right? You can laugh, I don't mind. Well, I actually mind a little, but whatever. What about you? How did your day start?"

Kazushi took his cellphone again after having washed a couple more dishes.

Morgana was on Kazushi's back and peering at the cellphone over his shoulder. "You know what's even more ridiculous?" Morgana whispered to him. "The fact that she's texting you right from the next room. The irony..."

Yes, it was quite ironic. Kazushi read the message again. Niijima-san had asked how his day had started. He typed another quick response. "It started like any other day."

Makoto sighed in frustration. Why did Joker had to be so secretive and not reveal a single thing about his actions during the day? Her eyes widened and filled with worry. Could it be because he was doing something bad?

"I just hope you aren't wasting your day with stealing and doing bad things. I don't want you to get in trouble."

"I won't get caught so easily." *send*

Kazushi shook his head. That had definitely been his other side, his rebellious and sarcastic "Phantom Thief" side wanting to have some fun. Arsène, don't be cocky. He thought to himself. She's right in the next room. I might be caught if I'm not careful.

It was better to end that contact as soon as possible. "Sorry, I can't continue talking. I'm busy right now." He quickly sent the message and turned his cellphone off. He didn't want the notifications of Niijima-san's new messages interrupting him. If she decided to write to him when they were near each other and he ended up checking his cellphone in her presence, it would be even worse. Kazushi put his cellphone away and went back to washing dishes.

Joker's first reply left Makoto even more worried. He wrote that he wouldn't be caught so easily. Then, he wrote another message saying he was busy. Did it mean that he was indeed doing or planning to do something he shouldn't?

She sent another message. "Did I interrupt something? Sorry. But please, just promise that you won't get in trouble."

Makoto waited impatiently, but no response came. Did Joker refuse to promise?! Was he really doing something bad right now?! Makoto lowered her head and stared absentmindedly at the table in front of her.

Miura returned a few minutes later. "Niijima-san, you're still here..."

Makoto raised her head to look at him. "I don't feel like going home yet." She heaved a sigh. "Today I don't feel like doing anything, to be honest."

Miura directed a worried look at her. "You said that you lost your appetite, too. Are you feeling sick?"

Makoto shook her head. "No, that's not it. I just have a lot on my mind lately."

"Shouldn't you go home and sleep? You woke up too early today."

"I don't think I'll fall asleep so easily. I'm not tired. I... I just have a lot on my mind lately..." She repeated.

Miura kept staring worriedly at her, but didn't pry.

They stayed silent for a minute or so, then Sakura-san entered the shop. "Hey. You two must be full of energy to be here this early, huh?"

"Good morning, Sakura-san." Makoto greeted him.

You already know each other?" Miura was a bit surprised.

"Yes. We talked a bit the other time I came here," Makoto said.

"Alright." Sakura-san nodded. "Kazushi, I'll be here if the others need help. She came all the way here. You shouldn't keep her waiting. It's a nice morning. The two of you should go enjoy your Sunday." With that, Sakura-san headed to the back of the store.

"Huh? What?" Makoto tilted her head in confusion.

"He must be misunderstanding something..." Miura blinked innocently.

But Makoto's wariness kicked in. Her first impulse was to accuse Miura of having told Sakura-san that he was dating her or something. She was about to ask Miura what he had told Sakura-san about her...

... And apparently, Miura had the same idea. "What did you tell him when you two talked?"

"Uh, basically, I told him that I get along with you. He sounded glad because the Student Council President should be a good influence on you, and... well, asked me to keep an eye on you." She realized she probably shouldn't have said the last part, but it was too late.

"Ah, so that's it... he wants you to monitor me..."

Makoto tensed. Would Miura be wary of her now, like the other Syujin students? Would he start avoiding her so that he wouldn't need to put up with her nagging? Makoto didn't want this to happen. Miura was her only schoolmate she could talk comfortably to. What could she do to mend that? "Uh, Miura..."

Miura cut her off. "So, now that Sojiro-san practically kicked us out of the shop, what should we do?"

It didn't look like he was bothered, but Miura was Miura. He didn't react much to anything, and it was hard to tell what he was thinking. Makoto still wanted to put him more at ease around her. "Uh, despite what I said about keeping an eye on you, I can leave you be and go back home if you prefer."

"You just said you didn't want to go back home."

"Ah, yes, I said that. I just don't want to be in your way and ruin anything you might have planned for today."

Miura slightly shook his head. "I didn't have anything planned. You look like you could use some distraction, though. I can be around if you'd like some company... and if you don't mind hanging around a rumored problem student, that is."

Makoto could tell that Miura was worried about her. He offered to spend some time with her. Makoto enjoyed talking to him, too, so why not? "I don't mind, but do you think you'd manage to put up with the nagging Student Council President for hours on end?"

"I'm used to being scolded. So yeah, I think so."

Makoto frowned. "You're used to being scolded? I've never heard anyone say that!"

"Yeah. My parents used to yell at me so much that I got used to it."

So, this was the reason why Makoto's scolding didn't seem to work on him. Did it mean that he had behaved badly as a child?

"Shall we put it to the test, then?" Makoto stood up and threw him a defiant look. "Let's go."

They left the cafe. Miura walked to Makoto's right, and with Morgana inside his bag.

Makoto decided to stop by her home to get rid of her school bag. They took a train and dropped by Makoto's house. Miura stayed outside to wait for her.

"If you want to escape my monitoring, this is your chance," was what she said before running inside.

Kazushi knew he should avoid her. Staying close to her was a huge risk to his Phantom Thief identity. But she looked distressed, and he couldn't just ignore that. He wanted to make her feel better. But why? Because she could experience the Dark Hour. Because she was one of his group members, and he treasured his group members. This was what he kept telling himself. If the others were also distressed, he would do whatever he could to make them feel better. But supposing that it were another temporary group member trying to reveal his identity and betray him, would he risk hanging around the person like this?

Morgana popped out of the bag and glanced at the house curiously. "So, this is where Makoto lives. I wonder how it's inside..."

"And you'll be left wondering, because we can't enter. She didn't invite us."

"Aren't you curious?" Morgana asked.

"Not really."

"You're no fun." Disappointed, Morgana returned inside the bag.

Kazushi went back to his dilemma. Oh no. What am I doing? He thought in exasperation. I should stay away from her. Why did I even offer to keep her company...!?

Perhaps he should accept his chance of "escaping," as Niijima-san put it... no, if he ran away now, Niijima-san might find it suspicious. He shouldn't have offered to spend time with her in the first place, but what was done was done.

Alright, Arsène, Kazushi thought to his Phantom Thief Persona. Be quiet. No stupid or sarcastic comments, and no showing off. He would keep his word and accompany her. He had written to her saying he wouldn't get caught so easily, and this was what he needed to focus on. Taking care to not give hints and not get caught.

Minutes later, Niijima-san returned wearing casual clothes. "So, you didn't give up, huh?" She said rather playfully. "Other students would've run away a long time ago."

The sentence, "I'm not 'other students,'" popped up in Kazushi's head, but he quickly stopped himself before it could escape his mouth. Shut up, Arsène!

Niijima-san smiled sadly. "You know? I have a hard time engaging in conversations with people around my age." She started walking and prompted him to follow her. "With the knowledge I have, I'd like to hear people out and give them advice. I have my fair share of problems. A lot of pressure, both at home and at school, from my sister, the teachers and Student Council. I know this is stupid, and that I'm probably not in a position to advise others about their issues. But I was thinking that by helping other people find solutions to their problems, I may find the solutions to my own." She chuckled awkwardly. "Sorry, I'm boring you with all this rambling, aren't I? This makes no sense at all..."

To Kazushi, though, it made a lot of sense. "Like... looking in a mirror?"

"Huh? Ah, something like that, I guess... I should look at myself in a mirror and see that it's obvious I can't help people solve their problems if I can't even solve my own..."

"Uh, that's not what I meant." Kazushi tilted his head, and Niijima-san looked questioningly at him. He tried to explain. "Um, how can I put this? ... Like, we can't see our own faces unless we look at a picture of ourselves or a mirror, right? Since it's hard to notice things about yourself on your own, maybe you want to see your reflection in others, as though you were using them as a mirror?"

Niijima-san furrowed her brows in thought. "Hmm, that was deep. I hadn't thought about it that way... but yes, you may be right."

That was worrying. Yesterday during the Dark Hour, she had just admitted that these same problems were the cause of her biggest fears. The fact that she was trying to find a solution to her problems through others, plus the fact that she was openly telling him about it could only mean that she had no one to support her. Kazushi wanted to say that he would help her if there were anything he could do, but that would bring them closer, and bring more chances of her figuring out his Phantom Thief identity.

"The problem is that I don't seem to be able to help anyone." Niijima-san continued. "I want others to see me as someone they can count on. But even before I became Student Council President, I had no luck interacting with other students. I could only talk about studies, since it's what I do best, but no one seemed interested. Talks to my classmates were limited to the group assignments we had to do together. I joined Student Council because I wanted to do something good for others. The teachers praise what I do, but other students don't seem to like me too much. Most of them envy my academic results and view me as a nagging person. They tend to avoid me or run away from me. You're the exception."

"Oh. Really?" Kazushi had always thought that Niijima-san got along with people in general. She could be explosive sometimes, sure, but he had thought other students respected her because she was intelligent and responsible. "You seem popular at school. I'd have never guessed you to be an outcast."

"Popular?" Makoto awkwardly uttered the word. "Yes, sometimes I hear guys commenting about my looks and daring others to ask me out... but that's different. That's the kind of attention that I don't want! One good thing about becoming Student Council President was that I can hide in the Student Council room during lunch break. This kind of guys are a bunch of idiots that only care about looks and nothing else!"

"You hide in the Student Council room during lunch break? Ah. This explains why I don't see you around often..."

Alarm bells kicked in inside Makoto's head, and she looked suspiciously at Miura. If it turned out that he was actually trying to make a move on her, she would give up on that outing right then and there. Makoto stopped walking abruptly and glared at him with suspicion. "Miura, don't tell me...!"

"... What?" He was forced to stop in his tracks and face her.

"You didn't take part in that kind of conversation, did you?!"

"Huh? No." He answered innocently.

Makoto refused to let her guard down, though. "Are you telling me the truth?" She stared Miura in the eye, but he didn't falter, and held her stare with no problem.

"It's true." Miura still looked clueless. He hesitated a bit. "Uh... why do you keep giving me these suspicious looks?"

"Huh?" That question threw Makoto off. "Have I been doing this that often...?"

"Yeah, always. Since even before that night you came to Leblanc."

"Was it?" Makoto hadn't realized she did it that frequently. Despite Miura having never reacted to it before, his question showed that he was bothered. "Uh, sorry. I got on edge because of those rumors about you that I've been hearing at school since the day you transferred. And... the rare few guys that ever approach me only want to ask me out. So, I get wary on instinct." Makoto chuckled awkwardly. "But you're nothing like the rumors say, and you've always been nice to me. I shouldn't look down on you. Sorry, Miura."

"I see..." Miura smiled weakly as they resumed walking. "Since I've never been popular, I don't really know, but it must be annoying to get that kind of attention."

"You've never been popular? Good for you. It's really annoying." Makoto didn't get it, though. She thought Miura could easily fit into the category to make him "popular." He was good-looking... Makoto inexplicably blushed. But why? What was wrong about thinking that someone had good looks?

Miura continued speaking normally. He didn't seem to notice her blushing. "At the previous school, I took care to not stand out and didn't have many problems. But this year, thanks to those rumors, I already stand out the wrong way without doing anything."

Like Makoto, Miura was also having a hard time connecting with people at school. His situation was even worse, considering all the outrageous rumors about him. Makoto realized she and Miura might be more alike than she had imagined. Makoto felt bad for Miura. She wished she could support him in some way, even if all she could do was keep him some company. "You've also been going through a lot. And now you know that I'm willing to listen to others' problems. I don't know if I can do much more than listen, but if you need to talk about something, you can talk to me."

Niijima-san's last sentence was touching, but it also triggered warning bells in Kazushi's head. That was dangerous. He shouldn't allow himself to open up to her too much.

"Uh... thanks." He uttered awkwardly. He wanted to tell her that she could count on him as well, but he concluded it was better to keep quiet.

They entered the train station and boarded a train. They didn't find vacant seats and stood there next to each other. Morgana remained quiet inside the bag.

Kazushi was about to reach for the cellphone in his pocket, but then Niijima-san gasped in frustration.

"Ah! I forgot my cellphone at home! Why did I have to put it inside my school bag...? What was I thinking?!"

Niijima-san's action reminded Kazushi that his cellphone was turned off, and that he shouldn't check it. At least he didn't need to worry about her texting him, since she didn't have her phone at the moment... but something was wrong. Niijima-san had a hurt look on her face and seemed about to cry.


"Why? Why? Why?" She muttered to herself, then heaved a deep sigh.

"Is it that important?"

Niijima-san lowered her head in shame and sighed again.

"Can't you go on for a few hours without a cellphone? I spent the greater part of my life without one."

The mention of a detail of his life sparked curiosity in Niijima-san's eyes, and she lifted her head to regard him. "You didn't have one?"

"It was only last year that my parents gave me a cellphone." Kazushi answered. "They were adamant about saving money, and didn't want me to spend money on phone calls. It was okay, though. I had no one to talk to anyway."

Niijima-san laughed in amusement, with her focus temporarily away from whatever she was worried about. "Ah! Sorry. I didn't mean to laugh at you, but the way you put it... I thought it sounded kind of funny. Uh, sorry. I shouldn't have laughed. You had told me that your parents were restrictive. And you didn't have anyone to talk to. That's sad." She hesitated. "If my phone were here, we could trade numbers."

Warning! Warning! Warning! Danger! If Kazushi were to trade cellphone numbers with her, then he would have to constantly juggle communications from his two identities, phone calls as Kazushi, and emails as Joker. And the moment he mixed things up and one of his identities mentioned something that only the other one was supposed to know, his cover would blow for good. Thankfully, Niijima-san's phone wasn't here today, and he was free from that dilemma, at least for the moment.

They went to Akihabara and headed to the arcade.

"A racing game!" Makoto approached one of the arcade machines, eager to try it out. "I wonder if it has a playable bike... if I can't have a real one, at least in the game..." That earned a chuckle from Miura, and she turned behind to glare at him. "What are you laughing at!?"

Miura seemed amused. "You're really into bikes, huh?"

The rare change in Miura's expression threw Makoto off. She flashed him a sheepish smile and turned her attention back to the arcade machine in front of her.

It turned out that there was a playable motorcycle in the game. Makoto bought some coins and tried the game out. It took her a few tries until she got the hang of the controls, but once she did, she began tearing through the stages and winning race after race. Miura watched stunned as Makoto's ingame bike flew through the tracks with impressive speed and left a cloud of dust in its wake, and even destroyed signboards and decorative objects along the way.

Makoto looked at him. "Are you going to only watch?"

"I'm fine here."

"No, this is unacceptable. It doesn't feel right to have you just standing there doing nothing." Makoto looked defiantly at him. "Miura, I challenge you to a race!"

"Huh? But..." Miura glanced around uncertainly.

"Since you're here, you're playing too!" Makoto inserted coins into the machine, then selected versus mode.

Without another choice, Miura reluctantly took his position next to the machine. They chose their vehicles, and the race started.

They left all the computer competitors behind, and soon it was only Makoto and Miura competing for first place.

"What were you so unsure of? You're not bad at this game at all," Makoto said to him, but he didn't respond.

Makoto couldn't hold her curiosity and took a quick glance at Miura. The look of concentration on his face was a stark contrast to the look of uncertainty he had before the start of the race. He was completely absorbed in the game, and looked like a totally different person. Since Makoto wasn't used to seeing different expressions on his face, the change left her reactionless for a second, and this was enough time for Miura's ingame vehicle to pull ahead of hers.

At the start of the race, Kazushi had considered going easy and pretending to be a beginner at the game. However, he got absorbed in the game before he even realized it, and soon "Arsène," or "Joker" or whatever he chose to call his Phantom Thief self - his side that craved for adventures and challenges -, had taken over, and was competing with Niijima-san for first place. At that point, feigning inexperience wasn't an option anymore. Niijima-san had already seen that he knew his way around the game, and throwing the match wouldn't be fair to her. She would be able to tell if he lost on purpose, and would become upset at him. He would play normally until the end.

"Ah!" Makoto regained her senses and directed her focus back to the game. "Oh no, you don't!"

And true to her words, he "didn't." Despite Miura's efforts, Makoto still managed to overtake him and win the race.

Miura exhaled and relaxed. "Phew. What a match. You get so destructive with a bike that it's scary."

Makoto also relaxed and smiled at him. "It was fun."

Miura seemed tired, but nodded and smiled back in relief.

"Hey!" A boy, probably a elementary schooler, approached them and addressed Makoto. "It's the first time I see a girl that's good at racing games. What about shooting games?"

"Huh? I don't know." Makoto actually didn't like shooting games that much.

"Wanna try?" His words sounded like an offer, but the look in his eyes made it look like a challenge. "You'll never beat me, though! I'm Shinya Oda. People call me the King of Shooting Games, because I'm the best! No one can beat my score!"

Makoto and Miura followed Shinya to another arcade machine. Shinya inserted coins into the machine and handed a gun-shaped controller to Makoto. The game was about shooting aliens to stop an invasion. The game started, and an uncountable number of aliens filled the screen.

Miura raised a hand. "Wait, you chose the hardest difficulty before handing her the controller, didn't you?"

Shinya shook his head. "No, it's on Hard. The hardest is Maniac."

Anger flared inside Makoto. That boy was getting on her nerves. "Aaaaaaaaah!" She growled and pulled the trigger several times in succession.

A lot of things happened on the screen at once. Makoto didn't know what to do, and desperately spammed the trigger and shot in all directions. It wasn't long until her weapon ran out of ammo and the game was over. The player ranking appeared, and the best score, which was Shinya's, was insanely high.

"Ugh, that was terrible!" Shinya was utterly disappointed. "I knew I couldn't expect a girl to be good at shooting games..."

Makoto gritted her teeth. What was with that boy?! He set the game on hard mode on purpose just to humiliate her, and kept mocking her just because she was a girl!

Miura stepped up to her defense. "This is the first time she's ever played this game, and you forced her to play on hard mode! You can't expect much from anyone in these conditions. What you did was really unfair."

"From the way she played that racing game, I thought she'd do better! Pfff. But no, this was very disappointing. I'm going home." Shinya sighed. "Ah, when will I find someone that can give me a challenge?" He mumbled while he walked away.

Makoto balled her fists and grunted in irritation. "He's just a little brat. It was just a game... but this is so frustrating! Shooting games aren't my thing, but to me, this isn't a game anymore. That kid hurt my pride, and I want my revenge... Miura, you know how to play this game, right?"

"A bit."

"Can you teach me?"

"Uh, sure."

Kazushi agreed to help Niijima-san with the shooting game mostly because it served as training for shooting Shadows during the Dark Hour. Surprisingly, the same concepts from the game could be applied to Shadow-shooting quite well, with the advantage that they could practice without risk of danger while playing the game.

Kazushi inserted a coin in the machine, then chose easy mode. He taught her the controls and gave her tips about aiming and firing. Niijima-san managed to clear a few stages, and was already getting used to normal mode.

"Thank you, Miura."

"No problem. But I have to break this to you. I just taught you everything I know about this game. Sorry that I can't help you much more with it. Right now, neither of us are anywhere near the skill level we'd need to beat Shinya's score..."

Niijima-san seemed disappointed to hear it. "You're saying this as though what we know about the game is useless!"

"It's not useless." Definitely not, especially during the Dark Hour. "What I'm saying is that I don't have any more little tricks to teach you. There's no 'magic.' From now on, all we can do is practice... a lot. But you said that shooting games aren't your thing. If you really want to get revenge, I think it's easier to challenge him to a racing game instead."

"To tell you the truth, I had more fun with this game than I had thought I would. It's probably because you were here with me. I think I'd have gotten very frustrated if I were forced to learn all these little details by myself by trial and error." Determination flared in Niijima-san's eyes. "I'll continue. I won't give up! Whenever I have an objective, I follow it through to the end!"

It was quite inspiring to see the determination on Niijima-san's face . She showed her strong will, and confidence that she could overcome whatever obstacle that dared cross her way. With her determination and confidence also came recklessness, which was worrying. But in that particular case, it was just a shooting game, and hopefully there was nothing dangerous to worry about.

"I think we had enough of the arcade for today," Kazushi said. "Let's go somewhere else."

"No, wait." Niijima-san stopped him. "I want to see you play a round. You've demonstrated a few things with the controller while you taught me and all, but I still haven't seen you actually play the game."

"O-oh... now that you mention it..."

"Care to show me?" Niijima-san inserted a coin into the machine.

Kazushi hesitated for a moment. If he showed her his performance at the game, Niijima-san might associate his playstyle with the way Joker handled guns at the Dark Hour. He should take care to not give his all. Arsène, please stay back, he thought to himself as he took the gun-shaped controller.

He played on normal, and missed some shots on purpose. Still, his score turned up way better than Niijima-san's.

"It must feel good to be able to play well like that..." She said in wonder before her determination manifested again. "One day, I hope to be able to play like that, too!"

It was lunchtime. By now, Makoto was hungry. They found a takoyaki stand and decided to have some takoyaki.

Miura saw a promo on an advertisement flyer. "They're giving a discount if we buy three packs of takoyaki. Perfect."

Miura bought three packs of takoyaki and ended up paying for Makoto's takoyaki as well, despite her protests.

There were a few tables and chairs near the stand, and they stopped to eat there.

They remained silent while they waited for their takoyaki to get ready. Makoto lost herself in thought, and began thinking about Joker again. Too bad that she didn't have her cellphone with her. Did he answer her message? Makoto hoped Joker wasn't engaging in any bad activity.

Their takoyaki arrived and Makoto came back from her reverie. When she glanced at Miura, she saw that Morgana was out of the bag and was eying the takoyaki longingly. "Morgana behaved excellently today, didn't he? I think he deserves a treat."

"Uh-huh." Miura agreed. "This is why I ordered three packs of takoyaki instead of two. One is meant for him."

Miura placed the extra pack of takoyaki on the table. Morgana climbed onto a chair, then climbed onto the table and began devouring the takoyaki. Morgana's eyes shone and he almost drooled while eating.

Makoto cracked a wide smile. That scene was just too adorable. "Aww, he looks so happy! I see why he's so attached to you. You're very kind to him..."

"Not always. Sometimes I treat him very indifferently, especially when I'm angry at him for having trashed my room. But today he's behaving, so..."

"Aren't you spoiling him, though?" Makoto asked before biting into her own takoyaki.

"A bit, probably. But he hates canned cat food, and I feel bad to have him eat only that every day."

They stopped talking and ate their food silently. Morgana finished first, and began eying Miura's remaining takoyaki.

"No, Morgana. You already had a whole pack."

Morgana made a cute whiny face. Miura didn't falter, though.

However, Makoto did. "Uh, Morgana, I'll give you one." She showed a takoyaki, and Morgana seemed entranced by it immediately.

"You're spoiling him." Miura remarked.

"I know, but it's hard to resist after seeing his cute pleading face." Makoto was curious to pet Morgana, but was a bit afraid that the kitty might not take well to someone other than Miura touching him. This was Makoto's chance to have Morgana come closer. Makoto turned to Morgana, who was still on the table eying the offered treat out of reach. "Just one, okay? And you have to come here to get it."

Miura snickered at Makoto's deal and covered his mouth to prevent food from spilling. He awaited the now annoyed Morgana to react.

Makoto pulled the takoyaki away, even farther from Morgana's reach, and this finally made the kitty spring into action. Morgana jumped from the table and approached Makoto from the ground. Makoto kept the takoyaki out of reach, and Morgana climbed onto a chair at Makoto's side.

"Very well. Here you go." Makoto finally lowered the takoyaki and brought it towards Morgana. While Morgana munched on the treat, Makoto patted him on the head a few times. There was no negative reaction, and Makoto smiled in relief.

Miura intently watched the exchange. "You're into cats?"

"I don't particularly like or dislike them. I wonder if I can get along with Morgana, though. He's been here with us the whole time, but isn't getting much attention, so..."


They finished their food, and Miura stood up to throw the trash away. Morgana was about to jump from the chair and follow him, but Makoto put a hand on the kitty's head.

"Hey. Can't you stay here with me? You don't need to be glued to Miura 24/7..."

Morgana seemed to hesitate but remained where he was. Makoto managed to convince Morgana to climb onto her lap, and began petting him. A couple of minutes passed, and Makoto learned that just spending time with Morgana was a nice distraction.

Makoto realized that Miura was taking too long to come back, and looked around. He was there, watching them from a distance. Makoto took Morgana in her arms, stood up, and walked over to him. "Miura, what are you doing?"

"Just watching. Looks like Morgana's been behaving in my absence. Shall we head back now?"

"Okay. May I hold him for a while longer?"

"If he doesn't complain, go ahead."

Morgana didn't show any hint of objection, and they went on their way.

A young woman stopped Miura near the train station. "Good afternoon, Miura-san."

"Hello, Mifune-san."

The woman turned to Makoto. "You are?"

"Hi. I'm Makoto Niijima, the Student Council President of Syujin High School."

"Do you have to boast your title every time?" Miura remarked.

"Huh?" Makoto hadn't realized she had been doing that. "Oh, uh, no, n-not really..."

"I'm Chihaya Mifune, the fortune-teller! Nice to meet you!" The young woman giggled. "It's a nice afternoon, isn't it? My fortune was good today, and I won a prize at one of the vending machines. I'm in such a good mood that I'm willing to read both of your fortunes for free!"

"I don't mind." Miura spoke.

"Uh, okay." Makoto also agreed.

Morgana returned to Miura's bag, and they followed Mifune-san to a cafe. The fortune-teller placed her cards on one of the tables.

Makoto sat at a faraway table while she waited for Mifune-san to read Miura's fortune. With nothing to distract herself, Makoto's thoughts flew back to Joker. Where might he be? What was he doing? From his messages, it seemed like his days were very boring. Makoto hoped he had been having a good day. Did he have friends to spend the Sunday with? Maybe the other Phantom Thieves? What kind of places did they go to have fun? Hopefully they spent time together for other things besides their heists. Despite her fear of him, Makoto had that inexplicable wish to spend time with Joker during the day.

"Niijima-san, right?" The fortune-teller walked over to Makoto's table. "It's your turn."

"Ah, right."

Mifune-san placed three piles of cards on the table, then asked Makoto to mix the cards and pull one from each pile.

"Oh... oh... oooooh!" Mifune-san's eyes glimmered, and a wide smile formed on her face when she inspected the cards Makoto chose. "You know, that boy's fortune is so complicated to read! The cards always seem to mean two totally different things at the same time! It's as though I'm reading the fortunes of two completely opposite people in one! Your fortune, though, is a breeze to interpret. There's only one possible interpretation. There's no mistaking it!" Mifune-san inched closer and whispered in Makoto's hear. "You're falling in love."

"I... I-I'm...?" Makoto was ready to dismiss that outlandish declaration, but then thoughts about Joker surfaced in her mind again, and it fully clicked. "There's no mistaking it..." Makoto echoed. "Only one possible interpretation... so, this is really it..." Makoto didn't want to admit it, but... she was constantly thinking about him, worrying about him, wanting to be near him to help him walk on the right path. If there was no mistaking it, then... yes, she had to admit that she was falling in love for a dangerous and mysterious Phantom Thief. "Then, what should I do?"

"This relationship may be complicated to get started, but you must not give up!" Mifune-san spoke enthusiastically. "The first step is to tell him what you feel! According to the cards, it's likely that he's not aware of his feelings for you yet. Confessing your feelings to him will get him thinking. This is the seed you have to plant to make it possible for this love to bloom. Do you get what I mean?"

"Hmm..." It kind of made sense. Makoto slowly nodded, and allowed herself to surrender to her feelings. Joker was hard to deal with, but she would confess her feelings to him. She would get closer to him and make him see the light. With that, he should stop committing crimes and should disband the Phantom Thieves. That plan would be hard to pull off, but with Mifune-san's encouragement, Makoto felt confident that it was possible. Satisfied with her resolution, she smiled. "Thank you, Mifune-san. I'll do my best!"

"If you need to have your fortune read again, you can find me at my place in Shinjuku." Mifune-san handed a business card to Makoto. "Good luck!"

They ordered a coffee to not seem rude for having used the cafe's tables for their own purposes. Then, they split ways with Mifune-san.

"You look... more cheerful." Miura observed. "Was it the fortune-telling?"

"Yes. I didn't know what to expect at first, but in the end her reading turned out to be very enlightening. She told me exactly what I needed to hear!"

"Hmm. If you say so..." Miura didn't share her enthusiasm.

"Miura, what about yours?"

"Mine was the opposite. It was very confusing, and I couldn't make sense of half of what she said."

"She didn't say you'd have bad luck, did she?"

Miura shook his head. "No, she didn't." He lowered his voice. "Not that I need her to tell me that, though..."

"Huh? What was that?"

"No, nothing. Never mind." Miura shrugged.

They made their way back, and the time to part ways came.

"So, how was it having to put up with the nagging Student Council President for hours?" Makoto asked playfully.

"It wasn't that hard." Miura played along. "Actually, it was nice." His response seemed honest. "I'm glad that you seem to be feeling better."

Makoto smiled at him. "I'm feeling much better. Thank you. Miura, see you around! And bye, Morgana!" Makoto waved to them and left.

Makoto was near her house when she saw her sister talking to Goro Akechi, the high school detective.

"Sae-san, I have a new theory. How about we discuss it over sushi tonight?" The detective boy offered.

"Only if it's the spinning ones." Sae answered.

"Ugh. Again?" Akechi-san made a face. "We can't we go to a fancy sushi restaurant for once?"

"Because it's too expensive!" Sae exploded.

He gulped. "Um, but you're working so hard... can't you indulge once in a while...?"

"Only if you pay for my meal as well." Sae countered.

"Hey, how harsh, Sae-san. You're considering having a kid pay for your meal at a fancy sushi restaurant?"

"It's you who wants to go." Sae shot back. "If you really want to go to a fancy sushi restaurant with me, you'll have to pay for everything. Either that, or we have the spinning sushi."

"Oh, um..." The boy was about to argue more, but jumped and shuffled awkwardly when he noticed Makoto was present. "Ah! S-sorry, I hadn't seen you there. Good afternoon, Makoto-san."

"Good afternoon." Makoto greeted him back.

He looked at Sae again. "Uh, Sae-san, you don't seem to be in a very good mood today. It's probably best to leave the discussion of my new theories for tomorrow... so, if you excuse me..." He turned around and left.

"Hmph. Kids..." Sae muttered under her breath as she and Makoto resumed their walk home.

Back home, Makoto finally reunited with her cellphone. To her disappointment, no response from Joker yet.

She helped with some household chores, then took a shower. After that, she went to her computer. Still nothing. She couldn't hold herself and sent another message. "Joker, you there?"

A few minutes later, her email program alerted her to the arrival of a new message, and her heartbeats accelerated. It was from Joker!

"Yes. What is it now?"

Makoto gulped. Was he annoyed at her? "I just wanted to know how you were doing. From your messages, you seemed bored the other day. My day was good. I hope yours was, too."

His response arrived. However, it wasn't what Makoto would have liked to see. "It looks like you've forgotten the reason I gave you this email address. It was for emergencies, not for chatting."

Makoto flinched at his response. Joker not only avoided her question, but also reprimanded her. He was losing his patience with her for sure, and seemed to be in a bad mood.

Makoto's plan of asking questions to try to make Joker talk and reveal more about himself wasn't working. Joker didn't seem willing to disclose anything about his life to her. Makoto really needed to get closer to him until he opened up to her, but if he began ignoring her messages, her chances of getting closer to him would be gone. She needed to come up with a message that he wouldn't consider irrelevant. What could she tell him? Joker was smart, cunning, dangerous, and maybe even manipulative. He acted so cold most of the time, and was merciless during fights. Makoto recalled the moment she clung to him when she had been under the fear spell, and how he held her so gently. What did he think when he held her? Did he really mean to be gentle to her, or was his gentleness just an act?

"He said you aren't getting special treatment, but I don't believe that." Mona's words replayed in Makoto's head. "... He likes you. I'm telling you!"

Could Mona be right? Was there a possibility of Joker actually having an interest in her?

The first step is to tell him what you feel!" Had been Mifune-san's advice.

Yes. There was no use hypothesizing anything unless she knew what he thought of her. Makoto needed to confess to him and get that weight out of her chest, preferably sooner rather than later. It didn't feel right to do it via email, though. As much as she feared his intimidating aura, she needed to talk to him in person.

To her, it was an emergency. Makoto gathered her courage and sent another message. "Actually, there's something else I want to talk to you about. I have something to tell you, but it can't be via email. I want to talk to you in person. Can you meet me today during the Dark Hour?"

Kazushi was sitting on the mattress in his room. He furrowed his brows as he stared at Niijima-san's message on his cellphone's screen. It was weird and very suspicious. She wanted to meet him during the Dark Hour. He spent too much time near her today. What if she had figured his identity out and intended to confront him? What should he do?

"What's up?" Morgana came over to Kazushi's side on the mattress. "Is it Makoto again?" Morgana stood on two paws and took a peek at Kazushi's cellphone. "Hmm, suspicious... think she figured your identity out?"

"Who knows..." Kazushi's best bet was to refuse to meet her today, and take note of how she would behave near him at school tomorrow.

He sent another message. "We can talk once the break is over."

To his annoyance, she insisted. "It's urgent. It can't wait until the break is over."

Kazushi bit his lip. It was probably a trap. He wrote again. "I decided to take this break so that all of us could sleep early and rest. You are saying you want to take a risk going out on the street during the Dark Hour, and also ruin my break in the process?" *send*

Ah! Arsène! What have you done?! Kazushi thought and scolded his Phantom Thief self. His text was too harsh, but he had already sent it. Too late...

Makoto recoiled upon reading his response. That message actually hurt. His words were sharp like the knife he used during fights. He was really losing his temper. Makoto wouldn't give up, though. "Joker, please."

"If it is so urgent, then tell me now." Joker demanded in his next message.

Makoto would protest, but remembered Mona's advice. "... if you conclude that you also like him, then tell him straight away and get it over with!"

It wouldn't be the same as telling him in person, but Makoto had to do it. She took a deep breath, then wrote. "Alright. The thing is, I realized something. I like you, Joker." *send*

Chapter Text

"Alright. The thing is, I realized something. I like you, Joker."

Kazushi stared blankly at the message on his cellphone. It took a few seconds until the message's meaning finally registered. He nearly panicked, but then he thought again, and wariness kicked in. Niijima-san's last sentence was absurd. It had to be a prank, or a trap, or something...

"Ha! I knew it!" Morgana managed to see the message on the cellphone. "This is why she's been acting weird lately, and why she keeps sending you so many emails. She's fallen hard for you. I could tell ever since she began spacing out and staring at you dreamily in the Palace."

The cellphone slipped from Kazushi's hand, and he could only gape, stunned. He didn't want to believe it, but what Morgana said made a lot of sense. Niijima-san was so sad and out of it lately because... because she somehow ended up falling in love for him! The worst part of all. It couldn't be a prank. As absurd as it was, it had to be true. Niijima-san was really affected. It couldn't be an act. The ever so serious Student Council President completely lost her composure because she had fallen in love for his Phantom Thief self! How could that happen? He hadn't done anything to warrant that! ... had he?

"... What do I do now?"

"Now you're sure that she likes you. You like her too, Leader. Just admit it!" Morgana seemed excited. "It's your chance to get closer to her, earn her trust and bring her to our side permanently!"

"It's n-not like that!" Kazushi stuttered in shock. "And no, I-I'm not sure..."

"What are you not sure about?"

"About anything!"

Kazushi was at a loss. What should he do?

There was a knock at the door.

"Coming!" Kazushi hurried to the door and opened it.

Sojiro-san was on the other side. "Kazushi, I need to leave for a bit. Could you give the staff a hand?"

"Alright." Kazushi nodded, glad to find something to distract himself with.

While Kazushi was helping out at the shop, the phone rang, and he went to get the call.

"Oh, is it Miura-kun? Kawakami here." The caller was none other than Ms. Kawakami, his homeroom teacher who also had a side job as a maid, where she either served customers at the maid cafe, or even visited customers' houses for cleaning, doing the laundry or cooking. Initially, she had been wary of Kazushi because of his criminal record and the rumors, but they came to get along well after Kazushi found out about her side job and decided to ask for her help with laundry and room-cleaning. She had even said she would allow him to slack off in her class if he kept quiet about her second job, though Kazushi had yet to skip any of her classes.

"Oh. Yes, it's me." Kazushi was surprised. He always called her workplace from the phone in Leblanc. It was the first time she was the one to call him, though. "How may I help you?"

"You could do me a really big favor. You see. My shifts are supposed to be only on Fridays and Saturdays, but I need to work some extra hours, and will have to work today as well. So, if you need me to do the laundry or something, could you call my workplace and request for my services?"

"Choosing your clients, is it?" He said playfully.

"Ha ha. Yes, you could say that. Truth be told, I'm not in the mood for work at all, and you're my only customer that doesn't make me feel ridiculous."

"Oh. And I'm not in the mood for doing the laundry. So, I guess I'll take you up on your offer."

"Good. Then, see you later, Miura-kun."

At night, after all the Leblanc staff had left, Kazushi called the maid cafe and requested for Ms. Kawakami's services. She did the laundry for him and cleaned his bedroom.

"All done." She heaved a sigh. "Thank you, Miura-kun. I'm really glad that you accepted to call me here. I'm not feeling that great today, and not in the mood to deal with all those customers looking at me with perverted faces. Thankfully, you don't do that, and I don't even feel as though I'm working when I come here."

"Hm." Kazushi hummed absentmindedly.

Ms. Kawakami noticed something was wrong. "Miura-kun, did something happen? I noticed that you seem a bit out of it today."

Kazushi was silent for a short while as he debated on whether he should tell his teacher about the issue with Niijima-san. In the end, he decided to tell her. As an adult, Ms. Kawakami might be able to give him some advice. "Uh... please, keep this a secret."

"Miura-kun..." Ms. Kawakami looked at him with suspicion. "What did you get yourself into?"

"Honestly, I don't know. The thing is, a girl told me that she likes me."

"Oh, winning girls' hearts, huh? For someone that's been so isolated and lonely, it's some nice progress!" Ms. Kawakami seemed amused at the news.

"And that's the issue. I was never good with people, and had never thought I'd have someone tell me that she likes me... and now I don't know what to do."

"Well, what to do depends on your situation. There are those people that aren't interested in starting a serious relationship. They usually date others just for fun, and only want to enjoy the dream of the romantic moments. You won't get anything out of dating them unless you're also doing it just for fun. So, first of all, you have to determine if she really likes you or if it's just a momentary thing, and if you'd like to start a relationship with her. Is it someone you know or is it a random girl?"

"Someone I know." Kazushi answered. "She's told me that she gets annoyed by those random people as well. She's a very serious person, and I don't think she'd ask someone out just for the sake of it... which makes the situation even more scary..."

Ms. Kawakami laughed.

"At first, I thought she was kidding, but then I remembered that she'd been acting very weird lately... when I least expected, she dropped the bomb, and I still don't know what to say to her."

"Then, congratulations. You've found a nice gem there. Or maybe she's the one who found you? To me, it seems obvious that she really likes you. You should talk to her and discuss the matter, then decide what to do from there."

"Oh... okay." Kazushi slowly nodded. "I think I get it."

They left the room, and Kazushi paid Ms. Kawakami for her services.

"Ms. Kawakami, thanks for the help with laundry and cleaning, and for the advice. I feel that I can think clearer now."

"You're welcome. Good luck!" And she entered "teacher mode." "Oh, and last but not least, I hope you haven't forgotten to do your Japanese language homework."

"No, I haven't. It's finished."

"Good. See you at school." She left.

Now Kazushi was calmer and could think more clearly. Even though Ms. Kawakami's advice had been obvious, Kazushi felt that having someone else go over the issue with him helped him organize his thoughts. Now, to determine what to do next. Did he feel anything for Niijima-san? And did she really like him? Maybe, if he discussed the issue with her and tried to sort it out...

Wait. Kazushi, aren't you forgetting something? He thought to himself, and he realized he was indeed forgetting an important detail. Niijima-san had confessed to Joker, and not to Kazushi Miura. He was already mixing his two identities up. This was a problem.

The issue wouldn't be easy to solve. It wasn't just a matter of discussing it with Niijima-san like Ms. Kawakami had said. There was his whole double life thing going on, and starting a relationship with Niijima-san would only mean more risks of having her reveal his identity and put an end to his Phantom Thief life. Unless Kazushi managed to convince her that his group was fighting for a good cause, thinking about a relationship with her was completely out of the question. Once she was brought to their side for good, and if she still believed to like him, Kazushi might consider the issue again. Until then, there was no use in mulling over any of that, and the question of whether he felt anything for her or not was also irrelevant.

However, Kazushi still felt the need to find out what Niijima-san was feeling. A nagging voice in the back of his mind told him that she was only trying to get close to him to find out his identity, but her strange behavior made him worry. It was affecting her life. She forgot it was Sunday and tried to go to school, lost her appetite, and looked sad whenever she had nothing to do. If her weird crush on his Phantom Thief self was responsible for all of this, then he felt he needed to do something. This situation couldn't continue. Niijima-san needed a reality check.

For the rest of the afternoon, Makoto impatiently waited for Joker to write back to her, but no message came. Had he decided to ignore her messages? She thought of sending him something else, but recalled how he had not so kindly reminded her that his email address was only for emergencies.

Only after dinner, Makoto's cellphone beeped with a new message notification. It was from the email app which she had used to write to Joker, and the message was from him! This nearly made her heart leap out of her chest.

"Alright. It looks like we'll really have to meet and talk."

Joker had responded... and agreed to talk to her in person! Makoto couldn't gauge the effect of her confession on him, though. What did his response mean? Was it a good or bad sign?

They agreed on an easily accessible street for them to meet. When it was near midnight, Makoto took her brass knuckles just in case she ran into Shadows outside, and left her house.

It was Dark Hour, and she was waiting for Joker at the agreed meeting place. Everything was silent. She began wondering whether Joker would really come when she heard footsteps in the distance. Makoto snapped to full attention, and her heart began beating faster. Then, he appeared. The eerie moonlight's gleam allowed her to see his form, and he stopped walking in front of her but at a considerable distance away.

Makoto was nervous. She looked at him and blushed. "J-Joker?"

"Queen. I need to ask, what was the meaning of that?"

Makoto froze. Joker didn't seem to be in a good mood. His imposing aura, his posture, his critical stare and the cold tone of his voice were menacing.

"... The m-meaning?" Makoto fidgeted. She had the urge to look away from him, but she needed to be brave. How would she get closer to him if she couldn't even look straight at him? "W-what else could it mean? I meant what I wrote." Makoto needed to say it explicitly and confirm the meaning to him. Since she didn't get along with most people, she hadn't imagined she would ever confess her love to someone, but the time had come. She needed to say it. She opened her mouth, and... her voice failed. She couldn't give up, though. She needed to say those words. It was the reason she had called Joker there in the first place. To confess to him in person. "I-I..." Her voice wavered. "I l-like you, Joker..."

"..." Joker said nothing, and continued staring her down.

What should Makoto do? Didn't he believe her? How could she prove it? "It sounds s-stupid, I-I know..." She tried to explain herself. "We've barely met, yet... I keep catching myself thinking about you, wondering what you're doing... worrying about you... at first, I didn't know why. It made no sense to me, either. But today I had a fortune-teller read my fortune, and I realized it. It's because... I like you..."

Joker seemed taken aback for a second, but quickly recovered. He broke his stare and seemed to be deep in thought. Makoto held her breath while she waited for him to speak.

A few tense seconds later, Joker directed his gaze straight at her again, and finally spoke. "Are you sure you aren't confusing things?"

"C-confusing things...?"

"Yes. Perhaps you don't actually like me, but rather, you're merely fascinated with the mystery surrounding me."

"... Wh-what...?" Makoto whispered, bewildered at his unexpected argument.

"You get overly curious because you don't know who I am. I, on the other hand, don't have this problem. You still can't use a Persona to mask your identity, and I know who you are. If you were to find out who's hiding behind this mask, who's hiding behind this Persona... maybe your fascination would be over. You might become disappointed, or even disillusioned..."

"N-no!" Makoto protested, and her eyes widened in near panic. "I... I..."

"Think about it." Joker cut her off. "But at another time. Now, go back home and go to sleep."

Makoto didn't want to go back home. She wanted to be able to convince him of her feelings, and stay there with him a bit more. "Joker..."

Joker's stare turned into a menacing glare, and Makoto took a step back.

"O-okay. But first, I want to know..." Makoto was afraid of how he would answer her next question, but she asked it anyway. "Joker... what do you think of me?"

Joker's eyes narrowed at her. He was clearly irritated now. "I think you are acting stupid! You need to pull yourself together! If you've been acting like this also during the day, then you have a serious problem! Reflect upon what I said. I hope you'll have sorted your thoughts out by the time explorations resume, or else... I may have to remove you from the group."

Makoto wanted to protest, but Joker was right. The group's explorations were dangerous. Makoto was only hindering the group as it was, and would only put both the other members and herself in danger if she kept spacing out during the explorations. As much as she wanted to interfere with the Phantom Thieves' activities and make them stop their crimes, putting them in even more danger wasn't the way to do it.

With her conclusion, Makoto nodded and agreed with Joker. "Yes... I s-see your point." Embarrassed, she spoke quietly. "I'll leave, then. Good night."

"Good night. Rest well."

Joker's good night wish sounded genuine, and a shy smile crept into Makoto's face.

"You too. Uh... sorry for having called you all the way here and wasted your time."

Makoto waited for his response, but none came. She expected him to turn his back to her and walk away like he always did, but he didn't move. Makoto realized that Joker was actually waiting for her to leave, and she figured she should do just that. She had bothered him a lot and made him waste too much time already. Makoto turned around and excused herself from the scene.

"Why do you have to make things so difficult, Joker?!" Mona came out of hiding and spoke to him. "Why didn't you just accept her confession? She's fallen head over heels for you. If she submits to you, dragging her to our side will be much easier!"

"I don't like that idea one bit." Joker glared disapprovingly at Mona. "I wouldn't play around with her feelings like that! It's plain wrong!"

"But you don't need to 'play around with her feelings.' You like her! It's obvious, from the way you talk to her. The way you held her when she was under that spell. The way you look after her and always try to help her, both during the day and in the Palace... you worry about her so much that you went as far as coming here during the Dark Hour to talk to her instead of taking the time to rest!"

Joker turned and started walking.

"H-hey!" Mona scrambled after him, angry at being ignored. "Joker!"

"I need to think. Be quiet, please."

Surprisingly, Mona complied and quietly fell into step beside him.

Joker recalled the time he held Queen during that spell incident. She always tried to look strong, but at that moment, she had been scared and looked so vulnerable. She had latched onto him desperately, as though she were pleading for his help. He didn't know what to do, but he had wanted to help her in some way. He had wanted to comfort her, and the only thing he was able to do was hold her and say that everything was alright. It fortunately worked, and after that, all they needed to do was wait for Mona to recover from the silence spell to cast a healing spell on Queen... but it turned out that Mona had already recovered and was only watching the events unfold! This got Joker annoyed at Mona. Why didn't Mona cast the spell sooner? Couldn't he see that Queen was suffering?!

Even though Niijima-san was explosive, she was a good conversational partner. She was smart, a honor student at Syujin High School, a determined, strong-willed, serious and responsible person, and with a strong sense of justice. Those were admirable qualities. However, one night, she decided to wander alone into the Palace without a Persona, and Kazushi learned that Niijima-san could also be quite reckless. This got him worried, and he pulled her into the group so that she wouldn't wander alone into the Palace again. Then, she began acting weird. One day she was cheerful, and the next, she was very sad and clumsy. Something was definitely wrong with her. Kazushi couldn't help but want to make her feel better, and even ended up risking his Phantom Thief identity by spending the day with her. Yes, it was true that he worried about her a lot.

Did all this mean that he liked her? Kazushi didn't know. Even if it did, he should be cautious. Like he had reasoned before, she had confessed to Joker, not to Kazushi. This was why he didn't just accept her confession, and told her to think it through. If she were to like him, she had to like his normal identity. But unless he managed to convince her that his group had a good reason for thieving, he couldn't reveal his true identity to her. Until then, he wished they could at least be on good terms.

The following morning, Kazushi was ready to leave for school.

Morgana caught the frown on Kazushi's face. "You're still worried about Makoto, aren't you?"

"I hope she's feeling better."

"You know what? There's something that'll make her feel better for sure. When explorations resume, you should tell her that you like her! ... Then you should say that if she really wants to be with you, she has to forgive our thieving. It's a perfect deal!"

Kazushi's frown deepened. "How many times do I have to say that I don't approve this idea?"

"But it's true that you like her!" Morgana kept insisting.

"It's not that simple. I'm not even sure whether she really likes me! She's got a fascination with my Phantom Thief self. How will she react later when she learns that it's me? If I were to manipulate her, it'd be even worse, because if later she were to find out that I deceived her, she'd be very upset at me. That might severe our bond for good, and it might not be possible for us to even be friends anymore."

"If worse comes to worse, just steal her heart like you do with those people in the Palace, change it according to our views, and problem solved!"

Kazushi glared angrily at Morgana. He suddenly turned around and ran for the door.

"Wait! Hadn't you decided you'd take me to school with you?"

"I changed my mind." Kazushi quickly opened the door and slipped through it.

"H-hey! Um, about stealing her heart... I w-was kidding! ... Kazushi!" Morgana desperately tried to justify himself and get on good terms with the leader, but Kazushi had already left and locked the door.

"Aaaaaah!" Makoto ran desperately through the streets. She would be late to school! And unfortunately, she checked her cellphone, and this time it wasn't Sunday.

She had trouble to sleep last night, constantly recalling the disaster that had been her love confession to Joker. When Makoto fell asleep, it was past two A.M., and she didn't hear her cellphone's alarm clock in the morning. She woke up twenty minutes later than she should have, skipped breakfast, got changed and ran.

"Whoa! You're late too?" Someone was coming from behind.

Makoto had to stop and wait to cross the street, and the person halted at her side. "S-Sakamoto...?" Makoto looked desperately at the seemingly endless rows of approaching cars. "Ah. I've never arrived late at school. Not once in my life!" She whined.

"Not even once?! That's impressive! But don't worry. We still have a chance! The other day, I was still at the previous street at this time, and I arrived at school on time just fine." Then, the cars stopped coming. Sakamoto looked at Makoto with a grin. "Say, how 'bout we race to school?"

Makoto nodded and resumed running. It turned out that Sakamoto wasn't very fast. Makoto arrived at school first, and it took Sakamoto around ten seconds to catch up to her.

"Phew." Makoto sighed in relief. She was still on time.

"Told you." Sakamoto also sighed, but in frustration. "Ah. I lost horribly, didn't I? ... In the past, I used to be quite good at running."

Makoto stared blankly at him. To her, it only sounded like Sakamoto had said that just to try to impress her.

"You don't believe me, do you?" Sakamoto smiled sadly. "Of course you don't... and I have no way to prove it. But it doesn't matter. In the end, all that matters is the here and now, and now I'm very slow. It's the truth, and I have to deal with it." He shrugged and tried to hide his frustration. "I'll be heading to class. See ya."

Makoto blinked. Sakamoto's behavior just now was strange...

Classes went on as usual. Makoto finished copying the text from the blackboard. With nothing else to do, her thoughts wandered off.

"I think you are acting stupid!" Had been Joker's words.

Sure enough, she was feeling really stupid right now. Makoto had thought she would feel better after confessing to Joker and letting her feelings out of her chest, but this wasn't what happened. It only made her feel worse. She had never imagined she would ever make a love confession. And on her first try, she had already failed miserably. All she knew was that she admired and liked Joker, but she couldn't explain her feelings, and her confession out of the blue really came out sounding like ridiculous nonsense.

"Perhaps you don't actually like me, but rather, you're merely fascinated with the mystery surrounding me," had been Joker's reasoning.

Doubts clouded Makoto's mind. Could Joker be right? Was she curious about him only because she didn't know his identity? She stubbornly believed that this wasn't the case, and that she really liked him. She had tried to argue, but he refused to listen. He rejected her. It was over, wasn't it?


"Ah!" Makoto startled upon realizing that the teacher had picked her to answer a question. "Uh, sorry. Would you repeat the question, please?"

The teacher did as asked. Despite having been caught by surprise, Makoto still managed to answer the question correctly. What a relief. If she continued getting distracted like this and her academic performance began to drop...

"You need to pull yourself together!" Joker's reprimand replayed in her head. "If you've been acting like this also during the day, then you have a serious problem!"

Yes, Joker was right. Makoto couldn't continue like this. She had to pull herself together. She took a deep breath and did her best to shift her attention fully to class.

On lunch break, Kazushi and Ann went to the rooftop to talk. They looked attentively at the surroundings to make sure no one was there to hear them. Satisfied that they were alone, they sat down and began talking.

"Ann, you've been near Niijima-san during our last explorations. Have you noticed anything unusual about her? Most times when I looked behind to check up on the two of you, she seemed to have her head in the clouds."

"Yeah, she either kept spacing out, or intently staring ahead, not at the clouds, but at a certain Phantom Thief who wears a bird mask." Ann inched closer to him and lowered her voice. "She's interested in you, Leader."

"Actually..." Kazushi fidgeted, and also lowered his voice, as though his usually quiet voice weren't already quiet enough. "She outright confessed to me. To Joker, I mean."

Ann gaped for a second. "Wow. That was fast. And what did you do?"

"I told her to think it through. Maybe she doesn't like me, and is only fascinated because Joker is a mystery to her. I don't think I've done anything to make her fascinated like that."

"The way you handle battles and strategies and also everything during the day is amazing. It's hard to not be fascinated by it." Ann assumed a serious expression. "To be honest, I like you too, Kazushi."

"Huh?" Kazushi deadpanned. "What's this all of a sudden?"

"It's the truth. And I don't have the problem of liking either one or the other of your identities. I like both, because both are you. Others only care about my looks and know nothing about me. Not you. You're one of the rare few people I can count on. The gentle, strong and amazing person that helped me awaken to my Persona and find my hidden self. Because of this, you also know my hidden self, and know me better than most people do. And I know you better than most others, too, because they only know you from those absurd rumors going around. I also saw your hidden self, and know that you're nothing like those rumors say. I like you for who you are."

Kazushi froze at Ann's sudden confession, and an awkward silence followed. He got lost in thought for a bit. Ann's expectant stare showed that she was waiting for a proper response to her confession, but Kazushi was lost as to what to say, or what to think. What came out of his mouth was anything short of a proper response, though. "Is it supposed to be that easy to determine your feelings and confess like that?"

His strange question ruined the moment for sure, and Ann tried to hide her disappointment. "Hey. Who said it was easy? It was quite hard. But I said it, because I thought you should know. So, what do you think?"

"... I don't know." Kazushi heaved a sigh. "All of our group members are special to me. I had never had luck in getting close to people, but like you said, we from the group know each other better than most." Kazushi let out an awkward chuckle. "Ha. Because of my lack of luck with people, I had never imagined I'd ever hear anyone say that they like me, let alone two people, in such a short period of time..."

Ann looked a bit disappointed. "What about Niijima-senpai? You've told me that after you helped her when she awoke to the Dark Hour, you began talking more to her during the day, too. Do you like her?" Ann went straight to the point. "If it turns out that she really likes you, what will you do?"

"I don't know..."

"Is this meant to answer which question? About whether you like her, or about what you'll do if she really likes you?"


Ann let out an amused chuckle, then heaved a sigh. "Well..." She stood up and smiled through her disappointment. "I said what I had to say. I feel relieved to have gotten those words out of my chest, though it's a bit sad that it doesn't look like you feel anything special for me at all... but I have to admit that both of you are cute together, like that time when you held her during the fear spell. If you conclude that you don't like me, it's okay... I'll respect whatever you decide. But if you try to start a relationship with someone and it doesn't work out, you know that I'm here, too. I'd gladly be with you if you'd like." Ann turned around and slowly walked away.

"So... what now?" Kazushi asked to himself. "Arsène, what should I do?"

Makoto was crossing the halls, intent on going to the courtyard, when Ms. Kawakami spotted her.

"Good afternoon, Niijima-san. I haven't seen you at the faculty office or the Student Council room as often. Could it be that you've been following my advice and spending time with friends?"

"Oh, yes. It was good advice." Makoto had to admit, even though she was short on friends to spend time with.

Ms. Kawakami nodded in approval. "Much better than spending lunch break buried in paperwork cramped in the Student Council room, isn't it?" She playfully added, "If you spend more time near your fellow students, you might even find someone interesting, who knows? Well, keep it up, and have a nice lunch break." With that, the teacher excused herself. Was it just Makoto's imagination, or was Ms. Kawakami less bored than usual?

"Someone interesting..." Makoto muttered to herself.

And who else could be the most interesting person to her right now? That was it. Maybe Makoto could run into Joker at the courtyard. She couldn't help but want to see him again. He made it clear that he wouldn't listen to her "feelings nonsense," but she wanted to at least know how he was doing. She wouldn't meet up with the Phantom Thieves again until explorations resumed, whenever that happened to be, and Joker wasn't likely to reply to her trivial emails anymore, let alone after the way he rejected her yesterday. So, in theory, the quickest way to see him again was to somehow run into him before explorations resumed. If she could even recognize him, that is...

Makoto arrived at the courtyard. She walked aimlessly while her eyes scanned the people around, and she reasoned that Joker had to be there somewhere among those students. Or had he? Did she even have any evidence that he was studying at Syujin? Makoto recalled something he had said last night, and gasped.

"You get overly curious because you don't know who I am. I, on the other hand, don't have this problem. You still can't use a Persona to mask your identity, and I know who you are."

By "I know who you are," did he mean that he knew her because he had seen her during the day, or did he simply mean that he knew her face because she didn't have a mask?

"Um, Niijima-san?" A girl's soft voice addressed her.

"Yes?" Makoto turned to regard the girl. It was Haru Okumura, one of her classmates. Despite being classmates, they rarely talked to each other. All Makoto had known was the girl's name and that she was the daughter of the owner of the Big Bang fast food company.

"Are you looking for someone in specific?"

Makoto wanted to describe Joker, but she couldn't. She was still unable to remember any of his visual traits. How could that be? She had looked at him so much, and was thinking about him so much. Yet, visual details refused to form in her mind. All she remembered was his mask - which had to be the detail that should matter the least -, his imposing presence, and his powerful and confident voice that somehow managed to both scare and comfort her at the same time. Makoto recalled the moment she hugged him when she was under the fear spell, and how she had rested her head on his shoulder. She could gleam from that memory that Joker was taller than her, but taller boys weren't a rare sight, which made that information quite useless.

Makoto gave up and shook her head. "Uh, no. I was just taking a walk."

"Ah, good." Okumura relaxed. "I don't see you around unless there's someone causing trouble. I'm relieved to know that nothing bad is happening."

Great. Makoto's reputation as a nagging Student Council President was so strong that her presence was a sign of trouble. She couldn't even take a walk in the courtyard properly!

"No, there's no trouble, don't worry." Makoto hid her annoyance and assured Okumura.

"Okay, then. Uh, have a nice day." And Okumura left.

Makoto was alone to her thoughts again. Joker, where are you? She wondered while her eyes continued scanning the students around.

Makoto recalled her first email interaction with Joker, and the possibility of him being an unruly student. Had he finished his homework? Had he come to school? Makoto hoped he hadn't skipped class. Maybe she should look into the students' records again and check for high number of absences... or maybe that wouldn't work. She didn't even have evidence that he was a Syujin student! Even if he were, trying to find him among all the others was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Makoto bought a bread and had her lunch absentmindedly. Then, lunch break ended and she returned to class.

After classes, Makoto went to the rooftop. She watched the small dots that were the students filing out of the school down below. Joker had to be somewhere in there, provided that he was a Syujin student, and provided that he hadn't skipped class.

Makoto sighed. It was no use watching the students from there. She also turned away and left.

"Hey, Kazushi." Morgana greeted Kazushi upon his arrival to his bedroom. "What about Makoto?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen her today." Despite being worried about Niijima-san, Kazushi was actually glad to not have run into her today. He wasn't sure if he would be able to keep his composure near her with her confession still so fresh in his mind. And he wouldn't tell Morgana about Ann's confession, seeing as the not-cat had a crush on Ann for some reason...

"You're still worried, aren't you? If so, just send her a message! I bet she'll be happy to know that you're thinking about her! Then, say that you like her and-"

"No." Kazushi rejected the suggestion outright.

"Kazushi, you're so stubborn!" Morgana seemed to be getting irritated.

"You're one to talk." Kazushi shot back. He usually didn't argue with Morgana this much, but from the time Morgana decided to play matchmaker, the not-cat was becoming more annoying by the day, and Kazushi was losing his patience.

"You're in a very bad mood lately, huh Leader? Is this the result of love?" Morgana teased him.

"It's the result of you being excessively annoying!" The leader snapped. The angry and commanding voice that left his mouth was a huge contrast to his usually quiet voice. This was no longer the persona he called Kazushi Miura. It was the one he called Kazushi Arsène Miura Lupin, or Arsène for short. In other words, Joker had come to the surface.

"It's because it's gruesome to have to watch all this love drama!" Morgana responded as aggressively. "I want it to end as soon as possible, and the quickest way is to have you admit that you like her and get things going!"

Kazushi huffed. "I'm going to take a walk outside." He announced. "If you want to come along, stop bugging me, or I'll leave you here."

Morgana silenced, eager to leave the confines of the leader's bedroom. Kazushi opened the door, and both of them walked out the room.

"Kazushi." Sojiro-san was standing near the room, with that expression that meant he wanted to have a serious talk.

Kazushi stopped walking to regard Sojiro-san, and tried to push "Arsène" to the background and calm himself down.

"What happened?" Sojiro-san asked.

"..." Kazushi didn't respond.

Sojiro-san stared at Kazushi critically. "Not getting in trouble at school, are ya?"

"No, that's not it..." Kazushi finally spoke. "I... just had a rough day."

"Hm." Sojiro-san waited for a bit, but seemed to realize Kazushi wasn't willing to elaborate. "Well, I don't know what happened, and it's fine if you don't want to talk about it. But I heard you shouting inside your room. You shouldn't vent your frustrations on the cat. The poor thing has nothing to do with whatever happened to you while you were away, and doesn't deserve that treatment, got it?"

Morgana meowed and made a hurt face that led Sojiro-san to pity him even more. The shop owner crouched down and petted Morgana. In a way, it was amusing to see the ever so serious and strict man treating the "cat" so gently. On the other hand, it was frustrating how it was obvious Morgana was behaving like that on purpose just to mock Kazushi.

Sojiro-san stood back up and his strictness returned immediately. "Kazushi, listen up. Caring for a pet requires responsibility. A pet isn't a thing. It's a companion. A friend. Morgana is very attached to you. I'm sure he thinks of you as a good friend. You shouldn't be mean to him."

Kazushi considered Morgana important to him, being one of the group members Kazushi swore to treasure and care after. However, Come to think of it, Kazushi wasn't sure how Morgana viewed him. Kazushi knew that Morgana considered him as an ally, but just being allies was very far from being friends. Alliances were more about having common interests than having close bonds. Morgana was a thief at heart, and had been robbing the Shadows in the Palaces since who knows how long. To the not-cat, everything was give and take. Morgana wanted to get help in finding out about his own origins, and only sided with Kazushi out of interest in his powers as a Persona user. Even the suggestion about trying to spark a romance between Kazushi and Niijima-san seemed to be only out of interest. It sounded like Morgana only wanted them to get close so that Kazushi could convince Niijima-san to join the group permanently and forgive their thieving. Morgana didn't seem to be considering Kazushi and Niijima-san's feelings at all.

"Come on, Kazushi. Apologize to Morgana," Sojiro-san said sternly.

Morgana looked smugly at Kazushi, clearly amused at mocking him and having Sojiro-san scold him. "Yeah! How you dare shout at me, the great Morgana!?" Since only Persona users could understand his words, Sojiro-san didn't hear anything except for an angry meow. "Kazushi, if you apologize, I might stop teasing you for today..."

Kazushi grunted and his eye twitched in irritation. Only for today. Morgana, you little...

"See? Morgana's complaining." Sojiro-san didn't need to understand the not-cat's words to figure that out. "Apologize, Kazushi. Don't tell me your ego doesn't let you apologize to an animal or something. Animals also have feelings, you know. If you apologize honestly, he'll understand."


At that moment, one of the workers came to talk to Sojiro-san.

"I have to take care of something. Kazushi, be sure to apologize and make up with Morgana, got it?" Sojiro-san walked away with the worker and left Kazushi and Morgana alone.

Kazushi crouched down to talk to Morgana. "Okay, maybe I went a bit far. Sorry about earlier, Morgana."

Morgana deadpanned. "You're really going to apologize, just like that?"

Kazushi nodded. "Though if you want to avoid that kind of situation, you should be careful not to set me off again."

"Hmph." Morgana scoffed.

Kazushi remained crouched down, and stared at Morgana thoughtfully. He decided to ask the question that began nagging at him. "Hey, Morgana... about what Sojiro-san said earlier. Do you think of me as a friend?"

That question seemed to catch Morgana off guard, but he tried to keep his composure and look annoyed. "H-hey! Don't change the subject on me!"

"Morgana, I'm serious." Kazushi stared the not-cat in the eye.

"W-what's it all of a sudden...?"

"What Sojiro-san said got me wondering. I want to know what you think of our group. Do you like to be with us? What are we to you? Are we important to you, or just a bunch of people with abilities you consider useful to your gains? Are we friends, or just allies?"

"W-why are you asking these things all of a sudden?!" Morgana began getting alarmed. "... I-if I say it's one or the other, w-what will you do?"

"Who knows..." Kazushi said enigmatically.

Morgana got defensive. "Y-you aren't thinking of ditching me, a-are you?! We made a deal! The group needs me! You c-can't explore the Palaces properly without me! And my memories are your only lead to finding out more about the Dark Hour, remember?! You can't leave me!"

Kazushi chose to give Morgana the benefit of the doubt. "Answer me, Morgana."

Morgana was still apprehensive. He stopped to think. He didn't seem to have an answer ready. It was a good sign, though. If Morgana was unsure, it might mean that his views about the group members was changing.

"Is it so hard to answer?" Kazushi asked. "It's fine. You don't need to answer right now, but think about it, alright?" He scoffed. "Just so you know, trying to determine what I feel about Queen is as much as hard to me."

"Ugh, alright. I'll shut up about that... for now."

Kazushi stood up, turned around and began walking. Morgana hesitantly followed him, still a bit apprehensive.

Makoto went home. She took care of a few household chores, then did her homework. After that, she tried to do some martial training, but couldn't concentrate. She kept thinking about her dilemma. What should she do? She had confessed to Joker, but he didn't believe her. Now what?

"If you need to have your fortune read again, you can find me at my place in Shinjuku," Mifune-san had said when she handed a business card to Makoto.

"Yes, Shinjuku..."

Makoto gave up on her training. She left home and went to the address written on the business card.

"Oh, Niijima-san, was it?" Mifune-san recognized her.

"Oh, yes. You remember me!" Makoto couldn't tell whether Mifune-san had a very good memory, or very few customers. "Do you still remember what my issue was?"

"Yes, I do! You were falling in love, and I advised you to confess."

"I followed your advice and confessed to him, but... it didn't work out. My first ever love confession, and it was a disaster. I think he didn't believe me. He asked whether I'm not confusing things..."

"Hmm." Mifune-san made three piles of cards again, and asked Makoto to shuffle and pick one card from each pile. "Oh, I see. You are on the right path. You successfully planted the seed."

"But he rejected me!"

"No. Even though it may not seem like it, he cares about you a lot. Now that you have planted the seed, you made him realize the possibility of a romance. Why do you think he asked you whether you are confusing things?"

"Because he thinks I'm being stupid and saying nonsense."

Mifune-san shook her head. "No. He might have asked because he's unsure himself. He probably wants you to prove that your feelings for him are true! He might want confirmation!"

Makoto's eyes lit up. It made sense. Why hadn't she thought of that before? Come to think of it, why didn't Joker just answer her email saying that her confession was ridiculous and leave it at that? He went to the trouble of coming to talk to her during the Dark Hour, made her confess her feelings to him in person, and even questioned her confession afterward. Did he really need to do all that? They were on a break and were supposed to go to sleep early. Would he have gone out during the Dark Hour if all he wanted was to mock her? Probably not...

"I need to prove to him what I feel..." Makoto muttered to herself, with her eyes filling with hope.

"Uh-huh! Exactly!" Mifune-san nodded enthusiastically. "This is the next step! Tell him what you like about him. The possibility of a romance is there and is strong! Good luck!"

Encouraged, Makoto paid Mifune-san for the fortune-telling and left.

During her ride back on the train, Makoto kept trying to come up with a way to convince Joker of her feelings. Boys only seemed interested in her looks. Maybe if she changed her visual...

Makoto left the train station and walked aimlessly for a bit until she spotted a clothes store. Flamboyant dresses and colorful types of clothes that she wouldn't normally use were on display. She was distracted and nearly bumped into Takamaki who was about to enter the store.

"Aah! N-Niijima-senpai..." Takamaki took a step back and fidgeted. "Um, we bumped into each other again... we seem to be doing this a lot, don't we?"

Makoto recalled how they had bumped into each other at the school's hall the other day. "Uh, yes..."

"Were you going to enter the store?"

"I was just thinking of taking a look..." Makoto answered awkwardly.

"Me too..."

Both girls entered the store together. They walked around the store and took a look at the clothes on display in an awkward silence.

Makoto noticed that Takamaki seemed to be quite interested in the clothes. "Do you like these kinds of dresses?"

"Uh, I think they're beautiful. But it's very awkward for me to actually wear them. People always look at me the wrong way no matter what I wear."

Makoto hadn't expected that. She had heard strange rumors about Takamaki at school as well, and got the impression that Takamaki was one of those frivolous girls. Takamaki was indeed beautiful, and her American heritage gave a special quality to her appearance. However, she also seemed very shy, or at least in Makoto's presence. And she just admitted to not enjoy the "wrong kind of attention." Maybe those frivolous rumors weren't true. Perhaps Makoto should stop believing rumors students kept spreading around.

"I had thought about taking a look at some different items, but they're not the kind of clothes I'd use, either." Makoto mouthed her obvious conclusion. It was obvious from the start. Those clothes weren't her style at all. What was she even thinking when she entered the store?

"I'm not in the mood to continue in this store, either. Let's get out of here." Takamaki suggested, and Makoto silently agreed.

They left the store and were walking together.

"Takamaki, you're in the same class as Miura, right?" Makoto decided to ask something she had been wondering about. "Does he behave well in class?"

"Huh?" Takamaki thought a bit before answering. "Y-yeah, he stays quiet most of the time. So quiet that you might even forget that he's there."

"I can imagine that." Makoto felt bothered by That behavior. She recalled the day when she awakened to the Dark Hour. She had gone to Leblanc, where she stayed to hide from the rain. It was late and all workers had already left. Even though Miura was alone with her, he chose to stay at a faraway table instead of coming to talk to her, and remained silent the whole time. Then, they had quite the adventure as he protected her during her first Dark Hour experience. The following day, she saw him at school, only to have him pass her without giving her a single greeting or a glance. Miura behaved that way at other occasions as well, and it felt as though he was ignoring her, or completely disregarding their previous interactions, as though they hadn't meant anything to him at all. Maybe Miura was just like that, and Makoto was reading into it too much, but it was frustrating nonetheless. She threw that thought to the back of her mind and asked another question to Takamaki. "Is he a good student?"

"Well, he's trying, but almost all teachers look down on him because he's the rumored 'problem student.' They like to pick him to answer questions because they think he isn't paying attention in class, but it turns out he is, and it's kinda amusing to see the teachers' reactions when he answers the questions right. Because of those rumors, almost everyone at school looks down on him and treats him like crap."

On one hand, it was good to hear that Miura paid attention in class. Makoto's recent interactions with him made her respect him more, and she would have become disappointed if it turned out that Miura behaved badly in class. But even the teachers looked down on him? That was tough...

Takamaki added, "Even so, he somehow manages to take everything in stride. It's amazing, isn't it?" Takamaki smiled in admiration, then stopped walking. "Uh, I'll be heading that way." She pointed in a different direction from the one Makoto was heading in. "Bye, Niijima-senpai. Until we bump into each other again!"

Makoto went back to thinking about Joker, and devising ways to get his attention to convince him of her feelings. She was near a supermarket. Maybe if I cook something and give it to him at the Dark Hour... but I don't know what food he likes! What if I make something he doesn't like? Makoto sighed and gave up for the moment.

Makoto arrived back home at around 6 P.M., and realized that she had company. Sae was already back. Not only that, but Goro Akechi was also there. They were having tea at the kitchen. Or rather, about to have tea. Sae had the teapot boiling on the stove while Akechi-san sat at the table and stared boredly at a pack of crackers.

"I'm back." Makoto announced.

"Welcome back." her sister greeted her.

"Hello, Makoto-san." Akechi-san forced a smile for Makoto, then grimaced at the pack of crackers on the table in front of him. "My dream of a good sushi somehow turned into a cup of tea and a pack of crackers. How could this happen...?"

"You were dreaming too big. This is reality," Sae said dryly. "I had no time to buy anything. Crackers were all I had."

"I know someone who has failed burned food for breakfast," Makoto said. "Crackers are still better, I think."

"Ugh." The boy grimaced again. "Now you just reminded me of the nearly non-edible stuff I was given in my childhood! It was outright terrible!"

Makoto was starting to feel bad for the detective boy now. Sae looked both very annoyed and tired, and Makoto felt bad for her sister as well. She must have had a rough day, Makoto thought. Both of them definitely deserved better than a pack of crackers.

Makoto excused herself and left home again. She went to the nearest bakery and bought some rolls of melon bread.

I wonder whether Joker likes melon bread... maybe I should give him some next time... She thought while she headed to the counter to pay for the bread.

Makoto arrived back home right when Sae was pouring tea for the high school detective.

"It looks like I arrived on time. I just brought these." Makoto placed the bread rolls on the table.

"Whoa! Makoto-san, you didn't need to do this..." Despite his words, the glint in the boy's eyes showed that he was very glad to have something better than crackers.

"Makoto, you shouldn't have gone out of your way just to spoil this whiny kid." Sae reprimanded her. "He has a lot of fans in the station that spoil him and do everything he wants. He needs to learn that things in life not always go his way."

"Oh, but I was thinking about you, too." Makoto explained herself. "You looked tired."

Sae's mouth hung slightly open for a few seconds. "... Thank you for the consideration."

"Hmm, this was touching." The whiny detective commented. "But did you really need to badmouth me right in front of me, Sae-san?"

"Yes. Because these were things you needed to hear but the others would never say. They spoil you too much. But you are working under my supervision. Don't expect any of that from me."

"Ah..." He laughed sheepishly and looked away. "Sae-san, you're so strict..." He decided to turn his attention to Makoto instead. "Makoto-san, will you join us for tea?"

Makoto shook her head. "No. You two need to discuss work, right? I don't want to intrude."

Akechi-san's gaze fell. "But you even bought bread for us!"

"I'll have bread and some tea in my room, thank you."

"If you say so..."

As expected, Sae didn't object. She always avoided telling Makoto about what went on in her work.

Makoto poured herself some tea, took a melon bread and left for her bedroom.

As she had tea and bread, Makoto went back to the issue at hand. How to prove to Joker that she really liked him.

She recalled Mifune-san's advice. "This is the next step! Tell him what you like about him. The possibility of a romance is there and is strong!"

Makoto chuckled at her stupidity. The solution was so simple. She didn't need to go out of her way to do anything spectacular. From the way Joker argued against her confession, she could conclude that he was a very rational person. Thus, the most logical thing to do was convince him of her motives through logic! Just tell him what she liked about him. That was all.

Makoto tried to reason. What made her admire Joker so much? If she were to find out his true identity, what would change about that? Apparently, not much. In fact, as frustrating as it was, Makoto had to admit that she was already used to not being able to properly visualize Joker in her head outside the Dark Hour. Even if the mystery ended, the fact that he was very intelligent, confident, strong, skilled, and a good leader wouldn't change. Makoto felt that she would continue to like him no matter who he was or what he looked like. It was a shame that someone as talented as him wasted all his talents doing crime, though. Makoto believed he could still be saved. She wanted to help him make things right and convince him to stop committing crime before it was too late.

From his messages, Joker seemed to be a bored and disinterested person during the day. If so, he was wasting a lot of potential. Makoto was sure that he could achieve many successes if only he would apply his talents to the right things. She was willing to do whatever she could to get Joker on the right track and support him along the way.

A beep from her cellphone pulled her back from her thoughts. It was a message notification from the email app. And speaking of Joker, the message was from him! Makoto's heart began beating fast. She wondered whether it had anything to do with her love confession during the Dark Hour.

However, it hadn't. Makoto opened the message only to see that it contained mere three words, "Exploration resumes tomorrow." Joker didn't greet her, or ask how she was doing or anything. The message only contained those three words and nothing else. Makoto smiled nonetheless. At least he had remembered to write to her. But did this lack of words mean anything? Was he angry? Was he bothered by her confession? Or was he just this direct?

Makoto was tempted to write him a message and tell him the reasons to her feelings right away, but she recalled how he had snapped at her for using his email address for chitchatting, and concluded she probably shouldn't run the risk of angering him more if he were already angry. In the end, she settled on, "Thank you for the heads-up. See you tomorrow."

They would talk tomorrow, and she would tell him the reasons to her feelings. Until then, she would... organize her arguments and rehearse what she would say to him, much like what she did to prepare a presentation for school. Yes, this was what she would do.

With nothing more productive to do, Makoto began organizing the important topics and writing the script for her speech on a new text file on her computer.

Chapter Text

"Kazushi. Kazushi... wake up." Morgana spoke quietly, very unlike he used to do every morning.

This was enough to pull Kazushi out of his slumber, though. He opened his eyes, surprised at the sudden change in Morgana's behavior. Kazushi could tell that Morgana was still bothered by yesterday's question. "Morning, Morgana. See? You don't need to make a ruckus to wake me up."

Morgana didn't respond.

Kazushi got up and proceeded to carry out his morning routine as normal.

This time, Sojiro-san was present and prepared breakfast, which consisted of rice with cooked vegetables.

"No meat again." Morgana complained. Kazushi threw him a "quit complaining" kind of glance, and the not-cat shut up.

They finished breakfast in an awkward silence.

Kazushi changed into his uniform and left his room. This time, Morgana showed no signs of trying to follow him.

"Kazushi. Leaving already?" Sojiro-san stopped him. "On your way back, could you order these ingredients for the shop?" Sojiro-san handed him a list.

"Sure." Kazushi took the paper.

"I'm counting on you."

Later that day, classes ended and Makoto had just left her classroom. Her cellphone rang and she answered the call.

"Makoto?" It was Sae.

"Hello, Sis."

"I just found out that today I'll be working late again."

"Okay." Makoto signaled her understanding.

However, Sae wasn't done yet. "The problem is that our fridge is empty. I had planned to do some shopping today, but stores will be closed by the time I return home. Makoto, could you do me a favor and buy supplies?"

"Sure. Do you want me to get anything in specific?"

"Just the usual, and anything else you feel like getting." Sae answered just as Makoto expected. Sae didn't care much about dinner. She came late from work most of the time, and was so tired that she didn't even seem to enjoy the food.


"I'll get back to work now. See you at home." Sae ended the call.

Makoto resumed walking through the halls. She was heading to the courtyard when she saw Miura supporting an injured male student. Makoto considered helping them, but they had just turned a corner and arrived at the infirmary. She was about to conclude that they didn't need her help when she heard voices coming from the infirmary. Curiosity got the better of her. She approached the door and listened from outside.

"It's you again, huh, problem student," A teenager boy's voice said. "You've been bringing him here a lot. Hmm. You say that he got injured, but it's weird. It isn't normal for someone to get injured so frequently, is it?" The guy spoke with suspicion. "Aren't you bullying and hurting him or something?"

Makoto's eyes widened. That couldn't be true.

"W-what? N-no! I j-just fell during P.E., that's all!" The Student that Miura had helped stuttered in panic. "He isn't at fault for anything! He's only helping me...!"

"You're defending him?" The boy was still suspecting. "Let me guess. Did he threaten to do something to you if you don't cover up for him?"

The student gasped in shock. "No! He wouldn't do that!"

The boy didn't seem to believe him. "Uh, Kazushi Miura, right? You've been talked about so much that I even know your name. Come on. Why don't you say something?"

Miura's quiet voice came. "Would you believe my words?"

Apparently not. "Not going to confess, are you?" The boy seemed to be losing his temper. "It's enough. I'll report this to the Student Council. I'll get the President..."

Makoto didn't like where that was going. She had to intervene. The timing was perfect, too. She came out of hiding and entered the infirmary, where she saw Miura, the injured student, and a member of the Health Committee.

"I'm right here." She announced.

Miura tilted his head in her direction and acknowledged her presence. The injured student recoiled, and the Health Committee member snapped to attention.

"Ms. President!" The Committee member took a step towards her. "It looks like this student here is hurting and threatening this boy!" He pointed at the two in turn.

"What proof do you have?" Makoto refused to believe it unless she had concrete proof.

"Huh? Um, well..." The Committee member faltered. "Y-you see... isn't it weird that he's frequently bringing the boy here? The boy's defending him, but he might be lying!"

"And you are claiming this based on what?"

He didn't respond.

"You have no proof." Makoto concluded. "You shouldn't accuse people like this without proof!"

The Committee member gulped. "Um, b-but they have no proof of the guy's innocence, either!"

Makoto snapped. "If you can't prove or disprove anything, then just don't judge and carry out your task! Go get the nurse. The boy here needs treatment, you know!"

"Y-yes, ma'am!" The Committee member scurried of to get the nurse.

"What a relief. Thanks, Ms. President." The injured student let out the breath he had been holding. "I'm really unlucky and am always getting hurt during P.E. Most others in my class don't pay much mind to me, and Miura's usually the one who ends up helping me. He didn't do anything wrong. Please, don't blame him!"

"I know. Don't worry." Makoto assured him.

"Thanks." Then, the injured student turned to Miura and looked ashamed. "Miura, I'm sorry. You got in trouble because of me..."

"Mishima, it's okay." Miura spoke calmly as usual.

"No, it's not okay! So unfair. It's not right! Can't 'something' be done?" Mishima's look was pleading.

"Something was already done. Niijima-san solved it."

"That wasn't what I-"

Miura cut Mishima off. "If we keep getting stressed over every little thing that happens, we'll go crazy."

"Every little thing?" Mishima's eyes grew wide in awe. "You consider what happened now as a 'little thing?' Miura, you're really amazing."

And Makoto realized she had no idea what Miura had been going through. Thanks to those rumors, many people had preconceptions about him and automatically looked down on him. She had known he was badmouthed a lot, but she had no idea that people actually treated him like that. He couldn't even properly help an injured classmate without being accused of something.

The nurse arrived and began tending to Mishima. Makoto left the infirmary with Miura and went to the courtyard.

"What happened just now was terrible." Makoto looked at Miura with sympathy.

"I'm sorry you had to see that. Thanks for intervening, though."

They walked together in a heavy silence. Makoto figured she should try to lead both Miura's and her focus away from the incident.

"We didn't see each other yesterday..." Makoto commented.


"Uh, the racing game at the arcade last Sunday. It was fun, right?" Makoto tried to spark conversation.

Miura nodded. "And the shooting game, too."

"Oh, thank you for helping me with that. Come to think of it, you've always been nice to me, and have helped me a lot. But I still haven't done anything for you. Is there anything I can help you with? For example, homework. Do you have homework today?"

"Uh, a-a bit, but-"

"No buts!" Makoto entered lecturing mode. "Let's take care of it right now!"

Niijima-san began walking determinedly, but Kazushi froze. He felt conflicted. There was a subject he needed help with, though it wasn't part of today's homework. As he had decided before, he was willing to accept her help if she ever offered it to his normal self, which she just did. But if he were to follow her now, he would end up spending more time with her, and once again risk having his Phantom Thief identity revealed.

Niijima-san turned around when she realized that he wasn't following her. "Miura, what's wrong?"

"... Uh..." Kazushi still hadn't decided what to do. Going with her was dangerous, but hesitating was equally suspicious. What should he do? And what should he tell her?

"You won't be neglecting your homework."

"That's not it..."

Niijima-san took a step towards him. "Miura, come on. Let's take care of that homework. The sooner you finish it, the more time you'll have for other things. So, let's go."

Kazushi gave up on trying to justify himself. He nodded and began following her. It was just some homework. What could go wrong? As long as "Arsène" remained quiet, everything should be fine.

One good thing, though, was that Niijima-san seemed to be doing fine. She didn't have her head in the clouds. Or at least, not right now. If Kazushi hadn't seen her state during their last interaction at the Dark Hour, he wouldn't have known that she hadn't been well. If she was doing better now, hopefully it meant that she had sorted her thoughts out.

"Can we go to the family restaurant in Shibuya?" Niijima-san asked expectantly. "It's a good place for studying. It has a very enjoyable atmosphere, and we don't need to worry about having to remain absolutely quiet like in the library."

"Sure." Kazushi accepted. "I didn't know you also used to go there."

"Oh, you go there too?" She sounded surprised. "I've done group assignments with my classmates there a few times, and it was very nice. I've been wanting to study there again, but I feel uncomfortable about going there alone. I feel I'd stick out like a sore thumb."

"I don't mind going there alone," Kazushi said.

"Do you go there often?"

"Mostly when it's raining."

"When it's raining?" She sounded as though she found it strange.

"I find it easier to concentrate there than at home. The noise of water pouring down onto Leblanc's roof is really grating..."

Niijima-san nodded in understanding. "Oh, I see. Makes sense."

They went to the family restaurant in Shibuya, which was a popular spot for students to gather. They sat down at a table, and Miura set his study materials on the table.

"Miura, if there's some exercise you don't understand, ask me."

Miura nodded. He opened his notebook and textbook, and got to work.

Makoto took her materials out and did her own homework while she waited impatiently for Miura to ask her something. Minutes passed. Miura kept glancing at the questions on his textbook and writing on his notebook, but didn't utter a word. Makoto noticed he rarely consulted the textbook for the answers. She began suspecting that he was writing a lot of nonsense just to finish his homework quickly.


"Hmm?" He didn't stop what he was doing.

"Show me."

"Show what?"

"Whatever you're writing! I want to see it."

Miura seemed confused, but complied. He set his pencil down and wordlessly handed his notebook to her. If it turned out that he was being lazy and filling the responses with garbage, Makoto would have him do everything again! ... To her surprise, though, his responses were fine. The most surprising thing was that his answers weren't copies of snippets from the textbook material like most students' answers she had seen. Most of his responses were written in his own words, and were generally correct.

"You didn't consult the books for the most part. Had you already known all of this?" Makoto asked him.

"No, just learned it today. The teacher had us copy stuff from the black board, and repeated the important points so many times during the explanation that it stuck, and was still fresh in my mind. So, I was sure that I could do this assignment without help. Actually, this was what I was trying to say."

Makoto felt stupid. Earlier, when Miura tried to object to her helping him, it wasn't because he intended to neglect his homework, but because he had been sure he would be perfectly fine on his own. On the bright side, she was glad to see his answers to the questions, which were simple and to the point.

"But since you're here, I might as well ask for your help with something else," Miura added.

"Oh, what is it?" Makoto would gladly help him.

"Some Maths stuff. But let me finish this assignment first, since it's the actual homework."

"Okay." Makoto handed his notebook back, and continued to do her own homework.

In less than fifteen minutes, Miura finished his homework.

"Let's see if you can help me understand this." Miura opened his Maths textbook and the corresponding exercises on his notebook. "The examples on the textbook are okay. I can understand them alright. But the equations in the exercises don't seem to follow the examples at all. The teacher gave us the answer on the blackboard, but I got completely lost. When I asked for clarification, the teacher scolded me for 'not paying attention' and refused to explain anything." Miura turned his gaze to the notebook. "Up to here, it's fine. But then, this suddenly turns into this." He pointed at some equations on his notebook, which were copied from the answer the teacher provided. "How do we get from here to this other line here? Where did this other formula come from, and how do we know that it's the one we have to use?"

"Let me see..." Makoto took a look at the exercise. "Ah! I remember this! I also struggled a lot at this topic last year."

"Whoa. You too?"

"Yes. I talked to the teacher and asked for clarification, but the teacher explained it the same way every time and acted as though it were obvious. Maybe it is obvious, to Math teachers, that is. But not to us. I had to consult a lot of different books at the library until I finally understood what was going on."

Makoto explained what she had learned in her own research. At first, it seemed like she would have to cover a lot of the basics until they got to the point that really mattered, but she only reminded Miura about a few formulae he should have learned in the past, and he was brought up to speed rather quickly. Then, Makoto explained the reasoning behind the equations the teacher had provided, and Miura was able to follow her explanations without much trouble. By the end of it, Makoto had a nice feeling of fulfillment. She was finally able to use her knowledge to help someone with studies, and said person paid full attention to her words and actually understood them.

After the study session, they ordered a juice, and were drinking it and talking.

"Now I think I get the Maths stuff. Thanks, Niijima-san."

"Anytime." Makoto smiled happily. "Teaching you was a pleasure. I mean, really. Most times when I tried to help someone with studies, the person usually spaced out or dozed off and left me speaking into deaf ears..."

"Hahahaha!" Miura unexpectedly let out a quick burst of laughter.

That action took Makoto aback. Miura was always quiet and reserved, and seeing him laugh was a nice change of pace. The more she interacted with him, the more she found that spending time with him was enjoyable. She only wished Miura would relax a bit and laugh more often.

Miura spoke. "At least now I feel confident enough to solve a equation of this kind on the blackboard tomorrow, as I'm sure the teacher will pick me to do it and try to make a fool out of me in front of the class like always."

"Like always...?"

Miura only nodded and took a sip of his juice, and didn't elaborate.

Makoto wanted to know more. She recalled her conversation with Takamaki yesterday, and got reminded that it wasn't only the students that treated Miura badly like what happened at the infirmary earlier. "I've heard that even the teachers look down on you because of those rumors."

Miura nodded again.

"What do they do?"

Miura seemed hesitant, but explained his situation anyway. "Most teachers always have me stand up to answer questions in front of the whole class. If I answer them wrong, they usually lecture me in front of everyone, and keep repeating that I should pay attention and take the classes seriously. If I answer them right, they either don't complain, or accuse me of copying someone else's answers."

"What...?" During that homework session, Makoto had just attested to Miura's dedication to his studies. Makoto had known what it felt like to be pressured by the teachers. She was under a lot of pressure to maintain her good academic results. But to think that the teachers weren't recognizing Miura's efforts at all was really unfair. Just because of some stupid rumors. "That's harsh..."

"At least those rumors are only confined to the school." Miura tried to be optimistic. "Outside school, most people treat me normally."

Makoto tried to divert their focus again. "Speaking of 'outside school,' did you manage to get a part-time job?"

"Oh, yeah. That same day when you saw me looking at the advertisements, I began working part-time at a restaurant at night. Since I'm already used to tending to customers at the cafe, I figured it'd be similar enough at a restaurant."

Makoto sighed. "I also should be looking into part-time jobs, but I have so much to do. Studies, martial training, helping my sister with household chores, among... 'some other things,'" like the Dark Hour, which she would rather not mention. "I don't have much free time."

Miura didn't comment on that.

They finished their juice and stood up.

"Let's see... now, to the supermarket..." Miura muttered to himself.

Makoto heard him. "Supermarket?"

"Huh?" He realized that he had thought aloud. "Yeah. Sojiro-san asked me to buy supplies."

Makoto remembered that Sae had asked her to do some shopping as well. "Ah, my sister asked me to buy supplies too. Which supermarket do you go to?"

"It's the store where some of Sojiro-san's acquaintances work. They have special partnerships with suppliers, and some of the products are way cheaper there. Or at least, it's what Sojiro-san told me. I'm trusting that he knows his stuff, and am taking his word for it. I haven't researched to compare prices myself."

Makoto still needed to finish her homework, but that could wait until she got home. "How about we compare prices now? If the products are cheaper than at the place I usually shop, then we can conclude that it's true."

"... You're coming too?" Miura seemed a bit surprised to have Makoto simply invite herself along like that.

"Can't I?"

"Th-that's not it... I just didn't expect you'd want to come along."

"Then, let's go."

Miura took Makoto to the supermarket.

"Oh, I had never been here before." Makoto carried a basket around as she looked at the products. "I always shop for food at the store near my home. And some things are really cheaper here!"

Miura was dragging a shopping cart. "Sojiro-san needs a lot of stuff, and it'll take a while until I get everything. Niijima-san, you'll be okay on your own, right?"

"Huh? Yes." As much as she would enjoy the company, she could see Miura's point.

"If you finish shopping before I do, you may leave without waiting for me."

"Okay." Makoto nodded, and they parted ways.

Makoto spent some time walking around the store and selecting products. The items she usually bought were already in the basket. Sae had told her to get whatever else she felt like, and Makoto was looking around and thinking what else to buy. Then, she ran into Miura again.

"Looking for something in particular?" Miura asked her.

"I don't know. I already got the usual items. I wanted to buy something different from usual, but I don't know what to get."

"Do you cook?"

"Yes." Makoto answered. "I often help my sister in the kitchen, or cook for her when she isn't around. All we've been making lately, though, is only rice with something simple. She comes back so tired from work that she doesn't even eat properly. She looks so worried and tired most of the time, as though she can't find any enjoyment in anything. I wanted to at least be able to prepare some nice food for her..."

"Then, surprise her." Miura suggested. "If you can, make something special."

"This was what I was thinking, but I don't know any advanced recipe."

"No." Miura shook his head. "It doesn't need to be advanced. By 'special,' I mean special to her. For example, some food that she likes, but that she hasn't had in a long time."

"Oh, this is it!" Makoto got excited. "She loved the fried tofu our mother prepared when we were little. It should be easy enough to make. Great idea! Thank you, Miura."

Makoto set off to get the tofu and a few additional ingredients. Once she had gotten the items she wanted, she began wandering aimlessly again, this time thinking about preparing something to give to Joker the next time they met. What could she prepare? Maybe something sweet. Did he like sweets? ... But she wasn't used to making sweets, and had no idea what ingredients to buy. Makoto wished she could make something simple and special at the same time, but she didn't know what he liked and had no idea what he would consider 'special.'

"Niijima-san, please, I need to get something from this shelf." Miura's voice startled her.

Makoto finally realized that she had been spacing out while standing in front of a shelf. "Ah, sorry!" She stepped aside and allowed Miura to get the items he needed.

Miura noticed something wasn't right. "What happened? Couldn't you find what you were looking for?"

"I found what I needed for the tofu. But..." Makoto lowered her head.

"But...?" Miura waited for her to finish her sentence.

Makoto took a deep breath. "I-I was thinking of trying to make something I've never made before. But, one, I don't know what to make, and two, I'm scared that it might turn out a disaster..." Going through with that idea was too risky. Makoto wasn't confident about cooking something she wasn't familiar with. Chances of it turning out wrong were big. She wanted to make something good to please Joker.

"What do you need?"

"Huh? ... I don't know." Makoto admitted. "I'm still trying to decide what to make."

"Hmm? Don't you need a list of the ingredients first? How are you going to buy the ingredients if you don't know what you need?"

"Ah... hahahahaha!" Makoto laughed awkwardly. "You're right! I can't buy anything yet. First I need to decide what to make, then check the recipe and make a list of the ingredients. I got so carried away by the idea of trying to prepare something different that I forgot I had to plan it first! Hahaha! Well, I guess I'm done shopping, then. What about you?"

Miura glanced at the paper with the list of the items he needed to buy. "I think it'll still take a while."

"Okay. I'll go pay for my purchase. See you, Miura."

Makoto headed to the counter to pay for her purchase. Few customers were in line, and her turn came soon enough.

"You're the girl that came in with Miura-kun, right?" The old lady behind the counter observed. "What's your name?"

"Makoto. Makoto Niijima. I'm the Student Council President of Syujin High School."

"Hmm, the Student Council President... you must be proud when you see students from your school setting a good example." The old lady flashed a friendly smile. "That boy is so adorable, isn't he? He's helping out at Sakura-san's cafe, and shops here for Sakura-san from time to time."

Makoto smiled. After hearing how Miura was treated at school, it was nice to hear someone speaking well of him. "From what I could gather, he seems to be a good student, too."

"There are so many immature and troublesome kids nowadays, but Miura-kun is different. So young and so responsible... Sakura-san got a great helper."

Makoto agreed. She paid for her things and decided to wait for Miura. It didn't feel right to leave him behind.

Around ten minutes later, Miura came. "Niijima-san, you're still here?"

"I'm not in a hurry, and decided I might as well wait for you."

Miura sighed and looked away from her. He turned his focus to his purchase, and began unloading the items from the cart onto the counter.

"Everything on Sakura-san's tab, right?" The old lady asked.

"Uh, well, not everything. I'm paying for these." Miura took a full basket from the cart.

Makoto eyed the basket with interest. It contained rice, raw meat, eggs, some vegetables, and coffee.

"Your items will be 1,270 yen." The old lady informed.

Miura readily handed her the exact amount. Apparently, he had already done the math beforehand. Makoto was impressed at his efficiency.

"We'll have Sakura-san's supplies delivered in a few hours." The old lady informed.

"Thank you. And I'll take these with me." Miura pointed at the items that had been in the basket.

The lady put the items in a grocery bag and handed it to him. "Thank you for your purchase! Send our regards to Sakura-san!"

Makoto and Miura left the supermarket.

Makoto kept looking curiously at Miura's grocery bag. "You... cook?"

"Uh, I'm trying. Sojiro-san taught me to make coffee and curry rice. But I wanted something different from the shop's leftovers and curry rice for a change, and decided to try to prepare something else myself. I watched the other workers cook and asked them for some tips. I hope I can make something decent."

"You're also considering making food you've never made before? Haha!" Makoto chuckled. It was a nice coincidence. "Like I said earlier, me too. So, good luck to the two of us, I guess. And now I'm curious as to how your cooking tastes like."

"I can't say much about other things, but at least my coffee is good. If you want, next time you come to Leblanc, I can make you some coffee." Miura offered.

"I'm up for that." Makoto accepted the offer without a second thought.

But then, she realized something. Miura was really nice to her. Too nice, in fact. Why was that? He had been helping her from the day she first went to Leblanc. He fulfilled her order, then went as far as to escort her home, and protected her during her first Dark Hour. He always engaged in conversation with her, and last Sunday, he went out of his way to spend time with her, whereas anyone else would have avoided her. And now, he was offering to make coffee for her.

"Uh, Miura. Remember that day when I appeared at Leblanc after closing time, why did you decide to help me?"" Makoto felt the need to ask.

"Huh? You looked like you needed help." He said it as though it were obvious.

"Oh...?" Makoto was taken aback by his straightforwardness.

"It was raining, you looked tired, that worker was being inconsiderate and was mistreating you, and I had nothing to do at that moment..."

"But I had just scolded you that afternoon. You were in the middle of an argument between some students."

"Yeah, but what does that have to do with anything? I felt that helping you was the right thing to do, and that's it."

Makoto smiled at his sincerity. "I'm very grateful for your help, you know? Everything had gone wrong for me that day. My duties in Student Council seemed to never end and I left school much later than usual. Then I went to an acquaintance's office to borrow a book, and was forced to wait for hours. It was raining when I finally left the office. I was hungry, but then I remembered the fridge at home was empty... all the nearby restaurants were closed, and my only hope of salvation turned out to be Leblanc..."

"Hmm. So this was what happened... I'm even more glad I could help, then."

Miura sure cared about her. But how much he cared? What did he feel for her? What if he... liked her, romantically? ""

Her paranoia of being wary of random boys trying to ask her out had made Makoto suspect Miura of a lot of little things, like when she went to Leblanc for the first time and thought he helped her only because he wanted to make a move on her, or even that he was going to do something inappropriate to her during the Dark Hour on that same day. He had had plenty of opportunities to do inappropriate things to her during that Dark Hour, and he would have done so if he had wanted to. Also that day when she accidentally barged into his bedroom, then suspected him of having had wrong ideas. Or suspected him of telling Sakura-san that he was dating her...

Those suspicions might be unfounded, and just a result of her paranoia, but what if Miura were indeed interested in her? Not in that immature, perverted kind of way, but in a sincere, genuine way? What if he liked her... for real? That notion was a bit scary. Makoto felt conflicted. Miura was a good person. Makoto enjoyed his company as well... but her heart was already taken. Makoto wanted to be with Joker. She had all those plans about making him stop committing crime and disbanding the Phantom Thieves. This plan was very important to her, and she wouldn't give up on it.

"Niijima-san?" Miura noticed Makoto's conflicted expression.

"Uh..." Makoto fidgeted. "I was just wondering. You're too nice to me, Miura. Others avoid me because they view me as too nagging, yet you always listen to what I have to say and are constantly hanging around me. It's... strange."

"Is it? But the same can be said about you." Miura argued. "For whatever reason, you, the righteous Student Council President, chose to constantly hang around the school's infamous problem child, out of all people. It isn't just because Sojiro-san asked you to keep an eye on me, is it? It's usually you who comes to talk to me, too."

Makoto was usually the one who started the interaction because Miura wouldn't say anything otherwise. She did it because his silence bothered her, and his neutral expression gave no hints that he even remembered their previous talks, and she had the impression that he was ignoring her. At least Miura responded normally when she started talking, and this put her more at ease. Despite those quirks, Miura was her only schoolmate she felt comfortable to talk to.

"Miura, I admit that I doubted you in the beginning. But, for some reason, I feel comfortable talking to you. And by interacting with you, I got to know you better, and now know that you're nothing like those rumors say. You have my respect, Miura. To me, you aren't a problem student. You are... a good friend."

Makoto considered telling Miura that she already liked someone, but she felt bad about breaking it to him. If he indeed liked her and learned that he couldn't be with her, would he start avoiding her like the others? Miura was the only friend that Makoto had right now, and she didn't want to lose her bond with him. But would he be okay with just friendship?

However, Miura didn't look disappointed. In fact, he gave her a genuine smile, which was a rarity in itself. "Thanks, Niijima-san. This means a lot to me."

Makoto couldn't help but smile back. Miura looked serious most of the time, and it was nice to see that spontaneous smile on his face.

Was Makoto reading into it too much? Maybe Miura didn't like her in a romantic way. Maybe he was just lonely thanks to the way he was treated at school, and only hung around her because she was one of the few people that gave him attention. Makoto decided she wouldn't tell him about her romance issues unless he explicitly told her that he liked her.

It was time for them to part ways.

"Niijima-san, thanks for today."

Makoto was confused for a moment. "Huh? What is this about?"

"The equations."

"Ah, yes. There was that. You're welcome. Good luck with the teacher tomorrow."

"Thanks. Good luck with your fried tofu."

Makoto laughed at his comment. She didn't expect him to remember specifically about her mention of the fried tofu.

Makoto was able to prepare the fried tofu with no problems. She tasted it, and it was surprisingly good. But she didn't have dinner. Instead, she waited for Sae to come back home, which only happened past ten o'clock.

Sae took a quick shower and headed to the kitchen. Two bowls with rice were on the table, along with a closed pot. Makoto was waiting for her.

"Makoto, didn't you have dinner yet?"

"No. Today I decided to wait for you."

"But I told you that I would arrive late from work. And you have to wake up early tomorrow to go to school!"

Makoto could only pray that Sae wouldn't find out she had been staying awake past midnight when adventuring during the Dark Hour. Makoto wouldn't let her sister's scolding ruin the mood, though. "But I made something special today! And I wanted us to have dinner together."

Sae seemed to be preparing another reprimand, but her eyes widened when she took the pot's lid off and saw what Makoto had made. "Th-this is..." Sae completely lost her composure. "... Why?"

"It's been a long time since we don't have fried tofu. I was remembering the fried tofu Mom made for us when we were little. You used to enjoy it a lot."

Sae tasted the treat. "This is good. It brings back memories."

Makoto served herself and proceeded to eat as well.

Sae was lost in thought for most of their meal. "Mom used to give more fried tofu to you than to me. She used to say that smaller kids had to eat more to grow up more. I was... a bit bothered by that."

"Oh, I didn't know." Makoto smiled cheerfully. "But now you can have as much of it as you want. And whenever you want fried tofu again, just ask me and I'll make it for you!"

Sae looked flabbergasted. "Why are you doing this all of a sudden?"

"I've been worrying about you, you know. You look so tired lately, and seem like you aren't having enjoyment in anything. So, I decided to make something that I was sure you'd like."

Sae seemed lost for words for a moment, then flashed a tired but grateful smile. "Thank you, Makoto."

At the Dark Hour, Makoto was in the Palace with the others. Joker had asked everyone to wait a bit near the entrance.

They waited silently, apparently wary of engaging in small talk due to Makoto's presence.

"What is Joker doing?" Makoto couldn't hold her curiosity.

"Not sure, but it has to be something about his many Personas." Skull answered her.

Panther noticed that Mona seemed down. "Mona, what's wrong?"

"Aaaaah, Panther!" Mona ran over to Panther and made a whiny face. "Joker's been angry at me since yesterday! He snapped at me, then asked me some stuff. I think he's thinking of ditching me!"

"Pfff. What?" Panther chuckled, incredulous. "Joker, thinking of ditching you?"

"Yeah!" Mona looked desperate. "What if he decides to undo our deal?! What should I do?! Where should I go?! I have nowhere, and have no one..."

"Wait." Skull joined in. "Before we ran into you, you were alone and had been doing just fine, right?"

"I'm talking to Panther!" Mona seemed hurt and snapped at Skull.

"What's this about a deal?" Makoto asked.

Panther answered. "We agreed that Mona would help us explore the Palaces, and we'd try to find out about his origins as we went on."

Skull added, "Since it looks like he's a creature from the Dark Hour, we thought he might remember something important about the Dark Hour if he recovered his memories."

"I want to be back to my original form!" Mona spoke looking at Makoto.

"Your original form?"

"Yeah! I should be a cool and elegant man!"

"Huh?" Makoto deadpanned.

Mona looked offended. "... Why does everyone does that face when I say this?"

Makoto didn't know how to respond. "... Err, sorry, no offense, but are you sure that that's your original form?"

"Uh, yeah... probably. I think..." Mona seemed more unsure by the second. "Argh! It's all Joker's fault! He keeps asking weird questions, and I get more confused each day!"

"I doubt you'd be an elegant man," Skull said mockingly. "You aren't elegant, for one."

"Ugh... shut up, skullhead!"

Makoto felt bad for having offended Mona. She tried to give him a compliment to make up to him. "Uh, you're... cute, though."

Mona got flustered and tried to pretend he didn't like the compliment. "This isn't it! The word isn't 'cute.' It's 'cool,' right?!"

"No." Fox shot him down.

Mona shut his eyes, scared. "Aaaaah! What if I don't find out my origins?! What if Joker leaves me behind?! Panther, if he decides to abandon me, will you take me in?"

"That's actually a good idea." Joker suddenly announced his return.

"J-Joker! You're really meaning to...!" Mona's voice wavered.

"Calm down, Mona. It's okay." Panther patted Mona's head comfortingly and looked at the leader. "Joker, what did you do? He's really scared!"

"I just gave him some things to think about." Joker took his position at the front of the group. "Shall we start the exploration?"

Mona left Panther's side, shook his doubts off for the moment, and ran over to Joker.

Panther stayed with Makoto at the back of the group like usual, and they went on their way. Explorations resumed, with Mona uncharacteristically quiet when not pointing out enemy weaknesses. They had thought they still had two corridors to explore, but found out that one of them had collapsed completely, and they couldn't pass through it, which left only one corridor.

"Uh, Queen." Panther called out to Makoto in a hushed tone. "There's something I need to tell you. Yesterday, I... uh, I tried to confess my feelings to Joker."

"W-what?" Makoto's voice rasped, and she felt a chill in her chest.

"Yeah." Panther forced a smile. "But he gave me a deadpan look as though he were accusing me of making fun of him. He told me. You confessed to him too, didn't you?"


"I talked more to him after that, but he didn't give any hint that he feels anything for me." Panther shrugged. "I guess the path is open for you, then." Panther patted Makoto on the shoulder and smiled. "Good luck."

"Um, thank you..." Makoto said awkwardly, a bit relieved at Panther's encouragement.

Fox approached the girls. "Queen, we just found this, but it didn't fit either of our styles, so we thought you could have it." He handed her a plastic revolver. "It'll help you defend yourself against Shadows, even without a Persona."

"Uh, thank you..." Makoto reluctantly took the gun and looked it over. "It's a toy, right?"

"Yes. It works very well against some Shadows, though. Are you confident at shooting?"

"I don't know." Makoto had never used a gun before... aside from the gun-shaped controler at the arcade.

"I'll ask Joker if he can let you test it." Fox walked away without waiting for a response.

Joker had Makoto take part in a fight against two Shadows that were weak to gun attacks.

As soon as Makoto pointed the toy revolver at the enemy, she remembered the shooting game at the arcade, and how Miura gave her tips about aiming and firing. It was ridiculous to use video game tips in a fight against supernatural monsters, but it was the only knowledge related to shooting that Makoto had available. She aimed just like Miura had instructed at the arcade, and pulled the trigger.

"W-whoa!" Mona exclaimed.

"It... hit?" Much to Makoto's surprise, the plastic pellet that shot from the toy gun hit the monster, which exploded into black ooze on contact.

"Nice shot!" Skull complimented. "One more!"

Surprisingly, that toy gun might prove useful for Makoto to defend herself against Shadows until she got a Persona. She wished she could thank Miura for the knowledge he shared with her, but she had chosen to not tell him about what she had been doing at the Dark Hour.

Makoto kept recalling how Miura had gently and patiently taught her how to use the gun-shaped controller. Distracted thinking about Miura, Makoto forgot that there was still one enemy remaining, and didn't realize it was preparing to charge at her. When she snapped to focus, the Shadow was already mid-charge...

... And thankfully, a well-placed shot from Joker's toy handgun made quick work of it.

"Thank you, Joker." Makoto blushed slightly.

"If you are going to get distracted, then at least carry the battle through to the end first." The leader was clearly displeased. His remark was sarcastic, but the way he spoke it made it sound like a serious reprimand.

"Uh, sorry..." Makoto was still blushing, but now it was in shame.

"You know that Shadows are dangerous. You should be more careful."

"I-I know." Makoto took a few steps towards him and lowered her voice. "Um, J-Joker, I need to talk to you later." She quickly turned away and scurried back to her spot at the rear of the group.

A few more battles later, the exploration ended, for real this time. They had explored all possible places in that Palace.

"If we had known we'd only need one more day, we could've waited to take a break after the end of the exploration." Fox commented.

"Does this mean we'll have a break again?" Skull asked.

"Yes," was Joker's confirmation. "We will be on standby until we determine our next target."

Makoto only half-listened to the conversation, and the mention of a next target didn't register in her head. She was more worried about going over her rehearsed speech one last time.

They left the Palace and walked a few blocks as usual. When they split ways, Joker remained and approached Makoto. "You had said you wanted to talk to me."

"... Yes." Makoto straightened her posture. It was time. She had to do her best to not falter under Joker's imposing presence and penetrating gaze. She took a deep breath and began speaking. "Joker. After that night, I thought a lot. At first, I didn't know how to approach it, but now I believe I arrived at an answer. The reasons that caused me to like you so much." It wasn't a matter of determining whether she liked him or not. Makoto didn't leave any room for doubt that she indeed liked him. Instead, she chose to present her reasons. "The mystery might also play a part in making me more curious about you, but it's not all. Joker, you have a lot of qualities that I admire. You are very intelligent, skilled, strong, confident, and a good leader. These are qualities that should still hold true no matter if you're wearing a mask or not. Regardless of who you are or what you look like, I feel that I'll continue to like you."

Joker's mouth hung slightly open for a short while, but he quickly caught himself and recovered his cool. After staring at Makoto for a few tense seconds, he finally spoke up. "You seem serious about this..."

Makoto smiled in relief. Joker didn't seem to be mocking her or disregarding her words. "Of course I am. I'm not very good with people, and had never imagined I'd ever confess my love to someone. I wouldn't say these things if I weren't serious about it, and wouldn't say them to just anyone. You're this special to me, Joker."

More tense seconds of silent staring.

Joker was trying to remain composed, but Makoto could tell that he was lost for words. Maybe it was true that he liked her and was just waiting for proof that she really liked him.

"You seem unsure." Makoto risked speaking. "Is it because you think I'll change my mind if I find out your identity? If so, you might as well reveal it right now and get this dilemma over with," she said boldly.

"Ha, ha, ha. Nice try." Joker laughed mockingly, instantly back to his usual self. "Do you think I don't realize? I know that you're actually against our methods. Tell me the truth. You want to reveal our identities and sell us out, don't you?"

Makoto froze, with her eyes wide.

"I've noticed this ever since I pulled you into the group." Joker continued. "You had been quite hostile towards us, and insisted that you didn't want to contribute to our cause. Yet, just a few arguments later, you suddenly, unexplainably, changed your mind and accepted to join us. Suspicious, isn't it?"

Joker's reasoning was spot on, and his words hurt. He didn't trust her.

"You were suspecting me all along..." Makoto's voice shook. "Then, why did you accept me into the group?"

"I already told you this. From the moment I saw that you could move during the Dark Hour, I decided I couldn't ignore you, and figured I'd rather have you near us."

This was it. This was the reason why infiltrating the group had been so easy. Joker hadn't just "accepted" her into the group. He wanted to make sure she would join, and had purposefully dragged her into his group, then assigned a member to keep tabs on her and make sure she wasn't trying to do anything against them. This explained why he didn't seem bothered to have one less member at the front line. When Makoto found herself in the group, she had thought she had gotten an advantage, but Joker had been one step ahead of her all along. He was really cunning...

"No need to say anything." Joker spoke before Makoto could respond. "It's true. It's written on your face."

"... Yes, that had been my original intention." Makoto confessed, with a lump in her throat. "But now, it's d-different. I don't want to get any of you in trouble. I only want you to stop."

"We have no intention of stopping." Joker outright refused.

"It's a shame that someone so amazing as you keeps using these talents and skills to commit crime," Makoto said. "Joker, you're so intelligent, so talented... I'm sure you could achieve great things if only you'd put your talents to good use instead of wasting it on crime! You might be thinking that the Dark Hour makes you unrecognizable and invincible, and that no one will catch you. But it isn't simply a matter of getting caught or not. Just because you have power and no one else is awake to see what you're doing, it doesn't give you the right to do what you will with peoples' property as though you owned everything! Think about the harm your group is causing to others! I'm sure you wouldn't like if someone did the same to you. You guys will only become worse people the more you continue doing bad things."

"It's not like that. You don't understand." Joker tried to protest.

"There's nothing to understand!" Makoto snapped. "What you are doing is wrong! Joker, you're ruining your life by following this path."

"My life has never been better, thank you very much." Joker smirked smugly. "And you really don't understand. You got it all wrong. It's difficult to explain only with words. And since you aren't willing to listen to words, I guess there is only one way to make you understand what we're doing. You'll have to see it for yourself."

"See it for myself?" Makoto spat. "Are you implying that you want me to go on a raid with your group?!"


Makoto glared daggers at him. "I refuse! I don't need to understand it. Stealing and vandalism is wrong, and it's all that matters!"

Joker suddenly lunged at her, and Makoto panicked. He grabbed her and effortlessly dragged her a few feet back. Makoto only regained her senses when she heard an explosion right at the spot she had been standing until a few seconds ago. Then, she realized that a Shadow was on the street and had tried to attack them with a fire spell. The attack would have hit her if Joker hadn't pushed her out of the way.

"Stay put. I'll handle it." Joker commanded.

Shocked at the surprise attack, Makoto nodded obediently and hid behind him.


An ice spell from one of Joker's multiple Personas made quick work of the Shadow, and silence reigned over the street as it should.

With no more signs of danger around, Joker turned behind to face Makoto. "Looks like we were doing too much noise."

"Why?" Makoto asked weakly. "Why did you save me?"

"Huh?" Joker threw her a look of confusion.

"Now you know that I'm against you..." She said.

"So what? Do I need a specific reason to help someone?"

"N-no." Makoto's mouth curved into a weak smile. Maybe, deep down, Joker was a rather gentle person. Or maybe he actually liked her...

"I'd have done that for anyone. But I have to admit. There's something about you that bothers me. You are quite reckless."

"What?" Makoto was about to snap again. Where had he taken that from? Makoto considered herself as being many things, but "reckless" wasn't one of them. "I'm not reckless!"

"Of course you are. Who in a right mind would come to the Palace alone without any equipment and without a Persona? This was exactly what you did that day when I pulled you into the group."

Makoto gasped.

"You must've known you shouldn't be wandering alone and unprepared during the Dark Hour, yet you came all the way into the Palace. Who knows what may have happened if we hadn't run into you near the entrance. You'd have wandered deeper inside, where the Shadows are much stronger. If we hadn't spotted you, you might not even have come out of there alive that night."

On further thought, what she had done that night was indeed stupid. Makoto had trained hard. She had thought that she could deal with the Dark Hour on her own just fine, and that she was well-prepared enough to face the monsters. The notion that she might run into monsters way stronger than expected hadn't so much as crossed her mind. Joker was right. Until now, she hadn't even been aware that the Phantom Thieves had saved her life.

Joker added, "Your overconfidence makes you reckless, and having you wander into dangerous territory unattended doesn't sit right with me." He let out a resigned sigh and looked downward. "When I realize it, I'm already moving to protect you..."

His words touched Makoto. They were a sign that Joker felt something special towards her. Makoto's eyes watered. "Joker... Thank you..." She whispered to him.

Only then, Makoto realized their bodies were rather close after Joker had released her when he protected her from the Shadow's attack. On impulse, she took a step forward to close the distance between them, and enveloped Joker in an embrace. The Phantom's eyes widened at Makoto's sudden action, but he didn't move either to shove her off or to hug her back. In fact, he was stunned. His body stilled, and he seemed to be holding his breath.

"I don't get it... you seem to have such a strong sense of judgment, still you keep thieving and doing wrong things..." Makoto let out a frustrated sigh, and tears began rolling down her face. "Look, it's true that I'm against what your group is doing... but it's also t-true that I like you. J-Joker, I only w-wish your good. Please, you h-have to stop." Her tears intensified, and she began sobbing. She tightened her hold on him. "Joker, w-what's your problem? Tell me, a-and I'll help you think up a solution. I'll do anything I can to help you have a good life without resorting to crime. Joker. P-please..."

After a few seconds of silence, Joker relaxed. He finally moved and slowly enveloped his arms around her. Makoto usually feared his imposing presence, but now she felt safe in it as Joker held her comfortingly and waited for her to calm down.

The embrace didn't last long, though. Makoto didn't want to let go, but as soon as her sobs had subsided, Joker gently pried her off of him. Then, he used his sleeve to wipe her tears off.

"My problem is that you're being closed-minded, and aren't willing to listen." Joker answered her at last. "There's a strong reason behind what our group does."

"A-alright. Then, explain yourself." Makoto demanded. She tried to sound authoritative, but failed.

"Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just 'right' and 'wrong.' It's quite complicated, actually. The others accepted it just fine, but it's probably harder to grasp to someone that views things as being just black and white. For one, what we steal isn't even physical to begin with. And the places becoming a mess afterwards has more to do with our targets' actions than ours."

"This makes no sense..."

"As I said earlier, it's hard to explain with words. This is why I'm saying that you must see things for yourself. Then, I'm sure you'll understand our reasons. What Palaces are, what we steal, why we steal it, and why this is the only way."

Makoto was conflicted. One part of her felt tempted to trust Joker's argument and see for herself what his groups actions were all about, while the other part warned her that she was getting into big trouble. She wanted to lead Joker away from the path of crime, but if she weren't careful, it would be the other way around!

"May I decide what to do later?"

"No. You have no choice," Joker said decisively. "You're with us now, and there's no backing out. When we go after our next target, you will be coming with us."

"What if I run away and don't show up?"

"Then, we'll find you and pick you up. We have ways to do that." Joker smirked confidently. "Like it or not, you'll be coming with us, Makoto Niijima." He gave his ultimatum.

Out of all things Makoto could have thought, she found it charming how her first name had rolled off his tongue, and couldn't help but want to hear him say it more often. Then the seriousness of the situation finally sank in. Joker said he had ways to find her, and Makoto felt that he wasn't bluffing.

Joker gave her no chance to continue arguing. "We will take another break from explorations while we do some investigating. Once we determine our next target, I'll contact you." With that, Joker turned around and left, without so much as a good night wish.

Makoto stood there, paralyzed. She had fallen into a trap, hadn't she? She had convinced Joker of her feelings, just as she had wanted, and Joker also seemed to like her. However, that little voice in the back of her mind had been right all along. The moment Makoto considered getting close to Joker to figure out his identity, she began playing with fire. He had turned the tables on her and was intent on dragging her over to the crime path. Now she would get in trouble for sure. So much for falling in love...

"What should I do?" Makoto asked herself as she finally began to move and walk towards her home.

Chapter Text


"... Huh?" Makoto snapped back to reality, at the kitchen during breakfast.

Sae was staring at her in concern. "You don't look too well."

"I didn't sleep too well last night," was all that Makoto would say. Her sister would be horrified if Makoto were to disclose that she had fallen in love with a dangerous and cunning criminal, and the big trouble she was getting herself into because of this.

"I told you that you should have gone to sleep early." Sae scolded her.

"Uh, I don't think this was the problem. My sleep wasn't... as peaceful as I'd have liked. But it's normal. This happens to everyone from time to time, right?"

Sae still seemed a bit worried, but agreed. Despite the strictness, Makoto was happy that Sae actually cared.

After breakfast, Makoto left for school. This time, she wasn't up to walking all the way, and decided to take a train. She smiled upon entering the train and seeing Miura there next to the door. "Good morning, Miura!"

"Morning." He greeted her with no enthusiasm whatsoever.

"We're in the same train. What a coincidence, isn't it?"

Miura silently nodded.

However, the awkward thing was that the train was packed, and they found themselves standing a bit too close to each other. Makoto blushed. Miura might not have noticed it, though, because he was looking away. In fact, Makoto thought that Miura looking away shyly like that was kind of cute. What am I thinking? Makoto also looked away before her blush could intensify.

Kazushi felt bad for what happened last night.

Arsène, you made her cry, he scolded his other persona as a thought. However, he could blame "Arsène" all he wanted. "Arsène" was still himself, and didn't change the fact that he had made Niijima-san cry.

The sight of her crying and sobbing uncontrollably had caused a pang in his heart. She had desperately hung onto him, and the only thing he had been able to do to redeem himself was hug her back and try to comfort her.

She was just misunderstanding things. Once his group finally managed to show her the true nature of their actions, everything would fall into place. This was what Kazushi kept telling himself after he had parted ways with her, but it didn't help him feel any better. A new day started, and he could only hope Niijima-san was doing okay.

Tokyo was such a big city, and it was hard for people to coincidentally take the same train. But as irony would have it, Niijima-san boarded the same train as he did. A knot formed in Kazushi's stomach when the train's door opened and Niijima-san came in. She greeted him with a smile, but it was a bit forced. A quick look at her face showed that she wasn't so well. She might even have lost precious sleep last night, and it was all his fault. The train was crowded, and she remained standing right next to him. Their bodies were touching, actually, and reminded Kazushi of the moment he had hugged her and tried to comfort her. All he could do was look away, and hope that his guilt wouldn't show on his face.

While the train sped towards its destination, Kazushi tried to distract himself by focusing on something else. People were talking about some idol that would be doing a show in Tokyo the following day, but Kazushi couldn't care less about that subject. It was impossible to ignore Niijima-san huddled right next to him.

The train reached its destination. They disembarked and continued on their way together.

"Oh, yes." Niijima-san tried to break the awkward tension. "The fried tofu turned out very good. Both my sister and I enjoyed it a lot. I could tell that she was happy."


"What about you? Did you try your hand at cooking yesterday?"

"Yeah," Was all that Kazushi said.

"Did it turn okay?" Niijima-san asked.


Niijima-san looked strangely at him. "Miura, what happened? You're really quiet today..." She quickly added, "Uh, I mean, yes, you're always quiet, but I think something is a bit different today... you even seem to be saving words, too!"


"Hahahaha!" She laughed. "See? Just one word."

He couldn't tell what she found funny, but at least it was nice to see her laugh. His relief was short-lived, though.

"Come on. What's wrong?" She just had to insist.

"Uh, maybe I'm not fully awake yet..." Kazushi blinked, and tried to give her an excuse as his first multi-word response to her that day.

Thankfully, she bought into it. "Then, let's do some small talk and get you fully awake so that you don't sleep in class, alright?"

She was the one who had seemingly lost sleep and had a greater risk of sleeping in class, but Kazushi nodded in agreement nonetheless.

"I was talking about my sister." Niijima-san got back on track. "I haven't told you much about her, have I? Her name is Sae, and she lives with me. She's the one who's been taking care of me after our parents died. My sister is a prosecutor, and works until late frequently. She's really serious about her work, and gives her best so that she and I can maintain a good lifestyle. She's very strict. She has very high expectations of me, but I know that she only wishes the best for me. This is why my academic skills need to be in its best. This way, I'll be able to get a respectable job in the future to help her financially, and she won't need to work so hard."

Kazushi could see it now. Niijima-san had mentioned how she suffered pressure both at home and at school, and how her deepest fears were linked to that. Despite constantly repeating to herself that her sister only wished the best for her, Niijima-san was actually afraid of not meeting her sister's expectations and not becoming good enough.

"Miura, you're listening, right?"


"Indeed, you've been too quiet." She insisted.

"You said she has high expectations of you." This should prove that he had been listening.

"It's okay, though. I know that it's because she cares about me and only wishes me the best. It's good to have people that believe in our capabilities, support us and encourage us forward. The bars they set for us serve as goals. It's important to have goals, because they motivate us to keep improving."

"I also think that having goals is important. But..." Kazushi trailed off.

"But what?" Niijima-san looked at him questioningly.

The theory was nice. But Kazushi could tell that, deep down, Niijima-san also knew that it wasn't this simple. She was afraid of failing to meet people's expectations herself.

"People that believe in us and support us..." Kazushi muttered absentmindedly.

"Yes." Niijima-san nodded firmly. "You should have those, too."

"..." Kazushi said nothing.

"What about your parents?" Niijima-san asked.

Kazushi's attempts at meeting his parents' unrealistic expectations throughout the years had never gotten him anywhere, nor motivated him in any way. All that those attempts ever did was frustrate him. To tell the truth, Kazushi wasn't even sure what they expected of him anymore. "... I don't really know."

"Huh?" Makoto wondered what Miura had meant by that, but they had to interrupt their talk because they had arrived at Syujin. "Uh, Miura, see you later. Take care to not sleep in class!"

"You too."

"Huh?" Why was he saying that?

"You have bags under your eyes." He answered her internal question.

Was her lack of sleep that obvious? Makoto did her best to suppress a sheepish chuckle and parted ways with him.

Makoto located Miura during lunch break. "I stayed awake during class. I hope you did, too."

Miura nodded.

"Miura, did you have Maths class today?"

"Yeah, and the teacher really picked me to solve an equation on the blackboard."

"Were you able to solve it?"

He nodded again.

"Great! What did the teacher say?"


"Nothing? Not even a word of encouragement?!" Makoto was incredulous.

"Still better than being yelled at, I guess."

This wasn't right. What were those teachers thinking?! Even though they tended to pressure her and other talented students a lot, they treated others normally for the most part. But they weren't recognizing Miura's efforts at all!

"Niijima-san, if you excuse me, I need to go to the library. I have to finish an assignment."

Was it just her, or it felt like Miura was trying to stay away from her?

"During lunch break?"

"Yeah. I was going to borrow the book I'm using, but I was told that someone had already said they'd go there after classes today and borrow the book. So, I need to check as much of the info as I can before that."

Maybe not. She might be able to help him with something, then. "I'm coming with you. I may be of some help." She invited herself along.

"Uh... okay." Miura was a bit hesitant, but agreed to have her come along.

They went to the library. as soon as they entered, everyone became apprehensive at both of their presences. Miura got the book, and began taking notes on a sheet of paper.

A female teacher that happened to be there beckoned Makoto to talk outside the library. "Niijima-san, you are really dedicated to making the students fulfill their duties. That's the problem transfer student, right? I don't teach to his class, but I've heard all sorts of rumors about him. I get scared thinking about this school's rehabilitation program. Most of those kids are in it because they're violent and got involved in fights on the street or something. As if this weren't scary enough, his case is even worse. He was actually detained by the police before transferring here. I admire your bravery. To drag the problem student to the library like that..."

"Err..." Makoto shook her head. "No, actually, he came of his own free will. I was the one tagging along. To tell the truth, I've had opportunities to talk to him outside school, too, and he's nothing like the rumors say. He's also quite studious. I even helped him with some Math exercises yesterday, and he did his homework just fine. I believe he's taking his rehabilitation seriously, and is trying to change for better. It's fulfilling to see someone trying to improve, and this is why I want to support him." Makoto smiled proudly.

"Really?" The teacher relaxed. "Hmm. This is good. Your support might be a strong incentive, too."

"What do you mean?"

"For all we know, he might have decided to behave well because he wants to impress you. You're popular among the boys, and who knows what they'd do to get your attention. If he were trying to impress you, then it looks like he succeeded, from the look on your face."

Makoto gasped.

The female teacher chuckled. "Whatever his reasons, this should be a good thing. If this means that you managed to cause a big change in him, it'd be nice, don't you think? If he keeps his behavior in check as a result, then it's great, right?" The teacher flashed a light smile. "Well, I'll go on my lunch break now. Bye, Niijima-san."

Makoto went back inside the library in slow steps. She sat down at a table and watched Miura read and take notes. Takamaki had told her that Miura paid attention in class and all, and Makoto was sure he didn't behave well just when he was near her. She was almost sure he didn't change his behavior just to leave a good impression on her. The keyword being, "almost." Makoto recalled how Miura shyly looked away from her in the train as their bodies touched. The notion that he might be romantically interested in her surfaced and began nagging at her again. What if it were true? She already liked someone...

And this reminded her of the big mess she was getting into. She somehow ended up falling in love with a mysterious and dangerous Phantom Thief, and would probably be forced into the crime path because of him! What should Makoto do?

Should she ask Miura whether he had romantic feelings for her? Should she tell him about the trouble she wandered into? He had escorted her home during her first Dark Hour. Makoto didn't want to tell him about what she had been doing during the Dark Hours after that night. She didn't want to worry him.

Lunch break was about to end. "I don't have time...!" Miura panicked. He took out his cellphone and took a picture of the book's page. "No. It's illegible..."

Meanwhile, a boy from the Library Committee observed Miura's actions with a disturbed expression, which only worsened when Miura resignedly handed the book back and said his thanks.

"What are you going to do?" Makoto asked worriedly on the way out of the library.

"I don't know."

"Can't you check another book?"

"No. The assignment is to summarize a topic from that specific book."

Makoto furrowed her brows. "Do you think it'll still take long for you to finish?"

"I counted the pages covering the topic. I'm around two thirds of the way. If I had the book for one more lunch break, I think it'd be enough."

Makoto tried to come up with an idea to help him, but failed. They said their goodbyes and returned to their respective classes.

The teacher ended the lecture, and Makoto asked for permission to leave class a few minutes early. She had just had an idea to help Miura. He had said one more day with the book would be enough, and had also said that someone would go to the library to pick the book after class. Makoto would negotiate with the person wanting to borrow the book, and ask him or her to wait one more day.

When Makoto arrived at the library, the book was still there. She asked who was the student that had said would borrow it, but no one knew how to answer her. All she could do was wait for the person to show up.

Classes ended, and the Library Committee member that had a disturbed expression earlier entered. Makoto asked him about the person that said would borrow the book.

"Uh, Ms. President..." The boy looked guiltily downwards and lowered his voice. "Uum, I'm sorry to say this, but... no one came to ask to borrow this book."

"Huh?" That was really strange. Had Miura lied to her? No, she didn't want to believe that. "What does this mean?"

The boy shuffled nervously. "Uh, you see. The thing is, we have orders from the Principal to not let anyone in the rehabilitation program take any book outside the school's premises."

"What? The Principal...?"

"Yeah. He says we can't trust 'that kind of people' to take the school's belongings away, because they can damage or steal the school's properties..."

Makoto was shocked. She had never expected the Principal would do something like that. Wasn't the rehabilitation program's purpose to give delinquent kids a chance to continue their studies and reintegrate them into society? Instead, teachers discriminated them, and the Principal even took away their right to borrow books from the library! By treating the rehabilitating students that way, the school was in fact excluding them!

The Committee member looked like he wanted to bury his face into the ground. "D-don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Miura-san. I bumped into him once and he helped me pick up my folders that had fallen. And every time he comes to the library, he stays quiet and seems to be studying normally like anyone else. I don't think he'd damage or steal the school's things. Honestly, I'd have lent him the book no problem... but I had to follow orders! I don't want to get in trouble!" The boy seemed about to cry. "I only want to lead a normal school life, graduate, and go to college. I heard that joining one of the school's committees was worth points for the students' academic records, and I chose to join Library Committee. If only I had known it'd be like this, I wouldn't have joined..."

Makoto remembered it now. She had seen this boy gossiping on the way to school one morning. He had specifically mentioned bumping into Miura.

"I have an idea," Makoto said. "Since I'm not in the rehabilitation program, it's okay if I borrow this book, right?"

"Huh?" The boy lifted his head. "You mean... you want to borrow this book on Miura-san's behalf?"

"Yes. He has an assignment to finish, and will need this book for one day or two. I trust that nothing bad will happen to the book."

"A-alright." The Committee member agreed and proceeded to have Makoto fill the form.

Makoto left school, and went to hand the book to Miura at Cafe Leblanc.

"Oh, sorry, but Kazushi's not back yet." Sakura-san informed her. "It's been a while, and I believe he'll be back soon, though. If you don't mind waiting..."

"It's okay." Makoto agreed.

Sakura-san seemed concerned. "Hey, do you happen to know if anything unusual's happening to Kazushi? He's been acting a bit weird lately. I even heard him shouting at the cat the other day."

Shouting? The ever so calm and quiet Kazushi Miura, shouting?! This was new. Makoto was unable to imagine him angry. Considering the way he was treated at school, though, he must have a lot of things bottled up. Even though he always appeared calm and collected, maybe he would actually snap and let his frustrations out once in a while. After all, people could only take so much.

Makoto said, "I recently found out a few things. Just because he's in the rehabilitation program and because he'd been detained before coming to Syujin, people spread a lot of bad rumors about him. And now, practically everyone at school, including the teachers, treat him horribly. Had he told you any of this?"

"... No." Sakura-san furrowed his brows in worry. "Kazushi never talks about what goes on in his life. I lectured him about not getting other people caught up in his troubles, but maybe he's taking it a bit too far. So, this is what's happening. He's being discriminated at school. Unfortunately, it's just how society works." Despite the harsh way Sakura-san said it, he indeed seemed concerned about Miura. "By the way, you know why Kazushi's in Syujin's rehabilitation program, right?"

"Yes, he told me. He said he intervened in a crime scene and tried to save a woman that was being harassed, but got detained because he injured the harasser."

"And what do you think about this?"

"What do I think...?" Makoto blinked. "well, I'm not saying that using violence is right, but... I think his intentions were good... he was reckless, though."

"Yeah, definitely. And the worst part of the story. Kazushi was punished for the injury he caused, but the harasser got away. The police took the guy's side, punished Kazushi and closed the case."

"What?" Makoto was taken aback. She had thought that the case had been solved despite Miura's detention. "The case was left unsolved!? Then... basically, all that Miura did was for nothing...!"

"Looks like it. Society isn't always fair. This is how adults work. Sticking the neck in grown-up business is bound to end in trouble. This is why Kazushi shouldn't have intervened. I hope he has learned his lesson."

It wasn't fair, indeed. Miura was punished for trying to help someone, and the true criminal, the person who should have been punished, got away. The case didn't get a proper closure. And the "reward" Miura got for all that trouble was being thrown in a delinquent rehabilitation program in order to "correct" his behavior. Makoto was getting more and more convinced that Miura didn't belong in a rehabilitation program.

Sakura-san continued. "So far, he's been fulfilling his duties diligently, and hasn't caused any problem to me. Actually, he's been of great help to the shop. He got involved in some trouble at school, still normal considering that the place's full of troublemakers. His grades at the exams were pretty good, too. He seems to be a good kid, and to have his head in the right place. I'm willing to trust him as long as he doesn't give me a reason not to."

"From our interactions, I also believe Miura is a good person," Makoto said. "I talked to one of his classmates and she told me that he behaves well in class. I also helped him with some Math equations, and he seemed to be dedicated to his studies."

"Yeah, but this is not all. Everything looks well on the surface, but I have this feeling that something's up with him." Sakura-san said gravely. "One thing that worries me is that his parents told me they had been distant towards him for practically his whole life, and that Kazushi seems to have gone through a lot on his own. This might've had a negative impact on his development as a person. He might be behaving well now that life in Tokyo is still new to him, but I worry that his bitter side shows and he begins behaving badly once he gets used to his routine."

Makoto nodded in understanding. This was possible, and worrying. Miura always looked calm, and was so hard to read. Just by looking at his face, it was impossible to tell that he had gone through any of those things they were discussing. Makoto felt bad for him. Why hadn't he ever mentioned any of that?

"I'm glad to know that he has someone like you to cheer him on," Sakura-san said.

"I'm glad that I can help him, too." Makoto smiled. The more she learned about Miura, the more she wanted to support him.

Then, Miura returned.

"Welcome back. You have a visitor." Sakura-san cut right to the chase.

"Oh, Niijima-san..."

Was it just her, or was Miura a bit uneasy to see her there?

She attempted a friendly smile anyway. "Hi, Miura."

"Uh, sorry, but could you wait a bit more? I have to leave the bag in my room and open the door for Morgana."

"No problem."

Miura left for his room.

"Morgana. Poor thing, forced to be locked while Kazushi is away." Sakura-san commented. "Still, that kitty's very attached to him. At least Kazushi's taking care to not let him cause trouble in the shop. Well, I have work to take care of. I'll leave both of you to talk alone." And Sakura-san walked away.

Makoto walked over to an empty table and sat down on a chair.

When Miura returned, Morgana came trailing behind him. Miura sat down on a chair across from Makoto, and Morgana jumped up on the chair to his side.

"Uh, so...?" Miura looked at Makoto inquisitively.

"About your school assignment. I have two pieces of news for you. One bad and one good. The bad one is that the story about someone borrowing that book was a lie. The boy from the Library Committee told me. You know, the boy who received the book when you handed it back. He said he had bumped into you once, and you had helped him pick his materials up from the ground."

Recognition flashed behind Miura's glasses. "Oh. Yeah, I remember."

"He said that he has nothing against you and that he would have lent you the book, but they have orders from the Principal to not let anyone in the rehabilitation program take any book out of the school's premises, by fear that they'll steal the books or something." Makoto was curious to see how Miura would react.

"Huh?" Miura deadpanned for a second, then... snickered. "Uh, this is... ridiculous."

"Huh?" Makoto shot him an incredulous look. Out of all things he could have said... ridiculous?

"I get that they want to preserve their property, and are going by that saying, 'better safe than sorry...' but if a book disappears in someone's hand, shouldn't they just have the person pay for a new one? This is how libraries normally work, right?" Miura made an exasperated face, then placed a hand on his forehead. "I mean, come on... this is really stupid. Unless the books are some special out of print antique stuff, which I don't think most of their books are." Miura took a deep breath. "Alright. And the good news is...?"

"The good news is that, since I'm not in the rehabilitation program, they let me borrow it." Makoto took the book out of her school bag and placed it on the table in front of them. "Now you can finish your assignment."

"S-seriously? You went out of your way to borrow it for me?" Miura's eyes widened. "Wow. Thanks..."

"You're welcome." Makoto smiled at him. "I'm glad to have helped. I borrowed it for two days. You can hand it back to me tomorrow or the day after at school."


Makoto still wanted to talk to him. "Miura, can we talk a bit more?"

He hesitated. Once again, Makoto had that impression that Miura was trying to avoid her, but he eventually agreed.

"... Okay. I'll be back in a bit." Miura stood up and took the book away, with Morgana trailing behind him. He disappeared into the hallway leading to his room, then reappeared without the book and entered the kitchen.

Makoto wondered what he was doing when he reappeared and asked her to wait a bit more. A few minutes later, Miura came bringing a mug of coffee and handed it to Sakura-san. Then, he went to the kitchen again and returned with two more mugs of coffee.

"Oh, you really made coffee?" Makoto stared at the mug Miura had placed on the table in front of her.

"I had said I would, hadn't I?" He took his seat across from her and took the other mug for himself.

"Yes, you had." Makoto took a sip of her coffee. "This is good."

"I had said this, too."

"Hahahaha! Show off!"

"Uh..." Miura shuffled nervously and went back to his timid self. Makoto found his behavior quite funny. However, she couldn't deny it. Now, Miura was trying to impress her for sure.

They silently stared at each other and drank their coffee, until Miura broke the silence. "So, what is it that you want to talk about?"

There were so many things Makoto wanted to talk to him about. Why he hadn't told anyone about his problems at school, what she had discussed with Sakura-san earlier, and... the issue whether Miura had any romantic feelings for her or not. Makoto enjoyed his company. He was nice, dedicated and responsible. She saw huge potential in him, and wanted to support him in any way she could, but...

From the corner of her eye, Makoto caught sight of Sakura-san at a good spot to listen in, and she chose one of the subjects at last. "Miura, I was talking to Sakura-san before you arrived. He's pretty worried about you. I mentioned the way people treat you at school, and he said you had never told him about that. You haven't told anyone about it, have you?"


"All you ever told me was about the teachers picking you to answer questions in front of the class. If I hadn't seen the incident at the infirmary yesterday or what happened at the library today, I wouldn't have even known! Why, Miura? Why didn't you tell anyone about any of this!?"

Miura let out a bitter chuckle. "To tell the truth, telling this kind of stuff to others doesn't even cross my mind anymore."

"But why?!"

"If you hadn't seen what happened, and I had tried to tell you, would you have believed me? I don't think so. The stuff that happens to me is so absurd that it's hard for anyone to believe."

Indeed, Makoto probably wouldn't have believed it if she hadn't seen what happened with her own eyes. The treatment Miura got at school was really unfair.

Miura took a sip of his coffee and sighed. "And it's not something recent. It's always been like this. From the time I was a child, no one ever listened to me whenever I tried to tell them about my problems. All they ever did was say that I was giving excuses or making stuff up. So, I stopped trying."

Makoto also sipped her coffee. "You said that your parents used to scold you a lot. Why? Did you behave badly?"

"No, but everyone thought I did. Not much different from now, really."

"I want to know more." Makoto tried to make him talk.

However, he refused. "It's not worth hearing about."

Makoto wouldn't give up so easily, though. "Miura, if you haven't told anyone about your problems, then you must have a lot of things bottled up. I'm willing to listen. About your childhood, your parents, your past. Tell me."

"I've had enough of remembering my past, and don't like to talk about it." Miura insisted. "If I were to talk about it, it'd sound as though I were whining and trying to get people to pity me, and I don't want that."

Makoto drank the last of her coffee and practically slammed the mug on the table. "But I want to know! Look, I can see that you might be trying to appear strong to others, and I know you are strong. But having so many things bottled up is bad for you! You said you stopped telling others about your problems because no one would listen. This was the issue, wasn't it? I'm saying that I'm willing to listen. So, tell me."

Kazushi was at an impasse. Should he tell her?

The memory of his interaction with Niijima-san at the last Dark Hour rushed back to his mind.

"Joker, you have a lot of qualities that I admire," She had said. "You are very intelligent, skilled, strong, confident, and a good leader. These are qualities that should still hold true no matter if you're wearing a mask or not. Regardless of who you are or what you look like, I feel that I'll continue to like you."

Kazushi had felt moved by her confession, although he wondered whether she would still like him once she learned the truth and her fascination ended.

"J-Joker, I only w-wish your good." Came the memory of Niijima-san in tears while she hugged him and implored to him. "... Joker, w-what's your problem? Tell me, a-and I'll help you think up a solution."

"We are friends, aren't we?" Niijima-san pulled him out of his thoughts. "I trust you, Miura. You can tell me anything."

Yes, they were friends, or so Kazushi believed. He hoped that they could continue being friends after Niijima-san learned the truth. She was a good person. Kazushi wished he could really trust her and tell her anything...

Miura had also finished his coffee. He closed his eyes and remained stubbornly silent. When Makoto thought he wouldn't talk anymore, his eyes shot open, and he began speaking. "... Alright. I'll tell you. Uh... where to begin? Um, okay. The time when I was in elementary school. Back then I was bullied a lot."

"Bullied?" One more detail about his life that Makoto hadn't known. She decided to tell him about herself to see if it encouraged him to talk more. "I was bullied sometimes at the previous schools. But as soon as I reported it to the teachers, the bullying stopped."

Miura sighed. "Good for you. I've never had much luck with teachers. In elementary school, that 'technique' never worked for me. The bullies always managed to make it look like I was the one who started it. To make things worse, many of them kept flattering the teachers to win their favors. The teachers always believed them, and I always got blamed. The teachers began spreading those bullies' lies among themselves, until it got to the point all teachers were viewing me as a 'problem student.' So yeah, it's already an old nickname to me," Miura said sarcastically. "Because of this, everyone at school avoided me, and I had no friends. My parents didn't help at all, either. They only believed what the teachers said, and never listened to me."

Makoto was feeling bad for him already.

"Sometimes when I got fed up with enduring the bullying, I couldn't stand it and hit the bullies." Miura admitted. "Of course it didn't end well for me, and both the teachers and my parents scolded me for violent behavior. Other times the bullies hit me for no reason whatsoever, and I didn't react at all, because I knew that I'd get in trouble if I were to use violence against them, but it was no use, either. The fact that I came back from school with bruises was enough for my parents to yell at me for getting in a fight. They always yelled at me and didn't so much as give me chance to explain what happened."

That was so unfair. Miura had been very unlucky, and had been suffering injustice since his childhood. Makoto was holding herself to keep from standing up and pulling him into a hug in front of the cafe's customers.

Miura saw Makoto's pained expression. "You don't look too well. I'll stop here."

"No, no way. Continue." She insisted.

Miura took a deep breath, as though considering what to say next. "Only in the last year of elementary school, I met a teacher who viewed me for who I was. She was a nice person and a great teacher, and the only one in the whole school who supported me. But I graduated elementary school, and lost contact with her. I enrolled in a different school in middle school, where thankfully I wasn't looked down on by everyone. By then, I already knew the bullies' usual tricks, could already tell who might be bullies, and managed to avoid them. I took care to not stand out, and had the most peaceful school years of my life. But the bad side of not standing out was that I was only one more person in the crowd, and didn't get to become close to anyone. So, still no friends. My parents didn't yell at me as much during those years, but they were still very restrictive and didn't let me go anywhere or do anything except study. They never gave me anything other than books, because they insisted that studying was important for my future career, whatever they meant by that."

"I had some people I used to hang out with in elementary school." Makoto decided to share a bit more info about herself. "But after I moved on to middle school, I lost contact with them. After that, it became harder to maintain the highest grades. I began prioritizing my academics over everything else, and didn't get to become close to anyone, either. At least the adults still encouraged me and gave me a certain degree of freedom as long as I got top results."

"Ugh. At least people recognize your efforts if you get top grades..." Miura sounded a bit bitter. "When I got low grades, my parents yelled at me. When I got great grades, they did nothing, as though I were only doing what was expected of me. When I got average grades, they seemed a bit disappointed but otherwise didn't complain, as though they had decided to accept that life wasn't perfect. They had never supported me. They never gave me any words of encouragement, and never praised me when I got good results. They never recognized my efforts. All they ever did was badmouth me to the neighbors saying what a 'troublemaker' I was. Then I concluded I was only stressing myself and wouldn't ever meet their expectations, and gave up on trying to please them. Even now, I still have no idea what exactly they had expected of me..."

This was sad. Makoto saw it now. This must have been the reason why Miura had seemed so distant that morning while she talked about using people's expectations as goals, and getting motivated from their words of encouragement. Miura had had no one to tell his problems to, no support, and no encouragement whatsoever.

Miura went on. "My parents barely gave me enough money to buy lunch, and when I wanted to buy anything else, I had to save up by not having lunch. Compared to that, having burned dumplings for breakfast is still way better."

Makoto looked at him with sympathy. "Was your family poor?"

"I wouldn't say my family was poor, but they had this obsession about saving up money. After my detention, I almost lost it. They began lecturing me again, and I snapped. I shouted at them, and said everything I should and shouldn't have said to their face, including all these things I'm telling you now. Only then they told me they were saving up to pay my college expenses, and to open a department store for me to start a business in the future or something. It turns out that they had had plans for me all along, yet had never mentioned a single word about those to me. During all those years, they had only seen the 'ideal' image of me that they had created in their heads, and had never paid attention to the real me."

"Whoa. This is so... messed up." Makoto couldn't find a better expression to define the issue.

"Weird, isn't it? Department stores, go figure... there's a Junes branch near home, and my parents had always been crazy about that store for some reason that I had never understood. This explains it then. They wanted a department store? They should open one themselves, not force it on me. I never took any interest in that. It's frustrating. People don't have the will to do things themselves, and place high expectations about those things onto their children. Sometimes we don't even know what they're expecting of us, and sometimes not even they know what they want..." Miura took a deep breath before continuing. "Anyway, after our argument, thankfully my parents opened their eyes. We're on good terms now, and they finally started to see me as who I really am. Too bad we only began getting along right when I was forced to move to Tokyo..."

Sakura-san stopped pretending he was looking at the turned-on TV. "You're a complicated kid, Kazushi. I heard everything."

"Oh, Sojiro-san. Yeah, I could tell. This saves me from having to repeat all of this one more time. Uh, two more times...?" Miura awkwardly glanced at Morgana, who had been looking sadly at him from the next chair.

Miura stood up and took their empty mugs away.

Makoto was both shocked and amazed. She would have never been able to imagine Miura had gone through all those things. It was as though he had been born under an extremely unlucky star. Still, he had his head in the right place after all of that. Miura had never gotten support or encouragement, and no one recognized his efforts even now. He had never had anyone to talk about his problems to, and was forced to endure everything all by himself. Makoto was determined to cheer him on and give him moral support. He really needed it.

Makoto stood up and walked over to the chair where Morgana lay lazily. "Miura has gone through a lot, huh?" She said as she gently petted Morgana. "He's been hanging on firmly all by himself this whole time... most people treat him horribly at school, and he doesn't have much support from anyone. He really needs friends by his side. Good thing that he has you, right?"

Morgana slowly raised his head. He blinked several times to hide the tears that began forming in his eyes. Then, he jumped from the chair and scrambled after Miura.

"Kazushi..." Morgana came running into the kitchen. He tapped on Kazushi's leg and spoke in a hushed tone. "Kazushi... can we talk?"

Kazushi finished washing the empty mugs and crouched down to regard Morgana. "What is it?"

Morgana looked around awkwardly. "Uh... not here..."

"Hm? Okay." Kazushi stood up and walked with Morgana to his room, and closed the door. "So?"

"All the stuff you said a while ago. I didn't know any of that!" Morgana's tone was accusing.

"Yeah, almost no one knows."

"You were so unlucky, and went through so much crap!"

Kazushi sighed. "Sorry for ruining the 'cool' image that you for some reason had of me, but this is the truth."

"No." Morgana shook his head. "No, no, no. Kazushi, you're really amazing!" Morgana spoke with admiring and watery eyes. "Despite all the crap you went through, you're still standing strong, with your head high! And now you fight for the justice you couldn't get before. This is true manliness! You're awesome! My intuition didn't deceive me. I don't regret siding with you one bit. You're the best role model that I could ever get! Leader, you're the coolest Phantom Thief ever!"

Kazushi was getting flustered with all the flattery. "Uh... you're exaggerating, Morgana. Ah!" He gasped as Morgana tackled him to a sitting position on the ground and climbed onto his lap.

"Oh, Leader! I don't care what you say. That story only made me want to follow your progress as a Phantom Thief even more!" Morgana's eyes glinted in admiration. "Before I ran into you guys, I had also been alone for as back as I can remember. The others are nice, even though Ryuji can be annoying sometimes. Being locked up in this room while you're away is boring. But to tell the truth, I can't imagine going back to the way I lived before I met all of you."

"Hmm. So, basically, you're saying that we're important to you, right?"

"Y-yeah, I think so! If I can't stay with you all, I have no memories, no place, and no one..." Morgana made a pleading face. "So... Kazushi, please, don't abandon me! Let me keep hanging around you guys. I'll do my best. Please...!"

"Hey, no one said anything about abandoning you."

"... Huh?" Morgana gaped.

"I never said anything like that. It's just you who's been assuming things all along."

"Huh? So, you... you w-weren't...?" Morgana was stunned for a moment. "You made me think...!" He tried to look angry.

Kazushi smiled slightly. "You might be annoying sometimes, but you're one among the only friends I have. Even if you don't find out your origins, I'll still keep you around."

Morgana made an offended face. "Hey! What's this about me not finding my origins! You agreed to help me! We made a deal!"

"Ha ha ha." Kazushi laughed at Morgana's reaction. "Of course I'll help you. I'm just saying that I'll still keep you around even in the worst case scenario. You should be thankful for this."

"Aaaaah!" Tears formed in Morgana's eyes, and he kept trying to suppress them. "No, no, I'm not crying! Men don't cry...!"

"Of course they do." Kazushi gently scratched behind the not-cat's ears.

"Aaaaah! ... Stop! Kazushiiiii!" Morgana made a face as he shut his eyes and tried to suppress his tears.

Kazushi chuckled. He gently placed Morgana on the ground and stood up. Let's go back. Niijima-san is probably still waiting.

"Be honest... sniff." Morgana tried to recompose himself. "After you hugged her yesterday and all, you can't deny it. You like her."

"You were watching!? ... Ah, whatever..." Instead of looking annoyed, though, Kazushi just sighed and shrugged.

Makoto was glad that Miura had opened up to her. The nagging question surfaced again. Did he like her in a romantic way? Was this what led him to open up to her? Since he had opened up to her, should she also open up to him and tell him about her Dark Hour affairs and the mess she was getting herself into?

Miura and Morgana appeared from the back of the store, and Morgana scampered to a corner.

"Miura." Makoto called out to him. "You said that you stopped telling others about your problems. I'm glad that you trusted me enough to open up to me. Before that first day when you helped me, I had labeled you by what the rumors said, and could've never imagined what kind of person you were. You're nothing like those rumors say. You're responsible, and very determined despite everything you went through. Miura, you have my respect."

"Uh... thanks." He responded shyly. It looked as though he weren't used to getting compliments. Judging from his story and considering that people rarely recognized his efforts, he probably wasn't.

"Miura, there's something I've been meaning to ask." Makoto hesitated, both because it was an awkward question, and because she was afraid of his reply. "... What do you think of me?"

"H-huh?" Miura blinked, and assumed a defensive posture.

"I said what I think of you. Now I want to know what you think of me." Makoto tried to encourage him. "Please, be honest with me. E-even if you think a lot of bad things about me, tell me. I don't mind. Okay, I actually mind a little, but..."

Miura chuckled, but didn't reply right away. Makoto held her breath, more afraid of his response by the second.

Miura finally spoke. "... You're smart, responsible, and has a strong sense of justice. At first, I had thought that most students admired and respected you for these qualities, but it looks like I was wrong... I had thought that you got along with others easier, and was surprised when you told me that teachers pressure you, and students either envy you, or avoid you because you tend to explode easily. Ah, your explosiveness is a negative aspect, but I'm sure you know this."

Makoto let out the breath she had been holding. "Ah, for a moment I thought you'd say that I'm too nagging and a jerk and a lot of other things..."

"You outright assume a lot of stuff, then go overboard with it. That's also a negative aspect, by the way."

Makoto recalled the various times she suspected Miura of things she assumed outright with no evidence, like thinking he didn't want her help with homework because he was going to neglect it, or that he was filling his homework with garbage just to finish it quickly, or... that he had had inappropriate thoughts when she accidentally barged into his room. And just now, she assumed Miura would say a lot of bad things about her. Indeed, Makoto tended to assume things a lot, and more often than not, the truth turned out to be completely different from what she had been thinking, and she ended up feeling stupid afterwards.

"Ha ha ha." Makoto laughed. "You're odd, Miura." And she realized her wording was also odd. "Uh, I don't mean it in a bad way. I asked what you thought of me, and I was surprised that the first things you brought up were my intellectual qualities. Most boys at school only seem to care about my looks. You're really different."

"Is that so?" Miura asked innocently.

"Yes." Makoto nodded. "Come to think of it, you've yet to comment anything about my appearance."

"Huh?" Miura tilted his head slightly."... You actually want me to comment about it?"

It was awkward, but Makoto had to admit that she was curious to know his opinion. "Go on."

"O-of course you're cute. It goes without saying. But..."

Makoto started blushing, but wariness kicked in once Miura seemed about to point out negative aspects. "... But what?"

Miura hesitated. "Most times when I look at you, you're either angry, or worried, or sad... a-and this bothers me a little."

His words touched her. Miura was worried about her for sure. If Makoto were to tell him what she had been doing during the Dark Hour, he would get even more worried! He already had too many problems to worry about as it was. He shouldn't waste his time worrying about her... no, wait. This meant that he cared about her, maybe more than she had imagined. Either because she was one of the few people who gave him proper attention... or because he liked her, or both. If it turned out that he liked her, what should she do?

A stifled sigh from Miura made Makoto realize that she was doing a worried face again. She forced a smile. "Sorry Miura. You were worried about me, and even went out of your way to spend the Sunday with me to cheer me up. Things weren't as simple as I had thought. A lot has been happening these last few days, and I still have many thoughts to sort through. I'm sorry if it looks like your efforts to cheer me up were wasted. They weren't wasted, okay? I really appreciate what you did for me."

"I also appreciate what you've been doing for me. The Math stuff, the intervention at the infirmary, and borrowing the book." Miura seemed to have trouble looking straight at her. "Though I'm sure that seeing all of that stuff only gave you more to worry about. Considering my luck, that kind of stuff will continue happening. And you'll see it a lot if you keep hanging around me."

"I don't mind." Makoto smiled warmly at him. The treatment Miura had been getting at school was totally unwarranted. As the Student Council President, Makoto felt she should do anything she could to debunk those rumors about him. "You should consider yourself lucky to have me here. I'll gladly use my Student Council President powers to help you."

"I guess you like to boast your title for a reason, huh? Alright, I won't complain anymore." Miura's expression relaxed, and the gentle smile that formed on his face was a nice sight. "By the way, I'll finish my notes today, and hand you the book back tomorrow."

"Okay. I'll leave you to do your assignment, then. Ah, and thank you for the coffee."

"Oh, I had already forgotten about that..."

Makoto left the cafe. During her walk home, she kept thinking about Miura. With everything that had happened to him, it was amazing how he still had his head in the right place. Makoto recalled his soft smile from earlier, and felt she had figured why Miura's smiles were so rare. From his story, one thing was apparent. Miura had never had much to smile about. Makoto was determined to help fix his reputation at school, and this would hopefully give him more reasons to smile.

Chapter Text

Makoto went inside her home after her martial training.

"Joker..." Makoto whispered the Phantom's code name as she recalled how he had hugged her so caringly and had gone as far as to wipe her tears off.

Joker had said he would contact her once he determined the group's next target. Makoto quickly checked the email app on her cellphone, but there were no new messages. She considered writing something to him, but she recalled that their interaction during that last exploration day hadn't ended in a good note. He hadn't even wished her good night! Was he angry because she was adamant about not joining his group in their methods?

Makoto had the feeling that Joker really had taken an interest in her. However, this might be a bad thing. Now he was intent on dragging her over to the crime path. He threatened to seek her and take her by force if she didn't show up for their next crime. He might be manipulative, or possessive, or maybe even use violence if she didn't do as he wanted. Makoto was getting scared thinking what Joker might do to her. This is what she gets for falling in love with a dangerous criminal. What a mess she had gotten herself into...

When she was passing through the living room, Sae called out to her. "Makoto."

"Oh, Sis, you're back."

Sae took reluctant steps towards her. "Makoto, uh, I have something for you."

"For me?" Makoto took the envelope Sae handed to her. "What is this?"

"Just a present as thanks for the dinner yesterday." Sae seemed uncharacteristically nervous. "Well, in fact, it was something one of my departments clients gave me as thanks for solving his case... and it happened to come right when I was thinking of giving you a little something. So, there you have it."

"Uh, thank you..." Makoto inspected the envelope's contents. It was a pair of tickets... to watch the performance of some idol called Risette the following afternoon. Well, not really "some idol." That idol was quite famous, but Makoto had never paid much attention to the girls performances. Idols dancing and singing weren't really her style.

"Our client said he would need to travel and wouldn't be able to attend the event, and gave me the tickets. I don't even know whether it's of your interest or not... ah, I haven't been really paying attention to your interests, have I?" Sae admitted, a bit ashamed. "Well, you have been studying hard. You deserve some rest, and some different activity to entertain yourself with for a change."

"You're always working so hard. The same goes for you."

"Yes, I suppose..." Sae awkwardly fiddled with her hair. "Actually, I was planning to go with you, but something important came up at work, and I won't be able to. So... um, just invite a friend along or something. I hope you'll have an enjoyable day."

"Ah... okay." Makoto nodded awkwardly. "Thank you."

Makoto left to her bedroom and took the envelope with her.

Sae really wasn't giving Makoto much attention. She had suggested taking a friend along, unaware that Makoto was actually short on friends. Sae was always so busy with work. Makoto didn't want to bother her, and didn't tell her much of what went on at school. In the end, Makoto realized that Miura wasn't the only one who avoided telling others about his problems.

"Miura..." Makoto uttered his last name. "He's my only friend right now... should I invite him? Is he even into idol performances to begin with? ... No, wait!" Makoto got alarmed. "Ah! It'll be weird! If I invite him to something like this, he might get the wrong idea and think it's a date! ... Or maybe not. He seems to think differently than most people."

Makoto put the envelope away and decided to focus on something else.


However, even in her dreams that night, Makoto was mulling over what to do with the envelope.

"What are you so unsure about? If you're going to invite someone, then you should simply invite Joker."

"Huh?" Makoto startled at the sudden feminine voice. She tried to open her eyes and look around, but her eyes refused to open. However, that suggestion... "Invite Joker...?" That hadn't so much as crossed her mind.

"You have a pair of tickets. It's a perfect opportunity for a date!" Whoever it was, the person sounded sure of herself. "Even if he doesn't like idol performances, it's a nice excuse to go out with you. Most boys would jump on that right away, regardless of whether they like idol performances or not. Right?"

The voice was firm. Makoto also thought that the voice sounded familiar, but she couldn't place it. Even though she couldn't open her eyes and see who the voice belonged to, she was tempted to trust it. She entertained the suggestion for a bit, but concluded it wouldn't work."Uh, he wouldn't come, though. He doesn't want to show me his identity."

The voice chuckled with satisfaction. "He's manipulative? Very well! Manipulate him, too! Tell him that you thought a lot and decided to trust him and accept his group's actions. If he trusts you, he won't see the need to hide his identity anymore. Then, you tell him about the opportunity to watch a famous idol's performance, and ask him out. Then you'll have not only taken him on a date, but also uncovered his identity, just as you had wanted!"

"Hmm." Makoto wouldn't normally follow such a manipulative suggestion, but the confident way the person argued tempted her. "But there's a problem. This can work only if he trusts me. Joker isn't stupid. He wouldn't fall to an excuse like this one."

"Ha. I bet he would." The other person was still confident. "It's obvious that he's interested in you. And this interest might be his weakness. Remember last Sunday? You merely wrote an email saying that you liked him, and he promptly agreed to come to talk to you in person during the Dark Hour. You can make him slip and do this kind of silly things if you try. You just need a bit more courage."

Makoto tried to come up with a response and continue the conversation, but her mind became foggy, she got unable to think straight, and unconsciousness took over.


Makoto took the train to go to school, and this time Miura wasn't there to keep her company. During the ride, she kept thinking about her dream from last night. Inviting Joker to the event. It sounded like a nice idea in theory, but she doubted it would work in practice, despite all the arguments in its favor.

Makoto arrived at school. When she was heading to her classroom, Miura stopped her.

"Niijima-san, good morning."

Makoto smiled. Miura had started the interaction for once! Was this a sign that he began to trust her more after that talk yesterday? "Good morning!" She greeted him back.

"I finished my draft. I'll hand you back the book now."

Makoto's gaze fell. Maybe she was wrong, and Miura only approached her because he needed to give her the book back!

Miura noticed her expression change. "... What's wrong?"

"Uh, nothing." Makoto quickly shook her head. "I hope your assignment is coming along nicely."

"Yeah, it is." Miura took the book out of his bag and handed it to her. "Thanks. It was of great help."

Makoto took the book. "When you finish your assignment, can you show it to me?" She quickly tried to justify herself. "Ah, not that I want to nitpick on your work or anything. I'm just curious to read it."

Miura nodded, and Makoto couldn't tell if he believed her justification, or if he was annoyed and only wanted to brush her justification off.

They parted ways. Makoto dropped by the library to turn the book back in, and headed to class.

Even during classes, many students were talking about Risette's live event that would happen later that day, and kept reminding Makoto of the envelope with the tickets. Makoto came to a decision. She would invite Miura. He had been going through a lot, and Makoto thought he should have some fun... well, she didn't know whether they would find Risette's event fun, but going somewhere different once in a while might do him some good. Makoto would explain her situation, and how Sae suggested inviting a friend. This way, there should be no misunderstanding.

When lunch break started, Makoto went to the courtyard and tried to locate Miura. Fortunately, her search didn't take long. Ryuji Sakamoto seemed to be bothering him, though. And surprisingly, the subject seemed to be Risette.

"What do you think of Risette?" Sakamoto asked.


"Huh?!" Sakamoto nearly shouted. "What do you mean by that?! ... Wait, don't tell me you don't know who Risette is!"

"I know who she is, and that she's famous," Miura said in his own defense. "That idol who also does some commercials and movies and stuff. I've never paid attention to her works, though. I've only seen her singing in passing, like while flipping through channels, and that's about it. This is why I have no opinion of her."

"No opinion? But you can't deny that she's cute, right?" Sakamoto kept nagging Miura.

Miura did a quiet and hesitant affirmative sound.

Sakamoto's demeanor changed, and his eyes sparkled with excitement. "It's amazing. She's been an idol ever since she was a kid. There are some comparison pictures from around five years ago, but she doesn't look like she's aged much, and is still as cute as ever!"

"I see that you're a hardcore Risette fan..."

"You could say that, haha." Sakamoto chuckled. "Ya know, at first I was also one of those fans that only watched her because she's cute. To tell you the truth, I didn't like her songs at all, and thought her voice was kinda annoying. Then she announced that she'd be quitting. But later she came back! And the style of her songs changed quite a lot. A small bit of trivia. She's admitted that she was pretty bad at English in the past. But now her best hits are songs in English! Cool, isn't it? ... Uh, but this wasn't what I wanted to say. Oh yeah, what changed in her songs. Before, they were those annoying exaggerated cheesy songs. Later she started singing, uh... motivational kinda stuff? Yeah. It's as though something serious happened in her life, but she overcame it and began trying to motivate others. Rather than being just for show, I think watching her singing and dancing lifts people's spirits."

Those were some deep words coming from Sakamoto once again. Maybe he actually let out more deep words than Makoto had thought.

"Aaaaand she'll be doing a live performance here in Tokyo today!" Sakamoto's voice raised suddenly and startled Makoto. "You at least know this, right?"

Miura nodded. "It's the only thing the other students seem to be talking about today."

"And of course, I'll be going!"

"Hm." Miura didn't show any interest.

"Grrr!" Sakamoto glared at Miura, seemingly ready to pick a fight. "What's with that lack of enthusiasm?!"

Miura didn't falter, and still kept composed enough to respond. "Sorry. Since I don't know much about her work, the subject doesn't mean much to me. I think only other fans can understand your enthusiasm..."

Sakamoto sighed and broke his angry glare. "Ah, you may be right. Maybe if you begin to pay attention to Risette's work... her live event was announced only a few days ago, and there was little time to buy tickets. If you still find tickets available, I recommend you go too! Then maybe you'll understand what I meant!"

Sakamoto left, and Makoto found that conversation quite strange. It even seemed like Miura and Sakamoto actually got along.

"Miura." She approached him. "I saw that you were having quite the talk with Sakamoto right now."

"He was the one doing most of the talking, but yeah." Miura remarked.

"Do you actually get along with him?"

Miura hesitated for a second. "In the beginning, I thought he'd bully me. But stuff happened, he picked a fight with someone and I ended up stopping him before it could get serious, then we began talking. He loses his cool easily, but he can keep civil enough if you learn to deal with him."

"I've run into him a couple times these last few days, and we talked a bit. He outright admitted having picked a fight against those bullies from 2-C as though he hadn't done anything wrong! Aside from that, he behaved well enough." Makoto paused and changed the subject. "Uh, by the way... yesterday, my sister gave me a present as thanks for the fried tofu. I wasn't expecting that."


"Sis rarely gives me presents. So, on one hand, I was happy, but on the other hand, I feel a bit lost, because the present turned out to be a pair of tickets to see Risette's live event. I also don't know much about Risette, and am not much into idol performances. This isn't an event I'd normally choose to go, but Sis gave me the ticket... well, she said she actually got the ticket from a client, which means that it wasn't her choice, either. But she gave it to me and said she hopes I'll have fun. She rarely lets her feelings show, and I don't want to have her feelings wasted!"

"If you think it's so important to you, then you should go."

That wasn't the real point Makoto wanted to address, though. "Yes, I plan on going. Actually, Sis was intending to go with me, but important work has come up and she can't go. So, she suggested that I invite a friend..." Alright. The explanation was done. No misunderstandings. However, Makoto still hesitated anyway. "... Miura, would you come with me?"

"Huh...?" Miura was taken aback by that question out of the blue. "... Me?"

"Uh, well, Sis suggested that I invite a friend. We are friends, so..." Makoto made sure to emphasize the "friends" point once more.

Silence. Miura seemed hesitant to reply.

Makoto fidgeted. "If you can't, o-or if you don't want to, it's fine..."

"Uh, that's not it..." Miura said. "This is too sudden. And it sounds like your sister's present is very special to you. Are you really okay with giving that second ticket to me?"

Makoto chuckled. "Miura, you sure consider some weird things. I wouldn't be inviting you if I weren't okay with it!"

"Hm. If you say so..."

Makoto didn't so much as realize that her face had lit up. "Then, you're coming?"

"Y-yeah." Miura nodded hesitantly. "I mean, we've got tickets, so why not?"

"It's settled, then!"

And they agreed to meet after school.

Once Makoto arrived home, she left her school bag in her room, took the tickets and left again. She waited for Miura at their agreed meeting place.

He arrived. "I hope I haven't made you wait too much. I had to struggle with Morgana some more when he found out I'd be leaving again."

Makoto checked the time on her cellphone. "No, I guess I'm the one who arrived too early. Shall we go, then?"

Makoto took the lead and Miura trailed after her.

Meanwhile, Goro Akechi was waiting in an empty room at the theater where the event would happen. He was working for the TV, and as part of the program where he discussed his case theories, he was asked to interview Rise Kujikawa, also known as Risette.

A man from the staff brought the idol to the room. Goro stood up and approached her.

"Hello, Kujikawa-san." He flashed a friendly smile. "First of all, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Goro Akechi."

"Ah, I know. The high school detective, right? I've watched your TV show a couple of times. It was interesting."

"Wow, really? What a honor!" He smiled cheerfully, then slipped back into interviewer mode. "Well, since we don't need introductions, let's get this interview started."

He mostly asked her standard questions such as her thoughts about performing in Tokyo. At the end of the interview, he brought up an unusual question.

"Alright then. This is the last question. Kujikawa-san, I don't know if you've been having time to keep up with social networks lately, but there are rumors flying around saying that the Phantom Thieves might strike during your performance. Aren't you scared?"

"No. They only act in the dark of night, from what I've heard. The theater is well-guarded, and the event won't drag until late. I'm not worried. By the way..." She changed the subject. "Akechi-kun, I'm intrigued by your profile. Aside from being a high school student, you not only work for the TV, but also do detective work for the police. To have your fans consider you to be the 'Detective Prince 2.0,' you must be very talented! I'm actually friends with the original 'Detective Prince,' and I'm very curious about you! So, how did you begin? What made you choose to become a detective? What is it like for you to have to balance school life with both TV work and detective work?" She began asking questions nonstop.

Ugh. I was the one supposed to be the interviewer... Goro thought, both annoyed and overwhelmed by the flurry of questions.

Makoto and Miura arrived at the theater where the event would take place. Makoto presented their tickets, and they entered. The place was big and crowded.

"Heya! You made it!" A sudden voice startled Makoto. It's owner revealed to be Sakamoto, who was joined by Takamaki.

"Uh, yeah." Miura responded.

Sakamoto grinned. "And you even dragged the Council President along!"

"Actually, it was the other way around..." Miura uttered awkwardly.

"Hmm." Takamaki raised an eyebrow. "Nice going, Niijima-senpai!"

"... What? No, it's nothing like that!" Like Makoto had feared, they were taking it the wrong way. She felt the need to justify herself. "Um, my sister gave me two tickets as a present, and told me to invite a friend along..." That explanation was already weird in itself, because no one would have imagined that she and Miura, the Student Council President and the problem student, could be friends.

However, Sakamoto and Takamaki didn't seem to care.

Sakamoto looked at Miura. "You won the ticket? Lucky you! I had to buy two. I had to pay for Ann's ticket, too..."

"He said he was so excited to see this event that he'd pay double the price for the ticket, so I said, 'Then, get one for me, too!' And he actually did." Takamaki seemed amused. "He did it because he wanted to, though. I was kidding."

Sakamoto made an embarrassed face. "Huh? ... You were?" Instead of getting angry like Makoto had expected, he shrugged it off. "Ah, whatever! Watching the event with someone should be better than watching it alone, right?"

Takamaki giggled. "He's an idiot, but he can also be quite nice if you give him a chance."

"Hey!" Sakamoto shot her a glare.

Takamaki turned her attention to Makoto and ignored Sakamoto's glare completely. "Niijima-senpai, you said that your sister gave you the tickets. Are you a Risette fan, too?"

"No, I only came because I had the ticket, and figured I might as well see what this event is all about."

"Same here." Surprisingly, Miura gave his input without being asked.

"Hmm." Takamaki looked at him suspiciously. "Are you sure? Did you come because you got a ticket, or because it was Niijima-senpai who invited you?"

"Huh...?" Miura seemed uncomfortable.

"What's going on? Am I missing something?" Sakamoto was curious.

Takamaki shrugged. "Let's just leave these two alone." She turned to Makoto and Miura. "We'll be going to find our seats now. I hope you two will have fun!"

Takamaki and Sakamoto left.

That short interaction bothered Makoto. Takamaki definitely got the wrong idea and kept teasing them! The question that Takamaki asked was disturbing, though.

"Miura, what made you accept my invitation to attend this event?" Makoto asked once they had taken their seats. "You aren't much into idol performances. Yes, I'm not, either, but I had a special reason to come. The tickets were a present from my sister, so, attending the event was important to me. But what about you? What's your reason?"

"Uh, nothing special." He answered. "Sakamoto had just suggested me to come to the event, then right after that, you appeared and offered me a ticket. It was as though everything were conspiring for me to come."

Good. At least Miura didn't seem to have gotten the wrong idea.

"To be honest, I'm kind of relieved that you accepted. I was unsure about coming all by myself. I'd be very uncomfortable and feel out of place among all those Risette fans..."

Then, Makoto heard a familiar voice. "Hey! It's Makoto-san! And Kazushi-kun, too! What a surprise!"

Miura turned to regard the speaker, who had approached them. "Akechi-san...? You and Niijima-san know each other?"

Makoto was equally surprised that Miura had known the detective boy. "Yes, he's working under my sister's supervision, and we run into each other sometimes."

"I know both of you are in the same school, but I had no idea that you had known each other." Akechi-san seemed intrigued. "Are both of you Risette fans?"

"Uh, not really. I guess my sister hasn't told you this, has she?" Makoto would have to explain her situation once again. "I prepared her something special for dinner the other day, then She gave me a pair of tickets as thanks, and told me to invite a friend along. That's all that there is to it."

"Hmm, I see. I didn't take you to be a Risette fan. This explains it then! Though now I'm curious about your cooking, Makoto-san. I wonder if you'd invite me for dinner sometime." Akechi-san threw her a charming smile.

Wariness kicked in immediately. From what she had seen of Akechi-san's interactions with Sae, Makoto could tell that the detective boy was no saint. Just because Makoto showed him a bit of kindness when she bought melon bread the other day, he was already trying to take advantage of her good will! "If Sis decides to invite you, the three of us can have dinner together, sure."

"Ah... hahahaha, sure." The boy's smile fell and he laughed awkwardly.

"So, why are you here?" Miura cut in. "I don't take you to be a Risette fan, either."

"Oh, yes." Akechi-san went back to "professional mode" in a blink. "I'm doing some work for a TV studio. You know, to help my image as an aspiring true detective, build my network of contacts, this kind of thing. The studio asked me to interview both Kujikawa-san... I mean, Risette, and the audience. This is the reason why I approached both of you in the first place. So, mind answering a quick questionnaire?"

Akechi-san proceeded to ask them a few questions such as how familiar they were with Risette's work. Naturally, they answered that they knew next to nothing about it.

"Last but not least, there's this rumor saying that the Phantom Thieves might strike during this event..."

Makoto froze. The Phantom Thieves, at Risette's event! If it were true that they were coming to the event, then Joker would inevitably be present as well! Since Makoto couldn't hide her identity, he would recognize her! Just after she said that she liked him, he would see her accompanied by someone else. If he were to get the wrong idea, it would be bad!

"... What?" Miura asked before Makoto was able to respond.

"Huh?" The high school detective blinked. "You mean you haven't heard the rumor? It's today's trending topic on the main social networks!"

"I'm not on any social network," Miura said. "And all I heard at school was about Risette."

"Wow. Someone that isn't part of any social network at this day and age. How unusual..."

"I-I'm not, either." Makoto finally recovered her speech. "I barely use an email. I don't have much time for computers."

"But you can access social networks from your cellphones, too!" Akechi-san was incredulous.

"Anyway!" Makoto went back to what really mattered. "The rumor about the Phantom Thieves. It can't be true, can it?"

"I also posed this question to Risette. She said she doesn't believe the rumor to be true, because from what she heard, the Phantom Thieves only strike in the dark of night."

Yes. It made sense. They supposedly only acted during the Dark Hour. Makoto was relieved.

"However!" And Akechi-san just had to swat Makoto's relief away. "I believe otherwise. I was about to tell her my theory, but she suddenly began throwing a barrage of questions at me, and I was forced to cut her interview short! Anyway, here's my theory. I believe that they might strike. I've been observing people's reactions to the Phantom Thieves' activities through their website."

"Wait, a website? What is this about a website?" It was the first Makoto had heard of it.

"Yeah, they have a website. Oddly, it somehow manages to be both obscure and popular at the same time," Akechi-san said. "The thing is, it doesn't come up in any search engine. One must know the address in order to access it. People have been sending the link privately on social networks, and this is how it's been spreading. A few people sometimes post it on a public section of the networks, though. The site doesn't appear on search engine results, but you can still find these few public posts with the link if you know what to look for. Social networks again. So, makes sense that you wouldn't have known, huh?"

"What's in their website?" Makoto asked.

"It's called 'The Phantom Thieves Request Channel,' and has an anonymous forum where visitors can suggest the thieves' next targets."

The Phantom Thieves activities were sounding worse by the second. "A site where people suggest to the Phantom Thieves who to rob next! No, this... this is outrageous!"

Akechi-san continued. "It also has a poll asking if visitors believe in the Phantom Thieves' existence or not. The number of believers has been growing quite a lot, which leads to my next point! This poll indicates that they're after popularity. They try to both keep a low profile and still become popular. Strangely enough, they manage to do it. They're stealthy. We don't know what they look like except for the fact that they wear mostly dark clothes and wear masks. And we only know this thanks to the really vague descriptions we got from some of their victims that were interviewed on the news. They act so quickly that their victims barely remember anything about them. And this is their most fascinating 'selling point.' Their mystery. People enjoy mysteries. They are thrilled to access the nearly 'secret' website, and fascinated by the Phantom Thieves themselves. Many attendees of this event who I interviewed said that they aren't even Risette fans, but came here in hope that the Phantom Thieves would strike, which would allow them to get a small glimpse of the thieves. In other words, they are fans of the Phantom Thieves. And they make up around 15% of the audience! Quite impressive for a group of stealthy obscure rogues, isn't it? If it's popularity that they want, then they'll likely do something to meet these fans' expectations one way or another. This is why I believe they might strike."

Makoto was horrified. That crazy theory strangely made sense. Were the Phantom Thieves really taking advantage of Risette's fanbase to get popularity? If so, they were going too far. Makoto definitely didn't approve of this!

No, no, no, no. It was nothing like that. Kazushi was also shocked at Akechi-san's crazy theory. Kazushi wasn't after popularity. In fact, the group's popularity was the one point he and Ryuji disagreed upon. Ryuji wanted to solve a lot of big cases so that the group would become famous and well-recognized. On the other hand, Kazushi would rather have the group keep a low profile. He didn't want the Phantom Thieves to get popular and attract undesired attention. He only intended to find out more about the Dark Hour, and help a few people by solving some cases while he was at it. Yuuki Mishima, their self-appointed public relations manager, was an avid supporter of their cause and also wanted the group to become popular, but he wouldn't do anything drastic without Kazushi's permission... or would he? Kazushi should probably talk to Mishima later. Hopefully, the rumors about them striking at Risette's event wasn't Mishima's doing. If it were, Mishima should have informed them.

"This is absurd..." Kazushi voiced his opinion.

"Yes, and it still manages to be impressive!" Of course, Akechi-san didn't understand the real meaning of Kazushi's statement.

To Kazushi, though, what was more impressive was the ecstatic way how Akechi-san was acting. The detective boy was quite fascinated with the group, and might very well be among those 15% of the audience who somehow became fans of the Phantom Thieves. Kazushi wouldn't comment on it, though.

Niijima-san did, however. "Impressive?! This is a problem, and you shouldn't be this enthusiastic about it!" She entered lecturing mode. "It even looks like you're one among the 15% of the attendees that are their crazy fans!"

Akechi-san looked offended. "No, I'm not their fan! I don't approve what they do at all! I made it my mission to catch them, and I won't stop until I do!"

"Uh, what about the interview?" Kazushi reminded him.

"Ah! Yes!" Akechi-san snapped back to focus... or maybe not. "Hahaha, I got carried away with my theories, and lost precious time! I still have a few more people to interview..."

Niijima-san was losing her patience. "Then stop wasting time whining and carry on with our interview!"

"Ugh." The detective boy flinched slightly. "You're as stern as Sae-san..."

"Akechi-san, please..." Kazushi pressed.

"Ah, right!" Akechi-san checked his scripted questions. "Okay. Now that we're all on the same page, we can move on. Well, the next question is whether you'd be excited if they struck at this event or not, but since neither of you seem to have liked this notion, can I just mark 'no' for both of you?"

"Of course. You didn't even need to ask," Niijima-san said dryly.

"Uh, o-okay." Akechi-san marked the answers. "This was the last question. Uh, thank you for your time!" He flashed a shaky smile and excused himself.

Niijima-san had already been misunderstanding their actions completely before, and now she had bought into Akechi-san's story. Kazushi could tell that it would become even more difficult to make her believe their explanations.

Makoto couldn't stop thinking about the rumor that the Phantom Thieves might strike. If they really did, it would be a problem! Joker had said he would make sure she would come with them for their next crime. What if they caused a commotion? What if they found her and tried to drag her by force in the middle of the event!? Makoto didn't want to have any part in their crime. She couldn't even hide her identity.

Makoto had an idea. Joker had said he would contact her once he decided upon their next target. If the Phantom Thieves' next crime were to be at the event, he should have contacted her. Makoto checked her cellphone. No messages from Joker so far. Would he still contact her? She would have to turn her phone off during the event. What if the Phantom Thieves decided to seek her anyway? What should she do? She had nowhere to hide.

"Uh... Niijima-san, calm down."

"Ah!" Makoto gasped. Only after Miura called out to her, she realized she had been restless on her seat.

"You actually believed the rumor?"

"Huh?" Makoto blinked. "You... didn't?"

"I usually don't believe rumors outright. You know, after hearing all those outrageous rumors that people at school made up about me, I began taking most gossip with a grain of salt. People can say whatever they want. It's hard to know if it's true or not unless we investigate, and it's hard even then..."

Miura was right. Actually, he was the biggest proof Makoto had that many rumors couldn't be trusted. She would never have imagined what kind of person Miura was if she had judged him solely by the rumors, and hadn't spent time with him and gotten to know him better.

"You outright assume a lot of stuff, then go overboard with it. That's also a negative aspect, by the way." Makoto recalled Miura's words from yesterday.

Yes, she shouldn't assume things outright. She should investigate before jumping to conclusions.

"You're right. If I want to know more about the subject of a rumor, I should investigate... but I have no way to investigate this!"

"Then, let's forget about it and just watch the event. Hopefully, nothing will happen."

Miura's words managed to put Makoto at ease. "Yes, hopefully." A chuckle escaped her mouth. "If nothing happens, those 15% of rumor believers will be quite disappointed, though, won't they?"

"Yeah, and Akechi-san will probably be the most disappointed of them all. He seems so proud of his theories." Miura quickly checked the time on his cellphone before turning it off. "Twelve minutes until the event starts. Think he can finish interviewing everyone until then?"

Minutes later, the event began.

"Helooo, everyone! Risette here!" The idol stepped on the stage. "Thank you all for coming! I hope you all will have a great day. If it hasn't been great so far, then let's make it great now! Let's... dance!"

And the first song, appropriately titled, "Dance!" started. The audience was excited in no time. The idol's energetic movements and cheerful singing were contagious, and Makoto began to see why that young woman had so many fans. Risette wasn't afraid of expressing herself, and managed to inspire the viewers with her confidence and cheerfulness. She was good.

The song ended, and applause erupted from the audience.

"Thank you!" Risette smiled brightly and waved to the spectators. Her eyes scanned the audience until she seemed to startle for a second.

"Hey, I think she was looking in this direction!"


"No, she looked at us!"

"No, she was looking at us!"

Frantic comments began coming from people around Makoto and Miura. Makoto didn't pay any mind to the comments, though. What was the deal about having an idol glance in one direction or another? That banter was stupid.

"Now, let's move on to another song. 'Reach Out to The Truth!'"

Risette danced and sang animatedly to the song she announced, followed by "Maze of Life," then "Break Out of..." and finished with "Time to Make History."

Then the event ended, and no sign of the Phantom Thieves, much to Makoto's relief... although she and Miura were forced to endure yet another interview from Akechi-san.

"Satisfaction survey. Sorry, I didn't want to have to do this, either," The detective boy said apologetically. "I suggested doing the questionnaires and said, 'We could ask questions like this, this and that,' and... long story short, they put me in charge of everything, from planning the script and the questions, to interviewing everyone, to presenting the results during the TV show... I'm tired. All I want now is to go home and hit the sack... but I still have to write a report about the questionnaires' results, and read them on air later today." More than tired, though, he mostly looked like he was in a bad mood because his theories about the Phantom Thieves had failed.

"Sis is right. You sure whine a lot." Makoto sighed. Akechi-san was the very opposite of Miura. While Miura avoided telling others about his problems to not appear whiny, Akechi-san seemed to like whining about his life to make others pity him so that he could win their favors.

"You had to do basically everything? Sounds though..." Miura commented.

"Wait, they put you in charge of everything and you accepted doing it all by yourself, just like that? You're a masochist." Makoto remarked.

"Uh, well..." Akechi-san made a disgruntled face.

"You brought this upon yourself. You can't complain." Makoto scolded him.

The detective boy looked hurt. "Ugh, Makoto-san, you're really as strict as Sae-san..."

Makoto cut him off. "Do both yourself and us a favor and begin the questions. The sooner you finish, the better, right?"

"Uh, yes..."

Akechi-san proceeded to ask them whether they enjoyed Risette's performance, and whether it met their expectations. The performance created a cheerful atmosphere in the auditorium, and turned out better than they had expected. Attending the event had been worth it.

The interview ended. Makoto and Miura left the theater. They decided to get something to eat and were on the way to a snack bar. Miura glanced behind, and unexpectedly quickened his pace.

"Huh, Miura?" Makoto scrambled after him.

"I think someone's following us."

"What?" Makoto also took a glance behind, but saw no one.

They quickened their pace anyway, and arrived at the snack bar. They entered and examined the snacks on display.

"Um, excuse me?" A young woman entered the store and approached them. "Sorry for the sudden question, but do either of you know what creatures these are supposed to be?" She showed them small plush keyrings that were hanging from her cellphone. "I've asked a few people, but no luck..."

Something about that woman was familiar, but Makoto couldn't put a finger on it. Those keyrings, though...

Miura's eyes widened. "Those are...!"

Makoto was also stunned. She had seen monsters that looked like those creatures in the Palace. "Shadows... no." Makoto muttered. She was sure she had seen Joker summon a few of those creatures as well. "Personas...?"

"Bingo! My friend made these keyrings. They're definitely based on Personas. And you could tell what they are!" The woman flashed them a familiar bright smile. "I knew it! You are Persona users, aren't you?"

Makoto was taken aback. "Uh, yes... I mean, I have the potential, but didn't awaken to it fully yet..."

"W-wait a minute." Miura backed away slightly, and his already quiet voice came out even quieter. "You're Kujikawa-san, aren't you?"

"Huh?" Now that Miura mentioned it, Makoto also came to the realization. The woman's plain attire was completely different from the colorful one she had worn during the performance. She had also untied her hair, and probably removed makeup. Makoto wouldn't have recognized her anytime soon.

"Yep. I'm Rise Kujikawa, and this is my normal self. Nice to meet you two!"

"I'm Makoto Niijima, the Student Council President of Syujin High School. And this is my friend Kazushi Miura." Makoto introduced them both. "Nice to meet you too, Kujikawa-san. We have to admit, we weren't very familiar with your work before, but your performance today was great! Very uplifting!"

"Oh, thank you! That was the intention. I'm glad you enjoyed it!"

The three of them ordered some snacks and took a seat at a table.

"So, Kujikawa-san... are you a Persona user?" Miura asked.

"Yes, I am. Have you heard of the weird murder incidents that happened in Inaba a few years ago?"

"Hmm..." Miura seemed to be thinking hard. "I don't remember..."

"Uh, I might have heard of it, but I also don't remember," Makoto said.

"The incidents were really weird." Kujikawa-san explained. "People died. Their dead bodies appeared hanging from weird places on a foggy day, with no marks or anything, and the police couldn't even conclude if it was an accident or a murder. It turned out that supernatural things were involved. To make a long story short and less confusing, the culprit forced the victims into a situation where their own Shadows manifested, went berserk, and killed them. Right when I had decided to quit and moved to Inaba, I got caught up in all that mess. I was targeted. I confronted my Shadow, and almost died, too. But a group of Persona users, who later became my friends, saved me. I accepted my Shadow, awakened to my Persona and joined them in investigating the strange murders. We did a lot of detective work. Actually, one of my friends is the original Detective Prince, for crying out loud!" Kujikawa-san sounded proud. "In the end, we managed to catch the culprit and solved the case. Though the supernatural stuff was so crazy that no normal people would believe us, and practically no one knows anything we did..."

"This should be best." Miura nodded.

Their snacks arrived, and they continued talking as they ate.

"I've heard that some weird stuff is happening in Tokyo lately, like people going berserk and attacking others, causing strange car accidents or even dying suddenly," Kujikawa-san said. "Some of my contacts are investigating the cases, and pointed to the Shadows and the return of the Dark Hour. But we can only do so much. We still have too little information about the incidents, and can't operate during this new Dark Hour, either. Our best bet would be to try to find Persona users that can move during this new Dark Hour and are looking into the incidents to ask them for information. During my performance, one time when I glanced at the audience, I briefly sensed Persona powers from both of you. This is why I followed you here. Sorry that it had to be like this, but I wasn't sure how to approach you."

"It's okay," Makoto said. "Though we don't know much, either..."

"Kujikawa-san, you don't stay conscious during the Dark Hour?" Miura sounded surprised.

"Sadly, no. Neither I or any of my friends and contacts stay conscious during it. Said contacts have some equipment that worked during the previous version of the Dark Hour, including two sentient Persona-wielding anti-Shadow robots! But they always shut down just a few seconds into the new Dark Hour. This is how we found out that the dreadful hour had returned. But none of us manage to stay conscious during it. You two stay conscious, right?"

"Yes, we do." Makoto nodded.

"This is strange." Miura observed. "I've heard that only Persona users can resist the Dark Hour's effects and fight Shadows. So, I had thought that having a Persona, or the potential to awaken the Persona, was enough to be able to move during the Dark Hour. If neither you or your friends can, does it mean that having the potential isn't the only requirement?"

"I don't know," Kujikawa-san said. "Maybe you have something that we don't? Did anything strange happen to any of you near the day when you experienced the Dark Hour for the first time?"

"Anything strange?" Makoto grimaced recalling that fateful day. "To me, that was the day when nothing happened according to plan and everything went wrong for me."

"Hmm. To me, it was the day when I arrived in Tokyo." Miura went over what happened that day. "I exited the train station in Shibuya, phoned my parents to tell them I had arrived fine, then...!" His eyes widened. "The cellphone app..."

"Cellphone app?" Kujikawa-san was clueless.

"Yeah. When I ended my call, I saw a weird app on my screen."

"I remember it now!" Makoto took her cellphone. "Since I don't use my cellphone much, it took me a few days to notice it, but I've also gotten a strange app on my phone. When I checked the installation date, it was exactly the day when I awakened to the Dark Hour! Here, this one." Makoto showed the icon on her screen.

Miura glanced at Makoto's phone. "Yeah, it's this app alright."

"Hmm, I've never seen that icon before." Kujikawa-san stared at the icon in wonder. She took her own phone and checked it for any unusual icons. "Nope, I don't have it."

Makoto tried to run the app, but the same error she had gotten the other time greeted her. "Error. No distortions detected. The program cannot execute. Exiting..."

"Ah! During the Dark Hour, it works, though." Miura pointed out.

And Makoto recalled something. Since electronics didn't work during the Dark Hour, she had never tried to use her cellphone during it. However, she had seen the Phantom Thieves... or more specifically, Joker, using it in the Palace to activate the teleporter devices they used as shortcuts. This probably meant that the Phantom Thieves must have the app, too.

"Does it mean that one must both be a potential Persona user and also have the app to be able to operate during the Dark Hour?" Makoto uttered her conclusion.

"Sounds like it. We might be onto something here." Miura seemed pleased about that discovery.

"It makes sense." Kujikawa-san spoke. "Then, unlike the previous time, just having a Persona isn't enough. It's as though only a 'chosen few' have the right to take part in this Dark Hour..."

A "chosen few?" Did it mean that Makoto and Miura had been chosen? And had the Phantom Thieves been chosen, too? If so, who chose them? And for what purpose? The Phantom Thieves were a band of young criminals. Why would someone choose people such as them?

"As for those incidents with people going berserk, do you know anything about them?" Kujikawa-san asked.

Miura's expression darkened. "Yeah. It's when Shadows attack someone that isn't in a coffin. They destroy part of the person's mind or something, and the person goes crazy afterward."

"Oh, so that's how it happens..." Kujikawa-san said contemplatively. "I've heard that in the previous Dark Hour, people attacked by Shadows lost their will to live and got in a vegetative state. The public knew this phenomenon as the 'Apathy Syndrome.' So, it's really different this time around... Kazushi-kun, how did you find this out?"

Miura was still aggravated. "I learned this the hard way. I failed to protect someone on the street. When I got to the scene and took the Shadow out, it was already too late. Then, the following day, one of those berserk incidents happened. I was shocked when I recognized the person's face on the news. I felt horrible..."

"Oh. Sorry. I shouldn't have asked."

"It's fine." Miura tried to recompose himself and put the idol at ease.

Makoto looked at Miura with sympathy. Was this why he had been so determined to protect her during her first Dark Hour?

Makoto changed the subject. "Kujikawa-san, you said that during those incidents in Inaba, the victims' own Shadows manifested and killed them. What do you mean by 'the victims' own Shadows?'"

"Shadows are born from negative emotions." The idol answered. "Everyone should have a Shadow deep inside. A dark part of oneself that's really hard to accept. When people get forced to confront their own Shadows, if they accept their Shadows as part of themselves, their Shadows change form and are reborn as their Personas. But if they reject their dark selves, the Shadows don't take well to being rejected and might kill their owners."

"If we reject our Shadows, they might kill us? This sounds dangerous..." Makoto found it scary.

Miura had a somber look behind his glasses, but said nothing.

The three of them finished their snacks in silence.

They paid their bills. Miura was still at the counter while Makoto and Kujikawa-san waited outside the store.

A question abruptly rushed to Makoto's mind. "Oh, Kujikawa-san, did your group have someone with multiple Personas, by any chance?"

"Oh, yes!" Kujikawa-san clasped her hands, and her eyes sparkled. "He was our leader. A very smart, kind person, and great friend. My eternal senpai. We don't even go to the same school anymore or anything, but I still call him 'senpai.' He says he doesn't mind. He's in college abroad right now. But when I phoned him and discussed the recent news, he said he also can't experience the Dark Hour."

"I wonder what does one need to be able to use multiple Personas..." Makoto said thoughtfully.

Kujikawa-san smiled gently. "I can't say for sure, but... a strong will, I believe."

"A strong will..." Makoto echoed.

"From this alone, I'm sure that this person you're speaking of is amazing, just like my senpai."

Makoto nodded. Aside from the fact that Joker was a criminal, he was awesome.

Kujikawa-san inched closer to Makoto. "You're very fond of this special person, aren't you? It's written on your face."

Makoto blushed. "Y-yes. There's only one problem..." Makoto whispered. "He's the leader of the Phantom Thieves."

"Whoa." The idol was taken aback, but still took care to keep her voice quiet.

"This is a secret, okay?" Makoto kept whispering. "It's so weird. I kind of infiltrated the Phantom Thieves and ran into him... I don't even know his true identity, but I fell in love with him, and just can't help it... if only he weren't a criminal... it's a shame that someone so talented as him wastes his talents on crime. I hope I can get closer to him and get him away from the crime path."

The idol chuckled, and continued talking in a quiet voice. "You know? I fell in love with my group's leader, too. Too bad that Yu-senpai didn't choose me. I hope you'll have better luck than me, though. Anyway. The Phantom Thieves, huh? It's like I had suspected, then. The Phantom Thieves are Persona users, aren't they?"

Makoto nodded. "Kujikawa-san, didn't you get scared that they could strike during your performance?"

"Nah." The idol shrugged. "I doubted that. After learning about the new Dark Hour and the berserk incidents, I looked up the recent happenings in Tokyo, and saw some news and rumors about the Phantom Thieves on the internet, which are as weird as what happened in Inaba back then. You've just confirmed that the Phantom Thieves are Persona users. And they only act late at night, right? Then, it's like I had thought. They only act during the Dark Hour."

Makoto's mouth hung slightly open. "Wow. Good reasoning."

Kujikawa-san smiled proudly. "I told you I had done a lot of detective work during that incident in Inaba. Looks like I'm still in shape! You confirmed my theories, too, which make the Phantom Thieves even more intriguing. I still don't know what they're doing, but I doubt that they'd try to strike outside the Dark Hour. Plus, I saw no reason that they might target me. I'm not a bad person."

"Huh?" Makoto didn't understand.

"They only target bad people."

Makoto raised an eyebrow. "... Are you serious?"

"Yes. You infiltrated them and yet you didn't know this? Just look at the posts on their website."

"Their website?" Makoto felt embarrassed. "Err, I don't have the link. In fact, I only found out about the website's existence today..."

"Alright. I'll send you the link. I don't have it on my phone, and will have to check my emails. Give my your phone number and I'll text you the link later."

Before Makoto could tell her number to Kujikawa-san, she realized that Miura was waiting nearby and watching them from a distance. They walked over to him.

"Oh, Miura. We made you wait. Sorry!" Makoto apologized to him.

"Sorry, Kazushi-kun. Girl's talk." Kujikawa-san also apologized.

"I figured as much."

They left the store and were on the street. Kujikawa-san decided to take a picture of the three of them. She stopped a woman on the street. The woman didn't seem to have recognized the celebrity at all, and took the picture without question. Makoto appeared in the center, with Miura to her left and Kujikawa-san to her right.

"Okay. Let's do a Persona users agreement of trust." The idol suggested. "Let's trade phone numbers to keep each other posted on the Dark Hour stuff. But on one condition. Don't, and I mean don't give my number to anyone without my permission, okay? I don't want hordes of fans calling me nonstop! If you don't comply, I can take desperate measures, aside from changing my number, of course. Now I have this picture of both of you, and will have your phone numbers. I can use them against you if necessary. So, don't do anything funny!" She threatened.

"Whoa." Miura was surprised at the idol's sudden threat.

"And you had told me you aren't a bad person." Makoto commented.

"I'm not. But my privacy is serious business. This is why I'm saying it's an agreement of trust."

"We understand," Miura said.

"Alright." Kujikawa-san traded numbers with them, and sent them the picture they had just taken. "This is my Persona-related number. If I have more questions, or if I find out more about the new Dark Hour, I'll call you."

"Okay. Thanks for the information, and for helping us figure out about the cellphone app requirement," Miura said.

"No problem." Kujikawa-san had a fond smile on her face. "I had a great time talking to both of you. The way we went over the facts and tried to figure stuff out brought back memories. It reminded me of the investigation sessions my group used to have at the Junes food court. It was tough knowing that we were dealing with a murder case, but still, those investigation meetings were good times." Kujikawa-san jumped slightly. "Ah, I almost forgot. You probably should keep an eye on the Detective Prince 2.0. I can't say for sure, but he might be a Persona user, too."

"What? Akechi-san... a Persona user...?" Miura muttered.

"Yes. While he was interviewing me, I briefly sensed a Persona power from him. I dragged the interview on and tried to confirm this, but I didn't sense anything else afterwards. I guess my Persona's sensitive abilities don't work that great during the normal hours, eh? Anyway, I think Akechi-kun might either have the potential or have already awakened his Persona."

"Alright. Thanks for the heads-up." Miura thanked her once again.

And so did Makoto. "It was nice talking to you, Kujikawa-san. Thank you for your time."

They bid their goodbyes to the idol and parted ways with her.

"This was unexpected." Miura commented. "Who could have guessed that she had a Persona and possible leads about the Dark Hour's mysteries? I think we owe one to your sister, Niijima-san."

"Yes, we certainly do."

Kujikawa-san would also send Makoto the website link. How ironic. Makoto had infiltrated the Phantom Thieves, yet still knew little about their motivations, and would have to get hints from an outsider, out of all people.

"Hey Miura." Makoto began suddenly. "Let's trade phone numbers."

"Huh...?" Miura seemed alarmed for some reason.

"How come you traded numbers with her but not with me? Come on, we are friends!"

"Uh... yeah, I guess you're right..."

Makoto couldn't tell why Miura looked so uncomfortable, but in the end he agreed to trade numbers with her.

"So, how was the event?" Sae asked Makoto later that night.

"I invited a friend from school, like you had suggested. I didn't even know what to expect from the event, but it turned out to be great!" Makoto said with a cheerful smile. "The performance lifted everyone's spirits! I think you might have liked it as well. I hope we can go together next time!" Makoto took her cellphone. "Oh, we even managed to take a picture with Kujikawa-san!" She showed the picture.

"Is this really her? Quite different from how she looks on television..." Sae noted.

"Ah, yes. She happened to go to the same snack bar as us after the event, and we ended up running into her while she was in casual clothes." Makoto explained.

"Ah, I see. Quite a coincidence. And this boy must be your friend from school." Sae stared at Miura's picture critically. "What's his name?"

"Kazushi Miura. He's a second year student. He's quiet and reserved, but is quite nice once you get to know him. I've been helping him with his studies lately, and I must say, he's quite studious," Makoto said proudly.

"Hmm." Sae didn't comment, and Makoto couldn't tell what she might be thinking.

"Ah, we ran into Akechi-san during the event, too! Though he was busy doing reporter work for the TV studio he's in... speaking of him, his TV show must be on now! I ended up snapping at him because he was whining too much about his workload. I might as well watch his TV show to support his work..."

Makoto checked the TV, and Akechi-san's report was indeed on, with a graph showing on the screen.

"4.6% of the attendees responded they weren't familiar with Risette's works. 15.2% of the attendees said they hadn't come for Risette's event, but only because of rumors that the Phantom Thieves would strike. This sums 19.8% of non-Risette fans in the auditorium. In total, however, 28.7% of the audience, including Risette's fans, were expecting the Phantom Thieves to strike and were excited about it, while 3% would rather the thieves wouldn't strike, while the remaining 68.3% didn't care about the rumors at all. After the event, 87% of the audience, including non-Risette fans, said that Risette's performance exceeded their expectations, and 13% responded that the performance was just as they had expected. Since no one was disappointed with the performance, this means 100% of satisfaction. 100% is an impressive number, isn't it? Regarding the Phantom Thieves, it seems like they didn't strike, contrary to the rumors, and naturally disappointed the 28.7% that had been excited about having them appear. Despite no one having seen any traces of the Phantom Thieves at the event, though, I believe they still managed to steal something. The spotlight." Akechi-san chuckled. "Yes, they didn't even appear, and still managed to steal the spotlight. How absurd those thieves are, and it's one of the reasons why people like them so much."

"Hmph. That kid..." Sae scoffed. "He is obsessed with those thieves like a little kid obsessed with movie super heroes. We don't even know whether those thieves even exist! So far, all we have are rumors and vague descriptions that don't mean much. To me, it sounds like whoever started those rumors about them only wants to generate noise. Until someone proves that they actually exist, theorizing about them is a waste of time." And Sae excused herself from the living room.

"For one, what we steal isn't even physical to begin with." Makoto recalled Joker's words.

The spotlight. People's attention. Those things weren't physical. Was this what Joker had meant? Was popularity what the Phantom Thieves were after? Kujikawa-san still hadn't sent the link to the website, but as soon as it arrived, Makoto would look into it.

Chapter Text


"You didn't have the courage to invite Joker. Looks like Miura won this round, huh?"

"... Huh?" Makoto realized that she was dreaming, and that the same voice from last night was talking to her. "'Won this round?' What do you mean?"

"I'm sure you don't want to admit this, but be honest. You also like Miura."

Makoto was alarmed. She felt like protesting, but stopped herself. She had no one to tell about her romance issues to. There was no way that she would discuss it with Sae! But she desperately needed to get those feelings out of her system. Never mind that this was a dream. The mysterious voice's owner seemed willing to listen, and Makoto decided she would take whatever she could get. "Uh, yes, I think so... what should I do? Miura is so nice. He's a great person, and doesn't deserve the treatment he's been getting. I'd like to be near him to support him. I have this hunch that he might like me, too. If only I hadn't told Joker that I liked him, maybe I could stay with Miura... maybe I moved too fast, and confessing to Joker was the wrong thing to do. Now Joker wants to drag me to the way to crime! ... but it's useless. No matter how hard I think about this, no matter how much I try to convince myself that I'll only get in trouble if I stay with Joker, I can't deny that I like him..."

"You're getting yourself into quite the drama..." The mysterious person chuckled. "Strange, right? One of the reasons why you like Joker is that you don't know much about him. Yet, one of the reasons which made you like Miura is that you got to know him better. How ironic this is... they are practically opposites. Miura is polite and shy. Joker imposes his presence and is even rude at times. Miura is calm and docile. Joker is rebellious and commanding. Yet, you like both of them."

"Oh. Yes, this is all true." Makoto had to agree. "Both of them need help, too..."

"They're opposites in this regard as well. Miura is more accepting of your help. Joker, on the other hand, seems arrogant and unwilling to accept your help at all. What if all Joker wants is you? What if all he wants is to have you submit to him and do whatever he pleases? Would you still choose him?"

"Are you saying that I should stay with Miura?"

"No." The person clarified. "You should stay with whoever you want. I'm just saying that going for Miura is the easy route. If you really decide to go for Joker, though, then you'll need more courage."

"Courage?" Makoto had always believed she was courageous.

"Yes. You lack courage, especially when it concerns interacting with Joker. So far, you haven't managed to impose yourself to him. As long as Joker keeps intimidating you, you'll always be forced to do as he pleases, and things will never go your way! You won't be able to get him away from the crime path. You'll be forced to follow his orders, and he'll drag you into trouble after trouble!"

The person was right. Makoto had argued with Joker a lot, but he always had the upper hand. Her "lecturing mode" had never seemed to work on him. Unless Makoto managed to turn the tables on him, her plan of staying near him to make him change his ways would never succeed. "I s-see your point, but how can I impose myself?"

"You need to lose the fear of 'breaking the chains.' You've been chained by bothersome values that society imposed on you from the time you were a child, and you are afraid of going against them. You have to lose the fear of showing the hidden part of yourself that wants to rebel against these values."

"It sounds hard..." Makoto had known exactly what the person was referring to. The possible consequences of going against such values were the cause of some of her deepest fears. It was a subject Makoto had never discussed with anyone before. How did that mysterious figure know so much about her? "You clearly know a lot about me. But I still don't even know who you are. What's your name?"

"My name is Johanna."

And the dream faded away before Makoto could get any more answers.


"Johanna..." Makoto muttered the name as soon as she woke up. As weird as that dream had been, the points discussed in it made perfect sense. Makoto felt that the other person's name was important, and that she should make sure to not forget it.

During lunch break, the Principal called Makoto to talk, and she took that opportunity to ask him about the library's rules. "Is it true that the library has rules that disallow anyone in the rehabilitation program to take books home?"

"Yes. This rule not only preserves the school's books, but also serves to teach those delinquent students that their sins have consequences. If they want the world to treat them like good citizens, then they should be good citizens and not infringe society's rules in the first place."

A knot formed in Makoto's stomach. The school was treating its rehabilitating students like garbage! This wouldn't help those students in their rehabilitation at all. It would only make them even more bitter towards the world. It might lead them to become rebellious and do even more wrong things in the future. And there was Miura. He was a good guy. He shouldn't be in the rehabilitation program, much less deserved to be treated like that...

"By the way, I have a favor to ask of you." The Principal didn't let Makoto voice her opinion. "I have heard rumors saying that the Phantom Thieves might actually be our students. Many adults don't believe that these thieves exist, but the Phantom Thieves are generating considerable noise, and becoming quite popular among youngsters. If people begin wanting to use them as examples and start committing crime to become like them, it will be a serious problem! If it turns out that those thieves are really from our school and the media finds out, then Syujin's image will be ruined! We need to find those delinquent students and expel them as soon as possible."

Makoto gasped. The Principal wanted to expel them!

"Niijima-kun, I want you to investigate. It's an important mission to you as the Student Council President. I can count on you, right? I'll even give you extracurricular activity points if you collaborate."

Makoto was feeling worse by the second. She needed to investigate because she also wanted to know the Phantom Thieves' identities. Makoto was sure that at least Panther and Skull were in Syujin, but she didn't want them to get in trouble. "Y-yes, I will investigate." She ended up agreeing, but didn't feel good about accepting the bonus points. "I don't need the extracurricular points, though."

"Good." The Principal nodded in satisfaction. "Then, I have a task for you. Remember Mr. Kamoshida?"

Of course she did. No one could forget about that teacher even if they wanted to. Mr. Kamoshida had been a ruthless Physical Education teacher and coach. He mistreated students, especially the ones taking part in competitions. Makoto wasn't much into the school's competitions and didn't know the specifics, but basically, the entire school feared Mr. Kamoshida, he did whatever he wanted, and no one dared go against him. In an unexpected turn of events, though, Mr. Kamoshida repented of his actions and resigned.

"One day, he suddenly confessed his abusive behavior in front of the whole school, then turned himself in to the police." The Principal summarized the end of the story. "And this is one of the reasons that made me believe the thieves are in this school. Clues hint that one of their first victims was actually Mr. Kamoshida."

"... What?" This was news to Makoto.

"We got to this conclusion because the police found a calling card supposedly from the Phantom Thieves among his belongings. It was after this incident that those thieves began getting popular. This is why I believe that Mr. Kamoshida was one of their first victims, if not their first. Niijima-kun, I will arrange for you to visit Mr. Kamoshida in prison tomorrow. I want you to talk to him and ask for information about the Phantom Thieves. I'm counting on you."

Meanwhile, at a quiet area of the courtyard...

"So, how was the event?" Ryuji asked expectantly.

"It was great." Kazushi gave his opinion. "Totally worth it."

"Told ya!" Ryuji grinned.

"It's the first time I've seen her performance live," Ann said. "I loved the event! My only complaint is that Ryuji kept trying to sing along. As if ruining the English weren't enough, he's also a terrible singer..."

Ryuji seemed lost between becoming offended and embarrassed. "Hey! It's normal to get carried away and begin singing along, right?!" He sighed. "I only wish our seats hadn't been so far back. I wanted a closer view of Risette."

Ann giggled. "Seriously, though, it was amazing how the whole audience got pumped up!"

Kazushi agreed. "Yeah. Oh, and did Akechi-san interview both of you?"

"He did." Ann answered. "He quickly asked everything and left."

"Really? He dragged on a lot while interviewing us. Maybe it was because Niijima-san and I had already run into him a few times, and he felt like talking to us more?"

"Who started that rumor, anyway?" Ryuji seemed bothered. "Some people are totally misunderstanding what we do and saying a lot of nonsense..."

"See? This is why I don't like the idea of our group getting popular." Kazushi flashed a, "I told you so," look at Ryuji. "It has the potential to cause this kind of weird misunderstandings, or, worst case scenario, attract the attention of the wrong kind of people."

"..." Ryuji looked like he wanted to argue, but said nothing.

Kazushi shrugged slightly. "Anyway, I talked to Mishima earlier in class, and he said he has no idea who might have started the rumor. Probably some random person on the internet. Still, the fact that 15% of the audience attended the event just because of the rumor is really stupid. Since nothing happened, hopefully those 15% will think twice before believing whatever they hear next time."

"On the bright side, everyone liked the event. So, it looks like Risette has earned some new fans thanks to this," Ann said. "Do her new fans also include Niijima-senpai and you, Kazushi?"

"Uh, you could say that. Not hardcore fans like Ryuji, but yeah. We enjoyed her performance, and she definitely has our respect. Ah, speaking of which, I had something important to discuss, but let's leave it for the meeting later today, so that I won't need to repeat myself to the others."

"Huh?" Ryuji was confused. "You talked about Risette, then said 'speaking of which,' and brought the meeting up... what does Risette have to do with the meeting?"

"A lot."

"I don't get it..."

Kazushi rolled his eyes. "Are you really going to make me say everything here?" He sighed. "... Alright. I'll give the jist of it, but listen carefully. Please, keep calm, and... don't shout."

"Whoa, you're scaring me, man. What's it...?"

Ryuji and Ann inched closer to listen, and Kazushi said in a low voice, "Kujikawa-san is a Persona user."

A second of silence. Ann's eyes grew wide, but she managed to keep from exclaiming in surprise.

However, Ryuji didn't. "... Whaaaaaaaaat!? Are you serious?! How did you find this out?"

"Shhh!" Ann hushed.

Kazushi put a hand on his forehead in exasperation. "This was why I told you to keep calm and not shout... I'll explain everything at the meeting, alright?"

"Oh, o-okay."

Makoto felt divided about the whole Phantom Thieves issue. They were committing crimes, which was wrong. They enjoyed using violence, which was also bad. And if they were show-offs that would do anything to get popularity like Akechi-san theorized, then they were going too far. But they had acted friendly enough practically the whole time she had spent with them, and she felt that they weren't bad people. Makoto still stood to the fact that they were young and should have a chance to fix their lives. She didn't want to get them in trouble.

Makoto spotted Miura walking alone at the courtyard. She thought she might feel better if she talked to him.

"Miura!" Makoto walked in his direction and called his last name. She tried to smile, but failed.

"Niijima-san. You don't look too well..."

Of course he noticed. Pretending that she was fine wouldn't work. Makoto would have to explain. "I just talked to the Principal. I asked him if it was true that the library had rules to not allow rehabilitating students to take books home." She told Miura what the Principal had answered. "This is discrimination! The school is looking down on the rehabilitating students instead of helping reintegrate them into society. And you don't deserve this kind of treatment, either..."

"Hmm. I see..." Miura seemed lost in thought for a moment, then stared worriedly at her as though he were asking, "This is not all, is it?"

Makoto hadn't intended to bring the issue up, but the questioning stare from Miura pressed for her to go on. "He mentioned the rumor saying that the Phantom Thieves might be students in our school. He's worried that they're getting popular among young people, and that this might make kids begin viewing crime as 'the way to go,' and start committing crime."

"This would be bad..." Miura spoke in a quiet but serious tone.

"If it's proven that they're from here, it'll be bad for the school's image. So, he wants to expel them. And... he asked me to investigate the rumor and locate them."

Kazushi tried to not let his worry show. "... What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to investigate. I also want to know!" She added in a low voice, "I think expelling them is a bit too much, though..."

This was bad. From the way Niijima-san was misunderstanding their actions, and from the way she had bought into those stupid rumors like the one about Kujikawa-san's event, she might cause other people to misunderstand them, and end up putting them in trouble. Thankfully, he had decided on their next target, and was confident that they could clear the issue up with Niijima-san soon.

"Miura, did you see Akechi-san's TV show last night?"


"He said that the Phantom Thieves stole the spotlight."

To Kazushi, that statement had been ridiculous. "To me, it sounded more like an excuse to validate his theory that the Phantom Thieves would steal something. You saw how he seemed proud of his theories while he was explaining stuff to us... actually, isn't he the one giving them the spotlight? He said he planned the whole script and the interview's questions. Did he need to give so much emphasis to the Phantom Thieves?"

Only then, Kazushi realized that he might be saying too much. He might slip his tongue if he weren't careful.

"Hmm, now that you mention it... he seemed very obsessed about the Phantom Thieves himself." Niijima-san noted. "And you seem quite bothered by this whole deal about the Phantom Thieves' rumors..."

Yes. It was bothersome, and that topic was dangerous. Kazushi needed to come up with a good comeback fast, or he would run the risk of giving his identity away. "I didn't like what Akechi-san described. You didn't, either, right? You began acting weird after Akechi-san told us about the rumor."

This made Niijima-san uncomfortable. "Uh, yes, I..." She lowered her gaze. "I didn't like what Akechi-san described, either. And I also don't like that the Principal wants to expel them. As much as they're doing wrong things, I don't want them to get in trouble, especially if they're from this school. As the Student Council President, I'd rather help them make things right and set them on a good path for their future. Punishing them will only make them more bitter about life and lead them to do even more wrong things."

She seemed to really mean what she was saying, and to only wish their good. It was a relief that Niijima-san was willing to help them rather than have them punished. Kazushi felt that he could count on her once they managed to clear the misunderstandings up. Despite what it might seem, they weren't actually doing bad things, and he was confident that Niijima-san would support them once she fully understood their motives.

"The Principal said that it looks like their first victim was Mr. Kamoshida." Makoto continued. "He'll arrange for me to interrogate Mr. Kamoshida in prison tomorrow. I hadn't interacted much with Mr. Kamoshida before, but I know how he was authoritative and abusive... I have to admit, I'm a bit scared of talking to him."

"Mr. Kamoshida... I wonder what became of him," Miura said thoughtfully. "He had been really horrible before, but remember when he called an announcement and confessed everything, and broke down in front of everyone? You saw it too, right?"

"Yes. He really seemed to have regretted every bad thing he did. It was quite shocking to see someone like him confess his sins like that."

"You know?" Miura said. "A lot of students had had to deal with him for a long time, and still hold grudges against him. They'd think I'm crazy if I said this, but seeing him like that kind of made me feel bad for him..."

That conversation calmed Makoto down a bit. She concluded that as long as Mr. Kamoshida hadn't gone back to his old self, she would be fine. Makoto nodded to herself. "Yes. It'll be fine. I can do this."

"Good luck."

"Thank you..." Deep down, Makoto was disappointed that Miura hadn't offered to accompany her. Having him around for moral support would have been nice. But again, interrogating Mr. Kamoshida was her mission as the Student Council President, and the Principal would only arrange for her visit. Miura had nothing to do with this, and couldn't do anything about it.

On her way home, Makoto spotted Kitagawa-san walking on the street at a brisk pace.

"Kitagawa-san!" She called out to him. Even though he seemed in a hurry, Makoto was curious about the painting of her that he had said he would do.

He stopped walking. "Hello, Niijima-san."

"How is that painting coming along?"

"It's coming along nicely," he said. "I believe it'll be ready in a week or so. Then, I'll show you."


"Now, if you excuse me, I have somewhere to be." Kitagawa-san resumed his walk.

Only after he had disappeared from sight, Makoto realized that he had no way to contact her to let her know the painting was ready. They should have traded cellphone numbers. Oh well. All she could do was expect she would run into him again.

Later, at home, Makoto decided to send an email to Joker. Their last Dark Hour interaction hadn't ended on a good note, and she didn't know whether he was angry at her, but it was an emergency.

"Joker, we have a problem!" She wrote. "Today I talked to Syujin's Principal. He suspects that the Phantom Thieves are Syujin students. If this is true and he finds out your identities, he intends to expel all of you! Please, cease your activities before it is too late. It's for your own good! I don't want any of you to get in trouble."

Kazushi had assembled the other group members at an empty space at the back of Leblanc and was discussing the latest happenings.

"You went to Kujikawa-san's event! I wish I could have gone..." Yusuke lamented. "I'm sure seeing her in person would have inspired me to create vibrant paintings."

"I have to agree. It certainly would have," Kazushi said.

"You didn't even tell me where you were going!" Morgana whined. "It looks like all of you had fun. Kazushi, why can't you take me somewhere fun for once? Staying here is so boring!"

Ann responded before Kazushi had a chance to say anything. "Hey, Morgana, give Kazushi and Niijima-senpai some privacy, will you?"

"What?! So you were with Makoto?! Ah, I see. This is it then, huh?" Morgana smirked at the leader.

Kazushi shook his head. "No, this is not it. She had gotten an extra ticket and invited me, and I decided to tag along. Nothing more!"

"Kazushi, come on." Ann raised a hand. "I saw both of you talking at school today. I have to admit. Seeing both of you together is so cute and heartwarming." Ann blushed slightly. "I don't know if she realizes it, but she likes your normal identity, too. And you like her. This shouldn't be a secret anymore."

"... So, they both like each other?" Yusuke tried to process the information. "Oh. Oh..."

"I think I'm still missing something here," Ryuji said. "Kazushi, at Risette's event, Anne told me that Makoto confessed to you. And now you're worried that she'll figure out that you're Joker? Is this it?"

"No, skullhead. It's the other way around!" Morgana corrected Ryuji not so gently. "It began after that spell thing. She confessed to him as Joker, and now he's worried what she'll think if she figures out that Joker's actually him. I don't think it'll be a problem, though! I've seen them together during the day a lot, and it's obvious that both of them like each other!"

"Ah, I get it now..."

Kazushi sighed. "Morgana, you say you don't like romance drama, yet you're the first one to comment on these things."

"Tsk, tsk. Kazushi, you don't get it. Witnessing love between two parties is a beautiful thing. What I don't like is when people keep wasting time unsure if the other party likes them, or keeps refusing to admit to like the other party when it's more than obvious! It's so annoying! Why can't they just say it to the other person straight away and get this nonsense dilemma over with!? This also goes for you. Alright, I'll stop telling you to take advantage of her love to drag her into our cause. But it's obvious that you like her. Makoto already confessed to you. You only need to respond! As Joker or Kazushi, it doesn't matter. It'll be the same either way. Soon, we'll take her on our next mission, and she'll understand everything."

"Hm." Kazushi had to admit that Morgana's advice seemed to be good this time. "I'll think about it. Anyway!" He raised his voice to make his point. "This is not what we're here to discuss!" He got back on track. "After the event, Niijima-san and I decided to stop at a snack bar, but Kujikawa-san followed us. Basically, Kujikawa-san told us that she's a Persona user and that she had sensed Persona powers from us. She was also part of a group of other Persona users and had to deal with weird supernatural stuff in the past."

"She didn't detect Personas from Ann and me?" Ryuji looked frustrated. "I wish our seats were more to the front!" He shrugged and his face broke into a grin. "But Risette's a Persona user. How cool is that? Does it mean that she can help us during the Dark Hour? That'd be awesome!"

"Sadly, she can't." Kazushi crushed Ryuji's hopes. "She said that she knows the Dark Hour exists, but she can't stay awake during it. We wondered why, and tried to find out if we met some other condition that she didn't, and we arrived at the cellphone app. Apparently, only those who have the special app can stay conscious during the Dark Hour, and she doesn't have it. At least we learned about the requirements to stay conscious during the Dark Hour."

"What about those other Persona users from her group?" Ann asked. "Can they move during the Dark Hour?"

"No. In other words, this Dark Hour stuff is up to us..."

"Too bad..." Ryuji lowered his gaze. "It'd be awesome if we could have Risette as a Phantom Thief, dontcha think?"

"I'm curious to see what her Persona is like," Yusuke said.

Kazushi agreed. "Me too, but I don't think we'll be seeing it. Oh, I almost forgot. Even though she may not be able to help us much, she said something quite... interesting. She briefly detected Persona powers from Akechi-san while he was interviewing her. So, he either has awakened to a Persona, or at least has the Potential."

"What?!" Ryuji exclaimed. "The reporter detective, with a Persona!?"

"Reporter detective?" Yusuke was confused.

"Oh, you weren't there, and haven't seen the way he interviewed everyone in the audience. I think he makes for a good reporter."

After hearing from Kujikawa-san that Akechi-san might be a Persona user, Kazushi was becoming more and more sure that their reporter detective was one of the people from his visions. In other words, a potential group member.

"He dragged on a lot while interviewing Niijima-san and me," Kazushi said. "While I don't like the way he handled that rumor about us, I can say that he did an impressive job on those graphs. He had told us that he planned the interview questions, the script for his TV show and the statistical reports all by himself. He might be more cut out to be a reporter than a detective. Either way, he doesn't seem to like our activities too much. If he's also a Persona user, though, it'd be beneficial to us to have him on our side. We'll have to find a way to win him over."

Then, Kazushi's cellphone vibrated with a new email.

"Let me guess. It's Makoto, isn't it?" Morgana looked at Kazushi suspiciously.

Kazushi glanced through the message. "Yeah. And this leads to the other point I wanted to discuss. Niijima-san said she talked to the Principal. He suspects we are Syujin students. He's worried that the media finds out, and that rumors about us might ruin the school's image. So, he wants to expel us. She's asking us to cease our activities before anything bad happens."

"Think she'd sell us out?" Ryuji asked.

"In the current condition, maybe. But she told me personally that she didn't like the thought of having us expelled, and that she doesn't want to get us in trouble. If we manage to make her understand that our actions are for a good cause, I believe she'd support us. To tell the truth, I think she's our hope in solving this issue. We wouldn't manage to convince the Principal to leave us alone. But her status as Student Council President isn't only for show. The teachers, and also the Principal, trust her. If there's someone that can convince him, it's her."

"How are we going to convince her, though?" Yusuke asked.

"She misunderstands everything we try to explain to her," Kazushi said. "The most effective way would be to take her on our next mission. Which brings us to the next point. Yesterday night, I sent Morgana to investigate our next target."

"You mean that shady guy from the request?" Ann asked.

"Yeah, that man named Kaneshiro. Morgana eavesdropped on some guys that are apparently Kaneshiro's henchmen, and followed them to a nightclub."

"I sensed strong distortions there, too!" Morgana added. "I think we nailed our next target. His Palace should be there."

"Great! Another big target! This is what I call true action!" Ryuji's face lit up. "When can we begin?"

"Tomorrow." Kazushi answered.

"This should go without saying, but remember to tell Makoto about it!" Morgana reminded the leader.

"Of course. Once the meeting ends, I'll reply to her message."

Minutes later, Joker's message arrived. "We refuse to stop."

Why did Joker have to be so stubborn? Makoto wrote again. "Joker, please. It's like I said the other day. Just because no one can see what you're doing during the Dark Hour, it doesn't mean you have the right to steal from others! It's wrong! And you shouldn't think that you'll never be caught, either. Who knows what might happen. So, please, Joker. You have to stop."

He replied shortly later, and his reply didn't please her in the slightest. "And as I said the other day, it's not that simple. We won't stop. In fact, we've decided on our next target. We'll be heading to his Palace tomorrow, and you'll be coming with us. Then, we'll make sure you'll understand everything."

"... Tomorrow!" Makoto gasped. She didn't want to go. She had only accepted going on explorations with them until now because they had said they wouldn't steal anything. This time, though, it would be different. Makoto didn't want to join them in their criminal activities.

Something else caught her attention in Joker's message, though. He had written that they would explore their next target's Palace. Did it mean that there were more than one Palace?

Makoto couldn't keep herself from asking, "Another Palace? I had thought the school was the only Palace."

"No, it's not. We'll be going somewhere else." Joker replied.

There was so much that Makoto didn't understand. She might need to talk to Joker in person to clear those details up, and the best way, unfortunately, would be to meet up with them for their raid tomorrow.

"Alright." Makoto relented. "I'll accompany you, but I'll only watch. I refuse to take part in what you're doing, got it?"

"It's enough." Joker seemed satisfied.

"Where is the place, then?" Makoto sent her question.

"A nightclub." Came his reply.

"I mean the address." Makoto clarified. She would need the address to go there.

"We'll meet up somewhere and pick you up." Joker refused to give her the address.

"Alright." Makoto accepted anyway.

They traded a few more messages, and agreed on a meeting place.

Makoto knew she should end the contact, but she had another important thing to ask. Akechi-san's theory that the Phantom Thieves were seeking popularity bothered her. "Joker, one last thing. What is with that rumor about the Phantom Thieves appearing at Risette's event? Who started it, and why?"

Shortly later, Joker's answer came. "I have no idea. It wasn't us."

Makoto was half surprised, half relieved that Joker wasn't responsible for the rumor. "I've heard that your group is after fame. Is it true?"

"The short answer is, 'no.'" Joker responded. "The long answer is, some of the other members have expressed interest in that, but I disapprove. So, no. And it's not 'my group.' Remember. Even though you're still a temporary member, you are also in the group."

Makoto felt touched by his words for a second until she remembered their implications. It meant that Joker was really intent on dragging her to the crime path. "I already said that I refuse to contribute to your cause!"

However, he ignored her angry message. "See you tomorrow."

After school the following day, Makoto went to the police station to visit Mr. Kamoshida. A guard took her to Mr. Kamoshida's prison cell, and she began talking to him from outside.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Kamoshida." Makoto began.

"Ah, it's you, the Student Council President." The ex-teacher had a resigned expression. "I had heard that the Principal had sent a student to talk to me."

"Uh, how have you been?" Makoto asked awkwardly, for lack of a better idea how to start a conversation.

"Fine, I guess. The guards say that my sentence might be reduced for good conduct, and that they're considering to have me do community work."

"This is good."

"So, how's the school been?" Mr. Kamoshida asked. "I've ruined the lives of many students in there... some more than others. For example, Sakamoto."


"Yeah, Ryuji Sakamoto." Mr. Kamoshida clarified. "He was the ace of the track team. That kid was good. But back then, I couldn't stand that he was more talented than most members of the volleyball team I had been coaching, and that the track team would probably get the spotlight because of him. I purposefully put him through a twisted training regime, and broke his leg so that he couldn't have a chance at competitions anymore. He'll probably never forgive me, and I can't blame him. He had dreams and potential to go far, but I might have ruined that forever..."

Makoto was stunned. When Sakamoto had told her that he used to be good at running, she hadn't believed him. So, it was true! She felt bad for him now. She needed to apologize to him.

Mr. Kamoshida interrupted her thoughts. "What about that transfer student? Miura, I think his last name was. Did the rumors stop?"

"No. They're only getting worse. Even other teachers treat him horribly now."

The ex-teacher spat a curse. "You see, those rumors are also my fault. He ran into me on the street right when I was hassling a female student. Ann Takamaki. You know, the quarter American girl. I told Miura that he'd regret having crossed my way, and decided to screw up his image." The ex-teacher's eyes filled with remorse, and his voice shook as he described what he had done. "I got a student to spread fake rumors to a group on a social network where many Syujin students hang out. Then, I threatened to expel Miura from school if he were to 'cause trouble.' I was planning to bribe some student into reporting him for some made up stuff, and have the Principal expel him."

So much injustice. Poor Miura was really unlucky. He had already gone through so many unfair things in his past as it was, with his distant parents, the bullying, his detention and all. Then, right after arriving at the new school, he had to show up at the wrong place at the wrong time, and end up in Mr. Kamoshida's blacklist. Anger flared in Makoto's eyes, but she controlled herself. There was no use in getting angry at Mr. Kamoshida now. From his resigned expression and the way he talked, it seemed like he had really regretted what he did.

Instead, Makoto brought up the topic she had intended to discuss from the start. "Mr. Kamoshida, the Principal mentioned that the police found a card among your belongings, apparently sent to you by the Phantom Thieves."

"Ah, that weird card. I woke up one morning, and it was in my mailbox. It said that at exactly midnight, they'd come and 'take my heart' or some nonsense like that. I tried to dismiss it as just a stupid prank and forget about it. I had never heard of those 'Phantom Thieves' before. As stupid as it sounded, though, it was kind of eerie that they knew my address, and that card kept nagging at me for the rest of the day."

"Did they come?"

"Hmm. I don't really know. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't... or maybe I was so bothered by the card that I dreamed about them... I can't really tell. I vaguely remember some figures wearing mostly dark clothes and masks. Three... or was it four? I don't know. They moved fast, but this is all I can remember."

He didn't remember, in a similar way how Makoto's mind fogged over and she couldn't recall the thieves' faces outside the Dark Hour. But three or four? Makoto had been interacting with five Phantom Thieves. Did it mean that one of them still hadn't joined when they targeted Mr. Kamoshida?

"They targeted other people afterward. Some of these people appeared on the news and said the same thing." Makoto informed him. "So, it shouldn't have been a dream."


"Mr. Kamoshida, you said the thieves were a group of three or four. Any idea who they might be?"

"No." The man shook his head.

"The Principal suspects that they might be Syujin students. Are you sure you have no idea? Maybe someone who wanted revenge..."

"Pfft. Practically all students in that school hate me. So, it could be anyone."

"True..." Makoto sighed. "Did they take anything?"

"I don't know. And at this point, I don't care."

"Don't you remember anything else that happened when they came?" Makoto asked.

Mr. Kamoshida took a few seconds to think, but shook his head. "No, I don't remember anything. All I know is that I saw images of the students I screwed the lives of, all of them suffering in agony because of what I had done to them. Then I awoke past midnight, and suddenly began feeling horrible. Things hadn't always gone my way in my life, and as soon as I got power over the school, I thought that I could get anything I wanted by abusing it. I didn't care whether I was harming others at all. I used to feel satisfaction in humiliating others. But after that nightmare or whatever, I felt miserable, and abusing others didn't sound like a good idea anymore. No, it sounded like a terrible idea, and I realized what a despicable person I had become. I had thought I could just be a ruler and have others obey me. I had thought I was powerful. But no, it was an illusion. In truth, I was weak. I took the wrong path and abused people I thought were weaker than me. I ruined their lives, and failed to realize I had been ruining my own life as well. When I woke up the next day, I decided I couldn't continue like that, and here I am. The feeling of guilt is still terrible, but weirdly I kind of feel better than before. It's as though a huge weight had been removed from my shoulders. Or might it have been from my heart? Maybe those Phantom Thieves managed to take my heart, after all. Ha ha ha." Mr. Kamoshida joked.

This was touching. Who could have imagined hearing that from Mr. Kamoshida? Makoto was smiling now. "It's a touching story. Good to see that you opened your eyes before it was too late."

"Ha." Mr. Kamoshida scoffed. "It's already too late, though. There's no way to undo what I did, and those students will never forgive me."

Makoto wanted to say something to comfort the ex-teacher. "Oh, when I told Miura that I'd be visiting you, he said he kind of felt bad for you when he saw the way you broke down in front of the whole school."

Mr. Kamoshida chuckled resignedly. "Miura, eh? I know that he's in the rehabilitation program and that he had been detained before transferring to Syujin, but despite having said I'd get him expelled if he were to cause trouble, I don't think he's ever caused any trouble during the time I was at Syujin."

"I also don't think so. He's a good guy."

"Those rumors I started must be ruining his school life for good, too."

"Despite everything, he's taking it all in stride." Makoto smiled proudly. "I decided I'll help him fix his reputation."

"Really?" Mr. Kamoshida raised an eyebrow. "Good to hear. Here's hoping that you can do it." He hesitated, then heaved a sigh. "May I ask you a favor?"

Makoto looked questioningly at him. "What is it?"

"As the Student Council President, you're devoted to guiding the students. You said you're helping Miura. Could you keep an eye on Sakamoto, too? I didn't just ruin his school life. I ruined his dream, his future. From the angry look on his face on my last day at the school, I'm sure he isn't taking it well. Sakamoto's quick-tempered, and I know he's caused trouble after what I did to him. I don't want him to become bitter about life and take the wrong path. I don't want him to become like me. He's still young and has a lot ahead of him. It'd be a shame to have him waste his life like I did, and only realize it when it's already too late."

Makoto nodded. "Okay, I will."

"Thanks. Asking this of you is all I can do for him now, I guess."

A guard came to say that time was up. Makoto thanked Mr. Kamoshida for having answered her questions, and left.

Makoto returned to Syujin and reported to the Principal.

" Just like the other victims on the news..." The Principal concluded. "He remembers to have gotten the card, but doesn't remember details about the thieves aside from dark clothes and masks. This matches what the other victims said, and I believe we can conclude that the Phantom Thieves indeed targeted Mr. Kamoshida. Did they steal anything?"

"He doesn't know. He's not even sure if the Phantom Thieves really came or if it was just a dream. But since the other victims said the same thing, it must be true. It can't be just a coincidence."

"Does he have any idea who they could be?"

"No." Makoto answered. "I asked him if he could think of any student that might have wanted revenge, and he said that in that case, it could be anyone, since practically all students hate him."

"Hm." The Principal got lost in thought for a moment. "It seems we still have too little information. Anyway, thank you for your cooperation, Niijima-kun. I would still like you to continue investigating. If I need something else, I will call upon you again."

On her way back home, Makoto was surprised to spot Sakamoto on the other side of the street. She needed to talk to him. "Sakamoto!" She called out to him so that he would stop walking, then crossed the street to approach him. "Sakamoto, I need to talk to you."

He got apprehensive. "W-what's it all of a sudden...?"

"The Principal had me visit Mr. Kamoshida in prison." And Makoto realized this wasn't a good way to start the conversation. The displeasure was evident on Sakamoto's face. "Sakamoto, please listen... I need to apologize to you."

"Huh?" This caused him to lower his guard.

"You had told me you were good at running, and I hadn't believed you. I'm sorry."

Sakamoto shrugged. "Nah. No worries. I can't blame you for not believing. I'm slow as a slug now..."

Makoto felt bad for him. Mr. Kamoshida had ruined Sakamoto's dreams of becoming a professional athlete. Since she had accepted to help Sakamoto, Makoto figured she should talk more to him.

"He broke your leg. I'm sorry to hear this. Have you considered any other sport?" Makoto asked him.

"Yeah, I've thought about other stuff like skateboarding, that wouldn't need as much effort from my leg. It's cool, but isn't the same, ya know. What I really like is running on foot. Back when I was faster, I felt great knowing I was moving through my own effort. It made me feel fulfilled, sure that there was at least one thing I was really good at. If I start depending on skates or other wheeled stuff to move, to me, it ruins a lot of the fulfillment. It'd feel like... cheating."

"You were really into running..." Makoto could tell that Sakamoto was really passionate about the sport, and that it meant a lot to him. It was sad to know how his hope for the future had been shattered.

"It was the only thing I was good at. The only thing I could be proud of. It was all I had, and that bastard had to come and take it away from me!" Sakamoto said angrily.

"He seems really remorseful for all the bad things he did, and what he did to you seems to weigh in his conscience a lot," Makoto wasn't sure if it would be of any consolation, but she said it anyway. "He also knows that what he did can't be undone. He only asks that you don't take the wrong path like he did, and that you don't become like him."

Sakamoto scoffed. He balled his fists and glared at Makoto, looking ready to pick a fight. "No need to even ask! I'm never gonna become like him!" Only when Makoto took a step back in alarm, Sakamoto realized what he was doing. He unballed his fists, and his hands went for his hair. He looked downwards apologetically and pulled his hair nervously. "Err, sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you. You have nothing to do with this..." He sighed. "Kamoshida confessed his crimes, turned himself in to the police and is in jail. I know it's no use getting angry at him now, but..."

That behavior was surprising. Despite having trouble to control his temper, Sakamoto was giving his best to get over what happened, and was acting way more mature than Makoto gave him credit for. Hopefully he wouldn't become a lost cause.

"Sakamoto, I know it's hard, but don't give up. As long as you don't give up, you'll find something else you're good at. I'll be cheering you on."

"Whoa, thanks." He seemed surprised, maybe because Makoto gave him supportive words rather than scolding him.

They began walking. Makoto should have returned to the other side of the street, but remained on the side she was and walked along with Sakamoto. When they turned a corner, they heard a familiar voice ahead.

"It's dangerous, Sae-san!"

"Huh? Isn't that-" Sakamoto began, but Makoto hushed him.

It was Akechi-san's voice. Not only that, but Sae seemed to be there, too.

Makoto considered approaching them, but she had a bad feeling about the situation. Akechi-san had uttered the word "dangerous," and Makoto got worried. Her sister always avoided telling her about work. What might Sae be doing? If Makoto were to approach them, Sae would drop the subject to keep Makoto in the dark. Makoto concluded that her only way to know what was going on was to eavesdrop on them. Having practiced stealth with the Phantom Thieves during the Dark Hour would finally prove to be of some use.

"Stay here." She whispered to Sakamoto. The last thing she would need was for him to make a racket and give her location away.

Makoto began following them from a distance, and listened on in to their conversation.

"That Kaneshiro man has been causing harm to people for so many years!" Sae's angry voice came. "How come the police hasn't caught him yet!? The officers say that they have no concrete proof without even trying to find proof! I'm sure that his hideout contains proof, and this is why I'm going there to investigate!"

"Sae-san, no one dares mess with him. You shouldn't, either, and you know why! This is a job for a police officer, not a prosecutor like you! You should stay in the office doing your stuff, not going to dangerous places!"

"I'm not going to do anything unusual. Just look around the nightclub, like any normal person unfamiliar with the area checking places out, take some pictures while no one is looking, and leave. It's already decided. On July 9th."

"No, Sae-san, this isn't a good idea!"

"I can't rest in peace knowing that such a prominent criminal is right under our nose, and that the police isn't even trying to do their job! Someone needs to do something, or he will never be caught!"

Makoto was horrified. She had heard about this Kaneshiro before. He was the head of a branch of the mafia, and not even the police dared mess with him. Sae had just said she would investigate his hideout! What was she thinking?! Paralyzed in shock, Makoto stopped walking, and let Sae and Akechi-san walk away from sight.

"Sis..." Makoto murmured.

"She's your sister?"

"Ah!" Makoto gasped, startled by Sakamoto's voice. She turned around and found him right behind her. It was surprising how he had remained perfectly and uncharacteristically quiet. Makoto hadn't even realized that he had been following her! "Sakamoto, I had told you to stay behind!" She scolded him in a low but urgent voice.

"Are you crazy? If I don't do anything and something bad happens to you while I'm around, what am I supposed to say to Kazushi?"

"... Miura...?" Makoto hadn't expected Sakamoto to bring Miura's name up.

"Uh, y-yeah," Sakamoto said, a bit hesitantly. "He cares about you a lot. Anyways, let me see if I got this right. There's a dangerous man from the mafia, and he has a nightclub. Your sister's a prosecutor, and wants to investigate the nightclub on July 9th. Is that it?"

Makoto nodded. "Sounds like it..."

"July 9... that's in just one week!" Sakamoto seemed alarmed. "Crap..."

"Sakamoto...?" Why was he so alarmed? "Look, don't worry about it."

"Your sister may end in trouble with the mafia! How can I not worry after hearing something like this?"

Makoto was at a loss as to what to do to ease both Sakamoto and herself. "You have nothing to do with this..."

"Uh, yeah, but..." Sakamoto sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. "Sorry, I've gotta go now. Need to clear my head. This involves your sister and all, so I'm sure you're taking it way worse than me, but just don't do anything rash, alright?" Quite the weird advice, coming from a quick-tempered troublemaker like him. He was about to turn around and walk away, but added, "Ah, sorry that I can't say anything useful. I'm not cut out for giving advice! If you want advice, you'd be better off talking to Kazushi. Unlike me, he can keep calm when hell breaks loose." Sakamoto turned around and walked away.

For a while, Makoto only stood there. She didn't want to tell about the issue to Miura. He wouldn't be able to help her.

Makoto finally recovered her movements. Instead of going home, though, she headed to the arcade in Akihabara and blasted some aliens in the shooting game. It at least served to vent her frustrations a bit.

During her walk home, she thought about what to do. Makoto could try talking to Sae, but then she would reveal that she had eavesdropped on Sae and Akechi-san. Makoto's only hope now was to pray that Akechi-san could convince Sae to change her mind about investigating the place... but Makoto had known that chances of Sae listening to the detective boy were next to none...

At home, Makoto checked her email. Today was the day that she would have to watch the Phantom Thieves go on a raid, and Joker might have contacted her.

Even though there were no new messages, a nagging feeling about that raid hit her. Sae had mentioned that Kaneshiro's hideout was a nightclub. Makoto reread her and Joker's latest message exchanges, and sure enough, Joker had pointed out that they would be going to a nightclub. Might it be the same place?! If so, the Phantom Thieves were intent on stealing from the mafia. This was bad! And worse, they were going to drag her into that! This didn't sound good. Makoto was getting scared. She wanted to give up. But on further thought, they would be going there during the Dark Hour, and no one else should be awake. Maybe Makoto could find something that served as proof against Kaneshiro, and Sae wouldn't need to risk herself. Yes, going there during the Dark Hour might be the best way to solve this issue. If only Joker would help her with it...

Makoto had an idea. She would ask Joker to help her find proof against Kaneshiro. She would say that if Joker liked her, he should help her without doing anything bad. That idea sounded good. Now, to wait until it was time to meet up with him.

Chapter Text

It was Dark Hour. Makoto was at the agreed meeting place. Despite her situation and worries, she felt very happy when Joker arrived to pick her up. His imposing presence still made her nervous, though.

"J-Joker. I-it's been a while..."

"It hasn't been that long."

Makoto was a bit disappointed by his response. Did it mean that he hadn't missed her, not even a little?

"The others are waiting ahead." Joker began walking and didn't give her much attention.

Why such coldness? Was he angry or something?

"What's the matter?" Joker turned behind when he noticed that Makoto wasn't following him. "Hurry. We have no time to lose." So stern, and so cold...

Makoto wordlessly quickened her pace to catch up to him, and they walked together in silence. She had so much to talk to him about. The problem her sister was getting into, her plan of finding proof against Kaneshiro during the Dark Hour, the plan to make Joker prove that he liked her... but everything jumbled in a mess and got stuck in her throat.

"There she is," Panther said when Makoto approached with Joker. "Let's go."

"... Where are we going? I-is it far from here?" Makoto finally recovered her speech.

"A bit, but we'll be going there by car." Joker answered her.

"By car...?"

"Heheheh..." Mona smirked deviously. "It's time to show my stuff!" He put some distance between himself and the group. "... Transform!"

In a flash, Mona's figure disappeared. In his place stood a weird bus with a cat tail.

Makoto's mouth opened and closed a few times, and so did her eyes. No matter how many times she blinked, the "bus" was still there. "W... w-whaaaaat!? Mona just... turned into a... a bus! How is this even possible!?"

"We wish we knew!" Skull retorted.

"Very cool, right?" Mona's voice spoke, but Makoto couldn't tell where it was coming from. "My transformation is so cool that it's stunning! Ha ha ha!"

"No, it's not cool. It's absurd." Joker quipped.

"You're so cold, Joker!" Mona whined. "Anyway, you all shouldn't just stand there. Hop on already!"

Everyone entered the "vehicle." Makoto was too stunned to move, and Joker had to help her inside. Of course, she tried not to show it, but she appreciated his act of kindness very much.

"H-how do you explain this?" She tried to be stern with Joker, without much success.

"We don't." Joker answered simply.

"You said you would explain me everything!" Makoto directed an accusing glare at him.

"Unfortunately, Mona is the one mystery in our group that we have no way to explain."

Makoto didn't like that excuse, and also could tell she wouldn't like the response to her next point. "Either way, this isn't right! You are minors, and don't have a driver's license. You can't drive! It's illegal!"

"Oh, but they aren't driving." Mona's voice responded. "Sure, they could if they really wanted to, but I can move on my own!"

As if to make the point, Joker sat on the middle between Makoto and Panther, while Skull and Fox sat behind them. Sure enough, no one took the driver seat. Yet, the engines started and the bus began moving.

"See? I'm the awesome pilot of the Phantom Thieves!" Mona bragged. "Ah, and I also have GPS, and will make sure we don't get lost! It even defies the Dark Hour's limits! Cool, huh?"

How could someone be both the vehicle and the pilot at the same time? That made no sense... no, that wasn't what really mattered. What mattered was that it was wrong. And the worst part was that there was no way to prove them guilty to the authorities. Those young delinquents were infringing the law in a completely absurd way!

"I guess there's no way to explain it," Panther said. "We have to just deal with it."

"But you still think you're acting cool and like to show it off, don't you!?" Makoto accused them. "I don't like this one bit..."

"Like it or not, this is just how it is." Joker responded in a neutral manner. "We met Mona by chance, and this is how things turned out. The Dark Hour is a mystery, and to operate during it, we need to make do with the resources we have. This is all that there is to it."

Makoto couldn't accept it. Even though she had no idea what the Phantom Thieves had been doing, she was sure of one thing. They were infringing laws. Not only that, but if her suspicions were correct, they were also intent on messing with the mafia. Their actions were wrong on so many levels!

Makoto fumed and attempted a disapproving glare at Joker.

"Anyway, for the sake of saving time, I'll take this moment to go over the plan for this mission." The leader spoke louder for everyone to hear, and ignored Makoto's glare completely. "Our target is a man named Junya Kaneshiro. He's been enriching through illegal activities, such as extortion, usury, and blackmailing. It seems that he's been doing shady dealings for years already. The police is aware of his activities, but still hasn't done anything about him."

This confirmed Makoto's suspicion. The Phantom Thieves were indeed intent on messing with Kaneshiro. "I've heard about him. He's an influential member of the mafia, and not even the police dares mess with him."


Makoto definitely didn't like the sound of this.

Joker didn't let Makoto voice her opinion. "As I've already told some of you beforehand, this is a time-critical mission. We have at most until Wednesday to secure the treasure route, one day to send the advance notice, and the following day to actually confront our target. As such, we must avoid battles as much as possible to save both time and SP."

"Gotcha!" Skull spoke from his position. "I brought some soft drinks just in case."

"Me too!" Panther joined in.

"Panther, initially, I'll have you stay behind with Queen as usual, but later I might switch you with someone else for SP reasons."

"Got it, Leader!" Panther said determinedly. "Clearing a Palace in so few days will be tough, but I believe we can do it."

"Yes." Joker nodded with a grave expression. "We must do it. Failure isn't an option."

Makoto was angry, but for the moment, she chose to remain silent and only relish the fact that Joker was seated just a few inches to her side. She became lost in thought. How could she make Joker see that he was on the wrong path? What could she do to save him?

"It's here." Mona's vehicle form halted and pulled Makoto out of her thoughts.

Everyone else stood up and left the bus. Joker and Makoto were the last ones to leave.

"So far, you haven't managed to impose yourself to him." Makoto recalled Johanna's advice from her dream the other night. "As long as Joker keeps intimidating you, you'll always be forced to do as he pleases, and things will never go your way! You won't be able to get him away from the crime path. You'll be forced to follow his orders, and he'll drag you into trouble after trouble!"

Despite it having been a dream, it was good advice. Makoto mustered up her courage and glared at the leader. "Joker! Do you have any idea what you're doing!? You want to steal from the mafia. You know that whatever they have was gotten through illegal and unethical means. What you are doing is doubly wrong!"

"It's you who has no idea what we are doing." Joker retorted.

"Then what's your intention!?" Makoto looked at Joker as defiantly as she could.

Joker didn't falter. His expression was serious and menacing. "To put an end to this situation."

"To... put an end...?" It wasn't what Makoto expected to hear. "How...?"

"By making him expose himself."

"... Huh?" While this was also what Makoto wanted, she didn't find Joker's argument convincing. Was this really the Phantom Thieves' intention? She couldn't understand how they intended to achieve that through stealing. It made no sense.

She followed Joker out of the vehicle. A lot of coffins stood nearby.

"This is why I chose to pick you up instead of having you meet us here." Joker gestured towards the coffins. "This is a dangerous place at night, with shady people hanging around outside the Dark Hour. I wouldn't want you showing up here during the normal hours and running into this kind of people."

Makoto cracked a smile, touched by Joker's consideration. His gentle words nearly made her forget that she was against what his group was doing.

Mona joined them, back in his bipedal feline form. Makoto couldn't help but reach her hand out towards him when he passed her.

"H-hey, what're you doing?!'" Mona startled when Makoto's hand touched him.

"Uh, sorry." Makoto retracted her hand. "Y-you know, it's still hard to believe that until a few seconds ago you were a car, a-and..."

Mona seemed embarrassed. "I-its okay. I a-actually don't mind. Just startled a little..."

Makoto gave him a sheepish smile. She kept thinking how fluffy Mona was, and this also nearly made her forget the issues at hand.

The group dodged some coffins in the way. As soon as they entered the facility, they grimaced as their noses were assaulted by the odor of cigarettes and alcohol.

"This smells like trouble!" Mona went ahead and got to a wall in the back. "Joker!"

Joker wordlessly nodded and swept his cellphone out of his pocket. He did something on the phone, and the wall moved and opened like a sliding door.

Makoto gasped. "It opened...! Joker, how did you know that this wall was an entrance?"

"Because Mona detected it."

"But how did you know that you needed to use the phone?"

"Because I've done the same with other passages before."

They went through the passage and came out in a totally different place.

"What is this?!" Makoto looked around as they went deeper inside. "This place is huge! It must have been really expensive to build... does it have a connection to the mafia? How could they hide such a facility behind the wall of a nightclub without no one noticing!?"

"No. It doesn't work like that." Joker interjected. "This is similar to what happens to the school."

"... Huh?"

"When we entered the secret passage, we came out in another dimension." Mona explained. "This is a place created by our target's corrupt mind. It represents his distorted views of the nightclub he rules over. In other words, this is his Palace."

Another dimension? Distorted views? What kind of nonsense story was that? Makoto felt even more confused. "His... Palace?"

"Yeah, you can confirm it for yourself. Just look at your phone." Mona suggested. "You have the app too, like the others, right?"

Makoto did as suggested. To her surprise, she saw that her phone was on, and the strange app was open. The screen showed a timer labeled, "Dark Hour - Remaining time," a few weird icons, and what looked like a mini map of the immediate surroundings. Lastly, the title at the top of the screen said, "Kaneshiro Palace." The whole situation was too surreal, but at least Mona's words confirmed one of Makoto's suspicions. The other Phantom Thieves also had the cellphone app.

"Enemies ahead. Be careful!" Mona warned, and everyone got in their usual positions.

Panther guided Makoto and hid behind a wall. Makoto was horrified when she saw security guards marching past them. And those guards were active during the Dark Hour!

The Phantom Thieves crossed a lot of rooms and halls, all the while hiding and avoiding being spotted. Makoto wasn't liking any of that. The scenery, the security guards... the more the group walked, the More the situation became clear to Makoto. They were in a bank, and the Phantom Thieves were going to rob it!

They got to a room with one of those teleporter devices Makoto had seen at the school's Palace.

"This is a bank. You're going to rob it, aren't you!?" Makoto glared accusingly at the Phantom Thieves.

"You could say that." Joker answered, and caused Makoto to grimace. "Or at least, that's what it'll look like on the surface. In practice, though, it's much more complicated. We're looking for this Palace's 'treasure.' It's the item that drives our target's corruption, and is guarded by a powerful Shadow that was born from the target's corrupt heart. By taking the treasure, we'll be removing the corruption from the target's heart. With no more evil in their hearts, our targets repent of their actions."

Makoto didn't get any of that. To her, all of it only sounded like excuses. "Stop! You're making no sense! Stop making up excuses to justify your questionable behavior! What you do is wrong, period!"

"You're really unwilling to listen... I hadn't expected you to be this closed-minded." Joker looked exasperated. "You didn't even take a moment to process my explanation, did you?"

"No, I didn't, because it doesn't matter! All your group seems to care about is think that you're cool because you found weird ways to infringe laws in a hidden hour where no one is awake to punish you!"

"Grrr!" Skull lost his patience. "The details might sound complicated, but what matters most is the end! What part of 'our targets repent of their actions' you didn't understand? Ugh, Joker, let's take her heart, too..."

"We can't. She has no corruption in her heart. It's just a misunderstanding blown out of proportions..." Joker heaved a sigh. "No amount of words will convince her. The only way is really to demonstrate it in practice. Let's go."

The Phantom Thieves left the safe room and continued the exploration, with Makoto begrudgingly accompanying them.

Makoto decided to ask a question that had been nagging at her. "What's with those security guards, anyway? If they're moving during the Dark Hour, does it mean-"

"They're Shadows." Panther cut her off.


The Phantom Thieves kept trying to hide from the guards, but there was one time when it wasn't possible.

The group at the front entered a narrow corridor and got face to face with one guard. To Makoto's surprise, the guard "transformed" and split into three talking monsters. Fox and Mona defeated two of them, then Joker proceeded to negotiate with the last one and absorb it as a new Persona.

After that, they managed to avoid a lot of enemies, but were forced into many battles as well, against both talking and non-talking monsters. A few minutes later, the group members at the front line began having SP issues. Joker called Panther over to help them at the front and had Fox stay near Makoto at the back.

"You finally get to stay behind with her, huh, Inari," Skull said mockingly. "Remember, don't do anything funny to her, or you'll have to face Joker's wrath!"

"I wouldn't do anything to her! It surprises me that you didn't do anything weird to her last time." Fox shot back.

Skull glared at Fox for a second, but turned around and returned to the front line.

Skull had said that Joker wouldn't be pleased if Fox did anything "funny" to Makoto. What did he mean by that?

"Uh, what is this deal about Joker getting angry?" Makoto couldn't help but ask.

"Joker likes you, or so I have heard," Fox said bluntly.

Makoto's heart skipped a beat. "... D-did he tell you this?"

"Uh, n-not really. I don't know the details, but this is what I was able to gather from our last meeting. We were discussing the ev-uh... something else, and the subject somehow came up. Apparently, Joker told Panther about your love confession, Panther told Skull, they began talking about it during the meeting, and now everyone in the group knows..."

"T-the whole group knows? This is embarrassing...!"

"Why?" Fox asked innocently. "The two of you have support from the whole group in this matter. Shouldn't this be a good thing?"

"Huh?" Makoto hadn't thought about it that way. Fox might be right... But again, this didn't change the fact that all the Phantom Thieves were trying to drag her over to the crime path. Makoto needed to resist, and then take proper action.

The Phantom Thieves went on their way while avoiding traps. This involved hiding in extremely tight places, breaking security cameras, and stealing card keys from Shadows by force. It went without saying that Makoto was none too pleased at witnessing the Phantom Thieves' actions, let alone being forced to join them in their infiltration mission.

"What is this...!?" Makoto exclaimed when they entered a room filled with... walking ATMs?

"I shouldn't have loaned money from him!" One of the ATMs spoke in a masculine voice. "I can barely pay a small bit of the interest each month. This way, I'll be buried in debts forever!"

"I couldn't pay the loan, and he sent his men after me!" Another ATM said.

"Those are... People...?" Makoto uttered in confusion.

Fox nodded. "These must be representations of the way Kaneshiro views people...!"

Then, a masculine voice came out of nowhere. "Ha ha ha. This is what I call easy money. Loan money to a lot of people when they're in dire need, charge exorbitant interest, and watch as money rains into my hands from all directions every day as they struggle to pay debts that will never end. And if it gets to the point that they refuse to pay the debt, just threaten their lives and get whatever they have. Or, if they have nothing, just make them work and generate money for me."

Considering that the man was from the mafia, Makoto didn't want to imagine what kind of "work" he forced his debtors to do.

"There is no advantage in being poor," The disembodied voice said. "I know this from experience. I had been poor before. The poor can't achieve anything in life, and their only role in this society is to be trounced upon and enrich those that are already rich! Is this how society works? Then so be it. When I got the opportunity, I chose the advantageous side. No more suffering! No more being looked down on! Now, it's only a matter of having those hopeless creatures power my 'money generating machine,' and watch the money increase ad infinitum!"

The voice silenced, and all the ATMs disappeared.

With the room emptied, Makoto and Fox joined the other group members.

"This is how the Palace's owner views people," Mona said. "That disembodied voice should be his."

"He views people as mere machines to generate money for him!" Fox uttered. "This is despicable!"

"See?" Makoto's gaze darted among all the Phantom Thieves. "If this is true... then now you know how disgusting this man's possessions are! Stealing from him will make you equally despicable people!"

"Argh!" Skull stomped on the ground. "How many times do we have to say that this isn't what we're trying to do?! That bastard's dirty money can burn in hell! We want nothing to do with it! We're here to make him stop what he's doing, that's all!"

"By stealing?"

"Forget the stealing part for the moment." Joker waved dismissively.

Makoto glared daggers at Joker. "Ah, now you want me to turn a blind eye to your crimes? Stealing is the main thing you do, or you wouldn't be called thieves!"

Joker heaved a sigh in exasperation. "I already explained what we do."

"Your explanations make no sense!"

"I told you it was hard to express our actions with words. This is why we're trying to show you in practice."

Makoto was still angry, but said nothing, as the discussion was going nowhere. She opted to glare at the Phantom Thieves instead.

They left the room and continued on. A few more battles, and the group members exhausted their SP. Luckily, they arrived at another safe room.

"Good. Another checkpoint." Joker approached the teleporter device in the room. "Let's end our exploration for today."

They warped to the entrance and were on the street shortly later.

They rode Mona's bus form, and Makoto kept glaring angrily at the Phantom Thieves the whole way.

When the group members split ways, Joker came to talk to Makoto in private.

"I need you to promise me something," he said out of nowhere.


Joker unexpectedly placed his gloved hand on Makoto's shoulder, and stared her firmly in the eye. "Now you may or may not know the nightclub's exact location. Either way, you should stay away from it during the normal hours. I know that you despise Kaneshiro's methods as much as all of us do, but please, I don't want you trying to do something on your own and coming to the nightclub outside the Dark Hour. As I said before, your recklessness makes me worry. If you act recklessly outside the Dark Hour, I won't be able to protect you. So, I want you to promise that you'll stay safe."

Joker's unexpected action made Makoto's anger melt away temporarily. He was going as far as to ask her to make a promise. It should be a sign that he was worried about her. His presence was as imposing as always, and he was waiting unblinkingly for her response. Still, Makoto shouldn't simply give in. She needed to impose herself.

"What if I don't promise?"

Joker's stare hardened and turned into a disapproving glare, and Makoto had to keep herself from flinching. Despite that, his reaction showed that he indeed cared about her. This alone comforted her, and the corners of her mouth ended up curving up into a smile.

"I'm grateful for your consideration, Joker. Despite all of our arguments, I still like you. Knowing that you care about me makes me happy."

Joker's gaze lost its intensity for a second, but he recovered his composure. "... So, do you promise or not?"

"Fine, I promise."

"Good." Joker's glare subsided, and he seemed relieved. "Tomorrow, we'll meet up at the same place as today." He removed his hand from Makoto's shoulder. "See you tomorrow. Good night."

It was Sunday. When Makoto awoke in the morning, she found herself even more confused than she had been last night. The Phantom Thieves' actions had been so surreal, from Mona turning into a bus, to them infiltrating a bank hidden behind a secret passage in the nightclub, to the bank's security guards turning into Shadows, to the ATM people, to the weird explanations about the Phantom Thieves' methods, and of course, Joker's concern towards her, and how he had managed to be stern but gentle at the same time. For all Makoto knew, the last Dark Hour's events could very well have been nothing but a long, weird dream.

Makoto had her breakfast, then tried to study in her room for a bit. However, she got worried about Sae's plan again. Makoto couldn't concentrate on her studies. She needed a distraction.

Makoto wondered whether Miura would be willing to spend the Sunday with her again. She retrieved her phone and stared at his name, "Kazushi Miura," on her contacts list. They had traded numbers last Wednesday, but he had yet to call or text her.

Both Kazushi and Morgana - and probably everyone else in the team - were exhausted after having lost a lot of HP and SP during last night's exploration. This time, Morgana was also asleep, and didn't wake Kazushi up the same time as he did on weekdays.

Kazushi awoke with a start at his cellphone ringing. When he saw Niijima-san's name on the screen, he got disoriented, unsure how he should respond to her. He had to take a second to remind himself that he was outside the Dark Hour and should push his Phantom Thief persona to the back of his mind. He cleared his throat a few times before answering the call. "... Hello?"

"Hi, Miura. Good morning."

"Ugh, morning. What time is it...?"

"Huh? It's 9:40..."


Niijima-san gasped from the other end of the line. "Ah! You were asleep?"

"Uh, yeah, Morgana didn't wake me up early this time."

"Oh, Miura, I ruined your sleep. I'm sorry."

"I-it's fine." He was already awake, and it was about time he got up. "So, what's up?"

"Uh, um, I was just wondering if you're free today..."

Kazushi quickly went over his schedule to check whether he wasn't forgetting any plans. There were none, but should he risk his identity and spend the day with her again? Well, they would be able to reveal the truth to her in just a few days. As long as he continued acting carefully until then, there should be no problem. "Yeah, no plans."

"Can we go to the arcade again?" Niijima-san sounded hopeful.


"Really? Great!" Niijima-san was ecstatic. "Then, I'll wait for you there."

"Okay. Just give me some time to get my act together. I'll see you at the arcade in an hour."

"It was Makoto, right?" Morgana spoke up once Kazushi had ended the call.

"Yeah. She wants to hang out."

"A date, huh?" Morgana teased.

"No, it's not!"

But Morgana ignored him. "Alright, I might give the two of you some privacy... it's boring that I can't even speak while Makoto is around! She also has the Potential, and I'm sure she can understand what I say! If she were to hear me speaking, our cover would blow for sure."

"Thanks." Kazushi was glad that Morgana was being considerate for once.

The not-cat gave Kazushi a pleading look. "Kazushi... think Lady Ann would agree to spend some time with me? I can talk to her, at least."

"Ah, I see it now. You have ulterior motives..." Kazushi sighed. "Alright. I'll ask her."

Kazushi swallowed a bread for breakfast, took a quick shower, and got changed. Then he called Ann.

"Hello, Kazushi?" Ann picked up the call.

"Hi, Ann. Are you feeling okay? The exploration was rough last night."

"Yeah, I'm doing fine. I slept like a log, and am rested now. You?"

"Same." Kazushi answered. "I slept until late, and so did Morgana. I'm still a bit tired, but I should be ready for more exploring tonight. I hope the others are well-rested, too. We have no time to lose. We must secure the treasure route and send the advance notice by July 7th at all cost."

"Yeah, we can't miss the deadline and have Niijima-senpai's sister get in trouble with the mafia." Ann agreed. "It's a good thing that Ryuji filled us in on this, and that we have the chance to act before it's too late. It'll be hard work, but I'm feeling optimistic, and believe we can do it."

"Me too." And Kazushi went to the point he had specifically called her for. "Ann, may I ask you a favor?"


"I'll be going out. Could you look after Morgana for a few hours? I don't want to take Morgana with me, but don't want to leave him all by himself, either."

"Okay. I'm on the street now. I'll drop by Leblanc and pick him up. I think I can get there in around ten minutes."


Makoto met up with Miura at the arcade in Akihabara. They practiced the shooting game for a while, then Shinya showed up.

"Hey! It's not hard mode yet, but you're doing much better than last time! And it's been only one week. I had thought you'd never get this far."

"Well, no one is born knowing." Miura responded. "But we're learning, practicing, and getting better at it."

Shinya's eyes lit up. "Can I count on you two to become good enough to give me a challenge, then?"

Makoto's eyes flared. She would get her revenge.

Miura nodded. "Yeah, one day, we'll get there. Though if you want a different kind of challenge right now, you should play a match of that racing game against her."

Makoto wasn't expecting that suggestion. Still, she didn't skip a beat, and smirked confidently at Shinya. "Then, it'll be the King of shooting games VS. the Queen of racing games. What do you say?" For some reason, that statement elicited a chuckle from Miura.

"Yeah, I'm on!" Shinya accepted the challenge.

Ten minutes later, Shinya had his eyes shut tight in frustration. "Argh! I lost! You're really good. This sure was a challenge. I'll practice hard to beat you at this game!"

Makoto had a satisfied smile on her face when she left the arcade.

"That turned out better than I had imagined." Miura commented when they were inside the train. "Somehow, we even managed to impress him."

"It looks like he isn't a bad kid. He only sent me straight to hard mode last time because he was impatient to have a challenge."

"Yeah." Miura agreed. "Looks like we and he'll continue being rivals for a while."

Makoto changed the subject. "Ah, yesterday I visited Mr. Kamoshida in prison."

Unlike Sakamoto, Miura didn't react negatively. "How's he doing?"

"Apparently, his sentence might be reduced for good conduct, and the police might have him do community work. He still looks very remorseful for the bad things he did. He also lamented about those rumors involving you that he started. When I told him that I'm helping you fix your reputation, he asked me to look after Sakamoto as well. The way he ruined Sakamoto's dream seems to weigh in his conscience a lot."


"Miura, Mr. Kamoshida told me that you entered his blacklist because you saw him hassling Takamaki."

"Yeah. He had taken her to dinner by force or something. Looks like I'm bound to have problems running into men hassling women on the street. Unlike the time I was detained, though, I didn't do anything. I only saw them. But only this was enough for him to get me into his blacklist. He said that since I had gotten in his way, I'd have a 'surprise.' Then, the following morning, the rumors had started."

Makoto looked at Miura with sympathy. Even after Mr. Kamoshida was arrested, people continued building up on the rumors he had started. Thanks to that, not only the students, but even the teachers had a bad opinion of Miura.

"What about Takamaki?"

"The whole incident with Mr. Kamoshida left her traumatized, too. People had already been discriminating her because of her foreign heritage and her looks, and saying a lot of bad things about her. They spread rumors that she walks around wearing revealing clothes and does... inappropriate stuff, which isn't true. Then, they began spreading rumors of there being 'something' between her and Mr. Kamoshida, which also isn't true, of course. She's nothing like the rumors say."

"Poor Takamaki." Makoto would never have guessed that the girl had been going through all of that. It was relieving to hear that the rumors were false, though. "I'm getting to the conclusion that most of those rumors at school can't be trusted at all. I've talked to Takamaki a few times, and she was quite friendly, if a little shy. From my interactions with her so far, she seems to be a kind person. It's sad that she's been going through these horrible things."

"Yeah." Miura agreed.

Maybe Makoto should talk to Takamaki more.

The train stopped at Shibuya's station. While Makoto and Miura had lunch at the family restaurant, the worry about Sae and the nightclub briefly surfaced, and Makoto debated whether to tell Miura about it. In the end, Makoto decided against it. Spending time with Miura was quite enjoyable, and she didn't want to ruin the mood.

At the Dark Hour, Joker came to pick Makoto up at the same place as last night.

"Joker. I've come to a decision. I still can't wrap my head around your crazy explanation, but I decided to give your group another chance. I'll watch this mission until the end, then make my conclusions after that."

"We wouldn't have it any other way. As I said, no backing out."

Makoto shivered. Once again, she was doing just as Joker wanted. The feeling that she was getting herself into big trouble nagged at her again.

"I'm a bit scared, though." Before Makoto had realized it, she was voicing her worry. "I have the nagging feeling that I shouldn't be doing this..."

Joker looked her in the eye. "Just trust me."

"Huh." Makoto blinked.

"You had said that you like me. Then, you must trust me. How are you supposed to stay with someone you don't trust? It's only fair." Joker reasoned.

"Uh... y-yes, it makes sense." Oh no! Makoto thought. Joker had gotten her again. She had failed to impose herself once more.

As if to confirm Makoto's thought, Joker flashed a small smirk of satisfaction. Makoto's nagging feeling intensified. This wasn't going well. She shouldn't be swayed. She shouldn't let him drag her to the crime path...

Makoto followed Joker and met up with the others. They boarded Mona's vehicle form, and headed to Kaneshiro's Palace.

Makoto had to endure yet another session of hiding in tight places, avoiding sensors and other traps, running to avoid the Shadow security guards, and watching the others battle, destroy security cameras and retrieve card keys to open doors. Panther stayed protectively close to her as always.

Makoto felt it was around the time they usually ended exploring.

"I feel that a safe room is close by!" Mona announced.

"Oh, it was about time!" Skull said.

"It must be over there!" Mona ran forward.

"... Wait!" Joker commanded, but it was already too late.

Mona passed in front of a well-hidden sensor, and the alarms went off. A lot of Shadows came from all directions and surrounded them. There were more enemies than the group at the front could handle, and various Shadows came for Makoto and Panther.

"Queen, stay behind me!" Panther had her Persona cast a fire spell that engulfed three of the Shadows. The spell wasn't enough to eliminate the enemy, but Makoto observed that the Shadow was weak to fire.

"No, I'll fight too!" Makoto retrieved one of those fire gems the group had given her previously and threw it at an enemy, and finished the job.

But there were more coming for them. Unlike Panther's area-hitting spell, Makoto's gems hit only one enemy at a time. The enemies also hit them a few times, but thankfully didn't cause much damage. For the most part, getting hit hurt less than Makoto had expected. Even though both girls were holding themselves considerably well in that fight, Makoto ran out of fire spell gems. Without much choice, she took her toy revolver and unloaded it onto the enemies. Her shots added to Panther's fire spell's damage exploded two Shadows into black ooze, and Makoto secretly thanked Miura for having taught her the basic principles of the arcade shooting game.

By that point, the number of enemies had reduced considerably, and the other group members came to their aid. Skull and Mona took a handful of enemies down with their multi-target attacks while Fox took one Shadow on with his katana. Everyone was occupied with their own problems. Only Joker noticed that one of the stronger Shadows was sneaking behind them and coming for Makoto.

"Aaaaaaaaah!" Joker screamed in pain as he shielded Makoto from the surprise attack and was sent flying into a wall.

"Joker...!" Makoto exclaimed in horror. "Aaaah!" She panicked and desperately unloaded her gun's remaining ammo on the Shadow.

However, it was still not enough to finish the enemy off. In the end, Fox was the one who dealt the final blow.

The others were able to defeat all enemies. Everyone rushed to their leader.

"Joker! Are you okay?!" Panther got to him first.

But Joker didn't respond. He seemed to be seeing stars, and had a painful expression on his face.

"It was a critical hit, wasn't it?" Mona reached him next. "And the enemy hit his Persona's weakness, too! It must've hurt a ton."

"Hey, man! Can you stand?" Skull asked.

"Likely not. He can't even speak." Fox remarked.

As if to confirm Fox's statement, Joker's eyes closed and he lost consciousness.

When Mona used a healing spell, Makoto felt much better. The spell reached everyone, including Joker. However, the leader didn't wake up.

"Joker!" Makoto called out to him with worry.

"Calm down. He's just unconscious," Fox said. "We'll have to carry him."

Skull agreed and proceeded to lift the leader from the ground. Since Skull was usually rough and violent, Makoto feared that he would hurt Joker even more. To her pleasant surprise, he acted gently and carefully, and so did the others. It was clear that all group members deeply respected their leader.

Thankfully, the safe room was right ahead. Once they were in the room, they gently laid Joker down on the ground.

"Joker..." Makoto murmured. The ever so powerful and confident Joker looked so helpless now. Even though he was unconscious, his face still reflected pain. And it was all because he took a blow for her. "We should take him to the hospital." Makoto suggested.

"No, we don't need to do that." Mona objected. "We should wake him up, though. If only I knew how to use a revival spell... does anyone have one of those rare revival items we got from Shadows?"

"Here." Panther showed a small flask of something Makoto had never seen before.

"Hey, wait." Makoto raised a hand warily. "What's that!?"

"A revival medicine." Fox answered.

Makoto had a bad feeling about that situation. "Where does it originate from?"

Skull seemed clueless. "No idea."

This confirmed Makoto's suspicion. She definitely didn't like that. "Let me see." She yanked the flask out of Panther's hand. She turned the flask over and found no name, no label, no anything. "You're going to give him some random concoction you don't even know the origin of? What if it causes him more harm than good!? No, is this thing even legal?!"

"I don't know." Skull admitted. "I only know that it took us out of a pinch a few times already, and that Joker needs it. Now give me that." He unceremoniously took the flask from Makoto's hand, then threw it back to Panther.

Panther caught the flask in mid air, and walked over to the fallen leader. She opened the flask, crouched down next to Joker and gently opened his mouth to administer the liquid.

A bit of the liquid spilled, but most of it entered Joker's system.

"Done. He should wake up soon." Panther stood up once the flask was empty.

Makoto was about to begin another scolding session when Joker grunted and opened his eyes, only to painfully squeeze them shut again.

"Joker!" Practically all members shouted in unison and flanked him.

"... E-everyone. What... where..." His eyes opened again but were unfocused. His voice came out weak, and he seemed to be having trouble to string a single sentence together. To Makoto, it was strange to see Joker in that state.

"All of us are alright!" Mona informed him.

"Queen and me, too." Panther added. We aren't hurt. Just tired.""

Joker released a weak but relieved sigh.

Mona used a healing spell on Joker.

"Hey, Leader, you alright? Can you stand?" Skull repeated his earlier question.

Joker tried, but his face scrunched up and he fell down again.

"I guess we'll have to continue carrying you, eh?" Skull sounded annoyed, but his expression didn't agree with his words, as though carrying Joker were actually no trouble at all.

"... Sorry."

Makoto had thought Joker would try to appear strong and refuse, but he didn't protest. He apologized, as though he were feeling bad for - quite literally - burdening his teammates. Maybe he wasn't such the show-off Makoto had imagined him to be.

"We've gotta go home." Mona headed to the teleporter.

"Huh, what?" Makoto was incredulous. "You don't mean you'll be carrying Joker all the way, do you?"

"Ha ha ha!" Mona laughed. "This is a job for the great car and great pilot of the Phantom Thieves!"

"Oh..." Makoto had forgotten about that detail.

Skull helped Joker stand up and had the leader hold onto him. Fox took his cellphone and wordlessly volunteered to activate the teleporter. They warped to the entrance and left the nightclub Palace.

"If I had been hit by that attack, would I have been incapacitated like he is now?" Makoto asked on the way out of the Palace.

"I don't know." Mona answered. "It depends on your Persona's resistances, and we still don't know what they are. Joker was using a Persona weak to that attack's element. Worse, he was unlucky and got a 'critical hit.' I mean, it got him in full."

"I still think he should be taken to the hospital." Makoto insisted.

"No need." Mona shot that suggestion down. "That medicine and my healing spell already did the hard part. As long as he takes a good rest, he'll be fine."

Makoto wasn't convinced, but stopped arguing. They wouldn't listen to her anyway.

Once out of the Palace, Mona assumed his bus form. Skull, Panther and Fox helped Joker inside and sat him down. Makoto sat down right next to him.

Makoto felt bad. Joker had taken an extremely painful blow for her, yet she was the only person in the group that hadn't done anything to help him so far. Joker still looked to be in pain. Makoto wished she could heal him, but she had no Persona, and couldn't use any healing spell. She needed to do something. Anything.

Without so much as asking whether he would mind it, Makoto took the liberty of wrapping an arm around his shoulders to both comfort him and steady him. She was relieved when he didn't complain.

"Sorry, Joker. You're suffering like this because of me." She spoke in a low voice. "If only I could use a Persona..."

A few seconds passed. She hadn't expected him to say anything, but he did. "... Glad... you're fine." He still seemed to have trouble focusing and forming sentences. "You... did well." Despite that, he sounded proud.

Makoto felt a wave of satisfaction at hearing Joker's praise. "I still haven't said this... Joker, you protected me. Thank you."

Joker chuckled quietly. For a moment, Makoto thought he was mocking her.

Joker let out a resigned sigh. "Couldn't help it... when I realized it, I was already moving... to protect you."

That was so sweet.

"I... I-I think..." It was hard for Joker, but he still insisted on speaking. "I think... I like you."

Makoto's satisfaction rose to new heights. He had said it. He had admitted to it. Joker liked her! "I... I think so, too! That you like me, I mean. I'm happy that you said that." Makoto had known that speaking was hard for Joker at the moment, but she couldn't help but ask, "I told you what makes me like you. So, what makes you like me?"

Come to think of it, they had barely met. Makoto was curious as to what reasons Joker had to be interested in her. Was it because of her looks like everyone else? Was it because he always managed to exert his authority on her?

Joker had a distant look for a while. "I like... being with you."

This was surprising. He liked to be with her? "Just that? But all we seem to do is argue..."

"Hmph." He snickered. "Not really. All those times... where nice."

Makoto was confused. "Huh? Those times? What are you talking about?"

"Yes, those times..." Joker repeated with a distant look in his eyes.

"I don't get it. What times?"

Joker smiled through his pain. "All of them..."

Makoto had no idea what he was talking about, but at least he had smiled, which was extremely unusual. And she had an idea. Now Joker was unable to think properly, and seemed to be saying everything that popped up in his head. If she threw him a smart question, he wouldn't be able to dodge it. This was her perfect opportunity to make him slip. "Okay. Since both of us like one another, I think we can call each other by first names now. So, what's your real name?"

Joker seemed to be processing the question for a while, then he opened his mouth to speak.

"Joker, stop!" Mona's voice warned him. "If you continue talking, you're gonna make important stuff slip! Be quiet!"

Joker balked, and no words came from his mouth.

Makoto gritted her teeth. Even though her talk with Joker was quiet, Mona was aware of everything that was going on! Not only that, but he got in her way, too! She needed to insist. Joker was vulnerable. It was now or never. "Come on, Joker. You like me. So, you trust me, right? How are you supposed to be with someone you don't trust?"

More time for him to digest what she said. Then, he began laughing quietly and with difficulty. "Using my own words against me now? ... you're... ... ingenious." His speech gradually became slower and quieter. "One of the things I like about you..." Joker's eyes closed, and he seemingly lost consciousness again.

"... Joker...?" Makoto was alarmed for a moment, but realized he had actually fallen asleep.

Makoto was curious. She glanced around, and no one seemed to be looking at her right now. Her free hand reached out and touched Joker's cheek, but he didn't react. His mask's edge was just above her fingertips. Could she take his mask off? She tugged on it, but it didn't budge. How strange. It seemed as though the mask were glued to his face!

Mona's bus form halted. "Queen, here's your stop."

"Huh, what? Where is this...?"

Mona told her the street, and it was just a couple blocks away from the one they usually parted ways.

"We'll accompany Joker to his home," Fox said.

"I want to go, too!" Makoto protested. What better chance to find out where Joker lived?

"No, you can't!" Mona objected. "We can't trust you with this piece of info just yet."

"Joker will be fine." Panther assured her.

Makoto glanced at Joker, whose sleep didn't seem to be very peaceful. He was still in pain. Makoto wished she had a way to ease his pain, but there was nothing she could do, except trust that his teammates would take good care of him. She retracted her arm that had still been holding him. She expected him to react, but he didn't move.

"Get well soon, okay?" Makoto whispered to Joker and gently patted his head. Once again, she got no reaction from him. She stood up and walked towards the door, then turned around to address the others. "If he doesn't get better, you must take him to the hospital, got it?!"

"We feel bad for him too, you know. It's sad to see him suffering like this!" Panther replied. "But we've also been through this kind of thing. He'll be fully recovered in one day or two, you'll see!"

"I hope so." Makoto murmured and stepped out of the "bus."

Chapter Text

Kazushi awoke in the middle of the night on the mattress in his room. He couldn't remember much of what had happened while his friends brought him home, except that he had groggily taken the keys out of his pocket and handed them to someone to open the cafe's doors.

"He shouldn't go to school in his current condition," someone, likely Yusuke, had said at some point.

"Yeah. Morgana, don't wake him up at the usual time, okay? Let him rest." Ann had instructed.

At that recollection, Kazushi gasped. There was no way that he would skip school that day. It was the day he needed to turn his assignment in. He needed to go to school at all cost!

Kazushi tried to get up, but a jolt of pain assaulted his whole body and forced him back down onto the mattress. The enemy's attack had not only been of an element his Persona was weak to, but as his lack of luck would have it, it had also turned into a critical hit. He would need a lot of rest to fully recover. Obviously, it would be impossible to explore the Palace that day. Kazushi took a few seconds to catch his breath as he went over the schedule in is head. If they were careful, they could probably afford to lose one day of exploration, but not more than that. Their schedule was already tight to begin with. They needed to stop Kaneshiro before the man could do anything bad to Niijima-san's sister.

Niijima-san... Kazushi thought of her. He couldn't quite remember what they had talked about during the ride home, but was glad that she was okay.

Despite the pain, he slowly moved his arms and patted the mattress around him. There he found his keys, as well as his cellphone, which was displaying the time. Two in the morning.

Kazushi fell asleep, but kept constantly jolting awake, worried about the time of day and his school assignment. When it was half an hour before the time he usually woke up, he made up his mind. He slowly and quietly stood up. His body was sore, but was already better than it had been at two in the morning.

Only then, Kazushi realized he wasn't in his pajamas, but in the casual clothes he had been wearing before the Dark Hour last night. He stealthily retrieved his uniform and his bag, then left his bedroom. He went to the bathroom and changed out of casual clothes into his uniform.

Moving around, even if slowly, proved to be a chore. Kazushi tried to munch on a leftover bread for breakfast, but his head throbbed at each bite. Even so, he did his best to eat the bread without complaining. His body needed the food.

After he was finished, he took a sheet of paper from his school bag and wrote a short apology note to Morgana, and slipped it into his room along with a leftover bread. He managed to quietly lock the door and leave, and Morgana gave no signs of waking up. Kazushi was thankful for this.

Despite the train station being so close to Leblanc, the walk towards it was harder than Kazushi had expected. While he waited for the train, he thought he would collapse. He prayed that he would find an empty seat in the train, but of course, luck wasn't on his side...

After enduring the gruesome train ride, Kazushi felt he wasn't cut out to walk the rest of the way to school. He took a taxi, where he was finally able to sit down and get some rest.

"Aaaaah! I can't believe this. Kazushiii!" Ann exclaimed with worry when he entered the classroom and allowed himself to collapse on his desk. "Are you okay!?"

He was about to give her an automatic, "I'm fine," response, but stopped himself. "Uh... more or less."

"I had told Morgana to not wake you up!"

"He didn't. I kept getting worried about stuff and waking up. Then I couldn't take it anymore and snuck out of my room."

Ann sighed in both worry and exasperation. "Kazushi, you shouldn't have come to school in this state! You have a small number of absences. You could've skipped."

"I know..." Kazushi was resigned. "I'd have skipped... if not for that assignment. The teacher doubted my abilities last time. Now that it's an individual assignment, it's my chance to prove myself."

Ann had no arguments against that. She was also upset at the teacher's behavior towards Kazushi in their last group assignment. "Don't push yourself, okay? If you need anything, just ask."

Kazushi wordlessly nodded.

"Ann, any news on- aaaaaaaaah!" Ryuji unceremoniously barged into the classroom and his eyes grew wide upon seeing Kazushi there. "Kazushi! What are you doing here?!"

"I have to turn an important assignment in. I know I shouldn't have come, but there was no other way."

"An assignment? Is it that one you told me?"

Kazushi nodded.

"Man, you're really unlucky, aren't you? From all days to have to turn a homework assignment in, why did it have to be the morning right after you took a beating from a Shadow?" Ryuji sighed. "At least it's good to hear you talking normally. Yesterday you were having trouble to even string words together."

"My body is sore. My head hurts and is still spinning. I'm not sure if I can focus properly in class."

"Let's hope the teachers won't nag you too much. I'll be going to my classroom now. Take care." Ryuji turned around and left.

Makoto's night hadn't been peaceful. She kept waking up and worrying about Joker. He had shielded her from a powerful attack, and got incapacitated. It had been terrible to see the state he was in. His aura of authority was gone. He was in much pain and seemed so vulnerable. He couldn't even speak properly. That was what he got for trying to rob the mafia's nightclub during the Dark Hour. But again, that was what she got for accompanying him. Still, it didn't change the fact that she was worried. Makoto wished she could do something to help Joker. She wanted to accompany him to his home and look after him. It hurt when Panther and Mona refused to let her come. Panther had told her that he would be fine in a few days, but considering his state, Makoto seriously doubted that a few days would be enough. She hoped that Joker would give up on his nonsense mission after this.

After she got up, had breakfast and changed into her uniform, Makoto considered sending an email to Joker to ask how he was doing and wish him a good recovery, but she figured she would be better of sending it after school. Joker wouldn't reply that early anyway. He needed to rest.

At school, Makoto tried to distract herself by focusing on classes. When lunch break started, she went to the courtyard, where she found Miura and Mishima talking on a bench.

"Ugh. Today just isn't your day, is it? Why all the teachers had to pick you to answer stuff?" Mishima fumed.

"... Because I wasn't paying attention, probably. But whatever." Miura sighed tiredly. "All I want is to turn that assignment in and go home."

"Hey, you two." Makoto greeted them.

"Ms. President!" Mishima was alarmed instantly. "You a-aren't here to scold Miura, are you?! He didn't do anything wrong! ... Okay, he might have dozed off in class and not paid attention to the lectures sometimes, but I'm sure he didn't mean to! He's just having a rough day. Please, forgive him!"

"M-Mishima..." Miura threw an exasperated look at his classmate. "You're just making it sound worse..." He muttered under his breath.

Miura had dozed off and not paid attention in class? That didn't sound good. Makoto's first impulse was to enter lecturing mode, but she caught herself before it had time to happen. One look at him was enough to tell that something was wrong. Miura didn't look well. He looked tired, or maybe even sick. It made sense that he would have dozed off and been unable to keep focused in class.

"Miura, you don't look too well..." Makoto observed. "Are you okay?"

Makoto's concerned look made Mishima relieved that she didn't seem about to reprimand Miura.

Miura didn't respond, but Mishima did. "Yeah, he isn't well. And all the teachers decided to pick him to answer questions! Since he wasn't focused, he failed to answer some of the questions, and the teachers scolded him!"

That sounded unfair. "Couldn't they see that he isn't well?!"

"They could. 'This is what you get for staying up late and doing mischief!' Is what one of them said." Mishima angrily mimicked the teacher. "Then the teacher lectured him about having to be responsible and dedicate his time to studies. I'm sure the teachers believed the rumor that says Miura goes to parties at inappropriate places at night. One of them even accused him of being on a hangover!"

Makoto gritted her teeth. She was angry at the teachers, and at whoever came up with that stupid rumor.

Miura slowly stood up. "Sorry, I'm heading to the roof. I want to be somewhere quiet."

"I'm coming too." Makoto wanted to keep him company. She turned to Mishima. "Don't worry. I won't do anything bad to him."

When Niijima-san said she would be coming along, Kazushi froze. This had been happening a lot lately. He said he would be going somewhere, and Niijima-san invited herself along without even asking whether he minded it. Not that he didn't like having her around. Much to the contrary. On one hand, he was glad that she enjoyed keeping him company, but on the other hand, his current state was pretty much a giveaway of Joker's true identity. Well, he still felt as though he had been run by a bus, and his head still throbbed constantly, but he was doing much better than he had been during the ride home, when he had been barely able to stand up. Now, his face wasn't automatically scrunching up in pain every other second, and he could think much more clearly. Still, the moment Niijima-san connected the dots, his cover would blow for sure. Unfortunately, his group hadn't managed to win her over yet. She was still against their actions. He was confident they could convince her of their views in just a few days once the mission ended. But what if she were to find out the truth before that? What would become of their friendship?

"Miura, where are you going?" Niijima-san placed a hand on his shoulder. "You're walking past the stairs."

"Ah...!" Kazushi gasped and stopped in his tracks. "I got distracted."

This only made Niijima-san worry even more. "I could tell. I guess it's a good thing that I'm keeping an eye on you."

Kazushi felt good hearing that, despite the fact that it meant a bigger risk to his Phantom Thief identity. Speaking of which, Niijima-san's touch reminded him of the way she held him gently during their ride home. Kazushi couldn't remember much of what happened during the ride, though, except for Niijima-san comforting him, and Morgana warning him to stop talking. Did he let anything important slip? He hoped not...

They slowly climbed the stairs and headed to the rooftop in silence, then sat down on a bench.

"Miura, are you okay?" She asked again.

"I..." For a moment, Kazushi was unsure about what to say. "Well, I'd be lying if I told you that I'm fine. But... yeah, I've been worse."

Of course she didn't like that response too much. "I know you're dedicated and hardworking, but haven't you been pushing yourself too hard?"

"Uh, maybe a little..."

Niijima-san frowned. "That isn't good for your health, you know." She scolded him rather gently for her standards. No hint of recognition so far, though. She abruptly changed the subject. "Have you brought lunch?"

"No." Kazushi answered. "I had considered buying something, but..."

Niijima-san took her lunch which was a bread from the canteen, and split it in half. "Have this." She handed him one half of the bread. "You need food, even more so if you're sick."

"Huh? But it's your lunch!"

"I don't mind sharing it. I'm not hungry. You need this food more than I do."

He stared at the offered bread for a moment before slowly reaching for it. "Thanks..."

It was a good thing that the bread was soft, and Kazushi didn't need to put much effort into chewing it. Still, his head protested at each bite. He failed to suppress a few grimaces, and Niijima-san noticed it.

"Miura, what's wrong? Is it lack of appetite?"

"No, it's a headache. This is why I can't seem to focus on anything today."

Niijima-san looked at him with a mixture of concern and disapproval. "Miura, please don't tell me that it's really a hangover...!"

What? Niijima-san was suspecting him of having had alcoholic drinks?! At least she hadn't figured out the real reason for his condition. In fact, the way she was misunderstanding the situation was quite amusing.

"No, it's not." Kazushi couldn't help but laugh. That burst of laughter made his head protest, but whatever.

His reaction seemed to throw Niijima-san off. "A-alright, good. Either way, I think you shouldn't have come to school."

"Huh? the Student Council President is saying that I should've skipped classes?" He said playfully.

"Uh..." Niijima-san gasped and seemed lost for words. "I wouldn't normally say that! But you aren't feeling well enough and aren't being productive in class. So, what's the point in coming? You'd be better off by staying home and resting to come back full force the next day. Your case is a valid reason for skipping class."

This was also good to hear. "Yeah, I get it. The suggestion just sounded a bit... odd, coming from you, if taken out of context."

"You shouldn't take it out of context. Context is important!"

Kazushi could only hope Niijima-san would remember her own statement. Taking things out of context was exactly her problem. She viewed stealing as wrong, period. She viewed violence as wrong, period. But she never took the time to put the Phantom Thieves actions in context. She automatically considered everything they did as "wrong," and whenever they tried to explain the context to her, she stubbornly ignored everything they said.

Kazushi carefully chewed a piece of bread and swallowed it. "Niijima-san, I get what you were trying to say. While I agree with you, I actually have a valid reason to have come."

"And that is...?"

"The homework assignment. You know, the one about the book you borrowed for me. Today is the day to turn it in, and if I don't, I might even fail the subject."

"... What?"

Kazushi slightly raised his free hand. "Before you chide me for not having studied or something, here's the context. It all began with the previous homework assignment, before the first exams. It was a group assignment. My group consisted of Ann, Mishima and me. The three of us did our research and worked on the text together, then Mishima took the text, typed everything into his computer and printed it. When we turned the assignment in, for no reason at all, the teacher accused me of not having done anything and having joined the group only to get a score. The three of us protested, but the teacher was impassive, and gave me a much lower score than the others in the group."

"What?!" Niijima-san was incredulous. "This is absurd!"

"Yeah. And sadly, it's all true."

Niijima-san munched on her half of the bread while she listened. "What about the exam? How did you do?"

"I did okay on the exam, but it isn't enough to save my grade. This is why I have to turn this assignment in no matter what. This is my chance to prove myself to the teacher. It's an individual assignment. This means that the teacher will be evaluating only my work, since there are no other group members I could've 'taken advantage off.' I even wrote everything by hand so that the teacher won't accuse me of having copy-pasted from a website or anything like that. I can even show my notes and drafts if needed. Even after all of this, if it turns out this isn't enough to gain the teacher's trust, then..." Kazushi sighed. "Well, I won't think about it unless all else fails. Considering my luck, though, that's not hard to happen..."

Niijima-san was indignant. "Ah, these teachers...! Why are they so unreasonable?"

"They fully believe the rumors they hear about me, and don't trust me at all. This is what Ms. Kawakami told me. They have preconceptions about students in the rehabilitation program, and automatically accuse me of behaving in a way they believe problem students behave. They even accused me of cheating in the exam."

Makoto recalled an incident that had taken place right after the first exams' results were posted. She had been in the faculty office and heard teachers accusing some problem student of cheating in the exams, because it was too unusual to have someone of his reputation reach top ten in the class. Ms. Kawakami was among the rare few who stepped up to his defense. She argued that he always did his homework and usually answered the questions correctly, and she said she believed he was taking his rehabilitation seriously and trying to keep a good record. In the end, the other teachers decided to leave his score as is, because it would be better to let him move to the next grade rather than have to put up with him again the following year if he were to repeat the grade.

When Makoto heard the teachers gossiping, she had shrugged the issue off as being none of her business. Syujin had a lot of bad students, and Makoto didn't stop to think and figure out who was the student in question. Only now she realized who those teachers had been talking about. It was Miura.

"Now I remember hearing teachers gossiping about that in the faculty office," Makoto said as she finished her lunch. "I had no idea they were talking about you, though! I only realized it now that you mentioned it. Ms. Kawakami was among the few teachers defending you, and I'm with her. I believe in you, Miura."

Miura flashed a slight smile. "Thanks. One more reason to not fail this assignment. You went out of your way to help me and borrow that book for me. I don't want to have your help go to waste."

"Aww Miura..." His words warmed Makoto's heart. But why did he always have to suffer so much? Everything had been collapsing on top of him since the time he was a kid. It was so unfair. "I'll do anything I can to help fix your reputation. I wish I had met you sooner, then I could have helped you more." Makoto wondered whether they would have gotten along if they had met when they were younger. "Do you think we'd have gotten along if we had met while we were kids?"

Miura had just finished his half of the bread. "Hmm. If you didn't decide to avoid me like everyone else, then maybe."

Makoto smiled, lost in her "what if" scenario. If she had known Miura from the time they were kids, maybe she would have confessed to him sooner, and wouldn't have confessed to Joker. Then, she wouldn't be at this impasse about having to choose between Miura and Joker right now. But reality was that she had confessed to Joker already.

Makoto had told Joker everything she admired in him. Days had passed and he didn't give her any clear response. But last night, Joker protected her. This proved that he really cared about her. Then, that moment inside Mona's bus form, Joker had finally given her his verbal response. "I think... I like you." Even though he had said he "thought" he liked her, he had been vulnerable and saying whatever came up in his mind. He had basically admitted that he liked her, and Makoto believed he had meant it from his heart.

Now Makoto was sure that Joker liked her. So, she had even suggested they should address each other by first names. She had been so close to making him slip, but Mona just had to stop him and get in the way. Even so, Makoto felt she had become much closer to Joker yesterday.

And to her right, on the bench at the school's rooftop, sat Miura. He was going through a lot. He needed support. He needed affection. But Makoto didn't feel it was right to display a lot of affection for Miura now that she was sure she had Joker.

"Here's the assignment." Miura had retrieved a folder from his bag and was taking some sheets of paper from it.

"Huh?" This pulled Makoto back from her thoughts.

"You had said you wanted to see it."

"Oh, yes, I had said that..."

Makoto took the assignment and looked at it with interest. She spent a few minutes reading everything. Meanwhile, Miura closed his eyes and remained silent while leaning onto his bag behind him.

"Nice writing, Miura." She handed him the assignment back. "If I were a teacher, I'd give you the highest score."

Miura opened his eyes and straightened up at the sound of her voice. He looked slightly embarrassed as he took the papers from her hand. "Thanks. I'm sure you'd be a very strict teacher. So, this means a lot."

"You did a good job. I hope the teacher agrees."

"Me too." He retrieved his folder, slowly tucked the assignment in it, and placed the folder back in his bag.

"Which class will it be?" Makoto asked.

"Last class today."

Poor Miura. He had to go to all the trouble to come to school on a day he was sick, and the class where he needed to turn the assignment in just had to be the last one! "The last class! This is torture..."

A determined look crossed Miura's eyes. "Well, on the bright side, only halfway to go."

Makoto smiled in admiration at Miura's optimism. "Miura, how can you take all this in stride like this? Anyone else would be lashing out and cursing loudly right now!"

"Is that so? I can't speak for anyone else, but nothing was ever easy for me. So, I guess 'hard mode' is 'normal mode' to me. Though I have to admit, it's been much easier to handle this kind of stuff ever since I... uh, came to terms with myself."

"Came to terms with yourself? What do you mean?"

Miura hesitated a bit. "I-I mean... when I... accepted my Shadow."

"Oh." Makoto recalled how Miura had looked disturbed when Kujikawa-san said that rejecting one's Shadow might end in death. As curious as Makoto was to know about his Shadow, by his expression right now, though, it was probably better to leave that talk for another time. She changed the subject. "Anyway, good luck with your assignment."


After a few hours that seemed to last an eternity to Kazushi, the day's last class finally arrived. He handed his assignment to the teacher along with everyone else, and waited at his desk.

"Miura." The male teacher had a disconcerted expression as he called Kazushi to the front of the classroom. "I had been in doubt about your academic skills, what with all people have been saying about you, other teachers suspecting you of cheating in the exam and whatnot. I have talked to Ms. Kawakami. She believes that you are putting effort into fulfilling your duties as a student. Indeed, you have always done your homework and showed to pay attention during my class. I took a look at your assignment, and... I must say that I like what I saw. I guess I'll agree with Ms. Kawakami and give you some credit. "It's good to see someone in the rehabilitation program putting effort into changing for better."

This sounded like a miracle. Kazushi had to make sure he wasn't dozing off in class and dreaming, or that his brain wasn't playing tricks on him. "... Thank you." Kazushi gave a slight bow of his head.

"One more thing." The teacher continued. "This time, I'll revise your score from the last assignment, but I expect you to continue doing well. I want to believe that putting faith in you isn't a mistake."

"Yes, you can be sure of it." Kazushi nodded determinedly.

"Good. You may return to your seat."

Kazushi couldn't feel happier as he sat down at his desk. He had done it. The downside was that the teacher would likely pressure him much more from now on, probably the same way teachers pressured Niijima-san to maintain her high standards, but Kazushi didn't want to think about that right now. What mattered the most was that he had gained the teacher's trust. All the trouble of sneaking out of Leblanc, stumbling through today's lectures and being scolded for dozing off in class had paid off. Kazushi had no regrets.

It felt so good to change someone's views without resorting to Persona powers. This proved one of Kazushi's convictions right, and strengthened his policy of choosing the Phantom Thieves' targets. This was one point he had been struggling to make other group members understand, specifically Ryuji and Mishima. Not everyone that acted unreasonably had evil hearts. For instance, that teacher's unfairness towards Kazushi wasn't driven by ill intent, but by the preconceptions about students in the rehabilitation program. This was the kind of case where intervention from the Phantom Thieves wasn't necessary. They shouldn't go tampering with the minds of just anyone. Their powers were dangerous. If they weren't careful, their Persona powers could cause harm to their targets, much like when Shadows damaged people's minds and caused the berserk incidents. They should only intervene only as a last resort, when it was clear that the target's heart was corrupted beyond repair.

After classes, Makoto spotted Miura heading to the exit. Even though he still looked tired, he seemed more relaxed, and had a relieved expression.

"Miura! From the expression on your face, I take that it went well."

Miura nodded. "I still don't know the score, but at least the teacher seemed willing to put some faith in me. He said he'll revise my score from the previous assignment, too."

"This is great!" Makoto was happy to hear it.

"Yeah, it made my day." Miura actually smiled. "And it's thanks to your help. I don't know if I'd have managed to finish that assignment if you hadn't gotten that book for me. Thanks, Niijima-san."

Makoto felt fulfilled. She had finally been able to help someone! And something went well for Miura for once. "I'm glad that I was able to help! You know, I've told you that I tried to help other students before, but they were usually disinterested or didn't do their part. But you're different. I gave you a little push and trusted that you'd do your part, and you did! I feel proud!" Makoto switched to concerned mode. "You've earned the teacher's trust. I know it's a reason to celebrate, but now you should get a well-deserved rest. Go straight home, and no wandering around, alright?"

"Alright." Miura nodded. "I don't have the disposition to be wandering around. Besides, if I were to celebrate, I'd have invited you."

Makoto had the impression that Miura was charming her. Maybe he liked her romantically, after all, and the homework assignment's success might have made him want to show it. Before Makoto had time to come up with a response, though, something quite curious happened.

Miura lowered his head, closed his eyes in exasperation, and uttered in a low but urgent voice. "Shut up, Arsène!"

"Miura...?" Makoto stared at him curiously. His action had been both unexpected and amusing.

"Ah!" Miura opened his eyes in alarm and shook his head. "I-it's nothing! Just forget it..."

"Uh, okay," was what Makoto said, but she doubted she would forget it. Something about the uncharacteristic way Miura seemed alarmed and flustered was quite amusing to her.

"I'll be off now. Thanks again, Niijima-san. See you tomorrow, probably."

Makoto's gaze followed Miura as he left hurriedly. He met up with Takamaki near the school gates, and both of them left the school together.

Ann accompanied Kazushi to Leblanc.

"Thanks, Ann. Normally, I'd make you some coffee, but-"

Ann looked sternly at him and cut him off. "Go to your room and go to sleep!"

"Okay, okay..."

Ann insisted on placing a hand on his back and walking with him to his room. "Safe and sound," she said once Kazushi had unlocked and opened the door to his room.

"Oooh!" Morgana came running to greet them. "I'm so sorry, my fair Lady Ann." Morgana tried to speak in a gentlemanly way. "You had asked me to look after Kazushi, but I failed! I underestimated his condition, and didn't even see when he escaped! After locking the front doors when everyone left, I should've hidden the keys! But I committed a grave mistake. I left the keys right next to him, out of all places! But rest assured, this won't happen again!"

Ann chuckled at Morgana's mannerisms. "It's okay, Morgana." Ann crouched down and patted the not-cat on the head comfortingly. "I trust you to keep watch on our leader." She stood up and turned to Kazushi again. "Kazushi, you did well. Congrats on winning the teacher over, too. Now, you should have a good rest."

"Yeah, it's all I want right now..."

"I'll go home. I'll text Yusuke to tell him how you're doing."

Kazushi nodded and thanked Ann again.

Once Ann had left, Kazushi entered the room and locked the door behind him.

"Ka-zu-shiiiii!" Morgana was furious. All the gentleness he had displayed while talking to Ann was gone. "How dare you leave home in the state you were in, you sneaky Phantom Thief!"

Kazushi collapsed into a siting position on the mattress. "I'm sorry, Morgana, I'm sorry. It's like I wrote on the note I left you. I had to turn in that important homework assignment. That turned out very well, thankfully. And I'm not feeling as bad as I had been before."

Morgana huffed. "Whatever. If you aren't 100% recovered by tomorrow, I won't let you escape again, and you'll be skipping school, got it?!"

"Yeah, that was also my backup plan. The deadline is approaching. We can't afford to lose more days of exploration. If I'm not fully recovered by tomorrow, I'll skip school." Kazushi lay on the mattress.

Morgana approached and glared angrily at him. "This time, I'm wide awake, and will keep a watchful eye on you. I'm not gonna let you sneak out again!"

"I only went to school because it was an emergency." Kazushi petted Morgana, and totally ruined the not-cat's tough impression. "Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere."

"H-hey!" Morgana tried to shake Kazushi's hand off and pretend he didn't like the attention. "You're doing that just to make fun of me, aren't you?!"

"Uh, no. Sorry. It was kind of automatic." Kazushi sighed and closed his eyes. "Thanks, Morgana."


"For caring about me. Sorry that I worried you."

"Hmph." Morgana pretended to be annoyed and scurried off to the other side of the room.

Kazushi could tell that, despite trying to act tough, Morgana was pretty worried. It was nice to know that Morgana really cared about him. No, not only Morgana. It was nice to know that his friends cared about him. It was a contrast to his childhood, when Kazushi not only had no friends, but also had rarely seen people showing to care about him. Kazushi allowed himself a soft smile before falling asleep.

Makoto returned home and tried to do her homework, but her thoughts kept wandering back to Joker. She hoped he was okay. She wished the Phantom Thieves would have let her see where Joker lived. It was painful to recall the vulnerable state he had been in yesterday. He needed to recover. Makoto wished she could be at his side.

While Makoto finished her homework, she debated whether to send an email to Joker. She didn't want to bother him, but she was worried, and wanted very badly to know how he was doing.

With her homework done, she made up her mind. She would send him an email just to let him know that she was thinking about him.

"Joker," She began. "How are you? I hope you are doing better. Once again, thank you for saving me. I'm sorry that I couldn't do anything for you. I wish I could be there with you right now to comfort you. I can't, and sending this email is all I can do. I hope you get well soon. Best wishes, Makoto."

Since she had suggested they should address each other by first names, she decided to sign the message with her first name rather than the code name the Phantom Thieves had given her. Plus, there was a chance that it would encourage him to sign his name on his reply, too, who knows...

Kazushi awoke to the sound of his cellphone notifying him of new messages. He had gotten an email, which Kazushi had to remind himself that it was meant for his other identity.

Kazushi lazily read the message, but put the cellphone aside without replying. Niijima-san was showing her softer side which not many people knew. Her words sounded soothing in Kazushi's head, and brought a light smile to his face. He closed his eyes, ready to fall asleep once more when Morgana's voice snapped him awake.

"She's really worried, huh? She even signed her name..."

Now fully alert, Kazushi sprang up to a sitting position and snatched the phone out of Morgana's reach. "Can you please stop spying on my messages?"

Morgana wasn't pretending to be angry anymore, and had a glint of mischief in his eyes. "Leader, you're not thinking clearly today. I only want to be sure you won't make anything slip in your replies! You almost slipped your tongue yesterday."

Kazushi was sure that Morgana's argument was just an excuse, but the comment about yesterday got him worried. "What did I say yesterday? I don't quite remember."

"You basically admitted that you like her, and said you like to be with her."

That was embarrassing, and Kazushi's eyes widened in panic. "... D-did I really say that?"

"Yeah, you finally did it!" Morgana confirmed. "Well, you actually said that you 'think you like her,' but after having taken such a blow for her, what greater proof she needs? She sounded happy, and suggested you start addressing each other by first names. I think you'd have told her your real name if I hadn't stopped you."

Kazushi considered accusing Morgana of teasing him again, but had the feeling that he had indeed said he liked Niijima-san. Kazushi couldn't take his words back. It was true that he enjoyed Niijima-san's company, and that he cared about her a lot. Though he had no knack for romance, and wasn't sure whether those feelings could be considered romantic. Well, whatever. Right now, what mattered most was that Kazushi hadn't let anything slip, thanks to Morgana's intervention. Kazushi was relieved.

"This must be the reason she signed her name on her message!" Morgana theorized. "She must want you to sign your name back when you reply."

Kazushi laughed amusedly. "Yeah, makes sense. It was a smart move. Signing my reply hadn't even crossed my mind, though. It goes to show how slow my brain is today."

Morgana smirked. "This is why you need an extra pair of eyes and an extra mind to analyze these messages!"

"Knock it off, Morgana. Even in normal circumstances, you'd have spied on my messages anyway."

Morgana ignored Kazushi's retort. "Are you gonna reply now? Shouldn't you sleep some more?"

"I would sleep, if only a certain not-cat creature hadn't spied on my phone and fully woken me up." Kazushi actually didn't sound as annoyed as his words implied. "More seriously though, even though I'm feeling much better, for now, I think I'll just write something to her so that she doesn't worry too much. If she begins sending more messages, I'll wait until tomorrow to reply, when my head is clearer.

Kazushi looked at his phone, and realized that he had gotten other text messages besides that one email. They were from his other group members, either asking how he was doing and/or wishing him a quick recovery. He answered everyone else first, then opened the email app, took a deep breath, and carefully composed his message to Niijima-san.

While Makoto waited for Joker's reply, she checked her cellphone for new text messages. However, there were none. Kujikawa-san had yet to send the link to the Phantom Thieves website. Could she have forgotten? Makoto considered sending a message to remind her, but there was also the possibility that Kujikawa-san was too busy with her celebrity life, and Makoto didn't want to bother her.

Then, Joker's response came. "I can't write much right now. So, I'm just writing to let you know that I'm feeling much better. I'm glad that nothing bad happened to you. And your kind words were comforting enough to me. Thank you." He hadn't signed his message, much to Makoto's frustration.

It was good to get a response from him anyway. Makoto wrote him another message. "Still, I hope you haven't gotten in trouble during your daily life because of what happened. I'd feel bad, especially since you got hurt while protecting me."

Kazushi didn't blame her. He was mostly glad that she was okay. "Don't worry about me. I'm fine." He tried to assure her in his reply.

Makoto observed how Joker always wrote correctly in his messages. He used no abbreviations and no Internet language whatsoever. Not even now that he wasn't well and must be having trouble to type messages, he didn't abbreviate anything, and his grammar was also correct. Makoto had raised the possibility of him being a bad student, but his writing and speech were too correct for a bad student.

Makoto wanted to talk to him more, but he had just pointed out that he couldn't write much right now. She would have to end their contact. "I'm relieved to know that you're doing better. I'll let you rest now. Have a good recovery. I hope to see you soon."

A few minutes passed, but Joker didn't respond. Makoto reread his first message, and was unable to suppress a smile. Joker was usually mocking and commanding, but could also be very sweet when he wanted to be. The way he wished her good night that first time, the way he hugged her during that fear spell, or when he gently wiped her tears during one of their arguments, or when he asked her to promise to not go to the nightclub outside the Dark Hour, the selfless way he shielded her from that dangerous attack... and then, his earlier message. Was Joker normally like this? Was he just charming her? Or... did she actually cause a change in him?

"It's obvious that he's interested in you. And this interest might be his weakness." Johanna's words replayed in Makoto's mind. "... You merely wrote an email saying that you liked him, and he promptly agreed to come to talk to you in person during the Dark Hour. You can make him slip and do this kind of silly things if you try. You just need a bit more courage."

In the end, Makoto's crazy plan of getting close to Joker and making him reveal his identity was seeming quite feasible. She was getting closer to him. Now, she only needed to know what buttons to push.

However, there was also Miura. The question of whether he liked her romantically surfaced again, and his words from today alone pointed towards a "yes."

"One more reason to not fail this assignment. You went out of your way to help me and borrow that book for me. I don't want to have your help go to waste."

"Yeah, it made my day. And it's thanks to your help. I don't know if I'd have managed to finish that assignment if you hadn't gotten that book for me."

"... Besides, if I were to celebrate, I'd have invited you."

And the most intriguing thing of all. The way he looked embarrassed just after saying that, and uttered out of nowhere, "Shut up, Arsène!" What was that about? Could it mean that he was falling for her and acting weird like the way she sometimes got clumsy when thinking about Joker?

What should Makoto do? If it were true that Miura liked her, then he liked her for who she was, not because of her looks or anything like that, which was already something very rare. But Makoto liked Joker. Joker was smart and confident and amazing and all things she admired. And just last night, during his vulnerable moment, Joker had confirmed that he liked her as well. He had said that he enjoyed being with her. However, Joker hadn't spent enough time with her to properly know her, unlike Miura.

On the other hand, Miura was also intelligent and strong and amazing in his own way, and Makoto couldn't deny that she also liked him. She had gone as far as to think that if she had known Miura sooner, she would have already confessed to him and might not have confessed to Joker. But the truth was that she liked both of them. What should she do?

Makoto was still in the middle of this internal debate when she fell asleep that night.


"Hmm, still indecisive, I see..."

"Johanna!" Makoto exclaimed, not having expected to dream about that voice again.

"You remember my name. This makes me happy."

Makoto was curious to know what Johanna looked like. She tried to open her eyes to look at Johanna, without success.

"Ah, the indecision. Joker or Miura? Miura or Joker...?" Johanna spoke mysteriously. "Alright, allow me to draw more parallels for you. I've noticed another thing in which they are opposites. Joker rarely talks about his daily activities. Whenever you try to ask about them, he refuses to give you any satisfactory answer. On the other hand, Miura talks a lot about his daily life. He even told you about his painful past! However, he rarely talks about the Dark Hour."

"Huh? As for Miura, I'm pretty sure it's only because I avoid talking to him about the Dark Hour, since I don't want to worry him by telling him that I've been hanging around the Phantom Thieves."

"You should try to ask him about the Dark Hour, then." Johanna suggested. "Something about his Persona, for example. Even though he didn't use one on that night he helped you, I'm sure he has one. Ask him about his Persona, and see how he reacts."

Good advice as always. "Thank you for the suggestion. I'll try that."


"So, how are you feeling?" Morgana asked Kazushi in the morning.

"Ready for anything." Kazushi answered, in a good mood.

"Hmm." Morgana tilted his head. "You look rested. It doesn't look like you're bluffing. Alright, you may go."

Surprisingly, Morgana didn't insist on trying to go to school with him this time. Kazushi was thankful for this.

It was a wonder how those dreams about Johanna were so enlightening. During lunch break, Makoto looked for Miura, intent on following Johanna's suggestion. Makoto had formulated the perfect questions to bring the subject up, too.

Before she could locate Miura, however, she ran into Sakamoto.

"Yo. So, uh, how's it goin'?" Sakamoto awkwardly greeted her.

"Fine." Makoto gave the automatic response. She recalled their talk from the other day, when both of them witnessed Sae planning to investigate the mafia's nightclub. "Um, Sakamoto, you haven't told anyone about... that, have you?"

Sakamoto gulped.

Makoto's eyes narrowed. "Sakamoto..."

He fidgeted. "Uh, w-was it a secret?"

No, this can't be happening... Makoto thought in exasperation. "Even though I didn't specifically say it was, it's obviously something that you shouldn't be spreading around!"

"Uh, yeah, I, uh... I kinda panicked, and it slipped! S-sorry." He raised a hand. "Oh, but don't worry! It won't turn into rumors or anything like that. Your secret's safe, I swear!"

"I really hope so, Sakamoto." Makoto directed a disapproving glare at him. "Do not, and I repeat. Do not tell anyone else about that, get it?!"

"Y-yeah, I get it..." Sakamoto nodded, and left briskly.

Makoto resumed her search for Miura. She smiled upon spotting him at a bench. He looked to be doing much better than yesterday.

"Hi, Miura!"

"Ah, Niijima-san." After some hesitation, Miura indicated the vacant spot to his side on the bench.

Makoto gladly sat at his side. "How are you feeling today?"

"I'm feeling great." True to his word, he seemed rested.

"Ah, good. You... you got me worried," Makoto said awkwardly. She was ashamed to admit that she kept thinking about Joker and had nearly forgotten about Miura's condition.

"Sorry for having worried you. Thanks for the support, though." He changed the subject. "Anyway, I have great news about that assignment. The results are out, and I got a perfect score!"

"Wow! Congratulations! It was a well-deserved perfect score."


Makoto changed the subject and approached the point she wanted to address. "... By the way, Miura, I was wondering about something. You have a Persona, right?"

"Hm...?" Miura hesitated for a second, but confirmed. "... Yeah, I do."

Makoto's eyes lit up. "You looked disturbed when you mentioned accepting your Shadow, both yesterday and that time we talked to Kujikawa-san. It's been one month since I started experiencing the Dark Hour, but I still got no signs that my Persona might awaken. Hearing that our Shadows might kill us is scary. How was it between you and your Shadow? If you don't mind me asking..."

That was it. Her reasoning should be convincing enough. Now, to see if Miura would respond or not.

Miura got lost in thought for a bit, as though he were choosing his words. "It was... weird, to say the least. Actually, it happened even before I began experiencing the Dark Hour. It was right after my detention happened, when I met my creepy guards."

Makoto recalled her talk with Sakura-san about Miura's detention, and how the case had been solved... or rather, hadn't been solved. "I heard from Sakura-san about how the case ended. The guy that should have been punished got away, and the police punished you instead. You hadn't told me about that part. I had thought the case had been solved! But it wasn't solved at all, and it was as though you had gone to all that trouble for nothing!"

"Yeah, exactly how I felt. It didn't help that my weird guards kept saying I should walk into line or face the consequences of what I did, while I was sure I hadn't done anything wrong. Add to that the countless things I had bottled up because nothing had ever gone right in my life, and you can already imagine the sorts of bad things I thought of. I had to spend that night in a room inside the police station. I had a lot of weird nightmares, and almost lost my sanity. By the time my Shadow showed up, I was beyond confused."

Makoto's heart clenched at imagining the kind of bad thoughts Miura might have had. So much injustice, no acknowledgment, no support at all, no one to say how special he was. He might even have concluded that his life wasn't worth living, and considered putting an end to it! There was no way Makoto would accept that! Miura was precious, a rare gem that practically no one saw the worth of. But Makoto saw his worth. She wanted to tell him how great a person he was, and that he was loved... that she loved him... but the words got stuck in her throat, and she just couldn't let them out...

"I had no idea of the danger I was in." Miura continued talking, oblivious to the turmoil in Makoto's mind. "I'm not sure how I managed to be level-headed enough to befriend my Shadow. He's not the easiest creature to deal with. Thankfully, it ended well. This whole experience made me change my way of thinking, and from the time I got my Persona, suffering injustice doesn't affect me as much as it used to."

Makoto had thought that Miura had always been calm and collected. But apparently, he had become like this just recently. Getting a Persona had made him stronger, not only to deal with obstacles during the Dark Hour, but during his daily life as well. Makoto smiled at Miura with admiration. Once again, she had the urge to confess to him, but the fact that she had already confessed to Joker and that Joker had confirmed to like her nagged at her again.

Makoto gave up on her confession for the moment, and switched her focus to his Shadow instead. "Uh... A-Arsène, was it?"

Miura was stunned. "Uh...? H-how... how did you...?"

"Yesterday, I heard you telling him to shut up."

"Ah... yeah, I did that..." Miura laughed in embarrassment. "That happens a lot, though usually not aloud. People would think I'm crazy if I were to say it aloud every time..."

"He's your Persona, then?"

Alarms went off in Kazushi's head. He had slipped his tongue and mentioned Arsène in Niijima-san's presence yesterday. After some thought, though, he managed to calm himself down. Arsène Lupin was good at disguises, and Kazushi considered his multiple Personas as Arsène's different disguises. Thankfully, he had never summoned his initial Persona's original form or mentioned the name during explorations in which Niijima-san had been present. So, he may still be safe. He nodded to answer Niijima-san's question, and hoped for the best.

Rather than any of the reactions Kazushi had expected, Niijima-san looked curious. "Tell me more. I want to have some knowledge in advance to be able to better deal with my Persona once I get it."

"Huh? I don't think you need to worry this much."

"But I want to know." She insisted. "I had thought Personas only manifested during the Dark Hour. Hearing that you keep talking to your Persona during the day got me intrigued. How does that work? Does he talk to you... inside your head?"

"Hm?" More at ease, Kazushi raised an eyebrow. Was Niijima-san misunderstanding things again? Maybe he was safe, then. He shook his head. "No, not exactly. It's just thoughts. Well, sometimes actions, too."

"How can you tell it's him?"

"Because it's things I wouldn't normally think, or wouldn't normally do."

"For example?"

Kazushi took a few seconds to formulate his answer. "For example, you know, when we have an opinion but decide not to voice it because we think that someone may not like it or get offended by it?"

"Yes." Niijima-san nodded in understanding. "This happens to me a lot. This is one of the things I was taught from the time I was a child. Always put others first, and behave well to leave a good impression on them."

"It's what I'd normally do as well. It's the way it had always gone before Arsène came about. But now, there are times when Arsène makes me speak my mind. When I realize it, the words are already out, with no way to take then back, and I'm all like, 'I can't believe I said this...' The results aren't always good, but there are times when you really need to impose yourself if you don't want to be carried away by the current. I don't think I'd have made up with my parents if Arsène hadn't made me snap at them and list all those things I had bottled up, which they'd never have agreed to listen to otherwise."

Sometimes I need to impose myself... Makoto thought. It was the same thing Johanna kept telling her.

Miura was still talking. "Sometimes, though, Arsène goes overboard and has me say things I think shouldn't be said, or should be said but in a more subtle way. This is what I'm still struggling to control. I don't know what it'd be like in your case. You won't need to get used to having anyone talking inside your head, but yeah, I guess you'll have to get used to these kinds of thoughts you normally wouldn't follow through with."

That sounded hard. "It seems like getting a Persona made you much stronger, Miura. I wonder if confronting my Shadow would make me as strong..."

"It will, I'm sure."

"When I confront my Shadow, what if it says things I really dislike and can't accept no matter what? I can't just pretend to agree with the things my Shadow says just for the sake of it. It isn't honest, and isn't right."

"Yeah, that's cheating, and your Shadow will know it, too. It's a part of yourself, after all."

Makoto recalled something. "Wait, you said that you first met your Shadow outside the Dark Hour. How did you meet him?"

"In a dream."

"A dream...!" Makoto gasped. "I've been having some odd dreams lately. Someone with a feminine voice talks to me, but my eyes are closed shut for some reason, and I'm unable to open them to see what she looks like. She showed to know a lot about me."

"Does her voice sound anything like yours?"

"... M-maybe! So, aren't these just dreams? Might she be my Shadow...!?"

"Sounds like it." Miura was the one curious now. "Is she friendly to you?"

"Yes, she's been giving me advice. Good advice..."

"Oh. Then, you're good. You shouldn't need to worry too much. Just talk it through, and you'll be fine. Did she give you her name?"

"Yes. She called herself Johanna."

"Johanna?" Miura had a pensive expression for a bit. "Hmm. As in... Pope Joan?"

"Pope Joan!" Makoto was stunned once more. "You know the story!?"

Miura nodded. "Actually, it came up in class once. How bizarre..."

"My sister has always complained that society views women as inferior to men, and how it's difficult for women to get a respectable, well-paying job. After our parents died and she began taking care of me, she told me Pope Joan's story. A woman who disguised herself as a man and achieved status of Pope, something exclusive to men. 'Pope Joan' was very smart, daring, wise, and excelled in the things she did."

"Some pretty amazing qualities."

"You think so, too?" Makoto smiled softly, glad that he agreed. "But sadly, her qualities and efforts were for naught. When her disguise was found out, she was killed." Makoto sighed, suddenly a bit sad at recalling her biggest fears. "I've always admired her character, and even wished that I could be intelligent, brave and skilled like her."

"And you are."

Makoto blushed at the sudden compliment. If it were anyone else, she would accuse him of saying empty flattery words, but Miura was Miura, and she could trust that he really meant what he said. "Uh, thank you... I'm always doing my best... but sometimes I get scared thinking that I might not be good enough, that my efforts will also be in vain. In the end, not even 'Pope Joan' was good enough. So, what makes me think that I might be?"

"It'll be fine." Miura sounded confident. "It might seem easy to say, but for one, you aren't extremely unlucky with nearly everything going wrong like me. This is one big advantage you have right there."

Miura's words cheered Makoto up a bit. He had always been unlucky and had been suffering injustice from all directions, and still managed to stand strong. On the other hand, Makoto hadn't gone through anything like that. What was she complaining about? Her expression lightened up. "Is it Arsène saying all these things?"

"No, it's my normal self. This was something I'd have said normally."

"Thank you, Miura. You're probably right."

Miura threw her an amused look. "Huh? If I had said it was Arsène, you'd have thanked him instead?"

Makoto laughed. "Uh, I hadn't thought about that. Though I'm curious to talk to Arsène now. Can you bring him out?" Makoto asked playfully.

Miura furrowed his brows in thought for a bit. "He'll come out only if you also bring Johanna out, he says."

"Hey! You know that I can't do it yet. This isn't fair..."

Miura abruptly stood up. "Lunch break is almost over. I'm heading to class." He ignored her protest and briskly walked away.

"Ah! Miura! Wait up!" Makoto shouted after him. She thought he was just playing around and would give in, but he didn't stop walking. He turned a corner, and disappeared among a crowd of students. Sure enough, lunch break ended while she was looking for him...

Chapter Text

That afternoon, Makoto couldn't properly focus on her martial training. She kept thinking about how she liked both Joker and Miura. Makoto suspected that Miura might like her, even though he had never said it explicitly. On the other hand, she had previously confessed to Joker, and he had already confirmed to like her. As such, Makoto felt that she should stick to her word and insist on going for Joker. She had been sure of this... until she talked to Miura again today, and had almost acted on impulse and nearly told Miura that she loved him. It was true. She enjoyed being with him. She felt good talking to him. It was unfair to see him suffering so much injustice, and she wanted to help bring good things to his life. Makoto felt great to hear that she had succeeded in helping him finish his homework assignment. She wanted to be at his side and continue helping him.

However, it was also true that Makoto loved Joker just as much. He was smart, confident and talented. She wanted to see him succeed as well, and wished she could help him in his journey. The problem was that she didn't even know what she could do for him. If only he would open up to her and tell her about his life...

The biggest problem, though, was that Makoto couldn't deny that she liked both of them. As wrong as that notion was, she felt it was simply impossible for her to not like one of them.

*Beep beep. Beep beep*

A notification sound from her cellphone brought her back to attention. It was a new message notification in her email app. She gasped in realization that Joker was contacting her. However, the message didn't please her in the slightest. It was a short message that only stated, "Explorations resume today."

"... What?!" Makoto was alarmed. Joker not only hadn't given up on stealing from the mafia's nightclub, but was intending to go back there already! Judging from the state she had last seen him in, there was no way that he could be well enough to resume the mission.

"You can't do this, Joker!" Makoto wrote her response. "It's been only one day. You can't possibly have recovered enough! Besides, you saw how dangerous the Dark Hour is. What if something worse happens? Honestly, you should give up on that nonsense mission."

"There is no way that we'd give up on the mission." Joker responded half a minute later. "And I am perfectly fine now."

Makoto was both incredulous and worried. She furiously typed another message. "You can't have fully recovered from that state in only one day! Anyone would have freaked out at seeing your state! You'd have needed to be taken to the hospital, and would have had to come up with a convincing excuse to explain your condition."

"There was no need for any of that." He replied. "I wasn't faring as badly the next time I woke up. No one outside of our group has any idea of the condition I was in. If I weren't fine now, I don't think I would manage to type these messages. In the state I was in, performing any movement was a monumental task."

As much as Makoto didn't want to admit it, Joker had a point. He had been having trouble even to speak coherently. Typing would have been much harder. The messages he had been sending were perfectly coherent, and the spelling was correct as always, too.

"Yes, I see your point." Makoto had to agree. She still had the feeling that Joker was showing off, but she would have to take his word for it. She would have to meet up with the Phantom Thieves this Dark Hour and see his state for herself. "Alright, I'll see you tonight, then. I hope you are as fine as you claim you are."

At the Dark Hour, Joker came to pick Makoto up at the same street as the previous days. To both Makoto's shock and relief, he seemed perfectly normal.

"Joker..." She murmured and smiled in relief. She wanted to pull him into a hug, but his aura of authority caused her to give up. "A-are you really okay...?" She asked instead.

"Yes." Joker nodded.

"How could you have recovered so fast?! It's so hard to believe..."

"The damage we receive from Shadows is actually more mental rather than physical." Joker answered as they began walking. "Even though some of it also manifests as physical pain, the bigger impact is on the mind, not the body. This is why resting is so effective. Aside from the pain, all I got was a small bruise. If the damage were strictly physical, I'd likely have broken at least a few bones."

That explanation was hard to grasp, but come to think of it, it was indeed a wonder that Joker hadn't broken any bones.

"I'm really sorry, Joker. You got in that state because you protected me. You suffered so much because of me... if only I had a Persona, or if I hadn't been there in that mission with you..."

Joker shrugged it off. "Stop blaming yourself. It isn't your fault. No one could have predicted it. Still, it could've been worse. But now, all that matters to me is that nothing bad happened to you, and that both of us are perfectly fine. We're also still on schedule."

"You should give up on this mission, so that things like this won't happen again."

"No." Joker refused. "This mission is important to all of us. We won't give up."


Joker placed a hand on Makoto's arm and interrupted her. "We'll make sure nothing bad happens to you."

That was not the problem, but Joker's unexpectedly gentle touch caused Makoto's protest to die in her throat. His touch made her feel safe.

Makoto remained silent until they reunited with the others and entered Mona's bus form.

"Let me see your gun." Joker suddenly demanded.


"You used all your ammo during that battle." Joker reminded her. "You should have your gun at full capacity in case you need it again. Let me reload it."

Makoto had to agree that the gun had been useful to defend herself. She passed the toy revolver to him, and he got to work.

"Where did you get this ammo?"

"I made it." Joker answered.

Makoto glared disapprovingly at him. "You are wasting your time making ammo for weapons!"

"Making ammunition for toy guns is crime now?" Joker effortlessly met her glare. "I'm 'wasting time' from my day thinking about protection for the group, which you're also a part of."

Yes, Joker was a considerate leader. And again, the toy gun had been quite handy during her last battle. Makoto should be grateful. She softened her expression. "Alright. I see what you mean. Sorry. I have to admit that these guns are quite useful against Shadows. As long as you don't use guns outside the Dark Hour, and only use them against Shadows, I guess it should be fine..."

"That's our policy." Joker gently handed the reloaded gun back to her.

"How did you learn to shoot?" Makoto asked and tried to dispel the awkward tension.

"Trial, error, and need."

Makoto chuckled. "All I know about shooting is from an arcade game. Weird, right?"

"Probably a much better option than having to learn it while being ambushed by Shadows. You did quite well in that battle."

"I had good instructions." Makoto smiled fondly as she recalled Miura teaching her.

She wondered whether Miura was aware that the knowledge from that game could be useful during the Dark Hour. Or maybe it was just a coincidence, and it had been useful to her only because it was the only knowledge related to shooting that she had available.

"Let's go." Joker's firm voice snapped her out of her thoughts.

Makoto gasped at the realization that the bus had stopped and that Joker was leaving. "Wait! I'm coming!" She sprang up and scrambled after him. She tripped and nearly fell at the exit, but Joker quickly turned around and held her firmly before she could fall. Makoto blushed and smiled sheepishly. Indeed, Joker could be so gentle sometimes...

The group took the usual formation, with Panther at the rear of the group with Makoto.

"That was cute." Panther commented.

"Huh!" Makoto blushed in embarrassment.

"Joker really cares about you." Panther smiled softly as they headed to the nightclub.

Makoto wondered something. "Does he... talk about me during the day?"

"Uh, sometimes. I think he only doesn't say more because he's bothered that we keep teasing him, but yeah, he does talk about you."

"Really?" Makoto felt a warm sensation in her chest. "What kind of things does he say?"

"Hmm..." Panther hesitated. "Uh, he says good things, don't worry."

Makoto was glad to hear that answer. Only, it didn't clarify anything at all. "Like what?"

"Uh, like... that he wants to trust you more. If only you weren't disapproving of what we're doing, I'm sure he'd have revealed his identity to you already."

A disturbing idea popped up in Makoto's head. If she lied and suddenly said that she decided to turn a blind eye to their crimes, would he trust her enough to reveal everything? No, that wasn't a good idea. Firstly, she didn't like lying. Secondly, the thought of deceiving him like that didn't sit right with her. As previously agreed, she would accompany the group until the end of their mission, and would make her conclusions later.

Inside the nightclub, the Phantom Thieves activated a teleporter at the secret door to jump straight to the safe room they had visited last. During battles, Joker proved to be fully recovered indeed. He was fast and relentless as always, and no one would have guessed that he had been incapacitated two days earlier.

Makoto kept watching the others summon their Personas in battle, and wondering how they did it. She had decided she would interrogate Joker about his Persona, and might as well interrogate some of the others while she was at hit. Talking to Panther would be easiest, since she was right there next to Makoto.

"Panther, how did your Persona awaken?" Makoto asked in a low voice once she was sure they were in a safe area. "Did you feel anything different? I mean, I still haven't felt anything special. Nothing that indicates that my Persona might awaken."

Panther's expression darkened for a moment. "What I felt? Anger. I'm not in the mood to go into details right now, but basically, some... really messed up stuff had been happening in my life. I didn't have the courage to do anything, and was just helplessly watching everything go down. It got to the point that I couldn't take it anymore and snapped. Then, the part of me that I had been suppressing came forth. The part of me that wants change, that believes that I can make a difference, and refuses to let others take control of my life. That's my Persona."

"It sounds tough..." Makoto commented.

"Yeah. I only don't know how it was for Mona, but it was about the same for the others."

"I've heard that if we reject our Persona, it might kill us."

"Whoa, really?" Panther sounded surprised. "In my case, there was nothing to reject. My rebellious side came out when my anger exploded, and I kinda just embraced it." Her expression softened, and she smiled in relief. "To tell you the truth, I've been feeling much better since that day. I mean outside the Dark Hour, too. I don't feel helpless anymore. I got more confidence in myself, and feel like I have the strength to turn the tables if things get rough."

"So, everyone here awakened to a Persona when facing tough moments in their lives?" Was this why these teenagers decided to revolt and become Phantom Thieves? "... Joker too, right?"

Panther nodded. "Joker too. He was the first one, actually."

"I wonder what happened to him..."

Hurt flashed in Panther's eyes, and she sighed. "That's for him to tell you."

From Panther's expression, Joker's issue had to be serious. Like Makoto had suspected, he must be facing difficult problems during his daily life, and this must have been what made him decide to become a Phantom Thief during the night. This should be the reason why he had been refusing to tell her anything about his life and ignoring her offers of help with studies and such. Makoto urgently needed to get closer to him so that he would open up to her and tell her what was wrong.

Around half an hour later, everyone had exhausted their SP and was forced to end the exploration. Joker had switched Panther and Fox, but Panther's SP also drained quickly. Even consuming all their soft drinks and resources they had brought wasn't enough to make their SP last. The Phantom Thieves could only pray that they would get to the treasure the next day, which was the last day according to their schedule.

They were in the safe room, and Joker was in front of the teleporter.

"These checkpoints also allow us to warp to Palaces we have visited previously. This is what we'll be doing this time." Joker was about to take his phone, but changed his mind. "Queen, come over here."

Makoto stubbornly refused to obey him. She would follow Johanna's advice and impose herself. She wouldn't let Joker keep ordering her around anymore.

However, Fox put a hand on Makoto's back and pushed her in Joker's direction.

"Take your phone." Joker commanded. "I'm going to have you activate this teleporter."

As curious as she was about those teleporters, Makoto still resisted. "No. I won't. We had agreed that I wouldn't do anything to contribute to your heist, and that I'd only watch."

"Very well then." Joker sighed and took his own phone. "I'll do it myself, but you must watch. There's something I want you to see."

Joker tapped a few options. He chose the option to teleport to another Palace, and a menu appeared with a list of Palaces.

"If we want, we can use the teleporters to access the remains of our previous targets' Palaces." Joker brought the phone closer to Makoto. "Doesn't any of these names ring any bells to you?"

Two of the options immediately stood out to her. Namely, "Kamoshida Palace" and "Madarame Palace."

"...! So... you really targeted Mr. Kamoshida? And... Madarame-san, too?"

"Yes." Joker confirmed. "And I'm sure you know what happened to them afterwards."

"They... confessed their sins..." The implications finally registered in Makoto's head. Then, she remembered all those incidents with nearby people who had had sudden changes of heart and either confessed the bad things they had done, or started behaving better. "Wait. You're saying that their changes of heart were your group's doing?"

"Yes." Joker nodded. "We accessed their subconscious through their Palaces, and removed the corruption from their hearts. This is what we intend to do to Kaneshiro as well."

"This is..." Makoto didn't know what to think. If this were true, then they theoretically would make Kaneshiro regret his actions and maybe turn himself in to the police. But the whole situation and the explanations were too surreal. "I need some time to process all of this."

"It's fine." Joker agreed to give her some time.

Joker selected the "Kamoshida Palace" option. They warped, and ended up in that familiar place where Makoto had been meeting up with the group for the previous explorations. In other words, it was the Palace in the school. Makoto was surprised to learn that Syujin High School had the remains of Mr. Kamoshida's Palace.

They left the Palace and walked on foot on the street.

Makoto felt lost. It was still hard to believe that those huge changes in people's hearts were the Phantom Thieves' doing. If they managed to put an end to Kaneshiro's crime days, then she wouldn't need to worry about Sae getting in trouble with the mafia. But should she really count on that? It sounded too good to be true. It was as though the Phantom Thieves were only doing something good this time in order to get her on their side. But the thought that they didn't seem to be bad people surfaced again, and Makoto was tempted to trust them.

When it was time to part ways, Makoto called Joker to talk in private.

"I still feel overwhelmed, and don't know what to think. But if this issue with Kaneshiro ends well, I... I'll consider bailing you all out of the Principal's radar."

"Hm." Joker merely hummed to show he had heard her. It was as though he weren't worried about being caught by the Principal at all.

"I don't want anyone from the group getting in trouble," Makoto said honestly. "I really hope this ends well."

"It will." Joker sounded confident.

They shared a moment of silence, which Makoto broke. "Joker. That day when you took a blow for me, on our way back, you admitted that you like me."

"I don't remember what I said." He spoke coldly.

"Huh? B-but..." Makoto flinched. He didn't remember what he had told her! Was he going to deny that he liked her now?

Joker sighed in resignation. "Whatever."

"H-huh?" Makoto was confused for a second until she realized that Joker had just given in and accepted having admitted to like her. A warm smile broke into her face. "So... both of us like one another. Th-then, does this mean that we can, uh, you know, start... something?"

Joker let out a burst of laughter. Makoto couldn't tell if he was just amused or if he was mocking her. "It depends."

How frustrating. Why did he always need to be so vague? "It depends on what?"

"It depends on you. As I said before, once you find out who is behind this mask, the 'magic' will end, and your fascination will be over. What will happen from there mostly depends on what opinion you will have of me by then."

"You're afraid that I might be disappointed if I find out that you don't look like how I had imagined you?" Makoto chuckled. "Don't worry about that! To tell the truth, my mind fogs over outside the Dark Hour every time I try to imagine you and the other Phantom Thieves. It means that I can't even imagine your appearance properly! So, that'll be no problem at all!"

"Hm? Memories of our visual appearances get foggy outside the Dark Hour? Interesting..."

"Huh? You didn't know?" Makoto hadn't expected to hear that. "But it's your Persona powers!"

"All I had known is that our Persona powers help hide our identities. I had no idea how outsiders perceive us."

"Yes, I think about you so much, but I can't even properly visualize you in my head!" Makoto laughed sheepishly. "Weird, right? But the visuals don't matter. I told you the qualities that I admire in you, and am sure that they hold true outside the Dark Hour as well."

Joker scoffed. "And that's where you're mistaken. There are also other factors to consider, which I can't go into right now."

"Oh, come on, Joker." Makoto waved it off. "Stop worrying. I'll accept you no matter what. Even if your behavior isn't the best during the day, and no matter the problems you have. So, what's going on? I want to be by your side and support you in your life."

Joker sighed, likely in annoyance, and stubbornly refused to talk about his normal life.

"You like me, right? Then, you must trust me." Makoto threw Joker's words right back at him once again. "How are you supposed to stay with someone you don't trust?"

Joker had a distant look for a few seconds, then let out a mocking laugh. "I see. Now I think I remember you throwing those same words back at me during that ride... you sure liked this line, huh?"

"Joker!" Makoto snapped. "Stop avoiding the subject. I'm serious! Why do you have to be so secretive about your life? ... Are you perhaps doing questionable activities during the day?"

"No, that's not it." He didn't sound defensive, and Makoto was tempted to believe that he was telling the truth.

"Then what's the problem? What is there to hide? If something starts between us, then I'll become part of your life, too, you know."

Joker still seemed annoyed. "I have nothing interesting to say at the moment."

"Are your days this boring?"

Joker remained evasive. "In short, It's the standard student routine."

"From home to school and back, then homework and such?"

"Pretty much." Joker nodded.

Makoto kept probing. "What about friends? Don't you hang out with friends?"


"The other Phantom Thieves?"

"Yes." Joker confirmed.

"That day when you were knocked out, all of them were really supportive towards you. They respect and care about you a lot."

"Something I'm very grateful for." It was nice to know that Joker recognized that.

"It didn't seem like it at first, but I see that all of you actually seem quite close. Are you long-time friends?"

"Not really." Joker didn't elaborate.

Makoto was reminded of her lonely situation. "It must be nice to have a group of good friends like them..."

"But you also have us."

That touching statement definitely disarmed her. "... Huh? You mean..."

"That we consider you as one of us, yes."

Makoto was lost for words. Once she had recovered her composure, she tried to go back to her interrogation. "Panther told me that all of you awakened to your Personas when you rebelled at some serious problems that were happening in your lives. So, what happened to you?"

"That's in the past." Joker shrugged it off.

Makoto recalled that they had teleported to Mr. Kamoshida's Palace, and an idea struck her. "Did you perhaps get in trouble with Mr. Kamoshida?"

Joker's head shot up slightly. He quickly recovered his composure, but his small reaction was enough for Makoto to confirm her suspicion. Not that a student having gotten in trouble with Mr. Kamoshida was a rare occurrence, but still, it confirmed that Joker was from Syujin.

"That was it, right?" Makoto pressed, sure that she was getting onto something. "This was why you decided to target him, wasn't it?"

Joker took a deep breath, and sighed resignedly. "... More or less. Finding his Palace was totally accidental. That's what I got for being outside and near the school late at night. Then some Shadows attacked and my Persona awakened. Then I met Mona, who seemed to be the only one that knew anything about the strange crazy hour. He said that taking the Palace's treasure would make the Palace's owner repent. Considering what Mr. Kamoshida had been doing to the students, I thought it might be worth a shot. Then we ended up agreeing that Mona would help with finding the treasure in exchange for helping him recover his memories and potentially remember something about the Dark Hour. And this is how it all began."

"So, Mr. Kamoshida was really your first target..." Makoto concluded. She recalled what had happened to the ex-teacher, as well as the group's other targets. She was getting more tempted to accept that the Phantom Thieves' actions had good consequences. Their actions' results were real, and had been good so far. They couldn't be doing something good only for this time, just to win her over... "I want to know more." Makoto insisted, since Joker seemed willing to talk right now.

"Then you'll have to wait." Joker shot back.

"What?" Just when Makoto had thought Joker had given in, he had to reveal he was still hiding important parts of the story!

"If all goes according to plan, our mission will end in three days. Then, I'll reveal everything to you."

"... Really?" Was he willing to finally tell her everything? Was her crazy plan of getting close to him to make him talk working?!

"Yes. Down to the smallest detail." Joker didn't seem to have second thoughts about it.

Makoto was ecstatic. So ecstatic that words unexpectedly tumbled out of her mouth. "Then, can we... start something after that?"

Joker chuckled amusedly, then his expression became serious. "After everything is said and done... if you still have a good opinion of me, and if you still believe that something can happen between us, I may consider it."

A dreamy smile formed on Makoto's face. "Okay. I'll be waiting."

"I hope you stop doing those silly faces once the 'magic' is over..."

"Huh!" Makoto felt self-conscious and shuffled awkwardly. She attempted a glare, but failed.

"Just a normal smile is fine, thank you very much." Joker seemed genuinely annoyed.

"S-sorry." Makoto tried to fight the embarrassment off. "S-speaking of smiles... you should smile at least once in a while."

Joker contemplated her suggestion. "Yes, perhaps I should..."

"No, not 'perhaps.' You definitely should." The only time Makoto recalled having seen Joker smile was when he had a distant look during that ride after he was knocked out. She wondered whether she could make him laugh and smile more once they started dating and she helped him during the day.

Joker abruptly changed the subject, much to Makoto's frustration. "Ah, I nearly forgot. Taking a shortcut from the school Palace is much easier for all of us than going to the nightclub directly. So, from tomorrow until the end of the mission, we'll be meeting up in front of the school as before."

"O-okay..." But why did Joker always have to evade whichever subject they were discussing?

"Have a safe walk home, and good night." With that, he left.

Three days... Makoto thought. in only three days, I'll finally have my answers...

The following morning, at Syujin High School, before class. Kazushi, Ann and Ryuji were discussing their plans.

"Today's the last day, and not even that useless cat can tell if we're close to the treasure or not!" Ryuji complained. "What if we don't arrive there in time?!"

"We have to believe in ourselves." Kazushi spoke calmly. "Like that famous reporter says, let's think positive!"

Ryuji stomped on the ground. "I can't understand where you get so much positivity from!"

"Kazushi's right. We can't give up!" Ann agreed. "We have to go as far as we can."

"We have to make sure to prepare as best as possible," Kazushi said. "Avoid unnecessary battles, spare SP as much as we can, and bring as many SP-restoring items as we can get."

"Hey, what about that invigorating adhesive thing for sale at the clinic? The one you said might help recover SP." Ryuji asked, seemingly a bit calmer.

"Morgana thinks it might do that." Kazushi answered. "but I checked the price, and it was... 100,000 yen."

Ryuji gaped. "100,000! That's crazy! And considering that you'd have to get one of those for each person-"

"And that no one ever helps me pay for the stuff..." Kazushi cut him off.

"Ugh!" Ryuji made a face. "There's no way that we could help! You're the one who gets to sell every weird item that those Shadows drop."

"Conclusion, unless I get a huge discount, buying that item is out of the question. For now, we'll have to keep relying on HP-restoring items to keep our stamina for physical attacks, and soft drinks for SP emergencies. I'll see how much coffee I can make." Kazushi nodded. "And that's it. There isn't much that we can really plan out. The rest depends on how much of the Palace we still haven't explored, which we don't know, and... luck." Unfortunately, the latter was something that wasn't on Kazushi's side most of the time, but he would be better of not voicing that remark.

Makoto arrived at Syujin. The same school that now she knew turned into Mr. Kamoshida's Palace during the Dark Hour. Her heartbeats accelerated as she entered the school. Now she was sure that three of the Phantom Thieves were students there. Panther, Skull, and most importantly, their leader, Joker. Despite having agreed to wait three days, the confirmation that Joker was a Syujin student made Makoto even more impatient, and more eager to be near him. Where might he be? What year? What class? Makoto had hypothesized that he might be one of the troublemakers in the school, but she recalled him implying that he didn't do questionable activities during the day. If true, could this mean that he was stealthily hiding among the well-behaved students? In that case, she at least wouldn't have to worry about trying to get him away from the crime path during the day. One less issue to worry about. She could just be with him normally. Since he had said he liked to be in her company, she could stay near him to make his days less boring, and help him with his student life to make it more successful! This was a very sound plan, and much less complicated than she had anticipated.

Makoto directed her focus to class as best as she could. Her pen slid quickly and gracefully over her notebook. Much to her frustration, the exercises were gone in a flash, and Makoto had no more means of distraction.

Joker, I can't wait three days... She murmured as a thought. You also like me. Aren't you impatient, too?

On lunch break, Makoto wandered aimlessly through the courtyard, until it occurred to her to look for Miura. He was the only person she could comfortably talk to at school, and the one who always managed to distract her from her worries. She needed to talk to him. The subject didn't matter. It also didn't matter that he was part of her worries about the choice between him and Joker. She needed to spend time with him so that the minutes toward those three days would go by faster.

She found him talking to his classmate, Mishima.

"Mishima, what are those files you sent me?"

"What do you mean? They're the music score and the drum accompaniment track. You know, for our group assignment about artistic expression."

Miura seemed lost for a moment, but then a hint of recognition crossed his eyes. "Ah... that. Um, but what was decided, again? I don't remember much of what happened during the first classes that day."

"Oh, yeah, you were quite out of it..." Mishima straightened up and proceeded to explain. "We agreed that we'll present a contemporary song that has a motivational message. We chose the song, 'Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There.'"

"Yeah, I remember this."

"Takamaki said she'll translate the English lyrics into Japanese so that everyone understands them, and I'll do a karaoke-like thing to show on the big screen where the lyrics and the translation appear along with the song."

"Hm." Miura nodded.

"And this is not all! I proposed that we could perform the song, and the teacher accepted! This will be awesome!" Mishima was very excited.

However, Miura didn't share the same enthusiasm. In fact, he seemed to be getting apprehensive. "... Perform...?"

"Yeah!" Mishima didn't seem to realize Miura's discomfort. "I'll play the guitar. Takamaki agreed to sing. Now we only need the accompaniment!"

Miura looked more apprehensive each second. "Wait, what? Don't tell me... don't tell me that you want me to...?"

"To play the accompaniment? Yeah. Why? Don't you want to do it?" Mishima asked innocently.

Color drained from Miura's face. "That's not the problem...! I... I can't play any instrument!"

"S-seriously?" Mishima's eyes widened. "But you agreed when I told you what we had decided!"

Miura seemed about to panic. "... D-did I...?"

"Yeah, you did! You had zoned out in class while we were deciding stuff, but I made sure to explain everything to you before we settled it with the teacher. You nodded, so..."

"I can't believe I did this..." Miura put a hand on his forehead in exasperation.

Mishima refused to lose hope. "But, but... I found a simplified version of the song, that even beginners can play! I also have a backing drum track that I use to play along with my guitar. Those are the files I sent you. You'd need to do only some basic stuff! Just some simple basslines and riffs. You can do this at least, right?"

Miura shook his head. "Basslines? Riffs? This is the same as Greek to me, Mishima. I have no idea what you're talking about!"

"You don't know anything about music, then!" Mishima's remaining shards of hope vanished. "I took guitar lessons for a while, but before that, I had had a basic introduction to music in elementary school. I had thought that you also had at least a basic grasp of music from a previous school or something!"

"No. My elementary school had none of that!"

"Oh no... then, what should we do!?"

Makoto had heard everything they said. She had an idea. Could her dormant music knowledge get some use now? She decided to join the conversation. "Hey, um, I may be able to help!"

"Ms. President...!" Mishima startled.

"Huh." Kazushi internally cursed his luck. As if his situation weren't worrying enough already, Niijima-san just had to show up with that dreamy expression on her face, which could only have resulted from their conversation yesterday, since it was the same kind of expression she had when talking about her crush to his Phantom Thief self. Talking to her was really awkward whenever she was in that state. Ideally, it would be better not to interact with her before the end of the mission. However, nothing ever happened the ideal way in Kazushi's life. Niijima-san had already found him, and was trying to force her way into his routine once again.

"I took keyboard lessons when I was a child," Niijima-san said. "I only know the basics, but I believe my rusty music knowledge is still valid! Mishima, do you have the simplified version of the score with you? I'd like to take a look."

"Huh? Yeah, I have it." Mishima fiddled with his phone for a moment, and handed it to her. "Here you go."

"Hmm." She glanced through the music score.

"We already have the playback drums, and I'll take care of the guitar chords." Mishima explained. "We only need the basslines and those little riffs from the strings part. They can be done on a keyboard."

"It doesn't look so hard." Niijima-san concluded. "When is your presentation?"

"Saturday next week." Kazushi told her, already with a hint of suspicion. "... What do you intend to do?"

Her eyes lit up. "Try to teach you, of course!"

"What...?" And his suspicion was confirmed. There Niijima-san was again, trying to force her way into helping him with his activities. He would be better of refusing her help... or would he? Her help had proved to be quite useful so far, and could save his assignment again. Would it be better to risk his identity - that he intended to reveal in just a few days -, or risk getting a low score on his assignment?

She insisted. "It's only a matter of knowing what keys to press, and when to press them. This is what I intend to try to tell you. What do you say?"

Kazushi was still unsure, for various reasons. First, because they had too little time. He might not be able to learn the music in time for the presentation. Second, because if he were to accept her offer, he would definitely have to forget the idea of not interacting with her before the end of the mission.

"The plan B is, if it doesn't work out, then you'll have to find something else to do as part of the assignment, and Mishima will have to find a version of the song with only guitar and vocals."

"Wow, a plan B! That's our Student Council President!" Mishima complimented her. "Miura, you could come over to my place and help me with the karaoke lyrics."

"It's a good plan." To Kazushi, it was the ideal one. But of course, things just wouldn't go his way.

"Oh, but don't think you can just run away, Miura. I believe plan A is worth a try." Niijima-san argued. "I think it'd be an interesting experience."

"I don't know a thing about music. You two want me to learn to perform that song in a matter of one week. Don't you think it's too much?"

"But it isn't the whole song. It's just the bass part. And this is the easy peasy version!" Mishima argued. "Hey, Miura, give it a try, please! If you could learn it, it'd be awesome. If you don't learn it in time, we have the plan B, but at least you'll have tried something new. You have nothing to lose. I'm sure that the experience will be worth it! At least give it a shot!"

Yes, it might be a bit too much. However, Makoto couldn't pass this opportunity up. What better way to have the afternoon fly by than spending it with Miura? "Mishima is right. You have nothing to lose! Miura, at least give it a try once! If you feel that music really isn't for you, then I promise I won't bother you about it anymore."

Right now, Kazushi was more worried about the items he would need to prepare for their Palace exploration. Tonight was the deadline to secure the treasure route. If they didn't manage to reach the treasure tonight, the mission would fail.

However, Niijima-san was giving him an expectant look, as though she were pleading to him to distract her from her crush's side effects, likely impatient to wait a few days. The worst part was that her suffering was his fault, as she had fallen in love for his other identity. Kazushi felt bad for making her suffer. Since not interacting with her for a few days already proved to be out of the question, he might as well accept her offer just so that she wouldn't be sad.

"Alright." Kazushi finally agreed, rather begrudgingly. "Just don't complain if it turns out I'm totally terrible at music."

As expected, her face lit up, and she smiled like a little child. A very unusual expression for the ever so explosive Student Council President, but still, a much better sight than the sight of her sad or with the head in the clouds.

"... You will do it? Really?" She sounded hopeful.

That question was a bit irritating, though. "Stop asking. Or would you prefer if I changed my mind?"

"... Uh." Niijima-san gasped in shock at the sudden remark. "Miura...?"

Only then, Kazushi realized that "Arsène" had made a harsh remark escape his mouth. Kazushi needed to fix that fast. "Sorry. This whole thing is too sudden, and I'm totally unsure about it. That's all. But I'll try." He hoped his excuse was convincing. "Can it be tomorrow, though? Today I'm really busy."

"Okay..." Niijima-san's gaze fell. She was probably disappointed that they couldn't hang out today. "... Um, the music club meets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tomorrow is Thursday, which means that the music room should be free. I'll ask for permission to use it after class. The room should have a keyboard we can use, too."

"Great!" Mishima was ecstatic. "Miura, if you can learn the bass part, it'll be awesome! Though I'll get a guitar-only version just in case. If you conclude you can't learn it, you can come over to my place and help me with the karaoke lyrics instead."

Kazushi nodded.

"It's settled. Tomorrow, then. So, see you around." Niijima-san walked away, a bit disappointed.

Once Niijima-san had left, Mishima inched closer to Kazushi. "She sure was acting different, huh? She's been hanging around you a lot, too. Miura, if I had to take a guess, I'd say that she likes you."

Kazushi sighed. "It's complicated. Really complicated..."

"How so?" And Mishima just had to ask for details.

Kazushi considered whether he should explain it. Mishima was the only non-Persona user who he could disclose Phantom Thieves-related issues to. Kazushi took a deep breath and looked around to make sure no one would overhear him, then whispered to Mishima. "Basically, she managed to infiltrate the group, and fell in love with the masked leader of the Phantom Thieves, who she still doesn't know it's me."

Mishima's eyes widened. "Whoa! That's quite the story, huh?" He laughed in amusement. "Sounds like something from an anime or a movie! So, what are you going to do about it?"

Kazushi continued whispering. "I plan to tell her everything after this mission ends, hopefully by this weekend, and hope that she won't be upset at me for having hidden this from her for all this time. Best case scenario, we'll have her as a permanent member. Worst case scenario, uh... I don't really know, and don't want to think about it."

"The Council President as a Phantom Thief? That'd be cool!" Much to Kazushi's chagrin, Mishima seemed to forget to keep his voice down.


"Ah, sorry." Mishima realized his mistake and lowered his voice. "I hope it comes true, though. I'll be cheering you on!"

Classes had ended for the day. Makoto was heading to the courtyard when Sae phoned her.

"Makoto, I won't be back home today. Don't wait for me." Sae sounded very tired.

"... Okay." Makoto replied.

"I almost forgot. You have exams next week, right, Makoto? I hope you have been keeping up with your studies."

"Of course. You don't need to worry about that." Since Makoto had always been studying, she didn't need to study everything at once at the last minute like most people did.

"Good. You're quite useless right now. I may not be here to keep supporting you financially your whole life. So, you must make the most of this time to get ahead in your studies. You must give your best to maintain high grades and enter a good college so that you can get a respectable job as soon as possible. You understand what I mean, don't you?"

Perhaps Sae hadn't meant to sound that harsh, but her choice of words - or lack thereof - hit Makoto quite hard, especially the "useless" part. Makoto did an affirmative sound to indicate she had understood Sae's point, and they ended the call.

I'm useless... Makoto thought. In the end, Sae was probably right. As long as Makoto didn't get a job, she would only keep generating expenses for Sae and forcing her to work harder to cover them. Give my best to maintain high grades... Makoto's deepest fears came to the surface. What if "her best" weren't good enough? What if, after everything, she still failed to get a good job? And what about her future with Joker? She wanted to help Joker to succeed at school, but could she even succeed herself? She actually wasn't qualified to help him, was she?

Just as Makoto raised her head, Miura entered her line of sight. She recalled their interaction during lunch break. Miura's harsh comment from earlier still bothered her. That wasn't normal. He had gotten himself in quite the trouble by having accidentally agreed to perform music in his assignment. Makoto could understand he was unsure about the whole deal. However, she felt that something else was bothering him. Makoto couldn't help but worry, and her concern for Miura temporarily threw her problems aside.

"Miura!" She quickened her pace after him.

He froze in his tracks. "Uh... what is it?" He didn't have the usual neutral expression on his face. He looked troubled.

"Miura, are you okay? You look a bit out of it."

Miura sighed quietly. "I'm fine... Just having a hard day."

"I know it's hard to have to deal with that sudden music assignment and all. I already said I'm going to help you, and we also have a backup plan in case trying to learn the music doesn't work out. But there's something else bothering you, too, isn't there? Is it anything serious?"

Miura hesitated. "Well, the thing is, today's a very busy day for me. I have too much to do and to think about at once."

"Hey, don't overwork yourself, or you may become sick again!" She warned.

Out of all things Miura could have done, he smiled slightly at her scolding. "Thanks for your concern. But don't worry. It's just for today."

Makoto wished she could do something for him. Miura needed a distraction. Makoto recalled how he had spent that first Sunday with her to help cheer her up. Maybe this was her turn to hang out with him and help him relax. "Either way, you might need to cool off a bit. Um, how about we hang out for a while?"

Miura shook his head. "Today I can't. I've already said I have a lot of stuff to do."

"I know. But just for half an hour or so!" Makoto insisted.

Miura seemed a bit wary. "What's this all of a sudden?"

"Uh, I just want to help you. You're having a rough day. I think you should take a moment to relax so that you'll have an easier time with your chores." Even though Makoto had told herself that Miura needed a distraction, the truth was that she was actually the one eager to find something to distract herself with.

"I appreciate that, but I really can't hang out today. Sorry." Miura was firm.

"Is there anything I can do to help relieve your burden?"

"I don't think so."

This was the last straw. Miura's words hit Makoto like a blow to her stomach. The first thought that came to her was that she was useless, like Sae had said. That her abilities weren't good enough to help Miura. Her fears of not being good enough came to the foreground again. Makoto deflated and lowered her head. A lump formed in her throat. "Miura... am I that useless to you?"

"... Huh?" This took Miura aback. "W-what are you talking about?"

"Do you think I'm useless?" She rephrased.

"No, of course you aren't."

"Then, why you never ask for my help?!" Tears formed in Makoto's eyes. Her voice wavered and almost didn't come out. "I told you that I'd really like to help people, that I want others to count on me. Things are always so hard for you. I told you that I'm willing to help you. And yet, I'm always the one looking for you. You never look for me, never turn to me for help... why, Miura? Am I that unreliable?" A few teardrops slowly rolled down her face.

Kazushi stood there, reactionless. He had felt bad for turning Niijima-san down, but he really needed to use all his available time today to prepare the items for tonight's infiltration. It was the last day they had to reach the treasure, and they needed all the resources they could get. However, Kazushi hadn't expected Niijima-san would break down right in front of his eyes.

"No, it's n-not like that..."

"Then, why?" She continued asking.

Kazushi had always had to deal with his problems on his own, and wasn't used to asking for help. After Niijima-san offered help with studies and with fixing his reputation at school, Kazushi began to consider turning to her more. However, he didn't want to stay near her too often because of the risk of her finding out his Phantom Thief identity. Of course he couldn't tell her the truth... why did this have to happen now, just three days before the mission's end? And she was crying, too. Kazushi had the urge to hug her and comfort her, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. She was suffering so much lately, and it was all his fault. He didn't want to show affection for her now, then have her turn out to hate him later once she learns the truth.

After a moment of contemplation, Kazushi concluded he needed to talk it through. "A-alright. Let's go somewhere quieter. If people see us like this, they'll think I'm bullying you or something."

Niijima-san silently followed him to the rooftop while he tried to come up with a proper answer to her question.

"Uh, I'm... not very good at this, I guess," Kazushi said out of nowhere.


"Asking for help, I mean."

Niijima-san didn't respond.

Kazushi felt like adding another argument. "You've been doing a lot for me. Like with those equations, and also that book. My assignment turned out great, and I even earned the teacher's trust. I'm very grateful for your help. There's no way I'd think you're useless."

Niijima-san silently stared him in the eye, as though she were trying to determine whether he was saying the truth.

The urge to comfort her was strong, but Kazushi resisted it. He merely held her gaze patiently until she seemed calmer and the teardrops stopped forming.

"Miura..." She spoke up. "I'm sorry. You said you have a lot to do. I'm only wasting your time, aren't I?"

"It's fine." He looked at her in concern. "You've been going through a lot, too, haven't you?" Kazushi lowered both his gaze and his voice. "Niijima-san, I'm sorry..."

She inched her head forward. "Huh? What was that?"

"... Never mind." Kazushi recovered his composure. "I'll be going. Take care."

Niijima-san nodded and let him go.

Makoto slowly made her way back from the rooftop. When she got to the courtyard, a Student Council member approached her.

"Ms. President, I've been looking for you. We have some paperwork to do."

"Okay, I'm coming." Makoto replied and followed the Council member, who didn't seem to mind her current emotional state at all.

Makoto was disappointed that she wouldn't be able to spend the afternoon with Miura. At least she was useful to the Student Council... or was she? So far, she had been following the Principal and the teachers' instructions, but didn't really manage to do anything significant to improve the students' lives, which should be her duty as Student Council President. Perhaps she was a failure as the Council President as well...

Between one form and the other, Makoto kept catching herself thinking about her current worries, until she began wondering about Joker. He, too, always refused her help. She recalled their conversation last night, and how he admitted to have gotten in trouble with Mr. Kamoshida. Makoto hadn't known the names of the students involved, but she had always been aware of Mr. Kamoshida's abuses. As the Student Council President, she should have stood up for the students and done something to change the situation. However, she didn't do anything. Sakamoto, Takamaki, Miura, Joker, and everyone else Mr. Kamoshida ever decided to pick on... she had failed all of them. Even now, she didn't believe she could have done anything about the issue. Yes, she was a utter failure as Student Council President... Makoto sighed and proceeded to fill the last form. Once she was finished, she left school and began thinking about Joker again.

Basically, just the normal student routine. From home to school and back, then homework and such. This was all that she was able to get out of Joker about his daily life. Did he come to school today? If so, was he back home now? Would he have been doing better if she had been able to do something about Mr. Kamoshida back then?

I'm sorry, Joker. She thought. I can't properly help you at school because how incompetent of a Council President I am, nor can help you in the Dark Hour because I don't have a Persona. I'm so useless...

Kazushi had bought two of each SP-restoring soft drink available at the nearest vending machine, then headed to Leblanc. While he crafted items for tonight's exploration, he ended up telling Morgana about how he had accidentally agreed to perform a song at school. That was probably a mistake.

"Aaaaah! My dear Lady Ann will be singing! I want to be there to see it!"

Kazushi regretted having explained the situation to Morgana. "No. I won't take you to school."

"Everyone else from the group can see it. I want to see it too!"

"That's not true. Only my class will see it." Kazushi shot Morgana's argument down. "Ryuji and Niijima-san aren't from my class, and Yusuke is from another school. The only group members that'll be there are Ann and Mishima."

"Whatever! I can't miss it! Mark my words. Saturday next week, I'll be going to your school no matter what!"

Kazushi bit his lip and furrowed his brows in thought. "How about this? After the mission, we call everyone over to celebrate. Then, we have Mishima and Ann rehearse the song here. This way, everyone from the group will be present to hear it."

This seemed to have convinced Morgana. "Hmm. Not a bad idea. What about you? You're gonna rehearse too, right?"

"Huh? But I can't play any instrument. This is the problem."

"Didn't Makoto say that she'll teach you?"

"I don't know if I can learn it in time, Morgana." Kazushi realized it was a huge understatement. "No, I don't know if I can learn it at all. I have zero knowledge of music! Not to mention that I don't have an instrument, either."

"I know you can do it, Leader! You're learning shogi, cooking, tools-crafting, and other stuff you had never done before, and you're becoming better at all of these each day! Music is only one more new thing for you to learn! And if I remember right, there was a music keyboard at the recycled items shop. If it's still there, you can get it!"

"I doubt it's that simple. We barely have one week. Not to mention that our big mission hasn't ended yet." Kazushi sighed. "Speaking of cooking, today I'll have to make a lot of coffee. I guess it's a good thing that I had bought coffee beans for myself, or I'd use up a lot of Sojiro-san's beans."

When Makoto arrived home, she noticed that she had gotten a new text message on her cellphone. It was from Kujikawa-san, and contained the link to the Phantom Thieves' website!

"Hi, Makoto-chan." The message stated. "Sorry, I've been meaning to send u this for a while, but I was rly rly busy! Dunno if u still need it, but here's the link."

"Hello, Kujikawa-san. Yes, I still need it. Thank you!" Makoto sent a quick reply.

She went to her computer and accessed the website... and its contents were both weird and surprising. It looked like a forum where users anonymously posted about... their personal problems. Topics included people talking about envious coworkers trying to get them fired, marriage or family problems, bullying, troubles with unreasonable neighbors, and all sorts of strange help requests.

All requests had various statuses. Each request began as "pending analysis," then became "under analysis," then was either "accepted" or "rejected." The accepted ones became "ongoing," then were "completed" after a few days, and the threads usually ended with the users thanking the Phantom Thieves and saying that their problem had been solved. Rejected requests also showed an explanation for the reason for rejection. Those reasons were even more unusual. They included, "We were unable to verify the provided information," "There is nothing we can do about this case," and "We deemed our intervention unnecessary (seems like a case of miscommunication/misunderstanding, and the person may not have ill intent)."

Then, she found a peculiar thread with a lot of posts.

"Phantom Thieves, please help! My father got a huge debt. He heard of this man named Junya Kaneshiro, and loaned money from him to pay the debt, which he did. But he was unable to pay the loan, then Kaneshiro came and revealed he's from the mafia and threatened my father! Now my family is in trouble with the mafia, and we don't know what to do! The police refuses to deal with any case involving Kaneshiro. It's actually hard for me to believe that you can deal with someone so dangerous. But I have no one else to turn to!"

"This is...!" Makoto gasped. "Just like what those ATM people said in the Palace..."

This message was followed by a dozen more posts by other people that had been tricked into getting some favor from Kaneshiro, and got blackmailed by him after being unable to repay the favor, or got threatened by him because they found out about some of the man's shady activities. Apparently, all those posts were originally different requests, but got "merged" into that thread about the same case. Makoto looked at the status. It said that the information had been verified, and that the request had been accepted on July 1st, actually the day before Makoto had overheard Sae and Akechi-san.

It was true. The explanations slowly connected and clicked into Makoto's mind. The Phantom Thieves targeted bad people that the website's visitors mentioned. The Palaces were linked to the targets' subconscious, where the Phantom Thieves defeated a Shadow born from the target's evilness. They took the treasure that the Shadow guarded, which was the reason for the distortion in the target's heart. With evil gone from the target's heart, the target felt bad for the sins he or she committed.

Makoto would have reprimanded the Phantom Thieves and said that it was dangerous to mess around with people's minds. What if they destroyed some part of the person's heart that wasn't bad?! However, the request statuses proved they were probably well aware of that. Or at least, Joker probably was, since he was the leader and should be the one making the important decisions. At first, Makoto had thought that the Phantom Thieves were only rebellious teenagers causing havoc during the Dark Hour and showing their Persona powers off. As always, she had assumed things and gone overboard. She was wrong. The Phantom Thieves didn't just play heroes and indiscriminately screw the minds of whoever the requests mentioned to be causing problems. Judging by the request statuses, especially the reasons for rejection, they had some strict criteria to determine if they should intervene or not. They went out of their way to verify if the information was true, and seemed to only take matters into their hands if they concluded that the targets really had evil in their hearts and were purposefully harming others.

Makoto had been totally wrong about The Phantom Thieves. Others with similar powers could very well misuse those powers to cause chaos by screwing people's minds, but this wasn't their case. They were using their Persona powers for a good cause. A lot of people from the vicinity who used to be bad before were treating others better now. People that had committed much worse sins had repented, such as Mr. Kamoshida and Madarame-san. The Phantom Thieves were amazing, and Joker even more so, since he was the one overseeing it all. Makoto's admiration for Joker went up a few more levels, and this enforced even more her conviction that she liked him. Joker wasn't trying to drag her to the crime path. He might even not need saving like Makoto had thought. Maybe she was the one out of her mind and who needed to be saved...

Makoto sent a message to Kujikawa-san. "I just took a look at the website. I was totally misunderstanding the Phantom Thieves. They are amazing!"

"U'r welcome! " Kujikawa-san's message came. "And good luck with ur romance with their leader! :3"

That message caused Makoto to blush. "Ugh, she still remembers that..."

Makoto checked a few more forum posts, and came to a decision. Today at the Dark Hour, she would apologize to the Phantom Thieves. They actually fought for a good cause. Now she wished she could become a permanent member and help them, but what could she do? She couldn't use a Persona, and someone always had to stay at the rear of the group to protect her, which resulted in Joker having one less member at the front. Makoto was a burden to the Phantom Thieves, too. It was a wonder that Joker still hadn't spat to her face how useless she was. She was really a failure. Perhaps she didn't deserve to stay with Joker, after all.

Chapter Text

Kazushi got a phone call just as he finished filling a small bottle with coffee.

"Hello?" He answered the call.

"Hi, Kazushi-kun! Kujikawa here!"

"Oh, Kujikawa-san. It's been a while."

"Yeah. I finally got some free time, and decided to contact both of you! Nothing new about the Dark Hour to report, but you know, the new group of Persona users interests me."

"... The new... group?" That was strange. During his last talk with Kujikawa-san, Kazushi had never mentioned anything about the new Persona users being in a group.

"Yeah, I mean the Phantom Thieves." Kujikawa-san went straight to the point. "Kazushi-kun, I just wanna confirm something." She lowered her voice. "You're the leader of the Phantom Thieves, aren't you?"

"... Huh?" Kazushi definitely didn't see that one coming, and momentarily lost his composure. He nearly dropped the coffee bottle he had just filled.

"Don't worry. I'm on your side. I won't get you in trouble." Kujikawa-san assured him. "The thing is, I had detected that you had multiple Personas, just like the leader of my group. Then, Makoto-chan told me that she had infiltrated the Phantom Thieves and fallen in love with their leader, who happened to have multiple Personas, and it occurred to me that it was probably you."

Kazushi couldn't deny it anymore. "Uh, yeah, you nailed it. You're a better detective than our high school detective here."

The idol giggled. "I told you that I used to do a lot of detective work back in the day! I've been following your group's achievements. They're very interesting! Your group gets a lot of attention, but many people misunderstand it, too. I know how it is, trust me. Dealing with Persona-related incidents is complicated. My group got in trouble with the police and stuff, too. So, don't worry. I'm on your side." She repeated. "It's sad that there are a lot of misinformed people that totally misunderstand what you do, and it's even more sad that this also seemed to include Makoto-chan. I thought it was strange that Makoto-chan was hanging out with you without knowing who you were, but then she showed she didn't seem to like the Phantom Thieves very much, and I figured I shouldn't reveal your identity to her. How didn't she recognize you, though?"

"Our Personas somehow help hide our identities."

"Ah, I see. It didn't feel right to have her misunderstand your group like that, and I decided to send her the link to the website, since she still didn't seem to have seen it. I had been busy, and only got around to sending her the website link a few minutes ago. And she answered me that she liked it and praised your group! I think she gets it now."

So, the website won Niijima-san over? Showing her the website had crossed Kazushi's mind once, but he was sure that she would either refuse to check it, or misunderstand it completely, just like she did with everything they tried to explain to her.

"Uh... thanks for your help." Kazushi didn't know how else to respond.

"You're welcome. And be sure to take good care of her, okay? You two have my support!"

"Huh? What are you talk-" Kazushi couldn't finish his question because Kujikawa-san ended the call.

Either way, Kazushi was still worried about Niijima-san. The way she had broken down earlier still bothered him. Was she okay now? And would it be okay to have her come with them to the Palace at the Dark Hour today? He thought about contacting Niijima-san to check up on her, but how should he go about it? His other identity wasn't supposed to know what had happened at school, and his normal identity couldn't tell her to not go out this Dark Hour if she wasn't feeling well. On further thought, telling her not to come actually wasn't a good idea. Judging from the "uselessness complex" she had exhibited earlier, she might get the wrong idea and think he was ditching her.

Kazushi spent his afternoon making supplies for the exploration. After that, he was exhausted. However, he couldn't hold it in anymore and emailed Niijima-san. He didn't wait for a reply, though.

"Morgana, wake me up in forty minutes," was all he said before collapsing on the mattress.

Makoto had barely managed to get her homework done, and had no disposition for martial training. She was staring blankly at the fridge.

"Makoto, I won't be back home today. Don't wait for me," was what Sae had said.

There were no leftovers in the fridge, which meant that Makoto would need to cook dinner. Today she had no disposition for cooking at all. If Sae were to have dinner at home, Makoto would have cooked for her sake, but this wasn't the case, and she gave up.

Makoto thought how she was a burden to her sister. Since Makoto still didn't have a job, she was only creating more expenses for Sae, who always had to work so hard to support her. And for what? Makoto hadn't accomplished anything in her life. Her grades at school were excellent, but that was it. Makoto was a failure as a Student Council President, as a responsible sister, and as a Phantom Thief. Sae was wasting her hard-earned money on Makoto for nothing. Maybe Makoto shouldn't eat dinner so that she could save Sae's resources up.

An email notification from her cellphone pulled Makoto out of her thoughts. Her heart started pounding once she realized that Joker was contacting her.

"Queen, how are you doing? Today is our last day to find the treasure. If things get rough, we might have to push ourselves more than usual. Be sure to be prepared and rested. We will be waiting in front of the school."

"Joker..." Makoto muttered the Phantom's code name. This message was quite long for his standards, and for the first time, he had asked her how she was doing. His messages were usually short and to the point, without even a greeting. This one was a nice change of pace. Could it mean that he was opening up more?

"Joker, I'm okay." She replied. "Thank you for the advice. Ill see you later."

In the end, Makoto decided to eat at least a few slices of bread. She wouldn't want to collapse in the middle of the mission and cause even more problems to the Phantom Thieves.

At the Dark Hour, Makoto met up with the Phantom Thieves in front of the school Palace like she had agreed. Joker threw her a critical look but said nothing and guided everyone into the Palace.

"Um, everyone, I have something important to say." Makoto spoke up once they had teleported to the last safe room they had visited in Kaneshiro's Palace.

Everyone looked at her. Joker's penetrating gaze made her feel self-conscious, and she recoiled.

"Joker... s-sorry. I know we should be hurrying and-"

"Just say it." Joker cut her off.

"Um... right." Makoto fidgeted. She lowered her head shyly. "Everyone, I... I need to apologize. Today I saw the website, and finally realized how wrong I was about what you do. Before, I had thought you were doing bad things and giving a lot of purposefully complicated and far-fetched excuses to camouflage your actions. However, I realized that the truth is completely different. Your actions have good results. You can really reach into your targets' subconscious and remove corruption from their hearts, and they truly repent of their sins. I talked to Mr. Kamoshida in prison, and could attest to this. Others with similar powers could very well abuse them and mess people's minds indiscriminately. But you don't. From the website, I could gather that you have rigorous criteria to determine who really should be targeted. You all are amazing. I've snapped at you and said a lot of bad things to you several times in the past. I'm sorry."

"Whoa. It looks like someone suddenly had a big change of heart," Mona said. "Could it be because our awesome leader 'took her heart?'"

"I didn't do anything," Joker said.

"Joker. Mona is right. You're awesome." Makoto stared at him admiringly. "And yes, you took my heart."

"Awww..." Panther made a cute face at them, and reminded Makoto that she had spoken her statement aloud in front of everyone.

Makoto tried to shake the embarrassment off. "... A-anyway! I had previously said that I wouldn't contribute to what you all are doing. Forget what I had said. Now I see that you're fighting for the same justice that I believe in. So, I... I wouldn't mind... no, I would like to become a permanent member."

"You don't even need to ask." Joker agreed without a second thought, much to Makoto's surprise.

Skull chuckled. "Honestly, I've been taking for granted that you're a member all this time."

"Yeah." Panther agreed. "Aside from the fact that you were misunderstanding us, I had even forgotten that you were supposed to be a temporary member."

Their kind reception warmed Makoto's heart. "Wow, really? Thank you." However, that feeling didn't last long, and her doubts resurfaced. "That being said, though, I have no idea what I can do to help you. So far, all I've been doing is hinder the group. Someone always needs to stay behind with me instead of fighting because my Persona didn't awaken yet. It's taking too long. This isn't normal, is it? I wonder if I really have a Persona to begin with..."

"You're conscious during the Dark Hour. Of course you have one!" Mona tried to assure her. "You've defeated Shadows using toy guns and such, too. I doubt they'd have been so effective if you didn't have the potential to awaken a Persona. It will awaken when the time comes."

"As for what you can do for now." Joker looked at Makoto. "I'm pretty sure you've been doing this already. But for now, just observe our battles and familiarize with the different strategies. This will give you a head-start once your Persona awakens."

Panther smiled assuringly. "You're getting quite good at stealth, too. Once you get your Persona, I'm sure you'll get up to speed in no time!"

Makoto still wasn't convinced, but stopped arguing for now. She had wasted their time enough already.

"That being said, let's begin the exploration." Joker commanded, and the group set off.

The Phantom Thieves hurried through the bank Palace and tried to avoid as many battles as they could. For the ones they couldn't, Joker threw balls of something that exploded into smoke to distract the enemies, and this gave an opening for the Phantom Thieves to run away.

Makoto was curious. "Where does Joker get these items?"

"He makes them." Panther answered.

"Makes them?" Come to think of it, he had said he also made ammunition for their toy guns. "How does he do that?"

"He uses the stuff we get from Shadows. Making those items takes a lot of time, though. He said that he'd have to spend the whole afternoon preparing our supplies."

"Wow..." Makoto uttered in admiration. "He's quite dedicated to the group's cause, to choose to spend his free time with these things. I just hope he isn't neglecting his studies by doing this."

"Of course he's dedicated to the cause. He takes it very seriously. Don't worry. He takes studies seriously, too."

Makoto was glad to hear that. "But does he always make those items all by himself? Don't you guys help him?"

"Mona is the one teaching him. We tried to help make the items, but none of us have the knack for that. I couldn't get those items right no matter how much I tried. Skull doesn't have the patience for handcrafting. Fox only kept marveling at the weird visuals of the different ingredient combinations and didn't get any work done. In the end, all we did was waste materials and Joker's time."

There was no easy way to split the workload, then. Poor Joker... Makoto would gladly have helped him make the items if she had known how.

The Phantom Thieves ran out of smoke balls, and couldn't escape from battles as easily anymore. They found themselves caught in many fights, and their SP drained quickly. They began resorting to using physical attacks and HP-restoring drinks to perform physical attacks and conserve SP, but many enemies were strong against melee attacks or gunshots, and the Phantom Thieves were forced to use SP. It got to the point that they had to have a soft drink after nearly every fight, and it still wasn't enough.

They were only twenty minutes into the Dark Hour, and so much had happened in such a short time. Their stock of soft drinks was already gone. Joker gave them small bottles of coffee, and they managed to recover their SP a little, though it clearly wouldn't last long.

"Hey, Mona! No signs of the treasure room yet?" Skull asked impatiently.

"No, I've got nothing."

"Grrr!" Skull gritted his teeth. "We aren't gonna make it!"

"Hang on. Just a bit more." The leader encouraged the group.

"How many times are you gonna repeat that?!" Skull snapped. "If not even Mona can tell, how'd you know!?"

"We walked a lot during all our expeditions here. It can't be too far." Joker reasoned.

Skull sighed. "How can you be so optimistic?!"

"I'm with the leader." Fox spoke up.

"Yeah!" Mona agreed.

"Sorry Skull, but you're the only pessimist here." Panther smirked at Skull.

"We must do everything we can." Joker addressed the group. "Don't forget why we had to shorten the deadline in the first place."

"Huh? You had to shorten the deadline?" This was the first Makoto had heard of that.

Mona was the one who answered. "Uh, well, initially the deadline had been until the middle of next week, but we heard of... some stuff. Basically, if we don't stop Kaneshiro before a certain date, some major bad thing may happen. This is why we're in a hurry."

"Oh..." Makoto chose not to comment, but she was feeling bad. If only Joker hadn't taken that blow for her, he wouldn't have become incapacitated for one day. They would have had one extra day to explore, and this wouldn't be happening. Why didn't it occur to her to buy anything to help them restore SP, either? She was such a burden to them...

Joker's gaze shot towards Makoto, then his eyes flared with determination. "Let's continue on. We still have more than half of the Dark Hour left. I have a coffee bottle for each member."

"Will that be enough?" Skull voiced his doubt.

Everyone ignored Skull's pessimism and pressed on.

"Ah! What is this?!" Skull gasped when they reached a spacious room. There stood more ATM people, and holograms of exaggerated huge coins came down from above like rain. "How obsessed with money can this guy get!?"

"How could I have guessed that this man was from the mafia...!" It was one of those ATM people.

"Wait one more month, please!" An ATM with a girl's voice pleaded.

The disembodied voice from the other day spoke again. "If you have no money to pay the debt, then you'll have to work for it. Using... your body. Get her!"

Then, half a dozen men in black appeared and dragged the ATM girl by force. The girl screamed and struggled to break free, without success.

"Bastard!" Skull shouted.

"Ah!" Panther closed her eyes and covered her mouth in horror. "No, no, no, I don't want to know the rest..."

"Young girls are so useful," The disembodied voice said. "They're easy to manipulate, and we can never have more than enough of them, as the demand for them is very high."

Anger sparked inside Makoto at the implications of the inappropriate kind of "work" Kaneshiro was likely subjecting those girls to. That was so despicable!

Suddenly, the ATMs disappeared from the scene, a door burst open, and a bulky humanoid Shadow came out from it. "Hmm. I had thought it was quite noisy around here lately. So, this is what we have here. A band of pesky thieves!"

That voice... it was the same as the disembodied voice from earlier.

"There's no mistaking it! It's the Shadow from the Palace's owner's corrupt heart!" Mona informed everyone.

That was Kaneshiro's Shadow! "... Kaneshiro...!" Makoto gritted her teeth.

Kaneshiro's Shadow spoke. "I won't let you steal my fortune! No, better yet. Since you came all the way here, I'll make you part of my money-generating machine. I see that you have two young pretty girls back there..."

Makoto gasped. That Shadow could only be referring to Panther and herself! "No! We would never...!"

The job market can be harsh for women. You should be grateful that I'm giving you this opportunity to make easy money."

That statement hit close to home. Makoto recalled how Sae always complained that the job market was harsh to women.

"Hmm..." The Shadow sized the two girls up. "That talented young prosecutor is the one who interests me the most, but I guess the two of you will do for now."

Makoto had a bad feeling about those words. "Prosecutor...?"

"Ah, yes. Niijima. Sae Niijima, yes, that's her name."

Makoto's eyes widened in shock, and she couldn't keep from exclaiming. "Sis...!?"

"What?!" Panther was also shocked.

Makoto couldn't believe that. Did Kaneshiro know that Sae was planning to come to the nightclub, too? "How do you know about her?!"

"Don't underestimate me. I have connections. With some guys from the police, to be more exact. I've bribed them and done them a few favors so that they won't bother me. This includes getting rid of people that are in their way."

"So, this is the real reason the police refuses to go after him..." Fox concluded. "Corruption in the police, out of all places...!"

"This is worse than I had thought..." Joker muttered.

The other Phantom Thieves gritted their teeth.

Kaneshiro's Shadow was still talking. "I've heard that the young prosecutor is getting quite nosy lately... I was only waiting for them to cue me to go after her, but now that her cute little sister came waltzing into my place, I just had a better idea. Kidnapping her sister to attract her here, then demanding huge sums of money that she obviously won't have, which will leave her with only one option..." The Shadow laughed deviously at his schemes.

"No...!" Makoto was horrified, and her stomach lurched at the implications.

"We won't allow this!" Joker was furious. "You won't be laying your filthy hands on her nor her sister!"

Joker was defending her! As much as Makoto usually insisted she didn't need protection, hearing Joker defend her made her heart skip a beat.

"That's what we'll see. Get the girls!" Kaneshiro's Shadow commanded, and security guards appeared from all directions. "I have some more income to count. Be sure to capture them and report back to me before I finish. I need the short-haired one. You may do what you will with the other one. And get rid of the other thieves." The Shadow said to the guards and excused himself.

The security guards exploded into multiple Shadows each and began surrounding everyone. Panther was occupied with her own share of problems and couldn't protect Makoto. Approaching the enemies to use melee attacks was too risky. Makoto had no more of those elemental spell gems, either. With no other choice, she took her toy revolver and shot a few bullets at the incoming enemies, but her shots merely bounced off of them. Her only means of defense didn't work.

Makoto's feeling of helplessness intensified by the second. All Persona users were busy handling the numerous Shadows, while she didn't even have a Persona to defend herself. The enemies were closing in on her. "Joker! Help me!"

However, Joker was frantically dodging left and right as he was forced to fight three Shadows at once, and had no way to come to Makoto's aid.

In fact, neither had the other Phantom Thieves. Everyone had their hands full and was having a hard time to even protect themselves.

This meant that Makoto was on her own. Her biggest fears came to the surface again. The fear of failing others. The fear of not being good enough. And Makoto realized that this was what was happening right now. The Phantom Thieves had accepted her as a permanent member. However, the truth was that she wasn't good enough to be in the group. Not only that, but she had also disrupted their mission by getting Joker knocked out for one day. What a failure she was...

The Shadows were ready to charge at her, and Makoto could do nothing. Her academics and her status as Student Council President meant absolutely nothing in the current situation. The only thing that mattered was having a Persona, which she didn't. She was such a burden to everyone. She only generated more expenses to her sister, scolded and nagged the Syujin students, and was of no help to the Phantom Thieves at all. Maybe it would indeed be better for her to end here, so that everyone got rid of the burden that she was...

Resigned, Makoto closed her eyes and awaited her fate. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.

Everyone, I'm sorry. She apologized as a thought. I tried, but I'm really not good enough. Sis, goodbye. Sorry for not having grown into the sister you wanted. I did what I could, but I can't become like you. I can't do anything for you, but I believe the Phantom Thieves will save you. Makoto felt like crying, even though it wouldn't help her in any way. Joker, I love you so much. I wished I'd be the one to make you happy, but I don't deserve you. Miura. I had told you so many times that I'd help fix your reputation, but it looks like I can't keep my word. Yes, I knew it. I'm not qualified to help others as I can't even solve my own problems. Sorry to have given you false hopes. I can't help you with your music performance, either. It's the end of the line for me. I only wish you knew that you were loved... I wish you knew how much I like you... but I guess it doesn't matter now...

Makoto lost her senses, and her consciousness faded away.


"Don't tell me you're giving up." Came the familiar voice. "This is so unlike you!"

"But I can't do anything. In the end, I'm not good enough..." Makoto lamented weakly, with her eyes closed.

"What happened to your self-confidence?!" Johanna snapped. "Are you going to have Miura's protection during that first Dark Hour be in vain? Are you going to make Joker's pain for having taken a dangerous blow for you be in vain?!"

"...!" Makoto gaped, stunned, only able to listen as Johanna scolded her.

"Have you forgotten all your plans? What about getting a job to relieve your sister of her burden?"


"What about those three days that you agreed to wait? What about helping fix Miura's reputation at school? Or starting a relationship with Joker and supporting him in his life? Have you forgotten all of that!"

Makoto lowered her head. "I'm not good enough for either of them..."

"What are you talking about? Even though you didn't show any special ability, Joker still said that he likes you, that he likes to be with you. Didn't he?"

"..." Makoto said nothing.

"You should follow Miura's example. He's gone to hell and back all by himself, with no support and no recognition from anyone. He truly knows what it means to not be good enough. Yet, he still has his head in the right place and remains standing strong. On the other hand, look at you. Cowering and giving in at the first adversity that appears..."

Makoto recalled Miura's words. "It'll be fine. It might seem easy to say, but for one, you aren't extremely unlucky with nearly everything going wrong like me. This is one big advantage you have right there."

Miura's image flashed in Makoto's mind, with his usual neutral expression. If Makoto hadn't gotten to know him better, she would have never found out that behind that neutral mask was someone with a strong will, hardened by injustice and lack of support.

"Miura..." Makoto chuckled bitterly. "I keep trying to help him, but in the end, he's always the one who helps me, always the one who cheers me up and makes me feel better..."

"If you give up here and don't come back, I'm sure Miura will be sad." Johanna argued. "Is this what you want?"

"... No."

"Not only him. If anything bad were to happen to you, the Phantom Thieves would also be sad."

"The Phantom Thieves..." Makoto recalled Joker saying that they considered her as one of them.

"You need to pull yourself together and do something!"

"But what can I do to get out of this situation? I don't even have a Persona..."

Johanna scoffed. "What are you talking about? Your Persona is right here. Open your eyes, Makoto."

Makoto did as suggested. To her surprise, this time her eyes actually obeyed her command and opened. She gasped, face to face with a girl identical to herself, except for the yellow eyes. "Johanna... are you really... my Shadow?"

"Yes. You are chained by the values you've learned from the time you were a child. You were instructed to be on your best behavior, and obey those rules no matter what. However, not all those rules sit right with you, and sometimes you want to disagree and go against them, but you don't. You are afraid of losing your way, of defying those bothersome values and being regarded as a bad girl, instead of the exemplar girl the adults tried to make you into. I am that part of you that refuses to accept certain rules and wants to rebel."

Makoto could only stare at her Shadow with eyes wide and mouth agape.

Johanna hadn't finished yet. "Now you realize that the Phantom Thieves' actions aren't what you had imagined. They actually fight for the same justice that you believe in. And they accepted you as a permanent member of their group. Now, it's time to fight alongside them. Come on. Set me free, and I will become your strength."

"Set you... free...?"

Before Makoto had time to get an answer from Johanna, she woke up.


Makoto snapped out of her dream, and found herself back in the middle of the action.

One of the Shadows, which was one of those talking monsters, laughed at her mockingly. "Girls. So fragile, but so useful. As playthings, that is."

Those words reminded Makoto of Kaneshiro's disgusting methods, and her anger flared up. When she realized it, she was snapping at the Shadow. "Repeat that if you dare, you worthless piece of crap!"

"How insolent! Everyone, get her!" The Shadow cried, and many of the other enemies turned their focus to Makoto.

"Queen!" Panther found an opening and began moving to go protect Makoto, but then...

That's it. Release the anger and nonconformism that you have been bottling up for all these years!" It was Johanna's voice, but this time, Makoto was sure that she was wide awake.

Before Makoto even had time to think, her anger exploded as blue flames that engulfed her whole body.

Everything trembled. A few Shadows froze in their tracks, and allowed the Phantom Thieves to finish them off.

"Oh! This is...!" Fox risked a glance in Makoto's direction.

"At last." Joker smirked. "At last, it's coming... it's coming!" Joker laughed like a maniacal villain, as though he were the one awakening to a Persona.

Makoto glared menacingly at the enemies. Even though she couldn't see her own state, her eyes turned yellow, much like Johanna's. Makoto felt an intense pain through her whole body. The flames that engulfed her were solidifying into a resilient material and forming clothes over her school uniform. A red liquid not unlike blood began leaking from her face. Makoto was getting scared at the unusual, gruesome experience. However, there was something inside her that was stronger than that fear. She felt a strong surge of power building up inside her.

"I can feel it..." Makoto muttered. "This is... me..."

"I am thou, and thou art I." Johanna's voice boomed inside Makoto's head. "Fight for the justice thou believeth in! No matter how perilous is the road to thy desired justice, I will get thou through it!"

The red liquid had solidified into an iron mask on Makoto's face, and the blue flames had formed biker style clothes over her Syujin uniform. The pain in her face was so strong that Makoto had the urge to rip the mask off. And this was what she did, with an agonizing scream.

"Aaaaaaaaaah! Personaaaaaaa!" The word automatically shot out of her mouth, and the mask came off.

Blue flames came out of her mask and took the shape of a peculiar Persona.

"W-wow..." Skull was the only one able to utter anything at the surprising sight. All the other Phantom Thieves were speechless.

So far, everyone else's Personas had humanoid appearances. Well, there was Skull's Persona who rode a ship, but still, Makoto's was different. Her Persona was a bike, out of all things, and with a woman's face on the front.

"Girls are playthings, you say?" Makoto glared disdainfully at the talking Shadow. "Sorry to inform you, but you chose the wrong kind of beings to play with."

The Shadows either took a step back or cowered in fear.

"One more thing." Makoto continued, in an imposing tone that rivaled Joker's. "It's very dangerous to be standing in the way of a motorcycle. Things like this can happen."

In a flash, Makoto jumped on her bike Persona and charged at the enemies. Her bike shot forward at a high speed, and only stopped after it had run over and exploded four Shadows.

All other Shadows were frozen in fear.

"Didn't you hear what I said?" Makoto mocked them. "Then, the roar of the motors will be the last thing you'll ever hear!"

She didn't give the Shadows time to react. She circled the environment and mercilessly ran over all Shadows she came across. Even the Phantom Thieves had to stand back to avoid being in her way.

"Let's also do our part. We don't want to let Queen steal all the action, do we?" Joker had a satisfied smirk on his face as he took his knife and engaged the nearest Shadow in battle.

The others wordlessly nodded and followed suit.

Soon, they had gotten rid of all Shadows in the room.

Makoto was feeling great like she hadn't felt in a long time. She hadn't imagined that letting loose could make her feel so good. It was as though her worries and fears had been kicked out of her system along with her anger.

She got off Johanna's bike form and glanced around at the stunned Phantom Thieves. Her eyes met Joker's, and they silently began a staring context. A few seconds passed, and neither of them gave in. It was a huge victory to Makoto. For the first time, she was able to confidently stand her ground under Joker's gaze without threatening to flinch. Makoto didn't fear him anymore. She felt that she would finally be able to impose herself in his presence.

But then, she felt drained. Johanna's bike form dissolved into light and returned inside her. The biker clothes and mask disappeared, and left Makoto back in her school uniform. Her legs gave way, and she lost her balance.

"Queen!" Panther and Skull, who had been closest to her, called out in unison and scrambled to catch her before she had time to fall.

Makoto tried to break free from them and steady herself on her own, but fatigue caught up to her, and she blacked out.


"Not bad, right?" It was Johanna's voice.

"Uh, yes. Not bad at all." Makoto admitted. "It was scary, but the result was better than I had expected, to be honest."

"Good." Johanna chuckled. "Now that you accepted me as part of yourself, we'll become one, and I'll be part of your thoughts. But this means that we won't be able to talk like this anymore. So, here's a last bit of advice for you. It's about Joker and Miura."

"Huh? Joker and Miura?"

"Yes. Until now, I kept pointing out how both of them are opposites, but I figured out something interesting. They aren't just opposites. They act as though they complement each other. Joker only talks about the Dark Hour, but discloses nothing about his normal life. Miura told you a lot about his normal life, but rarely talks about the Dark Hour. Even when he's talking about Personas, he keeps bringing up his normal life, and avoids discussing what he does during the Dark Hour. Curious, isn't it?"

"Yes, now that you mention it..." Makoto chuckled with amusement. It was curious indeed.

However, Johanna wasn't done yet. "And despite being so different, they have a few things in common, too. For example, your scolding doesn't work on either of them. Both of them rarely lose their composure, and rarely let their emotions show. And both of them are Persona users, which shouldn't be normal to begin with. In other words, maybe you won't need to choose, after all."

"Huh, what?" But before Makoto had time to process all those points, she heard the Phantom Thieves calling out to her, and woke up.


"Queen, come on." It was Panther.

"... Huh?" Makoto's eyes shot open, and she completely lost her train of thought.

"Are you okay? Can you stand?" Panther reached a hand out to her, which Makoto accepted.

Makoto shakily stood up with Panther's help. She saw that they were in the same room as before, although it was devoid of Shadows. She was in her Syujin uniform, and for a moment, she thought that all that Persona summoning craziness had been just a dream.

"I feel tired..." Her voice came out weakly.

"Don't worry. It's normal!" Mona tried to put her at ease. "Summoning a Persona for the first time is always shocking and taxing. It was the same with everyone else here!"

"Including you?" Makoto asked.

"Huh?" Mona blinked. "I, err, I don't remember how I awakened to my Persona..." He shook the awkwardness off. "Anyway, the next time you summon your Persona, it'll be much easier!"

"Are you alright?" Joker approached her.

"Yes." Makoto nodded, glad that he asked.

"We need to find the treasure as fast as possible so that we can go home and you can rest." Then, Joker addressed the other members. "This battle made us waste a lot of SP. We'll have to use the last bottles." He handed the bottles to all group members except Makoto.

"By the way, your bike Persona is awesome!" Mona said to Makoto.

"Yeah, It was amazing!" Panther smiled with admiration as she drank from her coffee bottle. "I hadn't expected it'd be a bike, though."

Mona spoke again. "Since your Persona is your other self, it means that there's a part of you that wants to transform into a vehicle, which I think is something really cool! Now you can understand the appeal of my vehicle transformation, too, can't you?"

"Um, well..."

Skull didn't let Makoto formulate a response. "The bike's really awesome! But..."

Makoto's attention turned to Skull. "But what?"

Skull shuffled. "Ah... um, uh, no offense, but you were quite scary back there... And I thought you were already scary enough when scolding people at school."

"Really?" Fox didn't agree. "That performance was quite inspiring, if you ask me. That confidence! That expressiveness! Those movements...!"

"Done. He's lost in his little world again..." Skull grumbled in annoyance.

"We should get moving. Let's go." Joker turned away and began walking.

Makoto glared at Joker. How come the person she most wanted to hear an opinion from simply walked away without saying anything!?

With some of her SP restored, Panther used a healing spell on Makoto. "Here. Now you should be feeling a bit better."

"Oh, thank you." Makoto smiled gratefully at the pleasant surprise.

The Phantom Thieves went on their way. Even though Makoto was doing a bit better after the healing spell, she still felt drained, and didn't think she could summon her Persona again. Her legs still threatened to fail, and she opted to hold onto Panther for support just in case.

The group at the front defeated a few more Shadows and entered another corridor.

Mona was ecstatic. "Yeah! The treasure is just a few corridors away! Let's do it!"

With newfound hope, the group determinedly trekked through the halls, although forced to waste some more SP thanks to a few packs of Shadows in the way.

"Finally! The treasure!" Mona's eyes glinted at the sight of a... non-distinct shape floating in the air.

"That thing is... the treasure...?" It didn't look like anything valuable. Definitely not what would come to Makoto's mind at the mention of the word, "treasure." "What is that, exactly?"

"We have no idea." Joker answered. "And since it has no distinct shape at the moment, we can't even get it right now."

"Huh? Then how do we get it?"

"We send the calling card!" Mona answered. "Since the Palace results from our targets' distorted views, we must influence his views of the treasure. By announcing that we'll come to steal his treasure, we provoke our target and he'll cause the treasure to take shape!"

"Hmm. So, this is the reason for the calling cards..." The explanation for the Phantom Thieves' methods was as hard to grasp as ever, but Makoto decided she would just roll with it.

"That's right." Joker confirmed. "Actually, the contents of the treasure don't matter much. They're usually replicas of some item that led the targets to take the path of corruption. What matters is that when we take the treasure, we take the targets' distorted desires away, and it's what causes the targets to change their hearts. We did all we could do today, though, which was secure the route to the treasure. Tomorrow we'll send the calling card. We'll come straight here the day after, confront Kaneshiro's Shadow and take the treasure."

"Oh... I see." At least one thing made sense to Makoto now. "Today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. This is why you said the mission should end in three days..."


"We did everything we came to do here!" Mona said. "Let's head to the nearest safe room and call it a night."

They ran into one more pack of Shadows on the way, but thankfully, their seemingly endless journey was finally over. Only after they had reached the safe room with the teleporter, the Phantom Thieves allowed themselves to celebrate and relax.

"Yeeeaaaaah! We did it!" Skull jumped and did a victory pose.

"Phew. Good job, everyone." Joker heaved a sigh of relief, then turned to Makoto. "Don't worry. We'll change Kaneshiro's heart, and won't let anything bad happen to your sister."

"Gotta be very considerate towards Queen's sister." Mona smirked.

"After all, if things work out between you and Queen, her sister may become your sister-in-law, right?" Panther teased him.

"... That's not it!" Joker shot back defensively.

"I know. Just kidding!" Panther giggled at the result of her teasing. "Joker's right, Queen. We'll do everything we can to protect her."

"Thank you." Makoto smiled. She was getting more and more confident that everything would be fine. At least, Kaneshiro didn't seem to know that Sae intended to come to investigate the nightclub. Either way, they would change Kaneshiro's heart in two days, and he wouldn't go after Sae anymore. The info they learned about the corruption in the police was still worrying, and Makoto wondered whether Sae had any suspicions about it. But there was no way for Makoto to approach Sae about the subject without raising suspicion herself. For now, all she could do was help the Phantom Thieves change Kaneshiro's heart.

Fox heaved a sigh. "Tonight we can finally relax and have a good night of sleep."

"That is, if we can even sleep. After all this coffee we had..." Skull remarked.

"It was just two small bottles of coffee for each person. Come on!" Panther remarked.

"Ah, you're right..." Skull waved it off. "Maybe it's 'cause the stuff had no sugar. It was hard to drink, and I had the impression that I had more than I did. Joker, couldn't you have gotten sugary coffee?"

"No. Considering the results from the last time we tested, the addition of sugar seems to reduce SP recovery by half."

Skull made a face.

"You can't even drink coffee without sugar?!" Mona mocked Skull. "What a shame! Overcoming the coffee's bitterness is a sign of manliness! A true man should be able to have sugarless coffee no problem!"

"Says the one who always complains and asks for sugar in his coffee." Joker quipped.

"Gah! Don't spill my secrets, Leader!" Mona shuffled. "Uh... b-but I opt to have sugar in my coffee because it's the way I like it best, not because I can't have coffee without sugar! In my case, it's just a matter of preference!"

That was quite the strange conversation, but Makoto caught herself chuckling at the group members' banter. And she got curious. "Huh? Mona, you drink coffee?"

"Of course! It's an important beverage for a man's day... well, I actually wanted to have alcohol, but Joker won't let me..." And this got Makoto horrified.

"No, no way!" Joker was firm.

"Oh, come on, Joker! I know you're underage and can't have alcohol, but this shouldn't be the case for me. I'm sure I'm a grown up man!"

"I can't be so sure." Joker shot back. "You certainly don't act like one."

Mona made a hurt face. "Now you offended me, Leader!"

But Joker wouldn't apologize. "Either way, I don't want to get in trouble trying to obtain alcoholic beverages for you. If anyone were to see me carrying alcoholic beverages, it wouldn't be good."

Mona's expression turned mischievous. "Hey, I just thought of something! We're in a nightclub, aren't we? They have a lot of alcohol here. After we take the treasure, we could also go and nab a bottle of something on the way out..."

Joker shook his head decisively. "No. I disapprove."

"Joker, you're no fun..."

"You accepted me as the leader. Now, deal with it."

"I also disapprove of the idea of you having alcohol, Mona," Panther said. "It's not healthy. We need you in top condition to assist us!"

"Ah! Panther..." Mona's demeanor changed completely. "I... I guess I can abstain from it... for you..."

Joker sighed in exasperation and turned to the rest of the group. "Let's get out of here."

They teleported to the school Palace and left from there.

"Um, Mona, could you come over here? I want to ask you something," Makoto said.

"Hm? Sure." Mona traded glances with Joker, and bounded over to the girls. "What is it?"

"This talk we just had made me curious. When is it that Joker gives you coffee? Before entering the Palace?"

"Oh, it's during the day!"

"During the day?" Makoto was surprised. "I thought you could only appear during the Dark Hour."

"It was like that in the beginning, while I had been wandering aimlessly in the Palace. But after I met these guys, I got interested in the outside world, and came out."

Makoto was incredulous. "Came out? But how can you live outside? You're such an unusual creature. People would freak out if you were to show up on the streets!"

Mona laughed cockily. "I'm a Phantom Thief. I'm more discreet than that! I have my ways."

Makoto wasn't fully convinced. "Is that so? I hope you haven't been causing trouble to anyone."

"I haven't! I'm behaving! I didn't hurt anyone or steal anything. Well, actually I've been in hiding most of the time."

"And you ask Joker to get you food and such?"

"He doesn't always give me what I ask, like in that talk earlier, but yeah."

Suddenly, Makoto's leg failed, and she tripped.

"Queen, are you okay?" Panther held her. "Are you sure you can go home by yourself?"

"I-I'm fine. It's not far from here."

"Even so, I'll give you a ride!" Mona said decisively and left no room for argument.

Mona transformed into his vehicle form and everyone got aboard.

Everyone was clearly tired, but Makoto noticed that Joker seemed the most tired of them all. She sat directly to his right and kept staring at him.

The others disembarked near the place they usually parted ways, and Makoto found herself alone with Joker... well, and Mona. She told Mona her address, and they continued on their ride.

Makoto finally spoke up. "Joker, sorry that I couldn't help. Even though I have a Persona now, I couldn't do much to help you. This is so frustrating!"

"Don't worry about it. This was only your first time summoning a Persona. You did well." And Joker just had to ruin the mood. "Though I don't take back what I said. You are quite reckless."

"Ugh, err, yes, maybe I went a bit overboard." Makoto felt a bit embarrassed. "I got lost in the moment and got carried away... I promise I'll be more careful next time."

Joker nodded, satisfied with her answer. "Aside from that, your Persona is pretty cool."

Just when Makoto had thought Joker wouldn't give his opinion about her Persona anymore, he did it and took her by surprise. "Thank you..." She didn't know whether to feel proud or embarrassed. She was glad that her Persona had impressed him, at least.

He sighed. "Anyway, I apologize for not having been able to help you when you asked for it." Joker's sudden apology took Makoto of guard once again.

Makoto recalled the moment she called for his help when the Shadows were closing on her. "It's okay. You had your own problems to deal with. Just hearing that you wanted to help me back there makes me happy, though."

"My intention was one thing. However, intention alone isn't enough. I'm the one who pulled you into the group. Your safety is my responsibility. If anything bad were to happen to you, it'd be my fault."

"Joker..." More proof that he cared deeply about her. Makoto was touched. "I'll do my best to make it up to you. Now that I can use a Persona, I'll prove that I can be useful. Count on me, okay?"

However, Joker wasn't paying attention to her anymore. He had leaned into the backrest, and seemed to have dozed off.

A yawn escaped Makoto's mouth, and she decided to give up on talking for now. A quick nap sounded nice even though there probably wasn't much time. Makoto lazily glanced at her cellphone to check how much time she had, and saw that the Dark Hour would end in just ten minutes. An idea struck her. They would be arriving at her home soon, but if she managed to stall until the end of the Dark Hour, the disguises would disappear, and she would find out Joker's identity! Since it was very late at night, Makoto could tell him to stay the night. Sae would be away from home, too. It was perfect!

Makoto wasn't afraid of Joker's imposing presence anymore, and felt confident enough to do something daring. She closed her eyes and leaned into him.

Kazushi had dozed off for probably less than a minute, but when he came to his senses, he found Niijima-san asleep leaning into him and with her arms linked with his.

"Ah!" He nearly panicked. "Niijima-uh... I mean..." It finally dawned on him that it was Dark Hour, and that they were riding Morgana's vehicle form. "What do you think you are doing!?"

Niijima-san only groaned, and made no effort to back away.

"Her Persona's awakening took quite the toll on her," Morgana said. "She did awesome today. She deserves to be spoiled a little, don't you think?"

Kazushi didn't respond, and decided to leave Niijima-san be until they arrived at her home. While he waited, he took his cellphone with his free hand, and was alarmed to see that the Dark Hour would last for only eight more minutes.

"We are here." Mona halted, right in front of Niijima-san's house.

"Hey." Kazushi unlinked his arm from hers and patted her shoulder. She didn't respond. "Wake up." He shook her gently. "This is your stop."

Her eyes only opened halfway. "Just... a bit more..."

"You should sleep in your room."

However, Niijima-san's eyes closed again, and her head slumped forward.

"Hey! You need to get up!" He gave her another shake. She stood up slowly, but didn't move. Kazushi sighed in annoyance and stood up. That was going nowhere. He would have to help Niijima-san out the "bus." He placed a hand on her back as he guided her to the exit, and held her so that she wouldn't fall on her way out.

They were in front of the house, and she at least seemed half-awake.

"This is it." He was about to leave, but...

"Joker..." She murmured.


"Take me inside?"

"... What? No, go on your own."

"Jo-ker!" She wined and leaned into him sleepily.

"H-hey!" He startled and tried to push her away, but she clung to him like a little child. "Look, just get inside and sleep. I need to go."

"Joker!" Morgana called out. "We only have five minutes! It won't be enough for us to get home!"

"... Stay?" There was a hint of satisfaction in Niijima-san's voice.

That was absurd. "No way. Are you crazy?!"

"Sis isn't home."

"That's not the point!"

"Joker, please..." A hint of a smirk broke through her sleepy mask.

The way she was acting raised a suspicion in Kazushi's head.

"No, don't tell me..." He grumbled. Could all this be just an act!?

Niijima-san seemingly couldn't hold herself. Her smirk broadened and cracked her sleepy mask for good.

That was it. "Admit it. You aren't really that sleepy, and can walk around just fine. You're doing all this on purpose, aren't you?" He accused her.

"H-huh?" She faltered and slackened her grip on him.

"Tsk. I don't have time for this." Kazushi managed to break free and pushed her away. "I'll be going."


But he walked away briskly without a second thought.

"We'll have to stop at the station and take a train from there," Were the words Morgana uttered just as Kazushi hopped on board and the engines started.

"The station..." Makoto murmured. She considered heading to the station and catching them there, but she realized she was too tired for that. In the end, she had to accept that her plan had failed. Makoto sighed in resignation and slowly entered her house, then headed to her room. She sat on her futon and went over what had just happened.

"Niijima-uh... I mean... what do you think you are doing!?"

Joker had clearly panicked and blurted out. It was so rare for him to lose his composure like that. He even forgot to use her code name. That should be the way he referred to her normally. It was disappointing to know that he used her last name, though. She had already told him that he could call her by her first name, hadn't she?

They had stayed silent for a bit. Having Joker glued to her was so warm and reassuring, and Makoto dozed off again. However, he effectively shook her awake and forced her to stand up. From there on, it had been all an act from her part. She moved purposefully slowly. This way, she not only faked sleepiness, but also stalled in hope that Joker would still be near when the Dark Hour ended. His touch was so gentle while he helped her out of the vehicle. Once they were outside, she kept trying to get him to spoil her. Makoto wished he would enter the house with her. She would even have handed him her key. Her plan was to continue stalling so that the Dark Hour would end once they were inside, and she would try to have him stay the night. However, Joker refused. Makoto tried to convince him that she was too tired and couldn't get inside on her own, but he wouldn't have any of that. Then, Mona warned him that they were running out of time, much to Makoto's satisfaction. However, something must have gone wrong with her act, and Joker saw through her facade. Makoto faltered, not having expected him to catch on. If she hadn't faltered, her plan may have worked.

Still, Makoto was proud of herself. For a sudden and daring plan she followed through on a whim, she had done surprisingly well. It wasn't the kind of thing she would have done normally. Makoto recalled what Miura had told her about Personas. Thoughts or actions she wouldn't have normally followed through with. Could this have been Johanna's influence?

The Dark Hour ended while Makoto thought back on her act.

"Too bad Joker isn't here..." She muttered to herself. "Though I have to admit, this was... quite fun." Makoto allowed herself a smirk. "Thank you, Johanna."

Chapter Text

When Makoto awoke the following morning, she felt great. Her fears were gone, and she felt more confident in herself.

"Good morning, Makoto." Sae was in the kitchen. She looked really tired and had bags under her eyes.

"Sis! Good morning..." Makoto didn't expect Sae to be home yet. "When did you come back?"

"I arrived around three in the morning."

"Oh." It was probably a good thing that Makoto's plan last night had failed and Joker didn't stay the night, then.

"You seem to be in a good mood today." Sae observed.

"Yes, I am. I slept really well last night. I feel as though I'm ready for anything!"

Sae had a distant look for a second. "I wish I had this much disposition," she murmured.

"Huh? What was that?"

"Nothing." Sae quickly recovered. "If you are feeling well, it is good."

Makoto looked at Sae with concern, but like always, Sae didn't seem willing to talk about whatever was bothering her. But it didn't matter. What mattered most now was that the Phantom Thieves were very close to putting an end to Kaneshiro's crime days. If they managed to do it, which Makoto was confident they would, she wouldn't need to worry about Sae getting in trouble with the mafia anymore. Now Makoto could use a Persona, and could help them fight for justice. She would do her best, not only for Sae, but also for all those people who got in trouble with Kaneshiro.

Today was the day Makoto would try to teach the basics of music to Miura after class. She was excited, both at having a chance to touch a keyboard again, and at the prospect of spending the afternoon instructing Miura. What she knew wasn't much, but she remembered having fun at the time she had had keyboard lessons.

During lunch break, Makoto scoured the courtyard in search of Miura, but couldn't find him anywhere. She saw Takamaki and Sakamoto sitting on a bench.

"Hey, has either one of you seen Miura around?"

"Nope." Sakamoto answered.

"As soon as lunch break started, he left the classroom without a word. I don't know where he disappeared off to."

"Makoto sighed. I hope he hasn't forgotten that I was going to help him with his music-related assignment after class."

"I'm sure he hasn't." Takamaki assured Makoto. "He mentioned it to me this morning. I was shocked when I heard that he can't play any instrument. I'm glad that you offered to help him, and that there's a backup plan if that doesn't work out."

"He absentmindedly agreed to everything, and only now figured what it was about?" Sakamoto began laughing.

Makoto felt bothered to see Sakamoto mocking Miura. "Sakamoto, don't laugh at him! It's been hard to him, you know!"

"Yeah, I know, I know! But isn't it weird? I had never imagined this kind of situation could even happen. Leave it up to Kazushi to get caught up in messed-up stuff..."

"And this is why he needs help!" Makoto argued. "No one else can even imagine anything he's been going through. But I know what's happening to him, and am willing to help him in any way I can."

Takamaki giggled. "That's right. I see that you care about him a lot. He'd be happy to know this. He cares a great deal about you, too."

Makoto got flustered. Once again, the notion that Miura might have special feelings for her came to the surface.

"Niijima-senpai, be honest. You like him." Takamaki pressed.

Makoto froze for a second. Unfortunately, she couldn't deny that she liked him. She got defensive. "P-please quit teasing me, Takamaki!"

"I'm not teasing you. I'm serious. And I'm sure he likes you, too."

"... What? D-did he say this?" Makoto stuttered.

"No, but he doesn't need to, really. It's obvious. He's always talking to you and hanging out with you. Niijima-senpai, you said that you know what he's been going through, and how hard it is to him. And so do I..." Takamaki paused. Her gaze fell, she sighed and continued speaking in a lower voice. "If it were possible, I'd like to be the one by his side. I already talked to him and told him this, but he doesn't seem to feel anything special for me. I asked him if he feels anything for you. He said he's not sure, but his words are one thing. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, and are what really counts. Even after I told him what I feel, you're the one who he still chooses to hang around..."

Takamaki's sudden confession caught Makoto by surprise. "Takamaki..."

"S-say what!?" A near shout from Sakamoto just had to shatter the mood, and remind the girls that they weren't talking in private. "Ann, you mean you... you like Kazushi? It's the first I've heard of this!"

Takamaki looked resignedly at Sakamoto. "It doesn't matter. He doesn't like me in that way. You didn't miss anything important, Ryuji."

"Hey, i-it isn't like that! It's just..." Sakamoto trailed off, seemingly unable to find proper words for a response. Instead, he settled on staring at Takamaki with concern.

Takamaki looked back at Makoto, and flashed a sad smile. "This is how it is... so, I think you should tell him what you feel."

"Huh? But I..." Makoto couldn't do that. There was that whole issue with Joker.

Takamaki didn't give her chance to argue. "I told Kazushi that I'd respect whatever he decided, and he clearly chose you. So, I'll leave him up to you. Since I can't be with him, I'll count on you to make him happy."

This wasn't the immature and momentary kind of love typical of high school kids. It was true love. Takamaki truly loved Miura.

And so did Makoto, and she couldn't deny it. Makoto didn't know how to respond. She felt bad for having ended up liking two people at the same time and making Takamaki suffer like that. Takamaki really loved Miura, and Makoto believed that Takamaki deserved to be with him.

"Niijima-senpai. Stay near Kazushi for me, please." Takamaki's plea was honest.

It was true that Makoto wanted to support Miura in any way she could. Now, as part of the Phantom Thieves, she had more means to fight the kind of injustice that he constantly suffered. Makoto decided. This was what she would do, even if they couldn't be together.

She nodded determinedly. "I'll do whatever I can. I promise."

"Thanks. I'm glad to hear this." Takamaki smiled in relief. "First of all, be sure to tell him your feelings. This'll make things easier for the two of you. Kazushi must've been worrying a lot about this romance issue, too. I think you should tell him what you feel, and get both your doubts out of the way as soon as possible."

It had never occurred to Makoto that Miura might also have been getting worked up about the issue just like she was. Makoto felt like clarifying the issue, but if it were true that Miura liked her, she didn't know what to do. As much as she liked Miura, Joker had come first. She didn't want to turn Miura down.

"Uh, thank you for the advice," Makoto said instead of confirming or denying her agreement. "And... Takamaki?"


"Um, also, thank you for opening up to me, and for your trust. I wasn't expecting this. I feel touched. You have my respect."

Takamaki laughed sheepishly. "Thanks. You have my respect, too, senpai." She stood up. "I'm going to buy my lunch."

Makoto remembered that she also needed to buy her lunch. "Oh, me too."

Takamaki's face lit up. "Oh! Then I'll treat you."

"... Huh?" Makoto startled.

"You know, to celebrate our new... uh, agreement of trust or whatever this is."

"Uh, i-if you insist..." Makoto ended up accepting the offer. From the time Miura had told her about Takamaki, Makoto had decided she should interact with Takamaki more. Indeed, Takamaki seemed to be a kind person. This might be a good opportunity for Makoto to start interacting with her.

"Then, let's go."

The girls walked away, while Sakamoto sighed in annoyance at being ignored. "Ah. Kazushi really gets into messed-up stuff, doesn't he...?"

After classes ended, Makoto got permission to use the music room, then went around looking for Miura. She decided to check his classroom and see whether he was there. To her surprise, she found him waiting outside the classroom.

"Hi, Miura."

"Hi." He kept his usual neutral expression, but seemed to be avoiding eye contact.

"You remembered that I'd help you with the music assignment, right?"

"Of course." He continued avoiding eye contact. "Uh, but I forgot to suggest a place for us to meet up. Sorry."

Makoto chuckled. "No problem! I've already found you anyway." More than anything, she was relieved that he remembered it was the day she would help him. "I've just gotten permission to use the music room. Shall we head there?"

Miura nodded and trailed after her.

"Are you ready?" Makoto asked him once they were in the music room.

"... I don't know." Miura looked a bit insecure. "During lunch break, I went to the library to read up a bit on the theory and try to familiarize myself with the jargon..." Oh, the library. So, this was where he had been... "but of course, I didn't understand a thing. I'm not even sure if what you'll try to teach me will enter my head."

Makoto laughed amusedly at his statement. "Well, it should be difficult to understand it if you don't have an instrument nearby to hear the sounds. We have instruments here. So, part of the problem is gone." Makoto approached one of the keyboards in the room, turned it on, and tested it for a few seconds. "Okay, all set. Let's begin."

They pulled a pair of stools and sat down in front of the keyboard. Makoto explained to Miura some basic things like the notes' names and how to locate them on the keyboard, how he should position his hands on the keyboard, and how to move the fingers across the keys. They played a little game where she said one of the note names and he had to quickly press the corresponding key. Miura had been doing well so far.

Since they didn't have much time to go over details, Makoto decided to go straight to practice for the moment. She played a short and basic version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," told him the note names, and had him mimic her playing. After a few tries, he managed to get it right.

"Great work!" Makoto got excited. "Let's try something else! I'll play the accompaniment, and you have to play the melody along with me." It might be a bit too much to ask him to play along with an accompaniment already, but Makoto couldn't help it and want to try. "The end result must become like this." She played both the accompaniment and the melody together to show him what it should sound like. "Time for you to try it. Let's go. On your mark. I'll count to four. One, two, three, four..."

Makoto and Miura sat side by side in front of the keyboard. She played the left hand part, while he played the right hand part. A few tries later, Makoto felt proud as Miura managed to do what she asked of him.

She couldn't contain her excitement when Miura managed to complete the task successfully. "Miura, this was amazing!" When she realized it, she had stood up and was tackling him in a hug from behind.

"Ah!" Miura startled and almost fell from the stool he was seated on.

"... Sorry!" Makoto quickly let go of him and backed away in embarrassment once she realized what she had done.

"Uh... um..." Miura seemed lost between scared and embarrassed. He looked away and lowered his head.

After an awkward silence, Makoto tried to get back to where she had left off. "E-either way, what you just did was really amazing!"

"Huh...? I only pressed the notes you told me and mimicked what you played." Miura was still looking away.

"And that's the point! Not everyone manages to do what you did so quickly."

"Is that so?"

"Yes. I myself had to practice for a few days until I got that result."

"Hmm." Miura thought a bit. "But you were a child at the time, right? That might also make a difference."

"Oh, yes, it might... but whatever!" Makoto shrugged it off. "Are you sure you didn't know anything about music beforehand?"

"I'm just doing what you told me to."

Makoto had gotten suspicious and thought that Miura was holding something back, but he indeed sounded clueless.

"Okay, maybe we can up our game and get to what really matters, don't you think? Send me the music score and the play along track that you got from Mishima, and let's get this assignment started!"

Miura sent the files to her cellphone. First, Makoto performed the part Miura was supposed to perform on the keyboard, so that he could hear what it should sound like. Then, she performed it again, but this time with the drum track playing in the background from her phone, so that he could hear what everything should sound like when put together. Miura made sure to record Makoto's performances on his own cellphone for future reference. Then, Makoto told him all the note names from the part he should perform, and had him play the whole sequence of notes until they had gone through the whole song, while his cellphone recorded the whole lesson.

Makoto was quite satisfied at how well that music lesson had flowed. Miura couldn't memorize everything, and still couldn't play fast enough to follow the play along track, but the results were coming along nicely, and she felt very proud already.

"This brought back memories." Makoto commented as she turned the keyboard off. "Today was the first time I've touched a keyboard since the day I quit my lessons, when I was still a child. I didn't take lessons for long, but they were fun while they lasted. It had been nice to play some little songs and have people say things like, 'Hey, I know that song!' So, Miura, what do you think? To you, was trying to play music worth it?"

"I didn't know what to expect, but it was an interesting experience. I'm not sure if I'll have time to memorize the notes until the deadline, though I have to agree with Mishima. If I could play the accompaniment, it'd be cool. Maybe, if I had a way to practice at home..."

"If only I still had my keyboard, I'd lend it to you. But I sold it, and don't have it anymore." Makoto lamented.

"Why did you quit?" Miura asked.

"Because I chose to prioritize my studies, and wouldn't have time for music practice anymore."

"It looks like the decision to prioritize studies took all the fun out of your life. You had said you lost contact with your old friends because of that, too."

Makoto raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised you remember I had said that. But yes, I had to give a lot of things up because of that decision. I wonder whether I should've allowed myself to relax a bit more during all this time. Now I realize that there are situations where all those things I studied mean nothing." She recalled how she had felt helpless while all those Shadows had surrounded her, right before awakening to her Persona... and also recalled how she had internally apologized to Miura because she had thought she would be done for, and wouldn't be able to help him with his music assignment. "Miura, I'm really glad I could help you learn a bit of music today. It was quite fun."

Miura looked relieved for some reason. "It's good to see you seem cheerful. You were... acting weird yesterday. You got me worried."

"Acting weird?" Makoto recalled how she had broken down in front of him. "Oh, yes. Sis had phoned me to tell me she wouldn't be coming home yesterday. Then she mentioned exams and asked whether I've been studying properly, then said that I'm currently useless because all I do now is study and don't have a job, and she's the one that supports both of us financially. That was basically it. She was very tired. Maybe she didn't intend to sound that harsh, but I felt horrible when I heard she say those things. Once again I began to fear that I might not become good enough, and that my best efforts might be in vain in the end."

"So, that was it..." Miura seemed concerned. "Sorry for turning you down when you asked to hang out yesterday. I'd have liked to hang out with you, but I really couldn't."

"It's fine." Makoto smiled and tried to put him at ease. "I'm okay now. Don't worry. You know what? Last night, my Persona finally awakened!"

The smile that formed on Miura's face was a nice sight, and an indication that he was very glad to hear the news. "Congrats!"

"Thank you! And you were right. I feel much more confident now that my Persona awakened." Makoto got ecstatic with the memory of Johanna's new form. "Ah, my Persona is very cool. It's a bike!"

Miura allowed himself to chuckle. "Makes sense..."

Makoto was confused. "Huh? It does?"

"You had said that if you were to become an object, you'd become a bike."

"Ah, yes, I had said that..." Makoto laughed sheepishly, half embarrassed, half surprised that Miura still remembered that as well. Maybe, he had been thinking about her more often than she had imagined. Maybe he really had special feelings for her... Makoto was afraid of asking about that, though. She tried to push those thoughts to the back of her mind, and chose to focus on the situation about her Persona instead. "Awakening my Persona wasn't easy, though. When your Persona awakened, was it scary to you?"

Miura slowly nodded, but said nothing.

"What happened?" Makoto had to ask, since he likely wouldn't say anything otherwise.

Miura was silent for a while, and his expression was unreadable.


"A Shadow was attacking... someone, and I didn't know what to do." He finally decided to disclose something.

"And you wanted to save the person?" Makoto took a guess and tried to help him along.

Miura nodded again. "And then I recalled how I got detained when I tried to help that woman back at the other city. Then I wondered whether having tried to help her had been a mistake, and thought that trying to help anyone else might only get me in trouble. I considered turning back and running away... but the will to help spoke louder, and that was when everything exploded and Arsène decided to come out."

"Were you able to help the person?"

"Yeah, thankfully."

Makoto recalled something she had forgotten to ask him. "When we talked to Kujikawa-san, you mentioned that you had failed to protect someone during a Shadow attack. Was this why you went out of your way to escort me and protect me that day when I went to Leblanc late at night?"

"Yeah." He confirmed. "You showed up at Leblanc only a few days after that incident, and what happened was still too fresh in my mind. It might've been just my paranoia, but I had a bad feeling about having you on the street alone late at night, and I didn't want to risk leaving you by yourself and regret it later. And to think that my hunch was right. It's eerie..."

"Yes, eerie indeed." And Makoto concluded that telling him that she had been outside during the Dark Hour nearly every day wasn't a good idea. It would only make him worry. She choose to get back to talking about Johanna. "Hey, it was fun to discuss our Personas the other day, wasn't it? Remember? You had said that I could talk to Arsène if I brought Johanna out. I can do that now, you know..."

"Huh? Y-you want to do it... now?" Kazushi became alert immediately. Niijima-san not only remembered he had said that, but also seemed eager to follow through with it. Kazushi recalled Niijima-san's act at the end of the Dark Hour. He had never expected her to do what she had done. Could it have been her Persona's influence?

"Yes. I'm ready." Niijima-san took a deep breath, and an uncharacteristic grin broke into her face. "Hi, Miura. It's Johanna here. Please, I'd like to talk to Arsène. Would you call him for me?"

The sudden change in Niijima-san's expression took Kazushi by surprise. She seemed serious about having their other personas take over. Kazushi was unsure about what to do or what to expect, but concluded he really needed Arsène's intervention right now, in stealthy Phantom Thief mode. He felt the need to be on his guard and take care to not slip up. Kazushi didn't feel ready to reveal his identity as Joker just yet, and was afraid of Niijima-san's reaction to it.

"... Alright. Give me a sec." He answered and closed his eyes, then took a few deep breaths.

Makoto observed Miura curiously. To her surprise, when he opened his eyes, he really seemed like a different person. He stared at her warily as though he didn't quite trust her, and this hurt a little. It was as though their friendship were gone and she were facing a stranger.

"Uh... Miura? ... No, Arsène?"

"Yes. What do you want from me?"

He was really talking like a stranger. Makoto decided to play along and see what would happen. "How rude. You won't even welcome me?"

"Alright. Congratulations on your awakening. Done. Now what?"

Makoto snickered. Miura's action was amusing for sure, but Makoto found herself asking for more. "Do you really think this was enough? It was only formal and nothing else. Too boring. You can do better."


"Say, how about you take me somewhere and we grab a bite? I think it'd be a nice way to celebrate my awakening."

He looked at her with suspicion. "You want to have me pay for your food?"

"Oh, I didn't say anything about having you pay, but if you decide to be a gentleman, I won't complain."

"Arsène" was silent for a few seconds. When Makoto least expected, he spoke up. "Where?"

"... Huh? Hmm... I don't know. I'm new here, and not very familiar with these parts. It's up to you." Makoto continued playing along.

After some contemplation, he turned around determinedly and began walking.

"What? Wait, you're really going to...?" Makoto hadn't expected him to take it seriously.

He just nodded and continued walking.

Makoto scrambled to catch up to him. "Wait! I need to close the music room and return the key."

"Oh, there was that..." He stopped in his tracks and remained where he was.

Makoto returned the music room's key, and when she arrived back to meet up with Miura, he was still standing on the same spot. "So, where are we going?"


"Uh, okay."

She followed him out of the school and into the train station. They took a train, and "Arsène" had yet to utter another word. They were standing side by side in the train.

Makoto couldn't hold her impatience. "Hey, Arsène, say something."


"I didn't take you to be the shy type." Makoto insisted. "I had expected you to be rather talkative, since I've heard that Miura's always telling you to shut up."


"Huh? You're saying that he told you to be quiet now?" This earned a nod from him. "And you obey him, just like that? Oh, come on. You can open up to me. Miura and Makoto get along quite well. We should get along, too."

However, he remained silent and wary for the rest of the trip. He actually seemed more reserved than Miura's normal self. And Makoto had thought it was already hard to make normal self Miura open up...

In Shibuya, he led her to the family restaurant where Makoto had helped Miura with his math exercises.

"Here...?" She glanced around.

"What did you expect?"

"Hmm, not sure. Maybe a place that Makoto still hadn't been to..."

"It was you who told me to pick a place. The atmosphere's nice and the food's good. It's all that matters to me."

It was the same to Makoto, actually. Her remark had been only to mess with him, just because she wanted to see how he would respond.

Since it was summer and hot, they ordered some cake with ice cream.

"So, what's your profession?" "Johanna" asked as they began eating. "I'm sure you've heard that I'm... well, was a popess. But I still don't know your background, Arsène."


"I disguised myself as a man and managed to become 'pope,' which is a man-exclusive status. But they found out my disguise and tried to kill me. I ran away and went into hiding. After lots of traveling, I ended up here."

"A refugee, eh?" He showed interest in her changes to the story.

"This whole journey hardened me quite a bit, and I've acquired a lot of skills along the way. Even if they eventually manage to find me, I'm confident I can defend myself." Her eyes flared. "I won't bow down to them! I refuse to accept that ending! I'll continue fighting and defending my convictions no matter what!"

He seemed quite amused. "Hmm, nice resolve. You shouldn't let your guard down, though."

"I know." She nodded in understanding, then got back on track. "You still haven't answered my question, Arsène. Your profession."

"You really have no idea?"

Makoto shook her head. She really didn't know what character Miura's Persona was based on, or if it was even based on an existing character to begin with.

"Then maybe it's best for you not to know. It's not exactly the kind of thing that a popess would approve."

"Arsène, I'm on the run. I myself have been doing things society wouldn't approve. I won't judge you. You can trust me."

"Arsène" furrowed his brows in thought. "If another opportunity arises, I might tell you."

Well, whatever. Not that she was that desperate to know. She was just curious. Makoto let the subject lie and they silently continued eating their slices of cake with ice cream.

Bothered by his silence, Makoto began whining just to elicit a response from him. "This tastes good, but I wish they had put a chocolate covering on the cake." Since he didn't respond, she added, "And twice as much ice cream, too." Still nothing. "And also-"

"You complain too much." He finally responded. "A traveler on the run should know better than to complain about free food."

She made a sad face. "The problem is that I've been unable to eat what I want for a long time..."

"I thought I had heard you say that you wouldn't complain if I paid for your food..."

"Huh?" Makoto remembered she had indeed said that. He had gotten her in quite the unexpected way. She wanted to laugh, but tried to keep her composure and not break their roleplay. "Th-this wasn't what I meant!"

"You're too whiny and demanding." "Arsène" sighed. "You know what? You're quite the annoying Persona."

She looked him in the eye. "And you know what? Forget what I just said. Actually, my only real complaint is about your silence. You've been too quiet. I want to hear you talk more. Why don't you just ignore Miura's orders and do whatever you want?"

"Hmm?" He raised an eyebrow. "Hadn't expected to hear this from the ever so well-behaved Student Council President's Persona."

"Surprise." She grinned. "Why would Miura want you to be quiet, though?"

Kazushi had been wary during the whole interaction, and not saying anything unnecessary to avoid the risk of slipping, either in words or behavior. So far, she hadn't shown any sign that she had recognized Joker, but he couldn't lower his guard. Her last question was tricky, though. Kazushi had to come up with a convincing excuse fast. His mind buzzed with lots of response possibilities, but all of them were problematic. If he were to say that it was to avoid getting Kazushi in trouble, she would ask what trouble it was, and he wouldn't have a suitable excuse. After some careful thought, he figured the best response would be a comment completely unrelated to the real issue.

"I might cause a ruckus and ruin your welcoming celebration. Would you really want that?"

She thankfully bought into it. "That'd actually be amusing to see."

"Really? But you know who'd be getting in trouble for it, right?"

"Oh, yes. Miura..."

They finished eating and went to pay the bill. When Niijima-san was about to retrieve her money, Kazushi vehemently shook his head. She tried to protest, but he made sure to pay for everything himself.

They left the restaurant and were walking on the street.

"Alright, can we switch back now? Makoto wants to talk to Miura."

"Fine." He complied and pushed his other persona to the background.

"Hello, Miura." Niijima-san greeted him playfully.

"Hey, welcome back."

She set the playfulness aside. "Um, why did you do all this?"

"All this what?"

"You brought me here, and even paid for my food."

"Ah, this. Um, you know. I had to turn you down when you wanted to hang out yesterday. And today you helped me with the music thing. When you suggested going somewhere, I figured it'd be a good way to make it up to you, and to say thanks."

"Aww, it was so nice of you. Sorry for going overboard again. I don't mean any of those complaints, okay? The cake with ice cream was great."

"I know. Still, that was quite the weird conversation, wasn't it?"

Her playfulness returned. "Roleplaying like this was quite fun. Normally, I have to mind my words so as not to risk offending others. This time, though, for the most part, I felt free to say whatever popped up in my mind without worrying about anything."

"Is that so?" To Kazushi, it had been exactly the opposite. He had had to think twice before saying any word.

"Yes. This is a great feeling. I think the last time I've felt this free was when I played as a child, when I had no responsibilities to worry about. Since I hadn't felt like this anymore, I had thought that it was impossible to feel this way once we grew up. It looks like I was wrong..." She seemed very relaxed and happy. "But this was a really odd activity, wasn't it? It'd be hard to find someone to join me in something like this. And whoever listened into our nonsense conversation would think we were crazy."

"True." Kazushi chuckled. He had never considered letting his Persona "out" outside the Dark Hour like this, not even near the other Persona users. "That wasn't something normal people would do. Maybe we're actually crazy?"

Niijima-san laughed heartily. "Maybe we are two weirdos, huh? Might this be the reason why we don't make many friends? Hmm..." She tilted her head in contemplation for a moment, then smiled at him. "Miura. The first time I saw you, I could never have imagined we'd come to get along like this."

"Me neither. I hadn't imagined we'd even begin talking to each other. I had thought I'd have to endure the whole year with you scolding me for trouble I didn't cause, and that's it."

"Probably what would've happened." She chuckled at herself. "I was so naive back then. It's sad that we began getting close only because you helped me during that Dark Hour. I'm glad that things turned out how they did, though. We get along so well that I feel I can talk to you about practically anything!" Makoto paused. She recalled that Takamaki had said Miura might like her. Part of Makoto wanted to know whether he had romantic feelings for her, and the other part of her didn't want to know. What if it turned out that he liked her romantically? Makoto didn't want to break his heart.

They walked silently for a while, until Makoto gathered the courage to bring the subject up. "Hey, Miura..." She began hesitantly.


"Um... today I talked to Takamaki," Makoto said. "She told me that she confessed to you."

Miura nodded.

"Why did you turn her down? She likes you for real, from what I can tell."

"Yeah, I know." Miura paused. "Thankfully she respects my decision and we're still on good terms. I feel bad for rejecting her, though. She's a kind person. One of the rare few that supports me. But I don't think I feel the same way as she does. I just can't imagine anything different happening between her and me. Something about it feels... off."

It looked like Miura indeed didn't have special feelings for Takamaki. Makoto had considered the possibility of convincing Miura to stay with Takamaki, but if he really didn't love Takamaki back, then it wouldn't work out.

"But Miura, what if such an opportunity never happens again?"

"Then, nothing changes, and I don't particularly mind. I'm used to being alone anyway."

Makoto heaved a sigh. "You really have no romantic dreams. How sad..."

"Is it supposed to be such a big deal?"

"Hmm... to be honest, I hadn't thought much about romance, either." Makoto admitted. "Well, when I was a child, I used to admire a story where the princess fell in love with a humble peasant, and at the end they managed to live happily ever after. I had wondered whether I'd ever find someone nice, though my choice to prioritize studies took that dream away as well. Not to mention that at school I only ran into those stupid random guys trying to ask me out just for the sake of it. But it may be about time I begin dreaming again..."

Makoto felt that this was the perfect moment to explicitly confess her feelings to him... if she were going to do it, that is. She knew she shouldn't do it. Yet, the words were threatening to escape from her mouth. She couldn't let them slip. She shouldn't. Joker... The Phantom's code name rang in her mind, and caused her to stop in her tracks and keep her mouth shut. Then, Makoto recalled the moment before her Persona's awakening, when she wished Miura knew how much she liked him. This was important. Maybe she should tell Miura about her whole predicament and clarify that issue once and for all.

However, she was unsure where to begin. "Um, Miura... if you were to like two people at the same time, what would you do? How would you choose?" was what ended up tumbling out of her mouth.

"... Two?" Miura startled unexpectedly.

Makoto should tell him what had been happening to her. How she infiltrated the Phantom Thieves, and how she ended up liking both him and Joker at the same time. "Miura, the thing is-"

But Miura's cellphone just had to ring and interrupt her.

"Excuse me." Miura took the phone out of his pocket. "Hello."

"Hey, Kazushi!" The caller's loud voice caused Miura to get the phone away from his ears. "Everything's ready on my end! So, how's it gonna be?"

"R-Ryuji... could you stop shouting, please? Uh... by the way, I can't talk right now. I'm busy."

So, it was Sakamoto. His voice was so loud that Makoto could even pick up what he was saying.

"Oh, so that's it then! You're with Makoto, aren't you? So, did she finally ask you out on a date?!"

Both Makoto and Miura blushed and looked away from each other.

"What?! No, th-that's not it!" Miura closed his eyes in embarrassment.

"... It isn't? Aw man. From the talk with Ann at lunch break, I had thought you two had finally settled it!"

Miura looked lost between flustered and scared. "Huh? W-what? What's this all about...? N-no, never mind. I don't want to know. And as I said before, I can't talk right now. I'll contact you later, so..." Miura ended the call, and looked awkwardly at Makoto. "You... heard all this, didn't you?"

Makoto nodded.

Miura blushed and avoided looking her on the eye. "This isn't it, o-okay? I decided to hang out with you, but it wasn't because... uh... you know. Don't get the wrong idea! Just... uh, f-forget about this. I'll be off now. See you." He dashed away.

"Ah! M-Miura!" Makoto wanted to run after him, but her legs didn't move. Deep down, she wanted to say she wouldn't have minded if it were a date. But she knew she shouldn't think like this. She had already chosen Joker. In the end, she didn't know what to say to Miura if she were to run after him, and gave up.

Now, this got really messed up... Kazushi thought as he walked on the streets of Shibuya. What if she gets the wrong idea? Niijima-san was so obsessed about Joker. Once she learned the truth, would she think he had been setting her up this whole time? Kazushi felt bad that Niijima-san had been suffering so much because of that crush. But was he really in the wrong? He had never done anything to imply any romantic interest in her. For all this time, it had been her who kept insisting on dragging him into her fantasies. What will happen when she learns that the person she was so obsessed with had been me all along? She might be disappointed, or perhaps horrified...

Kazushi wanted to get his focus away from the issue. He went to the second-hand items shop to take a look at the music keyboard Morgana had mentioned. It was still there, and the price looked very good. Just 15,000 yen. It was a steal compared to the SP-restoring accessories from the clinic. However, there was a catch. The keyboard was broken. Still, it was a tempting opportunity. Kazushi wondered whether that keyboard was any good, and whether Morgana could help him fix it.

"Um, excuse me." The store owner approached him. "Sorry, but something has come up, and I'll have to close the store for the day."

"Ah, okay..." Kazushi would have to come back another time. Without much choice, he took note of the keyboard brand and model, and left the store.

Back at Leblanc, Kazushi opened a web browser on his cellphone and looked the keyboard model up on the internet, but he concluded he had no idea how to judge whether the specs were good. So, he phoned Mishima.

"How did your music lesson go?" Mishima asked.

"It was interesting. I probably can't learn the song unless I can practice at home, though. I saw this cheap keyboard at a second-hand shop and was tempted to get it, but I'm unsure whether it's worth getting. It's broken, and I don't know if it can be fixed, or whether it'd even be worth the trouble. The model is a Cadenza OAP3. Do you know if it's any good?"

"Hmm. Sorry, no idea. I could help you if this were about guitars, but I know nothing about keyboard models. Why don't you ask Ms. President? She's the one teaching you the ways of the keyboard, after all. I hope you can get this sorted out. Good luck!" Mishima hung up.

Kazushi sighed. Why did things just have to lead him back to Niijima-san? He wasn't up for talking to her right now. He lowered his head and wondered in frustration, Isn't there another way...?

"Were you and Makoto studying music this whole time?" Morgana asked.

"No. We went out to eat something after the lesson."

"A date, huh?" Morgana looked at him deviously.

"No! It wasn't!" Kazushi snapped, which only amused Morgana.

"But you wish it had been, right?" Morgana kept teasing him.

"Shut up." Kazushi grumbled.

"Kazushi, you're usually so composed. It's really amusing how you loose your cool whenever I tease you about this..."

Kazushi refused to respond. He tried to ignore Morgana and started up the music lesson's recording to try to memorize the note sequence. He didn't have much time to memorize everything, and needed to get on it as soon as possible.

"Hmm. So, you gave the excuse that you'd record Makoto's instructions, but what you really wanted was to record her speaking so that you can listen to her voice whenever you want, wasn't it? Yeah, I know..." And Morgana's teasing just had to continue.

"It's nothing like that! I'm worried about the assignment, and that I know next to nothing about music!" The recording kept playing while he argued with Morgana, and he lost track of where he had stopped at. "... Aaaaah! Oh, no. I'm lost. I'll have to rewind... where was I, again?"

"Don't worry, Kazushi. You can listen to her voice whenever you want, as many times as you want..."

"Morgana, be quiet, please. You're ruining my concentration." Kazushi sighed. He urgently needed to get earphones so that Morgana wouldn't know what he was listening to and wouldn't make fun of him.

Kazushi had another idea. He went over Niijima-san's instructions recorded in his phone, and wrote down the sequence of notes on his notebook. This way, he could look at his writing to memorize the notes and wouldn't have to keep listening to Niijima-san's voice, and also wouldn't have Morgana teasing him for it.

"Seriously, Leader. She isn't against us anymore. Why don't you just reveal your identity to her already?"

"It isn't that simple. I don't know how she'd react! It's so awkward whenever she looks at me with that dreamy expression on her face. She's totally obsessed over Joker. She sees nothing other than the illusory image in her head. Once she learns the truth, her fantasies will shatter for sure. I don't think she views my normal self in that way."

"But what if she does? You had said you'd consider dating her if she did." Morgana reminded him. It was annoying how the not-cat was always eavesdropping on Kazushi's private matters.

"Yeah, I had said that." Kazushi admitted. "But I don't know. I'm not even sure what I feel for her myself. I enjoy her company, am very grateful for everything she's been doing for me, and am glad that we came to get along as much as we do, but this is all I'm sure about. I had never imagined I'd ever be involved in romance, and don't know what I should expect. After everything is said and done, if she still thinks romance between us is an option, maybe I could give it a try. If she concludes romance can't happen between us, it's fine. I only hope we can still be friends. The problem is if she becomes upset at me for having hidden this from her this whole time, and caused her to suffer so much because of her crush thing. What if our bond severs? She might not want to remain in the group, either."

"Nah. So much nonsense!" Morgana shook it off. "You're just making up excuses! First, you had said you wouldn't reveal your identity to her because she was against us. Now that she's on our side, you come and say more nonsense? Oh, come on. Stop giving excuses, Kazushi! You're only being a coward!"

Kazushi sighed and lowered his head in shame. After a moment of silence, he spoke up. "Yeah, I won't deny that. Honestly, I'm scared, Morgana. This whole situation is totally new to me. Before this year, I had never had any luck with bonding with others. I'm both glad and shocked that I managed to bond with you guys. But once, I had nightmares where members of our group betrayed me and sold me out to the police and such, including her. Deep down, I still get scared thinking that these friendships might be too good to be true, and that the nightmares may become real. Niijima-san is suffering so much because of this whole romance thing... because of me. What if it becomes a reason for her to hate me? Just when I thought I had found a great friend in her... I'm scared that the revelation might make her suffer even more. I'm scared of losing her friendship..."

"Kazushi..." Morgana's demeanor changed, and he looked at Kazushi with sympathy. "Yeah, nightmares are scary. Just don't think about them too much."

Kazushi looked at Morgana with concern. "Do you mean to say that you've been having nightmares yourself?"

Morgana shuffled. "Uh, well... s-sometimes."

"Want to talk about it?"

Morgana lowered his head and closed his eyes. "I... I had a nightmare that implied I might not be human. That I might be... something else..."

Kazushi smirked playfully. "I don't doubt that."

"Hey!" It was Morgana's turn to lose his composure.

"Whatever." Kazushi's smirk softened into a smile. "I don't care what you are. I promised that I'd keep you around even in the worst case scenario, remember? All that matters to me is that we're friends. I only wish you'd respect my privacy, though..."

Morgana shook himself and tried to look angry. "D-don't change the subject! We were talking about you and Makoto."

Kazushi sighed. "I already told her that I'll reveal everything once the mission is over. It'll end tomorrow, so... I'll have to talk to her about this soon."

"Oh well, at least it's just one more day. Fair enough."

"I wish I could be away from her until then so that I can change my focus a bit, but she keeps coming to talk to me. And now I have to depend on her to solve the music-related stuff. Today we still have to send the calling card, too..."

And there was also something else nagging at Kazushi's mind. Niijima-san had posed a question about liking two people at the same time, and implied that this was currently happening to her. However Ryuji's phone call had interrupted her just as she seemed about to elaborate. Two people? Kazushi had known that one of them was Joker. Who was the other one, though?

That evening, after dinner, Makoto noticed a new email on her phone.

"Today we'll be sending the calling card to Kaneshiro," Joker's message stated. "No big deal. We'll just drop by the nightclub and leave the card there. You don't need to come if you don't want to."

If she didn't want to? Of course Makoto wanted to go. She had yet to see those rumored calling cards for herself. Besides, if the Phantom Thieves wouldn't be exploring the Palace, it would be a great opportunity to do small talk and to stay near Joker.

"I'll be coming." She replied. "I'm curious about the calling card. I want to see it!" As she wrote, she added as a thought, And I want to see you, too, of course. "Do we meet in front of the school?"

"Yes." Came his message a minute later.

As agreed, Makoto met up with the Phantom Thieves in front of the school Palace.

"Before the calling card, I think we could have Queen take on a few Shadows." Mona suggested. "Tomorrow is the confrontation day. She needs to get used to her Persona powers."

Joker silently nodded to show his agreement.

"Nice idea. Okay, then here it goes." Makoto focused on bringing forth her Persona power, and her biker costume and mask took shape.

"Wow, someone's ready for action!" Skull grinned. "Let's do this!"

From the school Palace, they took a teleporter to Kaneshiro's Palace, and battled a few Shadows. Makoto discovered that her element was nuclear, and that Johanna was weak to psychic, which thankfully wasn't an element that enemies used often. She also had a spell that could cure status problems, and after a few battles, Johanna even learned a healing spell. Now Makoto could help Mona and Panther with healing. Not to mention that she could also heal Joker whenever he needed it.

"Using your power is quite intuitive, isn't it?" Mona said.

"Looks like it." Contrary to what happened yesterday, Makoto had moved quite a bit, but was far from feeling tired.

"You caught up to speed very quickly." Fox observed.

"Yeah, looks like she's good to go." Panther gave her input. "Don't you think so, too, Joker?"

"Yes. Just be careful and don't underestimate the enemies."

"I know, I know..." It was frustrating how Joker didn't seem willing to compliment her. "I'll prove that I can be useful to the group. I'll do my best to not disappoint." She seriously needed to do something to impress him.

"Enough of Shadows for today." Joker declared. "Let's go for the calling card."

"And where's this rumored calling card?" Makoto asked.

"Tada! It's here." Skull presented the card.

"Wow!" Makoto turned it around and examined it. She hadn't expected the card to be so elaborate. Instead of being written by hand, all the letters were cut and glued to the paper. "Junya Kaneshiro," Makoto read it aloud. "You have been harming many people through usury and blackmail, and are subjecting your payers into engaging in illegal activities. We have decided to have you confess all your crimes yourself. We will steal your corrupted desires. At exactly midnight of July 9th, we will come and take your heart." There was the thieves' logo, and the card was signed, "The Phantom Thieves of Hearts."

"Cool, huh?" Skull puffed his chest.

"Skull, you did all this?"

"Yeah! ... I mean, almost. Joker sent me the message, and I gathered and pasted all the letters."

"It seems like it was a lot of work..." Makoto handed the card back.

They teleported to the entrance, crossed the secret door and came out in the nightclub.

Mona took the card and walked over to a coffin standing on a chair near a table. "This presence is similar to the Shadow we saw yesterday. This must be Kaneshiro." Mona left the card on the table in front of the coffin. "Since he's unconscious during the Dark Hour, to him, it'll look like this card appeared out of nowhere, at exactly midnight, right in front of him on the table. Creepy, huh? I bet even this mafia boss will get quite the scare! Even if he tries to dismiss it as a prank, it'll keep nagging at him for sure. He'll keep thinking that his distorted desires are something valuable, and that someone wants to steal them from him at exactly midnight, and how this card suddenly appeared 'out of nowhere' at exactly midnight... and this is what'll make the Palace's treasure take shape!"

"The explanations are as absurd as always," Makoto said playfully. "Though I have to admit. It's creepy, and fits the 'Phantom' Thieves theme quite well."

They returned inside the Palace and teleported back to the school, then split ways on the street as usual. They still had more than half of the Dark Hour left.

Makoto disengaged her Phantom Thief costume and was back in her uniform."Joker." She called out to him once the others had left. "Um, about what happened yesterday. I'm sorry."

"It was really on purpose, wasn't it?"

"That's why I'm apologizing. I hope everything was okay on your way back. I just wanted to be with you for a bit more..." Makoto had another idea. "Anyway, now you know where I live. Whenever you're bored, you can come by to pass the time, okay? Just make sure to contact me in advance so that I can get my act together!"

Joker said nothing.

"I'll gladly cook something for you, too." Makoto added. "What food do you like?"

Joker only scoffed and didn't answer her.

"Can't you tell me even this?"

Joker didn't skip a beat. "Trying to bait me with food now? Are you this impatient to wait until the mission ends?"

Makoto had thought her offer had been innocent enough, but he saw right through her plan. "You could tell..." Makoto laughed sheepishly.

Joker let out an exasperated sigh. "Where's your discipline? If you keep trying to go against our agreement, I'll postpone our talk even more."

"What!?" Makoto's eyes widened in alarm. "No! This isn't fair!"

"If you don't like it, then just mind your own business and wait a bit more. Simple as that."

Makoto wasn't about to give up yet, though. "... But I was thinking about you, too. You act as though your everyday life is very boring, so I thought I'd do something and try to make your days a bit better. Oh, and I could make something for you to give to Mona, too. It must be tough to have to hide from everyone and all. He deserves a treat once in a while."

"I wouldn't take the bait, but I'm sure he would."

Makoto laughed.

Joker noticed she was busy laughing and turned away. "I'll be on my way now." He began walking.

"Wait!" Makoto stopped laughing immediately. She scrambled after him and seized him by the shoulder.

Joker startled and balked. "W-what's it now?"

She went straight to the point. "Um, we still have more than half of the Dark Hour remaining. Say, can we... spend some time together?"

Joker didn't respond.

"Joker, you had said you like my company." She argued. "Okay, I'll stop prying into your life, but please, spend some time with me."

Joker heaved a resigned sigh. "Alright. I'll walk you home, but that's it."

That wasn't much, but it was better than nothing, and enough to make Makoto's heart jump. "Thank you!" She wasted no time in inching closer to him and grabbing his hand.

Kazushi nearly panicked. He tried to push her away, but this only made her glue to him even more. He didn't know what to do. Was she normally this clingy? Come to think of it, this kind of behavior had started yesterday. Could it be her Persona's influence? Was this the side she didn't usually show?

She was acting like a little child desperate for attention, and for a moment Kazushi even forgot she was one year older than him. If not for his worries, he would have considered her actions to be cute. In the end, Kazushi couldn't bring himself to try to push her away again, and decided to leave her be.

As they walked, Niijima-san leaned into him with that lovestruck smile, and firmly held his hand. Neither of them spoke until they were in front of her house.

"We're here," he said.

Just when he had thought Niijima-san had let go of his hand, she threw her arms over his shoulders and clung to him. He gasped and froze.

Kazushi tried to hold the embarrassment off. This was very awkward. Niijima-san kept staring at him with that dreamy expression and a silly wide smile plastered on her face. It was as bad as Morgana's reaction to the sight of materialized Palace treasures. Unsure as to how to act, he simply held his breath and let her do whatever.

Joker stood still and tried to face away from her. It was a wonder how he was acting shy right now. To think Makoto had feared him so much until a few days ago. She had either gotten braver once Johanna awakened, or had softened him enough. It was as though he were the one fearing her now. On one hand, this was a victory to Makoto. The almighty and imposing leader of the Phantom Thieves was now acting like a scared animal, which was rather endearing. It was satisfying to finally be able to touch him and express her affection. On the other hand, his uncharacteristic shyness was frustrating. Makoto wished he would also display affection towards her, but it didn't seem likely to happen.

Makoto inched her face closer to his. Joker jerked his head back and tried to escape, but Makoto wouldn't let him. She tightened her hold on him with one hand, then reached her other hand out and touched his hair. She began petting his head in an attempt to put him more at ease, but it didn't seem to work.

"I-it's enough." Joker pushed her away not so gently, and managed to break free.

Makoto gasped at his sudden action, but recovered quickly. "No, it's not."

"Stop." Joker defensively took a step back. "You're getting too ahead of yourself. You should stop this before you end up doing anything you may regret later."

"Regret? What is there for me to regret? I don't get it..."

"This is why I'm warning you. You're blinded by your fantasies. Once the magic ends, you'll realize what you've done..."

"But I'm not doing anything wrong." Makoto argued. "I'm just showing you my affection. Joker, you also like me. Couldn't you at least show a bit of affection for me, too? What's wrong about this? Just hold me or something. It's all I'm asking. You did it when that fear spell hit me, and also that time when we argued and I cried. Why can't you do it now?"

That was a good argument. "Arsène" was tempted to give in to it, but Kazushi held him back.

She wasn't done yet. "You're still thinking that I might dislike you once I learn your true identity? Come on, Joker. I already said I'll accept you no matter what. Your identity doesn't matter. Both of us like each other. This is all that counts."

Kazushi bit his lip. Niijima-san had been suffering so much because of that crush. He wanted to make her feel better. Ironically, going along with her ideas seemed to be the only thing that would satisfy her right now. "Arsène" kept wanting to roll with it, but Kazushi resisted. What would she think once she learned that the person she had blindly fallen in love with and showed so much affection for was actually Kazushi Miura? If he were to show affection towards her now, what if later she thought he had been trying to take advantage of her or something?

"Tomorrow is the last day. The mission will end, then we'll talk. Good night." He felt bad for not doing what she would have liked, but he turned around and briskly walked away without looking back.

"Joker..." Makoto whined, but he didn't so much as look back. "Why? What's your problem? I don't get it..." She muttered. "What's his problem, Johanna?"

However, no one answered. A nagging thought that Makoto was missing something important came to her mind, but that was it. No hints of what this something might be.

Makoto raised her head and stared ahead. There was only one thing to do. "Fine, Joker. I'll prove to you that you have nothing to worry about. On tomorrow's mission, I'll show you how reliable I am. I'll impress you and make you trust me completely, then you'll lose your worries." She smirked confidently. "Joker, leader of the Phantom Thieves. Prepare yourself. Tomorrow, I'll take your heart!"

Chapter Text

The day had come. The day they would take Kaneshiro's treasure and change his heart. However, before that, there was school.

As Kazushi headed to class, some rather disturbing rumors reached his ears.

"Did you know? It looks like that second year problem student's making a move on the Council Pres," a girl's voice said.

"Really?" Came another girl's voice.

"Yeah," a third girl said. "My classmate saw them walking out of school together yesterday. He must be forcing her to go out with him! I mean, people's been saying he does all sorts of bad stuff. Ms. Pres is so smart and well-behaved. There's no way she'd go out with someone like him unless he forced her to."

"A friend saw them together after classes, too, and she was crying." The first girl added. "He must've been hassling her!"

"He made a girl cry? He's really the worst." The second girl said.

Just as Kazushi had suspected, people had seen Niijima-san's breakdown the other day and were making stories up. Normally, he didn't let rumors affect him, but this time he couldn't avoid a knot to form in his stomach. It was a fact that much of Niijima-san's suffering was his fault.

Classes went by. During lunch break, Kazushi chose to have his lunch alone at the rooftop. He wanted to avoid running into Niijima-san if possible. He kept recalling their interactions yesterday, both during the day and the Dark Hour; Ryuji and Morgana's teasing; the rumors; all the suffering he was putting her through... Perhaps he should have at least comforted her at the Dark Hour yesterday...

Kazushi decided to use his lunch break to try to memorize the music note sequence he had written down. He had his lunch, then took his notebook and went over his notes. However, his plan of hiding didn't quite work. By the middle of lunch break, Niijima-san managed to find him.

Makoto had planned to look for Miura as soon as lunch break started, but someone just had to disrupt her plan and request her intervention because some bullies were causing trouble! Couldn't those troublemakers stay quiet and leave everyone to have their lunch break at peace?

Speaking of troublemakers, this time Sakamoto wasn't involved at all. Mr. Kamoshida had asked her to keep an eye on him, and it had been a while since she hadn't heard of him causing any trouble. He seemed to be hanging around Takamaki a lot, though. From what Makoto had seen of them, they seemed to be behaving okay. This should be a good thing.

Once Makoto had dealt with the bullies, she returned to the Student Council room.

"Um, Niijima-senpai, are you alright?" A female Student Council member approached her.

"Huh?" Makoto blinked in confusion. "I'm perfectly fine. Why do you ask?"

"Uh, well, I've heard people saying that that problem student's been hassling you. That he's forcing you to go out with him, and that he made you cry. Shouldn't the Student Council do something about this?"

"What?" Makoto's eyes narrowed. She had known it was only a matter of time until rumors about her hanging around Miura would start, and now it was happening. She needed to debunk those rumors, otherwise she wouldn't be able to help fix Miura's reputation. She took a deep breath to recompose herself. "I appreciate your concern, but there's no need to worry. None of what you heard is true."

This took the Council member aback. "Huh? It's not...?"

"I found out he's very dedicated, and began helping him with his rehabilitation. That's all. What you've heard are only stories people made up."

"Stories people made up?" The Council member refused to believe it. "But people said they saw you crying the other day..."

"I cried because I had gotten an unsettling phone call and was having a bad day. It wasn't his fault."

"Is this really true?" The Council Member still had suspicions.

"You came to me, the topic of the rumors, to get information directly from the source. Yet, you still choose to believe those people that don't know what happened and have no idea what they're talking about?"

"Uh, w-well..." The girl fidgeted. "Um, I'm sorry. But it's hard to believe this after all the bad things I've heard about him."

"He's nothing like the rumors say. Sadly, people love to gossip and have been making up sensational stories ever since he transferred. If there's one thing the Student Council should do, then it at least shouldn't spread these rumors around."

"Well, if that's the case... it's good. Sorry if I bothered you." The female Student Council Member looked very embarrassed as she walked away.

Makoto could finally resume her plan of looking for Miura. However, she walked around the courtyard, but once again, Miura was nowhere to be found. Why did he always have to disappear like that? Makoto recalled that, more often than not, she had found him alone and isolated, maybe to avoid the rumors, or maybe it was something else. She wished Miura would realize that he didn't need to spend lunch break alone. He had known that she had no other friends. Why didn't he come to her?

Makoto recalled that Miura had mentioned going to the library yesterday. Perhaps she should check there. But there was another place she hadn't looked, and she decided to drop by it first. The roof.

Sure enough, Miura was there. Makoto's eyes lit up when she spotted him. "Miura, there you are!"

"Ah!" Miura jumped, and his notebook slipped from his hand. Since he rarely lost his composure, that abrupt reaction was unexpected.

A laugh escaped Makoto's mouth. "I didn't mean to startle you. Sorry." She crouched down and picked his notebook up. "What are you doing here alone, far from everyone and everything?"

"Trying to memorize the note sequence."

"Hm?" Makoto took a peek at his notebook and saw a bunch of note names. "You went over the recording and wrote down the whole sequence?"

He nodded.

Makoto couldn't help but admire Miura's dedication. He was so responsible. Sometimes she even forgot he was one year younger than her. "You're working so hard on this. No, you're always working so hard..."

"Actually, no, not always." He responded, not looking directly at her. "I haven't always given my all like this, especially before this year."


"Yeah. This year, I need to keep a good record because of rehabilitation. But in the past, from trying to please my parents then giving up on it because I found out it was no use, my grades were all over the place."

If this were a few weeks ago, Makoto would probably have reprimanded Miura. But now she could see where he was coming from. Considering his lack of support and of incentives in the past, he probably hadn't had motivation to put much effort into his duties.

"You've been doing great, though. Your dedication is impressive." Makoto smiled encouragingly at him and handed his notebook back.

"But looking at this is no use..." He closed the notebook. "It's as you said. It's too hard without an instrument nearby to hear the sounds. Speaking of which..." He seemed unusually nervous, and was avoiding eye contact with her. "Uh, may I ask for your advice on something?"

"Of course. What is it?" Makoto sat down at his side.

"Um, there's a keyboard for sale at the second-hand shop in Shibuya, and the price is incredibly low. It's a Cadenza OAP3. Do you know if this brand and model are any good?"

"Hmm, I've been out of the loop for years, and don't really know, sorry."

"Oh." Miura sounded disappointed. "I tried asking Mishima, but his instrument is a guitar, and keyboards aren't his area. You're the only person I know who's more familiar with keyboards. But I probably should've figured that you also didn't know about this one. It's been a while since you quit lessons, after all..."

Makoto felt bad. The first thing Miura asked her help with, and she didn't have the knowledge needed to help him! She tried to come up with some advice anyway. "Oh! Even though I have no idea about that specific model, I know Cadenza is a well-known brand. You said that the keyboard is for sale at a low price. It might be a good start as a entry-level instrument. You could choose to trust the brand, and get the keyboard if you like the sounds it makes."

"That's the problem. I can't test it and hear the sounds. The keyboard's broken..."

"... What?" How was he intending to use a broken keyboard?

"Yeah. I guess this is why no one wants it, and why the store lowered the price to try to get rid of it." Miura reasoned.

"How much are they asking for it?"

"15,000 yen. It's only a few nights worth of working part-time at the beef bowl restaurant. I was thinking that if this keyboard were good enough for my needs and if I could get it repaired, buying it might be worth it."

"Only 15,000 yen? That's the price of a toy keyboard!" As outdated as Makoto's knowledge of musical keyboards was, she didn't think a non-toy keyboard could be obtained for that price. "Miura, do you really think you can get it repaired? Wouldn't the repairs be more expensive than the keyboard itself?"

"Depends on what parts are broken, I guess." Miura continued after a contemplative pause. "It's decided. I'll buy the keyboard. If it can be repaired easily, okay. If not, at least it wasn't such a big loss..."

"Good luck. I hope it works out."

"Me too..."

For some reason, Miura was acting unusually hesitant and nervous, and still avoiding looking directly at her. This was getting more annoying by the second, and Makoto couldn't ignore it anymore. Something must be wrong with him. Come to think of it, he had been behaving a bit strange lately. It was as though he were hiding something, and it was getting harder and harder to keep hiding it.

"Miura, is everything okay? It looks like something is bothering you."

He didn't respond.

"Miura?" Makoto pressed.

Miura heaved a sigh. "I don't know if you've caught wind of this, but people are already spreading rumors about us. Someone saw when you broke down in front of me. People are saying that I'm forcing you to go out with me, and that I made you cry..."

"I know. A Student Council member approached me about that, and I had to clear the misinformation up. It was quite hard to make the person believe me, though. These rumors are more powerful than I had expected."

"As Ryuji says, that's Kamoshida's Curse for ya. Seriously, though, it might not be a good idea to keep hanging around me. Your reputation may get bad because of these rumors... because of me..."

Makoto hadn't expected to hear these words. "Why are you saying this all of a sudden? You had been ignoring rumors just fine so far."

"But they aren't only about me anymore. You have the honor student image you worked so hard to build. You've gone as far as giving up on many things in your life for that. I know how quick bad rumors can destroy someone's reputation, and I don't want this to happen to you. I don't want you to suffer any more because of me."

"It's not your fault. You've done nothing wrong. Miura, I won't leave you." Makoto had a strong urge to hold him comfortingly and say that everything would be okay, and that she would protect him from those rumors. That feeling was stronger than her, and when she realized it, she was already doing that. Makoto had shifted closer to Miura and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, and was whispering into his ear. "It'll be okay. As long as my academic results are good, it'll be fine. Don't worry. I'm here for you, and will help you lift that curse. I didn't reach the status of popess for nothing!"

Makoto had expected him to maybe release a laugh and cheer up a bit, but it didn't happen. Instead, he was stunned.

"Niijima... san...?" His voice came out in a whisper.

Makoto refused to let go. She had known she shouldn't be doing this, but she refused to stop, or to apologize, or to tell him to forget the incident. She was displaying her true feelings, and deep down she wanted Miura to be aware of them.

She noticed how Miura was stunned and scared. "Don't worry, Miura. It'll be okay, it'll be okay." Makoto whispered soothingly and patted his head to comfort him. Her hand suddenly stopped on top of Miura's head. For some reason, the touch of his hair felt familiar. It was as though she had comforted him this way before, even though Makoto was sure this was the first time. She tried to figure out why, but she drew a blank. The chimes brought her back to reality, and forced her to retract her hand. Lunch break was over.

They awkwardly stood up and began leaving the rooftop.

"Uh, Miura." Makoto began hesitantly. "I see that you usually spend your lunch break all by yourself. I take that you're probably used to it, judging by your struggles with people interactions. But I just want you to know this. You don't need to spend lunch break alone, okay? I'm always here if you need some company. Oh, a-and you could look for me once in a while. So far, I've always been the one looking for you, you know."

Miura hesitantly nodded, but didn't say a word.

"A-alright, let's head to class," Makoto said awkwardly. "Miura, see you again."

After school, Kazushi dropped by the second-hand shop and bought the keyboard.

Morgana bounded closer when Kazushi brought the keyboard into the room. "Ooooh, Kazushi! You bought the keyboard, just as I had advised!"

"Yeah. Only, it's broken and doesn't work... think you could help me fix it?"

Morgana seemed interested. "It has nothing to do with infiltration tools, but I'll see what I can do! Anything to hear Lady Ann sing, 'Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There!'" Morgana added seemingly as an afterthought. "Oh, and of course, to help you improve your awesome skills, Leader!"

Kazushi scoffed. Morgana's last statement was clearly forced.

Kazushi retrieved his crafting tools and opened the instrument. "So, Morgana, what do you think?"

"Hmm..." Morgana approached the keyboard and inspected its internal components. "It looks like these two parts got fried, maybe during an electric discharge or something. We might be able to fix the keyboard if we replace these parts."

"Are they easy to find?"

"No idea. But if we still have certain materials that we get from Shadows, I think we can improvise."

Morgana listed the materials, and Kazushi checked whether they had everything.

"One material is missing. With any luck, we may get some from the Shadows today." Kazushi commented while he closed the keyboard back.

"There are a few things you can build in advance until you get the missing item. Come on! Let's get this started!" Morgana began giving instructions, and Kazushi got to work.

While Kazushi followed Morgana's instructions to build an improvised replacement part, he caught himself thinking about Niijima-san.

"Um, Miura..." Her words from yesterday resurfaced. "If you were to like two people at the same time, what would you do? How would you choose?"

This question was still nagging at him. Even though Kazushi had talked to her today, he didn't dare ask who these two people were.

He recalled the way she clung to him as Joker during the last Dark Hour. "I'm just showing you my affection. Joker, you also like me. Couldn't you at least show a bit of affection for me, too?"

Then, the way she had comforted him earlier during lunch break replayed in his mind. Kazushi had felt ashamed. Niijima-san had been suffering so much because of him. He should have been the one comforting her, not the other way around. Yet, she seemed willing to do so much for him, and even risk her honor student image for his sake. Why did she always insist on helping him so much?

To make the situation even more awkward, while Niijima-san had her arm wrapped around his shoulder and whispered comforting words to him, she kept staring at him with that expression of admiration which was reserved for Joker.

Wait... A thought occurred to Kazushi, and he balked. Niijima-san had had the same expression of admiration she had when she listed the qualities she admired in Joker. However, this time, she had been talking to him, and showing her affection for him. His normal self, and not Joker. Could all this mean that... she began to like his normal self, too?! Could this "second" person be actually him?! This... this is... The thought fully sank in, and the item Kazushi had been working on slipped from his hand and clattered to the ground.

"Kazushi?" Morgana called him back to reality.

Kazushi shook his head. "... Huh. It's nothing." He retrieved the fallen item from the ground and tried to go back to work, but thoughts about Niijima-san kept invading his mind.

Niijima-san had a blind fascination with Joker, or rather, with the mystery of his true identity. But if she also cared this much for Kazushi's normal self as she indicated, then she liked his normal self for who he was, and not because of some supernatural mystery. She seemed to be willing to do so much for him. Would she still be willing to do that once she learned the truth? Either way, Kazushi wished he could do something for her as well. However, his capabilities during the day were limited. For now, all he could do was probably to protect her during the Dark Hour.

Today was the last day of their mission, when Makoto would finally see for herself how the Phantom Thieves reformed their targets' hearts. After today, Kaneshiro should repent for all the harm he caused, and possibly turn himself over to the police like the Phantom Thieves' previous targets, and Sae wouldn't get in trouble with the mafia. Also, after today, Joker would reveal his secrets to her. Makoto was determined to give her best so that all these things could happen.

Yes. Makoto emphasized her decision in her head once again. She would stay with Joker. After the mission ended, she would talk to Miura about what she had been doing during all these Dark Hours, including the issue about her love for Joker. This was what she would do.

When Dark Hour came, Makoto was halfway to the school. She thought about bringing forth her Persona power, and her biker costume and mask took shape. Rather than continuing her trek on foot, she summoned Johanna's bike form, which she rode for the rest of the way. Makoto only dismounted her bike Persona once she had pulled to a stop in front of the awaiting Phantom Thieves.

Panther whistled. "Wow, quite the entrance!"

"Oh, so stylish!" Fox said in awe.

"Ready to rock, huh?" Skull commented.

Makoto directed her gaze towards Joker. His expression was unreadable. And to her frustration, he didn't compliment her.

When Joker finally spoke, it wasn't a compliment. "I'm counting on you, but don't overwork yourself. It's only your third time using your Persona power, and you may not be fully used to it yet."

"As they say, third time is the charm!" Makoto glared at him defiantly. "Joker, don't underestimate me. I'll impress you, and then will 'take your heart.' Just you see!"

"Whoa!" Skull was surprised at Makoto's boldness.

Joker scoffed. "Quite daring now, aren't you? It's this kind of recklessness that makes me worry. If I don't like what I see, I'll intervene."

"Just worry about yourself. I can fend for myself just fine!" Makoto said confidently.

"I always worry about the whole group, which you also happen to be part of."

Skull was getting worried. "Hey hey, this isn't the time for you two to be fighting like that!"

"They aren't fighting, you idiot." Panther remarked. "It's kind of a rivalry thing. They're having quite a lot of fun teasing each other. I can tell!"

"Huh?! I don't get it..."

"Neither do I." Fox agreed with Skull for once. "For sure, there are many mysteries in this world..."

"Whatever! They're all fired up! Yeah! Let's go get that treasure!" Mona excitedly bounded over to his position at the front of the group.

Indeed, Makoto was having a lot of fun. She felt confident. She was finally able to impose herself to Joker and respond to his remarks in kind without faltering. But it was about time they got their mission started. Makoto broke her glare and went down to business. This time, she would stay with the others at the front.

"Oh, Queen. The day has come. You outgrew my protection! I have to admit I was getting used to staying at the back with you." Panther laughed cheerfully, then whispered to Makoto. "Now go and take the leader's heart with style, will you? I'll be cheering you on from here."

As a response, Makoto nodded and smirked uncharacteristically for her normal self.

The Phantom Thieves entered the school Palace and headed to the nearest teleporter, from where they warped to Kaneshiro's Palace. The treasure room wasn't far, but security guards were everywhere, and they were forced to battle.

"These Shadows are weak to nuclear skills!" Mona informed.

"Which means I'll be the one to get 'em!" Makoto called upon Johanna and obliterated the nearest Shadows, then threw a victorious smirk at Joker. However, he didn't look impressed at all. How disappointing...

They moved on to the next approaching group of enemies. With her brass knuckles equipped, Makoto violently punched one of the Shadows and threw it full force against two other Shadows behind it, and all of them exploded. However, just as Makoto glanced at Joker to gauge his reaction to her performance, Mona got in the way.

"Looks like one of the Shadows was carrying this. Just the material we were missing!" Mona retrieved a metallic object from the ground, which got Joker's attention immediately.

Clearly pleased, the leader took the object from Mona and put it away.

Makoto gritted her teeth. This was so frustrating. How dare a mere piece of scrap metal steal Joker's attention away from her?!

"What are you going to use that for?" Fox asked. "Another lockpick? Or gun ammunition?"

Joker shook his head. "No, nothing to do with our explorations this time. Just a personal little project."

Makoto couldn't help but get curious as well. "And what would that be?"

But Joker ignored her, much to her annoyance.

Mona was the one who answered. "Our multi-talented leader just decided to try his hand at modifying electronics."

"Electronics?" Not what Makoto had expected to hear.

"Yeah, and he's becoming quite good at it, I might say."

"I didn't do anything significant yet." Joker refused to accept the compliment.

"Oh, but that part you began to build was turning out quite good!" Mona argued.

"You're building parts? Sounds interesting." Rather than impressing him, Makoto was the one impressed. Joker was really smart. "How do you learn these things?"

"Good instructions make things much easier when available. Otherwise, it's trial, error, and need, just as with almost everything else."

"Speaking of gun ammunition..." Fox pointed at the next pack of Shadows that were approaching them. Flying Shadows which the group knew were weak to gunshots.

Everyone shot and exploded one Shadow each, except Makoto. The explosion of the enemy she shot also took the remaining Shadow out with it. It had been accidental, but cool nonetheless.

"Nice shot." A praise from Joker at last.

"I had good instructions." Makoto bragged. No one needed to know she hadn't planned that outcome at all.

"Pfft." Joker didn't buy it, though. "I bet that that outcome was accidental."

Makoto growled and glared at him, still unwilling to admit defeat. "You're saying I only got lucky? How dare you doubt my shooting skills?!"

"I'm not doubting anything. I just prefer counting on skill rather than luck."

Their banter continued as they advanced on to the next approaching enemies.

"You don't trust your luck, eh?" Makoto mocked him.

"Not at all." Joker split a Shadow in two with a swipe of his knife, and it vanished into black ooze.

Mona knocked three Shadows down with a multi-target wind spell, and Makoto used a multi-target nuclear skill to finish them off.

"I trust my luck very much, and will proudly brag about it!" She grinned mischievously at Joker. "If something starts between us, I'll gladly share some of my luck with you."

"Hmph. If it's something that can even be shared, that is."

Makoto sighed in disapproval at his response. "Not even a little romantic, are you?"

"I guess not."

Panther giggled amusedly. "Those two are really alike, aren't they?"

"Yeah, but this is getting annoying..." Skull complained. "I hope they won't act like this all the time."

"Oh, come on!" Panther elbowed him lightly. "Queen's marveled by her new powers. Let her have her fun!"

"... Whatever." Skull shrugged resignedly and focused back on the mission.

Three more Shadows came at them. Makoto released another multi-target nuclear skill and eliminated two enemies, but one survived. This third enemy charged at her, but before she could act, Joker jumped on the enemy from the side, and finished it off with his knife. This was the last of the enemies in sight, and the Phantom Thieves could have a breather.

Makoto didn't like how it went. She wanted to impress Joker. Having him protect her instead made it look like she was fragile and defenseless. "I already told you that I don't need protection!"

"Yes, you did. But I insist on protecting you anyway," Joker said.

It was as though he were doubting her abilities. Makoto was ready to throw another remark at him.

But then, he added in a resigned tone, "It's not that I doubt your abilities, or that I'm trying to show off. That's not it. It's because... protecting you during the Dark Hour... is the only thing that I can do for you."

"... What?" Makoto's heart was suddenly lost between jumping and clenching, and she lost her composure. As touching as Joker's statement was, it also sounded sad. The resigned way in which he said it sounded as though he didn't have a good opinion of himself. "W-why do you say that?"

Silence was his only answer.

Makoto's gaze shot towards Joker's face, and detected some rather strange emotions reflected in his eyes. A mix of fear and insecurity, two things very uncharacteristic of him. This strengthened Makoto's suspicion that he didn't think highly of himself.

Makoto recalled the time she pointed out the qualities she admired in him and said she was sure those were valid outside of the Dark Hour as well, to which he disagreed. It was as though he were unsure of himself outside the Dark Hour, when he couldn't use his Persona powers. It was as though he thought he wasn't good enough for her. Could this be the reason he was afraid of revealing his identity to her? Could this be the reason why he thought she would be disappointed once she found out who he was?

"Do you perhaps think you aren't good enough outside the Dark Hour?" Makoto approached him. She put a comforting hand on his arm and spoke to him calmly. "I don't mind, Joker. I want to be with you. If you get stuck at some problem you think you aren't good enough to solve, I want to be there to help you. Whatever the issue is, I'm sure we can find a way around it together."

Her words seemed to have touched Joker. A faint trace of a smile formed on his face for a fraction of a second, but he suppressed it. His gaze didn't focus on her. "That's not really the problem."

"What is it, then?"

"Never mind. We don't have time for this." Joker tried to regain his composure and began walking briskly.

Makoto was unsatisfied, both at his response and the way he suppressed his smile. There was something familiar and intriguing about his smile, and Makoto wished she could have seen it in full. If he weren't going to talk, couldn't he at least have let his smile form all the way? Still, her words had worked. Makoto would continue insisting until she convinced Joker that she would accept him no matter what. Today would be the day that she would take his heart for good.

The Phantom Thieves continued on their way and passed through a door. Then, someone came running from a corridor at their side.

"Finally...! Since the day when that request was accepted on the website, I was sure that you'd show up here! This place is quite the labyrinth, and it took me days to get through it... but I've finally found you, Phantom Thieves! *Gasp gasp*." The newly arrived figure was lost between gasping for air and laughing with pride.

All eyes locked on the new arrival. A teenager boy in a fancy-looking white garment typical of royalty, who was also wearing a red mask with a long beak. Contrasting with his fancy attire were a toy light saber on one of his hands, and a toy pistol on the other. The combination of all these details made him look like a spoiled child trying to play super hero. However, the conclusion was obvious. He could only be a Persona user!

The boy's eyes darted among all the Phantom Thieves, then he began muttering to himself. "Hmm. So, this is it... their appearances match the vague descriptions their victims gave in interviews. But did they have these many members? Oh, they must've been getting new allies! This must be it...!"

"Who...?" Panther mouthed in a monotone.

"Hm? Is that a plague doctor mask?" Fox asked.

"Ah!" The boy snapped to focus, and looked offended. "No, it's not! It's an elegant bird mask! ... Ugh, why am I even saying this? I owe you no explanations!"

"Elegant...?" Fox deadpanned.

"Who are you? And what's your intention?!" Mona demanded an answer.

"I have no name to give to you despicable thieves. But if you still wish to refer to me, you may call me... Crow. Or, the one who will put an end to your criminal lives!"

"Huh?! Are you picking a fight with us?" Skull glared at him mockingly. "You, alone? With a toy beam saber? That's so lame..."

"Wait." Joker gestured for Skull to be quiet, then addressed the newcomer. "Crow, was it? You were able to traverse the Palace and get here all by yourself. While you may have been lucky that we got most of the Shadows out of the way, getting here alone shouldn't have been particularly easy. You have my respect for having accomplished this. But we are on an important mission, and have no time to waste on pointless confrontations."

"Hmph!" Crow narrowed his eyes. "I didn't ask for your respect! I will-" A loud noise interrupted him. More enemies were coming.

Mona laughed confidently. "You may have been lucky that we had cleared most Shadows on the way here, but unfortunately for you, we just sent the calling card to the Palace's owner yesterday, and today the Shadows are on high alert expecting intruders near the treasure room. Good luck avoiding all the Shadows!"

Now Makoto understood why they were running into so many Shadows today.

"What!?" The boy's gaze hardened.

"Use this to run away from a battle if things get too rough." Joker tossed an item to him, and almost hit him on the head. "You should warp from the nearest access point and go home before you regret it." Joker turned to the group. "Everyone, let's go."

"Stop making fun of me! You're the ones who are going to regret it!" Crow shouted in rage. "Mark my words. I'll find out your identities and reveal them to the media!"

The Phantom Thieves ignored him and ran forward. They avoided a few more battles, then stopped for their last preparations right in front of the treasure room.

"He's clearly against us. I hope he'll be okay, though." Makoto was concerned.

"So do I." Joker responded. "He's also a Persona user, and managed to get here. We should give him some credit."

"It's not every day that we run into another Persona user, is it?" Makoto observed. "If only he'd help us instead of getting in our way..."

"He may be misunderstanding our actions, the same way as you were until a few days ago. Or he might have something else in mind, which we don't know."

"Maybe he's also after the treasure?" Panther hypothesized.

"I wouldn't be so sure of that." Joker shrugged. "Either way, It'd be in our best interest to somehow get him on our side. This is why I gave him that item. I hope he's smart enough to run away if he finds himself in a battle he knows he can't win."

"I doubt it." Skull was skeptical. "He was trying to pick a fight against all of us at once! Even I can tell that it's not a smart idea."

"He never mentioned anything about fighting us head on, though." Fox argued.

"Exactly." Joker added, "He might intend to try to hinder us in some other way. Like finding a way to sell us out to the media, as he mentioned. If he is indeed who I think he is, then I imagine he has enough connections to the media to do that."

"Wait, you think you know who he is?" Makoto was surprised.

But before Joker had time to answer, the treasure room's door exploded, and everyone had to jump back and spread out to avoid bombs that came from inside. At the other side of the door stood Kaneshiro's Shadow.

"You really came, huh, you pesky thieves?"

Joker had a determined look in his eyes. "We are the Phantom Thieves. As stated in the calling card, we are here to take your heart!"

This didn't intimidate the Shadow at all. "Ha! The guards outside may not have been able to hold you off. But I won't allow you to steal the secrets to my fortune!"

More security guards came from inside the room, and hell broke loose as everyone did their best to engage the Shadows in the cramped space that was the hall to the treasure room. They eventually took the enemies out and entered the room, only to find another horde of Shadows inside.

The Shadows attacked everyone indiscriminately, and even hit their own allies including Kaneshiro's Shadow. This, as well as the fact that the room was more spacious, made the Phantom Thieves' work a bit easier.

When there was only one Shadow remaining, a shot came from outside and zoomed past way above Mona's head, and hit the Shadow in full.

"Hmm, not bad." Mona smirked mockingly. "That Shadow was almost at full health, and your shot finished it off! ... Though I have to say that your aim isn't that good. I'm sure the Shadow wasn't what you were aiming at..."

"... Shut up!" Crow hollered between gritted teeth. But he didn't have time to do anything against the Phantom Thieves because he actually had his own problems to deal with. Some Shadows were still coming after him from outside.

Joker glanced at Makoto, and this was enough for her to have an idea of what he wanted. He wanted her to take those Shadows out and help Crow. She would do her best to not disappoint Joker! Better yet, she would try to dispatch multiple Shadows with only one shot again and impress him. Makoto wordlessly nodded. She aimed as best as she could, and fired. The shot exploded only one Shadow, much to her frustration, and she had to fire more shots to take the remaining Shadows out.

"I didn't ask for your help!" Was Crow's response.

"No one asked you to ask for it." Makoto shot back, in a tone completely different from normal, and from her "lecture mode." Rather than the well-behaved and strict Student Council president, she was sounding more like a thug. "And we didn't ask you to come here to begin with. Our only business is with mr. big ol' mafia boss over there, and has nothin' to do with you. If you aren't gonna help us, then go home and stay outta our way!"

Crow seemed to be readying another retort, but Makoto shot him a cold glare, and he took a step back.

But it wasn't only Crow that got scared. Even the other Phantom Thieves seemed shocked at the sudden change in her speech. No one probably could have imagined the always so polite Student Council President would ever talk in such a rough way like a member of some biker gang. Actually, Makoto was a bit scared herself. This was clearly Johanna's interference. Thoughts and actions that Makoto wouldn't normally entertain. But Crow intended to figure out their identities and report them. What a better way to make her identity harder to figure out than acting completely different from how she normally did?

Recovered from the shock, everyone assessed their current situation. Now, it was only them, Kaneshiro's Shadow, and the treasure, which had materialized into a treasure chest made of pure gold.

"Aaaaah... treasure!" Mona was mesmerized be the sight of the treasure, and his eyes sparkled. However, his joy was cut short as Kaneshiro's Shadow spoke and reminded them that their problems weren't over.

"So, we have one more intruder..." Kaneshiro's Shadow regarded the latest arrival. "Whatever. I'll integrate all of you into my money-generating machine!"

Crow directed his anger at Kaneshiro's Shadow. "Don't place me in the same level as them!"

"Intruders are intruders. Whoever you are doesn't matter. All that matters to me is the opportunity to grow my money-generation resources, and I will use whatever or whoever I can use!" Kaneshiro's Shadow transformed into a huge insect-like creature. "I feed on small pathetic insects like you. Your kind is only useful as fuel to my money-generating machine!"

Everyone, including Crow, gritted their teeth.

"We won't submit to you in a million years!" Makoto was the one who replied. "Ugh! A huge insect buzzin'' around dirty money and shamelessly tramplin' over people as though they were also insects... you make me sick, you disgustin' money-grubbin' fly!" She shouted angrily as she summoned Johanna and cast a nuclear spell at the Shadow.

Everyone else followed suit and went on the offensive, except Crow who was both enraged at the Shadow's words and stunned by the unexpected appearance of the bike Persona.

Crow finally snapped to focus. His eyes darted back and forth between the Shadow and the Phantom Thieves, until he came to a decision and attacked... the thieves.

"What do you think you're doing!?" Skull noticed him charging at them in time to elbow him on the stomach and drop him to the ground.

As soon as Crow had gotten back up, Makoto was charging at him. "Stay outta our way!" She shoved him and sent him skidding to a corner, where he lost his balance and fell again. "It's as I said before. Either help us or go home." She warned.

By then, Kaneshiro's Shadow was standing, already recovered from the Phantom Thieves' attacks. "There's nothing wrong about trampling over others." He retaliated with a volley of shots and forced everyone to dodge. "I'm merely following the rules of life. Either I trample over others, or they'll trample me! This is just how society works! The strong survive, and the weak pay!"

"It's only because bastards like you think that way and continue on with that crap!" Skull shouted, and his Persona sent a jolt of electricity towards the Shadow.

"That's right!" Makoto agreed. "There are many corrupt people, but I'm sure many others are tryin' to make the world a better place!"

"Hah, you are so naive." The Shadow mocked them. "You are only saying all this because you are still young, oblivious under the blanket of illusory hopes and dreams, and haven't seen how harsh the outside world is. Abuse, injustice, humiliation either because of unfavorable social status or unfavorable looks... when you finally get the sour taste of all of that, I'm sure you will agree with me... and it's what I'll show you right now! There's no chance of a bright future for you! Your only choice is to submit to the rules of life! Either take the harder path and become strong to survive, or take the easy path and give up right here and now!"

As much as Makoto disagreed, she couldn't argue against that. She hadn't gone through any of those things the Shadow had mentioned.

This didn't seem to be the same for the others, though. Skull and Panther looked ticked, Joker had an even more serious expression than usual - something Makoto hadn't imagined to be possible -, and even Crow was looking at the Shadow with rage from his position.

"We haven't seen the darkness from outside, you say?" Panther spoke in a grave tone, and flames seemed to come out of her eyes. "You don't have the slightest idea what we've gone through!"

"Someone took my hopes and dreams away. But I won't stop until I steal them back!" Skull flashed a confident grin. "This is the Phantom Thieves for ya!" He used a spell gem item to strengthen all Phantom Thieves' attack power.

Joker's posture was more imposing than ever, his presence was the most menacing Makoto had felt until now, and his face showed the look of someone who had seen too much for a teenager in high school. "'Give up?' What's that? Sorry, but I don't know what that means..." Joker summoned one of his many Personas and had it ram violently into the Shadow. It was a critical hit, and knocked Kaneshiro's Shadow down.

Makoto was awed at the way Joker presented himself. His imposing presence made her body threaten to flinch again, just when she thought it wouldn't happen now that she had her Persona. But rather than intimidating her, this made her appreciate even more how elegant and strong Joker was. If he hadn't had won her heart before, then he would have won it now. On the other hand, Makoto felt frustrated. During this mission, she had been trying so hard to impress him, but in the end he was the one who kept impressing her, probably without even trying.

But now it wasn't the time to think about this. They had a Shadow to defeat. Everyone was closing in to the enemy for an All-Out Attack, and Makoto found herself moving to join them.

"Are you only going to stand there?" Fox signaled to Crow who was still standing in a corner. "I noticed that you also didn't like what the Shadow said. Now is the time to prove him wrong! Aren't you going to do anything?"

Crow seemed conflicted. He slowly raised his beam sword as though he wanted to join the fight and attack the Shadow, but lowered it again after a moment of hesitation. "... Hmph! I don't like his methods, and also don't like yours!" He shouted back. "I refuse to join you in your actions!"

"Fine, just don't get in our way, then."

"This is for everyone you made suffer!" Makoto shouted as all Phantom Thieves set upon Kaneshiro's Shadow at once, and unleashed their convictions at him through their attacks.

Punches and weapon slash noises filled the room as the Phantom Thieves violently pummeled the Shadow. Everyone's combined finishing blow had such force that dragged Kaneshiro's Shadow backwards until he crashed into a safe that was in the room and lost his insect transformation. The safe shattered to pieces, and the Shadow's humanoid form grunted in pain as he hit the ground and got buried by the destroyed safe's shards and a pile of coins. He began grunting and wailing in agony as he tried to get out from the pile of things.

"We're almost there!" Mona said. "We've shown him our convictions through our attacks. He must've felt a taste of our hopes and beliefs, and must have begun to think he could've done things differently. By now, he must've realized how wrong he was, and should be having flashbacks and feeling for himself some of the suffering he caused."

That was interesting. Makoto recalled how Joker had told her that the Shadows' attacks caused mostly mental damage. Then, it made sense that the Phantom Thieves' attacks would also have effects in the target's mind. Their attacks carried their hopes and beliefs. The target would experience these feelings for himself, and as a result, his heart would change.

"Aaaaah! Aaaaaah aaaaaah! So many people that I... I... aaaaaaaaaah!" Kaneshiro's Shadow continued wailing and flailing.

They waited for Kaneshiro's Shadow to stop wailing and calm down. The Shadow's head had pocked out of the pile of things, and allowed them to see that he had a peaceful expression on his face.

"We aren't arguing against your points as a result of ignorance." Joker spoke up. "On the contrary. It's from experience. We can argue against your points thanks to the problems we have faced and managed to overcome. This is why we still have hopes and dreams, and believe that life can be better."

"... Is that so?" The Shadow said weakly. "In the beginning, I had been at the other side of the cashier. The side of those who don't have enough money to pay. I didn't want to recall those hard times ever again, but you pesky thieves just had to force me to remember them..." The Shadow sighed. "I used to have nothing. I was weak, uggly and lame. More powerful and better-looking people always took advantage of me. I was sick of it. So, when I got the opportunity to change to the other side of the cashier, I didn't think twice. Then, it was me who began taking advantage of others. Before, I had nothing. But with that opportunity, I realized I could have more, more, more..."

Everyone remained where they stood, only listening to the Shadow's ramblings.

Kaneshiro's Shadow went on. "I didn't care about other people anymore. All that mattered to me was increasing my riches. I ruined many people's lives, either by confiscating the little money they had and were depending on to survive, or subjecting them to inappropriate work. And the worst of all. It was a money that I didn't even need." The Shadow laughed resignedly at the bitter irony. "I had been so proud of my fortune, but now it feels so heavy and worthless. It's as though its actual worth doesn't add up to the numbers that represent it at all. If only there were less ill-intentioned people... if only they hadn't shown me the wrong side of the cashier, maybe I could've hoped for a brighter future... but now, it's too late. It's over. I lost." A pause. "What are you waiting for? Just kill me already."

"Huh?" Skull rolled his eyes. "What are you talking about? We aren't here to kill you."

"... You aren't?" The Shadow sounded surprised.

"We're thieves, not murderers," Panther said. "All that we want now is the treasure."

"Oh... I see." The Shadow heaved a sigh. "Fine, you may take what's in that chest. It's what you are here for, isn't it? I don't know what use you'd have for it, though, unless you were to use the same methods as I did, which you just said you dislike. It's notes for forging papers and contracts. Getting the first of those notes was the beginning of the end of honest Junya Kaneshiro. Do with them what you will. I don't care anymore." Kaneshiro's Shadow chuckled resignedly. "Your life is just beginning. Hopefully you'll have a brighter future than I could ever have... as for me, I don't care about anything anymore. It's the end of the line for me..."

"No, not really." Joker argued. "You should atone for your crimes. You should find a way to help people, as many people as you ruined the lives of."

"Help people... hmm. Doesn't sound that bad..." The Shadow had a pensive expression for a bit. "Fine, then. I'll see what I can do," Were his last words before he dissolved in a bright light.

"We did it!" Mona cheered. "The Shadow has returned inside Kaneshiro. Now... treaaaaasure!" Mona's expression became dreamy, and he ran over to the gold box. He clung to the treasure chest, then began rubbing his cheeks on it and meowing like a normal cat.

Makoto stared at the scene curiously while the other Phantom Thieves traded exasperated glances.

"It's always like this..." Skull sighed. "He always gets weird when he sees big targets' treasures."

"Hey, Mona, get off. We need to leave. No time for playing with that. " Joker scolded the feline, but there was no response. Joker sighed. "Panther, call him to Earth, will you?"

"Mona, please! We should be going!" Panther called out to him.

"... Ah! Lady... I mean, Panther!" Mona snapped out of it and tripped on his words. "Uh, sorry. I couldn't contain myself..."

"We have no time to waste. Let's go." Joker approached the gold box. "I'll take the treasure. Everyone, prepare to run."

"... Run?" Makoto echoed.

"The treasure is the main thing that keeps a Palace together." Mona explained. "Most of this Palace will crumble once we take the treasure."

"Gotcha." Makoto nodded.

When Joker lifted the treasure chest, everything began to shake.

Parts of the Palace began to collapse. Everyone ran.

"Ah! This is always the worst part..." Skull complained, with difficulties to run.

"I'm here with you." Panther wrapped an arm around his waist and dragged him forward.

"H-hey!" Skull's eyes widened at the unexpected gesture, but he didn't resist and allowed her to pull him along.

Everyone ran and avoided pieces of the crumbling walls that threatened to fall on their heads. They were approaching the safe room when there was a gasp followed by a thud. A glance behind revealed that Crow had tripped and fallen. Panther and Skull, who were a bit behind the group and closer to him, turned back to help him.

"Crow!" Panther reached out to the boy who was trying to get on his feet. He looked about to retort and refuse her help, but she grabbed his arm and pulled him before he had the chance to say anything. He hadn't found his balance yet, and practically stumbled the rest of the way as Panther dragged both him and Skull forwards.

Panther continued onward while supporting the two boys. She only released them once they had arrived at the safe room and reunited with the rest of the group.

The Phantom Thieves teleported to the entrance. They left the Palace and found themselves back at the nightclub. Sure enough, the place was a mess. It looked as though a tornado had passed through it.

Mona glanced around. "Wow, this is more chaotic than usual, isn't it? This shows how bad the corruption in Kaneshiro's heart was!"

"How does this work?" Makoto asked Mona.

"When Kaneshiro regretted his sins, he got so ashamed of what he did and what he used this place for that he subconsciously wished to trash the stuff that had to do with his corruption! Since this is the place with the strongest connection to Kaneshiro's subconscious, it's exactly what happened! It was like this for our other targets, too!"

Now Makoto saw it. It wasn't the Phantom Thieves that turned the targeted places upside down. It was the targets themselves. She still couldn't logically explain how the targets regretting their sins could mess up the environment outside their Palaces. All she could say was that now the place Kaneshiro had viewed as his empire was totally disfigured. No logical explanations at all. Now that Makoto believed in the Phantom Thieves' cause, she could deal with it. But she concluded it was impossible to accept the Phantom Thieves' activities only by thinking rationally.

"So, what're you gonna do with that?" Makoto pointed at the "treasure" Joker was still carrying.

Joker opened the treasure chest, and found a briefcase inside, presumably containing the forgery instruction files that Kaneshiro's Shadow had mentioned.

"Let's leave the papers here. If anything, it serves as proof of Kaneshiro's criminal activities. If he confesses his crimes to the police the way our other targets did, the police should need these." Joker placed the briefcase under a counter. "We can take the box, though. We'll think about what to do with it later."

"Hey... Leader?" Mona made a pleading face. "Um, can we take one of those drinks? The place is a mess anyway. No one will notice that one bottle's missing..."

"No!" Joker's voice was firm and authoritative.

Mona laughed awkwardly. "Uh, c-calm down. I was kidding, y'know!"

"Hmph." Joker was totally unconvinced. "Just take this and shut up." He threw the empty box out of the nightclub, and it went rolling onto the street.

"Aaaaah... treasuuuure!" Mona scrambled after the rolling box like a cat going after a toy.

Everyone began to laugh as they left the nightclub. A bit behind the group, Crow did his best to stifle a laugh, though the faces he made in the process only caused him to look ridiculous. Thankfully to him, nobody saw it since he was behind everyone.

The Phantom Thieves walked silently until they got to the end of that street, with Mona firmly holding the empty box as though his life depended on it. Crow was following them at a considerable distance.

"Hey, what are you doing back there?" Panther beckoned for Crow to come over. Since he didn't, they were forced to turn around and approach him instead.

For a moment, Makoto thought the boy seemed conflicted. It was as though he were sad at being left out, but not willing to admit it. However, as soon as the Phantom Thieves approached him, he straightened up and recovered his composure.

"I dunno what you thought we did before, but now you saw what we do, right?" Skull asked Crow.

"Yes. Not quite like what I had imagined. Still, I don't like it."

"Huh?! We're helping people! What's not to like about it!?"

"What you do is wrong," Crow said firmly.

Makoto glared at him. "What do you suggest, then?!"

"... Huh...!" Crow recoiled, and didn't answer her question.

"You're sayin' what we do is wrong. If you have a better idea, then spill it!"

"Uh..." Crow gulped. "J-just leave people alone."

"Huh?!" Makoto looked at him mockingly.

"... Y-you may think you're pulling super heroes, but what you do is wrong and selfish! Crow tried to explain his point. "You're disrupting the normal flow of things. You forcefully change the minds of people your website posters have issues with. You think this is good, but it's not. You're using mysterious and dangerous powers to bend the rules of life and change what shouldn't be changed. People are bound to have issues among one another, be them more powerful or whatever. But this is a necessary evil. It's normal. Just let them be. Just let them squabble against each other, take advantage of each other, whatever. The world needs the strong, and also needs the weak so that the strong can exist. This is how it's always been, and you don't have the right to think you can change it!"

Skull didn't like that explanation one bit. "Oh, and you think you have the right to decide how things should be? What kind of nonsense is that?!"

"Basically, you're saying that we should ignore people we know need help, and leave them to go through whatever happens on their own?" Panther tried to reason. "So, let's think back on the moment we were escaping the Palace, and I noticed you had tripped. Are you saying I should've let things go on as 'normal' and ignored you? What if you had failed to make it out of there? Would you say that it was 'right,' too?"


Panther wasn't done yet. "Yeah, you might say I shouldn't have helped you, seeing how arrogant you are and how you keep refusing our help. But we just can't turn our backs to those who need help and we know we can help! We've gone through some rough times, and had no one to help us. Now that we overcame those hard times and figured we can help others, it's what we're going to do!"

"That's right." Fox agreed with her.

"It's true that we're changing things that are normally hard or nearly impossible to change," Joker said. "Our targets committed grave mistakes. Chances are that they would take a long time to realize this, or would never realize it at all. But everyone makes mistakes, and we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to realize what they did wrong, and try to do something to make up for it if they so wish. All we are doing is giving our targets a little push to make them realize what they did wrong and open their eyes. We believe that it's never too late to change, and that everyone deserves a second chance."

A conflicted look crossed Crow's eyes for a split second, but he blinked it off and glared at the Phantom Thieves. "I take it that you have no intention of stopping your activities."

"Yeah, you got that right!" Skull said.

"In that case, I will continue investigating your group." Crow slowly walked towards Joker. "I still stand by my point. I will continue my efforts towards uncovering all your identities. Escape me if you dare, or I will bring you to justice and prove that your points are naive and foolish."

"Challenge accepted." Joker responded with a devious, confident smirk.

"Hmph. Don't get cocky. Don't underestimate me, or you'll regret it."

"The same goes for you." The confidence remained on Joker's face.

Crow turned away to leave, but Joker stopped him. "One last question before you go," Joker said, and Crow turned around again. "You mentioned our 'mysterious, dangerous powers.' Obviously, you have this same kind of powers as us. What do you intend to use them for, then?"

Crow faltered a bit. "... I-it's none of your business!"

Joker threw a menacing glare as a response. "Fine. If you won't tell us, we will just find out on our own."

Crow remained still for a second until he was able to recover from the pressure of Joker's glare. Then, he abruptly turned behind and walked away at a brisk pace.

Mona transformed into his vehicle form, and the Phantom Thieves jumped aboard.

"Geez, what's with that guy?" Skull commented.

The sparkle of challenge was still in Joker's eyes. "I don't know. But I think we've just found ourselves our Zenigata."

"Our what?" Makoto didn't understand.

"Oh, you didn't catch the reference?" Panther explained. "There's this manga about a thief called Lupin and his gang, where an inspector named Zenigata is always after them. Sometimes we play around drawing parallels between ourselves and the characters from the manga. Until now, we were missing someone to represent the Zenigata for our group."

"Hmm..." Makoto hummed in wonder. She didn't know much about manga. Maybe she should start getting into it.

Panther looked at the leader. "But Joker, why do you think he fits the role? Just because he's against us?"

"This as well. But there's one more factor. If I'm right, he has connections to the police."

"The police?" Makoto's head shot up. "Wait, you said you think he has connections to the media, too..."

"Yes. In other words, Goro Akechi, the high school detective."

"Oh, makes sense..." Fox said.

"Ooooh!" Mona exclaimed. "Now I remember. You had told us something about suspecting him of... uh, something or another."

"... Akechi-san? ...! Oh, maybe!" Makoto recalled Kujikawa-san's warning. "I've heard of indications that Akechi-san might actually be a Persona user! Joker's theory may be right!"

"For real!" Skull made a face. "Ugh, I hadn't imagined the reporter detective could be such a jerk..."

Makoto sighed in relief. "If it's really him, then it's a good thing that I have a mask and a Persona now. Otherwise, he'd have recognized me. He's working with my sister, and I've run into him quite a lot."

"What should we do about him?" Mona asked.

"If we confirm that he's really Crow, we'll have to try to find out more about him, but that's a plan for another time. For now, let's just observe and see what he'll say about us next time he appears on television. Maybe he gives some clue that confirms his identity."

Everyone nodded.

Joker changed the subject. "Either way, our mission was a success. Good job, everyone."

"Yeah, we did it! Yay!" Panther cheered. "Everyone did great!"

Makoto peered at the empty box on the passenger's seat. "Is that really made of gold? What should we do with it?"

"Sell it." Mona answered. "Joker knows a place that buys all kinds of stuff. They even buy the weird metals and stuff we get from Shadows!"

"And they don't even ask where you obtained the items or anything?" Makoto got a bit worried. "This sounds a bit shady. Joker, are you sure you won't get in trouble for selling these things?"

"I'm sure."

"And what are you going to do with the money?" Makoto continued voicing her concerns.

"Buy more equipment. The funds will probably go towards the SP-regenerating accessory."

"You mean that therapeutic adhesive thing that costs 100,000?" Skull asked.

"100,000 yen!" Makoto's eyes widened.

"Yes, that one. It's the most expensive accessory I've seen in my life. There's no way we can afford this kind of equipment if not for treasure money."

"Wow... but how do you know that it recovers SP?" Makoto asked. "The last thing you need is to spend such an insane amount of money on it, only to find out it doesn't do what you expect."

"I can tell!" Mona answered. "I was with Joker at the time and saw the accessory. It has some invigorating properties that I'm perfectly sure restore SP!"

More absurd explanations, but Makoto would stop arguing. She would trust that Mona knew his stuff. "If you say so..."

"Whatever!" Skull grinned. "One more big mission done! We should do a party or something to celebrate!"

"I already have a plan," Joker said.

"Our leader, always one step ahead!" Mona sounded proud.

"Wow, awesome!" Skull clasped his hands.

"I will let everyone know if all goes right," Joker said, and everyone nodded.

"So, what did you all think about my biker gangster impression?" Makoto asked.

"Very cool!" Mona said.

"Amazing acting. You really seemed inspired." Fox complimented her performance.

"It was... shocking..." Panther said awkwardly.

"Yeah! It was really scary!" Skull gave his opinion. "You even used some slang there... where did you pick up that rough talk, anyway!?"

Panther grinned mischievously. "Hmm, maybe you've been hanging around that boy too much. That problem student from our school... there's been rumors about the two of you lately, you know..."

"Uh, hey, Panther...?" Skull glanced around awkwardly between Panther, Makoto and Joker.

"I've heard that you two went to the music room after school yesterday." Panther continued her teasing. "Then spent hours in there, only the two of you, alone..."

"Uh... w-well, I was just... just teaching the basics of music to him, n-nothing more..." Makoto recalled how they had roleplayed as their Personas, and their talk afterwards, when she had almost confessed her love to him. An annoying blush crept into her face. Makoto tried to fight the blush off, without success. "And j-just so you know, I picked those speech patterns up from the many troublemakers I had to reprimand on behalf of the Student Council. Miura has nothing to do with it, okay? He always speaks correctly, and doesn't even use slang! ... A-and he's not a problem student! He did nothing wrong!" Before Makoto had even realized it, her eyes were flaring, and she was defending Miura. "He's been suffering a lot of injustice because of those false rumors that Mr. Kamoshida started. Mr. Kamoshida was your first target. You should've investigated what he had been doing and found this out! If not, then you urgently need to do something, because Miura needs all the support he can get! By the way, Miura's not a problem student, and is nothing like the rumors say. So, don't call him a problem student, okay?!"

"Ah! A-alright, calm down!" Panther waved frantically. "O-okay, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Despite her words, she looked away and tried to stifle a laugh. This showed that she wasn't sorry at all, and Makoto didn't take well to that.

Makoto balled her fists and narrowed her eyes dangerously. She seemed to be about to summon her Persona and charge at anyone that dared say bad things about Miura. Everyone realized that she was on the verge of entering into a mix of "lecture mode" and her newly awakened "gangster mode." Panther's laughter died, and the others froze. Even Mona almost stopped moving, but was able to retain a bit of his composure and press onward.

Then, Makoto noticed the stunned look on Joker's face, and gasped. Was Joker bothered because of the way she got so worked up over Miura? Makoto felt a pang in her chest. Her anger dissipated, but a horrible feeling took its place. Could he have heard the rumors about her and Miura that had started recently? Could he be thinking that something was going on between her and Miura? Just when she had thought she could start a relationship with Joker... was he doubting her now? Did her outburst just now only serve to add more fuel to the fire?

"... J-Joker?" Makoto's voice failed, and the leader's code name came out in a whisper.

Joker briefly opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

The atmosphere was tense. They arrived at the spot they would part ways. The "bus" stopped, but no one seemed willing to move.

A few seconds of heavy silence later, Fox took the initiative to stand up, and Skull followed suit. Both muttered a quick, "See you tomorrow," to the others and stealthily disembarked.

Only Makoto, Panther and Joker remained. Makoto stood up next. She awkwardly glanced around, and took a few hesitant steps towards the exit. Joker wordlessly stood up and accompanied her out of the "bus."

"Joker..." She spoke once they were outside.


"Joker, i-it's not what you're thinking..."

"You don't know what I'm thinking." He responded coldly.

Makoto desperately tried to come up with something to convince him that nothing was in the way of their future relationship. "... Y-you know, that time when you managed that critical hit on Kaneshiro's Shadow. I bet it was accidental."

"I'm sure it was," Joker said plainly, not in the mocking tone from before.

"But it was awesome."

"Huh." Joker threw her a deadpan look.

"The elegance with which you held yourself, the confidence in your eyes, the way you moved to attack... it was all so amazing, and would've definitely taken my heart if you hadn't taken it already." An awkward pause. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, my heart is yours, Joker. Yours and yours alone."

Joker heaved an exasperated sigh, as though he hadn't taken her words seriously at all. "We need to talk."


"But at another time. Today was a long day, and this was a long hour..." Joker heaved a sigh, and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm tired, and my head isn't working right."

Indeed, a lot had happened during their mission today. Only now Makoto realized how tired she was, and how worn Joker also looked. Even his energy to speak seemed to be running out. They needed - and deserved - a good night of sleep.

"We should meet up during the day and have a serious talk," Joker said. "After that, your fascination will probably be over. Then, we shall see if you'll continue saying these things."

At last, Joker said they should talk outside the Dark Hour. However, he seemed upset now, and Makoto didn't know what else to do to get back on good terms with him.

"I'll contact you," Joker simply said, turned and walked away.

"Joker!" She called out to him.

He stopped and turned his head in her direction, but didn't let her speak. "Good night." And he resumed his walk.

"Joker!" Makoto desperately called out to him one last time, but he didn't stop walking. The "bus" took off as soon as he climbed back inside.

Makoto sighed. She had overreacted again. Panther had merely referred to Miura as a "problem student" like nearly everyone else did. Makoto shouldn't have gotten so angry. But now that she was aware of the hardships Miura was going through and how people treated him unfairly, hearing someone say bad things about him made her want to shout and state his innocence for the whole world to hear. This was the result of how much she admired and liked Miura. But she admired and liked Joker just as much, and he was the one she chose. It was as though she had joined the Phantom Thieves in exchange for giving him her heart. As part of the Phantom Thieves, she had more means to help Miura deal with the injustice he was always forced to face. It was a good compromise. Or at least, this was what Makoto had been trying to convince herself of. She needed to explain this whole issue to Miura. He was an understanding person. If he indeed had romantic feelings for her, he might become upset at her, but hopefully, he would come to understand.

However, she had overreacted at Panther's comments, and now Joker was bothered by her behavior. How could she mend their bond now? Makoto whispered to the silence of the night. "Johanna, what should I do?"

Chapter Text

Kazushi got back inside the "bus" and collapsed on his seat.

"Panther, aren't you going to leave?" Morgana asked.

Ann shook her head. "Next block?"

"Alright." Morgana realized that Ann seemed to have something important to say, and his "bus" form started moving again.

Ann stared apologetically at Kazushi. "Um, Joker, about earlier. I'm sorry."

"Why did you do that?" His voice sounded tired and lacked the usual authoritative tone. In fact, it sounded more like his normal self.

"I'm sorry." She repeated. "I just wanted to tease you two a bit... I wanted to see what she'd say. I didn't think she'd get so angry! But it's clear now, isn't it? She really likes your normal self. Wasn't this what you were unsure about? Now you have your answer."

Kazushi sighed. "She can still become upset at me when she learns that it had been me all along. It's as though I had been deceiving her! But I couldn't tell her before. She was against us and intended to report us..."

"Oh, come on, you worry too much." Ann waved the leader's concerns off. "Now she even understands how we reform our targets' hearts. Understanding your reasons is much easier compared to that!"

Kazushi buried his face in his hands. "You know what? I'm getting tired of this romance drama thing."

"I told you that it's really annoying when the parties involved keep dragging it!" Morgana said.

"I had planned to tell her everything once the mission ended. Now it ended, and I can finally get this issue over with. But I don't think I can handle any more of this today. I'm tired..."

Ann yawned. "Yeah, it was a long day. Just tell her next time. "

"You can do it, Leader!" Mona encouraged him.

Ann smiled at him. "Everything will be alright. I'm pretty sure you have nothing to worry about." Once Morgana's vehicle form halted at the other block, Ann stood up. "I'll be going now. See you at school."

The following day, Kazushi was talking to Mishima in the classroom.

"So, did you get the keyboard?" Mishima asked expectantly.


"You had said it was broken. Do you think it can be repaired?"

"I can't say for sure yet, but I have hope."

"Aaaaah! This assignment will be awesome!" Mishima was as enthusiastic as ever. "I've never been this excited about a school assignment before. I can't wait!"

"Am I the only one that isn't excited?" Kazushi heaved a sigh and grumbled. "I wish time would pass a bit slower. I have so many things to do..."

Hours later, the students were leaving the classroom for their lunch break. Kazushi could only think about the huge pile of homework clouding his mind. Today he had been planning to try fixing the musical keyboard, attempt to memorize the music notes again, and also have that so much needed serious talk with Niijima-san. This huge pile of homework certainly wasn't part of his plans. Why all teachers just had to choose this day to give them so much homework!?

Luck really isn't on my side, is it? Kazushi thought to himself , packed up his materials and left the classroom. He would see if he could do some of the homework during lunch break in hope to free a bit of his time on the afternoon for other things. Thus, he headed to the library.

Makoto quietly had her lunch alone at the courtyard, at a spot where anyone could locate her easily. Yesterday, she had told Miura that he could join her for lunch break. She had been hoping that he would show up looking for her, but no sign of him so far.

Also, she wished Joker would come to meet up with her. He was in Syujin, right? And he had said they needed to talk. Why couldn't he come talk to her? He had said he would contact her. Makoto took a quick glance at the messages on her cellphone, but there was no contact from him, either.

Minutes later, her lunch was gone, and no one had stopped by to talk to her. Makoto got impatient, and began walking around.

She spotted Takamaki talking to Mishima, and decided to ask about Miura. "Hi. Does any of you happen to know where Miura is?"

"Oh, Ms. President! No, I don't know. Sorry." Mishima shook his head.

"Uh, senpai...!" Takamaki shuffled nervously. "He was in front of me when we left the classroom, but then he disappeared among the crowd and I don't know where he went! I wanted to ask for his help with homework, but I couldn't find him, either!"

"Oh, if you want, I can try to help you." Makoto offered. She just couldn't pass up the chance to help someone with studies.

Takamaki was still hesitant. "R-really? Are you sure? Wouldn't it be wasting your time?"

"I'm sure. I'm always glad to help people with studies."

"O-okay. I'm a bit slow to learn stuff, though. I'm terrible at anything that isn't English."

"It's no problem." Makoto assured her.

Mishima looked at Makoto expectantly. "Um, i-if you don't mind... could you let me in, too? I'm also having trouble with some subjects from the homework. Today we've got a lot of homework, and the teachers said that most of the stuff will be on the exams next week..."

"Sure." Makoto agreed. "I don't think we have time to get much progress right now, though. Most of the lunch break is already gone. How about we meet up after school and go to the library... no, scratch that. We could go to the family restaurant in Shibuya! It's a nice place to study, and we don't need to worry about being totally quiet like in the library."

"Good idea!" Mishima approved it. "We'll meet up after school and go to the restaurant in Shibuya, then!"

Just as agreed, Makoto met up with Takamaki and Mishima after classes. They began talking as they walked out of the school towards the train station.

"I tried to drag Kazushi along, but he was in a hurry," Takamaki said. "He told me he wants to get the musical keyboard repaired today."

"Oh, he really got the keyboard, then! I hope it can be repaired!" Makoto was curious to see how the music performance would turn out if Miura managed to fix the keyboard and memorize his part in the song.

"Me too! I can't wait!" Mishima was ecstatic.

Takamaki giggled. "I wonder what kind of magic you're doing to get him to learn the song, Niijima-senpai."

"I didn't do anything special. I just explained the very basics, showed him how his part should sound like, and told him what keys to press. Miura's the one doing all the magic! He's very dedicated, you know? He could locate all the notes when I was teaching him. He recorded the whole session, then wrote down all the note names I had told him, and later was trying to memorize the sequence!" Makoto talked like a parent proud of a child's progress.

"Wow. That's really something, isn't it? Now I'm even more sure Miura can do it!" Mishima was amazed.

And so was Takamaki. "I'm so embarrassed to sing in front of everyone... but after hearing how Kazushi's giving his best even though he didn't know anything about music at all, I feel I have to give my best, too!"

"I don't think we need to worry too much about technique. We aren't pros, and it isn't a music class." Mishima reasoned. "What should count more is the mood, the presentation and stuff, and the teacher shouldn't judge us by our music technique... well, unless the result sounds really terrible, but I doubt that'll happen! I'm sure our performance will be awesome!"

They went to the restaurant, and spent a few hours studying. Makoto found that outing quite enjoyable. It was even better than the group assignments she had done with her classmates.

When they were finished and stood up to leave, a bit of news on the restaurant's TV caught their attention. Kaneshiro had turned himself in to the police, and the reporters were doing a live interview with Akechi-san.

"The place revealed to be his hideout was a total mess, just like in the incidents attributed to the Phantom Thieves," one of the reporters said. "Not only this, but Kaneshiro confessed his crimes, in a similar way to others the Phantom Thieves supposedly targeted. It seems like we found a pattern. If it's true that the Phantom Thieves were involved, then we believe we have come to an intriguing conclusion. It looks as though the Phantom Thieves can somehow make their victims repent of their crimes. In theory, this doesn't sound like a bad thing... Akechi-kun, you have been discussing the Phantom Thieves in your TV show lately. What do you think about this?"

"There was a lot of debate on whether the Phantom Thieves even existed or not, and I had been unable to come to a satisfactory theory about what they supposedly do." Akechi-san began. "But as you said, the same pattern from the previous incidents repeated itself. This leads me to believe that they really exist. All their reported victims confessed their crimes. It can't be just a mere coincidence. While it may sound like a good thing, it isn't. It seems that they somehow force their targets into confessing their crimes. In that case, I believe that the Phantom Thieves are dangerous criminals and must be brought to justice. Bending people's hearts by force is the worst thing that one can do."

Those words couldn't be a mere coincidence, either. Then, does this mean that Crow is really Akechi-san? Makoto thought. She failed to notice the serious expression on Takamaki's face.

"Grrr!" Mishima startled both Makoto and Takamaki. "That pancake detective's badmouthing the Phantom Thieves again!"

"Pancake...?" Makoto asked.

"Ah, there was this interview where he was answering fan questions. Someone had asked what foods he liked, and he said he liked anything except pancakes. Since them, people that dislike him have been calling him 'pancake detective' online." Mishima explained, but then raised his voice angrily. "I was interested in his TV show at first... but now all he does is hate on the Phantom Thieves! That time at Risette's event, too. Those rumors that the Phantom Thieves might strike during the event. Ha! How absurd! I bet that he created those nonsense rumors himself!"

"Shhh! Mishima-kun, calm down!" Takamaki spoke in a low voice and frantically gestured for Mishima to be quiet.

It didn't work. "How am I supposed to stay calm!? This isn't right!"

Some of the restaurant's customers had begun to stare at them.

"People are staring! Let's get out of here!" Takamaki roughly dragged Mishima outside.

Makoto absentmindedly followed them, lost in thought. Selling them out to the media... or maybe ruining their reputation through the media. Could this be Crow's plan?

"Niijima-senpai, thanks for your help today! See you around! ... Mishima-kun, let's go!" Takamaki blurted out and hastily dragged Mishima away.

Makoto stood where she was. Once she had finally regained her senses, she reminded herself that she was in Shibuya. In other words, close to Leblanc. Makoto decided to drop by and visit Miura. A quick train ride later, she was in Yongen-Jaya, in front of Leblanc.

"Oh, you're here to see Kazushi, right? Sorry, he isn't here. He's running an errand for me." Sakura-san informed, much to Makoto's disappointment.

"Ah... okay."

"Did you need anything in particular?"

"No. I was nearby and decided to pay him a visit, that's all."

"Alright. I'll tell him that you were here."

"Oh, thank you." Makoto bowed slightly and left.

She returned home. At her bedroom, she checked her cellphone again. Still no messages. What was Joker doing? Wasn't he going to contact her? And had he seen the news?

Makoto wrote him a message. "Joker, hadn't you said that we need to talk in person? Those three days are over. I'm still waiting." Her impatience was clear in her message.

After a few minutes, a response came. "I said we'd talk once the mission ended. I never said it'd be in exactly three days."

Makoto glared daggers at the message. He was stalling. How dare he do this to her!?

Before she had time to reply, though, he sent another message. "Sorry, sorry. I know we really need to talk. I didn't mean to keep you waiting, but I'm very busy right now. I'll contact you later."

"And when is 'later?'" Makoto grumbled. It seemed more as though Joker were avoiding her. Was he still upset because of what happened yesterday?

She sent another message in hope of getting him to talk. "Have you seen the news? It looks like you were right about Crow."

However, no response. Makoto had the impression that he was ignoring her. But again, for all she knew, he really could be busy.

Makoto left her bedroom. When she arrived at the living room, she saw that Sae was back. "Sis, welcome back."

"Makoto, today we'll be going out for dinner." Sae announced out of the blue.


"I had to take care of some work, and ended up on a street where I usually don't go." Of course Sae wouldn't say that her intention was to familiarize herself with the route to Kaneshiro's nightclub. "and I saw a commotion involving Kaneshiro, one of the heads of the mafia, who was having an emotional crisis and shouting for someone to call the police. It is what I did. Surprisingly, Kaneshiro turned himself in, and my bosses basically gave me some money as reward because I was the one who called the police, and they finally caught that notorious criminal. I didn't want to accept the reward, as all I did was call the police, nothing special. But they insisted, and I had to accept it."

"W-wow... this is crazy!" Makoto didn't know how else to respond. What a turn of events... but Makoto could tell that, despite saying she didn't want to accept the reward, Sae had indeed gone to investigate the nightclub, intent on doing something major and worthy of a reward. Maybe she was bothered that her work had been cut out for her? Either way, Makoto was relieved that Sae was safe and sound.

"So, I've decided that today we can have the luxury of dining at a fancy sushi restaurant," Sae said. "I've also invited Akechi-kun."

Alarms rang inside Makoto's head. "... Huh? A-Akechi-san?"

"He's been pestering me about going to a fancy sushi restaurant for a while, and today I feel like it."

This was dangerous. Makoto should be wary of him. But again, her normal personality was very different from her gangster facade, and her Persona power should have masked her identity yesterday. As long as she didn't make any slip-ups, she should be fine. On the plus side, she could use this opportunity to observe him and find out more about him. The Phantom Thieves needed to investigate him, and this should be a good start.

Goro Akechi was waiting for Sae-san and Makoto-san in front of the sushi restaurant. Thanks to his connections, he had gotten a voucher for that restaurant once, and the food was quite good. Only, having dinner at a fancy restaurant alone was really boring. It was a wonder that Sae-san had finally accepted to join him for dinner there.

Goro had interacted with many adults in his life, but never managed to get close to anyone. His interactions with them were formal and nothing else. Strangely, as strict as Sae-san was, Goro felt she was the adult he was closest to. She treated him in a different way from other adults. While some flattery followed by a detective-princely smile usually got others to give him almost everything he wanted, this didn't work on Sae-san at all. She had never given in to his charms. She was always stern and direct, and rarely agreed to do what he asked. This had displeased him a lot at first, but on the other hand, there were times when Sae-san took him by surprise and did something unexpected for him. Rather than doing what he asked, sometimes she did what he needed but didn't ask. Like that one time when he had had a sore throat, and Sae-san wordlessly bought a pack of cough drops for him, or when she gave him a slice of cake for his birthday after a long day of work, even though he hadn't mentioned to anyone that it was his birthday. She did this kind of thing when he least expected, and along these few months he had been working under her supervision, he learned to appreciate those little actions very much. It was the kind of attention that he wished he had gotten at the countless orphanages and foster homes he had lived at.

Goro didn't like it when Sae-san had the reckless idea of investigating the mafia's place. If she were to get in trouble with the mafia and something serious were to happen to her, he wouldn't have anyone to do him little surprises and brighten his day. His attempts at making her give up on that idea were honest. He exhausted his arguments, and yet she didn't give up. In the end, Sae-san really went to investigate the nightclub. However, she got there right when Kaneshiro was having an emotional breakdown and announcing his sins to the world thanks to the Phantom Thieves' actions from last night. She was the one to call the police, and even got a reward for that! ... Then proceeded to surprise him by inviting him to hang out with her and Makoto-san, and have dinner at a fancy sushi restaurant!

Goro had to admit he was relieved that Sae-san was okay. The problem was that this had probably been possible only thanks to the Phantom Thieves...

Yes, the Phantom Thieves were strong. The way they reacted and argued against Kaneshiro's Shadow wasn't only for show. Goro couldn't say the same for himself, though. It was frustrating how he had always had a hard time improving his combat skills, even though he had awakened to his Persona power for quite some time now. Most of his skills were too taxing to use, and he found himself retreating from battles or avoiding fights more often than he would have liked. Thus, confronting the Phantom Thieves head to head at his current condition didn't seem to be a good idea, especially considering that he was alone and they seemed to have recruited more allies. He would need to find a way to damage their reputation, reveal their identities and expose them. Goro had stared at them for long enough last night, and had thought he would have an easy time to achieve that... but he couldn't even remember details of their visual appearances! At the moment, there was only one thing he could say for sure. That biker girl had definitely scared the daylights out of him. Where did she come from, anyway!? Without a doubt, she was dangerous. Was she originally one of those people from the mafia or something? How could the Phantom Thieves have recruited someone like her? They were really going too far!

Goro sighed and checked the time on his cellphone. Ten minutes before 8 P.M. He stared mindlessly at the people filing in and out of the restaurant until the Niijima sisters arrived.

"Hi, Sae-san, Makoto-san!" He tried to sound cheerful, but his cheerfulness sounded forced, even to himself.

"Good evening." Makoto-san greeted him back.

Goro tried to fix his posture. "Um, Sae-san, I was surprised when you suggested this dinner."

"Today I feel like indulging. Just don't expect it to become a routine, got it?"

Goro nodded, and the three of them entered the restaurant. Soon, they were enjoying their food.

Goro took a bite of his sushi. "Hmm, this is really good! Something like this is quite nice once in a while."

The Niijimas nodded.

They ate in silence for a while. Goro decided to engage in small talk. He looked at Makoto-san. He had known that she was Syujin's Student Council President, and a very intelligent person. Getting close to her might benefit his public image and his status as a smart detective. "Makoto-san, I haven't said this before, but I've always thought that you're cute."

"Huh?" Makoto-san deadpanned, and reminded him that she was also resilient to his charms.

"Err, I mean, you must be quite popular at school! Any sign of boyfriends yet?"

"How dare you hit on my sister right in front of me?!" Sae-san threw him a glare.

"Uh, that wasn't my intention! I was just complimenting her!" Goro shook his head and justified himself, but Sae-san ignored him.

She looked at Makoto-san. "Though the answer to his question also interests me. Makoto, I'll only allow you to date someone who is intelligent, mature and responsible."

Makoto-san blushed. "... Uh, th-those are my standards, too, you know! I wouldn't accept any less than that!"

Goro perked up, and his face became serious. "... does this mean that you have someone?"

Sae-san stared critically at her sister.

Makoto-san looked quite embarrassed. "Uh... I c-can say that I have my eyes on s-someone. But that's it. N-nothing has started yet..."

"Then, you're free?" Goro asked point blank.

Sae-san narrowed her eyes at him. "You have quite the nerve, don't you?!"

"Uh, what?" Goro looked at Sae-san innocently. "Don't get me wrong, Sae-san. I'm not hitting on your sister. I was just curious."

Sae-san stared at him in the eye. "I really hope you aren't trying to make a move on Makoto. Just to be clear. I wouldn't let you have anything with her. You may be quite smart, but you don't fit the 'mature and responsible' category. You are quite childish. To think that you are the same age as Makoto..."

Makoto-san recovered her cool. "... You're the same age as me?" She gave him a weird look.

"You two are harsh..." Goro tried to smile and dispel the awkward tension, but it didn't work.

"Akechi-kun." Sae-san slammed her hand on the table and demanded his full attention. "I sincerely hope I can squeeze some sense of responsibility into that head of yours. It's been more than three months and we haven't made much progress in uncovering the berserk incidents. You have helped us to solve other cases, sure, but so far, I haven't seen results impressive enough to live up to the title of Advent of the Detective Prince. You seem more worried about building your fanbase rather than doing your job. While you are smiling to your fans on TV, people are dying because of the berserk and mental shutdown incidents. Haven't you realized how serious this is?! You should worry about avoiding more deaths, and direct all your efforts to solve this case as soon as possible instead of posing to your fanbase. You must take your job more seriously!"

Goro could only gape, stunned, still with half of the sushi in his hand. Sae-san's scolding felt like a bucket of cold water. Of course he had known all of that, but... his mind got flooded with many thoughts at once while he tried to formulate a suitable response to Sae-san. Indeed, he hadn't come up with any satisfactory theory to explain the berserk incidents. What was he supposed to say to logically explain a phenomenon involving supernatural creatures from an extra 25th hour in the day that almost no one could experience? ... Then, a thought occurred to him. The Phantom Thieves' methods were equally mysterious and unexplainable. With their latest heist having brought more proof of their existence, they would become even more popular. Goro could make their popularity backfire on them. He could blame them for the berserk incidents, say that their methods of brainwashing were the cause for the incidents, or something along these lines. If he managed to turn the general public against the Phantom Thieves and then catch them himself, everyone would have to accept him. He would no longer be an unwanted and cursed child. He would become a hero, recognized and respected by everyone! ... probably...

"Are you even listening!?" Sae-san snapped.

Goro startled and almost dropped the remaining half of his sushi. "Ah! Y-yes, I'm listening. I u-understand, Sae-san. You're right. I'll reassess my priorities, and dedicate myself more." He gave a slight bow of his head.

"I hope so." Sae-san didn't look fully convinced.

"This really sounded quite irresponsible." Makoto-san commented. "Sorry, but it totally ruined the image I had of you, Akechi-san."

"Oh no. Did I lose a fan?" Goro addressed her. "Then, Makoto-san, if I become more responsible, may I date you?"

"You're shameless..." Makoto-san sighed in exasperation.

Goro raised his free hand to his face. "I-I was kidding! I just wanted to break the tension, geez..."

The sisters ignored his justification attempt and proceeded to finish their meal. Then, Goro and Makoto-san thanked Sae-san for the dinner, and the three of them went home.

Makoto got lost in thought while she made her way home with her sister. The sushi was really good. Makoto blushed as she wondered whether Joker liked sushi. She fought her blush off and her thoughts went back to Sae scolding Akechi-san earlier.

Makoto had known a bit about the causes for the berserk incidents, though there was nothing she could tell the police to help solve the case. It had to do with the Dark Hour, and Shadows destroying people's minds. Persona users were the only ones with the means to deal with those incidents. But it also meant that, if Akechi-san were indeed a Persona user, then he really should be the person working the hardest to solve the case, and his behavior Sae reprimanded him for made him seem even more irresponsible.

"I had taken Akechi-san to be quite whiny, but I hadn't imagined he was that irresponsible."

"I checked his background. He has no one." Sae revealed. "He's an orphan. His mother died, and there is no information about his father on the files at all. He lived in precarious orphanages and foster homes for most of his life. I take that no one guided him properly. And since he ended up under my supervision, I feel it's my duty to put him on the right track."

This made Makoto sympathize with Akechi-san a bit. He had grown up on his own, likely with no proper guidance. This explained part of why he had become like that. But come to think of it, Miura had also grown up practically on his own, as his parents had neglected him during his whole life. Miura had gone through a lot of unfair things on his own, yet had become someone quite responsible. It was interesting how people responded differently to similar adversities.

It was past ten o'clock when Makoto got home. She was in her room when her cellphone rang. She perked up and smiled at the sight of the caller's name on the screen. Kazushi Miura. What a nice surprise! It was the first time he called her ever since they had traded numbers. Also, it was rare for him to be the one starting the interactions between them. Was this a sign of change?

"Hello, Miura!" Makoto picked the call rather cheerfully.

"Ah. Hi, Niijima-san." He sighed. Makoto couldn't tell if he was relieved or tired, or perhaps both. "I hope I'm not calling at a bad time. It's quite late..."

"No, not at all. It's not even that late." For someone that came to stay up past midnight almost every day, being up at ten was nothing.

"Good to hear." Now, Miura was clearly relieved. "Sojiro-san told me that you came to see me while I was away."

"Oh, yes. I was in Shibuya and decided to drop by. I didn't see you at school today, and just thought I'd pay you a visit."

"I'm sorry, Niijima-san. I had been meaning to talk to you earlier, but a lot happened today. I got a mountain of homework, and ended up spending my lunch break doing some of it. I finished it at home, then Sojiro-san asked me to run an errand for him, then I got the keyboard fixed and managed to practice the song a bit, and when I realized it, it was almost ten o'clock..."

Makoto felt bad for him. "Wow, you had quite the hectic day. But you said you got the keyboard fixed?"

"Yeah, I did! And now I can say that most of the musical note sequence made its way into my head. So, I think that a group rehearsal session is in order. Are you free tomorrow?"

This was great news. Makoto was really curious to watch the performance. Tomorrow would be Sunday, and she had no plans. "Sure!" She blurted out without a second thought.

"Okay. And since exams will be next week, I was also thinking we could do some studying if we have time after the rehearsal."

"I'll be glad to help with that, too. So, What time?"

"How about two in the afternoon?" Miura suggested.

"Sounds good to me."

"Alright. Two in the afternoon, then. I'll be waiting for you at Leblanc. See you tomorrow."

"Okay. Good night. Sleep well, Miura."

"You too. Good night," he said in a near whisper before ending the call, and it sounded quite soothing to her.

The following morning, after breakfast, Makoto studied in her room a bit. Unlike most people, she actually didn't need to hastily study everything at once for the exams, since she was always studying.

Once she was finished, she took a glance at the email app on her phone. No messages whatsoever. What was up with Joker? He had said he would reveal everything to her in three days. But three days had turned into four, which were turning into five now. Why was he stalling so much?

He must be avoiding her. That had to be it. Was he still bothered by the way she defended Miura? Speaking of Miura, she had agreed to go see him at Leblanc. She wouldn't be able to talk to Joker if he were to decide to meet up with her. Perhaps it would indeed be best if he didn't contact her today.

A few hours later, it was afternoon. Makoto left the train station and was on her way to Cafe Leblanc. She decided. Today would be the day she would tell Miura about her Dark Hour adventures, including the fact that she fell in love with the leader of the Phantom Thieves, and that she would use her Persona powers to help Miura through the group. Come to think of it, even though they had occasionally brought up the subject of the Phantom Thieves before, Miura had never showed any favorable or unfavorable opinion about the group. How would he take Makoto's decision of joining the Phantom Thieves? She began feeling apprehensive, and the feeling worsened the closer she got to Leblanc.

When Makoto entered Leblanc, she spotted Miura, but Takamaki and Mishima were nowhere in sight. Miura stood up from a chair and came over to greet her.

"Hey..." He looked insecure in a way she had never seen before. How strange.

"Hi, Miura." Makoto tried to smile, but she wasn't that composed herself. "What about the others?"

"They'll come later. Actually, I had you come a bit earlier than them. There's something important I need to talk to you about."

"Something... important?" Makoto found it really strange.

"Let's go somewhere quiet." Miura walked past her and left the shop.

Makoto's apprehension intensified as she followed Miura out of the cafe. Could it be that he wanted to confess he liked her or something...!

They stopped walking at an empty space behind the shop. Makoto and Miura stood face to face and silently stared at one another. Miura opened his mouth to speak, but closed it without saying anything.

Makoto spoke up first. "Miura, there's something I need to tell you. Uh, I have a few things that... that I've been keeping from you..."

"Me too."

Makoto felt a pang in her chest. The suspicion that he might be wanting to confess to her was even stronger now. She needed to explain the issue to him as soon as possible. She desperately racked her brain in search of a good way to bring the subject up. Then, she recalled something. "Uh, Miura. Remember the day after my first Dark Hour, when I brought up the rumors about the Phantom Thieves, then you made fun of me and joked that there was a rumor that the Student Council President might be one of them?"

Recognition crossed Miura's eyes. "Yeah, I remember. It feels like it happened so long ago, even though it's barely been a month. So much can happen in only one month, isn't it?"

"Yes, a lot happened indeed. It was a long month for me. Uh, back to the time when you said that. It was surprising. You look serious most of the time, and I hadn't imagined you'd laugh so much!" Makoto shook her head upon realizing she was getting off track. "Uh, but this isn't the point! What I wanted to say is-"

"That time, I was half-kidding." Miura interrupted her.

Makoto balked. "... Huh? 'Half...?'"

"Later I began thinking that maybe I shouldn't have said that. But thanks to your reaction that time, I could tell that you didn't have a good opinion of the Phantom Thieves."

"This is not the case anymore." Makoto felt the need to emphasize her change of opinion. "I was wrong. Back then, I didn't know what I was talking about. I was only thinking 'thieving' equals 'crime' equals 'wrong,' and refused to see anything beyond that. But now I know. They're amazing. Their actions are 'misleading.'" Makoto realized that it wasn't really a good word choice. "Uh, I mean it in a good way. Like, what they do sounds wrong but actually isn't. They're Persona users and use their powers to fight for justice during the Dark Hour! And I know this because... uh, I ran into them when I was on the street one Dark Hour, and... well, to make a long story short, I infiltrated the Phantom Thieves. In the end, that thing you said about the Student Council President becoming a member of the Phantom Thieves... it actually became true."

"Yeah, I know."

"Huh?" Makoto blinked.

"To make a long story short, I know everything about your long story. And this was basically what I had been keeping from you."

"W-what..." Makoto's voice failed. If he had known about what was going on with her, then why didn't he ever mention anything? And how did he know?

Miura's gaze fell. "I'm sorry. I feel bad about it, and about the way I acted sometimes. But I just couldn't say anything."

Makoto couldn't understand it. "Why... how...? Who told you?"

"Arsène." Miura shook his head. "No, seriously. During most of this time, you had been completely against the Phantom Thieves, and were determined to report them to the authorities. Would you have reported me if you had known I was in the Phantom Thieves? Honestly, I believe you would, especially in the beginning when you still viewed me as a delinquent."

"H-huh?" Makoto stared incredulously at Miura. She was too shocked to make sense of anything. "I... I don't get it..."

"Ah." Miura sighed. "Queen, you can be so slow sometimes... though I guess I should be thankful for this, as it's probably the reason my cover hasn't blown until now."

Makoto was scared now. Miura had addressed her by her Phantom Thief code name. This could only mean that he was really one of the Phantom Thieves. In other words, she had avoided talking to him about her Dark Hour adventures to not worry him, but he had seen everything. Still, this was hard to believe. Even though Miura was a Persona user, it had never crossed Makoto's mind that he might be a Phantom Thief. Makoto was so shocked that her thoughts scrambled, and she was unable to even imagine which Phantom Thief Miura might be. Either way, he had been near her the whole time, yet hadn't shown any hint of recognition towards her, or mentioned anything about the moments they spent together, nothing... no, this situation was too surreal. Maybe it was just a dream... or maybe not...

"Why have you never said anything? Why?"

"I already told you. You were against us. No one mentioned anything because we needed to protect our identities. Things have changed, though, and I believe I can tell you now. Well, it was what I promised, wasn't it?"

"Huh?" Makoto could only stare blankly at him. "W-what do you mean?"

"Haven't you realized it yet?" Kazushi sighed in disappointment. It looked like he would really have to spell it out. "Ah, fine. Remember when you asked about Arsène's profession? He's a thief." Kazushi looked around to be sure no one would overhear him. Satisfied, he straightened his posture and took a step forward. "And I'm one of the Phantom Thieves. Their leader, to be more exact. I'm Kazushi Miura, also known to a select few as Joker." He gave his statement a bit of time to sink in, then waited for Niijima-san's reaction.

At first, nothing happened. Then, Niijima-san's eyes slowly grew wide as realization fully dawned on her. "Jo-ker... Joker..." She whispered, as though she were calling out to someone that wasn't there, even though he was right in front of her. But again, the person she had been fantasizing about wasn't there. The image she had created of him was just an illusion.

"Yes, that's me."

"B-but how...?" She asked in a restrained voice. "Y-your personality is... so different!"

"It's what happens when I leave everything up to Arsène. Either way, that argument doesn't mean much, coming from you..."

"... Huh." Niijima-san flinched, and she kept staring at him. "... This isn't a dream... i-is it?" Her voice wavered.

"No, it's not. I'm sorry for shattering your illusions like this, but this is the truth. If you still don't believe it, then here's proof." Kazushi took out his cellphone, opened his email app and typed a quick message.

Makoto's phone vibrated, and she retrieved it with a shaky hand. Her email app had just notified her of a new message. Sure enough, it was from Joker. "There you have it," the message stated. "The answer to the mystery that you had wanted so much."

Makoto stared blankly at the message for a moment, then gaped as she absentmindedly put her phone away.

"Jo-ker..." Makoto murmured. A mix of emotions welled up inside her at once, and when she realized it, she was breaking down in tears in front of Kazushi Miura once again.

Kazushi felt horrible when Niijima-san started to cry. She was clearly having trouble to believe the truth, and still resisting to keep the Phantom's illusory image in her head. Kazushi had the urge to try to comfort her, but stopped himself. He had probably broken her heart, and she must be really upset at him right now. Trying to comfort her would only make things worse. So, he remained still, staring at her and waiting either for her tears to stop, or for her next move. He could already picture her punching him on the face. He wouldn't run away if she decided to do so. After all the suffering he had caused her, she had every right to.

Miura was Joker? Joker was Miura? How could this be?! Makoto's first impulse was not to believe it. For a moment, she thought she was going crazy. Makoto liked both of them so much that she thought she was dreaming that she was merging the two of them. But then, she remembered. During her first Dark Hour, Miura had protected her from some Shadows. Even though he didn't use a mask nor a Persona, he did use a knife to attack the Shadows. Knives were Joker's weapon of choice, although the one Miura had used wasn't as intricate as the ones she had seen Joker use. Then Miura had told her that their Personas gave them the power to change their own hearts as well as the hearts of others around them.

"From the moment I saw that you could move during the Dark Hour, I decided I couldn't ignore you, and figured I'd rather have you near us." Joker's words replayed in her head. "... Your overconfidence makes you reckless, and having you wander into dangerous territory unattended doesn't sit right with me. When I realize it, I'm already moving to protect you..."

This was the true reason why Joker had pulled her into the group. He didn't want her to wander alone during the Dark Hour. He wanted to protect her. Makoto recalled the times Joker looked behind to check up on her and Panther at the rear of the group. The time he hugged her and comforted her when that fear spell hit her. The Sunday Miura spent with her to try to cheer her up, when he taught her the shooting game, probably with the intent of preparing her for fights against Shadows. The strong blow Joker had taken for her and left him incapacitated the next day, when Miura had seemed rather sick. It all made sense now.

I like... being with you." Joker had let slip during their ride back from the Palace. "... All those times... were nice."

That statement finally made sense, and Makoto realized she had been mistaken when she thought he had never mentioned the moments they had spent together during the day. He had stated he had enjoyed "All those times." In other words, the arcade, the takoyaki stand, their homework session at the restaurant in Shibuya, the supermarket, Kujikawa-san's event, their talks during lunch break... everything.

"I wonder what does one need to be able to use multiple Personas..." Makoto recalled her talk with Kujikawa-san.

"I can't say for sure, but... a strong will, I believe," had been Kujikawa-san's response.

Surely, Miura had a strong will. He was the most strong-willed person Makoto had ever known. If this quality was a requirement to wield multiple Personas, then Miura being able to do so should be no surprise.

The more Makoto analyzed the facts, the more she got inclined to believe that this wasn't a dream. It was all real. Joker was Miura, and there was no denying it. Everything added up perfectly. The way Joker avoided talking to her about his normal life. The way Miura seemed to be avoiding her more often than not, and when they interacted, he mostly talked about his normal life and rarely mentioned what he had been doing during the Dark Hour. Johanna was right. They weren't just opposites. They complemented each other.

"In other words, maybe you won't need to choose, after all." These had been Johanna's last words from the day Makoto fully awakened to her power. Until now, Makoto didn't so much as remember that this thought had even crossed her mind, but it turned out that her heart had known all along. She fell in love for both of them. And in the end, she wasn't going crazy. It was really impossible to not like either of them. They were one and the same, two sides of the same coin.

Makoto returned to reality and stared ahead at Miura. He had his head low, and was still waiting for her to do something. He looked miserable, like a child being punished for having done something wrong. Or rather, considering his whole history, a child silently taking the blame and accepting punishment even though he hadn't done anything wrong.

"I broke your heart... didn't I?" Miura finally spoke up. "I'm really sorry. But this is the truth, like it or not..."

Truth be told, all that suspense he had put her through had been gruesome and painful to her heart. Then again, she may not be the only one suffering because of it.

"If only you weren't disapproving of what we're doing, I'm sure he'd have revealed his identity to you already." Panther's words rang inside Makoto's mind, and strengthened the notion that Miura must have been suffering because of this whole romance issue just as much as she had. Miura liked her, too. He had silently been looking after her this whole time, without telling her he was doing it, and without expecting anything in return. This showed just how much he cared about her. Panther should be right, and Miura had actually wanted to disclose everything. If he had revealed his identity earlier, though, Makoto would probably have reported him.

By that point, Makoto's crying had calmed down enough for her to speak. She swallowed her sobs. "Ah, this is s-so frustrating...! Why? Why does everything you do must turn out so cool and... a-amazing? Why do you always have to steal the show? You little thief...!"

"...?" Miura was confused. "W-what are you talking about?"

"Worst of all... You do all these cool things without even trying!" Makoto stomped on the ground and glared at him through her tears. But then, her expression softened, and a gentle smile formed on her face. "But this is... this is one of the reasons why I admire you so much. Thank you, Joker. Since my first Dark Hour, y-you've been with me, stealthily, secretly protecting me... com-forting me, looking after me, both during and outside the Dark Hour, without so much as expecting anything in return. I think this is very touching, and... very cool."

Miura still didn't react, and only listened quietly to what Makoto had to say.

"I... I'm glad to have met you, Miura." Makoto smiled through her tears. "You're right... In the beginning, I was wrong about the Phantom Thieves. And about you, too. I'm glad to have spent time with you and gotten to know you better. If I hadn't, I'd have kept judging you by those outrageous rumors, and wouldn't have gotten to know how strong-willed you are. You've been going through hardships that no one can even imagine, yet you always face your problems with your head high. You aren't a problem student, Miura. You're special. You're a great example of superation to me. If not for you, I don't think I'd have been able to awaken my Persona. When all those Shadows surrounded me and I was about to give up, I realized I haven't gone through even half of the hardships you have, and it didn't feel right to give up at the first obstacle that got in my way. This was what I needed to move forward and awaken my Persona. Miura, you inspire me so much. You're amazing."

Silence. No response from him whatsoever.

"You listening, Joker?" Makoto grinned playfully at him before wiping her tears off with her hand.

Miura slowly raised his head, but still remained silent, and only stared apprehensively at her like a scared cat.

Makoto took a step closer to him. "You had said that you know everything that happened to me, but there's something I think you don't know, Joker. Remember when I talked about liking two people at the same time?" She paused. "I was getting worried, because I was falling in love with Miura, too. I'm glad that this isn't a dream, and now, I'm glad that I don't need to choose." Makoto took another step forward. "Like I had said before, my heart is yours, and yours only. I love you, Joker. I love you, Kazushi Miura. I love you twice as much as normal."

Kazushi was the one on the verge of crying now. He was stunned. He didn't know what to say, what to think, or what he was feeling. On one hand, he was relieved that Niijima-san actually wasn't upset at him. But on the other hand, it turned out that she really liked him...! So, what now?

He realized she was still waiting for a response to her love confession. But he was terrible at romance, and had no idea what would be a proper response.

"Uh, Niijima-san... I don't even know what to say! This kind of situation is completely new to me, and I don't know what to do." Perhaps, being sincere would be his best bet. He would try to explain his feelings the best he could. "I was worried that you might get upset at me once you learned that I'd been hiding my identity from you the whole time. I'm glad you're not." He nervously fiddled with his glasses. "You know, that time when Panther decided to tease us and called me a 'problem student' and you stepped up to my defense, I admit it was kind of scary because it looked like you'd enter 'gangster mode.' I couldn't tell whether I should intervene and stop you, or say something, or what. But I rarely hear anyone defending me, and when you did it, I felt so happy that I couldn't even put my thoughts into words..."

Niijima-san flashed him a warm smile. "I'd never have guessed. I thought you were upset or something!"

"Told you that you didn't know what I was thinking!" Kazushi flashed a playful smirk, then became serious again. "That first time you confessed to me, I panicked. This was why I wanted to be sure you weren't confusing things. Then, right the day after, Ann also confessed to me. I had never imagined I'd ever hear someone say this kind of thing to me, much less two people in less than 24 hours... I was totally lost. I don't think there could be anything between Ann and me, though. And now you're saying you love me... not for my identity's mystery, but for who I am. You know my two sides, and you said you love both of them..."

This was it. It was the time to settle the million yen question of whether he liked Niijima-san or not. No more "maybes" or guessing. Either he did like her, or he didn't. But from the way he enjoyed her company, and how he was feeling happy right now, he figured it should be a "yes." Come to think of it, Kazushi had turned Ann down because the thought of them in a love relationship seemed off to him. Yet, even at the time when Niijima-san first confessed to him, he had raised the possibility of considering the issue again if she still happened to like him after learning of his true identity. Kazushi didn't want to admit it, but Morgana and Ann and Ryuji and everyone who kept teasing him since them were probably right. Maybe he had liked Niijima-san all along, after all.

Kazushi hesitated. Once his next words left his mouth, there would be no turning back. He took a deep breath. "Niijima-san... you said that you love me 'twice as much as normal.' I... I like you too. No idea how to measure it, though..."

Makoto couldn't help but burst laughing. Firstly, because of the joy of hearing him say that he liked her. Secondly, because he said it in such an unusual way that she found it funny.

Miura seemed confused. "Why are you laughing? I'm serious..."

"I know! Sorry!" She uttered between bursts of laughter.

He stared cluelessly at her. "Sorry if my response wasn't good enough, but I have no knack for romance."

"No, it was great!" Makoto beamed. "Spontaneous, and quite unique. I like it!"

"I-if you say so..." He shrugged awkwardly. "Alright. No more running away, and no more secrets. I had promised I'd answer all your questions once I revealed the truth. Um, so, go on. Ask me anything."

"Can we start dating or not?"

It was Miura's turn to laugh now. "You're really serious about this, aren't you?" He thought for a bit before answering. "Well, if you insist, I guess it's worth a try."

"Really?" Makoto's eyes lit up.

"Just a heads-up, though. From your confessions, you seem to enjoy romance quite a lot. I have zero experience with romance, and am not sure how to go about it at all. Don't be upset if I don't respond the way you want."

Whatever. He had said "yes." Makoto was happy. "It's no problem! Just follow your heart!"

With no warning, Makoto tackled Miura into a tight embrace. Miura nearly lost his balance, but managed to remain standing. There was only one problem, though. When Makoto tackled him, her forehead bumped into his glasses.

"These are in the way." Makoto broke the hug, and suddenly snatched his glasses off.

"Hey!" Miura protested, but didn't move to take his glasses back.

"You don't really need them, do you? You don't wear glasses during the Dark Hour." She observed.

"Uh, yeah, I actually don't. It's just a stylistic preference... well, and a way to obscure my expressions more."

Makoto smirked playfully. "Then, this means that I managed to take the almighty Joker's mask off, huh?"

"Yeah, you did. This is my true face."

"You're handsome without glasses, too, you know?"

Miura blushed slightly. "Uum, thanks..." But he didn't skip a beat and snatched his glasses back with a swift motion.

"Gah!" Makoto gasped in surprise. "You sneaky little thief! I only lowered my guard for a second...!"

Miura chose to hang the glasses on his collar for the moment. "Who are you calling a thief? It's you who stole from me. The glasses are mine. And one second was all I needed."

Makoto chuckled. "There's no denying it. You're really Joker."

"You were still doubting it?"

"I believe it. But seeing you behave like this outside of the Dark Hour is kind of unusual."

"You practically asked for it."

Makoto had a daring idea, and smirked. She was curious to see what he would do. "Oh, so if I ask for a kiss, will you give it to me?"

"... What?" Miura's eyes widened in shock.

Only then the embarrassment caught up to Makoto, and she tried to hide a blush. She wouldn't let that opportunity pass, though. "I want a kiss, to mark the start of our relationship."

Fear showed clearly in Miura's eyes, now that he wasn't wearing glasses to hide it.

"Miura, come on!" Makoto challenged him with her gaze.

"... A-alright." Miura hesitantly accepted the challenge.

However, for a few seconds, he only stared. Then, he took a deep breath, and moved at last. Miura placed a hand on Makoto's shoulder, slowly leaned closer to her, and planted a soft and gentle kiss... onto her cheek. Not exactly what Makoto had in mind, but it still caused her to blush profusely.

"Sorry, probably not what you wanted, but this is as far as I'm going for now." Miura spoke up before Makoto had time to complain. "Let's not move too fast. One step at a time..."

"Ah... you never cease to amaze me..." Makoto laughed sheepishly as she fought the remains of her blush off. "O-okay, I'd say that this didn't count, but I'll forgive you. First, because you acted in an unexpected way and surprised me yet again. Second, because it was too adorable!" She smiled. "And you're right. We're just starting out. And it's a good start, I'd say." Makoto also kissed his face softly. "Yes, let's move one step at a time. It may take a while, but we'll get there. Until then, I'll make sure no one steals my first serious kiss from you."

"Oh, and who said that this one wasn't serious?"

"Argh! You understood what I meant!" Makoto sighed internally. Why did Miura had to keep ruining the romantic mood?

"And so did you."

"Ah, whatever!" Makoto threw her arms around him and hugged him again. Miura gave her a kind smile, and gently hugged her back.

Makoto rested her head on Miura's shoulder and closed her eyes. She marveled at how he could be so many things at once. During the Dark Hour, he was so confident, imposing, daring, and even rude at times. But sometimes, like when they began talking a while ago, he seemed so insecure and shy, and switched to daring to shocked and back to insecure in a matter of seconds, just like Joker kept switching Personas during the Dark Hour.

"Looks like the others are here." Miura spoke up and pulled Makoto out of her contemplation. "Let's go greet them."

Sure enough, Makoto could hear voices nearby. She allowed their hug to break and prepared to leave. Miura took his glasses and put them back on.

"Miura?" Makoto called out to him as he began walking and she followed him. "I was wondering. You unknowingly agreed to perform music as your assignment because you were totally out of it after you shielded me from that blow. So, technically, it's my fault, isn't it?"

"You're still blaming yourself for that?" He sighed. "Alright. Even if I say that it isn't your fault, you'll keep blaming yourself. Then yes, it's your fault. And you're helping me to play my part in this music thing. If it turns good, it'll be your fault, too."

A laugh inadvertently escaped Makoto's mouth.

Miura glanced back at her, and at the sight of her laughing, he laughed as well.

This managed to kick Makoto's feeling of guilt into space. Leave it to Miura to cheer her up with his optimism. And this reminded her that Miura had many other qualities as well. No matter the hour or whether he was wearing a mask or not, he was always strong-willed, determined, responsible and optimistic.

Makoto followed Miura out of the empty space behind Leblanc, only to run into some familiar faces. They almost bumped into Sakamoto who had been snooping around. So, they had invited Sakamoto as well, Makoto observed.

"Gah!" Sakamoto startled.

"Ryuji, I told you to stay back!" Takamaki snapped.

"Hmm?" Miura threw them a suspicious look. "You weren't eavesdropping, were you?"

"No, we were n-not!" Sakamoto got defensive. "We couldn't find you anywhere when we arrived, so we were wondering where you had run off to! Then we heard laughter, and..."

"And this idiot got curious to know what was going on." Takamaki pointed a finger at Sakamoto. "I told him that you must be doing... private stuff, but he still went and walked closer."

"And you two showed up a-and I almost bumped into you." Sakamoto finished. "That's it. I still have no idea what happened..."

"Hmph, whatever." Miura shrugged. "Where's Mishima?"

"Ah, he said that something came up at his home and he'll be a bit late." Takamaki answered.

"Oh, alright."

Then, someone who Makoto hadn't expected to see appeared. "Hey, Kazushi, aren't they making spring rolls today? I'd try to ask the staff, but they seem busy."

"I don't think so." Miura answered. "I haven't seen spring roll ingredients in the kitchen today."

"I had thought of having some while listening to your performance if possible. Oh well, never mind." The newcomer turned in Makoto's direction. "Hello, Niijima-san."

"Kitagawa... san?" Makoto uttered in surprise.

"You had known each other before?" Miura was also surprised.

"We had run into each other and talked briefly." Makoto had had no idea that Kitagawa-san and Miura had known each other, either. And if Kitagawa-san was addressing Miura by first name, they had to be rather close. No, not only him, actually. Takamaki and Sakamoto also addressed each other as well as Miura by first name. Those three had to be rather close somehow. And Kitagawa-san wasn't even from the same school! Wait. Miura is Joker, Makoto thought. Could these be...? "You are the others, aren't you?" She voiced her suspicion.

"Yes. I'm Fox." Kitagawa-san answered, and his presence there made sense at last. Makoto concluded he must have joined when the group targeted Madarame-san.

Makoto reasoned. Miura was Joker, and Kitagawa-san was Fox. Besides her, Panther was the only other girl in the group, which meant that Takamaki must be Panther and Sakamoto could only be Skull! Makoto's eyes sparkled in realization. She could have never imagined that they could be Persona users.

"Then, Panther and Skull?" She pointed at the two in turn.

"Yeah, that's right!" Sakamoto grinned. "Oh, Mishima's also with us. He knows nothing about Personas, though."

"He was in a lot of trouble with Mr. Kamoshida. We kept nagging him for information, and he ended up figuring us out." Miura explained. "He's actually the one who created the website."

"Oh, it was him?" Makoto was surprised.

"He says he's the public relations manager." Takamaki chuckled. "He's always scouring the social networks on the lookout for information for us."

"Hmm..." Makoto listened intently. Her eyes darted between the group members again. The thought that those students in particular might be the Phantom Thieves had never crossed her mind. All of them had been so close the whole time... "Huh?" Makoto blinked. "Wait, aren't we missing someone?"

"...!" Miura gasped. "Yes, we are! I left him behind because I didn't want him to eavesdrop on Niijima-san and me... whoa, I forgot about him completely...!"

"Mona?" Makoto was curious. Where might that mysterious creature have been hiding during the normal hours? "Where is he?"

"I'll get him!" Miura hurried inside the cafe and disappeared.

"Is it really okay for Mona to be out during the normal hours, though?" Makoto asked.

"Hmm... more or less." Takamaki answered. "I feel bad for him. As eager to be out and about as he is, he needs to hide most of the time. And I feel bad for Kazushi, too, always having to go to lengths to hide him. I've heard it's not easy..." A mischievous look appeared in Takamaki's eyes. "Want to take a peek? You'll be surprised!"

Makoto hesitated, but curiosity got the better of her, and she followed Takamaki into the shop. They climbed the stairs and got to the hallway that led to the back of the cafe, where Miura's room was. The door was half-open, and allowed them to hear voices from inside.

"Kazushi, why did you do this!?" They heard an angry child-like voice.

"Because you have no regards for others' privacy at all. If only you weren't this nosy, I'd let you out more often."

"From the light expression on your face, I take it that everything went okay. But you made me miss the most important moment! I wish I had seen it!"

"This is what I'm talking about. We want our privacy," Miura said. "By the way, the others are here. We're revealing our identities to her, and it's your turn. Let's go."

The door opened fully, and Miura showed up with Morgana in his arms.

"Hey, Queen, how's it going?" Morgana... spoke?

"What..." Makoto's voice came out in a near whisper. "M-Morgana...?"

"Yep, that's my name!" The kitty grinned proudly.

Makoto stared incredulously. "You can... talk?"

"Yeah. And summon a Persona, and fight Shadows, and transform into a car, and all that stuff. Awesome, right?"

"Oh... oh my god..." Makoto uttered. It was really hard to believe that that little cat was the same creature they had been with during the Dark Hour. Makoto reached her hand out. Morgana looked very full of himself, and also very pleased when Makoto touched him.

"Only Persona users can understand what he says, though." Miura explained. "Everyone else only hears meowing."

"I admit. It was quite tough to keep from speaking while around you two..."

"Wow..." Was all Makoto managed to say.

Takamaki watched the interaction amusedly. "I told you you'd be surprised!"

"Y-yes, you did."

"I'm amazing, aren't I?" Morgana puffed his chest.

"He's the most absurd creature that I've seen in my life." Miura retorted.

"Kazushiiiii...!" Morgana tried to look offended, but his expression was more cute rather than angry.

They went back outside and reunited with the others at that same place behind Leblanc.

"So, what's up between you and the leader?" Morgana asked Makoto. "Are you two together now or what?"

"Ah, yes. We've settled our issues." She answered. "It's official. Now Miura and I are dating."

"Oooooh! Finally!" Sakamoto cheered.

"Congratulations," Kitagawa-san said.

"Oh, at last!" Takamaki clasped her hands. "But you're still calling each other by last names? Weren't you supposed to be using first names by now? Actually, all of us here address each other by first name. You should do this too!"

"Um... yes, I've noticed how you address each other," Makoto said awkwardly. "W-well, in that case, you all may call me by my first name as well."

"This will take some getting used to..." Miura admitted.

"Yes, it will." Makoto agreed. "I think it might actually be easier for me to call you Joker rather than Kazushi."

He laughed. "Please, don't do that! Especially not near outsiders."

"Oh, I almost forgot. We should trade numbers!" Takamaki took her cellphone, and the others followed suit and traded numbers with Makoto. "With this, we're officially friends! Right, Makoto-senpai?"

"Thank you..." Makoto felt a warm sensation in her chest. "And just Makoto is fine. You were the ones showing me the ropes during the Dark Hour. I don't feel as though I'm your senpai at all."

Takamaki giggled. "Alright! Makoto it is!"

"By the way, Makoto, how's your sister doing?" Sakamoto didn't have problems calling her by first name at all. "She had said she'd investigate the place yesterday, right?"

"Oh, yes. She's fine, thankfully. She really went there yesterday. But she got there right when Kaneshiro was having a breakdown and shouting for someone to call the police, which was what she did. And she got a reward for helping catch him, and paid for our dinner at a fancy sushi restaurant!"

"What?! That's crazy!" Sakamoto nearly shouted. "And it's thanks to us! We're awesome!"

"Shhh!" Takamaki shushed him.

"It's good to know that we managed to confront Kaneshiro in time, though," Miura said.

"Huh? You had known?" Makoto blinked at Miura.

"Ryuji told me."

"Uh, remember when I said that I had told someone? Yeah, it was him. Right when we decided we'd target Kaneshiro, we overheard your sister. After we parted ways, I called Kazushi and told him."

Makoto recalled another detail. "Huh, Miura err... Kazushi, you had said you had to shorten the deadline... was it because of this?"

He nodded.

"And you didn't say anything...!"

"If I were to say anything, we'd have put Ryuji's identity at risk, since he was the person you had known was aware of it."

"But on the bright side, it was a nice surprise, wasn't it?" Takamaki smiled at Makoto.

"Yes, it was." Makoto smiled back. "Though the only 'problem' about what happened was that my sister invited Akechi-san to have dinner with us..."

"Goro Akechi... I saw him on the news," Kitagawa said. "Judging from his declarations about the Phantom Thieves, it looks like Kazushi's suspicions are correct. He might indeed be Crow."

"I think so, too." Makoto agreed. "Thankfully, he didn't show any sign that he might have recognized me."

"With your drastic personality change, I'd be surprised if he did." Miura remarked.

"He didn't change his mind about us even after he saw what we do with his own eyes," Takamaki said. "I wonder why he dislikes our actions so much"

"Maybe 'cause we're getting popular?" Sakamoto theorized. "We're awesome, and he must be envious of us!"

"It's possible." Makoto added, "My sister reprimanded him for focusing more on his fanbase rather than the berserk incidents case. It sounded as though he's more worried about his fame than anything else."

"To be honest, I don't like the notion of our group getting popular." Miura gave his opinion. "I wish we could just secretly help a few people here and there, but every water drop that we let out seems to make a bigger splash each time! I have a bad feeling about this. We might end up getting the attention of the wrong kind of people if it continues this way. I keep thinking that maybe we should be more discreet... rather than us, though, it's actually our targets that do most of the splashing. But what can we do? Palaces are clearly tied to the mystery about the Dark Hour, and are our only lead to solving it. And Persona users are the only ones that can solve it... still, I believe that we should be extra careful from now on."

"There's also what Kaneshiro's Shadow mentioned about corruption in the police." Makoto reminded them. "It won't be good to have the police after us."

"Nah, you two worry too much." Sakamoto waved it off. "No one can figure us out or find out what we do. There's no way they can find out or prove anything about the Dark Hour."

"Sorry, but I have to agree with them," Kitagawa said. "Remember, Ryuji. Goro Akechi has connections to the police, and if he's really Crow, he's a Persona user as well. He obviously knows his way around the Dark Hour. Seeing how he is against our actions, he might try to sell us out."

"Yeah." Miura nodded. "This is why I believe we need to find a way to get Akechi-san on our side. Having a Persona user with ties to the police on our side would be highly beneficial. We need to learn more about him and find a way to change his mind about us."

Miura's cellphone rang and interrupted their conversation. It was Mishima.

"Mishima's coming. I'll get the keyboard."

Miura left, and returned with the keyboard a few minutes later.

"How hard was it to fix the keyboard?" Makoto asked.

"There were two fried parts that had to be replaced. Morgana guided me through improvising the replacement parts." To which Morgana grinned proudly. "I used those materials we got from Shadows last time. Yeah, it's absurd. The sight of the parts inside isn't that great, but it works. It's still a bit hard to believe that I actually saved this keyboard, but it's here, and making sounds! When I pressed a key and a sound came out of the speakers, I felt so fulfilled!"

Makoto felt proud as well, even though she had had no hand in it. "Congratulations. Great job!"

"Thanks. Um, could you all wait here a bit more? I'll go greet Mishima at the cafe and bring him here."

Miura left again. Around five minutes later, he returned with Mishima in tow.

"Miura, I'm glad you managed to fix the keyboard." Despite his words, Mishima didn't have his usual excitement. In fact, he looked a bit sad. "As for me, on the other hand..." He opened his bag, from which he took a laptop, a projector, and an acoustic guitar. He began setting the equipment up.

"Huh? An acoustic guitar?" Takamaki noted. "When you said 'guitar,' I thought..."

"Yeah, you thought right." Mishima looked even more depressed now. "I meant an electric guitar, but I don't have it anymore. This morning I was going to rehearse a bit, but I couldn't find my guitar anywhere. When I asked my mom about it, she told me that she was so desperate to pay her huge credit card debt that she had sold my guitar yesterday...!"

"What!? This sucks..." Sakamoto was incredulous.

"Yeah. She sold my guitar! Just like that, without even consulting me first! When I tried to protest and explain to her that I need it for a school assignment, she said, 'But you still have the other one, from the time you took lessons. You don't need two.' But this 'other one' is an acoustic guitar! It's totally different! If anything, she should've sold this one instead of the electric one... I swear I cried. I explained to her how the guitars were different, and she was shocked. She apologized to me, said she'll be more careful with her credit card, and said we can buy a new electric guitar once our financial situation gets better."

"On the bright side, you saw that some conflicts can be solved without needing us to take people's hearts." Like always, Miura was optimistic.

"Yeah, I guess. But it's already too late..." Mishima sighed. "First, that pancake detective badmouthed the Phantom Thieves on TV, and then this... I almost gave up on coming here today. I only didn't because it's our school assignment."

"But acoustic guitars have a nice sound too." Makoto tried to cheer him up. "Even though the performance won't be exactly the way you imagined, I'm sure it'll be good."

"Hey Mishima, drop the long face," Miura said. "Our latest mission was a success." He pointed at Makoto. "And she's in the group now, which is great news. We should be celebrating!"

"... She's in the group? Oh, great! Welcome. I'm the public relations manager of the Phantom Thieves!"

Makoto chuckled. "Yes, I know. Great job on the website, by the way."

Mishima looked pleased at her praise. "Oh... thanks!"

"Come on, let's get the rehearsal started!" Takamaki walked over to the equipment.

They started performing. At first, Mishima was still a bit sad, and Takamaki was shy. As the music went on, though, they relaxed and seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. Takamaki began showing more confidence, and her voice became more powerful. The song's lyrics and translation appeared on the projector, in sync with her singing. The addition of Miura's keyboard and Mishima's acoustic guitar sounds to the mix livened the song up, and lifted everyone's spirits. Makoto felt proud. Miura was doing very well for someone who had never played an instrument before.

The other Phantom Thieves listened attentively, and their bodies began moving in the song's rhythm. When the last chorus started, Sakamoto tried to sing along in a very obnoxious way, and Morgana kept telling him to shut up. The quarrel was loud enough to reach the performers' ears and ruin their concentration, until everyone stopped what they were doing and burst in laughter. All in all, it was a quite fun experience.

"Wow, this was great!" Takamaki commented once the song had ended and everyone's laughter was under control.

"Hey, it even sounded like a real band!" Sakamoto grinned.

Miura laughed. "Yeah, somehow it did. Having the three of us performing in sync felt amazing. Each one of us played a different part, and everything came together nicely. I had never imagined I could contribute to shape such a lively sound!"

"The lyrics appearing on the screen like in a karaoke was also a nice touch." Kitagawa observed.

Makoto agreed. "Yes, and so was the acoustic guitar."

"Uh... well, it wasn't that bad." Mishima had to admit.

"This performance was awesome!" Morgana said. "Though it'd have been even better if Ryuji hadn't destroyed it at the end..."

Sakamoto seemed ready for a fight. "You ruined it! You were louder than me!"

"Hey, Sakamoto. Calm down. Don't vent on the poor cat like that!" Mishima, who wasn't a Persona user and couldn't understand Morgana's words, said.

"I'm not a cat!" And obviously couldn't understand this remark, either.

"Alright! Let's not fight." Makoto cut in. She smiled at the performers. "The three of you did a great job. I'm glad that I could come here to watch this performance. I'm sure your school assignment will be a success."

They performed the song once more. When it ended, Sakura-san appeared. "Hmm. So, it was you..."

"Ah!" Miura gasped. "Sojiro-san, we're making too much noise, aren't we? Sorry..."

Sakura-san raised a hand. "That's not it. The thing is, I heard some music when I stepped out of the cafe and began wondering where it was coming from. So, it was you. I had no idea that you and your friends could play instruments! Actually, one of my acquaintances will be holding a charity event next Sunday. He wants to raise funds for a charity institution that helps children with rare diseases. He's been having a hard time finding people to perform music for the event. He asked me if I knew of someone, but I had no idea. And now, I find a bunch of teenagers performing music right behind my cafe! Would you and your group be interested?"

"Wow, a charity event!" Mishima perked up. "Yeah, of course!"

Takamaki also seemed to like the idea. "We're all for helping people. Right, Kazushi?"

Miura froze. "Uh... y-yeah, but is it okay for an amateur and inexperienced bunch of teenagers to be performing at such an event?"

"I like what I heard of the music. I believe it's fine." Sakura-san tried to assure him. "And your group has the will to help. This is important."

However, Miura was still unsure. "But we have a problem. I'm just starting out, and can't play much yet. In fact, this is the only song I know how to play..."

"We could close the event with this song. Until then, I can play some guitar-only songs, and maybe Takamaki could sing along..." Mishima suggested.

"It's fine with me." Takamaki agreed.

"Ah, and I can also promote the event on social networks!" Mishima offered.

"Hm, good." Sakura-san nodded in approval. "Oh, what's the group's name?"

Miura was even more apprehensive. "Huh? A-a name...? Do we really need that?"

Mishima was all for it. "Oh, yeah, a name, of course! It's good to have one, and makes it easier to promote the event, too! Saying, 'Music performance by insert band name here,' is much more attractive than, say, 'music performance by some unknown band.'" To which Sakura-san nodded.

"Ah. Says the marketing guy..." Miura sighed. "Then, what name do you suggest?"

"Huh? I had thought you'd come up with one..."

"What? Me? But this was your idea!? Actually, it's your group. I only fell into this. I know nearly nothing about music, and don't think I can give any useful input about the group."

Mishima didn't give up. "Oh, come on, Miura. I'm sure you can come up with something cool!"

"Kazushi, you can do it." Takamaki was also looking at him expectantly.

"Even you...?"

"I'm not good at naming stuff." Takamaki justified herself. "We need a nice name. Please, Kazushi."

Miura sighed. "Alright. Give me some time to think."

"Only a day or two, okay? Or I won't have enough time to promote the event!" Mishima said.

"Whatever." Miura grumbled. "What did I get myself into this time...?"

"I'll contact my acquaintance anyway," Sakura-san said. "We're counting on you."

Sakura-san gave the details about the location and time, then returned inside the cafe.

The group continued rehearsing until the cafe closed for the day.

They chatted for a bit. When Takamaki mentioned yesterday's homework session at the restaurant, everyone decided it was about time to begin their study session. Makoto helped them study for the exams, and this was how they spent the rest of the afternoon. And when night fell, Miura took over Leblanc's kitchen and prepared curry rice for everyone.

Chapter Text

When Makoto arrived at school on Monday morning, all she could hear were people talking about a particular subject. It came on the news that Kaneshiro had called off all debts of everyone that had been stuck paying loans to him endlessly. He also returned all the money they had paid him, as he had actually never used it.

"Ah." Miura... no, Kazushi, as Makoto would have to get used to calling him, sighed tiredly. "Kaneshiro's making quite a lot of noise..."

"He's really repented of his crimes, though. Seeing someone wanting to make up for his wrongdoings should be a good thing."

Kazushi nodded. "Yeah. The thing is, until now, criminals repenting of their sins had been more or less regarded as isolated cases. For a while, though, more and more people came to associate these cases with the Phantom Thieves. If they draw too much attention to the Phantom Thieves, it may get out of hand..."

Makoto chuckled at hearing Kazushi refer to the group in third person, as though he had nothing to do with it. Apparently, he hadn't acted like this before just because Makoto hadn't known he was in it. It looked like he always tried to be discreet like this. "Yes, you may be right. So, what now?"

"I don't know... perhaps only stick to the smaller cases with unknown people that the media is unlikely to care about? And once again I'll clash with Ryuji and Mishima in this regard." The chimes rang. "I'll head to class now. See you later, Niiji-uh... Makoto."

Makoto chuckled. Apparently, she wasn't the only one having trouble switching to first names.

When lunch break started, the Principal requested Makoto's presence.

"Niijima-kun, have a look at this." He indicated a newspaper on his table.

The article on the newspaper caught Makoto's attention immediately. It was an interview with Kaneshiro, when he talked to the media before being arrested. He was so willing to atone for his sins that he took the opportunity to request permission to start a newspaper column titled, "How NOT to Get a Loan."

"As someone with experience with both sides of the cashier, the paying side and the charging side, I know the common and not so common pitfalls one should avoid when getting a loan," were Kaneshiro's words on the newspaper interview. "I'm aware that I have committed sins that cannot be forgiven, but I wish I could at least share my knowledge in the hope that it'll be useful to those in dire financial situations. It's all I can do at this point."

"Some people, including people from the media, are associating his recent behavior to the Phantom Thieves actions," the Principal said. "If these people's theories are true, then it looks as though the Phantom Thieves can make people repent of their excessive actions, like with Mr. Kamoshida and their supposed other victims. As good as this might sound, some people can still take it the wrong way and get convinced that crime is the 'way to go,' and this may ruin the school's image if confirmed that the Phantom Thieves are our students."

Apparently, the Principal had a paranoia about preserving the school's image, and strong preconceptions against delinquent students.

He was still talking. "I have heard that the Phantom Thieves have a website where users can request for someone to be targeted, but it seems the website address is only circulating privately on social networks, and I was unable to check it for myself. Any news on your end, Niijima-kun?"

Makoto should think fast. She needed to get the Phantom Thieves out of the Principal's radar. "Um... well, I have also been looking into the Phantom Thieves, but found no solid proof of anything. I have also heard about that request website. And if anyone can request for a person to be targeted, then we can't even prove that the Phantom Thieves are from this school. A lot of students had had problems with Mr. Kamoshida. For all we know, some of them may have somehow managed to have the issue reach the Phantom Thieves, and caused them to target him. In short, there's no way to pinpoint them, or where they are from." Makoto hoped her arguments were convincing enough.

The Principal mulled her arguments over. "Hmm. I see. They are hiding well. If not even we can uncover them, then hopefully the media can't, either. I guess all we can do now is hope for them to not be found out, and for the school's image to remain pristine. Niijima-kun, thank you for your cooperation."

Once the Student Council President had left, Principal Kobayakawa went over to the phone. "Hello, it's me, sir. Regarding that case... yes, I have been looking into it, sir. However, there is no concrete proof of anything. Apparently, anyone from anywhere may request for people to be targeted. The fact that one of our teachers was targeted may not mean anything at all, and does not prove that the Phantom Thieves are from here. For all we know, one of our students may have requested them to target Mr. Kamoshida, and they fulfilled it. All other cases involving the Phantom Thieves have nothing to do with this school, either. Hm... yes, sir. I will report back if I find any solid evidence... yes."

Principal Kobayakawa finished the call with a shaky hand. He was so nervous that he was surprised how he hadn't stuttered even once. He let out the breath he had been holding and collapsed on his chair.

"What have I gotten myself into?" Kobayakawa mumbled to himself as he thought back on his past.

If only things had been fair a few years ago, he may not have cheated to get to his current position. He made a deal with some powerful people, and now he basically had his hands tied. He briefly wondered whether the Phantom Thieves had a chance of changing said people's hearts, and what might happen if they were to succeed.

"What am I even thinking?" The Principal muttered and tried to change his focus.

His attempt was unsuccessful, as his gaze wandered to the newspaper with Kaneshiro's interview again. That article had been bugging him from the moment he had read it earlier in the morning.

Everything indicated that the results of the Phantom Thieves' actions were real. Corrupt people having changes of heart and deciding to make up for what they had done wrong. In a way, this might be considered rehabilitation. In other words, the Phantom Thieves' rehabilitation methods were way more successful than Syujin's rehabilitation program. This would be bad for the school's image if this kind of comparisons were to start, and people would realize what a failure Kobayakawa was as the Principal. He had cheated to get to his current position, and implemented a rehabilitation program to improve the school's reputation as one of the few schools that rehabilitated delinquent teenagers. He had imposed strict and limiting rules to try to keep the delinquent students in line, but the truth was that he had no experience and no qualification to deal with student rehabilitation at all. He probably should do something to fix that. He wasn't sure how, but he should. After all, he was the Principal...

Makoto's shoulder felt much lighter when she left the Principal's office. She was very proud of herself. She had successfully defended the Phantom Thieves. Best of all, most of her arguments were actually true. No one would believe about the Dark Hour, and since the Persona users' visual details got foggy in peoples' minds during the day, there was no way to pinpoint the Phantom Thieves unless they actually came out and revealed themselves. She had learned this the hard way.

Makoto went to the courtyard and looked for Kazushi. She spotted him right when a girl who had been walking distractedly bumped into him. Actually, it was Haru Okumura, the classmate that Makoto rarely talked to.

"Aaaah!" Okumura's eyes widened once she realized who she had bumped into, and she took a step back. "I-I'm sorry!" She bowed politely.

Kazushi was stunned for some reason. It took him a few seconds to react. "I-it's fine..."

"I was distracted... I'll be more careful from now on. Sorry for bothering you!" Okumura blurted out and hastily excused herself.

"... Kazushi?" Makoto approached and threw him a questioning look. "What happened?"

He relaxed and actually smiled at her. "Can we go to the roof and talk?"

Makoto agreed. They bought their lunch and headed to the rooftop. They began talking as they had their lunch.

"Niijima... uh, Makoto." Kazushi corrected himself. "Remember when I told you that there were some people I felt a strong connection to, and that I had the feeling we had already met before?"

"Yes, I remember." Makoto nodded.

"I've been having these deja vu things since the time I arrived in Tokyo. First with Ryuji, then Ann, then the others. And you, too, though it took me a long time to realize it."

"Wow... you mean you had this feeling about everyone in the group?"

"Yeah." Kazushi nodded. "Everyone in the group, all Persona users. Along the way, I realized that all of you had appeared in my dreams once. Well, actually, nightmares. Those nightmares I had when my detention happened and Arsène talked to me for the first time."

Kazushi told her about the weird place called Velvet Room that looked like a prison. It was said to be a place between mind and matter, dreams and reality. It was the origin of the special cellphone app, and also where he managed his multiple Personas. Kazushi described the dark thoughts he had had when he found himself in that room for the first time, right after his detention. He had nearly lost his sanity, and had even considered actually committing crime and rioting against life. Those thoughts led him to have the nightmares that still traumatized him to this day.

"In those nightmares, all of us took the wrong path and did actual crime. The idea that this could actually happen disturbs me. I kind of feel that I need to be near all of you to not let any of that happen."

Makoto's admiration for Kazushi grew even more. It was a wonder that he managed to not fall to those thoughts and was still standing strong. He was really considerate with everyone in the group as well.

He continued. "Aside from those in the group right now, there were three people that I vaguely remembered from those nightmares but didn't know where they were. Two girls and one boy. One of the girls I still have no clue, but the other one is definitely that girl who bumped into me earlier."

"Oh!" Makoto's head shot up slightly. "Her name is Haru Okumura. She's in my class, though we rarely talk. Few people know, but she's actually the daughter of the Big Bang fast food company's owner. I only know because I stumbled on her profile during Student Council work. You mean that she might be a Persona user?!"

"If these deja vus actually get confirmed like the other times, yeah. No idea if she's already awakened to her Persona or not, though. Maybe we should keep an eye on her in case she needs Persona user support."

Makoto agreed. "Perhaps I should try talking to her more, then."

"As for the boy, I'm almost certain it's Akechi-san. After Kujikawa-san told us that Akechi-san might be a Persona user, I've been getting more and more sure that it's him, especially after we ran into Crow during the Dark Hour. I think we should find out more about Akechi-san as well."

"How did you meet him?" Makoto was curious.

"Remember that school trip to the TV studio? Yep, it was there. He asked me something about the Phantom Thieves, and I gave an opinion different than his. He said he was surprised because people tend to agree with him just to please him, even if they have a different opinion. Then, he seemed to take interest in discussing stuff with me. I've run into him other times after the school trip, but I still can't tell what kind of person he is."

"I don't know what the deal about him is, but my sister told me that he's an orphan, and seems to have a lot of issues. I might be able to find out more through her, or maybe through Akechi-san himself. He seems to enjoy trying to spark conversation with me. During that dinner my sister paid for us, he kept trying to hit on me, in front of her no less. But don't worry, Kazushi. I won't fall for his charms. The Detective Prince 2.0 will never be able to steal your girlfriend."

Out of all things Kazushi could have done, he laughed. "I'm not worried. Anyway, Akechi-san seems to enjoy talking to us. When I asked Ann and Ryuji about the interview at Kujikawa-san's event, they said he asked everything quickly and left. It looks like he only dragged on while talking to the two of us."

"This might be an advantage."

"We still should be careful, though." Kazushi warned. "We don't know whether he suspects any of us, or whether he's aware that we suspect him. The police hired him as a detective, which implies he's good at reasoning and solving puzzles. We must be extra careful to not drop hints around him. This also goes for actions during the Dark Hour."

"As in, he can't be able to tell that Joker and Queen are dating, for example, and we should act totally different from normal while around him?"

"Oh, that detail had completely slipped my mind. But yeah, there's that, too."

Makoto smirked. "We could act like how we kept daring and making fun of each other on the last mission."

An amused look crossed Kazushi's eyes. "Sounds fun enough."

"It sure does!" Makoto laughed. "By the way, have you heard the news about Kaneshiro wanting to start a newspaper column to help people?"

"Yeah, Yusuke texted me about it earlier. I'm kind of surprised, actually. I wasn't expecting Kaneshiro would do that."

"Could it be because we asked his Shadow to help people and make up for what he did?"

"It's possible." Kazushi nodded. "Hmm. Come to think of it, we didn't say anything of the sort to Mr. Kamoshida's or Madarame's Shadows. Instead of just having our targets confess their crimes and turn themselves in, perhaps we should encourage them to do something useful to others. This sounds like a much more productive way to use their second chances than having them just waste the rest of their lives suffering of guilt."

"I agree. This way they can also help change the world around them into a better place, and maybe even serve as examples and inspire other people. I've just talked to the Principal, and even he seemed impressed by the repercussions of Kaneshiro's news."

"The Principal?" Kazushi's head shot up. "Wow, I had even forgotten he was nagging you about the Phantom Thieves."

"He called me to talk again. Don't worry. It looks like he's changing his mind about the Phantom Thieves, though he's still obsessed about preserving the school's image. At least I believe I was able to convince him to leave the Phantom Thieves alone."

This pleased Kazushi. "I knew I could count on you."

Makoto smiled gently and spoke to him in a low voice. "You can always count on me. Always."

Kazushi smiled back. "Thanks..."

They ate their lunch in silence, which Makoto broke. "So, how did the group begin? You had said you'd tell me everything down to the smallest detail."

"Oh, yeah, right. Remember when I told you that Arsène manifested when I saved someone from a Shadow?"

Makoto nodded.

"This someone was actually Ryuji. I kept recalling how I got in trouble trying to save that woman from the harasser, and had the nagging thought that I might only get in more trouble if I tried to help anyone else. Even now, I can't believe the thought of running away had crossed my mind that time. I nearly abandoned Ryuji and left him to die... thankfully, the will to help spoke louder, and my Persona awakened. I'm really glad that I didn't run away, and that I saved Ryuji."

"Oh." Makoto looked at him solemnly.

"It all started right after I arrived in Tokyo, on my first day of school. At night, I went with Ryuji to the karaoke near the school, and lost track of time in there. It was almost midnight when we left. But then we ran into Mr. Kamoshida hassling Ann, and I ended up in Mr. Kamoshida's blacklist right away because I had seen that. He left with Ann, but then midnight struck, we got thrown into the Dark Hour, and saw the Palace in place of our school. Then Shadows attacked Ryuji, and Arsène manifested as a Persona when I decided to save him. That was when we ran into Morgana, who explained a bit about Palaces and told us that the Palace's owner would repent of his bad deeds if we managed to take the Palace's treasure. Morgana suggested helping us in exchange for us helping him recover his memories and uncovering more about the Dark Hour. We went to the Palace again the following day and ran into Mr. Kamoshida's Shadow. He said a lot of humiliating stuff to Ryuji, and this was when Ryuji's Persona awakened."

Kazushi proceeded to describe their subsequent trips to the Palace and how they saw the cognitive existences, the way Mr. Kamoshida had viewed the students as slaves, much like how Kaneshiro had viewed others as mere ATMs. What Kazushi and Ryuji saw led them to investigate during the normal hours, and find out the horrible things Mr. Kamoshida had been doing to the students, including Ann and the friend of hers who ended up attempting suicide because of that.

Makoto listened to everything with an aggravated expression. It had certainly been terribly tough to said students, and also to Kazushi, Ryuji and Ann to have been caught up in the middle of it all.

"Ann opened up to us about how she was ticked at the whole deal, and how helpless she felt." Kazushi went on. "Then, when we decided to change the subject and forget the issue for the moment, she told us that she had had a weird dream, about a green and creepy atmosphere, which sounded suspiciously like the Dark Hour. We told her it probably wasn't a dream. We explained what happened to us, and ended up taking her to the Palace during the Dark Hour. Ann's Persona awakened, and she realized she had the strength to change the situation. This is how our first group members got together."

Kazushi, Ryuji and Ann had gone through a lot. Makoto felt bad for her opinion of them in the beginning, when she had assumed that the Phantom Thieves were delinquents that enjoyed showing off their powers without any regard for their actions. How wrong she had been...

Kazushi continued speaking. "Since we needed to steal the treasure and the Shadows viewed us as thieves, Morgana suggested the whole 'Phantom Thieves' thing, including sending a calling card to our targets to change their cognitions and manifest their distorted desires as physical treasures. Honestly, I didn't like the idea much at first. As if having been detained for trying to help someone wasn't enough, I ended up in that Velvet Room place that looked like a prison, and even my Persona took the form of a fictional thief! It felt as though everything was mocking me and making it look like I was doing wrong things. And there were those nightmares where all of us became criminals. I got scared that those nightmares might become true if we were to become 'Phantom Thieves.' But again, reality was different. In the nightmares, we strayed to the path of crime because we were fed up with our lives and wanted the world to burn. In the real situation, we were unsatisfied with the injustice around us and wanted to change that. Even though the 'thieves' terminology and symbolism was misleading, I decided to accept to do as Morgana said.

Makoto glanced at her cellphone and saw that lunch break was about to end. "Lunch break is almost over. We'll have to continue this talk later."

"Then, could you come over to Leblanc after school? If you could help me a bit in studying for the exams, it'd be nice, too."

"Sure. Okay, I'll see you after school, then."

When Makoto entered her classroom, Okumura approached her.

"... Um, Niijima-san?"


"Today during lunch break, I bumped into that boy that wears glasses. The one in the rehabilitation program who everyone keeps talking about. Those rumors about him are scary..."

"Don't worry. Those are all lies." Makoto assured her. "He's nothing like the rumors say."

Okumura's expression relaxed. "Ah, what a relief. I was worried I might get in trouble. This was why I came to you. Since you're the Student Council President, I thought I'd ask for your help... but if the rumors are false, then it's fine. Sorry for the bother."

Makoto laughed, and took Okumura aback. "It's no bother at all. If you need help with studies, or just want to talk, you may come to me."

"Um, thank you..." Okumura became lost in thought for a moment, then tried to spark more conversation. "Um, Niijima-san, have you seen today's news?"

"About Kaneshiro? Yes, I have. In fact, my sister was passing by the scene and saw it when he had a breakdown."

Okumura seemed intrigued. "Some people are saying that the Phantom Thieves might have targeted him... did she see any sign of the Phantom Thieves?" Okumura lowered her head. She closed her eyes and laughed awkwardly in embarrassment. "No, it's nothing! This is stupid, I know. J-just forget it..."

Makoto chuckled. "No, she didn't see anything unusual. Just a mafia boss openly confessing his crimes and throwing a tantrum. But again, this alone is quite unusual already, so..."

Okumura hesitated. "Niijima-san, do... do you... believe in the existence of the Phantom Thieves?"

"You could say that."

Okumura was a bit more at ease. "Really? How unusual. You're so serious all the time. I hadn't expected you'd believe in the rumors about the Phantom Thieves."

"Well, with everything that's been happening, it's a bit hard not to..."

Okumura smiled sheepishly. "Actually, I have a serious problem, and I was thinking that maybe they could help me... I wonder how I could reach out to them..."

"Huh? Isn't it only a matter of posting to their website?"

"Oh..." Okumura's gaze fell. "It's that website address circulating on social networks, isn't it? I'm not on any social network..."

"I have the address. I can give it to you if you want."

"Wow, really? Then, please!"

Makoto took a sheet of paper from a notepad, checked the address on her cellphone and wrote it down. "Here you go."

Okumura took the paper, and her eyes sparkled. "Thank you so much!"

"No problem." Makoto sighed. "To tell you the truth, I had made wrong assumptions about the Phantom Thieves before. I had thought they were immature young delinquents that only wanted to show off. But then I saw that website, and I realized how wrong I was."

"They're amazing." Okumura smiled in admiration. "They remind me of those heroes from TV! Secretly helping people behind the scenes. It's so cool and admirable, isn't it?"

Cool indeed. Makoto also recalled how Kazushi kept looking after her behind the scenes, and was unable to suppress a smile. "Yes, it is."

The teacher arrived, and they had to head to their seats.

Makoto was glad to have been able to talk to Okumura a little, and that Okumura already seemed aligned with the Phantom Thieves' cause. If she indeed had the potential like Kazushi had predicted, it would be only a matter of time before she joined them.

After school, Makoto went to Leblanc with Kazushi, and he took her to his bedroom.

This time, the place wasn't trashed. It was actually quite well-organized for a small room in an old attic. It only had a desk with some books, a worn down mattress with a folded heavy-looking blanket on it, some cardboard boxes in a corner, and the musical keyboard tucked in another corner. There was also an old little TV with a DVD player and a retro game console near it. There were no wardrobe or closets. Makoto guessed that most of Kazushi's belongings must be in the cardboard boxes.

"It's quite... plain, isn't it?" Makoto fidgeted. "Uh... in a good way, I mean. Sorry. 'Uncluttered' should be a better word."

Kazushi didn't seem to have taken offense. "I've never had much, and don't need much. Most of what I have is old stuff from the recycled items shop."

"Oh, bringing your girlfriend into your bedroom, eh? Hmm..." Morgana popped out from under the desk and looked mischievously at them.

"I just brought her here to help me study for exams. You have a problem with it?" Kazushi retorted.

"Oh, so this is what it's all about..." Disappointed, Morgana came out of hiding and walked away into a corner.

Rather than using the desk, They sat down on the mattress with a bunch of books. They studied for around two hours, and Makoto asked Kazushi to continue their talk from earlier.

"Hmm, where was I? Oh yeah, when we became Phantom Thieves and took Mr. Kamoshida's heart. Much to my surprise, Mr. Kamoshida really repented of his actions. It was finally over... or so I had thought."


The group met up behind Leblanc after classes.

"So, how was it?" Morgana asked us.

"It's still hard to believe, but that Kamoshida really repented!" Ryuji was ecstatic. "Way to go! We're awesome!"

"Great work. Keep it up!" Morgana said.

"W-what? Wait a minute..." I stuttered. "Y-you don't mean... you still want us to continue doing these things, do you?"

"Of course you have to continue!" Morgana gave me a disapproving look. "Our deal was that you'd help me jog my memory. I haven't remembered anything yet!"

"Huh..." I was still hesitant.

However, it wasn't the case for Ann. "I had felt helpless about the whole issue with Kamoshida, and nearly gave up on everything. But you all came and introduced me to Personas and gave me hope. In the end, we actually resolved the issue! There are many people suffering injustice like we were. I want to use this power and give them hope, too!"

Ryuji had something different in mind, though. "We'll change the hearts of some big names and become famous!"

"Uh... while I agree with Ann's point, I don't think seeking fame is a good idea."

"C'mon, Kazushi! We'll change so many people's lives for better! It's only fair to get recognized for it, right?" Ryuji argued.

"..." I wanted to argue back, but couldn't quite put my reasoning into words at the time. "A-alright. I'll continue. I want to find out more about the Dark Hour, and will gladly help people while we're at it, but-"

Ann cut me off and placed a hand on my shoulder. "We're counting on you, Leader!" She said with a grin.

I sighed and gave in. They would only listen to what they wanted to hear.


"Hmm, from this, it seems that the almighty Joker wasn't so firm and imposing in the beginning, huh?" Makoto grinned at him.

"Definitely not." Kazushi admitted. "Despite what it seems, all of us don't agree on absolutely everything, and sometimes the group gets quite hard to handle. My options were either to learn to impose rules, or to risk losing control of the group and failing to look after my team members. I chose the first option."

Makoto nodded approvingly. "I've said this before, and will say it again. You're a good leader."

"Yeah, Kazushi, you're the man!" Morgana approached them with a proud look in his eyes. "I couldn't have chosen a better leader for our group!"

"Morgana, you're exaggerating again." Kazushi shrugged. "Anyway, since we brought up the subject of leadership, I have an important announcement to make." Kazushi looked Makoto straight in the eye. "Queen. As the leader of the Phantom Thieves, I hereby appoint you as the second in command."

"... Huh?" Makoto startled. This was too sudden.

"I've thought about this a lot. If it were before you had accepted to contribute to our cause, it'd have been really dangerous to give you so much power over the group. But I believe it isn't the case now. All the group members are like a family to me. They're my valuable treasures, and I hope I can count on you to help me look after them."

Makoto felt moved. She hadn't expected Kazushi to pass part of that responsibility to her, but of course she would help him. Kazushi had so much in his plate, and Makoto wished he didn't need to deal with everything all by himself. "Oh, Kazushi. I already said that you can count on me for anything. As long as the others agree, I'm fine with it."

"I'm down with it!" Morgana accepted. "You're a valuable asset to our group! You're very smart, and take missions very seriously. You got the hang of battles pretty quickly, too!"

"I've been observing the group battle for a couple weeks now."

"Hmm. Then, very observant..." Morgana concluded. "It makes me think you can also help us with battle strategies!"

"Yes, I believe I can do that."

"Then, it's settled!" Morgana grinned. "You're our Queen. And from now on, you're the second in command, and the strategist of the Phantom Thieves!"

Kazushi looked mischievously at her. "If the others don't agree, we'll make them. Right?"

"You bet!" Makoto matched his mischievous look.

Morgana looked amused. "You two are really a good match..."

Kazushi continued talking about the Phantom Thieves' Dark Hour adventures. He explained how the request website came to be. He told her about Mementos, the huge dungeon located under Shibuya's train tracks and that served as the Palace of the masses, for the people whose hearts corruption wasn't severe enough to form specialized Palaces. He narrated the events until he got to the point they targeted Madarame-san.

"How did you meet Yusuke?" Makoto was curious.

"We first met him when he was following Ann, and we thought he was stalking her. It turned out that he had thought her beauty was inspiring, and he wanted to paint her."

"Oh. He asked for permission to paint me as well. I wonder how the painting is coming along."

Kazushi raised an eyebrow. "You accepted? How unusual."

"The day I ran into him, I touched upon the subject of Madarame-san. I failed to realize that it was still a hard subject to him. I ruined his mood, and even his inspiration. So, when he later asked for permission to paint me, I just couldn't deny it."

"Ah, I see..."

"How did he join?" Makoto asked.

"We had gone to the Palace during the Dark Hour. It was behind a secret passage like in Kaneshiro's nightclub, but in Madarame's run-down shack where he and Yusuke lived. Yusuke awakened to the Dark Hour and ended up wandering into the Palace. He was totally lost when we found him. Luckily, no Shadows had gotten to him. We told him we were the Phantom Thieves. We explained why we were there and offered to lead him outside, but he decided to come with us. Since he still had no Persona, we had to protect him in a similar way we protected you. We investigated the Palace. The more we found out about Madarame, the angrier Yusuke got, until he couldn't take it in anymore, his Persona awakened, and he asked to join us for good."

Kazushi told her the rest of Madarame-san's story, then a few website requests, including the request about the rich businessman they targeted next. Indeed, all the Phantom Thieves had gone through a lot.

"Then we ran into you in the school Palace, and you know the rest." Kazushi finished.

"Wow, so many adventures... I could've never imagined any of these!" Makoto quickly glanced at Morgana. "Ah, Kazushi, you didn't tell me how Morgana got to stay here."

"Oh, right. It was the following day after Ryuji's Persona awakened."


I was on my way back from school. I came out of the train station and was heading to Leblanc. I saw a black little feline out of the corner of my eye, but didn't pay much mind to it and just kept on walking.

"Hey!" A child-like voice called out, but I ignored it. I wasn't even sure if it was directed at me. In the end, it turned out that it was. "Ka-zu-shiiiii!" It shouted angrily.

I froze. Something about that voice was familiar, but I still couldn't place it. "... Who...?"

"I've been running around the city all day, and I've finally found you!" The black feline came running from behind and halted in front of me with a proud grin on its face.

"Huh...?" I could only stare. Was my mind playing tricks on me, or did that voice really came from the...

"Don't you recognize me?! It's me, the great Morgana!" The feline spoke, crisp and clear.

"... What." My eyes grew wide, and my voice almost didn't come out. "You're really...?"

"The one and only! Can't you believe it?"

"Uh, well, I-I believe it. What's harder to believe is that a cat's talking to me..."

Morgana looked offended. "I'm not a cat! I'm in this form only because... because... uh, I was cursed, I think...! Anyway, when I saw you and Ryuji leave, I figured I hadn't left the Palace since the time I awoke in there. So, I came out of the Palace before the Dark Hour ended, and slept outside. When I awoke this morning, I decided to take a walk around the city and try to jog my memory, thinking that maybe I could remember something from the time I was a human! ... But I couldn't remember anything, and got bored. So, I decided to look for you. I had no idea where to look, but my intuition told me to wait outside the train station. And here you are!"

I thought he was talking a bit too loud. "Are you sure it's okay for you to be talking like this?" I whispered to him.

"Oh, yeah. Only Persona users can understand what I say!"

"Huh? How can you be so sure? You just said you had never come out of the Palace. It means you hadn't run into other people to know this."

"Huh...? G-good point..." Morgana hesitated. "But I'm sure about this. I don't know how, but I just am... l-look, no one's reacting weirdly to us... this should confirm it, right?"

I looked around. Some passersby smiled upon seeing me with the "cat," but sure enough, no one seemed to find anything unusual about the situation. So, I had to accept Morgana's reasoning.

Morgana made a face as his stomach grumbled. "Ugh, I'm hungry. Now that I think about it, when was the last time I ate anything? I don't remember..."

"Oh. Alright, I'll bring you some food. Wait here." I turned around and quickened my pace towards Leblanc.

I took some of the food that the staff allowed me to have. It consisted of leftovers from curry rice, but without curry. Mostly rice, vegetables and some chicken meat.

I was about to leave the shop, only to find out that Morgana had followed me and was curiously peering into the store.

"What are you doing here? I told you to wait!" I scolded him, but he ignored it.

"Cafe Leblanc? Hmm..."

I took it that he had read the store's sign. I was a bit surprised, but reminded myself to keep my voice low. "You can read?"

"Of course I can! It's one of a man's basic skills!" He seemed proud.

I sighed. "I got us lunch. Come on."

I had Morgana follow me to the empty part behind the cafe so that we could talk properly.

"So, you work here or what?" Morgana asked me on the way.

"I live here." I told him.

"Oh, does this mean you can have some nice food anytime you want?"

"No, it's not like that. Basically, I need to help the staff in order to secure my stay here, and I'm only allowed to take the leftovers."

"What a bummer..." Morgana made a disappointed face.

Once we arrived at our destination, I gave him his food, and he began devouring it. I sat down on the ground at his side and began eating my own food.

"Hmm, not bad. I could use some more chicken meat, but it's okay." Morgana commented.

"It's today's leftovers menu. We have no choice and no right to complain. Actually, you should be thankful that today it's more on the 'generous' side."

"Ah, whatever." Morgana shook my comment off and continued eating.

We finished our lunch. I left Morgana behind, went back inside Leblanc and washed the dishes. I was on the way to my room when an angry shout from Sojiro-san alerted me that Morgana had followed me once again.

"What's this cat doing inside the store!?"

"Ah!" I ran to the cafe proper. When I got there, Sojiro-san wasn't pleased.

Morgana desperately ran to me. He put his front paws on my leg and looked at me pleadingly.

This action was enough for Sojiro-san to put two and two together and figure out that I had known the "cat." Sojiro-san turned his anger at me. "Kazushi. How do you explain this?"

"He keeps following me around!" I justified myself. "But I had left him behind. I had no idea that he had entered the store!"

"Animals aren't allowed here." Sojiro-san was firm.

"But I'm not an animal. I'm a person!" Morgana protested, but Sojiro-san clearly didn't understand him. "Ugh, this is why I hate this form... hey, Kazushi, do something!" Morgana clung to my leg.

"You shouldn't have followed me." I scolded him.

"I have nowhere to stay!"

"You can't stay here." I was as stern as Sojiro-san.

Morgana made a hurt face.

"Exactly." Sojiro-san looked like he wanted to reconsider, but stood by his word.

I took the dejected Morgana in my arms and went outside. "Sojiro-san is the boss here. Sorry, but there's nothing I can do for you. You'll have to find somewhere else to stay."

I put Morgana down on the ground, and went back inside Leblanc. However, Morgana didn't leave, and kept loitering near the cafe.

After we came back from the Palace that night, Morgana followed me again. I only realized it when I got back to the cafe and Morgana in cat form came running after me.

"Ah! Morgana! Why did you follow me?!"

"Sleeping on the street is so uncomfortable!" Morgana whined.

"But you can't stay here."

"The boss isn't here right now." Morgana argued. "If you let me sneak in and out without him noticing, it'll be fine!"

"No, it won't!" I shook my head frantically. "If it goes wrong and he finds out, it won't be good! I'm already a burden to him as it is. You're going to get me in trouble!"

"Come on. It'll be fine!"

I wasn't having any of that. I hastily entered the cafe and closed the door in his face.

"Hey! Kazushi!"


I barely had time to lock the door, and Morgana banged on it with such force that startled me. I hadn't expected the little creature to be so strong. Still I did my best to keep composed. "Sorry, Morgana. I can't help you. See you tomorrow." And I left to my room.

In the morning, when I was leaving for school, I took a few leftover croquettes from my breakfast, because I was expecting to see Morgana around. Sure enough, he was waiting for me.

"Going to school, huh?" Morgana grinned at me. "Despite the Palace being in it, I still haven't seen how it's inside your school's true form."

I had a bad feeling about the situation, and promptly shook my head. "No."

"Hey, I still haven't said anything!"

"But I already have an idea of what you were about to say. I can tell that you want to come with me, and the answer is no."

Morgana laughed sheepishly. "Ah... Joker, you're as sharp as a knife..." He sighed in disappointment. "I thought you'd be in a better mood after a good night of sleep..."

"This has nothing to do with my mood. The thing is, you can't come to school with me, period." I saw that Morgana was preparing an argument, but I wasn't about to let him. I left a napkin with the croquettes on the ground near him. "This is your breakfast."

"... Oooh." Morgana's focus went to the food immediately.

"Now I have to go. We'll talk once I come back. Be sure to not cause trouble." I turned and ran. I heard Morgana trying to protest with his mouth full, but I didn't turn back.

When I arrived back from school in the afternoon, Morgana was still there.

"It took you long enough!" Despite sounding annoyed, he seemed cheerful for some reason.

"Kazushi. That little kitty's been waiting for you all day." Sojiro-san approached me with an amused expression. "You see. This morning we were short on staff, and I had left to buy supplies. When I got back, that kitty was making noise inside the shop. When I approached, he ran to the kitchen. I ran after him, only to see that the food was burning, and the only cook that was here was outside the kitchen, talking on a cellphone, out of all things! I guess I owe one to the little fellow there." Sojiro-san laughed and pointed at Morgana. "He's quite attached to you, too. Hmm." Sojiro-san furrowed his brows in thought. "Kazushi, listen. If you promise to take care of him responsibly, I'll allow him to stay here."

"Huh?" I gaped at the unexpected turn of events.

Morgana gave me a proud look. "I won the boss' trust. How about that!?"

Sojiro-san looked at me sternly. "Once again. I may allow him to stay here, but caring for him will be your full responsibility. Got it?"

I glanced at Morgana, then back at Sojiro-san. I wasn't too keen on having to take care of Morgana, but I could tell that there was no other alternative.

"Yeah, I get it." I nodded.

"Good." Sojiro-san was satisfied. "Then, he's up to you."

"Thanks, Sojiro-san."

"Ah... I can finally sleep under a roof and on a comfortable bed..." Morgana said dreamily once Sojiro-san had left.

"Sorry to disappoint, but it might not be that comfortable."

I took Morgana to my room, and his face scrunched up at the sight of the old place and worn-down mattress.

"I warned you."

"Uh... well, still better than sleeping on the street, I guess." Morgana had to accept it. He laughed deviously. "I convinced the boss to let me stay here! Now I only need a way to have you take me to school!"

And this was how my everyday struggles with Morgana began...


Makoto laughed amusedly at the story. "So, this was how it happened..."

"I had had second thoughts about taking care of Morgana in the beginning, but it isn't that bad. Aside from him not respecting my privacy and trashing my room almost every day trying to sneak out to school with me, that is. We argue and tease each other quite a lot, and it might look like we don't get along, but we do."

Makoto chuckled. "Like two brothers, then?"

"Is that so? Since I don't have siblings, I don't know how brothers tend to act."

Morgana lowered his head, with a distant look. "I wonder if I have siblings." His cockiness was gone, and he sounded sad. "Has anyone worried about me after whatever happened and got me in this form? Is anyone waiting for me? I don't remember... I don't think I ever knew how it felt to not be alone before I met you guys. What if I have no one?"

"Either way, I'll be here."

"K-Kazushi..." Morgana's eyes watered, but he blinked his tears off. He climbed onto Kazushi's lap. "Well, I wouldn't mind having a cool bro like you! When I become a human again, think I'll look like you, by any chance?"

"You want to be like me when you grow up? No chance." Kazushi smirked.

"H-hey!" Morgana began to protest, but Kazushi petted him gently and totally broke his composure.

Makoto laughed lightly. That exchange was too adorable.

She changed the subject. "By the way, Kazushi, any idea for the music band's name yet?"

"... No. Still nothing..."

"Hmm. How about you mix various Personas' names or something? Is there any Persona that has anything to do with music?"

"A Persona related to music... oh! I can summon this Persona that carries an instrument. I've never seen another one like him among the enemies in the Palaces, though. His name is Orpheus."

"Orpheus? Hmm, I see..." Makoto nodded to herself. "In Greek mythology, Orpheus is indeed related to music. The sound from his lyre could even soothe beings from the underworld."

"The Persona Orpheus calls himself, 'the Master of Strings,' though I don't think I can call myself master of anything..."

"You're a master of disguises." Makoto pointed out.

Kazushi laughed. "That's Arsène. I actually consider my other Personas to be Arsène's various disguises... oh, wait. You just suggested mixing Personas' names. So, hmm, let's see... 'Arsène' plus 'Orpheus' equals...? ... 'Arpheus?'" He laughed again.

"Nice one!" Makoto also laughed. "How about 'Team Arpheus?' I think it has a nice ring to it."

"Wow, sounds cool!" Morgana cheered.

"Team Arpheus..." Kazushi echoed. "Hey, it actually sounds like a team name. I'll see what Ann and Mishima think of it. Thanks for the ideas."

The following day, Makoto called all rehabilitating students to the courtyard. At first, she was unsure on how to start her speech, but the students' bored expressions made her conclude she should go straight to the point if she wanted to grab their attention.

"Today I have a brief message for all of you." She began. "It concerns this rehabilitation program you are in. In theory, the program was supposed to reintegrate you into society and give you another chance to set off on a good path to your futures. However, it recently came to my attention how messed-up this program is. It discriminates rehabilitating students by treating them like crap, and has weird rules like disallowing students in the program to borrow books from the library. While I understand the school wants to protect their property from ill-intentioned people, this is really unfair to those working hard to conclude rehabilitation. As the Student Council President, my duty is to work in favor of improving all students' school lives. If you're putting effort into fulfilling your student duties and get hindered by the program's weird rules, don't hesitate to talk to me. I'm here to help, and will do my best to find a solution. And this concludes my message. Thank you for your attention."

The students looked stupefied, and took a while to start moving. Some of them began talking among themselves as they slowly walked away.

"... What was that just now?"

"Is it just me, or is she kinda different today?"

"Huh? Was she always like this?"

"Whoa, she wasn't angry this time... what happened?"

"I've heard she's been hanging around that guy with glasses, the one people keeps talking about."

"Wow, I didn't think I'd ever hear Ms. Pres use words like 'crap' and 'messed-up.'"

"Doesn't this kinda remind how Kamoshida called the whole school and broke down in front of everyone? Maybe the Phantom Thieves took her heart, too?"

That day, Makoto spent lunch break on the rooftop with Kazushi again.

"Nice initiative." He complimented her. "Your speech was brief and to the point, too. And the most impressive of it all. All those bored people actually listened."

"I'm glad they did. I've always wanted to help others, but never managed to do anything significant. This is what I'd hoped I'd achieve when I became Student Council President, but so far I've failed to help anyone. All I ever did was scold the students and make their days even worse. But now I believe I finally found a purpose to being in this position. This is my last year in this school, and my last chance to help make this school a better place. Now that I'm aware of the rehabilitating students' special needs, I feel that I must do something about them." She smiled. "And I only became aware of these needs thanks to you. If I hadn't become aware of them, the school year would pass by, and I'd ultimately fail my duty as Student Council President. Thank you, Kazushi. Thank you for helping me find my purpose here."

"Huh? But I didn't do anything. It's you who's always insisting on helping me."

"You always do your part, and I know that helping you will pay off. This is why I insist on doing it. If not for this, I wouldn't have found out about how the school treats students in the rehabilitation program." Makoto inched closer to him. She wrapped an arm around his shoulders and whispered in his hear. "I'll help fix your reputation and have a better school year. Even if people start more rumors about us, it won't stop me. I'll be with you no matter what. I'll continue helping you in any way I can, for as long as I can."

Kazushi responded by gently wrapping an arm around her waist and smiling gratefully. "Thank you, Makoto. Having you here to support me is a blessing." He whispered back. "I'll keep giving my best."

After classes, Kazushi had some music-related questions for her. "I started trying to learn the theory because I want to understand what I'm doing. Could you enlighten me a bit?"


On the way to the music room, they nearly bumped into Haru Okumura as they turned a corner.

"Ah!" Okumura startled. "N-Niijima-san? A-and..." She looked shyly in Kazushi's direction.

"Kazushi Miura. Nice to meet you." He introduced himself.

"I... I'm Haru Okumura. Nice to meet you too." She hesitated. "Uh, we've already met before. We bumped into each other yesterday... but yes..."

"Uh, yeah."

"Um, are you two looking for something?"

"Oh, no. We were just going to the music room." Makoto answered. "Kazushi and